Tuesday, November 28, 2023


RV Electricity: Don’t burn up your water heater element

Dear Readers,

I found this post on another RV group page and thought it was an important reminder….

I went to winterize the trailer (sadness) and decided to get a jump on draining the hot water tank before I even hooked the power. Well, you guessed it. I didn’t follow my normal winterizing routine and simply flip the little on/off switch to off in the hot water tank. The switch was left on in the trailer, which I usually always turn off at the end of any trip. Hooked up power and realized later the switch was on in the trailer.

So I’ve searched for the correct heater element and can’t find the exact part number for my model # SW12DEL water heater. I found this one on Amazon. Are the heating elements universal? Seems like a good deal. I will certainly need the removal tool. —Rob B.

Dear Rob B. (and all readers),

As you just found out, even a few seconds of dry firing an electric water heater can burn out your water heater element. This is not something you normally have to worry about for your bricks-and-sticks house because you don’t normally drain your water heater. So, I’m sure you’re going to remember this lesson come springtime when you get ready for the season.

Checking the details…

To answer your question specifically, there are three basic parameters you need to check for a replacement water heater element. Here is what Amazon lists about this element.

First, is this a 120-volt element? Be aware that the vast majority of water heater elements are built for 240-volt power, and your RV needs a 120-volt element. If you accidentally swap in a 240-volt element, nothing bad will happen. But the wattage will be reduced to 25% of rating. So, instead of 1440 watts of heat it would only provide 360 watts. That’s definitely NOT hot water. So, YES, this element has the correct voltage.

Second, does the wattage match up? While some home water heater elements are rated up up to 3,500 watts (at 240 volts), the typical RV electric water heater element is rated for 1,400 to 1,500 watts. This element is rated for 1,440 watts. So, YES, that seems correct.

Third, will this water heater element physically fit? It appears that your burned element is a single long loop instead of a bent loop like some water heaters use. And the mounting flange thread size should all be the same for a modern water heater. And I like the wrench that will also allow you to pull and replace your anode, so that’s a good thing as well. So, YES, I think this kit looks like a great deal.

Happy Campers

Always to sure to turn off the power switch on your RV water heater before doing any sort of service, including draining the tank for winterizing it. And double-check this in the spring before you turn on the power to prep for your first trip of the season.

Also, I think it’s probably a good idea to get a backup water heater element and wrench for your RV and carry them with you on the road. Don’t expect to find what you need while you’re out camping, so be sure you carry the essential repair items that you and your family need to be Happy Campers.

OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.

Mike Sokol’s excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com.



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MrDisaster (@guest_148630)
2 years ago

While I’ve never had an issue with my water heater, I now know what repair part I’d need. Great info. Thanks.

Roger Marble (@guest_148182)
2 years ago

I have a HOTT Rod electric heater. when I installed it I put a manual timer on the “on” switch.

Dan (@guest_148515)
2 years ago
Reply to  Roger Marble

Good idea. No need to have it on when it’s not being used. I have considered unplugging my heater when I drain it to winterize just in case. I always forget but I’ve never connected to shore power while it’s winterized.

James Starling (@guest_157699)
1 year ago
Reply to  Roger Marble

If you have a separate circuit breaker for water heater, shut it off to protect against anyone accidentally hitting wrong wall switch. A piece of tape on circuit breaker switch in off position, while tank is empty, will remind anyone why it is off.

G13 (@guest_148150)
2 years ago

How can you determine which loop you have for your heater. Can you take this out to check if it’s a single long loop vs bent loop and then reinstall when ordering a spare? Heck, I carry most spare or extra parts and this is one thing I hadn’t thought of. Great advice, thanks!

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