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Get in Hot Water by Going Tankless in Your RV
There are a few options that help the factory water heater improve heating recovery time. You can install what’s called a hot rod, which is an electric heating element that replaces the anode rod in your water heater. This rod uses 400 watts of AC power to heat the element and assists the gas portion of the heater with recovery. This is a somewhat viable option for extending the hot water supply time, but some water heater manufacturers do not use it, claiming that it can void the warranty because the lightning rod no longer offers the corrosion protection that the standard anode does. You still won’t have the hot shower of your dreams with this option.
This is where the tankless water heater comes in. There are two types of tankless water heaters: electric and gas. The first type works similarly to the hot rod, in that an electric heating element heats the water. But that’s where their similarities end. Instead of filling a tank full of water and then heating it, the tankless electric heater senses the water flowing through it, activates the electric heating circuit and the water is heated instantly. It is 100% automated. As soon as you turn off the water flow, the heater turns off. Water temperature is regulated by water pressure. Less water pressure means more heat, and more water pressure equals less heat.
The gas type works much the same as the electric heater in terms of sensing the flow of water and heating it instantly. But in this case, a propane burner heats the water. And there are no large electrical power demands required as with the electric heater. Both can provide a constant flow of hot water almost indefinitely, but the gas type will be better able to keep up with demand and will adapt more easily in a typical RV environment.
The easiest way to retrofit your RV with a tankless water heater and get that awesome endless shower is to use an in-line shower head replacement. This type of heater uses a powerful electric heating element to instantly heat the incoming water just before it leaves the shower head. It can raise water temperature up to 50 F at a flow rate of one gallon per minute. This should be enough to supplement the factory water heater, so while it’s recovering, you’re still getting reasonably hot water. The only downside is that the unit draws a lot of current, over 20 amps. You will need to dedicate a switch and receptacle for this unit if you decide to go this route.
If you are camping or camping without hookups, consider doing this mod with a custom installed gas tankless water heater. These units do an excellent job of providing instant and sustained hot water, and can be used to supplement or completely replace your standard RV water heater. There are a couple of very important things to consider before doing the mod though. The first is ventilation requirements. Like the heater in your RV, the tankless heater emits CO2 when the burner is on and the CO2 must be vented out of the RV. Three inch pipe is a minimum and should be exhausted through the ceiling or side wall with the appropriate pipe and vent cap.
You should also consider where the unit is mounted. The area must be free of anything that could come into contact with the unit. Also, the unit must have some ventilation or fresh air supply. This is not critical, but the burner needs oxygen to function. Most standard RV cabinet doors don’t seal very well to begin with, so there should be enough air supply to provide adequate performance when the unit is mounted in areas like this. In any case, follow the manufacturer’s recommended installation procedures if you are unsure. This includes connecting the gas and water supplies, and the electrical requirements needed to power the unit’s circuit board.
Finally, and of course the most expensive of all options, is to completely replace the factory water heater with an aftermarket tankless heater made specifically for RVs, the RV500. This is by far the easiest way to have endless hot water. Replacing your standard water heater with the RV500 is surprisingly easy. Start by turning off the propane and draining the water heater. Remove the gas supply line and water lines. And disconnect any electrical wiring. Unscrew the set screws on the outer frame of the heater and the unit should slide out.
To install the RV500, reverse the steps used to remove the factory water heater. The gas supply pipe and the water inlet and outlet pipes will likely not require modification and will be joined directly. The heater requires a 12 volt power supply for the circuit board to operate and control the unit. The current is very low, so you should be able to plug into most nearby 12 volt sources. Once installed, simply open any hot water tap and the unit will automatically turn on. Turning off the hot water faucet, in turn, turns off the heater. It is quiet and will keep up with any demand. Now you can take your time showering, but you may need to modify your RV with larger holding tanks.
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