On-demand Water Heater For RV: Are Tankless Heaters Worth It?

One of the advantages today’s RV owners have over their older counterparts is technology. There have been so many technological advances that modern RVers can cut costs and not have to be saddled with the old fashioned tank water heater

Are tankless water heaters worth it? Yes, on-demand water heaters are worth it. The savings on expenses and time are well worth the upfront purchase price. Plus, you do not have to worry about your children taking so long in the shower.

To learn all about tankless water heaters, just continue to read our article. It has the information to guide you to the right decision for you and your RV. Going tankless may save you a lot especially in any repair bills the old tank water heater can create.

Can You Put a Tankless Hot Water Heater in An RV?

Yes, you can put a tankless water heater in an RV, and retrofitting older RVs is also an option. Removing the old tank water heater may be a blessing in disguise as you will not have to worry about burnt-out elements, corroded parts, pilot lights, and other issues.

The good part is you can find these RV tankless water heaters in both gas and electric models. Sometimes, they can come with both power options. The latter is best as it gives you camping options as you do not need to worry about electrical hook-ups out in the boondocks.

Also, the tank water heaters only allow for a small water supply. Their tanks are generally 4-10 gallons and that can cost a lot to heat, especially when you have your kids along.

It shouldn’t take much to retrofit an RV with a tankless model and the extra space may come in handy. Removing the old system should free up some space and take a few worries off your mind.

Do They Make Tankless Water Heaters for Campers?


Yes, they do but the size of the camper may dictate if you can buy one and have it installed. The three biggest makers of tankless water heaters are Atwood, Suburban, and Girard. The same three brands that make top tank water heaters for the majority of RV brands.

We would suggest measuring your space first then going out to see what models would fit that space. Then make sure you know where allow the hookups go so the exchange will be less time-consuming and a lot easier.

The only real drawback to making the switch will be the longer showers you and your family will be taking. These heaters provide an unlimited amount of hot water and that feature could cause your electric bill to go a little higher than normal.

Also, for the propane models, high altitudes and lower temperatures tend to make those units work less efficiently. If you travel in those areas or conditions, then it would be best to have a dual power source tankless water heater and not just a propane one.

How Does an RV Tankless Water Heater Work?


These units are one of technology’s best inventions or upgrades. The old water heaters needed several parts operating at optimum levels to heat your water. That could take a long time.

Due to technological advances, the tankless models can heat your water instantly. The moment you turn the heater on, the water gets heated. Some models may take up to 5 seconds to get to that point but 5 seconds is not long to wait.

Then you can connect this water heater to all faucets in your RV and everyone can enjoy instant hot water. The only time you may run out of hot water is if someone is doing the dishes while another person is taking a shower.

Then with no recovery time, the next person in line can step right into the shower and enjoy a nice long hot bath. The only key would be to make sure to take accurate measurements and then match those measurements to the units you are considering.

Buy the one that fits.

Are RV Tankless Water Heaters Worth It?

For the most part, the benefits of having a tankless water heater outweigh any of the negatives that come with them. Those negatives will be listed in the next section. Right now, you need to focus on the positives to get a clear view of what these devices can do to make your RV experience better:

  • 1. Saves money - not in upfront costs but in the long run. Your energy use should be lowered as these devices take less energy than the tank water heater version.
  • 2. Always hot water - there is no shortage and that makes life a little easier.
  • 3. Fuel choice - there are both electric and propane models to choose from and you get to select which one would be best for you. The electric models can be powered by shore hookups, a generator, or solar so even when boondocking you can have hot water.
  • 4. No venting - at least for the electric models. The propane units will still need a vent.
  • 5. Less maintenance - with fewer parts to worry about, these water heaters do not cost a lot to repair if they break down at all. Also, leaks may be a thing of the past.
  • 6. Longevity - regular tank water heaters are said to last between 9 to 12 years on average. Tankless ones can go for 20.

What is the Downside of a Tankless Water Heater?

There are a few of these and they help you see the full story before you buy.

  • 1. Purchase price - because there is a lot of modern technology in these devices and they last a long time, the purchase price can be high. This won't matter so much if you use your RV all the time but it may matter to part-timers who may only use it 2 to 3 times a year
  • 2. Retrofit issues - it may take a while to match all the fittings that are designed for a tank water heater. That problem may raise your costs a bit as you might need adapters.
  • 3. Not always cold-weather friendly - the tankless models can freeze on you if you like to camp in extremely cold weather. You may have to insulate the area well or find a model with freeze protection
  • 4. use more fuel - the only reason this would be a negative is if you decide to take longer showers. the longer the shower the more power or fuel you will use. This will raise your costs somewhat and negate any savings you were counting on.

Replace RV Water Heater With Tankless


Once you made your decision to go with the tankless model, you should have someone experienced in plumbing do the exchange. That way if any issues arise, they have both the experience and the tools needed to solve the issue quickly.

But before you get to your decision, you need to look at all the available models. There are two types of on-demand water heaters you can buy- electric and propane. The electric models are all pretty much the same but that can’t be said for the propane models.

There are two types of propane on-demand water heaters you can buy. The first is the non-condensing. These are cheaper to buy but more expensive to install. The unit requires stainless steel venting material. They are also less efficient.

The other model is the condensing and it is cheaper to install as it doesn't need the same venting material. Instead, it uses its hot gases to help heat the water. This model also works better when you are using the water longer than if you only need a little water at one time.

How to Convert RV Water Heater to Tankless

The biggest issue will be taking the measurements of your current fittings and then comparing them to the different tankless water heaters. It may take a little time to find a unit that will match up to your measurements. You will also need to measure your water heater’s compartment to make sure the on-demand unit will fit inside.

Once that is done, you need to remove the old tank water heater and then place the on-demand unit in its place. But to do that, you will have to detach all connections, turn the propane, electricity, and water pump off.

Next, drain the water out of the tank and unscrew the hardware holding the tank in place. Then put your new on-demand water heater in place and reconnect everything. While the installation and removal are straightforward, you may want a plumber to handle everything as they can do the removal and installation quicker.

RV Tankless Water Heater Installation


Installation is as straightforward as removing the old water heater. The key is to make sure you have the right size of on-demand water heater and that the fittings match up with the fittings leading to your shower and sinks.

It is possible that you may have to buy a new door to the compartment and installing the new door will take some time and some new butyl tape that needs to go around the exterior compartment.

You just screw the new door in place after sliding the on-demand water heater inside the compartment. One thing you do not have to do is hook up any water heater bypass valves. They are not needed on an on-demand heater.

The difficult part and you may need an electrician to handle this, is to hook up the electronic control panel. This goes in the interior of your RV and it should be within reach of your shower or kitchen sink. This control panel sets the water temperature so you need to reach it easily to make any adjustments.

After you have reconnected all hoses, electrical connections, and so on, do a test to make sure there are no gas leaks. Then turn the water heater on to test it.

Common RV Tankless Water Heater Problems

No device is perfect, no matter how technologically sound they are. You will find that even tankless water heaters will have some problems and not function as they should. There are some common problems to watch out for:

  • 1. Hot water switching off - it seems that these heaters have a flow rate standard. They will provide hot water if the water pressure meets the rate or a little bit less. Anything greater and the water coming out of the showerhead may be cold.
  • 2. Cold water to start - some on-demand water heaters take a few seconds to heat up and start working properly. If you do not wait, you could get cold water at the beginning of your shower. If you get cold water constantly, the exchanger may have gotten damaged.
  • 3. No hot water - this happens when you use more than one appliance or sink that needs hot water. the demand exceeds the supply and no one gets any hot water.
  • 4. Mineral build-up - not every RV goes into soft water territory. When you don’t and you stay for a while, you can have a mineral build-up that hinders the on-demand operation. The on-demand water heaters need cleaning more often than tank ones.
  • 5. Low fuel - there could be a blockage in the gas line or a loose wire in the electrical side of the operation. No matter the source, a lack of fuel or electricity will cause your on-demand water heater to malfunction.

RV Tankless Water Heater Cost

This depends on the brand, quality, size, and who the seller is. For the cheaper versions, you can probably get away with paying around $300 for one. However, if you want to get a good one that will last and deliver hot water all the time, you are looking at paying $600+.

Amazon has one for an RV that costs $629 and all the rest are smaller individual models and they range between $150 and $300 approx. Some of the propane models at Amazon are running in the high $200 range and almost $300.

Keep in mind that these prices are for your purchase only. Installation costs are separate if you want a professional to handle that end of the process. The total you may be paying could reach up to $1000 including labor. If you do not do it yourself.

When you compare these prices with the purchase price of a new tank water heater, you may think you are getting a bargain. Some RV water heaters may have small tanks but can reach up to $1000 without installation.

Your cost will vary due to the fact you may have found a good deal on one at the right store.

RV Tankless Water Heater Brands


While we reported earlier that there were three main brands making RV tankless water heaters, there are actually a few more. Besides Atwood, Suburban and Girard, there are Eccotemp, Camplux, Camp Chef, and EZ tankless.

These brands actually rank higher on one list than the previous three. Other brands you may have heard about are Precision, Excell, and Marey. They beat out Atwood and Suburban on another list but do not beat out Girard. That company had the first 2 positions locked up.

To get the best for you, you should look at the brand name but that is not the only criterion you use. The flow rate is important as some carry more water per minute than others. The flow rate is measured in gallons per minute or GPM.

The size of the on-demand water heater is a large factor as is the amount of BTUs the heater uses to heat your water. Water pressure is another important aspect to look at. That is measured as PSI and the GPM in on-demand heaters is more important than PSI.

How Much Propane Does a Tankless Water Heater Use

This is another depends situation as if you have a large family, your costs will go up. Right now the approx. price of propane is about $2.37 a gallon. Two people using only 15 gallons of propane a month will cost roughly $35.

15 gallons of propane is equal to about 2 30 pound propane tanks. If you have 3 to 4 people in your home and you use only 25 gallons of propane each month, then you are looking at spending almost $60.

The amount of propane you will use will depend on how long everyone showers. As you can see, the amount of propane you will use equals up to 4 30 pound tanks approx. These amounts include washing dishes, rinsing hands in the sink, washing clothes as well as taking a shower.

If you budget your use, then it is possible to get those costs and amounts down a little. if you have a very large family or lots of overnight guests, then you will be looking at paying almost $100 per month for propane. That number equals almost 50 gallons.

How to Use an RV Tankless Water Heater

After you made the decision and went out and bought your on-demand water heater, you need to learn how to use it. Unlike the home shower version that every hardware store has the design is a little bit different on RV models.

Since different people have to use the water heater in different locations, the control panel is located outside of the bathroom. You have to set your controls before you enter the shower and if you need to make adjustments to the temperature, you have to open the door and reach for the control panel.

Outside the shower, users can simply just walk to the control panel and make their adjustments. There is a little learning curve to get through but on-demand water heaters are simple to use.

There is little difference between using one of these heaters and a tank version. The on-demand is more convenient than the tank water heaters.

How to Get More Hot Water in My RV


The easiest method would be to buy and install the largest on-demand water heater you can find. These units will make sure everyone has enough hot water as long as two people are not using hot water at the same time.

But to get more hot water from your current unit you will need to increase the flow of water. Since on-demand water heaters require a minimum amount of water flow to start the burner, you have to increase that flow.

This can be done by making sure all the air has been bled from the water lines. Then you need to remove any water restrictors that may be in your current water lines. Finally, make sure to use only one hot water dispensing appliance at a time.

While on-demand water heaters save you money and give you plenty of hot water, they cannot do so if there is a large demand for their services. You may have to set up a schedule to make sure everyone has enough hot water for their individual activities.

Some Final Words

Despite some of the negative aspects that come with an on-demand water heater, their positives will overshadow those negatives. You can save money, as much as $200 per year, over the older tank system you had in your RV.

Plus, you get to take longer showers as well as use more hot water for laundry and dishes. Those benefits make RV life a little better. With the electric version, you can still boondock and get a good supply of hot water.

To answer the question that started this article, yes on-demand water heaters are worth it.

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