RV Electric Water Heater Switch: How Do I Turn It On?

When you join the RV community, one of the first things you learn is that not all RVs are made the same. You may have similar features, but the parts are found in different locations, different numbers, and may look different.

How do I turn on my electric water heater in my RV? Some water heaters have a simple switch like you find in your home and located right by the heater. Others may have their switch outside and it may take more than a fingertip to operate.

To learn more about turning on your water heater’s switch, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about so you can find and turn the switch on or off at your leisure. Just don’t be surprised if you have to go outside to operate it.

How do I Turn On My Electric Water Heater in My RV?


This will depend on the model of your water heater. Many electric versions have a switch either on the device itself or in the same room. Sometimes they are on the same control panel as all your other switches.

Then if you have a combination water heater, you may see a dual switch option that is in the same location as your water heater. But then again, it may not be. The dual switches are clearly labeled ‘gas’ and ‘electric’ with a reset button in between the two.

Then with those types of switches, you just operate them like you would your light switch in your traditional home. The good news is that the gas and electric switches can be on at the same time.

The bad news is for those who do not have these switches. When they are absent you have to go outside to the water heater plate, remove it and then manually operate the switch according to the instructions of your owner’s manual.

When you turn the water heater on, make sure you fill the tank first or you risk burning out your elements.

Where Is My RV Water Heater Switch?


This will depend on two things. The type of water heater your RV has and where the manufacturer decided was the best location for the switch to be placed. If you ask the dealer where it is, you may not get a correct answer. Sometimes dealers do not even know where they are.

For those who cannot find an inside switch, you will have to go to either the water heater panel or the black water heater panel. Unscrew the plates and look inside. In one model the switch is located behind a brass device and may be hard to reach if you have large hands or thick fingers.

You may also find the propane switch next to it on some models of RVs. That switch has the DSI light and if it is on, your propane is not lit and not heating your water. However, both switches should be clearly marked.

If you are lucky enough to own an RV whose maker decided the best place for the on and off switch was inside your RV, then they may be easier to find. Both should be clearly marked so you cannot get confused.

Also, the panel holding both switches should say the words ‘water heater’ on it. Then, you may find that these switches are placed on a general control board and hidden among all the other switches you need to move in order to get your RV features running right.

They should be clearly labeled as well. Two things you should do first before flipping the switch on. One, make sure the tank is full of water and two, make sure the tank is plugged in.

Can I Leave My RV Hot Water Heater On all the Time?


This is not going to be a problem. If you are one of those forgetful types, it may be best to leave your water heater turned on all the time. That way you will have hot water waiting for you instead of you waiting for the hot water.

However, make sure you do those two things we just mentioned in the previous section before you make this decision. Burned-out elements in an RV water heater can get expensive to repair. Also, you save yourself some embarrassment by not having the repairman find the water heater unplugged.

Most likely, when you leave the water heater on all the time, you are saving on wear and tear on the switch. The constant turning on and off can wear the switch down eventually causing you another unnecessary repair later on.

It also saves you some frustration as you won’t have to delay your shower while waiting for the switch to be fixed. Leaving the switch on is a matter of convenience and there should be nothing to worry about when you do this.

RV Water Heater Switch On Or Off?


This is going to be up to you to decide which is the best way to handle this task. There is nothing wrong with leaving the switch on while you are camping or driving. The switch is only powered when you hook up to the campsite’s power grid so you are not using any electricity while you drive.

The water heater switch should not be powered by the inverter as that device provides a large load which the switch cannot handle. If your switch is powered by the inverter, you should turn the switch off when the heater is not being used.

This is something you need to take seriously as the switch can be left on accidentally when there is no water in the tank. Because those elements can get very hot, they may damage the water heater as well as itself if you do not catch the mistake in time.

If that does happen, although it may be rare, you could see some high repair bills. We are not going to go paranoid here and say a fire could start but that too is a possibility if you are not careful.

Probably the best thing to do would be to turn the switch off when you are driving and turn it on again when you are camping. That way you can avoid accidents from taking place. When you store your RV for the winter, make sure to switch the water heater to off. For more, read our article RV water heater switch on or off?

RV Rater Heater Switch Not Working


This is always a possibility as switches do wear out, get dirty, or lose contact with key wires. One sign may be that the switch is a bit stiff to move from one position to another and even moving it back and forth a few times doesn't loosen it up.

To check the switch, first turn your propane heater on, if you have a combination water heater, so you always have hot water ready while you work. Depending on where your switch is located influences your repair stages. The following is for those switches located outside of your RV.

The first step is to go to your exterior water heater panel and remove the plate. The next step is to locate the switch and get ready to remove it. Removal is not difficult as it is usually only held in place via plastic clips.

To get the switch out, you need to use a flat head screwdriver and pry it out of its position. Just be careful not to use a lot of force as you could break those clips. Next, use a multimeter to test the continuity of the switch. If there is none then you have a faulty switch and you need to replace it.

Make sure to replace it with the exact same electrical requirements or you will have more problems down the road. Test the new switch before accepting the fact that the repair was made.

A Few Water Heater Facts

  • The main RV water heater makers are Atwood and Suburban. So you may find the same situation as other RV owners and the same fixes should apply to all issues
  • RV water heater tanks are small so you need to practice some water conversation while on the road
  • On-demand water heaters are a good replacement for your tank design. Plus, you never run out of hot water

Some Final Words

When you want to play hide and seek as an adult, buy an RV. You will get your fill of that game very quickly. Finding the water heater switch will depend on where the manufacturer decided to put it.

No matter where they are, the switches are easy to replace when they go bad.

Leave a Comment: