It can certainly be a bit of a surprise when on a chilly morning out at a campsite, you turn on the hot water for a quick shower, and either there is no water flow or the water that does come out is ice-cold. Although you may be a bit disappointed at not being able to take a hot shower, the fix is may not be such a big deal.
Depending on what type of heating system you have, gas or electric, or whether you are actually getting limited or no water flow at all, we will break this down into 3 parts.
Regardless of any type of hot water heating system your RV has, if you have zero water flow coming out of any or all faucets, that’s an issue all by itself.
- Check the Water Tank – Even the most dedicated and experienced campers will forget things, especially tasks that are not redundant. Filling a water tank is one of those. Always make sure to use potable water, even if you only use it for showering or washing.
- Check the Supply Valve – This is another RV regular task, and it can easily be forgotten.
- Check the Electrical Supply – Your RV water flow is a direct result of the water pump working. Either your onboard battery or ashore electrical plug powers them. If you are using your battery, make sure the cables are secure and that the battery has been fully charged and ready to go. If you are using a shore connection, check your fuse box for any tripped circuits.
- Check for water plugs at the source – If your sink water runs free, and you can hear the water pump turn on, but your shower has no water flowing at all, your shower head is plugged. It is most likely the cause of sediment or hard water, and a good soaking in vinegar will cure the problem. If the shower flows, but the sink faucet doesn’t, a plugged faucet screen will be the problem. Unscrew the faucet end, clean the screen and replace.
- Water filter plugged – If you use a water filter in your RV, the filter could be plugged. Generally, these filters need to be replaced if they become full of sediment. However, most of them have a bypass valve for emergencies. Switch the valve to “bypass” and even if the filter itself needs replacement, you’ll still get water out of your faucets.
- Water pump filter cleaning – Your actual water pump has its own dedicated filter that is reusable. Simply rinse and reinstall. Ideally, this task should be completed seasonally, and it will last until next seasons rinsing.
- A crimped hose – Although this must be taken into consideration if you suddenly have no water flow, it is a very rare occurrence. There may be some situations where a water hose might become crimped, but a crimped or otherwise damaged water hose would only be checked if everything else is free and clear.
No Hot Water
No hot water means exactly that, no hot water. Depending on which type of RV you have, or the customized accessories you have ordered, there are 3 different ways that how water is made. Electrically, gas, or a combination of both.
With a combination, unless something catastrophic happens, one of the ways to make hot water will always work. If the gas or electric portion is out, you may get limited hot water, or the water may not be as hot as desired, but you’ll always have some type of heated water available. Once you determine which of your hot water systems isn’t working, you’ll be able to use the guide below on how to troubleshoot electrically or gas-fired hot water systems.
Electric Hot Water System
When you are at a campsite, there may only be a limited amount of troubleshooting that you can do. Since an RV electrical hot water heater works off of 120 volts, or a shore connection, always make sure your RV is plugged in. Check the circuit breaker, and this may be the biggest clue of them all.
If the breaker is blown and refuses to be reset, the chances are that the main heating element inside the hot water tank is bad. This is common and needs to be changed out before you’ll get any hot water. If the breaker is blown and resets successfully, your hot water issues may be over.
If the breaker is sound, access the actual water heater switch on the water heater tank. In some cases, the switch itself may no longer work. If you toggle the switch back and forth, and only one side clicks, the switch is bad.
If the wire connection on one or the other side of the switch looks burned, chances are the switch is non-functional. The only way to repair this is to install a new switch, and they can be found at any hardware store near you.
If none of those troubleshooting tips works, you’ll be into some fairly major maintenance. For example, the heating element must be replaced if the breaker won’t reset. The thermostat control must be tested and replaced if it is not functioning. The anode rod may need to be replaced before you’ll get usable hot water. Unless you are a skilled do-it-yourself person with all the right tools at the campsite, this is a job either to be done at home or taken into a professional establishment for service.
Gas Fired Hot Water
In many ways troubleshooting a gas-fired water heater at a campground is far easier than an electrical one. The first thing to do is to make sure your propane tanks are turned on. If they are, the next step is to make sure the direct gas valve to water heater is on.
If both of those valves are on, and you know there is propane in the tank, you’ll need to find out if the gas is being lit. Many older RV’s have a direct flame thermocouple.
Once lit, the flame stays on to light the gas which heats the water tank. If the direct flame is out, relight it according to procedures. Older RV’s with thermocouple units will have the directions written on the inside of the access cover. If the flame stays lit, you will be good to go. If the flame goes out, you’ll need a new thermocouple.
The other ignition source, found on basically all modern RV’s is direct spark ignition. It relies on your RV battery for spark, so when you dial up the heat, and you don’t hear a spark from the water heater, make sure the battery is solidly attached and charged. If the gas is turned on, and there is a spark but no ignition, chances are that the gas control box is faulty. A replacement is the only cure.
The smaller problems with water flow or heat can be addressed at the campsite, but any major repairs that, unless you have a full tool kit, would be best remedied at home.