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Are tankless RV water heaters the key to an endless supply of hot water?


Cold showers suck. Because typical propane/electric RV water heaters usually have relatively small holding tanks, cold showers can happen in an RV — especially if you have several people trying to take showers in your camper. The standard water heater — be it in your house or your RV — is also very inefficient because it has a holding tank that is heated continually. The constant heating wastes energy, keeping water hot in a tank that may or may not get used, but did you know there are other water heater options? There’s a new kid on the block that can provide you an unlimited and instant supply of hot water in your RV. The new kid’s name is the tankless RV water heater, and he’s quickly revolutionized the way we camping folks think of hot water in our RVs. Tankless RV water heaters heat water on-demand to provide an endless supply of hot water. However, before you go jumping into a tankless RV water heater, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.

What is a tankless RV water heater?

Tankless RV water heaters, also known as RV-instant-hot-water-heaters, work by heating the water as soon as you flip the hot water faucet on. Rather than heating an entire tank of water, an instant RV hot water heater heats the water as it runs through the pipes inside the heater. Tankless RV water heaters also allow you to easily control hot water temperature via an easily adjustable control panel.

The result is an endless flow of hot water as long as you have water coming into your RV. This seamless flow of water means no more cold showers, no more worrying about running out of hot water, and no more fruitless attempts to wash your dishes without hot, sudsy water.

Pros of a tankless RV water heater

Instant RV water heaters made their debut when The Girard Group released a tankless unit created specifically for RVs in 2009. Since then, tankless RV water heaters have been taking the outdoor world by storm. RV makers like Jayco and Forest River are adding tankless RV water heaters into their new campers because these heaters offer a number of benefits over their tanked counterparts. Here are the pros of a tankless water heater:

  • Tankless RV water heaters are green Traditional propane or electric RV water heaters waste a tremendous amount of energy because they heat a full tank of water, whether it gets used or not. Tankless RV water heaters only heat water when it is demanded
  • Tankless RV water heaters provide a virtually endless supply of hot water — As long as you have a power source (propane gas or electric) and water going into the RV, you will have instant hot water
  • Tankless RV water heaters take up less space — Typical propane or electric RV water heaters have a 6-10 gallon tank that takes up precious space in your RV. Instant RV water heaters are generally half the size of traditional RV water heater
  • Tankless RV water heaters use less propane and/or electric — Like tanked RV water heaters, tankless RV water heaters run on propane gas, electricity, or both. Either way, you’ll use less electricity or propane gas because instant RV water heaters only heat water as it is needed  

Cons of a tankless RV water heater

  • Cost — Tankless RV water heaters can be more expensive than tanked water heaters. However, prices of instant RV water heaters are coming down. If you’re a full-time RVer or regularly rent out your RV, you can easily recoup the increased up-front costs because a tankless RV water heater saves you money on propane and/or electricity
  • An instant RV water heater may not fit perfectly in your RV — Because tankless RV water heaters are a different size and shape than traditional propane/electric RV water heaters, it can sometimes be difficult to retrofit tankless heaters into your RV. That said, most manufacturers of tankless RV water heaters have worked to ensure their units can be installed in most RVs
  • Temperature regulation — While you can digitally set the hot water temperature in a tankless RV water heater, you may want it set at a higher or lower temperature than the rest of the family. Unlike a tanked water heater, many tankless RV water heaters are sensitive to the amount of cold water flowing through them. In other words, you usually can’t just add cold water if a shower feels too hot because it can confuse an instant hot water system. However, models such as the Girard GSWH-2 promise to solve this problem 
  • Tankless RV water heaters are more sensitive to fluctuations in water pressure — Tanked RV water heaters simply fill up their water tank and heat the water, but tankless RV water heaters depend on water flowing through them. Because campground water pressure can vary, this can create difficulty for an instant RV water heater. However, using your RV water pump or purchasing an RV water pressure regulator can help resolve this issue by keeping a constant water pressure in your RV

    RV tankless water heater, RV propane water heater, RV electric water heater, tankless water heaters, RV instant hot water heater
    Photo courtesy of Her Fine Mess

Can I replace my current propane/electric RV water heater with a tankless RV water heater?

Yes! It’s possible to replace your current hot water heater. Because the tankless RV water heater will be smaller than your original water heater, you will need to find a way to fit it into the old space. Also, if you purchase a tankless RV water heater with an electric option but don’t currently have your RV water heater wired for electric, you should consider adding that wiring as part of the installation. 

Cold showers have been a sneaking possibility in RVs since the invention of the tanked RV water heater in the early 1900s. The dawn of tankless RV water heaters has opened the door to a future where cold RV showers don’t exist. So long as you understand the few drawbacks of RV instant hot water heaters, the chances are strong that you can create an endless supply of hot water with a tankless RV water heater.

If you want to learn more about how RV hot water heaters operate, you might be interested in our Never Idle Journal post on RV water heater basics.

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