How to Turn on an Electric Water Heater in an RV? – 4 Steps

how to turn on an electric water heater in an rv

We know how important it is to have hot water when camping, especially in winter. When you have a small RV water heater, you can take hot showers and wash your hands more comfortably. So, how to turn on an electric water heater in an RV?

All you need is shore power in the campground or a generator when boondocking. Make sure that you know where the on/off switch is.

Find out the steps on how to start and turn on an electric water heater below.

Steps to Turn on Electric Water Heater in RV

Step 1: Ensure That The Freshwater Tank Is Full


Before turning on RV water heater, you have to make sure that your freshwater tank is full. If your tank is empty, fill it with water.

Find a water source near you and connect your hose. You can also use a water filter to ensure that the liquid is free of unwanted elements.

Once everything is hooked up, run the water hose to the panel containing the freshwater tank. Connect the hose and lock it in place, then let the water flow.

Step 2: Open The Pressure Relief Valve


Opening the pressure relief valve can do two things. First, it can ensure that the hot water tank is full. Second, it can release any air trapped inside the tank.

When you heat water repeatedly, air bubbles can form inside the hot water receptacle. You need to remove the air so that it won’t affect the efficiency of the heater unit.

The pressure relief valve is usually located on top of the water heater unit, so it’s easy to find in the access panel. To open, pull it to release the air out from the hot water tank. You should see some water coming out from the small plug or spigot.

Step 3: Find The Switch Location


The switch can be hard to find from the many components built into the water heater access panel. So, you need to open the panel to get a clear view of the switch. The location may also vary, depending on the unit.

Forest River has the switch located outside the RV near the water heater. Some water heaters have the switch located at the bottom corner, while others have it hidden at the back.

Step 4: Switch On Or Off

Once you’ve found the switch, turn it to the ON position. You should be connected to a 120-volt AC power source or generator to help kick-start the operation of the water heater.

Some water heaters like the Suburban SW6DEL model have another indoor switch to activate the heating element of the water heater. This comes in handy when it’s raining outside.

You can control the operation of the water heater in the RV as long as you leave the switch outside in the ON position.

How to Troubleshoot Electric Water Heater in RV


An RV electric water heater not working properly can be a disaster. Before you consider some serious replacement, try to conduct these easy RV hot water heater troubleshooting tips.

  • No Hot Water: It could be a power issue. Make sure that you’re connected with the shore power. If the problem persists, try to push the reset button because the emergency cut-off must have been activated when you exceed the temperature limit.
  • Water Leaks: If you see some water leaks, check the connections and keep them tight. The pressure relief valve can also be leaking due to the accumulation of air bubbles in the hot water tank. To resolve this issue, try to open the valve and release the air pressure.
  • Noises: Be vigilant about what type of noise your water heater makes because it can tell you what type of solution you can apply. If the sound is low rumbles, then you can try flushing out the sediments accumulated in the heater. A whistling sound could mean a loose drain valve or damaged tanks.

Tips to Care for and Maintain Your RV Electric Water Heater


Compared to other RV appliances, maintaining an electric water heater is pretty easy. Here are some useful tips you can follow.

  • Never turn on your water heater when the hot water tank is empty because the heating element might explode.
  • Drain excess water in the tank when you plan to store the RV for more than two weeks. Stagnant water will cause many health problems.
  • If you want to winterize your heater tank with an anti-freeze, consider installing a bypass valve. Check your product’s instructions manual if such a device is installed.
  • Replace the anode rod every three years or earlier when it’s very rusty.
  • Flush out the tank before the trip to remove any mineral or sediment buildup.

Electric vs Propane RV Water Heater: Which is Better?


Propane water heaters are ideal for boondocking because you only need a propane tank to run the unit. However, you might need to use more propane to heat the water at a higher temperature, which can be a bit expensive in the long run.

Switch RV water heater from propane to electric if you want to avoid water temperature problems. Compared to gas models, a travel trailer electric water heater has a higher efficiency. All the heat goes to the heating elements and not condenses into the air.

More importantly, you don’t need to spend more on propane to run the water heater. All you need is a 120-volt AC power source, which you can find in campgrounds and on generators.

Frequently Asked Questions


Where is the hot water heater in a camper?

The RV hot water heater electric unit is usually stored in a compartment. For easy access, a pull-down panel is located outside the RV. The panel lets you access the pressure-relief valve and the switch.

How long does an electric water heater last?

The best electric hot water heater for camper can last for 15 years with proper care and maintenance. You need to flush out the water and check the valves regularly to keep the unit in top shape.

How long does it take for an RV electric water heater to heat water?

The heating time depends on the volume of water you have in the tank. If you’re heating water under ten gallons, you can expect 20 minutes to get the water hot. Heating more than ten gallons may take hours.


At this point, I hope you know how to turn on an electric water heater in an RV. It’s pretty easy as long as you know where to find the switch. For your water heater to last long, conduct regular maintenance like replacing anode rods or performing some basic troubleshooting to fix issues.

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