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RV Water Heater Winter MaintenanceIn the third part of this multi-part series on RV inspection and maintenance, we will discuss the RV water heater. These articles provide tips on performing annual inspections and simple maintenance only. These pro-active steps should help mitigate unexpected component failures.

P&T valveWhen it comes time to inspect your water heater, it is a good opportunity to check for water leaks around the appliance, as there are several valves and connections that could leak or fail. With the water pump on or city water connected, look for leaks, drips, standing water or stains around the water heater, especially the rear where the connections are. Before winterizing, inspect the P&T valve (shown at the left) for proper operation by ensuring that the lever can be easily lifted with no binding. Check for excessive dripping from the valve, although some intermittent dripping is normal. If the P&T valve drips continuously, have your water heater checked by an RV Repair center.

If your RV has winterization bypass valves installed, ensure they are in the proper orientation for the desired operational mode. For instance, if your unit is winterized, make sure the valves are fully in the “bypass” position. Similarly, for normal operation, ensure the valves are completely rotated to the appropriate orientation. It is common for RV owners to fire up their water heaters, only to have lukewarm or cold water at the taps. This is almost always caused by a failure to fully open/close the bypass valves after winterization.

Inspect the front of the water heater for debris, insects, spider webs, etc. As with other propane appliances, insects like to make a home in the various tubes and orifices of the water heater.

Ignite the gas burner to make sure the heater lights properly and stays lit. If not, you need to have the water heater serviced.

Finally, inspect the drain plug. If you have a water heater with a steel tank, such as a Suburban, the drain plug will be integrated with a sacrificial anode rod. This rod gets attacked by the ions in the water, which prevents them from attacking the steel tank. Remove the anode rod and replace it if it is more than 70% worn. When replacing the anode rod, be sure to use Teflon tape (PTFE) on the threads to help seal them and make the rod easier to remove next season. If you have a water heater with an aluminum tank, such as an Atwood, it will have a simple drain plug. It is extremely important that you do not replace the plastic plug with a metal one. Using a metal plug that is not the same metal or alloy as the tank plug threads can result in a condition known as Galvanic Corrosion. This causes the metal interface, in this case, the threads to corrode, resulting in the plug being extremely difficult to remove. Stick with the plastic plug, and if the wrench flats start to round, purchase a new water heater plug. Camco makes an inexpensive replacement.

About the Author: 

Steve Froese, an avid RV owner, traveler, and Coach-Net member since 2013, is the principal of “A Word to the Wise Technical Communications”, a published RV author, certified RV technician, and licensed Professional Engineer. He frequently collaborates with the “RV Doctor”, Gary Bunzer, and has worked with the RVIA/RVDA as a technical and training writer and consultant. Professionally, he works as a quality engineer and musician. Watch for more of Steve’s work in upcoming Coach-Net publications.

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