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                   RV Water Heater Problems…Again
By Brad Fuller

Warren Petkovsek wrote an excellent article on RV water heater problems. If you haven’t read the article, I suggest that you read it to understand how to maintain your RV water heater. It could save you from being without hot water while on a camping trip.

In Warrens article, he talks about the problem that he had with his water heater on one of his trips and then goes on to explain how he fixed the problem. I recently had a problem with the water heater in my 5th wheel that was somewhat similar to Warren’s problem but with a different solution.

The current 5th wheel that we have has been what I would call a hands on training unit for learning how to fix all of the problems that happen to campers. Just about everything that can go wrong has gone wrong from the very first trip that we took in this 5th wheel. You named it and it has probably broken. Therefore, I think that with all the experience that I have gained I can come close to repairing most anything that might go wrong from now on. If not, at least I can deal with most any situation better than I could when I started out.

One of the problems that we had early on, was a water leak in the cargo area. Water would collect and I would clean it up, look for the leak and not find one. We would go for awhile and not have water and then there it was again. This went on for awhile until finally I found that the water was coming from a very slow drip from the connection on the top of the water heater. Since we were still in warranty, I had the connection replaced by our service dealer rather than do it myself. In the process of having this replaced, I was told that this connection had a one way check valve in it. This piece of information went into my brain and fortunately did not evaporate like so much info does.

So about a month ago, we took a trip out to the Farm Country RV Park in Medina, TX. We arrived late in the afternoon and got the camper setup. I turned the water heater on as usual, then we went to visit some friends in the RV park. When we came back, everything appeared normal until my wife tried to take a shower. She told me that there was no hot water. I told her that I had turned the water heater on but would check to make sure that it was on. My wife then explained that there was not only no hot water but no water coming from the hot water valve. Thinking that it might be operator error, I checked and sure enough, there was no water coming from the hot water side. The cold water side was working just fine!

Well ain’t this just dandy! On going problems with the mother ship. What’s a guy to do? Hey, what about that article that Warren wrote. I bet the answer to my problem lies within that article. It’s too late tonight so I’ll deal with it in the morning. Meanwhile, my wife takes a cold shower but I do without.

Knowing very well, especially from Warren’s article, that sediment can clog up the water system, I suspected that to be the problem. All I would need to do is dump the water tank, clean it out and I’d be back in business. Sometimes things are just not that simple.

Bright and early the next morning I went through the process suggested by Warren. I even suspected that possibly some sediment might have clogged the outlet on the top of the tank. One of my friends in the campground had one of the water tank flush nozzles, so I used that to clean the inside of the water tank. Feeling confident that this was the solution to my problem, I put everything back together and turned the water on and let the hot water tank fill up. I went inside and opened the hot water valve in the kitchen sink. When the air in the line stopped hissing, there was no water flow. Again, the cold water side was just fine!

My next thought was that maybe there was air trapped in the line preventing water from flowing. That didn’t seem too likely to me but it was a possibility. I remembered that I have a valve in my water system that will bypass the water tank. It is used when the water system is being winterized. I went out and turned the valve to bypass, came back in and turned on the hot water valve in the kitchen sink. Water flowed normally this time. This proved that there was no air bubble in the hot water line.

Since I could fill the water tank with water, the water heater worked and there was no restriction in the water line, there could only be one thing wrong. The one way check valve on the outlet of the water heater tank had to be either clogged or broken. Now comes the challenge; getting to and removing and replacing the check valve. Do I do this myself or do I take it in for repair when we get home? We were going to be at this campground for another 3 days and since the campground does not have public showers, it became a do it yourself project.

Fortunately, my water heater is easy to get to by removing a panel in the cargo area. I found a replacement valve in Kerrville, TX about 20 minutes away. I had some tools and figured it would be a relatively easy job. The problem was that this was a brass fitting that had become frozen in the threads of the tank. Try as I may, I could not get the valve to move with my limited tools on hand. I tried using WD40 to loosen it, but to no avail. So I got lucky. With the water hose removed, I could see the check valve in the fitting by shinning my flashlight in the back of the brass housing. I took a small screw driver and gently pushed on the check valve. It looked like it popped back into position so I put the water hose back on. I turned on the water supply, went back inside, turned the hot water on and there was water flow.

We were back in business but I knew this wasn’t a permanent fix. Sure enough, the night before we were to leave, the water stopped flowing again. We didn’t take a shower that night but hey, we were going home anyway and we both smelled the same.

When we got home, I completed the repair on the check valve. I got a 1 inch deep socket and some really potent penetrating solvent. A few minutes after I sprayed the threads and with the long socket handle, the valve came right out. On our next camping trip, we had plenty of hot water.

So what’s the take away here? Warren’s article explains how to maintain your water heater tank. This is something that should be done on a regular basis. In fact, I drain my water heater tank several times a year during the winter months after returning from a camping trip and before storing the RV. At that time I can check the condition of the anode rod. The other thing to remember is that there is a check valve on the top of your water heater tank. If it stops working for whatever reason, you will not get water from the tank. The two possibilities for the valve not to work are sediment and the valve just failing. In my case the valve failed due to what looked like rusted parts. When I took the fitting out of the tank, the valve fell apart and dropped out of the fitting. The fact that I was able to get a check valve from any of several different dealers on the day that I needed it, tells me that this is something that happens fairly often. I was fortunate in that my water heater tank was easy to get to. Yours may not be easy but at least you will know what is wrong.

I hope this info is helpful some day. Happy camping!

Brad Fuller
This Old Campsite Dot Com