RV Maintenance Tip: Water Heater Maintenance

By:  Kelly Barnett

14th Mar, 17

It seems that sometimes we tend to learn things the hard way. You know…after a disaster or breakdown.

We'd had our Heartland Landmark fifth wheel for about 4 years when our water heater started leaking and ended up needing to be replaced.

Michael removed the water heater from the coach and we took it to a dealer to have them diagnose the problem. But once they made their determination they decided that they would not work with our extended warranty provider and planned on charging us nearly $1,000 just for the water heater…no installation. 

Michael found the exact same water heater on Amazon (click HERE if interested in the water heater information) for considerably less.  So we decided to purchase it from Amazon, and Michael would just install it himself; saving us money and time. 

Michael felt that the water heater failed, in part, due to the very hard water that we are provided while we are gate guarding. The harder the water the sooner the rod will need replacing.

He also felt that since he was only checking the anode rod for corrosion about once a year it may have contributed to the failure. In our case, the anode rod was corroded so badly most of it was nearly non-existent. Since the anode rod is a sacrificial part the lime ate away at it before eventually starting to eat away at the tank itself, causing the leak. In other words, he let it go too long without checking the rod and flushing all of the gunk out of the tank and/or changing the anode rod.

Like I said…we tend to learn things the hard way. We now add a reminder to our calendar to check the anode rod for wear and tear every three months.

We suggest that you check the anode rod in your water heater at least once every six months, and if you want to be over cautious (like us!) once every three months. It's a fairly easy process that shouldn't take much more than 45 minutes from start to finish.

Not sure how to check the anode rod? Below you'll find easy step by step directions.

1. First off, turn the water to your RV off.

2. Remove the cover to the water heater.

3.Turn the 'on/off' switch on the water heater to the 'off' position, if being powered by electric. If running off of propane, you would ensure the switch is off (the switch is only used if powering your water heater with electric) and also turn off the propane.

4.  Open the pressure relief valve. (It will point straight out when opened). 

5.  Using a socket wrench remove the anode rod. (Our Suburban 12 gallon DSI water heater uses a 1 1/16 socket to be removed. Other brands may differ).

6.  Carefully remove the anode rod as hot water will flow when you remove it. Let the water empty out of the water heater.
Be very careful when removing the anode rod as the water will begin to empty right away and will be HOT.

7.  Check the anode rod for lime build up and corrosion. If it just has some lime built up on it, you can easily use some steel wool to clean it. If it is badly corroded, you will want to replace it with a new one. Michael tries to keep an extra anode rod on hand so that he can easily do the replacement when needed. 

This anode rod was easily cleaned up using some steel wool.

8.  Now you'll want to flush out the water heater. You can either use a hose, by itself, to do the flushing or attach a handy dandy tool (Water Heater Tank Rinser) that will make the job a little easier. Run clean water into the water heater until the majority of the 'crud' that has built up inside has been removed.

This works great for flushing out the hard-to-reach interior of the water heater.

9.  Apply Teflon tape to the threads of the anode rod (2 or 3 layers) and then reinsert the anode rod into the water heater. Tighten in place using your socket wrench. The tape provides a water tight seal.

A nice water tight seal will help prevent any leakage.

10.  Turn the water going to the RV back on and once it starts coming out the pressure relief valve you can close the pressure relief valve by turning it down toward the ground. 

11. Go inside your camper and verify that water is coming out of the hot water faucets (it won't be hot yet, though). 

12.  Lastly, turn the on/off switch on the water heater to the 'on' position, if operating on electric or if running on propane turn the propane back on, leaving the on/off switch in the 'off' position since this switch is for electric usage only. Turning the on/off switch on will turn the heating element of the water heater back on so that the water heater can start heating water again. 

Caution:  If there is no water in the water heater and the switch is turned on, you run the risk of burning up the element inside the water heater. 

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Kelly Barnett

Kelly Barnett

RV There Yet Chronicles

My husband, Michael, and I have been living fulltime in our 2011 Landmark Key Largo since April of 2011 and LOVE every minute of it. 

When Michael retired from the US Army in October of 2012 (after 29 years of service) we hit the road and haven’t looked back. 

We usually work in the south Texas oilfields in the winter and spend time with our two sons and their families in the summer. We travel and sight-see as much and often as possible.