Should I Leave My RV Water Heater On All The Time?

Properly using and maintaining RV appliances can be challenging, especially for new RV owners.  A common question often asked by many new RV owners is – “Should I leave my RV water heater turned on?” 

The most accurate answer is – no, you should not leave your RV water heater on all the time. Running it continuously can cause faster wear and tear, increase energy costs, and create potential safety hazards if unattended. The preferred approach is cycling the RV water heater on 30-60 minutes before use and off when done.

With rising RV gas prices and maintenance costs, getting the most out of your RV water heater efficiently is key. For this, I have provided an in-depth explanation of the pros and cons of leaving an RV water heater on 24/7.

We’ll explore RV water heater functionality, energy source types, usage tips, operating costs comparison, safety best practices, and steps to maximize your RV water heating system efficiency. Pay close attention to the operating specifications of your particular RV manufacturer and model.

Should I Leave My RV Water Heater On All The Time?

Should You Leave An RV Water Heater On 24/7?

Without discussing this and that let’s start with our main concern, whether to leave an RV water heater on 24/7 or not.

Modern RV water heaters offer dual power sources – either propane gas or electricity: 

Propane RV Water Heater

Propane water heaters are the most common type of RV water heater and it uses propane gas to heat water. This type of water heater contains a gas tank. The propane gas runs through the gas lines and heats the water in the tank.

Now, if you leave the propane RV water heater on all the time, there is a risk of a gas leak, especially during travel. Propane is a highly explosive gas that can create explosions or fires in case of accidents. For this, it is recommended to turn off the gas before traveling and only turn it on when you need it.

Electric RV Water Heater

Electric RV Water Heaters use electricity to heat water. Neither there is any chance of leaking electricity nor electricity is flammable. Thus, many think that leaving the electric RV water on is a safe option.

While it is indeed a safer option, it will continuously consume the fuel of your RV. So, leaving the electric RV water heater on all the time will increase your expenses without any benefit. So, it is also recommended to turn off the electric RV water heater when not in use.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of turning the RV water heater on 24/7 so that you can make a better decision:

Pros and Cons of Leaving an RV Water Heater On

Pros Of Leaving It On

There are some advantages to leaving your RV water heater powered on all day and night:

  1. Hot Water Always Ready: Hot water is continuously available whenever you turn on a sink or shower without any waiting for heat up. This convenience is why many wonder if it’s alright to just leave it running nonstop.
  2. Preheat Pipes: Keeping a continuous heat source warming up the water lines and heat exchanger can help reduce any risk of freezing pipes in very cold weather.

Cons Of Running 24-Hour Operation

However, there are several drawbacks to keeping your RV water heating systems powered on all day every day during storage or camping including: 

  1. Energy Cost: Depending on your RV and energy source chosen, leaving an RV hot water heater on the whole time could potentially use 5-14 gallons of propane or 9-30kWh of electricity per day. This constant fuel usage leads to a much higher operational cost over time.
  2. Excessive Wear: The repeated thermal cycling will lead to faster wear and tear of key components like heating elements, control boards, valves, and seals. The typical lifespan of an RV water heater is 5-10 years. Constant operation accelerates the need for repairs and replacement.
  3. Safety Risks: Unattended LP gas appliances left burning propane 24 hours a day create a higher risk of leaks, fires, explosions, and asphyxiation if not properly exhausted.
  4. Tank Drain Damage: Most RV water heaters have an exterior overflow drain. Continuous water heating causes frequent cycling of hot/cold water flowing in and out of this small plastic drain fitting which commonly leads to leaks.

In summary, the cost, wear, and potential safety hazards outweigh any small convenience benefit of leaving an RV water heater powered on all day and night.

RV Water Heater Hourly Cost Comparison

To help decide the daily operation duration for your RV water heater, let’s compare the estimated hourly energy costs of each power source option.

Actual electrical and propane consumption varies depending on water heater size, available tank insulation, heat settings, and ambient conditions. Below is a general cost estimate comparison.

Liquid Propane Hourly Cost

Heating water with LP gas gets a fast flame but comes at a higher operational expense.

  • Avg Propane Consumption: 0.4 – 1.4 gallons per hour
  • Avg Propane Cost: $3.00/gallon
  • Approx Hourly Cost: $1.20 – $4.20 per hour

Running your RV water heater on LP gas nonstop would use 10-30 gallons of propane daily and cost $30-90 per day.

Electric Heating Hourly Cost

Using electric heating elements avoids propane costs but requires running the RV generator to produce electricity.

  • Generator Fuel: Gasoline
  • Generator Fuel Usage: Approximately 0.3-1 gallons per hour
  • Gasoline Cost: Avg $3.50/gallon
  • Approx Generator Fuel Cost: $1.05 – $3.50 per hour

Letting an electric RV water heater run 24 hours a day would use 7-24 gallons of gasoline to generate the needed electricity, adding $37-84 per day in fuel costs.

Tips For Efficient RV Water Heater Use

The preferred approach for most RV owners is cycling the water heater on shortly before needing hot water rather than nonstop operation.

Follow these tips to minimize costs and wear while still having hot water ready when you need it:

  • Only Run 30-60 Minutes Before Use: Plan ahead and turn on your RV water heater 30-60 minutes prior to needing hot water for showering, doing dishes, etc. This preheating window gets hot water ready just in time with less energy waste.
  • Cycle Energy Sources: Use a free heat exchanger while driving then switch to propane at camp. When hooked up to shoreline power, use the electric heating element to avoid any propane costs. Adjust to conditions.
  • Use Intermittent Pilot Ignition: Newer RV water heaters have electronic ignition which only lights the pilot when the thermostat calls for heat instead of wasting propane keeping a pilot lit 24/7.
  • Insulate Hot Water Lines: Installing pipe insulation around exposed exterior hot and cold water lines will reduce overnight heat loss in cold weather.
  • Maintain Your Water Heater: Follow the manufacturer-recommended inspection, testing, and maintenance to keep your RV water heater running efficiently for its full-service life.

Safety Precautions

While the lower operating costs, system wear, and energy use all favor cycling your RV water heater on and off as needed rather than nonstop operation, addressing safety is also a top priority.

Ventilation & Exhaust

LP gas and propane burning appliances consume oxygen and release combustion gases and byproducts inside your RV including carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide fumes.

Ensuring your RV water heater has properly sealed vent tubes routing all exhaust gases outdoors is extremely important to prevent dangerous accumulation inside your rig. Carefully inspect for any cracks or holes in vents which could leak dangerous gases indoors.

Also, be sure to use range vent hoods when operating propane appliances and consider installing a carbon monoxide gas detector for maximum safety.

Risk Of Heat Sources Igniting RV Interior Hazards

Overheating from continuous operation also introduces the risk of fire from ignition sources located inside the RV water heater compartment if any flammable chemicals, propane, equipment or debris are accidentally stored incorrectly in this area.

Always keep the water heater storage area clean and only store rated PG-classified heat-resistant components. Remove any combustible materials immediately. Inspect wiring for damage, no exposed conductors or loose, cracked connections that could spark.

Scalding & Burns

Excessively hot water temperatures above 120°F increase the danger of scalds and burns. This is especially hazardous for children, elderly, or physically impaired passengers. periodically confirming your temperature setting stays around the 110-120°F range enhances safety for occupants using the hot water system.

By being aware and proactive in taking preventative steps, these risks can be effectively minimized allowing peace of mind when it comes to safe habitation and use of RV water heating systems.

Keep the RV Water Heater Under Regular Maintenance

No matter how careful your usage habits are, periodically performing routine maintenance checks, cleaning and testing ensures your RV water heater runs safely at peak efficiency over its working lifespan.

According to band manufacturer Dometic, some quick proactive maintenance steps each season include:

  • Inspect all external fittings, pressure relief valves, and piping for corrosion or leaks
  • Confirm exhaust venting remains securely intact and sealed
  • Drain & flush tank sediments that accumulate over time
  • Check anode rod condition which absorbs corrosive elements
  • Test electric elements, thermostat, and heating functionality
  • Evaluate LP gas burner flame color, output, and heat production
  • Clear any dust, debris or obstructions from compartment vents
  • Ensure access doors seal tightly to retain heat
  • Review service manuals for model-specific protocols

While seeming tedious, taking a few hours once a year to run through these critical steps extends operational years, prevents tank corrosion damage and catches any wear or faults early before they become large failures.

Key Takeaways

Coming back to the original question posed, given the energy costs, wear factors and risks should RV owners leave their water heaters powered 24/7?

In most cases, the answer amounts to no, do NOT leave them on continuously.

To summarize the top reasons:

🔥 High Energy Cost – Up to $90/day in propane or added electric fees

🔥 Excess Wear & Tear – Accelerates tank corrosion, seals drying out, element failure

🔥 Safety Risks – Gas leaks, fire hazards, and dangerous exhaust accumulation

🔥 Limited Water Capacity – Quickly runs out of the 10-20 gallons heated

Instead, follow these preferred hot water heater usage practices:

✅ Preheat 30-60 Minutes Before Needing – Avoid nonstop energy waste but still have hot water on demand

✅ Utilize Heat Exchanger While Driving – Free hot water via engine coolant heat while moving

✅ Cycle Energy Sources – Use electric at hookups then propane while stationary

✅ Perform Preventative Maintenance – Extend system lifespan, efficacy, and safety

Making a few adjustments to turn off your RV water heater while parked and stationary goes a long way to save on energy costs, system longevity and operational safety.

Now that you have a detailed overview of RV water heater functionality and why leaving them on 24/7 is NOT advisable, use the tips provided to make the most efficient usage strategy based on your specific RV model, energy accessibility, and typical travel duration or dry camping frequencies. Hopefully reviewing the comprehensive details on whether to leave your RV water heater turned On all the time equipped you with a deeper understanding. Please comment with any other questions. Safe travels!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Better To Shut Off the RV Hot Water Heater At Night?

Yes, turning an RV water heater off at night when stationary conserves energy since no hot water use occurs while asleep. Preheating each morning an hour before needing it saves propane/electrical usage overnight. Utilize heat exchanger warmth after driving.

Will Leave RV Hot Water Heater On Damage It?

Leaving it on continuously can accelerate wear by increasing thermal cycling stresses which advance failures of heating elements, control boards, valves, and seals. Frequent cold water influx and hot water outflow also deteriorate tank fittings.

What Is The Most Energy Efficient Rv Water Heater?

For energy efficiency, use electric heating elements when hooked up to shore power or running your generator. This avoids propane costs 5-15x higher per hour. Minimize runtimes further by aligning usage to peak showering periods only when required.

Should You Drain An RV Hot Water Heater After Each Trip?

While not always required after every single short trip, periodically doing a full drain and flush of tanks/lines to limit sediment and bacteria accumulation is suggested every 1-3 months of moderate usage before storage. This maintains interior health.

How Long Do RV Water Heater Tanks Last?

RV water heater lifespans average 5-12 years under typical operating conditions before repairs or replacements may be needed. Limiting unnecessary runtimes without usage and avoiding freeze damage extends lifespan closer to 10+ years. Regular draining/flushing also prolongs tank health.

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