RV Water Heater Comparison

RV Water Heater Comparison Guide: Which Camper Water Heater Is Right for You?

When camping or heading out on a road trip, hot water is a necessity. This is why most RVs come equipped with RV water heaters. But you’re going to reach a point when you need to replace your camper water heater, whether the original has broken or you just want to upgrade. When comparing RV water heater models, there are a few variables you should be aware of.

Fuel Source

There are three primary fuel options when it comes to RV water heaters: liquid propane or gas, electric or a combination of the two. Let’s explore these options and how each operate.

Liquid Propane (Lp) or Gas

Liquid propane or gas water heaters are available in two model types. The core difference between these models is the ignition system. The following are the two types of ignitions currently available for LP or gas models.

Manual Pilot Light System

The most basic gas RV water heater utilizes a manual pilot light ignition. This is a popular type of camper water heater due to its overall reliability and simplicity. The pilot flame needs to be lit manually, which can be done once you reach your destination. But some water heaters offer a pilot flame re-ignite ignition, which automatically re-ignites the pilot light if it goes out. Both propane and LP can be used with this type of water heater.

Direct Spark Ignition System

A direct spark ignition (DSI) camper water heater is the most commonly used today. Fully automatic, a DSI lets you simply flip a switch to turn it on once the heater’s tank is filled. A signal is sent from the thermostat to the heater control circuit board. Once the signal is received, the gas valve will open and the igniter will activate, producing a flame. If the sensor doesn’t detect a flame after 15 seconds, the gas valve will close and an indicator light will turn on, indicating that the heater failed to light. The advantage to a DSI water heater is that it’s designed to operate when the RV is in motion.


An electric RV water heater is powered by 120 volts alternating current (AC). Keep in mind that electric RV water heaters are only functional when RVs are plugged into shore power or when generators are in use. A substantial draw of 12 amps of electricity is needed. If you plan on having limited power, you may want to opt for a gas/LP or combination model.

Gas/Electric Combination

A gas/electric combination water heater offers an electric heating element inside the water storage tank. Most RVs use water heaters that are made to run on both LP and electricity. This type of water heater can operate on propane when camping without hookups (boondocking) and can also operate on 120 volts AC when plugged in. With most gas/electric water heaters, propane and electricity can each be used alone or simultaneously, resulting in faster water heating.

Tank Size

Most water heaters for the home can easily hold 40 gallons or more. But RV water heaters simply don’t have the capacity to hold that much water. So, understand that unless you have the time and money to customize your RV to accommodate a residential-sized tank, you’re going to run out of hot water if you linger in the shower. Keep in mind, the more people in your family, the bigger the tank you’ll need.

6-10 Gallon Tanks

Most RV water heaters have a storage capacity of 6-10 gallons of hot water. For most smaller families, this will usually suffice.

16 Gallon Tanks

A 16 gallon tank is a little different from your average 6 gallon water heater. This type of tank actually holds 10 gallons of water held at a high temperature. When the hot water faucet is opened, the hot water mixes with cold water, delivering the proper temperature. Because of this technique, a 10 gallon tank is able to deliver 16 gallons of hot water.

Recovery Rate

RV water heater recovery rates will vary depending on the fuel type you opt for. Gas models tend to heat faster than electric RV water heaters.RV water heaters that utilize both electric and gas power have even faster recovery rates. Whichever option you go with will depend on how much hot water you need.

Each RV owner has their own needs and wants for their RV water heater. By determining what’s important to you, you’ll be better able to find the right camper water heat for you and your family.

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