RV Hot Water Heater Leaking: Troubleshooting, Repair Cost & More
For the adventurous and those who love the great outdoors, campers or RVs are one of the world’s greatest inventions. Who doesn’t love the idea of going places but still having the ability to bring your home with you? After all, they are called ‘mobile homes’ for a reason.
As an RV owner, you want to have the comforts usually available for you in a traditional home. A comfortable bed, a quaint kitchen for you to cook your meals while on the road, a tv, radio, and other means of entertainment to kill boredom, and, of course, a good bathroom with an equally excellent plumbing system.
Unlike in the past, most RV owners now have a water heater installed in their units. If you have ever traveled around during winter season using your RV, you probably know how having a water heater is a lifesaver.
You probably know that living in an RV is not always great; you will have issues one way or another, especially with your appliances and equipment. And one of the most common is having a leaking water heater that originates from either the top or bottom. It is a problem that is quite inevitable to all water heaters in general, not just for those installed in RVs.
The more you do regular maintenance your water heater, the less likely is the probability for leaks to occur soon. However, it still is not a guarantee that it would not happen to you.
What to Do When Your Water Heater Leaks
As soon as you see water that seems to come out of your water heater in your RV, you need to find out where the source is. You or a qualified contractor can check this out by doing the following steps:
- Allow your water heater to continue running without interruption. The power and water inlet must be switched off later, not as the first step. It is counterproductive to prevent water from flowing to your water heater while confirming if there is a leak or not.
- Using a rug, mop, or paper towels, wipe the puddles of water on the RV’s floor or surface that you suspect is coming from a leak.
- Observe if water will again appear sometime after you finish drying up. If it does, it’s likely that you have a leak on your hands.
- Check where the water is coming from. Closing in on the vicinity will allow the contractor to narrow down the source of the water and confirm if it is an actual leak or not.
- If a leak on your water heater is suspected after doing all the steps above, the power and water valve must be switched off.
Do note that it is advisable for you to stop running your water heater as soon as you discover a possible leak, particularly if you are still some distance away from the nearest town or city where you can get in touch with a contractor. You can only turn it back in when the contractor is checking the possibility of the leak.
You should not attempt to repair your water heater, even if you know a little about how to repair the traditional ones found at home. Despite having the same function, their components are quite different from each other and only professionals should handle it, to avoid not only worsening the problem but also to prevent various health and safety hazards.
What Causes a Hot Water Heater to Leak?
Once it has been confirmed that there is a probability of a leak on your heater and it’s not just water coming from a roof leak or another source, the next step is to see where all that water is coming from. This will be the confirmation whether your water heater is indeed leaking or not. What you should remember is that not all water coming from your water heater is actually a leak, although it’s important to periodically inspect RV roofs as well as the roof installed on your traditional home.
Did you know that water heaters have a safety feature that triggers water to deliberately come out or overflow due to too much pressure? While water heaters can withstand pressure, they still have limits and the first thing they will do when it reaches that point is to release water. This feature is actually standard to all water heaters, both RV and home units, and is one that people commonly mistake as a leak.
And if your water heater is located near your plumbing system, the leak might actually come from your piping and fixtures, not the water heater, and their close proximity is misleading you. They may be the ones that actually have leaks, not your water heater.
If you have been using the same water heater in your RV for quite some time already, its age may also be a cause of the leak. The older any water heater is, the more susceptible it is to show problems and malfunction. Leaks, in fact, are one of the most common issues of aging water heaters.
You might not realize this but what you thought of as leaks may in fact be condensation. It is actually quite easy to mistake condensation for leaks, especially when this occurs on piping and water lines. If you keep the temperature in your RV warm and water coming in is cold, there is a tendency for condensation to form.
But if nothing we mentioned above applies to your situation, it is likely that the leak is a result of an issue with your water heater. There may be a loose connection somewhere or a broken part that needs replacing. Only a qualified plumber can confirm it for you.
But to give you an idea, here are the most common parts that can cause leaking on any water heater, including the ones specifically for use on RVs:
- Drain plug
- Internal tank
- T&P relief valve, or the Temperature and Pressure relief valve
- Water inlet for cold water and outlet for hot water
- Anode rod
- Heater element gasket
- Water or Plumbing Lines
Water heating systems are very complicated, that is why it can be quite difficult to see where a leak is actually coming from. Repairing these leaks using guesswork is a bad idea and wrong moves can actually be fatal. After all, you are dealing not just with water but also electricity and gas as well.
What Makes Leaks on Your Water Heater Dangerous?
You might think, “it’s just a leak. Nothing else could possibly go wrong if I don’t immediately get to have it repaired!” that’s why you keep putting it off. But what if we tell you that this is a terrible idea? Have you heard about basements flooding as a result of leaks.
There are some household issues or problems that can go away if you just leave it alone. However, leaking water heaters are not included in that list. In fact, it will actually get worse the longer you ignore the problem. It may start with just a few tiny drops, but it can soon gush out like a waterfall. It’s not something you would want to experience, and this is not the only issue you can later face.
Would you believe us if we tell you that there can be fatal consequences when it comes to a leaking water heater? And we’re not talking about being annoyed to death because of the constant dripping sounds.
To give you some idea, we made a list of hazards that come with it, both fatal and non-fatal, that you should know about:
- It will trigger the growth of mildew, mold, and other toxic fungi and bacteria. One of the worst things that can happen to any home is infestation of these fungi, especially if black mold grows. It’s very common to find them growing near the location of leaks and they are known to be hazardous. Its effects on your health will be much more magnified because you are constantly exposed to it, what with you staying in the same confined space in your RV where they grow.
- It can ruin your other appliances, and even cause damage to your RV itself. An electrical connection that receives even just a drop of water coming from a leak can result in a short circuit of electrical appliances. And because they are interconnected in an RV, its effect can be quite devastating. Not only that…
- You can also get electrocuted. Water and electricity don’t play nice when mixed, and you can get the shock of your life if you happen to touch any electrical item that has been exposed to or affected by water leaks.
- You can slip or get into water-related accidents. Left alone, you may not notice that water coming from your leak has collected and formed into puddles. You may slip and fall if you happen to step over it. This, in fact, is the most common water-related accident that occurs at home.
- The longer you put off getting it repaired, the more money you will have to shell out when you finally decide to do so on things like hardwood floor water damage repair. Like we mentioned, leaks never go away on their own and they even worsen over time. As a result of this, you will be faced with only two scenarios: pay a lot for its repair (we’re talking about hundreds to thousands of dollars) or have it completely replaced. It would be even worse if it has damaged the other system on your RV.
- Water quality can be compromised. A downside of living in an RV is a limited water supply. If your freshwater tank is connected to your water heater, its quality can be affected if your water heater is having issues. This is especially true if the leak is caused by corrosion or rust.
- It may be a sign that your water heater could end up exploding. What do we mean by that? We mentioned that water heaters have a safety feature that triggers it to release water and this is caused by too much pressure buildup in the tank. What you need to know is this excessive pressure can be dangerous and may actually cause your water heater to explode.
By now, you should be fully aware that leaks are not to be underestimated. Are you surprised that what you thought of as just a simple leak can possibly do so much harm, not only to your RV but also to all the people that live and travel in it?
Can You Get a Leaking Water Heater Tank Repaired?
Having an RV means that you are quite familiar with the different types of water heater available. But whether you use electric, oil, or gas-based water heaters, or even tankless ones, they are all the same when fixing leaks are involved; some leaks can be easily repaired, but there are also others that are already unrepairable.
You are fortunate if you have a leak on your water heater, yet the contractor says that it is just a minor issue. This means you don’t have to pay a lot to get it repaired. But if the contractor confirms that the problem is with the tank itself, you will have to replace it entirely. Tanks on water heaters are not repairable.
But before replacing it, the contractor may first check on the temperature set on your water heater. If it is too hot or has reached the maximum temperature, he or she may lower it to see if it stops leaking. High temperatures can cause pressure to build up, which will trigger the safety feature that results in water being released. If this does not solve the leak, then there really is a problem with the tank.
While all parts of a water heater are vital, the water tank is the part that must always run in perfect condition. You can think of it as the heart of your water heater; if it has even the slightest damage, everything will no longer work properly.
Water heater tanks are sturdy, and neglecting it is the easiest way to damage it. Without regular maintenance, various sediments from the water will settle inside the tank. These will cause the corrosion of the tank that starts with the appearance of pinprick-sized holes on the inner glass lining. It will get bigger and will allow water to leak out as time passes. These holes will no longer allow the tank to function properly, and you cannot patch them up.
To err on the side of caution, it is important that you stop using your water heater once you confirm that the leak is coming from the tank. Like we said, a leak of this type is an indicator that your water tank is at serious risk. Get it checked out with a professional as soon as you can.
How Can You Fix a Leaking Water Heater?
The first thing you need to do if you have a leak on your water heater is to get a contractor to check it out. This needs to be repeatedly emphasized because if traditional water heaters are already complicated to repair, even more so when it comes to that of an RV. A small mistake can affect not just your water heater but even your entire RV. And if something goes wrong if you attempt to do the repair yourself, warranty or insurance may not cover the damages resulting from it.
Qualified contractors can gauge the source of the leak and how it can be best addressed. Although most repairs warrant the replacement of certain parts on your water heater, the process of doing so will depend on the part involved. There is no single process to follow when it comes to this.
If you are interested in how contractors repair water heaters, here is a guide to give you an idea you how these repairs are done. Do note that all these steps are tailor fit to each part and that the water heater must always be switched off prior to being repaired:
- Drain plug
Repairing the leak on your water heater that comes from the drain plug is not just about tightening the parts that have loosened up, since drain plugs are actually a dispensable part. In fact, they are actually designed to be replaced every time they are removed.
If the leak is coming from the drain plug, it means a replacement is in order. The drain plug has become damaged and if left in place, it will get brittle. And if it gets too brittle, the entire head of the plug may even separate from the body during the attempt to remove it. When this happens, the contractor will have a harder time to dislodge it.
The contractor will usually place a bucket to catch the water that may flow out immediately after removing the drain plug. He or she will also let water run from the faucet to empty the tank of hot water, in order to avoid being scalded while working on it. As soon as the old plug is removed, the contractor will wrap the new one with Teflon or plumber’s tape first before threading it in place.
If leaks are present even after installing the new plug, the contractor will just wrap more Teflon tape to its thread. Further tightening is not possible because it might break the threads of the drain plug instead, which will result in further leaking.
- T&P valve
Before a contractor repairs your T&P valve by connecting an expansion tank to it, he or she will first do some troubleshooting to see if this can solve the issue. The leak may actually be a result of the valve opening up in order to release the pressure that the tank is no longer capable of handling.
To do that, the contractor needs to allow water to flow continuously from the pressure relief valve. He or she will only release this valve when water stops coming out. The faucet must be closed off and he or she will then allow cold water to flow back in to the water heater.
After turning back on the inlet for cold water, he or she will now check if leaks are still present. If the leak now has a weaker flow of water, he or she will just repeat the process of adding air pocket inside the tank until the leaking stops. But if this does not solve the issue, that’s the time an accumulator or expansion tank will be installed on your water heater’s line for cold water.
- Water inlet and outlet
If the water leak originates from the either the inlet or outlet, only two options are available for your contractor, and these are to either tighten them up or replace them. Leaks here are usually caused by connections that have loosened up over time and contractors only need to tighten up their nuts or valves. But if leaks are still present, they may need to be replaced.
- Anode Rod
Aside from the drain plug, the anode rod of your RV’s water heater is another replaceable part. In fact, this rod can actually lengthen the lifespan of your water heater. Its main function after all is to collect the water sediments that passes through it, “sacrificing” itself so that the other components of the water heater will not be affected by rust or corrosion as long as it is around. Do note that not all RV water heaters use anode rods.
The contractor will need to check whether the anode rod already needs replacement, that’s why it is leaking. Signs of these include the rod looking like it has been “eaten away” or more than 50% thinner than when it was first installed, or sediments have completely filled out the rod. If it meets those conditions, the currently installed anode rod will be discarded.
Next, water will be drained from your heater and as it flows out, the contractor will check for signs of rust or sediments that have solidified. If there are rusts that have formed into flakes, merely replacing the anode rod will not solve the problem and you need to get it replaced.
If the water is relatively clean and there are no rust flakes coming out, the next step is to see the anode rod by removing it from the water heater. The contractor must loosen up its hex head, which is actually the hardest step in the entire process because it gets stuck up over time. This allows the anode rod to be pulled away from the water heater and your contractor may also clean the insides of the tank after.
Unlike when installing most water heater parts, plumber or Teflon tape should not be wrapped around the threads of an anode rod. The new one will then be screwed into place and tightened. Another round of flushing the water may be done to completely rid your tank of leftover sediments.
- Heater Element Gasket
Even RV water heaters have a heater element gasket, which can be the source of the leak. When this happens, it needs to be replaced. This part is often covered up and hidden away. If the contractor confirms that the leak is coming from the heater element gasket, it needs to be replaced with a new one.
The contractor must first remove the cover, usually by removing the screws that keeps it in place, and water must be drained from the tank while a faucet is left open to allow air to circulate at the same time. This will continue until the water level has dropped below the heater element.
The heater element will be removed and its mounting flange will also be checked by the contractor if it is still in good condition or must be cleaned before replacing the gasket. The new one will be installed after detaching the old gasket from your water heater and the contractor will then reconnect all wires and connections removed prior to installation. At the last step, the cover will be installed back into place.
- Plumbing or Water Lines
Another common source of leaks in water heaters, both traditional ones and those installed on RVs, are the water lines. Those found on RVs are more vulnerable to this, due to the fact that they get exposed to extreme weathers more often. In fact, most leaks on plumbing lines occur after winter.
The cold and harsh winter can cause your plumbing lines to freeze up and when it thaws, it can cause cuts or splits, or it may even completely burst open. Leaks on the plumbing lines are a result of these cuts.
To stop these leaks, a contractor may simply place patches over them and test whether it solves the problem after the patch has hardened. But if leaks are still present despite the cuts being patched up, the next course of action is to completely remove parts of the water lines with the splits or cuts.
Cutting them away must be done using a sharp cutter or knife to get a clean cut. Instead of replacing them entirely, the contractor will use fittings to reconnect the two ends of the water line where these sections were removed. Not only is this easier to do, it is also much more inexpensive.
It is necessary to get a contractor to resolve the leaks for you. Repairing them by yourself, especially if you do not have the experience nor knowledge to do so, will likely bring more harm than good. Its repairs are not something that you can do by solely relying on an internet tutorial or two; it is easy to misdiagnose a problem with water heaters and apply the wrong remedies for it.
People might think that they will get to save money if they just do the repairs themselves. What they don’t realize is that contractors, aside from making the necessary repairs, will correctly diagnose the problem and also check the overall condition of the water heaters. This is something that only professionals that have the right knowledge and skillset can do.
If your leaks are resolved by a contractor, you will also have peace of mind that you can get to different places with a less chance of leaks reappearing, as well as having other issues on your water heater.
But if you were the only one who attempted the repairs with the help of guides, there is no guarantee that you correctly did the job. You may have eliminated the leak, but what if a bigger problem is already present and you failed to see it because you didn’t know what you needed to watch out for?
Should You Replace Your Water Heater?
Water heaters, in general, are both repairable and replaceable. Given its price, the first thing that comes to mind when issues arise on water heaters is to have them repaired. It is the more budget-friendly option, after all.
However, there will come a time when repairing your water heater is no longer worth it; just getting a new one would be the best option. But when is it the best time to do so? We can help you decide on that through this guide:
- You have been using it for quite a while – although water heaters are designed to last for years, usually even more than a decade, they will still break down. The older your water heater is, the more fragile it will be and the more problems it will have. And if you have had it installed on your RV for several years already and it keeps breaking down, it may be time for you to get a new one.
- It has been having issues more frequently – it is inevitable that you will have issues with any appliance, water heaters included. One or two issues with your water heater in a year is considered normal, but more than that warrants a closer look. If you keep having yours repaired, maybe the more economical option for you is to replace it with a new one already. There’s no guarantee anyway that your water heater will still last for years, given the frequency of repairs.
- Sounds you’ve never heard of before are being produced by your water heater – issues with water heaters installed on RVs need to be taken seriously, given that they normally use gas, electricity, or both, which can be a fatal when no longer being handled properly. And if it starts making noises that it doesn’t usually make, such as hissing noises, you need to get it checked. This usually is a sign of a problem.
- Nasty smells are coming out – an issue common to RV water heaters is it giving off a smell of Sulphur, which is reminiscent of rotten eggs. This acrid odor is quite strong, but normally repairable. But if nothing solves it, your water heater might already be broken.
- Rust and corrosion are present, together with leaks – it can be quite normal to see rust forming outside of the water heater, but it is no longer normal when rust is also accompanied by leaking. It means that there is damage inside the unit itself. In this case, the most common remedy is to have it replaced already.
- It has issues regulating water temperature – they are supposed to give you hot water on your faucets and showers, but if the temperature is lukewarm at best despite turning it to the highest setting, this is a bad sign. More often than not, your water heater is busted.
Even with our list, the best way to decide if the water heater on your RV already needs changing is to get it checked by a contractor as soon as you encounter issues with it. A professional is the best judge in deciding if your water heater can still be repaired or not.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Water Heater Leak Repaired?
It is a given that repairs on water heaters installed on RVs are quite costly. This is largely due to the fact that repairing them is much more complicated when compared to repairing traditional water heaters found at home. And to do that, you can either bring your unit to an RV dealer or get a contractor that deals with RVs to have a look at yours. You cannot just approach the first contractor you see and ask him or her to take a look at your water heater.
Doing repairs on RVs requires specialization and as a result, these professionals have higher rates that are also dependent on the type of RV you have. They normally charge as much as $100 or more per hour, and it usually does not include the cost of the parts. This rate is common to the more established RV dealers and professionals, and when servicing high-end RV models. The cheapest rate can go is usually as low as $65 per hour.
This is why we constantly suggest getting yours checked out as soon as you see the first sign of any problem with it, not just on your water heater. RV repairs are quite expensive and the sooner you get the issues on yours repaired, the more money you will save in the long run. Make sure you use the form on our site when you suspect your unit may be having issues, and we’ll connect you with the right pros that can help fix the problem for you, and even provide you with no-obligation quotes.
Doing so, this can soon be you again!