How to Light an RV Water Heater Pilot (3 Simple Steps)

In newer recreational vehicles, you can simply flip on the ignition switch to turn your gas-powered water heater on…

However, in older models, you will have to manually light the pilot to start your water heater.

In this quick guide, you’ll learn how to light an RV water heater pilot in 3 simple steps. Plus, some important tips to ensure you don’t damage your water heater in the process.

How to Light Your RV Water Heater Pilot

Lighting your RV’s water heater pilot is a fairly simple process. You’ll just need a long utility lighter or a long match and to follow the steps below.

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But, before we actually light the pilot, we need to do a few important things.

Important: Before Attempting to Light an RV Water Heater Pilot

  • Make sure your freshwater is turned on.
  • The water heater tank should be full of water! Running a hot water heater while it is empty can result in costly damages.
  • If you just filled your water system, turn on the faucets to bleed the air out of your water lines.
  • Make sure your propane tank is on by opening the LP gas valve.
  • Again, double-check your hot water tank is full of water! If not, fill it before continuing. If you’re having issues, check out our guide on how to fill an RV hot water heater for some improtant tips.

We are now ready to light the pilot on our water heater.

We’ll be detailing how to light the pilot on an Atwood RV water heater in an old 1980’s RV. The process is essentially the same or similar for other RV water heater models requiring manual lighting.

Let’s get started!

Atwood RV water heater pilot
Atwood RV water heater pilot

Step 1: Turn the Pilot Light Knob to “Pilot”

We first need to turn the knob from “Off” to “Pilot”. On the Atwood model in the image above, you then need to turn the knob past “Pilot” and hold it. You’ll be able to feel a little spring tension in the knob.

If you have a different model, for example, an old Suburban water heater, you will likely have to press the knob down and hold it in after turning it to Pilot mode.

Step 2: Light the Pilot Light

We are now ready to manually light the pilot. Simply take your long utility lighter, activate the flame on the lighter, and stick it down next to the pilot.

Note: it may take up to 30 plus seconds for the pilot to light.

You’ll notice a little blue flame when the pilot is lit.

Step 3: Turn the Pilot Light Knob to “On”

Once the pilot is lit, turn the pilot setting knob from “Pilot” to “On”. The pilot flame will grow rapidly and sound like a jet engine taking off. This is normal. You can now adjust the water to the desired temperature.

Congrats, you’ve lit your RV water heater pilot. Now, go and enjoy a nice hot shower (after letting the water heat up, of course).

Tip: If the RV water heater pilot light won’t stay lit, you may have a bad thermocouple, incorrect air/gas mixture, not enough propane pressure, etc. Most issues can be fixed with a little routine maintenance. However, if that doesn’t fix your issue, you may have to take it to a certified RV technician.

Remember, the process is pretty much the same for RV water heater models produced by other manufacturers. If you have an old Suburban RV propane water heater, for example, this quick video will walk you through the complete process of lighting the pilot.

As you can see, the process is very similar to how we lit the pilot on the Atwood RV water heater above.

Related: Should I Leave My RV Water Heater on All the Time? (Important)


Can You Manually Light a Water Heater With Electronic Pilot?

Most newer RV water heaters no longer make use of standing pilots, relying instead on electronic igniting. For safety reasons, do not attempt to light a water heater pilot manually if it uses an electronic igniter.

Can I Light My RV Water Heater With a Lighter?

If you have an older RV water heater that requires manual lighting, you will need to use a lighter (or match) to light the pilot. For newer models with an electronic pilot, you will not use a lighter to light the pilot.

How Do You Turn On an Electric Water Heater in an RV?

You’ll typically find the On/Off switch for an electric water heater behind the access panel located on the outside of your motorhome. Check out our guide on how to turn on an electric water heater in an RV for more info and some important tips (so you don’t ruin your heater).

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