How to Turn On an Electric Water Heater in an RV (Quick Tutorial)

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One of the best perks of camping in an RV is having the comforts of home right at your fingertips – with one of the main comforts being hot water!

We’ve discussed how to light an RV water heater pilot light, so now let’s turn our attention towards electric water heaters.

In this quick guide, you’ll learn how to turn on an electric water heater in an RV step-by-step. Plus, learn a few important tips, so you don’t ruin your water heater in the process.

Let’s get started!

How to Turn On an Electric RV Water Heater

Turning on an electric water heater in an RV is a fairly simple task, with most of the confusion coming from where to find the on/off switch or figuring out whether you have a gas or electric (or both) water heater which we’ll get into below.

Important: Do NOT attempt to turn an electric RV water heater on without water in the water heater tank. Doing so will immediately burn out the electric heater element. Check out our guide on how to fill an RV water heater for step-by-step instructions.

Let’s now learn how to turn on your electric RV water heater. We’ll use the popular Suburban SW6DE as an example.

Suburban SW6DE RV Water Heater On and Off Switch Location
  1. Ensure their is water in the hot water tank before proceeding.
  2. Locate your hot water heater access panel, typically on the outside of your RV, and remove it.
  3. Find the RV water heater on and off switch on the panel. Typically, it’s located on the bottom left-hand side (see image above).
  4. Flip the switch to the on position.

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

I recommend you always refer to your owner’s manual for the exact step-by-step process to turn on your water heater, as each brand and model may be slightly different.

If you lost your manual or need to contact the manufacturer, here are links to some common RV water heater manufacturers found in campers like Forrest River, Keystone, Jayco, and other major brands:

RV Electric Water Heater Troubleshooting Guide

If your RV electric water heater is not working properly after you switch it to the “on” position, start by checking the following:

  1. Ensure the circuit breaker is not tripped in the motorhome.
  2. Check the ON/OFF switch for 120-volt AC.
  3. Press the reset button on the unit, which is typically located on the control panel near the on/off water heater switch.
  4. If the heater still fails to operate properly after following all of the above, cut the power and check all wire connections (refer to your owner’s manual for the wiring diagram if needed).
  5. Lastly, check the heating element for continuity with a voltage meter. Replace the element if defective.

If you are still having issues, contact a certified RV technician.


Do RV Water Heaters Run on Electricity?

There are three types of RV water heaters: electric, propane, and electric/gas combo heaters. Electric water heaters, of course, heat water using electricity. In electric/gas combination water heaters, you can use one or the other, or both gas and electric at the same time, to heat your water.

How Do I Know if My RV Water Heater Is Gas or Electric?

You can tell if your RV water heater is gas or electric by consulting the owner’s manual for your specific brand and model of heater. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, you can tell whether it’s gas, electric, or a combination water heater by looking at the model number (which you can find on the access panel).

Once you have that number, use the chart below to decipher the type of heater you have.

RV water heater model # guide

You might also be interested in How to Drain an RV Water Heater (Quick Step-by-Step Guide).

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