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Are Tankless RV Water Heaters Worth It?

Couple standing in front of their RV overlooking a lake

Taking a vacation in your RV can be a wonderful experience, many RVs are nearly as luxurious as a home! But running out of hot water in the middle of your shower can definitely damper your experience. Often RVs have small tank water heaters that simply don't have the capacity to deliver high volumes of hot water. But is installing a tankless water heater in your RV the right choice?


Whether you're considering purchasing a new RV with a tankless water heater or retrofitting your current RV, there are a few things you should know. We'll take you through the pros and cons of using an RV tankless water heater to help you decide if its the right move for you.

 

Tankless Water Heater Advantages

Tankless water heaters have a lot going for them. Let's take a look at some of the many benefits of adding a tankless to your RV.

Cost-Efficient

While tankless water heaters can have high upfront costs, they generally save money in the long run. As an example, most RVs have 6-gallon hot water tanks. A family of four will go through 6-gallons of hot water pretty quickly and then need to wait while the water heater heats more water.

Fuel and electricity costs are reduced because water is heated only when its needed. The tankless only uses energy when its heating water, unlike a tank water heater where the water must be heated and reheated so that its hot at all times.

Many tankless water heaters use 50% less propane than tank water heaters. And as an added bonus, tankless water heaters are typically lighter, which means you'll use less gas driving your RV from one place to another.

Constant Hot Water

By far the biggest advantage of a tankless water heater is the endless supply of hot water. Tank water heaters often run out of hot water, especially during high demand times, but a tankless can produce water instantly on-the-spot.

Open a faucet, and sensors signal the burner to fire and send water through the heat exchanger. Within seconds the water flowing from your faucet is piping hot. Do you want to take an extra long shower? No problem! The tankless continues to deliver hot water as long as there's a demand.

Fuel Options

When you're shopping for a tankless water heater for your RV it's nice to know that there are options when it comes to the type of fuel it burns. You can find both electric and gas models, and each has it's own set of selling points:

Electric - If you're looking for a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly option, an electric tankless is the way to go. They're easy to install and can be powered by either a generator or a solar panel. And when we're looking at efficiency, an electric tankless water heater is the best you can buy, as 99% of the fuel they use goes into heating your water!

Gas - Although gas RV tankless water heaters aren't quite as efficient as their electric cousins, they are less expensive. They are however, a bit more complex to install, mostly because they require venting to remove the exhaust gases. And since they release greenhouse gases, they are not as environmentally friendly. There are both propane and kerosene models available.

Venting Technology

As mentioned above, an electric tankless won't need to be vented, however, gas appliances do. The type of gas tankless you purchase plays a large role in price, performance and installation.

Non-Condensing - Non-condensing tankless water heaters tend to be less expensive to purchase and more expensive to install. This is because they require stainless steel venting. They're also not as energy-efficient as condensing models because the hot gases are vented away from the appliance.

Condensing - A condensing tankless water heater takes advantage of the hot gases and sends them through a second heat exchanger where they help heat the water. These units often reach mid-90% efficiency, although they do perform better when water runs longer, such as a shower or filling a sink, vs short bursts of hot water.

Better for the Environment

While the savings of a tankless water heater are great for your wallet, these appliances are also good for the environment. Since tankless water heaters consume less fuel, you'll be helping the environment whenever you install one in your RV.

A tank water heater uses energy to heat water, and then uses energy to keep the water hot until there's a demand for hot water. Where a tankless water heater sits idly by waiting until you open a faucet. It only burns energy when the water is flowing from a hot water faucet.

Women standing in an RV looking out the door
 

Tankless Water Heater Downsides

Have you decided that you want to install a tankless water heater in your RV yet? Well, before breaking out the credit card, let's take a look at a few of the downsides to owning a tankless.

Price

The biggest potential negative is the upfront asking price. Tankless water heaters are typically quite pricey, especially if you have to go after a particular model depending on how your RV is set up.

If you only take your RV out a few weekends each year, it probably isn't worth spending the extra money. However, if you use your RV alot, you'll be able to benefit from the energy and efficiency savings, which offsets the initial cost of the appliance. 

Retrofit Limitations

If you're RV has a tank water heater and you want to replace it with a tankless, you might find your options limited. Many RVs are still set up for tank-attached water heaters, so it may take some research before you find a heater that works for your vehicle.