There’s nothing better than the feeling of hot clean water washing away all the dirt and stress from a whole day of trekking, hiking or camping. But what happens if your standard hot water tank runs out of those precious gallons of water? You’ll be stuck in disappointment. Thankfully, tankless water heaters were invented.
Hot water is an essential part of a full RV experience. It spells the difference between a casual trip to the outdoors, and a bigger commitment to living out in the woods. For years, people were settling for heating water and holding it in a limited tank. The invention of the electric tankless water heater by Stiebel-Elton changed the game for houses, hotels, and premium RVs and campers. I know I’m still thanking him today.
What Is an RV Tankless Water Heater?
Unlike conventional water heaters which come with storage chambers, a tankless water heater doesn’t produce and maintain hot water at a set temperature. Tank water heaters heat the water as it flows through the system. They’re also known as on-demand-type or instantaneous water heaters because they only produce and provide hot water as needed.
Best RV Tankless Water Heaters
Next, are the 5 best RV tankless water heaters with details about each model and the pros and cons.
#1 – PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater
Full-time RVers or those who like to run multiple water sources at once like the shower and kitchen sink.
The PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater is more expensive than most models but is an efficient and reliable workhorse that will stand the test of time.
This model design is specific for use in RVs, camping trailers, tiny houses, and cabins. The unit does not require a pilot light and runs with high efficiency on propane gas using the reliable VariFlame technology control system.
The entire product, from design, assembly, and testing is manufactured in the United States.
You can purchase the unit with either a floor or wall-vent. The system is easy to install and maintains an endless flow of hot water, meeting the demands of even busy full-timers. The company also boasts a strong reputation for helpful and responsive customer service to address questions or issues about the model.
The unit self-adjusts the use of gas depending upon the incoming water pressure flow and temperature, making it very effective at conserving propane.
- Saves interior RV space
- Reliable VariFlame control system
- Special design for RVs
- Fuel efficient
- High-quality materials
- Heavier and bulkier than other tankless models
- Needs good water pressure to run properly
#2 – Whale Premium Water Heater
Any RVer who expects to spend time camping in colder climates.
The Whale Premium Water Heater offers benefits like solid construction and plenty of hot water, even for use during the winter season.
The Whale does not require special gas lines or plumbing to install. It features a quiet brushless motor, and the 12-volt power operates on less than three amps.
The Whale is a more affordable tankless unit that lets you adjust the water temperature to a setting most comfortable for you. Customers love how easy this unit was to install and how well it works once they follow the instructions in the manual about proper usage.
As with all tankless water heaters, a certain level of water flow must occur for this unit to operate correctly. Some RV parks have fluctuating water pressure and many recreational vehicles employ water-saving devices that you may need to remove to use this unit.
Low-flow showerheads or water-pressure regulators were two items customers talk about having to remove or replace to achieve a steady flow of hot water.
- Easy to upgrade/install from an 11-gallon tank system
- Simple temperature control adjustment
- High quality
- Solid design
- Unit is large
#3 – Eccotemp FVI-12-LP Propane Tankless Water Heater
People with small to medium-size RVs and campers and those who strive to conserve water. Better for locations where the incoming water temperature is between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Eccotemp FVI-12-LP Propane Tankless Water Heater rates at 3.6 gallons per minute and comes in a space-saving, compact design perfect for smaller RVs.
The Eccotemp features a digital display for temperature and error messages, a safe electronic ignition, quiet operation, and directly plugs into a 120-volt outlet which makes it a very user-friendly tankless water heater.
The unit comes with a stainless steel horizontal vent kit and can run off of a 20-100 pound propane tank standard on most RVs. This model has a manual temperature control, which means adjustments are made by turning knobs on the face of the unit for water and gas flow regulation.
You’ll love how little propane it takes to run the water heater and how quiet it operates. You won’t love that it takes a few uses to get the hang of suitable temperature control, but the water heats up very fast with little wait.
A word of caution, you’ll need to watch out for freezing conditions if the unit coils face an outside wall. It’s best to face the water heater in such a way to alleviate fears of damage to the unit from freezing temperatures.
- Great for small water demands
- Digital LED display
- Easy installation
- No automatic water temperature setting
- Not made to mix with cold water
#4 – VEVOR 18L Propane Tankless Gas Water Heater
RVers on a budget with small to medium campers who don’t mind running a water heater on propane only. Works best for campgrounds and locations at lower elevations.
The VEVOR 18L Propane Tankless Gas Water Heater is an affordable option for those looking for a propane-only tankless water heater system.
This VEVOR model can properly control both cold and warm water usage. The unit will automatically shut down if temperatures exceed a safe limit or if there is a flameout of the propane due to high winds.
The system will automatically decrease high water pressure conditions that could happen in RV parks and campgrounds. The unit has a method to discharge water to avoid freezes in cold temperatures and to remove water during periods of no use.
This tankless water heater uses energy-saving advancements to decrease noise and gas consumption.
- Easy installation
- Uses energy-saving advancements to decrease noise and gas consumption
- Propane only
- May need extra parts from a hardware store for correct venting and install
#5 – MAREY Gas 10L Tankless Water Heater
Weekend RVers who want an affordable, electric-free water heater, who camp at low altitudes and do not require a high demand for hot water.
The Marey Gas 10L Tankless Water Heater comes from a reliable manufacturer of portable and tankless water heaters for RVs, campers, and trailers and is a gas-only model with an affordable price tag.
It has a compact design that saves on space and is simple to install, in even tight locations. You’ll love how well it works, even under low-water-pressure conditions. You may have issues with the unit when camping spots were at or over 2,000 feet in altitude.
The unit only uses gas when water starts to flow, which is energy-efficient. An ample supply of hot water will handle most needs.
You will not require an electrical connection for this model, with ignition power coming from two D-cell batteries.
- Lightweight and compact
- Requires no electricity
- Problems with operation at altitudes over 2,000 feet
- Only runs on gas
- Not the best customer service
12 Additional Benefits of an RV Tankless Water Heater
Some people go camping by themselves. But for most people, camping is a time to bond and enjoy life with friends and family. Even millennials are in on the trend, with the number of campers increasing by the millions each year. Besides, I know several people who invested in large RVs as a second home and as a seasonal vacation spot.
With the growing number of people going on trips together, access to clean hot water can become a big question. The standard water heater only holds an average of 6 to 10 gallons of water, which is a massive headache for most. Water can run out before the last members of your group or family gets to shower. It can even catch you mid-bath, leaving you with cold water.
The rise of tankless water heaters is addressing this problem for the millions of casual and serious campers around the country. Unfortunately, tankless water heaters aren’t the standard option in many RVs, but I honestly think they are a good investment. It only took off the last ten years or so because of all the advancements in software and hardware technology.
Though they may cost you a couple hundred more dollars, they’re definitely worth the buck. If you aren’t convinced, here are 12 benefits of RV tankless water heaters.
A Tankless Water Heater Provides Hot Water Instantly
If you need hot water right now, you’ll get it. The lag time is almost non-existent, so you don’t have to wait for minutes or even an hour to get the water heated in a tank.
Of course, there will be limitations. While you can probably run two showers or a laundry cycle at the same time, most tankless water heaters can only supply water at a certain rate. In general, a tankless water heater can supply 2-6 gallons per minute on demand. For perspective, a shower can take up to 1-3 gallons per minute.
It’s Good for Everyone
For a full-size family, using a standard water heater can take all day. After each shower, the water heater has to recover and then heat a new batch of gallons. Otherwise, most of you will be stuck with cold water when the hot water runs out.
The same goes for hiking with friends. I’ve heard plenty of camping trips go sour because of in-fighting for the limited resources. Out in the wild, there’s nothing more desirable than a hot shower.
Compared to your standard water heater, a tankless water heater can provide a continuous supply of hot water on-demand. It makes it great for trips with a significant number of people, or for long-distance trips.
Bring the Convenience and Luxury of Home
An RV tankless water heater looks and feels exactly like the water heater you use at home. If you bought an RV thinking that it would make a great second home, then getting a tankless water heater is the logical step.
In a matter of seconds, hot water will come rushing out of the faucet. You have the hot water benefit of your traditional home while enjoying the vibe of the outdoor lifestyle.
Like the tankless water heater you may have at home, the RV version also comes with the “cold water sandwich.” The first few seconds of water during your shower will be cool, then it becomes hot.
Take Daily Showers
If you’re a full-time RV user, you need continuous access to hot and clean water. You can’t settle with a shower every once in a while, thinking that you’ll be back for a good soak in the city soon enough.
An RV tankless water heater, powered by 12V DC, can easily keep up with you and your daily hygiene needs. A standard RV water heater takes about an hour to get a batch of water heated enough. You can use a tankless water heater without pausing between each shower cycle for equipment recovery.
Take Long Showers
It’s not just about reducing the time in-between showers. It’s also about how long you can enjoy the hot water. The standard water heaters and hot water tanks in RVs can carry up to 10 gallons of water. Even then, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy a longer soak even if you wanted to. The typical standard water heater will get you about 5 to 7 minutes of hot water before the water becomes too cold for comfort. That’s disappointingly brief.
Tankless water heaters do away with the restrictions of the conventional water tank. Most RV shower heads will have a flow of 1.5-2.5 gallons per minute, and any RV tankless water heater worth its salt will be able to keep up with that rate.
Do Multiple Tasks at Once
Tankless water heaters can be point-of-use, so they only heat one outlet like your shower or sink, or they can be for your entire system, so they heat up the water going out your sink and shower.
You can run your shower while dishwashing with the benefit of an RV tankless water heater. The hot water won’t run out in that case.
It’s a Safer System
Keeping a tank of hot water, at a glance, already seems like a source of potential disaster. RV tankless water heaters don’t carry the same hazards because they work differently.
The flow of water through the unit triggers the operation of a tankless water heater. Some units operate only when there are 0.5 gallons of water per minute, or sometimes the threshold is even higher. It won’t ignite if the faucet isn’t on.
The burner will shut off if you stop using it, or refuse to ignite if no one’s around. The water isn’t kept piping hot until someone uses the shower and reestablishes the water flow. With an RV tankless water heater, you protect yourself from the hazards of overheating equipment.
A Tankless Water Heater Consumes Less Energy
Many RV and camping enthusiasts are probably concerned about the environment (and rightly so). The thing about RV standard water heaters is that they are always ignited, keeping 6 to 10 gallons of water hot until they’re used up. It makes sure that the water is heated to the set specific temperature at all times. On the other hand, RV tankless water heaters operate based on demand. They’re off when they’re not in use.
Because it’s not always on, RV tankless water heaters are better for the environment. The fuel is provided as propane for some models. Alternative power sources include battery and electric. Most people prefer an electric and battery-operated tankless water heater, just because it’s more efficient and popular.
This is an essential factor for any RV camper, not just environmentalists. Fuel consumption can cost a lot of money, not to mention the refueling effort. I personally saw a 30% reduction in our electricity costs after switching to a tankless water heater.
If you can stretch your supply of propane for the propane burner, you can reduce the number of times you have to restock in town. It also gives you the peace of mind whenever you camp in a location that has low availability of hot water and fuel sources.
It’s Light to Carry
At home, the solution to a small-capacity standard water heater is to switch it up to the next biggest model. From a 30-gallon heater, you can invest in a 60-gallon model. That’s generally more than enough for the family, even for days at a time.
Switching to a bigger model isn’t a good idea when you’re talking about RVs. Can you just imagine your RV holding up an extra 30 or 40 gallons worth of water just to make your shower better? That’s a nightmare on your RV. First of all, even the largest of RVs will be hard-pressed to find space for a giant model. The hundred-pound weight of the water, plus the weight of the bigger unit, is just not a good option.
On the other hand, tankless water heaters are light to carry. There are models of RV tankless water heaters that are specifically designed to be portable so that you can install them in different places. Tankless water heaters are about a fifth of the size of a standard tank. They’re that compact.
Because it heats on-demand, you also don’t have to struggle with the weight of 80 pounds of water if you are connected to the city line.
They Come in All Sorts of Features and Designs
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a piece of RV technology that’s as convenient as a well-designed tankless water heater. There are so many possible comforts that it can make bathing after an outdoor hike an exciting experience.
For example, there are units with freeze protection so you won’t have to worry about water damaging your equipment when winter sets in. The internal sensor and microcomputer which sets the temperature can also be dynamic. The sensor can detect the temperature of the incoming water to adjust the heat requirements and output of the heater. It’s an automatic and seamless process designed for our comfort.
The RV tankless water heater can come with a digital LED display to show you errors and present water temperature. I heard troubleshooting is easy with that one.
There’s Less Damage from Hard Water
The flow of hot water through the heating chamber basically flushes your unit and regularly maintains the insides. Each time hot water is used, you don’t have to worry about hard water minerals settling in your tank.
These Heaters Are Easy to Install
You’ll probably feel ready to call yourself a plumber after installing one of these babies. Or maybe not –the whole installation process for an RV tankless water heater is incredibly easy and straightforward. You can get it done under two hours.
Frequently Asked Questions about an RV Tankless Water Heater
Still thinking about upgrading to a tankless water heater? Here are three of the most common questions about tankless water heaters.
How Do Tankless Water Heaters Work?
An RV tankless water heater as a coiled chamber that heats the water as it flows through. An internal sensor detects the flow of water, causing the unit to ignite and start heating up.
Tankless water heaters can be powered by propane fuel, or by electricity. There are only two reasons why an RV tankless water heater will shut off— the absence of water flow, or lack of fuel.
Can You Set the Temperature with a Tankless Water Heater?
In standard water heaters, the water is almost always kept at 120° Fahrenheit. It’s the temperature you’ll get for the first few minutes until the cold water starts mixing in the tank and you start approaching 100°.
You can also set the temperature for a tankless water heater. The microcomputer in a tanker prevents the heater from exceeding a particular maximum, usually 120° F, but the temperature, in general, can change from time to time.
It depends on the temperature rise and the rate of water flow. For example, if the flow rate is very high, the water doesn’t get a lot of time within the heating chamber, so you get water that’s cooler than the maximum. If the source water is freezing, then the temperature of the water in your shower will also be cooler.
What Are the Different Types of RV Tankless Water Heaters?
RV tankless water heaters can be powered by different energy sources. The electric tankless water heater is one of the most popular types because it’s environmentally-friendly. It also takes up less space on the utility bill.
An electric heater is easy to install. You can hook it up to a generator, or even a solar panel if you have one.
Most of the models I’ve seen in the past were gas-fired, either running on propane or kerosene. Because it burns up fuels, you’d see flues so that the system can have good ventilation. It’s generally less expensive to buy and power than an electric tankless water heater.
Way back in the day, RV tankless water heaters were non-condensing. The design had a heat exchanger to heat up the water on demand. It does require stainless steel venting for the hot exhaust, which can take a big chunk of your budget. While it’s reliable, it’s not efficient. I don’t recommend this.
There are now condensing types, which use a second heat exchanger to make the system more efficient. You don’t have a lot of useless hot exhaust as it gets repurposed. It is less expensive, but I would still recommend an electric or propane tankless water heater.
In my opinion, there’s no question about whether or not a tankless water heater is a good buy. If you’re going to invest in a good camper or RV for the comforts it can provide while on the road, you should go all the way and invest in a tankless water heater. It’s become an essential part of my RV, mainly because I go out with family and sometimes friends.
I recommend the PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater for its reliability, overall efficiency, and fair price point.
Regardless of which tankless water heater you buy, you’ll gain peace of mind having warm, on-demand running water.
So in summary, the benefits of a tankless water heater include continuous water on-demand, more hot water for everyone, better energy efficiency, a safer system, and a lighter unit for the RV. There is a variety of models that can add a different experience to your RV, from units with an LED display for easy use, to units with a freeze protection system to work well during the winter months.
However, don’t just take my word for it. Do your own research on tankless water heaters. I also mentioned throughout the article some drawbacks that can help you decide, such as the higher price tag.
Add to the Conversation
What’s your view on tankless water heaters in RVs? Do you think that the convenience it adds to your camping life is worth the cost? Or would you recommend sticking to the standard water heater instead? Tell me your thoughts!