Should you get a tankless water heater?

by | Jan 21, 2021 | Plumbing

Photos courtesy the manufacturers
Instant hot water, better efficiency and the ability to retrofit are just a few of the benefits
It’s tough to imagine life in an RV without a reliable source of hot water, especially in the colder months. The ability to take a hot shower, wash dishes and bathe children are all things that make life in an RV feel more like home.

As you’ve likely noticed, however, hot water isn’t endless in an RV. Most have just six gallons to work with, and if your significant other and a line of dirty kids are waiting outside the door, you better get used to soaping and rinsing with about a gallon. RVing veterans have gotten pretty good at water conservation–many may even brag about how little hot water they need for their bathing ritual. But as all other aspects of RV living continue to evolve and improve, the concept of a two-minute shower is hard to sell to the rest of the family.

That’s where “tankless” or on-demand systems shine. By heating the water as it passes through a heat exchanger, these units can provide a limitless supply of hot water with no waiting required, and very few tradeoffs compared to a traditional water heater. They’re about the same weight (when empty; a full 6-gallon water heater adds more than 50 pounds) typically occupy less space, are more efficient. So should you ditch your tank storage water heater for a new tankless model?

That depends on how you live in your RV.

In principle, all tankless systems operate similarly. When a hot water tap is opened, water flows into the system and a sensor detects the amount of water flow. A sensor or microprocessor automatically lights the burner and adjusts the Btu/hour input rate. Water circulates through the heat exchanger to the predetermined temperature–and when the tap is turned off, the burner goes out and the unit shuts down. Sounds simple enough, right?

As all other aspects of RV living continue to evolve and improve, the concept of a two-minute shower is hard to sell to the rest of the family.
The Truma AquaGo is what the company refers to as a “hybrid” on-demand water heater, combining the constant temperature output of a tank-storage water heater with the endless supply of a tankless system. An advanced microprocessor allows for precise control of gas regulation, according to the company, with an infinitely variable output from 20,000 Btu to 60,000 Btu.
The Truma AquaGo is what the company refers to as a “hybrid” on-demand water heater, combining the constant temperature output of a tank-storage water heater with the endless supply of a tankless system. An advanced microprocessor allows for precise control of gas regulation, according to the company, with an infinitely variable output from 20,000 Btu to 60,000 Btu.
The Truma AquaGo’s Easy Drain Lever is a brightly colored yellow for easy end-user identification. Combined with the company’s decalcification tablets, the AquaGo allows for easy maintenance.
The Truma AquaGo’s Easy Drain Lever is a brightly colored yellow for easy end-user identification. Combined with the company’s decalcification tablets, the AquaGo allows for easy maintenance.
There are some downsides of tankless systems, however. The biggest one for RVers is that they only operate on LP-gas–so users can’t take advantage of an RV park’s power grid to run a tankless system like they might with a traditional tank storage unit. A tankless system requires up to 100 amps of electric service–twice what the best RV hookup can offer–so you can see why electric operation isn’t an option. But does that matter?

That depends. If you spend most of your time in mild climates, the additional LP-gas required for the tankless system will likely be negligible. On the other hand, if you’re dry camping in frigid temperatures, where you may run your LP-gas fired furnace all day, it’s possible that the addition of a tankless system could impact how long your LP-gas will last, especially if there’s more than two people on board (and they love taking long hot showers).

If you think a tankless system may be a good fit for you and your family, the good news is that tankless/on-demand systems are designed to be retrofitted into an older RV and typically require no more effort to install than a traditional tank storage system. Regardless of their respective configurations, the fact is that they both require water, electrical and propane connections to operate–and each manufacturer offers its own components to make the upgrade as easy as possible.

The Girard GSHW-2 tankless water heater incorporates an on board micro-processor that monitors the incoming water temperature, the incoming water flow rate and the outlet hot water temperature. The burner/blower will automatically adjust to maintain the set hot water temperature, according to the company. A digital User Control Panel (UCP) allows the user to set the hot water temperature to their desired temperature from 95 degrees F to 124 degrees F (pre-set to 115 degrees F).
The Girard GSHW-2 tankless water heater incorporates an on board micro-processor that monitors the incoming water temperature, the incoming water flow rate and the outlet hot water temperature. The burner/blower will automatically adjust to maintain the set hot water temperature, according to the company. A digital User Control Panel (UCP) allows the user to set the hot water temperature to their desired temperature from 95 degrees F to 124 degrees F (pre-set to 115 degrees F).
Precision Temp has been building tankless units like its RV550s since 1996. The company prides itself in the fact that their units are manufactured in Cincinnati and every one of them is fully tested before it leaves the facility.
Precision Temp has been building tankless units like its RV550s since 1996. The company prides itself in the fact that their units are manufactured in Cincinnati and every one of them is fully tested before it leaves the facility.
One of the things we like best about a traditional tank storage system is its simplicity–and this includes maintenance. Flushing the tank annually, inspecting/replacing the anode rod (if equipped) and perhaps cleaning the ignitor assembly/burner tube is usually all that is required. The good news is, maintenance of a tankless system isn’t any more difficult, and in some cases may be even easier. Because a tankless system typically only holds a quart (or less) of water, winterizing is simply a matter of draining the system and introducing the same amount of anti-freeze to protect the heat exchanger in freezing weather.

A tankless system will cost more than a traditional tank storage water heater–and of course you’ve got to add installation costs to the budget if you don’t plan to do the job yourself. However, the reward will be an endless supply of hot water–that is, until your water and/or LP-gas run out.

Sources:

Airxcel/Suburban Manufacturing
423-775-2131
www.airxcel.com

The Girard Group
866-559-1221
www.girardgroupcompanies.com

Precision Temp
800-934-9690
www.precisiontemp.com

Truma Corp
1-855-558-7862
www.truma.net

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