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The rv water heater problems are very common and resolving them can also be easy provided you do good maintenance. A poor propane supply, a bad thermostat or a dirt in the air inlet can be some of the causes. Mostly a bad part for the heater can be replaced and should be done through a professional.
A old water heater mostly reaches its limits and may not be repaired at times. A professional who knows electrical systems technically will be able to tell you if the heater can be repaired at all or not. Having basic idea of why a water heater is shutting off will not be bad though. A rv heater could be running on propane or gas or it can be electric.
Mostly, when you have good electric supply through a battery, inverter, generator or a campsite connection; you will do fine with a electrical one. But, if you often do boondocking then propane run water heater will be the best option for you. Well, lets get back to the topic. Lets see what are the various reasons why a RV water heater can shut off. Below are reasons for both, a propane or gas run water heater and the electric run water heater for rv or camper.
1. Pilot burner has become dirty and cant supply the gas
For a lay man who only knows to use hot water, this is nothing but a part of the gas water heater system in rv or trailer that has become dirty, and is causing the gas flow to the heater not reach and hence the water is not heated or it keeps shutting off and on. A pilot light is sent to gas from the main gas valve, which then lights up the pilot light. This causes the main burner to light up and start heating the water. Its a bridge in between the gas and the main burner and a dirt in it causes the burner not to burn properly. The result is not a steady or a weak flame that results in turning it off and on.
So, what do you do? How can this be resolved. Well, a professional electrician should be able to help here by cleaning the pilot light. Trying your hand on here could make it worse and better see a professional who knows these things in and out.
2. Faulty thermopile causing the gas water heater shut on and off
A thermopile resides next to the pilot light and it basically converts the heat into electrical energy. Once the pilot light heats up, it makes the thermopile to convert it into enough electrical energy. If the thermopile is dirty or has gone bad then this transformation will take place and thus the heater will not be able to heat it, resulting in turning the heater off and on. This problem is again can be solved by either cleaning the thermopile or by replacing it. A professional only will be able to take a stand on this, and thus better to take the advice from a person who handles such things, on day to day basis.
3. Air inlet is clogged and shuts off the gas water heater
We all know that the gas needs sufficient air to keep it burning. And as the air decreases, the burning will stop . The air for this, is provided through an air inlet which is at the bottom of the camper gas water heater. It can be clogged due to dust or dirt and thus, prevent the air circulation. The inlet has to be cleaned for proper air circulation and prevent the turning on and off of the heater.
4. Gas valve has gone bad and cant supply the gas properly
A gas valve as we already saw above brings the gas to the trailer or rv heater. The gas from the valve is given to the pilot light which is then used to burn the main burner and heat the water. A dirty or a bad valve will not be able to provide this supply and thus the hater will go on and off. The valve has to be replaced for better functioning and avoid the heater on-off oscillations.
5. Electric heater keeps tripping on and off due to bad thermostat
A electric heater in rv going off due to a bad thermostat is very common issue found in electric heaters. Basically, the temperature exceeds the limit and trips the heater. The tripping occurs so as to protect from burning. All heater will have certain temperature limit above which it will get tripped which is normally found to be around 180 degrees. So, next is to see what causes the temperature go so high and not remain within limits. The thermostat basically controls the heating of heating elements.
When the temperature increases and reaches certain level it shuts off heating. Where as when it gets cold to certain limit, the thermostat again starts heating it. Now, at times the thermostat can loose the functionality that is; it can go bad due to various reasons. And when this happens, it can get stuck to a “on” position and thus, it simply cannot control the temperature which can exceed the limiting levels. And hence, the tripping occurs.Fix here, would be to replace the thermostat. A basic test can be performed on thermostat by using a multi-meter , any person having sufficient knowledge of heaters should be able to help you here.
6. High limiting switch has gone bad in electric heater
A thermostat along with the high limiting switch controls the temperature when it reaches certain limit, which is around 180 degrees. As the temperature goes high, it start cooling down and vice versa. At time your thermostat could be just doing fine but the switch itself could be bad and thus, it could just turn off even before the temperature is reached. For this kind of issue the switch has to be replaced.
7. Loose Wiring or short in heating element
A loose wiring in the rv heater can start generating heat and thus result in tripping the switch. Or a short in heating element can also cause it to continuously heat even after the limit is reached even though thermostat was working fine. In this case again the tripping will occur even though the thermostat was working fine.