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Thursday, May 27, 2010

RV Water Heater Electric Heating Element Trouble

In our motorhome, the electric portion of the water heater has quit working. The gas works normally. Other than gaining access through the bottom or via the round marine type access hole, how do you gain sufficient working access to reach the 120-volt heater and thermostat on the back of the water heater tank? The two options that I have considered are removing the complete water heater or cutting a larger rectangular hole surrounding the round hole with the screw out cover.
Leon, (Belleville, ON)

Leon, indeed it can be challenging finding easy access to some components. I’ll never forget the time I had to completely remove the windshield of a motorhome in order to replace the refrigerator! Gotta love those floor plan design teams, huh? The bottom line is that, if indeed the heating element needs to be replaced, it will be necessary to gain access somehow. Let’s look at the two options you mentioned.

First, to remove the water heater itself, you’ll have to break the LP tubing connection, plus both the hot and cold water lines after draining the water heater. And you will have some water to mop up too! You’ll have requisite leak tests (LP and water) to perform after you replace the element and reinstall the water heater. Plus resealing the installation. Sounds like a lot of trouble.

I think enlarging the existing access hole is your easiest option. But I would first verify that indeed the heating element is faulty. You can use a VOM to measure the resistance. You probably have a 1400-watt element, therefore the resistance measurement should be a little over 10 Ohms between the two contacts on the heating element. Also measure the resistance between each of the two probes and the case or base of the element. Any reading there will indicate a short in the element. A shorted or open heating element will mandate a replacement. Be sure to use the correct replacement part if indeed yours is faulty. Keep in mind, the problem could very well be caused by the thermostat, the limit switch or the off/on switch as well as the power supply, so don’t be too quick to condemn the heating element without taking some measurements first.

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