Upgrading our water heater to work on gas and electricity - Fiberglass RV

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Old 04-20-2009, 12:53 AM   #1
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peterh's Avatar
Name: Peter
Trailer: 2005 19 ft Scamp 19 ft 5th Wheel
Posts: 1,555
Adding an electric water heater element to your gas hot water heater makes it so your water heater automaticallly starts to heat up when you have hookups and plug your trailer in. An electric hot water heater element simplifies trailer setup time, saves propane, and doesn't have a pilot light to blow out.

There are two brands of water heater upgrade kits that I'm aware of, the Hott Rod and Lightning Rod. According to the local RV service guy they're both pretty much alike. You just have to be sure to get the right kit for your water heater. Both brands come with adapters for both Suburban and Atwood water heaters, but be sure to match your kit to the size of your water heater. The size of the heating element is different for 6 and 10 gallon units.

So I watched eBay for a couple weeks hoping to score a Hott Rod or Lightning Rod kit for $70 or less. In the end my Hott Rod cost me just over $70 (including shipping), and I installed it this weekend.

Overall installation was pretty easy.

First, I upgraded the electric box my refrigerator plugs into to a double gang box with an on/off switch that I wired to one of the two outlets, one outlet that's always on for the refrigerator and a switched outlet for the water heater. I wanted a separate switch for the water heater element because you shouldn't use the electric heater when the water heater doesn't have water in it. Running the heater dry will burn the element out in about 30 seconds, so having a switch makes it so I can switch the heater off when I drain and winterize the trailer.

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The electric cord snakes around to the pace where the gas line comes through the insert. This picture shows the electric cord entrance from the outside of the trailer behind the access panel.

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Once the wire was run I also installed the water heater element, inserting the adapter collar, which has an attached anode, for my make of water heater after wrapping it with teflon plumbers tape before screwing it in and tightening it with a wrench.

After the adaper was installed I wrapped the threads of the heater element with teflon tape and bolted it into the adapter. You can just see them in place in the last picture. The heating element is the nut-like thing that the white wires are attached to.

I thought the heater control would be difficult to install, but it was almost comically easy. You just zip-tie the control unit to the water heater's safety valve.

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Once all the parts were in place it was time to wire it all up. Wiring is easy: just match the color coded plugs on the control unit, heating element, and electric cord and plug them together. The most difficult wiring task is drilling a hole in the water heater housing and screwing the "ground" wire connector down to the newly created hole.

With all the connections made it was time to completely fill my water heater, then turn the heater on. It took about 3 hours for the water heater to reach full temperature, about four times longer than using the propane burner for. Most to the time I don't need hot water immediately after I've set up, so the long heating times are no problem, but should ai need hot water faster I can always fire up the propane burner and the electric heater at the same time, then shut the propane off once the water's warmed up.

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Old 04-29-2009, 01:52 PM   #2
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Name: Liz
Trailer: 1979 13 ft Boler, 1987 & 1988 Bigfoot 5th Wheel
Posts: 2,025
Nice explanation Peter. I think those are a great idea.

1979 Boler B1300 | 1987 Bigfoot 5th Wheel | 1988 Bigfoot 5th Wheel | We officially have a collection!
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Old 05-02-2009, 07:56 AM   #3
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Name: Dan
Trailer: Scamp
Posts: 628
If you use these aftermarket heating elements, just be aware that Atwood does not recomend their use.

One potential consequence of using an after market heating element is that if the water in the heater ever gets above 180 degrees, a one-time safety trips in the gas control turning the gas off to the burner permanently.

For more information, see the following:



-- Dan Meyer
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Old 05-02-2009, 07:31 PM   #4
John H's Avatar
Trailer: 25 ft Bigfoot (25B25RQ)
Posts: 46
Nice install, your work is always top notch.
One of the best reasons to have the electric element is that you don't have to monitor the water heater if you have electric hookups. You also don't hear the flame in the middle of the night.
The Hott Rod is my choice because of the thermostat mounts directly to the back of the tank. The Lightening Rod uses a tie wrap to strap the thermostat to the safety pop off. I don't think this is a good method. The HR also has a duel stat that incorporates a emergency contact that opens if the first one sticks closed.
Did you have to do any readjustment of the temp settings?
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Old 05-02-2009, 11:09 PM   #5
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Name: Peter
Trailer: 2005 19 ft Scamp 19 ft 5th Wheel
Posts: 1,555
>Did you have to do any readjustment of the temp settings?

No . . . there's a little dial you can adjust with a small screwdriver. It looks easy to adjust, but the factory pre-set temp seems to work for us.
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Old 05-02-2009, 11:36 PM   #6
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Name: El Viejo
Trailer: 2002 Casita 17 ft Spirit Deluxe
Posts: 222
I have used both in different rigs. I believe the Lightning Rod was a bit easier to install. Once installed there was no difference.

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