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.
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.
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.
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.