Choosing the Right RV Water Heater: Tank vs. Tankless Explained

When it comes to RV living, ensuring you have a reliable source of hot water is paramount. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a full-time RVer, the choice between a standard water heater and a tankless system can be a pivotal one. As a seasoned technician, I’ve had the privilege of installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting both types. In this article, we’ll delve deep into the pros and cons of each system, helping you make an informed decision tailored to your needs.

Standard Water Heaters for RVs

Standard water heaters, often referred to as tank-style heaters, store and heat water in a tank. When you turn on a hot water tap, water from this tank is dispensed.


  1. Consistent Temperature: Once the water is heated to the desired temperature, it remains consistent. This means you’re less likely to experience temperature fluctuations during use.
  2. Initial Cost: Generally, standard water heaters are less expensive upfront compared to their tankless counterparts.
  3. Simplicity: They have been around for a long time, and their technology is well-understood. This makes troubleshooting and repairs relatively straightforward.
  4. Availability of Replacement Parts: Given their long-standing presence in the market, finding replacement parts is usually easier.


  1. Limited Supply: Once the hot water in the tank is used up, you’ll have to wait for the tank to refill and reheat. This can be inconvenient, especially if multiple people need to shower back-to-back.
  2. Space Consumption: These heaters require space for the tank, which can be a premium in an RV.
  3. Weight: The tank, when full, adds extra weight to the RV.
  4. Energy Consumption: Even when not in use, the heater might turn on occasionally to maintain the water temperature, consuming more energy over time.

Tankless Water Heaters for RVs

Tankless systems, as the name suggests, don’t store water. Instead, they heat it on-demand as it flows through the unit.


  1. Unlimited Hot Water: Since water is heated on-demand, you can theoretically enjoy an endless supply of hot water, as long as you have a source of water and energy.
  2. Space-Saving: Without a bulky tank, these systems are compact and can be a boon for those looking to save space in their RV.
  3. Energy Efficient: They only heat water when you need it, which can lead to energy savings in the long run.
  4. Longevity: With fewer parts that can corrode over time (like a tank), tankless systems often have a longer lifespan.


  1. Initial Cost: Tankless systems tend to be more expensive upfront, though they might save money in the long run due to energy efficiency.
  2. Inconsistent Temperatures: Especially when water flow varies, you might experience temperature fluctuations.
  3. Complexity: Being a newer technology, not every technician might be familiar with troubleshooting or repairing them.
  4. Flow Rate Limitations: If multiple taps are opened simultaneously, the heater might not keep up, leading to lukewarm water.

Resources & Considerations

Both systems require a source of energy. This can be propane, electricity, or a combination of both. Ensure you have a reliable source, especially if you’re boondocking.

Environmental Conditions: Extremely cold conditions can affect the performance of both systems. For tankless heaters, very cold incoming water might not heat up as quickly. For standard heaters, the stored water can lose heat faster.


  1. Standard Water Heaters: Regularly check for sediment buildup at the bottom of the tank. Drain and flush the tank at least once a year. Check the anode rod (if present) and replace it when significantly corroded.
  2. Tankless Systems: Descale the unit periodically, especially if you have hard water. Clean or replace filters as needed.


Both standard and tankless water heaters have their merits and drawbacks. Your choice will depend on your priorities. If you value consistent temperatures and simplicity, a standard heater might be for you. If unlimited hot water and space-saving are your top concerns, consider going tankless.

Remember, the best choice is one that aligns with your RV lifestyle, budget, and personal preferences. Whichever you choose, regular maintenance will ensure you enjoy hot showers for years to come. Safe travels!


I'm Jay, the founder of RV Pro Source. I'm a Certified NRVIA Inspector and an RVTAA Registered RV Tech. I utilized these qualifications and first-hand experience to offer insight, advice, and services that cater to all RV owners.

Got an RV question? Don't hesitate to reach out to me via my social media platforms. I'm always here to help guide your RV journey!

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