Water Heater Replacement and Returning to the RV

We were ready to get off the ship from our cruise to Hawaii.  It was a wonderful trip, but it was time to get back to our RV and spend some time on land.  Besides, there was a problem with the RV when we left and we were eager to get it fixed.  We had to replace the water heater.

Before and after anode rods

Most water heaters have an anode rod.  An anode rod is a solid metal cylinder that gets screwed into a water heater’s drain plug to prevent the steel water heater tank from rusting inside.  Anode rods are made from aluminum, magnesium, or zinc.  These metals that will “sacrifice” themselves through electrolysis and save the exposed steel water heater tank from a similar fate.  In your home water heater, you need to replace an anode rod about once every five years.

Unfortunately, Tom and I didn’t realize that we had to replace the anode rod in an RV every year.  RV anode rods are much smaller than full-sized rods and wear out faster.  We have a Suburban water heater made of porcelain-lined steel.  If the anode rod wears out, the tank will rust prematurely and start to leak.  This is exactly what happened to us.  After three years, the anode rod was completely gone and the tank started leaking.

Fortunately the leak was a small one and Tom caught it before we had any water damage to the RV.  But the only solution to the leak was to replace the water heater.  We noticed the leak before we went to Hawaii, so we drained the tank and turned off the water.  However, we needed to get the tank replaced as soon as we got home or we wouldn’t have any hot water in the RV.

Suburban Water Heater

Consequently Tom made several phone calls from Hawaii to a service recommended by Silver Cove Campground where we parked the RV.  When something breaks down on an RV you can take it in to the shop or you can hire a mobile service to come to you.  Because we live in the RV full-time, we prefer the service that comes to us.

The only mobile RV service in the area was “Bubba’s Mobile RV Service.”  Tom called him and he agreed to order the water heater and install it when we got back from Hawaii.  We were a little leary about using a service with “Bubba” in the name.  But we didn’t have much choice if we wanted to get it done in Washington.

Turns out Brad, aka Bubba, has worked for 30 years for an RV service and does the mobile bit on the side in the evenings and on the weekends.  Brad checked out the water heater in the RV before we got home so he could order the same kind.  Then he brought the new water heater and installed it, with Tom’s help, after work a couple of days after we got back from Hawaii.  It was raining and dark but Brad seemed very competent.  After watching it work for a little while and checking for leaks, Brad packed up and headed out.

About an hour after he left, Tom noticed that there was water running out from under the new water heater.  At first we thought (hoped) it was just rain water that had seeped in during installation.  But we were going through towels at a furious rate, with more water coming out than we had from the old tank.  Tom turned off the water, but we replaced soaking wet towels every 15 minutes through most of the night.  As soon as we realized how bad the leak was, we called Brad (10 p.m. that night) and he said he would come as soon as he got off work the next day.

Brad showed up about 5:30 on Friday and we showed him the leak and the sinkful of sopping wet towels.  Brad inspected the water heater from the inside, then went outside to look.  After a few minutes he called for Tom to come look.  Turns out the heating element had not been properly installed by the manufacturer.  As soon as we filled the tank, the heating element started leaking.  The water ran down the water heater into the RV.  Brad said he had never seen that before.  Suburban is usually a reliable brand.

Because he is a professional, and had been thinking about the problem all day, Brad came prepared.  He brought a new heating element with him and replaced the defective element as soon as he drained the tank.   Brad refilled the tank, inspected everything again, and then sat down inside to wait.  He wanted to be sure that he fixed the problem before he left.  Brad stayed another hour until we were all satisfied that there were no more leaks.  Since then the water heater has behaved perfectly.

Tom and I were very happy with “Bubba’s Mobile RV Service.”  Brad did a great job and it wasn’t his fault that the heating element was defective.  And Tom and I learned a very important lesson.  From now on, the anode rod will be inspected frequently and replaced at least once a year.