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Monday, October 17, 2011

MOTORHOME MODIFICATION - timer switch on our water heater

In the dark of the night:

"Did you turn off the water heater after your shower?"
"uh oh.. don't think so....."

And so it goes!   

We usually DO turn the switch off after using the propane water heater in our motorhome.  But sometimes we forget. "Why turn it off?", you ask?  Because in a motorhome, it doesn't make sense to keep it going 24/7 and waste propane.   People living in a stix-n-brix house don't think about having to refill a propane tank, as they usually have piped in natural gas and pay the bill at the end of the month or a big bulk tank in the yard that gets filled a couple times a year.

For RVers in travel-trailers or fifth-wheel trailers or pick-up campers -- they usually have removable propane cylinders to go and refill.  But, in our motorhome, there is a huge built-in propane tank so you either drive it to a place to refill it, or have a propane delivery bulk truck come out to you.

Why waste propane by heating water all night long, when it only takes 10 minutes in the morning to get a hot tank for a shower if you just turn it on prior to using it?

Why waste propane by heating water all day long if you are only going to do dishes after supper at 6 or 7 pm?

We do find that we sometimes forget to turn it off;  only to remember it once we are snuggled into bed at night.  That means whoever left it on, has to get outta bed and turn it off!  LOL

(guess who usually forgets, and it's not ME)

Soooooo  that brainy guy came up with a solution.  Although the water heater is a propane fired one, it is operated by an electrical switch on the panel over our doorway in control center of our motorhome.


He bought an electric timer, the kind used on hot tubs or saunas etc.   He planned to wire it in near the  switch for the water heater, then we will be able to just turn the dial to ignite the heater. Once the timer runs out, the water heater won't ignite again until we turn the timer on again. We can override it by using the original switch if we wish.

On Saturday morning, we headed out to the rig and turned on some heat inside and got busy.  It was wayyyy too windy and cold to go camping, so this was the next best thing---  playing in the motorhome in the driveway!

We had little grandson Jameson over for the weekend, and he got all cozy in Granmuddah's recliner and was watching cartoons while we worked on the timer device.  He was disappointed that we weren't going anywhere, but at least he got to be in the camper!

First Steveio pulled out the water heater switch to locate the wires and be sure he wasn't going to drill into anything important.  LOL    He pre-drlled four pilot holes to the measurements of the back of the timer device.

Next he used a small jig saw and carefully cut away the wood (not a very clean cut, but it's hidden by the face plate)

He made all the proper connections with dialectic grease on all contacts and then wire nutted each one securely to hold tight, even with all the jiggles and bumps in a house moving down the road at 60 mph.  He put the switches back into place, and added the face plate.   Although it's kinda ugly silver, it works and that is what he wanted.   We tested it out and it works great!  We know that 9-10 minutes fully heats up our 10 gallon water tank, and we can set it for that and let it run.
Never have to worry about turning it off anymore!

As a side note:

In the past, we also put a timer switch like this on our inverter too.  That way I can play the TV for an hour or so at night before falling asleep and not have to get back up out of bed to turn the inverter off for overnight.  Of course I can set the sleep timer on the tv, but that doesn't turn off the inverter.   We don't waste precious battery power by leaving the inverter on overnight, as it takes a draw all by itself.    

(for the non-RVers reading my blog: an inverter changes DC power to AC power.... so the 12 DC power from our solar panels and battery bank is inverted over to 110V AC power to run household type appliances and lights.  The more battery power we accidently drain and waste, the more we have to re-charge again the next day) 

And to add to that, many household AC appliances still draw power even when not in operation (i.e. both tv's, the microwave, the dvd player, surround sound, CD player, and our RF modulator)  so we plug all those items into household power strips. We can control them with a flick of a switch.  Then we can decide if we want them on or not without having to plug and unplug them.  Why have all of these things drawing power up in the front livingroom or kitchen if you are only using one tv in the bedroom when the inverter is on?  We put power strips up inside the cabinet by the electronics, and one in the cabinet over the microwave.  

Seeing as we rarely ever camp in campgrounds with electric hookups, 
these measures really help us conserve battery power and propane usage.  
Guess we are just being "Green" ---- 

These type of modifications allow us to boondock in areas that are more remote, more beautiful and less crowded than a manicured RV park.  We just don't care for rows and rows of tin cans crowded together when we are on a get-away weekend.  Just one more modifications in Steveio's Bag of RV Tricks! 


The winds never did die down the entire weekend, and the cold has set in.  
Good thing we didn't go camping with the little guy.  
We would have been trapped inside the motorhome all weekend with a 3 year old. 


Our Indian Summer is over and it's time to start thinking about snow and ice and frozen tundra... ack! 


  1. Its nice having someone handy around to do those modifications. Great ideas.

  2. Karen go to the automotive store and get a spray can of "Black Chrome" remove the timer cover plate and spray with the black chrome... it is a "translucent black" and you should still be able to read the settings through it but then it will be a near match for what you have in the area.

  3. The man is constantly thinking and upgrading! What a guy! Everyone should be so lucky! ;)

  4. Two weeks ago Mel went out to replace the runners on steps. Hahahaha! He found the flooring on the steps was coming loose and had to be re-glued, which in turn he discovered the threshold also needed to be repaired. Well, 2 weeks later the threshold is done, but, wait.... the stairs cover that goes over our steps, well the wood that held it place while down was crooked and maybe he should make new wood pieces for that.....and it goes on and on and on. Still haven't made the new step runner!!! He also made a place to insert the tv tray and computers in the bedroom. Attached it to the wall in the bedroom at the foot of the bed, which is the end of the closet. Looks nice and no more, "where in the heck should we put this tv tray while traveling." I made a quilted cover to put over the computers and it looks great.
    Oh those guys of ours!!! except mine does not wear sponge bob pj's! LOL!

  5. Red Green would love you guys...Steve is handsome and handy..what more could you ask for...My Rick is very good at solving problems and doing renos also...gotta love a handy guy...

  6. You are so fortunate to have such a handy guy! Steve is amazing!

  7. Steve is a wonder. Each improvement he does may not be all that big or hard, but the total has made yours one very special rig. You are very lucky.

  8. Very impressed with Steve's mechanical skills! Great ideas to think about doing! I said THINK because we're not mechanically inclined! Darn! That would be a good side business for Steve!

  9. We are so with you on the conserving power and propane, also on the preferring to boondock over staying in RV Parks/Resorts. We hardly ever use our hot water heater. Like you if we do use it, we turn it on just before our shower and then turn it off even before we get in the shower. When we want hot water for the dishes we usually use our outdoor solar water bag on nice sunny days or we boil some water in a pot on the stove, it uses less propane to heat a pot of water then it does for the hot water tank. Love your idea for the timer on the hot water heater though. You two come up with some super ideas.

    Kevin and Ruth

  10. Good idea with the timer -- sounds like an idea I may take and modify. Note that the contacts designed for AC may not last as long on DC, but the current in this case is probably low enough to not be a problem.


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