Originally Posted by gquake
Do you recommend replacing it with a regular drain plug or would a correctly installed system be safe to use?
In general I'm not a big fan of the aftermarket electric mods. They heat the water very slowly, you give up the drain plug, and they aren't tested to the safety standards that would apply to a factory installation. An Atwood water heater ordered from the factory with an electric element will have all the 120v electric wiring inside an enclosed junction box inside the coach, and there will be a high limit switch to prevent scalding.
I have a trailer and a truck camper. On the trailer I have an Atwood water heater with the factory electric. On the camper I have a gas-only water heater. I've run wiring for a future conversion to a gas-electric water heater, which I will do by replacing the whole thing. Which will cost $400, which is why I haven't done it yet. In my situation I'd rather run the gas than put in an aftermarket element.
If you're parked in the same spot for 8 months then your electric is metered, right? If you're going to stay there, you'd probably save money vs electric by getting a 100 gallon propane tank brought out (you can usually lease them for $1) and buying bulk propane. The break even point is around 20x, so if you're paying $0.15 per kwh for electricity, then if you can buy propane for less than $3 per gallon, you'll end up saving money. (I can share the math behind this if anyone cares)
The main advantage of electric is that it saves you the hassle and expense of filling the little propane tanks on the trailer tongue, which is all you can use if you're moving around a lot. And even if you find a good deal it's going to cost considerably more than the bulk rate. Well, that, and if you are getting unmetered electricity as part of the daily fee then the price is going to be zero.
If you're getting free electricity, or if bulk propane isn't an option for you, and you don't have the $$ to just replace the whole water heater, well, maybe a properly installed aftermarket element might make the most sense.
What appears unsafe to you about this particular set up or why do you say it is installed improperly?
They're supposed to be installed with the thermostat and all the wiring connections inside the trailer. The thermostat is supposed to be fastened to the wall of the tank, not zip-tied to the relief valve. The exposed 120v connections pose an electric shock hazard, and the tank would overheat if the thermostat came loose. Further, some of the connections would get soaked if the relief valve were to open.
But it's quite a bit more work to do that, which is why people take shortcuts. To do it right you have to have good access to the water heater from inside the trailer, which may involve removing or disassembling some cabinetry or removing the water heater and then reinstalling it. You can look and see whether you can get to it in your situation.