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Old 06-04-2015, 08:22 PM   #1
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Should longterm boondockers turn water heater off

Does it take so little propane to keep water hot, and so much propane to heat up water, that it is not worth turning the water heater off.

I realize many care more about the convenience of having hot water when ever they want it and are not worried about about how much it costs. This question is not about that
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Old 06-04-2015, 08:36 PM   #2
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It depends on a few things. If your heater is old enough to have a pilot light and you are camping in the summer you would be surprised that the water would stay warm enough to shower.

Now since your heater does not have a pilot and the lenght of time it takes to heat up from scratch you will have to plan all your needs around a heating cycle.
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Old 06-04-2015, 08:37 PM   #3
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I've found that after the initial heat up, all it takes is a few minutes of heating before a shower or dishes to have plenty of hot water. So after that first heat up we leave the water heater off most of the time.
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Old 06-04-2015, 09:21 PM   #4
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I usually only use hot water for showers. Turn it on 30 minutes or so before shower time and turn it off on completion.
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Old 06-05-2015, 05:47 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Wayne&Sam View Post
I've found that after the initial heat up, all it takes is a few minutes of heating before a shower or dishes to have plenty of hot water. So after that first heat up we leave the water heater off most of the time.
Yes.

Unless showering, or having an unusually large and greasy amount of dirty dishes, I usually turn the water heater on for about 15 minutes to do breakfast dishes, then not again til the next day.


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Old 06-05-2015, 07:04 AM   #6
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I had a reply all typed out last night, then I accidentally hit the keystrokes to make the page go "back", and I lost it.

We turn ours off. I believe it saves some propane. Here's why: If you leave it on, it keeps the water at 160 degrees, or whatever it is for RV water heaters. If you shut it off, the water will slowly cool off (over quite a few hours), which requires no propane. Then, reheating it is only a matter of bringing it up from whatever it has cooled to, to the 160 degrees. Unless you leave it off a long, long time, or draw a lot of water out, the water won't cool all the way back down to cold over the course of a day.

So, we turn ours on in the morning so we have hot water for showers. After our showers, we shut it down. If we are planning to do dishes after lunch or dinner, we'll restart it before the meal to give it time to get hot again, then shut if off after we're done with dishes. (Often, we get up, do breakfast, then take showers, and if we have dishes to do, we'll do them after we eat.) The rest of the time, the water is plenty warm for washing hands, which is pretty much the only thing we need hot water for the rest of the day.

One other time - I'll usually run the water heater through one cycle when we get to a campsite, so we have that warm water to use for hand washing that evening and overnight.

But, I don't think we'd even notice the difference in propane usage if we just left it on. As I (indirectly) pointed out above, water holds heat fairly well, so it doesn't cool THAT much, and thus doesn't take that much energy to maintain. We got into this habit of shutting off the water heater when we had the B190 with its relatively small propane tank, and it was relatively difficult to get it filled (had to break camp). Plus, honestly, I don't like listening to it cycle on and off overnight.

But, yeah, if I had a pilot model, I'd fire it up and leave it run. Too much trouble to go relight it repeatedly! But we have a DSI model.
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Old 06-05-2015, 07:57 AM   #7
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On in the evening for dishwashing and showers, off at bedtime, they may be enough residual heat for morning use. If not a short heating will do it. We also have a teakettle to heat water for our Chemex coffee maker, if we need a little hot water for dishes during the day this will do.

When boon docking conserve all utilities.

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Old 06-05-2015, 12:00 PM   #8
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I just started living in my 1994 Airstream Land Yacht and I found that if I turn on the hot water heater for about an hour, I have enough hot water for everything that day and sometimes into the next. I don't need to light a pilot, just flip a switch. If I leave it on though it goes off and on all day and I know it uses more propane that way.
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Old 06-05-2015, 12:35 PM   #9
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I apologize if I'm too far off subject...but its related. My 20ft FC and one other model uses a heat blanket to heat water in the water heater. All other models use direct flame. Can anyone shed light on this little known issue re efficiency...and maybe even the reason for the discrepancy? Thank you...and safe travels. jon
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Old 06-05-2015, 02:09 PM   #10
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I apologize if I'm too far off subject...but its related. My 20ft FC and one other model uses a heat blanket to heat water in the water heater. All other models use direct flame. Can anyone shed light on this little known issue re efficiency...and maybe even the reason for the discrepancy? Thank you...and safe travels. jon
We had a 20'. I think you're thinking of the electric heater to keep one (or more) of the liquid storage tanks heated so they don't freeze in cold weather, not the water heater. I think the switch is in the bath if I recall, maybe that's the confusion.

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Old 06-05-2015, 02:19 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by mandolindave View Post
Does it take so little propane to keep water hot, and so much propane to heat up water, that it is not worth turning the water heater off.

I realize many care more about the convenience of having hot water when ever they want it and are not worried about about how much it costs. This question is not about that

Good question Dave.

I would imagine that any data would vary according to the outside ambient temps and the size, age and condition of your water heater. Someone like Lewster may have some data on the subject.

When we are booney camping we are especially aware of our need to be ultra conservative with our resources, water, propane, batteries.

Why not turn it off for the 23 hours you really don't need it? I would bet there is some savings.

-Dennis
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Old 06-05-2015, 03:19 PM   #12
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Thank you, Miz Cheryl
That makes more sense. And yes, the switch IS in the bathroom. Safe travels. jon
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Old 06-05-2015, 04:53 PM   #13
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I will chime in on this one as well. When boondocking I keep the propane off until 15 or so minutes before we plan to take a shower or do dishes. In addition to conserving propane I don't like the hear the thing going on all the time. Especially at night when I am trying to sleep because it is right next to the bed and sounds like a F-16 on a short field takeoff. When plugged into city I keep the electric heater on all the time and turn on gas only for showers and then just before we get in the shower.

The other thing I will note is on our last trip out I shut off the water heater after cleaning up the morning dishes on the last day. When we got home, about 6 hours later, I drained the heater and noticed the water coming out was still very warm. The lesson there is you can keep the heater off and still have warm water for a while. Although as you use it fresh cold water will replace what you have used which would tend to cool the water in the take faster than what I observed. The ambient temp didn't get much higher than mid-50s and was probably more like mid 40s most of the trip home.
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Old 06-05-2015, 05:28 PM   #14
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The burner on the most common Atwood 6 gal. water heater used in Airstreams has a rating of 8800 btu per hour. A gal. of propane has an energy content of around 90,000 btu. So, for every 10 hours of BURNER USE you will consume one gal of propane. Note, burner use, not total time on.

If you pay, as I do, $2.50 to $3.00 a gal, each hour of burner use costs about 25 to 30 cents.

Now, how long does the burner run? And when not using hot water, how long does it run on standby to keep the tank hot? Only you can determine that for your specific use, outside temp, and incoming water temp. Sit outside for a few hours with a watch, pencil and paper and time the burner and how often it cycles. Then, you, and only you, can decide if you are using too much propane for the convenience of always having hot water at any time you want it.

It is my personal decision to simply leave the water heater on propane from the time I set up until I am ready to leave. To me it is a very minor cost of camping. BTW, I almost always boondock and have no other hot water heating source such as electricity. I am sitting in a very nice Forest Service Campground in Montana right now looking out the screen door at the Bitterroot mountains. The water is nice and hot.
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