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5 things to Do When Your RV Hot Water Heater pilot is not lighting

Realizing your RVs hot water heater isnt working often comes at the most inconvenient of times, such as washing the dishes or stepping into the shower. Follow the troubleshooting steps below to get your hot water heater lit, and hot water flowing again!

rv water heater

RV hot water heaters can readily have hardware issues that prevent them from working, including bad circuit boards and thermo-couplers, or even a defective igniter. Thankfully, all are fixable. Let’s explore common problems.

Water heater basics: propane and water

An RV hot water heater needs two main things to get started: Propane and water. Run out of either of these and the water heater won’t do much.

The first thing to do is make sure you have a supply of propane available for the hot water heater. If the tanks feel light or the gauges indicate they are empty, you’ll need more propane to use any heat in your RV, including your furnace.

You can see how much water is left in your fresh water tank via gauges on the dashboard. Opening your hot water heater’s pressure relief valve will also show you if you have water in the hot water heater.

The RVs Thermocouple isn’t working

The thermocouple is among the small parts that help your Rv’s water heater know when to work. Unfortunately, this also means that a bad thermocouple can stop your water heater from working.

The thermocouple is found within the pilot light. The pilot light could be on but a defective thermocouple system will keep the entire water heater from functioning.

The thermocouple can also be covered in soot and dirt. The easiest, safest way to clean the relatively sensitive thermocouple is to use compressed air. You won’t have to reach too far and the force of the air is more gentle than using what some people use, like drill bits – which can make the opening too big.

Pilot burner problems

The pilot burner itself can become clogged. The easy way to fix this is with compressed air is an to blow out the burner. Removal by manually scaping may be required.

The pilot feed tube (the small gas line that feeds the pilot) is essential to having your water heater run properly.

Soot and debris can be a problem in for both your thermocouple and the pilot burner, especially as RVs tend to attract dust and dirt filled more than a traditional water might. Driving down dirt roads and camping has its benefits, but collecting dirt is not one of them!

Insects if neglected can also be a problem. Spiders and insects like the smell of propane and the warmth, so they tent to try to crawl into pipes. Years worth of webs and dead spiders can create a clog within your pilot feed tube and make the simple job of lighting the pilot on your water heater a huge problem.

Direct Spark Ignition Problems

Direct Spark igniter hot water heaters are becoming more common in RVs. DSI hot water heaters are simple and allow the user to flip a switch to turn the hot water heater on. 

A DSI system doesn’t have a pilot light, which is normally used to initiate the spark. A 12V battery produces the spark instead.

Board Problems

The most common problem with a direct spark ignite system is a bad board or a bad fuse. A bad fuse can be a small break in the chain that tells the spark to start. 

A bad board results in the electronics not being able to know when to fire. The control board often has lights to communicate when an issue is happening. Most often a key is printed on the side of the board explaining what different flashes mean so that you can quickly identify the problem. If Yours does not have this feature then your manual should!

In some cases, the board needs to be replaced. Some DIYers can replace boards themselves.

No Ignition for Direct Spark

The gas valve might be stuck if you don’t have a board issue. In this case, you might want to tap the gas valve lightly to see if anything is obstructing it, as the most common issue here is that the gas isn’t getting through.


Make sure your battery for the 12V and plug in are working. Power might have been cut off for some reason. Look at the circuit box to make sure that your hot water heater breaker isn’t off.

Fewer Moving Parts

One of the advantages to a DSI system is that there are fewer moving parts and a constant flow of propane isn’t needed to power a pilot light. The bad side to a DSI system is that most parts are electronic and simply cleaning out parts will help less often. This could also be good because DSI systems are less affected by dirt and soot.

Do you smell gas?

Both DSI and regular hot water heaters use propane gas to ignite a flame to heat water. If the lines aren’t obstructed,  and everything else is working, you might actually have a leak.

Propane companies are required to add a rotten egg scent called “Mercaptan” to their gasses so you can readily detect the nasty odor.

If you smell something, You have a leak! Get yourself and other people out and too a safe place. If you can safely do so, Turn the gas off at the source.

Call the fire department. They have special tools for analyzing gas levels, and are trained to operate in hazardous environments.

Working with gas lines can be dangerous and explosive. Don’t try to repair gas lines yourself unless you know what your doing.


Not having hot water in your RV is no fun! but often the problem is quite simple if your willing to look at it yourself. Cleaning out a pilot light can readily take care of some issues. Additional parts and help might be needed. A DSI hot water heater can often communicate it’s own issues to you via blinking lights on the board, which can diagnose problems easily.

We hope you get to experience hot water again very soon.

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