Hott Rod RV Water Heater
I'm a very new RV owner and was wondering what input the gurus of
this board can give me regarding the "Hott Rod". I have a 1989 Alfa w/6 gal. Atwood water heater.
Does it work?
Difficulty of installation?
Recommend or not?
Hi Earl and welcome!
The Hott Rod and other similar products will void Atwood warranty on new water heaters. The Hott Rod is not CSA
approved for use in Canada.
You can draw your own conclusions from these two facts!
Hope this helps.
Les - Administrator
I will differ here from Les. There are two brands of products out there, the Hott Rod (lifetime Guarantee)
which you mentioned, and the Lightning Rod (Sold by "Campers Choice" for $69.95 less expensive). Campers Choice
also sells the Hot Rod for $82.56. I have no experience with the "Lightning Rod".
July 1998 I installed a Hott Rod in my Atwood 6 gallon water heater. The 120V pencil element screws into, and
replaces the drain plug. The wiring disconnects from the element with a plug and a screw on locking collar. You
feed the wire through the plate into the coach (sealing and grommeting the hole to prevent gas fumes from entering
the coach when you use the propane fired system) and then you pull back the insulation on the tank and mount the
supplied thermostat via some double sided high temperature stick on tape. You wire in the supplied adjustable
thermostat and the supplied 120V cord w/grounded plug. These are 4 pre-lugged terminals,color coded and
You then need to protect and cover the thermostat connections with high temp tape(not supplied). It is an easy
installation and mine has worked fine. I set it to about 110 deg and if I want more than one shower, I start the
gas fired heater.
Now as to CSA and UL etc. approvals. Having written specifications for 25 years for the government, it has become
clear to me that it costs a manufacturer an great deal of $ to get CSA or UL to list a product. In addition it
takes months, even years. What is important is that the product meet all appropriate UL and CSA specifications, not
that they paid some high priced lab like CSA or UL to test it. We used to write in our specifications that products
be tested to UL standards by any independent laboratory. In the case of the Hott Rod I suspect that approval is not
possible since most specifications require that there be a switch, (within sight of the connection to the heating
element), to disconnect the unit from power. In this case the only disconnect is the plug in the coach and the
element is on the outside at the heater. Because it would be possible to remove the connection at the element,
while the Hott Rod is still plugged in (and there may be water in the compartment), I suspect that a CSA or UL
approval would not be possible.
This is all a guess. I find the unit safe, professional and well constructed and we use, and like it a lot. I would
advise keeping the thermostat down under 120 since the thermostat sensing plate is mounted directly to the
When you winterize your unit, or at least once a year, you need to remove and clean the deposits off the heating
element. So there is my 2 cents.
Both major water heater mfrs. have specific bulletins out advising not to do it. Facts remain they are not
approved. I once spoke with a rep for Atwood and he cited several problems with them. In my shop we will not
install them! If we happen to notice one has been installed we give a copy of the appropriate bulletin to the
customer. For liability purposes we also note it on the repair order and have the customer specifically initial
that we did so!
I would like to hear some specifics as to exactly what the problems are. Would someone with specific data or
the access to the referenced "bulletins" post them on this BBS. Specifically what are the problems the Atwood
representative mentioned. I think it is time for facts! Not just "don't do it". There may be a good reason for not
using the electric heating element in a water heater and I would like to make my decision as whether to use them
based on facts, not on unsubstantiated advice. So lets hear some specifics!
The Atwood bulletin is dated 3/24/98. I am at home and my reference material on Suburban is at the shop. You can
contact your dealer for a copy of the bulletin. I fix RV's. I don't have a clue how to get you a copy of this
bulletin via this computer. I will look up the Suburban info tomorrow and post the info on this bulletin board.
Man...I'm really confused now!
To install an after market heat element in a suburban you must remove the anode rod and that is a real big
Since we're kinda on the subject, is it a good idea to use an anode? I took off my plug for the first time the
other day and did not see an anode attached. Are these after market items, and do they violate any warranties?
Hey, lively discussion going on here.
Atwood water heaters come from the factory with out an anode. People that sell anodes for Atwood water heaters are
out to sell anodes, period. If they required one, Atwood would surely install them to prolong the life of thier
Suburban water heaters come equipped with anode rods and they are so equipped for a reason - they need them to
prolong the life of thier tanks. Suburban tanks are made of steel with an inner glass lining. The anode rod helps
to prevent corrosion of the steel tank by attracting the corrosion to itself - it's called a sacrificial rod.
Just yesterday, I tried to remove an anode that someone had installed in a 1997 model Atwood water heater. The
anode threads are aluminum - the tank fitting is aluminum - the result was an anode rod that could not be removed
using any device. It was permanently fused to the tank threads and the tank will have to be replaced.
I think for now I will stay away from both an after market heating element and an anode. My water heater is 14
years old so I guess if it was gonna go it would of gone by now!
Greg, you didn't say if your heater was an Atwood or Suburban (American Appliance) if it's that old.
The anode rod does help in a steel tank (check it at least yearly) and use teflon tape or plumbers paste on the
I believe I'll just install a new dual power water heater.
Thanks to all who submitted posts. I knew I could count on you guys.
A couple weeks ago I put a question on this board about weather it was a good idea to put an anode rod in a
atwood water heater. Looks like you just answered that for me. My other question was is it a good idea to drain the
water from the tank when finished. I use the trailer two weekends a month and vacation.
The best I can offer on the Hot Rodd subject is that I installed and used a Lightning Rod in an Atwood water
heater a couple years ago and it worked splendidly. Swapped the trailer a year later, so don't know if there were
any long term negatives, but I saw only positive results.
First a big thank you to Les for providing the BBS and to Gary for providing the source of the info on Atwood
water heaters. I called Atwood service and had a long and detailed technical discussion with Chris.
Let each person, after looking at the Atwood bulletin on "after market heating elements" make their own decision on
whether or not to use the after market electric heating element.
Atwood sells propane water heaters with 120V electric thermostatically controlled elements and with separate heat
exchangers for engine coolant welded to the outside of the tank. Models can be purchased with any combination of
the above. There is relatively small, if any, increase in price to get the 120V electric thermostatically
controlled element with a propane unit. In my case the 6 gal. electronic ignition propane/120V/ engine heat
exchanger (GCH6A-9E) suggested list is $507. The pilot model of this is slightly more at $527, One of the most
expensive models they sell.
When Atwood adds the 120V electric element it is added from the side of the coach that faces the inside. It
apparently is not a pencil type element and is a calrod type like the one, but smaller, used in a household water
heater. With the Atwood unit all the heating, (propane and electric) run from the same thermostat. They also
include a 120V disconnect switch at the heater, required by UL and CSA specifications, and recommend the connection
of the unit direct to a circuit breaker (no plugs). The max setting on Atwood thermostats is 150 deg. F.
The pilot models, not the electric ign. models, have an Emergency Cut Off (ECO) built into the valve that is
immersed into the tank. This trips at 180 deg. F. It is non-replaceable and if it blows (gets over 180 deg. F.) you
have to replace the entire valve at a cost of $150-$200 plus labor. Atwood claims that some of the after market
120V pencil type heater units when screwed into the tank in the drain valve location, are positioned within the
tank, to within ½ inch of the ECO sensor. If the electric sensor causes the water temperature to get to or over 180
the ECO blows and you are in for a new valve with new ECO. This may be caused by the thermostat on the after market
unit mounted to the outside of the tank, not reaching the desired temperature setting because the slower heat
transfer through the water is not as fast as to the ECO sensor just ½" away from the 120 V after market element.
Electronic ign. models have the ECO sensor on the outside of the tank and do not have the above problems.
The service bulletin from Atwood makes a statement "Use of these devices can lead to an out of control heating of
the water tank and a catastrophic wet side explosion". I visited with Chris about this and what they mean is that
the tank could rupture and cause a leak and water damage. We are not talking about a gas explosion here. The key
work is "can", not necessarily "will". This bulletin is designed to cover all types of after market elements and
some, purchased from Grainger for example, do not have thermostats.
So here are my recommendations:
1. Let each make their own decision based on getting info from Atwood, or Suburban, analyzing their tank and after
market units and weighing the risks and benefits.
2. When purchasing a new or replacement water heater, buy the one with the factory installed 120V element.
3. If you already have an after market unit, and it is a pilot model, check the tolerance to the ECO, and
discontinue using it if there is a potential problem.
Here is how I operate my Atwood 6 gallon water heater with Hott Rod
1. I have my thermostat on my Hott Rod set no higher than 110 deg F. I check this with a thermometer and don't
trust the settings on the control.
2. In addition to the stick on tape mounting of the Hott Rod thermostat I have mechanically held the thermostat to
the tank. If it were to lose its attachment to the tank I would have a run away heating element.
3. When I am plugged into electric at the site, I never leave my propane fired unit on when I am not using it. I
only use it for quick recovery when we take two consecutive showers, and then I shut off the propane fired
4. This may not eliminate the possibility of the ECO reaching the 180 deg. "failure" point but as long as the 120V
electric thermostat keeps functioning and the thermostat stays attached to the tank, and I keep the mineral
deposits off the pencil element, this is unlikely.
Chris at Atwood claims that the Atwood units have an aluminum tank with a special coating and that an anode is not
required, as any deposits will be washed off to the bottom of the tank. He claims that the Suburban units with
their Steel/magnetic tanks require the anodes to keep from rusting out. I think I buy this argument as this is my
5th Atwood unit (I also have a suburban unit). We have high mineral water and there never was any deposits in the
aluminum tanks. My Hott Rod, which is a steel heating element, gets deposits and has to be cleaned. If you put an
anode in any tank you will attract deposits but If you don't the deposits will not stick to the aluminium. That is
my experience and that is what Atwood tech service claims.
5. The mystery here is how with the engine coolant getting sometimes to 220 deg F (under pressure), how the ECO
valve does not blow under these conditions. I guess the 220 degrees is short lived going up a hill and the clutch
fan brings it down. Is not likely to be a continuous 220 and therefore the ECO may never reach the critical 180
Let each make his or her own decision. Additional technical input would be welcome.
Wow, thanks for this post and the work that went into it!
Les - Administrator
Thanks for all the info Chris. Glad you touched on your added assembly steps on mounting the thermostat. I
was wondering about the wisdom of attaching with tape as originally mentioned.
I have the Atwood with engine water heat exchanger and love it. What a pleasure to be able to pull off road and
have hot water instantly available. My water heater is near the rear of coach so the 25+ ft of travel cools the
water plus on my rig I also have a rear mounted ducted space heater that is heated by same engine water. Heater is
a real bonus when traveling in cold weather as it keeps the rear half of the rig nice and warm.
What amazes me is why anyone wants to spend $80-$90 for an electric heating element. Has anyone actually
computed the return on investment vs. buying propane?
From the Suburban website:
"Any alterations to a Suburban water heater will void its warranty. This includes add-on electric aftermarket
heating elements. There are a number of heating elements being offered. These elements are supplied with different
types of thermostats which are mounted in various locations of the water heater. These heating elements can lack
critical safety controls. Use of these devices can lead to an out of control heating of the water tank and a
catastrophic wet side explosion. The use of these aftermarket heating element devices may result in damage to
components or the water heater. When aftermarket heating elements are inserted into the anode rod/drain connection,
tank life is shortened by accelerating inner tank corrosion. This will be a non-warrantable