RV Water Heater Replacement – Girard vs. Truma, Tank vs. Tankless

For anyone else out there in RV-land stuck with a barely-working hot water heater, this post is for you!

Our hot water heater wasn’t functioning correctly from the very first day we had our Pleasure-Way Van. The first time we attempted to have it fixed we went back to our original dealer in Las Vegas where they replaced the Sail Switch. That got us by for a few days until it broke again, at which point we were in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

At some point in this process we realized our existing hot water heater wasn’t going to work well for us, even once it worked as-designed.

Here’s the quick scoop…

The Girard GSWH-1M tankless hot water heater has several issues with it’s design. The Gas Modulation Control dial that adjusts the flame (and temperature of the water) must be adjusted constantly. It is recommended to set it “at the beginning of your camping trip” but when the temperature swings 20-40 degrees in a given day, in reality, it must be adjusted all day long throughout the day.

With the Girard, the water will only begin to heat once the water is turned completely to full blast, with hot water running completely open. Adding any cold water will make the emergency cut off switch turn the hot water heater off – and – it’s back to square one. The only way to use our water was to attempt to ONLY use the hot water faucet and adjust the temperature from the kitchen wall, without ever using the cold faucet (we learned this from reading forums).

Showers took a kitchen-assistant to attempt to keep water at a decent temperature by adjusting the Gas Modulation Control dial upon request of the person in the shower. Girard definitely wins the Rube Goldberg award for hot water systems…

Okay, enough about the Girard. Actually, one last thing – most people spend about a year trying to make it work before finally getting something else. We skipped right to the end of the line and decided to get the “something else” immediately.

Here’s the process we went through when we realized it was time to figure out what to do next… The 2016 Pleasure-Way Plateau TS has no ability to hold a 6 gallon water heater, or even a 4 gallon water heater anywhere on the chassis. There’s simply no room within the existing floor plan. We did want a working hot water heater, but we did not want to do any remodeling.

After extensive research, we discovered the Truma AquaGo (Basic) tankless water heater would fit in the same spot as the Girard, with limited surgery required to the van. The Truma also sounded like a better designed product.

Once we made the decision to go with the Truma AquaGo we searched their website for AquaGo dealers located across the region of the country we were in, or planned to be in (California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas). We found several of interest, checked reviews online (Yelp was a huge help), and then called a few for estimates. Of the repair shops we contacted, only one was so familiar with the AquaGo that they were able to immediately give us a quote and talk knowledgeably about the product and installation required. They also provided the most reasonable quote!

McBride’s RV in Chino, California was our winner. And, they did a remarkable job!

The change from any factory-installed item to an aftermarket will likely cause a few snags here and there. For us, the main issue was the hot water heater door on the outside of the van that was designed for the Girard would not work with the Truma. We knew that was a possibility and we all hoped for the best, but – no luck. The venting needed by the Truma was in a different spot and it simply wasn’t going to work.

The downside of needing a new door meant a few new complications. The Truma door is white (our van is silver) and it has a frame around the door that if used, would stick out from the body of our van. It was unsightly at best, and possibly problematic.

Truma AquaGo

McBride’s tried several options beginning with altering the door we had, then adjusting the Truma door to be frame-less (after calling Truma to make sure that would not void our warranty). The frameless door turned out to be the best bet. If you look closely at the photo to the left, you can see the frame.

McBride’s included us every step of the way once there was a snag, giving us a choice and letting us participate actively in the outcome rather than be surprised or suffer from sticker-shock at the end.  Once everyone decided on a plan, the door needed some cosmetic adjustments. Namely, it needed to not be white!

McBride’s gave us a head’s up on the added cost of painting the door (got our approval), then got their onsite paint-matching guy to match the body paint we have. The added task of painting meant a little more time before we were ready to roll – but McBride’s had us covered. The let us stay on their lot (with water and electric hookups!) until the next day when the freshly painting door could be installed. They even gave us a walking tour of the shop and made sure we were totally comfortable before they departed for the night.

The next day, the newly-painted door was ready to be installed, and with that, we were ready to roll!

BEFORE Girard Water Heater

The photo on the left is the BEFORE picture from the body of the van, with our factory-installed Girard water heater.

It’s now been a few days and our water still gets hot when we turn the faucet to hot – something that feels like magic after a month without hot water.

For anyone in need of switching to a Truma AquaGo, though it’s only been a few days for us, I think I can safely recommend it. In a word, it works. You turn the water to hot, it heats the water. You can adjust the flow of water to be barely on and still get warm or hot water as desired (great for boondocking and those conserving water), and McBride’s is definitely a shop to consider. I’d happily have them do more work for using the future, it was definitely a 5-star repair experience!

AFTER Truma AquaGo Water HeaterThe photo on the right is the AFTER picture, with the Truma AquaGo, minus the frame – and – painted to match our van. McBride’s spent time giving attention to detail to make this work for us, and they did a great job.

And, now we have hot water. It’s very strange I tell you, strange indeed.

Chino California

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4 thoughts on “RV Water Heater Replacement – Girard vs. Truma, Tank vs. Tankless

  1. In 2006, I bought a used 1995 Blue Bird Wanderlodge. Among the wonders it had was an AquaHot system that supplies “unlimited” domestic hot water, “hydronic” heating of the interior and basement of the RV, and engine pre-heat. It also featured (as heat source) an electric element (2000 watts), diesel fired burner, and (reversing the engine pre-heat) using the coolant to heat the domestic water and the interior hydronic heating system. To say the least, this RV seriously spoiled me.

    Subsequently, we sold the Blue Bird and purchased a Sprinter Based Class B RV — resulting in a weight savings of some 38,000 lbs and trading 5MPG for 18 to 20 MPG on diesel.

    Suffice it to say, the 6 gallon traditional “rv water heater” was rather a disappointment after the AquaHot system.

    I started to search for tankless hot water heaters suitable for the Sprinter Class C … and from the critiques online, all have limitations, in some cases making them practically unusable. It seems like the Truma model has solved the most glaring issues that seem to inhabit competing brands. I appreciate your review and I hope your subsequent experience with the Truma has been positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, yes, we have been very happy with the Truma AquaGo! Prior to the switch we did a TON of research and I didn’t expect it work as well as it does. So yes, I highly recommend it as a replacement for a 6 gallon tank.

      Hopefully you can make the switch as well, it’s well worth it!

      Like

      1. Last year, when the Truma was introduced, I looked into it. It should fit to replace the 6 gal heater we now have, probably with some fussing with the gas line. At the time, there were no local dealers (closest more than 80 miles away).

        As spring is soon to arrive in these parts, it’s time to start planning the summer’s trips… and add the upgraded hot water heater. Sadly, Truma _still_ doesn’t have a close-by dealer, though there are now a couple more that are also about 80 miles away. (I live in SW Washington, near Portland, Oregon. I’d think that Portland would be big enough to support a Truma dealer!)

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Finally, a Truma dealer was assigned in our area. At the beginning of the summer travel season we had a Truma “tankless” hot water heater installed. It was a good fit in the existing space, but some plumbing modifications were required to get the hot and cold pipes into the right place. The installer left the “winter tank bypass” valves in place, though the amount of “pink stuff” required to winterize is not that significant … and I’ll feel more comfortable with the new water heater properly winterized in any event.

    The installation went reasonably well, but took longer than expected, due to the plumbing modifications required along with a problem with the replacement door/frame. The “standard” frame stuck out from the van wall by about 3/4 inch — unattractive to say the least. Truma has an “alternate” door frame … that installed flush with the side of the van (and is sealed by caulk). Unlike the situation with the blogger’s Airstream, my Roadtrek was painted white, so no further painting was required on the water heater door or frame.

    I’ve now had several trips with the Truma… and it works even better than I’d hoped. Hot water arrives quickly and the temperature is quite stable during use. The only limitation on shower length is the size of the holding tank.

    There are 3 models of the Truma AquaGo, the basic, comfort, and comfort-plus. The “comfort’ (middle model) includes a very small “tank” that provides “faster” hot water (as the heater keeps that small tank hot rather than needing to wait the few seconds for the main water flow to be heated). The comfort model also provides frost protection, if you encounter below freezing temperatures that were unexpected. (But depending on your RV, other plumbing might be at risk of freezing.) Note: The comfort plus provides for recirculating hot water, and thus different plumbing in the RV than normally used. It is not practical as a retro-fit device.

    My only complaint is that, in our installation, the brief but periodic cycling of the “comfort” tank makes enough noise that it’s annoying. That may be a factor of our installation, so it might not be an issue in some other installation. In a Roadtrek, (a class B RV) the water heater is directly below the microwave, hidden in the “kitchen” cabinetry. In another RV, such as a Class A or C, the water heater may be better insulated from noise. Switching the water heater “off” eliminates the cycling and the noise, but also the ‘frost protection.”

    I’d score 9 out of 10 points for the Truma AquaGo… in our installation.

    Like

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