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

Chilling Out in Lake Havasu City, Arizona

It looks like we’ll be staying in Lake Havasu City for a little while longer. Though our Hot Water Heater was working a tiny bit, it is now completely dead. Poof. It lives no more. As of yesterday it had a little life left in it and the manufacturer was going to send some parts our way. By last night, the Hot Water Heater was totally dead, so we went back to the local shop we’ve been working with, and more parts are on the way.

Since Thanksgiving is this week and Girard is shipping us parts via slow travel, we’ll be without hot water for quite a bit longer.

I have to give a quick shout out to the local shop we’ve been working with, Canyon Country RV, Truck & Auto Service Center. They have done everything possible to try to get us up and running, balancing calls between Pleasure Way (maker of our van), and Girard (maker of our hot water heater), and have spent a lot of time working on this issue. I overheard one of their calls today and they were requesting on our behalf that Girard overnight the parts because this is our home – of which I definitely appreciate the request! Girard declined though, but wow, huge thumbs up to Canyon Country RV! They are clearly acting as advocates on our behalf, not something I’m accustomed to at repair shops!

After spending a good part of the day at the repair shop again today, Dave and I headed over to Lake Havasu State Park for the night, and I have to say, it’s beautiful here!
Lake Havasu State Park

Though one of the reasons we chose this park was because of the high reviews of their showers (because… no hot water… remember?), we still chose to use our own bathroom this evening for a shower!

We have a Class B Van, with a wet bath. From what I’ve read, many folks (possibly even most) who have wet baths never use their shower, instead opting for campground facilities. We chose this van knowing the pros and cons of a wet bath and fully intended to use it as it is part of our home. I think by opting to take a full, 100% cold water shower, over using a shower just a hundred feet away that fully works – marks as completely and totally crazy. But you know what? That’s okay!

Why We Are Counting Down: 3.5 Weeks to Go

Have you ever had to live without hot water? Most people I know were born and raised in the U.S. and have probably never given much thought to hot water. You turn on the hot tap, and a few seconds later, hot water rushes forth. It’s almost miraculous when you think about it.

I’m not sure if it’s worse not having any hot water at all, or having a water heater that only works on occasion. Flip a coin – are you feeling lucky?

We’ve had our hot water “fixed” once already, when it was working less often than it is now, but it’s still finicky, and even when it works “as designed” – it won’t work properly for us. It also isn’t always even working as designed, but I’ll get to that.

We have a Girard Tankless Hot Water Heater. For some reason, some RV manufacturers have decided to forgo traditional hot water tanks and use a tankless system. There are a lot of marketing claims involved such as: “instant hot water” and “endless hot water” (neither of which is actually true). You can spend hours reading all the complaints about Girard Tankless systems if you like, there is a lot of chatter out there.

When you have a hot water tank, the water is heated and stored in a tank for your use. If you run out of hot water, you need to wait for more to be heated. In a tankless system, the water is heated AS IT FLOWS through the pipes. This is a huge difference, and can be very problematic in an RV.

The way our hot water system works, I mean, the way it is designed to work, is you must turn the hot water on to it’s fullest setting, wait about 12 seconds, and then you should have hot water. However, if you turn off the faucet while you soap up dishes, or wash your hair, then turn the water back on, it will NOT be hot anymore. If you are only turning the water off for about 2 or 3 seconds it will be okay, but there is a short point of time where it isn’t. Instead, the water will often be lukewarm, then very cold again, then maybe it will start to get hot again. Or, you may need to turn the faucet off, wait until the system stops entirely (a few minutes), then turn it on and wait again. All the while, wasting quite a bit of water. Perhaps gallons.

In other words, the our tankless water heater gives us the worst shower experience possible. Sometimes there has been screaming involved. I also don’t mind hand-washing dishes in normal circumstances. I DO mind washing dishes with ice cold water.

Now, keep in mind, we have a 30 gallon fresh water tank. If we are connected to water service (and sewer service) at a campground then sure, we can take a long hot shower as long as we never turn the water off. Many campgrounds do not offer full hookups, so here is where the physical limitations begin.

Our shower head is rated for 2.5 gallons per minute. Due to the Girard design and high flow needs, we are unable to switch to an Oxygenics shower head with a lower flow rate. We are also unable to practice any water conservation methods, such as using the pause button on our shower head (pausing the water while soaping and shampooing can save several gallons of water).

Here’s what I’m trying to say…

  • Our water heater works only on occasion
  • The Girard tankless water heater encourages horrible water conservation practices (it prohibits them entirely)
  • The Girard tankless water heater makes bookdocking (dry camping) impossible. Want to get way from a campground? Better have huge water tanks!

Since our water heater only works on occasion, I’ve had my share of ice cold showers (I don’t recommend it, it’s excruciating), and washed dishes with cold water, making myself freezing in the process.

One of our main goals for getting the van we did was to dry camp in remote locations and go off grid. The way things are now, being at campsites with only partial hookups is stressful because we don’t have the tank sizes to allow “endless water!” It also takes a person near the water temperature dial in the kitchen to alter the hot water temperature as needed because if you alter the temp at the faucet and add cold water – you’re pretty much screwed and have to turn everything off again, wait, etc. These are not things you want to be doing while you are mid-shower. And yes, every single shower Dave or I have had in the van has included asking the other person standing in the kitchen to adjust the dial. Girard – what were you thinking when you designed this system?!

Obviously living with our current hot water system is not an option.

After much research, we have decided that switching to a water tank may be too much retrofitting (surgery) for our van. There is a different make and model of a tankless water heater that supposedly will continue to allow hot water even when pausing the water flow, or lowering the rate (using a water conserving shower head). Although we would much prefer a water TANK, switching to another tankless shouldn’t be too hard with our current van configuration.

Once we decided on the water heater to get, we then researched the available service centers that work with these water heaters – and found a highly rated center in Chino, California. We have an appointment in a few weeks and I am counting down the days! I can’t wait to take a hot shower the proper way – pausing water and all! Boondocking, here we come!

Frodo Playing in the Snow

There is a time and place to be cold – such as your dog playing in the Snow!