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How to Light an RV Water Heater Pilot?

If you own a newer camper or RV, it is unnecessary to worry about lighting the pilot light. These RVs typically feature automatic or electronic pilot light controls, allowing you to get the job done quickly and easily.

However, if your vehicle is already a couple of years old or you have bought a secondhand and old RV, you will need to know how to light an RV water heater pilot.

The process is relatively straightforward. But you can still make mistakes if you miss out on some details. So let’s read on!

Table of Contents

4 Simple Steps to Light an RV Water Heater Pilot


Things to Keep In Mind

For lighting an RV water heater or another part that needs manual ignition like a furnace pilot light, dexterity or finesse are essential. Therefore, if you are an impatient RVer, it is best to get help from a professional for safety reasons.

Remember that working with natural gas or propane is a daunting task for the inexperienced, and it can be dangerous if mishandled.

So if you decide to take on this project yourself, it is essential to exercise patience and follow the steps in this guide sequentially and carefully to minimize any risks.

Step 1: Make Sure Your Freshwater Tank Is Filled With Water

If you run the heater while your freshwater tank runs out of water, the tank will most likely get severely damaged.

So, if your freshwater tank is running out of water, it is essential to move to the nearest freshwater filling station. Then you need to locate the intake valve on your vehicle, which usually features a label like ‘city water’ or something similar.

Then use a clean water hose to connect the watering station and your camper’s intake valve before turning on the spigot or faucet to fill your fresh water tank.

Step 2: Push The Pilot Knob Down

Switch on your RV’s propane tank and open the RVs control panel on your water heater. Always read and follow the directions for opening the access panel.

Then you will see the Pilot knob, and you need to twist it from “Off” to “Pilot.” If you find it challenging to switch the knob, you will most likely have to press it before twisting it properly.

Propane won’t start to flow until you push the knob down. So, don’t press until you’re ready to ignite the pilot light.

If you hear something like a hissing sound, do not be surprised. It is a sign that the RV’s gas lines are being filled with propane.

However, if you detect that the sound is questionably loud, stop the procedure because you probably face a gas leak problem. In this case, getting professional help is your only choice.

Step 3: Light Your Pilot Light

Now, you are ready to light the pilot light on the camper water heater. Just take your utility lighter or a long match to create the flame to light your RV’s heater pilot. Make sure you press and hold the pilot knob throughout this process to prevent it from returning to the original position.

After lighting your pilot light, keep holding the pilot knob for about 60 seconds or until you see a flame in your water heater.

Step 4: Rotate The Knob to The “On” Position

Once you have ignited the pilot, it is time to switch the knob from the “Pilot” position to “On.” Then, the pilot flame should grow rapidly, and it may sound like the engine of a jet. Do not worry, as it is normal, and now you can set the water heater to the expected temperature. You may have to wait a few minutes before the water reaches your desired temperature.

When you’re finished utilizing your water heater, turn the propane off. It is dangerous to leave it running when you are not using it.

For more visual instruction, you can watch this video:

The Reason a RV Water Heater Won’t Light


1. Air

The air entering the system can cause the RV pilot light won’t light.

The good news is that we have an effortless way that allows you to determine this. Just light stove burners, and then turn on your water heater. If it is easy to switch light, air may enter the system somewhere.

2. Eco Switch

Some water heaters feature an Energy Cut-Off switch that will be activated when things get too hot.

In most instances, the problem will be resolved by locating this switch and resetting them. But if resetting this switch doesn’t improve the situation, it may have gone bad, which requires a timely replacement.

3. Bad Connection

If you have a DSI water heater, and it doesn’t light even though the light on the switch comes on, the cause may lie in a bad connection. The solution here is to unplug the PC board and plug it back in. If the problem does not improve, you may need to buy a new one.

4. Clogged Burner Tube

It is where the flames come from, and many factors can clog the burner tube. It includes remaining residue, dirt from the road, a spider girl who made her home inside this tube, etc.

Those factors can prevent the propane from reaching your igniter, causing the RV water heater not lighting. You can solve this problem by using compressed air to blow out this tube.



1. What Do I Do If My Pilot Light Won’t Light?

Start by checking out the gas source and lines, and you need to ensure the propane is available in the tank, the valves are open, and no obstructions.

Next, you need to check your thermocouple to ensure it’s clean, not broken, and in the correct position. If the problem is not there, it is essential to bleed the air out of the gas line. Leaving the air to get inside the line may prevent your RV water heater pilot from lighting up.

2. How do I Turn On an Electric Water Heater in My Camper?

Turning on an electric water heater in a trailer is a relatively simple task. Just follow these 4 steps to get the job done.

  • Step 1: Ensure your hot water tank contains water before proceeding.
  • Step 2: Find the access panel, usually located outside the camper. Then remove it.
  • Step 3: Locate the water heater switch. It is usually found on the bottom left-hand side.
  • Step 4: Turn this switch to “On.”

3. Can I Manually Ignite a Water Heater With E-Pilot?

In most cases, water heaters of newer campers rely on electronic igniting. We recommend not trying to ignite a heater pilot manually if it comes with an e-igniter.

4. How Do I Know if My RV Water Heater Is Electric Or Gas?

It is best to consult your owner’s manual for the specific brand and model of the water heater.

5. How Do I Manually Light RV Furnace?

Remember that the precise guide on manually igniting the RV furnace pilot light will depend on the model. So, it’s always wise to ask the product’s manufacturer or consult the owner’s manual first. Additionally, the following guide will also work in most cases.

  • Step 1: Turn the camper’s thermostat to its ‘auto’ mode and switch the heating system to the ‘heat mode.’ After that, manually increase your thermostat’s heat until it reaches the maximum setting. The steps to switch to these modes may be dissimilar among models.
  • Step 2: Get rid of the cover encasing the furnace.
  • Step 3: Switch the control valve of the pilot light to the first setting.
  • Step 4: Press and hold this valve while pushing the striker five times. You will need to maintain pressure on this valve for a few more seconds before releasing gradually.
  • Step 5: Switch your control valve to the left, and the furnace should be ignited. If not, repeat steps 3 and 4

The Bottom Line

It is straightforward to turn on the electric water heater on newer campers. However, older models will require you to light the RV water heater manually, which is daunting for the inexperienced. Therefore, if you don’t have the skills to do it correctly or the time to spend working on it, it is best to get help from trained professionals.

However, if you are camping in a remote area, you need to do it yourself. In that case, the guide on how to light an RV water heater pilot will come in handy.

The key is to be patient and careful when working with propane to avoid unnecessary risks that could endanger your vehicle and even yourself.

Last but not least, please share this article with other RV owners. In that way, they will know how to use this equipment safely and correctly.

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