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Mission Statement: Supporting thoughtful exchange of knowledge, values and experience among RV enthusiasts.
I have worked in the automotive service business most of my life. RV's are somewhat new to me, but there are many similarities with them and their cousins... cars and trucks. I am a long time automotive enthusiast and hope to help others by providing any info I can. In the following blogs I will attempt to describe repairs and maintenance in terms that everyone can understand.
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Installing a 110 volt electric Lightning Rod for the water heater

Posted 12-13-2010 at 05:50 PM by Wanabee FTer
Updated 12-13-2010 at 06:52 PM by Wanabee FTer

I read a few threads about the pros and cons of adding a 110 volt electric heating element to my Suburban 6 gallon DSI water heater. The good, reduced propane usage when camping at hook up sites. The bad, voids Suburban and Atwood water heater warranties. After all my research all I could find was a few people saying it will damage your water heater, but no one with first hand knowledge of this. The good posts outweighed the bad, so I decided to go ahead and install the Lightning Rod kit.
I purchased it from ebay about 70 bucks shipped. I looked for installation tips on the internet before I started but could not find any. So here's my experience installing this kit.
The first thing I needed to do was remove the drain plug on the water heater. The plug was stuck real good, so I had to apply a little more force then I thought I should have, but it broke loose and came out ok. On my Suburban unit there is an anode rod on the end of the plug, but no anode rod for Atwood water heaters. As I was removing the plug it felt like it was binding, what I found was the anode was caked with calcium like deposits, it was so bad that when I pulled it all the way out, the water in the heater barely trickled out. I grabbed a long flat blade screwdriver and chipped away at the deposits and the heater started to drain. I knew I now had to clean out the water heater before I went any further. I hooked up my hose to the city water connection and wiggled the screwdriver around in the hole to break up the deposits while the water squirted out the drain hole. I would say probably about a pound of crud came out. It didn't take too long before I was satisfied it all came out. It seems this heater had been neglected the first twelve years of it's life before I owned it. Oh well, it's clean now so on with the install.
I applied teflon tape to the threads of the new plug and heater element and installed them. Next I used the included zip ties to install the thermostat to the hot water vent outlet valve as described in the instructions. Then I installed the power cord and securely grounded the harness. Then it's just a matter of hooking up all the wires according to color coded connectors. Very simple. Everything is done from outside the water heater, only the cover had to be removed for the install. I could have spent more time installing an inside switch with Romex cable, but maybe I will save that for a later project. For now I will just use my outside power outlet for the 110 volt line.
I took a moment to make sure everything was done according to directions and filled the water tank up. Only one problem, the hot water vent valve is pouring water out. I fiddled with the pressure release thinking something got stuck in it, but no good. Leaks like a sieve. I guess when I opened it to drain the tank the internal spring was too weak to reseat the valve.
I now realized I have to back track. I cut the zip ties off the t-stat, got my huge channel locks and large crescent wrench and removed the valve. This was scary because I had to use so much force I thought I was going to break something, but it finally came out... slowly. Not much room in the box for this job, I was very happy when I had the old valve in my hands with no damage to the water heater.
I jetted up to my local hardware store and felt quite lucky they had the correct size valve in stock. I then ran back home, (about 20 bucks lighter) and installed the valve with teflon tape. After reinstalling the t-stat I was very impressed with this little add on. The tank heated up from dead cold in about 1 hour and now if necessary I can use gas and electric for a quicker recovery time. I can't wait to try it out on our next outing!
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  1. Old Comment
    Jim Jackson's Avatar
    My Hot rod was leaking, a slow drip but enough to cause a big ice-cycle out side the door. So I removed it and it was caked with calcium. scraped and sanded and can't wait to try it out. also found my bypass valves in the wrong position, explains why the water didn't get that hot . I used pipe tape so we'll see.
    Posted 12-23-2010 at 01:04 PM by Jim Jackson Jim Jackson is offline
  2. Old Comment
    A~N~A's Avatar
    I also reinstalled a lightning rod after servicing the unit in my vintage, I also didn't find any info on the WWW. After reading your info I feel much more comfortable about my re-install. THANKYOU, AL
    Posted 09-06-2011 at 06:43 AM by A~N~A A~N~A is offline
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