campervan hot water heater

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our top pick
12v hot water heater

Expedition Upfitter
12v Hot Water Heater

  • Compact Size & Affordable
  • Well Insulated
  • Easy To Install
  • Good Safety Features

Deciding on whether to have a campervan hot water heater in your van can be a tough decision.  It can add significant cost and complexity but boy is it nice to have hot water.

On our previous van build we settled on a bit more of a DIY version that costs less and has been working great for the last 7 years. For you new Expedition Vehicle we took it up a notch with a Rixen hydronic heating system. Happy to report that system has been working great for the past 2 years.

Let’s have a look at the most popular campervan hot water systems to help you pick the right one for your situation.


I know you want it but do you really need it.  For people that only chase warm weather and avoid the cold like the plague, I honestly don’t think you need a 12v hot water heater.

There are plenty of great solar shower options for a quick and simple solution to a hot shower. But again, these aren’t for everyone.

We opted to go with a 12v hot water heater because we are full-time and having a hot shower was a must. If we lived down South and didn’t chase snow for skiing, hot water might have not been such a priority.  But for us we absolutely love it!


12v electric water heaters vary greatly in terms of how complicated they are. This can make a big different in terms of cost and DIY ease. Let’s have a quick look and get familiar with the different ways you can live the good life with a van hot water heater.


In my opinion, this is the top dog in a campervan hot water heater.  These work by having a water tank that is heated by coolant that circulates through it.

The coolant is heated by one of three ways:

  • Engine heat – The coolant is heated from the running engine
  • Gas fired – Diesel, gas or propane fired furnace
  • 12v electric water heater – 12 volt heating element

This system even allows you to preheat your engine block which is a great feature for cold starts. Especially for diesels!

Isotherm campervan hot water heater

 is just one option but a very reputable one that has a long following in the sailing and yachting circle.  Just the tank will run you about $750.

To heat via coolant lines you’ll need to tie into the engines coolant system. This is a rather complicated task for most DIY’ers.


webasto dualtop hot water heater

The Webasto Dual Top is another great option and avoids the complexity of tying into your engine’s coolant system.  The Dual Top also provides forced air heating in addition to hot water.

These are diesel fired and have an internal 11 liter hot water tank.  These can even be mounted outside of the living area underneath your van.  They have built in freezing protection features as well.  Not cheap though at about $3,500.


on demand propane hot water

These are becoming a popular option for those that are using propane.  These on-demand hot water systems can be hooked up to a propane tank and work great for outdoor showers.

You’ll see people with these hanging on their back doors.  They are not designed to be used inside because they require ventilation.  They are however very affordable at around $200.


rv hot water heater

Here you have the traditional RV propane hot water heater.  These require a large hole cut in the side of your van and in my opinion are a pretty dated way of going about hot water. 

There are far better options in my opinion so I won’t be covering any of these types of water heaters.

Rixen Hydronic Van Water Heater – Diesel or Gas Furnace

The Rixen Van Water Heater is found in numerous professional van and RV builds. The system works by heating a reservoir of radiator fluid which is then pumped to heat exchangers for hot water or air heaters.

In addition, the system can be built to to integrate with the engine coolant system.

Rixen 12 volt heating system

By tying into your coolant system you get free heat while driving and the ability to preheat the engine in cold weather.

While plugged in to shore power the system can also heat by way of the integrated 120v heating element.

Rixen Enterprises has built a custom control board which integrates with the gas furnace and the Comfort Hot hydronic reservoir.

This seamlessly integrates the three methods of heating from gas fired, shore power, and engine heat.

The thermostat also comes with two zones so you can customize settings for different zones of your camper. Great for keeping an eye on temperatures in your camper garage area.

The system is very modular letting you expand and add heating capacity as needed. While it is rather pricey at $4,500 it’s the clear winner for me in terms of function, being compact, and versatility with engine heat and expansion.

This is the system we will be installing in our new DIY Expedition Truck we’re building.

Rixen Hydronic Van Water Heater – Unboxing and Overview

NEW – Van 12v HOT Water Heater KIT

This is looking like a really good option but I have yet to hear from anyone that’s used it. I do however trust Andreas who runs the company that is importing them. It’s the first unit like this that’s designed as a 12v DC water heater.

Best of all it’s really affordable and while it costs more than my DIY 12v water heater that I built, I still think it’s a good deal. If you’ve given it a try please let me know in the comments.

our top pick
12v hot water heater

Expedition Upfitter
12v Hot Water Heater

  • Compact Size & Affordable
  • Well Insulated
  • Easy To Install
  • Good Safety Features
  • Adjustable Thermostat: 86°-165°F
  • Size: 18×10.625×10.625
  • Weight: 6.3lbs- Empty
  • Power Consumption: 12 Volt -200 W (17A)
  • Heating Time: 30-45 mins depending on cold water temperature (55°C / 131°F)
  • Over pressure safety: 4 Bar
  • Water Capacity: 1.6 gallons

Their 1.6 gallon 12v water heater is designed to fit in RV’s, vans, and boats with a standard 12 volt hook up and adjustable thermostatic control from approx. 86°-165°F

It’s equipped with overheating protection, anti-backflow, and electricity leakage protection as well as a safety valve set to avoid overpressure.

The tank holds 1.6 gallons of hot water and when mixed with cold water you increase the amount of warm water 2 to 3 times. There is an ultra-thick foam layer to keep the tank well-insulated inside its steel cover.

The tank is enamel coated and uses advanced anti-corrosion technology making this a great water boiler for your adventures. The 12V Water Heater is hand and pressure pump capable. Purchase a pump that works at less than 4 Bar or 68PSI.


This is the system that we built and had in our camper van since 2016 which is still in use today.

This DIY 12 volt hot water heater pulls about 35 amps while it’s on (depending on heating element size) and stays plenty warm throughout the night even when the unit is turned off.

We primarily had it on while driving as it stayed plenty warm for hours once turned off.

diy hot water heater for van

We used a residential Reliance 6 gallon hot water heater.  They now have a 2.5 gallon version that might be a good option as well.

These are of course designed to run off 120v which we wanted to avoid so we swapped the heating element to a 12v element.

diy 12 volt heating element

The 12 volt heating element that we ended up going with was the 400 watt from Missouri Wind and Solar.  READ THE UPDATE BELOW WITH OUR NEW RECOMMENDATION

The Missouri Wind element comes in 3 different wattages.

  • 200 watts drawing about 16 amps
  • 400 watts at 35 amps
  • 600 watts drawing about 50 amps(NOT recommended)

***UPDATE 2023***

12 volt heating element for campervan

While we have never had any problems using the 400 watt heating element that draws around 35 amps, some have reported that the their thermostat stopped working after a while. 

This is likely due to the 35 amps of current which is more than what the thermostat on the 120v model is designed for.

Going with the 200 or 300 watt element should solve this issue. Or you could wire in a higher amp relay to handle the higher wattage heating element.


Swapping the element is easy and no different than any other hot water heater.  Here’s a video showing how if you’re not familiar with it.


DIY campervan water heater wiring diagram



We’ve been running this setup since 2016 and it is still working flawlessly today.

Once the water heats up it stays relatively hot for a good 16 hours.  At least warm enough to do some dishes in the am. 

When we take showers we try to do that after we’ve been driving for while were we have plenty of alternator charging..

We typically don’t stay parked for days at a time without driving to trailheads and such so we never have a problem warming it up.  And when on shore power you of course are golden.

We use it a lot in winter and is easy to drain to prevent freezing.  We just ran a drain pipe through the floor.


In our Ford Transit we have a heavy duty alternator so I’m confident we have enough spare amps to run the hot water heater as well as charge our battery bank while driving.

It’s important to know what your alternator is putting out because this could be a big drain and cause premature alternator failure.

It’s also important to never turn on the heating element without water in the tank. It will ruin the element or worse!

We have an illuminated switch for the heater above the sink but I was afraid we might accidentally turn it on without realizing it.  So I installed a second inline switch that kills power to the whole system that I turn off whenever I drain the tank.

This assures that even if someone turns the switch above the sink on there will be no power going to the hot water heater.


Like i mentioned earlier, we’ve been running this system for 7 years now without a single hiccup.  It works great on shore power, battery(sparingly), and of course while driving using alternator power.  

Because the tank is round it does make it a little awkward and not very space efficient.  I really like the IsoTemps mentioned above because they offer a square version. 

But for a hot water system that works great and can be done for well under $300 I’m very happy with it.

I hope you found this article useful and please don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Don’t forget to follow our adventures on Instagram @outsidenomad and be sure to share this on your favorite social media so you can reference it again later.

Are there 12 volt water heaters?

Yes, this article discusses several different 12 volt water heaters the can be purchased and even a DIY version.

How many watts does a 12 volt water heater use?

That depends on the water heater but most pull between 200-400 watts or 15 to 35 amps at 12 volts.

august wheeler author bio

Hello! My name is August, and I’m a devoted traveler and travel blogger living full-time on the road. I made the decision to leave my 9-to-5 job and pursue a nomadic lifestyle, and it’s been an incredible journey. My passion for experiencing new cultures is what drives me, and I aim to motivate others to embark on their own adventures through my stories, photos, and advice. When I’m not discovering the wonders of the world, I indulge in skiing, mountain biking, and savoring the unique flavors of different places.


  1. I’m planning to install a 12v heating element in a plastic water tank. I want to keep the element from bouncing and loosening or touching the bottom of the tank. What would you put between the element and the tank to keep the element stable?

    1. I’m not sure I understand. How big of a tank? When you say “between the element and the tank” where exactly do you mean? My initial gut feeling on this one is that it’s a really bad idea. Are you planning for a blow off system if it becomes over pressured?

  2. Can this same method be used for the Bosch 3000t and The Camplux ME25 models? It looks like they also have an anode but I prefer those because they are cheaper and BETTER insulated. Thanks for the great post and info.

    1. Kris,
      I really can’t say for sure but here is what I would check. First make sure they have replaceable heating elements that are the industry standard threading. Then make sure that the 12-volt heating elements will fit and are not too long. I would also recommend going with a lower wattage heating element since I don’t know how many watts the existing thermostat of the water heater can handle.

  3. This was a really helpful post, and has me inspired to try the same with a Stebel 4gal water heater I just purchased. Where I’m hung-up, however, is how the 12v element is controlled by the 120v thermostat…I can’t imagine the 12v element is just connected directly to the battery without the use of a thermostat…is it? Are you able to swap the 12v element in and connect 12 volts directly to the tank and have it work properly? Any clarification here would be greatly appreciated!

    1. I used the 120v thermostat that came with the tank. I just simply swapped the heating element out for a 12v and then wired it up just like you would for 120v. The thermostat is really just a switch that opens and closes based on the water temp. Instead of it switching 120v power it will just switch the 12v power.

      1. So If I understand, it is as simple as swapping the element, cutting the 120v plug and attache it to the 12v circuit. No electronic to modify or anything… Pretty plug and play if that is the case. Thank you

  4. I am upfitting a van and like the idea of a small electric water heater. I will have lots of solar (420W), a big lithium battery (430Ah) and a DC-DC converter just in case. What concerns me is the heating time for a 10L heater with a 300W element. At home we use a standard Bosch 2.5 Gal 1,440W heater and it takes about 20 minutes to get to full temp (140F). If the heating element is only 300W, wouldn’t it take almost 2 hours to reach the same temp? I am considering the Duoetto 10L which is very similar to the one you mentioned but larger capacity. It also has a 300W element.

    1. It will take a while to heat. I don’t know how to calculate the time but there probably is a formula for that. 2 hours sounds a little long to me but I can’t say for sure. I typically would turn it on while driving since I didn’t have a ton of battery. So for us that time didn’t really matter.

  5. FYI, the 12V, 6L boiler that is recommended at the end of this post is available directly through Alibaba for about US$130 shipped rather than the $471 charged by distributor Expedition Upfitter. Judging from photos, it is the exact same unit. It takes time and a little patience navigating the ordering system and waiting for it to arrive from China, but I have been using mine for a while now and it works flawlessly. Very efficient at 12V, 200W. Takes about half an hour to reach temperature. Enough water for a single person shower when rationed. And great for dishes.

  6. In the diagram what is the “ground” connected to? I want to out this hot water set up in my off the grid cabin and run it off my solar system.

  7. Great information in this post. I would say that if you look how a thermostat works you could save a lot of thermostat issues by using another relay off of the thermostat that would save on high amperage cooking it by just adding another relay into the mix off of it with your DIY information. This is dependent on the style thermostat on the water heater used.

  8. wonder if , any one has consisdered a marine water , you still 110 change it element out also , but you also have the ability to heat the water from the engine cooling lines

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