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Why I Love My Tiny House Water Heater

Why I Love My Tiny House Water Heater

In a standard size home, you’ll usually find a gigantic water heater gargling in the basement. In a Tiny Home, you have to think… well…. tinier. Today, I’m going to talk about my Tiny House water heater choice, and how I made a big mistake during winter.

My Tiny House Water Heater

My Tiny House water heater is the PrecisionTemp RV-550 NSP. There are a couple of special features to this particular instant propane water heater that makes it the best choice for Tiny Homes.

***NEW DISCOUNT! When you purchase through the PercisionTemp website, enter coupon code “GIANT” at check out to receive $25 off. Total price is $75 cheaper than purchasing through Amazon!***

Water Heater

PROS of the PercisionTemp Tiny House Water Heater:

  1. Water Temperature Rise. The PercisionTemp has an 88° F temperature rise per gallon per minute. That’s impressive and uncommon for such a tiny unit.
  2. Limitless, (Almost) Instant Hot Water. The PercisionTemp is capable of heating water within 10 seconds, limitlessly. Other instant units take up to 45 seconds to heat water.
  3. Compact. The PercisionTemp is a small 14″ cube. It fits easily under my kitchen counter.
  4. Floor Vent. As with all propane units, the PercisionTemp requires exterior ventilation, but this unit actually vents through the floor! That means you don’t need to cut a hole in the side of your Tiny House (which can be unattractive).
  5. Anti-Freezing Protection. The PercisionTemp will detect when it’s about to freeze and start to protect itself. Keep in mind, freezing your unit is not covered under warranty (read on for how I managed to screw this up).
  6. Uses almost no electricity. A small amount of electricity is required to ignite the unit. This is common with propane appliances. A 12-volt battery is sufficient. I can use this unit while running on solar power, which was ideal for my situation.

CONS of the PercisionTemp Tiny House Water Heater:

  1. Expensive. The PercisionTemp retails at $1,150, making it one of the most expensive Tiny House water heaters on the market.
  2. 5-10 Seconds to Heat Up. Even though 10 seconds is not a long time to heat water, a tank water heater would be absolutely instant (though limited by the tank size). When I shower, I like to take navy showers – meaning I turn the water off as I lather up. Every time I turn the water back on, I endure 5-10 seconds of cold water before the hot water kicks in. It’s not exactly a spa shower, but it’s efficient and eco-friendly.

Plumbing

*For a list of my recommended Tiny House plumbing materials, click here

How I broke my Tiny House water heater from a stupid mistake!

This past winter was my first real winter in the Tiny House. I parked my Tiny House in the Colorado Rockies – one of the coldest places in the USA. Usually, I keep the house warm, but from November to December I left the house unattended as I traveled to Europe. I didn’t winterize the Tiny House, because I was hoping my Envi heater would keep it from freezing while I was away. That was a mistake.

In late November, nightly temperatures dropped to below 0°F. My Envi heater couldn’t keep up and the internal house temperature dropped to below freezing (32°F). My water heater tried to trigger itself to ignite to prevent itself from freezing but failed. The trouble was, my propane tanks were freezing as well. At the time, I didn’t protect my tanks with heat blankets so their efficiency was significantly reduced. My PercisionTemp was not receiving enough propane pressure to ignite, and eventually, the pipes inside the unit froze and burst. Water from my tank emptied through the water heater unto the ground beneath my trailer. Luckily, my house did not flood (thanks to the water heater’s floor venting).

propane water heater
The copper piping inside the unit burst from freezing

When I returned from my trip, I found the issue and purchased a few parts from PrecisionTemp to fix the heater. The total damage was $235 (plus shipping). Ouch.

propane water heater

This mistake could have been prevented a number of ways:

  1. Occupants. Had I been around, the problem would have been noticed and rectified before the pipes froze.
  2. Winterizing the unit. I could have drained the unit and filled my plumbing with antifreeze.
  3. Propane blanket. Had I purchased a propane heat blanket before I left, the pressure would have been enough to keep the water heater from freezing. My propane efficiency increases dramatically with the help of the blanket.

Propane Water Heater Tank Blanket

Which water heater are you going to use in your Tiny House?


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Water HeaterReceive $25 off when using the coupon code “GIANT” at check out. You save $75 total off of the Amazon price, and I will receive a smallcommissionn for the sale.

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29 Comments

  1. Emily
    January 16, 2017 / 2:10 pm

    How did your propane tanks freeze? The freezing point is negative 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

    • January 16, 2017 / 6:40 pm

      The tanks did not freeze, but they got so cold that my water heater did not receive enough propane pressure and was not able to turn on. The pipes inside my water heater froze, because the heater was not able to turn on and heat up, and the pipes burst. Make sense? So if the propane tanks are kept warm, they can give enough pressure to the heater so that it can turn itself on and prevent freezing.

  2. July 19, 2016 / 6:13 pm

    This is great information and tips, can definitely help someone else in the same situation. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kim Gifford
    July 2, 2016 / 10:31 am

    My husband is also a contractor and he doesn’t get the Tiny House thing either. He keeps repeating the same litany “If you want an RV, why not just *buy* an RV?” I think contractors just in the main don’t see the point, but that’s OK. There are all kinds of people with all kinds of tastes, and more importantly, all kinds of needs.

  4. Ryan
    June 21, 2016 / 1:11 pm

    Thank you for posting another informative article. My fiancee and I are building our tiny house in Durango, CO and we are just starting to put siding up, so I need to figure out which water heater we will be using (in case a side wall penetration is required). I have done some research on the Precision Temp RV-550 (and several others) and it looks like it could be a great option, but I have some concerns so I’m hoping that you can answer a few questions:

    1) I know you mentioned that you take navy showers, but I’m wondering if the heater is powerful enough to provide a hot shower with continuous operation? This unit is smaller than the others that I have looked at and seems like it might be a little under powered – the 88 degree temperature rise at 1 GPM translates to a 59 degree temperature rise at 1.5 GPM. If your incoming water is 42 degrees (a reasonable ground water temperature for the mountains in Colorado), then your hot water would only be 101 degrees, which is a little shy of the average shower temperature of 105 degrees (and that is assuming optimal operating conditions, which probably isn’t the case at high elevation).

    2) Other than the cold propane tanks not providing enough pressure, have you had any issues with your heater at elevation? What is the elevation where you have been using the water heater?

    3) Did you run into any issues with venting through your floor? RV floors are usually much thinner than tiny house floors (ours is about 6″ thick), so I’m curious about the installation details with a thicker floor.

    Thank you in advance for any information/advice you can provide!

  5. June 13, 2016 / 5:11 am

    Great article as I am looking for hot water heater now! I was wondering if you have any articles on the propane plumbing or on your electrical that goes to all this. I am at the guts of my house and am looking for some deeper knowledge on these subjects. Thanks and rock on!

    Cheers,
    Ramblingcaravan

    • June 13, 2016 / 8:37 am

      Glad you like it. Unfortunately, we were building in a rush at that point so we didn’t really have time to capture that part of the build. We did get help from an electrician and a plumber though.

  6. Chicory
    June 3, 2016 / 4:28 pm

    Question for you from one tiny houser to another.
    I haven’t purchased my hot water tank yet but have been heating water as needed on propane stove. I left a space for one beneath my sink though.
    My question is how much use does your water heater get and how long does your propane tank last under that usage?
    Any advice for someone who is about to go from part time (summers)to full time year round on the road with their tiny?
    Loving your journey, perhaps one day we will meet on the road.

    • June 3, 2016 / 4:36 pm

      Hi. I can’t really give you a number on the propane tank. It usually lasts comfortable over a month with showers and cooking. Our water heater gets the most use during showers and we take short showers.

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