Adding an Electric Water Heater to a Vintage Travel Trailer

Last year we realized that water at campgrounds gets pretty darn cold around September/October. (Especially in the NC mountains). The Go Tag along had the original gas water heater and hot water lines though the lines had been cut and the water heater looked pretty rough. I briefly looked into repairing the original unit but quickly realized that it just wasn’t worth the time and effort. That being the case, I decided to “retro fit” an electric, point of use water heater in place of the gas one. As you can see from the image, the original gas water heater had a nice little split in the holding tank so any hopes of getting it working went down the drain with that discovery.

Once the old heater was out (after much struggling), I found that there were a few structural framing pieces that needed to be replaced so I ripped out the old ones and added new ones as best I could without ripping off the camper skin.

There wasn’t enough vertical height in the location that I needed to have the new water heater so I had to perform some slight “modifications” to the storage cabinet just above that space. Once I had the unit in, I ran water lines through the storage cabinet. I used the existing cold water lines since I knew they worked but ended up replacing the entire copper hot water lines as there were several splits in the existing lines. It was only about $30-$40 for the copper lines so it was well worth it. Most of the connections ended up being flared though I had to use compression fittings in several spots for compatibility with the existing connections.

The point of use water heater has a standard 3-prong cord so since it’s in the same spot as the old water heater and has a nice access door to the outside, I just open the door and plug it into the campground outlets. This also reduces the strain on my internal electrical as I generally have several larger items running (AC, microwave, refrigerator, etc.)

So nothing too complicated really. Just had to take the initiative and get started.

  1. Joy says:

    I have a 1972 GTAL that I just purchased. This is the first camper I have owned. Everything works except the water. About how much are we talking on buying a point of use water heater? I have looked at all the hoses and they are in good shape except where the hose comes in from the outside. It is cut off. Replacing it shouldn’t be a big deal. If I replace the water heater, should I replace the holding tank if I replace the hot water heater? Thank you for any help.

    • Shagpun says:

      If I recall, I spent around $200 – $250 on the water heater from Lowes. I replaced the copper pipe with flexible tubing as I didn’t really trust 40 year old plumbing. Tubing was cheap and easy to work with. My holding tank isn’t hooked up to the water heater at all but if you’re going to use it, you may want to replace it just because there could be small leaks and who knows what might be growing in that thing.

    • Tina says:

      I, too, just purchased a 1972 GTAL. Mine, unfortunately, has no hot water, AC/heat. I would like to at least put in hot water. It is VERY basic model, with icebox and pump cold water sink. The icebox has two cracks in the interior plastic of the unit, where the drawer slides into, not the door insert. I can’t find a replacement for this and don’t want to spend $160 on an entirely intact one when all I need is the plastic insert. Anyone have any ideas? I can always piece out, or sell as is, the icebox I have to get back some of the money invested. I have already researched the web, internet stores and searched all the vintage travel trailer websites and many regular RV sites, to no avail.

      No bathroom of any kind, so added a chemical toilet. There is the much-anticipated water damage in frame and floor and will probably do an entire teardown to the frame to have it completely rustproofed, as well. Luckily the skin is fine.

      The previous owner found the awning that goes on the front of the trailer, luckily. It’s in great shape except for the fiberglass inserts. Two are “accordion looking” style and the middle one is just a plain piece of fiberglass. Anyone know where to get them? I saw something that might work at Lowe’s if it’s the right thickness to slide into the frame or will have to have it manufactured at a local fiberglass fabricator. Anyone have any suggestions?

      This is gonna be a labor of love as I only have one guy part-time that isn’t real saavy on this stuff, so we’re both winging it. Thanks for your help…may have more questions as I dig into this thing further.

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