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RV Water Heaters; Types, Maintenance & Storage Tips

RV Water Heaters; Types, Maintenance & Storage Tips

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RV Water Heaters; Types, Maintenance & Storage Tips

Certainly, having access to hot water is one of the huge advantages of “roughing it” in your RV. With that in mind, this amenity allows you to take the modern comforts of the home onto the road with you. After all, what’s more relaxing than a nice warm shower? As a matter of fact, your RV’s water heater is key to providing this modern convenience, and it is useful to have some understanding of how it works before you head out.

In this article, I will cover the two major brands of RV water heaters. Specifically, they are Suburban and Atwater direct spark models. If you are looking for pilot light models, please go to the respective websites, or search Amazon to find the one you are looking for.

Heat Sources

Electricity AND Liquid Propane (LP)

Certainly, this type of water heater is the most popular in many of the motorhomes and travel trailers sold today. When you are at a rest stop for the night, you can have hot water by using your onboard LP as your heating source. After that, once you reach your destination and have access to shore power, your water can then be heated using electricity.

To heat the water more quickly once you have arrived at your destination, you can initially use both LP and electric and then switch to electric only.

Liquid Propane (LP)

Water heaters that are LP-only are found mostly in the entry-level RV market. The water heater uses 12v from the battery to supply energy for igniting the water heater’s pilot light. However, a pilot light can also be started manually.

Most RV water heaters are designed to operate on both electricity and LP. This flexibility allows for the use of the most convenient power source, as well as the ability to utilize both fuel sources to bring the water to temperature more quickly.

Motoraid

RV’s outfitted to heat their water in this manner utilize a more sophisticated fuel source. That is to say, the Motoraid heating method utilizes the RV’s engine cooling system to heat the water. When the engine is running, therefore, water from the engine’s cooling system is circulated through embedded tubes in the water heater. Thus, as the water circulates thru these tubes, the water in the tank is heated.

If you have water and fuel (gasoline or diesel), you can have hot water. In fact, these types of water heaters are proving to be reliable and therefore are the future for hot water solutions in today’s modern RVs.



Suburban Direct Spark Water Heaters

Traditional RV water heaters have from 4 to 16-gallon tank capacities. Below you will find links to the various Suburban models, D, DE, DEL, and DEM in varying capacities. However, if you do not see the model/capacity water heater you are looking for, go to the Suburban website for a comprehensive list of products that they offer.

Note: It should be pointed out, gas appliances should be installed and/or serviced by a qualified service technician.


Suburban Direct Spark Ignition (D Models- LP Gas Only)


6 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition (D Model) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW6D RV Water Heater

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW6D Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. This high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and a replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

Most importantly, the water heater’s one-piece, die-formed housing protects controls and connections, yet offers easy access. In addition, it will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

An inside-mounted switch (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below) provides convenient control if purchased and installed.

Model: SW6D Gallon Capacity: 6 Input: 12,000 BTU/hRecovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Height: 12-11/16″Width: 12-11/16″Depth: 19-3/16″Unit Net Weight: 33.3 lbs. (empty) / 81.9 lbs. (full)

10 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition (D Model) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW10D==>>Available from  Amazon.

The Suburban SW10D Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. In fact, this high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

Additionally, the one-piece, die-formed housing protects the controls and connections, and should the need arise, offers easy access. It will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

Also available, is an inside-mounted switch (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below) that provides convenient control if purchased and installed.

Note: Gas appliances should be installed and/or serviced by a qualified service technician.

SW10D Gallon Capacity: 10 Input: 12,000 BTU/hRecovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Height: 16-7/32″Width: 16-7/32″Depth: 20-1/2″Unit Net Weight: 45.2 lbs. (empty) / 126.2 lbs. (full)


Suburban Direct Spark Ignition with Electric Element (DE Models)


6 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition with Electric Element (DE) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW6DE rv water heaters

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW6DE Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance.

This high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, as well as, replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

The one-piece, die-formed housing protects the controls and connections, yet offers easy access, in case maintenance is required. In addition, it will fit the cut-out openings of prior models, as a result, its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

The SW6DE Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element.

To that end, the Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. But, for a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously. The water heater gas ignition is controlled by a switch mounted on the inside of your RV (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below).

Model: SW6DE Gallon Capacity: 6 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 WattsRecovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 12-11/16″Width: 12-11/16″Depth: 19-3/16″Unit Net Weight: 37.4 lbs. (empty) / 82.6 lbs. (full)


10 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition with Electric Element (DE) Gas Water Heater

Surban SW10DE

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW10DE Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. This high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

The one-piece, die-formed housing protects controls and connections yet offers easy access. It will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

With the SW10DE Model, you can take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element. The Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. For a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously.

The water heater gas ignition is controlled by a switch mounted on the inside of your RV (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below). The switch is sold separately.

SW10DE Gallon Capacity: 10 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 Watts Recovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 16-7/32″Width: 16-7/32″Depth: 20-1/2″Unit Net Weight: 45.5 lbs. (empty) / 126.5 lbs. (full)


12 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition with Electric Element (DE) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW12DE Gas Water Heater

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW12DE Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. This high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

The one-piece, die-formed housing protects the controls and connections yet offers easy access. The new water heater unit will fit the cut-out openings of prior models.

Additionally, its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type of RV.

The SW12DE Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element.

The Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. For a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously. An inside-mounted switch (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below) provides convenient control if purchased and installed.

Model: SW12DE Gallon Capacity: 12 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 Watts Recovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 16-7/32″Width: 16-7/32″Depth: 22-1/4″Unit Net Weight: 47.0 lbs. (empty) / 144.2 lbs. (full)


Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with 12-Volt Relay Switch (DEL) Models


6 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with 12-Volt Relay Switch (DEL) Gas Water Heater

SW6dDEL rv water heaters

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW6DEL Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. This high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, as well as a replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

The one-piece, die-formed housing protects controls and connections yet offers easy access. It will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

As with many of the other water heaters, the SW6DEL Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element.

The Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. For a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the 12-volt relay switch lets you conveniently control the water heater gas ignition and power from inside your RV.

Model: SW6 DELGallon Capacity: 6 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 Watts Recovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 12-11/16″Width: 12-11/16″Depth: 19-3/16″Unit Net Weight: 36 lbs. (empty) / 86.04 lbs. (full)


10 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with 12-Volt Relay Switch (DEL) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW10DELThe Suburban SW10DEL Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance. In fact, this high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

The one-piece, die-formed housing protects controls and connections yet offers easy access. As a matter of fact, it will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

In particular, the SW10DEL Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element. That is to say, the Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour.

But, for a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously.

The 12-volt relay switch lets you conveniently control the water heater gas ignition and power from inside your RV.

SW10DEL Gallon Capacity: 10 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 Watts Recovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 16-7/32″Width: 16-7/32″Depth: 20-1/2″Unit Net Weight: 47 lbs. (empty) / 130.4 lbs. (full)


12 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with 12-Volt Relay Switch (DEL) Gas Water Heater

Suburban SW12DEL

==>>Available from Amazon.

The Suburban SW12DEL Gas Water Heater provides reliable service and easy maintenance.

Most importantly, the high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model features a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, large-diameter drain, and replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action.

Not to be overlooked, the one-piece, die-formed housing protects the controls and connections yet offers easy access. It will fit the cut-out openings of prior models and its access door and frame are easily installed on the side of any type RV.

The SW12DEL Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element.

The Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. After that, for a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously.

The 12-volt relay switch lets you conveniently control the water heater gas ignition and power from inside your RV.

Model: SW12DEL Gallon Capacity: 12 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 WattsRecovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 16-7/32″Width: 16-7/32″Depth: 22-1/4″Unit Net Weight: 48.0 lbs. (empty) / 148.08 lbs. (full)


The Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with Motor-Aid (DEM) Gas Water Heaters


6 Gallon Suburban Direct Spark Ignition and Electric Element with Motor-Aid (DEM) Gas Water Heater


Suburban SW6DEM

==>> Check prices at Campingworld.

The DEM model allows you to use your engine’s cooling system to warm your water as you drive! As a result, the Suburban SW6DEM Gas Water Heater utilizes your motorhome’s engine coolant to aid water heating.

This is done with a “heat exchanger” that circulates the engine radiator coolant through an embedded tube on the external wall of the porcelain-lined steel tank. As a result, your water is heated as you are driving.

In fact, this method warms your water using engine heat in an environmentally efficient way.

The motor-aid option also increases the capacity of the engine cooling system in many instances. As a matter of fact, the water heater gas ignition is controlled by a switch mounted on the inside of your RV. The switch is sold separately (See RV Water Heater Accessories Below).

The SW6DEM Model also lets you take advantage of campground or generator power to heat your water with the 1440-watt Incoloy electric element.

The Incoloy electric element provides a recovery rate of 6.1 gallons per hour. For a faster recovery rate of 16.2 gallons per hour, use both gas and electric simultaneously.

Model: SW6DEM Gallon Capacity: 6 Input: 12,000 BTU/h / 1440 WattsRecovery (Gas): 10.1 gal./hr. Recovery (Electric): 6.1 gal./hr. Height: 12-11/16″Width: 12-11/16″Depth: 19-3/16″Unit Net Weight: 46 lbs. (empty) / 96.04 lbs. (full)


Suburban Pilot Ignition Water Heaters


The Suburban Pilot Only Water Heaters


Suburban 5117A (Pilot Ignition-LP Gas) SW6P

Sw6P Hot water heater

==>>Available from Amazon.

Suburban’s  5117A (Pilot Ignition-LP Gas) SW6P water heater is a high-recovery 12,000 BTU/hour model.  To point out, it offers a porcelain steel tank, foam insulation, and a large diameter drain.

It comes with a replaceable anode rod to absorb corrosive electrolysis action, which helps protect the steel tank from damaging corrosion.

With its one-piece, die-formed housing, there is added protection for the controls and connections, while still offering easy access for maintenance.

Most importantly, it fits the cut-out openings of prior models and the access door and frame install easily on the side of any type of RV.

Type: LP Gas; Portable: No; Capacity: 6 Gallons; Ignition Type: Pilot; BTU Level: 12000 BTU; Depth (IN): 16-3/16 Inch;

Width (IN): 12-11/16 Inch; Height (IN): 12-11/16 Inch; Access door NOT included


The Suburban Pilot/Electric Water Heaters


Suburban 5122A (Pilot Ignition-LP Gas) SW10P

Suburban 5122A Water Heater

==>>Available from Amazon.

Suburban’s 5122A (Pilot Ignition-LP Gas) SW10P  water heater features a flush a mounted door with radius corners which only extends 3/16″ from the exterior trim. As a result, providing a smooth sidewall appearance. As an added convenience, a remote switch electronically controls the water heater.

It is important to note, that with its gas and electric combination the unit is able to take advantage of the available campsite or generator power. With the energy combination of gas and electric, the water heater has a recovery rate of 16.4 gallons of hot water per hour, which is the highest recovery rate in the industry.

Standard features for all models include, high tensile steel and a porcelain lined tank, providing for longer life than units without this attribute.

As with all Suburban models, the 5122A has a replaceable anode rod. providing protection to the unit against corrosion.

Additionally, the 5122A features an accessible exterior gas line connection and a one-piece die-formed metal housing, which protects the controls from any adverse effects of weather.

Height – 16-7/32

Depth – 20-1/2

10 Gallon Capacity

12000 BTU


Suburban On Demand Water Heater


I will focus in this article on Suburban’s tankless LP gas only water heater. The water heater comes with a power vent to release exhaust gases. Above all, venting is essential for proper operation. Also, it is 85 percent efficient and is less expensive than electric tankless water heaters.

On Demand Water Heater

As a result, you can enjoy endless available hot water with Suburban’s 60K BTU On Demand Water Heater, with 2-Stage Modulating Combustion System (MCS). For this reason, you can say “good-bye” to waiting for water to reheat in a conventional tank.

Showers and baths are best enjoyed slowly, so live free from the constraints of limited hot water supplies.

Most importantly, dishes and even the laundry can be done with an infinite supply of hot water being available simultaneously with all other hot water demands.

Above all, with no storage tank to heat water, the NAUTILUS On Demand RV Water Heater reduces the RV’s weight and increases energy efficiencies by only operating when the need for hot water arises.

It uses an exclusive 60,000 BTU 2-Stage Modulating Combustion System (MCS) which instantaneously adjusts the propane gas input to provide consistent and endless comfort regardless of your hot water needs.

Yet, it weighs just 36 lbs, which is much less than traditional RV water heaters.

In addition, it has an efficient ventilation assembly, as well as a freeze protection mechanism and state-of-the-art 3-Try Direct Spark Ignition for safe and reliable operation.

The exterior access panel, intake/exhaust vent, and wall control are all sold separately.

Highlights of the IW60 ON DEMAND WATER HEATER are:

  • Exclusive 60,000 BTU 2-Stage Self Modulating Combustion System (MCS)
  • Built-in freeze protection
  • Only 36 lbs. installed
  • Replaces any 6, 10, 12, or 16 gal. tank model or any 6 or 10 gals. aluminum tank model
  • Two-year limited warranty

Suburban RV Water Heater Accessories


Access Doors

Suburban 4 and 6-gallon Flush Mount Radius Flush Access Door and Frame (Pin Style)

RV Water Heater Access Door 4 and 6 GallonDoor Dimensions:
12.188″ W x 12″ H
Outside Frame Dimensions:
14.740″ W x 14.740″ H
Inside Frame Dimensions:
12.360″ W x 12.360″ H

 

Suburban 4 and 6 Gallon Flush Mount Radius Hinge Access Door and Frame (Hinge Style)

4 and 6 Gallon Flush Mount Access Door

Door Dimensions:
14.876″ W x 14.875″ H
Outside Frame Dimensions:
14.50″ W x 14.375″ H
Inside Frame Dimensions:
12.375″ W x 12.375″ H

 

 

 

Suburban 10, 12 and 16 Gallon Flush Mount Radius Access Door and Frame (Pin Style Only)

10-12-and-16-Gallon-Flush-Mount-Radius-Access-Door

Door Dimensions:
15.625″ W x 15.375″ H
Outside Frame Dimensions:
18.169″ W x 18.169″ H
Inside Frame Dimensions:
15.735″ W x 15.735″ H

 

Suburban Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban D, DE, and DEM Model Water Heaters

Click on the switch color you want and you will be directed to CampingWorld for pricing.

White Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban D, DE and DEM Model Water HeatersBlack Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban D, DE and DEM Model Water HeatersOn-Off Cream Plate

Suburban Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban DEL Model Water Heater

The handy switch lets you easily activate your water heater using LP gas, 12-volt electric, or both. That said, it works with Suburban LP/Electric models with direct spark ignition.

Click on the switch color you want and you will be directed to CampingWorld for pricing.

White Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban DEL Model Water HeaterBlack On Off Water Heater Switches  Cream Inside Mounted ON/OFF Switches for use on Suburban DEL Model Water Heater

Suburban Anode Rod

The Suburban Anode Rod Replacement protects your water heater tank from corrosion by attracting corrosive elements in water so they attack the sacrificial anode rod rather than your water heater tank interior. With this in mind, simply remove the anode rod from the tank and inspect it every three months. After removing and inspecting the anode rod and it is mostly eaten away, replace it with a new one to extend the life of the tank. The dimensions are 0.75″ dia. x 9-1/2″L

 

Water Heater Purchasing Tips

If you are debating on purchasing a new water heater for your RV, there are a few things you should consider. That is to say, what are your hot water needs? Do you find yourself running out of hot water frequently with your current set up? If so, you may want to think about going tankless. If not, simply upgrading to a more efficient traditional model may be your best bet.

Maintenance Tips

Your RV’s water heater requires regular maintenance and it is important to clean it once a year. Therefore, if you follow the instructions in your owner’s manual, you should have many years of an uninterrupted supply of hot water.

Storage Tips

Drain your RV’s hot water tank prior to storing it for the season, because keeping water in the tank could lead to extra corrosion and rust.

In addition, during winter storage, your tank’s bypass valve should be utilized to drain the heater’s tank.

Prior to heading out for the season, be sure to fill the water tank and turn off the bypass valve.

Odds are, you enjoy having hot water when on an RV trip. Therefore, keeping your RV’s water heater in good working condition will help make your next adventure full of modern comforts and conveniences.

In conclusion

Having enough hot water while camping is one of those creature comforts many of us, including me, cannot give up while we are “roughing it”.

With that in mind, all Class A, C and Travel Trailers more than likely will have an adequate hot water heating system. So, it would be worth your while, if you have a heavy hot water demand while camping, to check on the availability of a tankless unit.

Please see Luxury RV: 7 You Should Check Out the Offerings from These Premier Manufactures. I suspect all these models have a tankless system.

Chip and Evi

My wife Evi and I are two of 25 million Americans that traveled in an RV during the Spring and Summer of 2019, according to the RV Industry Association. Whenever we come back from an RV excursion, whether it be to a local state park for a weekend, or a longer stay at one of the thousands of privately owned RV parks, we always long to get “On the Road Again” (thank you Willie). We look forward to making this your go-to resource for everything RV, as we continue to update our website with articles we feel will be of interest and enlightenment to most of the RV community.

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