Common RV Water Heater Problems and How to Repair Them – For Atwood and Suburban RV Water Heaters

Common RV Water Heater Problems and How to Repair Them – For Atwood and Suburban RV Water Heaters
September 6, 2012 Lorelie

Below are some common RV water heater problems, how to troubleshoot and repair them.  Take note that these apply for both Atwood water heaters and Suburban water heaters.

Also, keep in mind that there are some RV water heater repair jobs that need to be done by a certified technician or installer.

Common RV Water Heater Problems and How to Repair Them

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Pilot Outage:

  • If the thermocouple or gas control magnet is weak and not performing well, then it will have to be replaced.
  • If the pilot flame is poor, then it is recommended that you clean or replace the orifice.
  • Adjust the gas pressure as per instructions from the manufacturer’s manual if in case you get an incorrect reading.
  • If the U-tube is blocked, then remove the obstruction.
  • Adjustment is required if there is an improper air adjustment as well as for main burner alignment.

RV water heater troubleshooting tips – when you experience pilot outage, especially when the knob or button is released:

  • If in case you find the thermocouple to be weak, replace it.  If in case it is just loose, then tighten the connection at the gas control.  If in case it is not hot, then re-position it in order to have better contact with the pilot flame.
  • Do hold the knob longer before releasing it because it takes some time for the thermocouple to send the signal that a flame is currently present.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Gas burner won’t ignite:

  • If in case the gas valve does not open and there is no gas, it is because there is no voltage available for an electric spark to occur.  Check and replace the circuit board, solenoid valve or E.C.O. if needed.  You can also tighten loose wires if any on the E.C.O., wiring harness and the solenoid valve.
  • Remove any obstructions if the U-tube or the main burner is blocked.
  • Clean or replace the orifice if in case you find that you have a blocked burner orifice.
  • Align the flame spreader if it is mis-aligned.
  • Replace the gas control if in case it is out of calibration.
  • Replace the electrode, circuit board or the solenoid valve if they are defective or faulty.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – No sparks or electrodes:

  • Secure the electrodes to the main burner if it is loosely connected.
  • Clean electrodes that are dirty.
  • Re-position the electrodes in order to have a proper gap.
  • Secure the wire connection on the circuit board if it is loose.
  • Replace the circuit board if it is defective or faulty.
  • Replace the electrode if the insulation is cracked or if the wire inside it is loose.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Insufficient hot water:

  • Reset to the desired temperature if in case the temperature selector is out of place.
  • Remove obstructions from partially-blocked burner and U-tube.
  • Adjust the air shutter, burner and burner orifice holder if in case there is an improper air and main burner adjustment.
  • Fix the bypass lever and flame spreader if in case they are mis-aligned and improperly positioned.
  • The thermostat needs to be placed against the tank.  If it is faulty or defective, then replace it.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Dripping water:

If for some reason you experience that water is dripping from your temperature and pressure relief valve, do not worry.  Since the water heating process in RVs run in the closed system, when water expansion occurs, the excess pressure has to go somewhere – so the valve is used.

If the dripping problem happens very often, then here are some ways on how to repair your RV water heater tank, by letting the air pocket to be established:

  • Turn off the RV water heater and cold water supply.
  • Open the tap in the RV.
  • Let the water run out through the pressure relief valve until it stops.
  • Close the tap in the RV, and then turn on the cold water supply.
  • As the cold water fills up the tank, an air pocket will develop.  Repeat the steps above as often as needed.
  • If you think that this is not the solution for your dripping water problem, then you will need to install an expansion tank.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Irregular ignition and failure to ignite:

  • Replace the thermostat if it is fluctuating.
  • Replace the electrode insulation if it is cracked.
  • Tighten the poor ground on the electrodes.
  • Tighten the loose ground wire on the gas valve.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – Sooting:

  • Simply unblock any obstructions in the main burner, exhaust grille or U tube.
  • Check out if the recommended gas supply is present.
  • Adjust the main burner alignment, air shutter, valve or flame spreader.

RV water heater problem and how to repair – How to remove that rotten egg smell:

If there seems to be foul odor coming from the hot water faucet of your RV, then chances are that you are having a rotten egg smell problem, otherwise known as hydrogen sulfide or sulfur water.  This occurs due to the chemical reaction between the released hydrogen and sulfur from the water or when bacteria start to develop.

If you have an Atwood water heater unit, it usually has a protective layer on the side of the tank that releases hydrogen from the water when it fights off corrosion.  The hydrogen sulfide compound that forms will be the end result of the chemical action between sulfur and released hydrogen that produces that stinky rotten egg smell.

In order to prevent corrosion as well as early tank failure and leaking, there is another solution implemented by the Suburban RV water heater.  How they protect the tank is by means of the anode rod.  Due to the aggressive water action, the anode rod tends to deteriorate and therefore produces sediments inside the tank, where bacteria develop which produces that stinky rotten egg smell.

If you are going to use antifreeze when winterizing your RV water heater, this can actually accelerate the sacrificial anode rod decay, unless of course if you remove it.

Must you replace your RV water heater if this problem persists?  Actually, the answer is no.  Below are some instructions on how to solve this rotten egg smell problem from your RV water heater unit.

The simple solution for this problem is to just flush your RV’s water heating system.

  • First, you need to drain the water heater tank.
  • When you open a drain plug, water must flow steadily. If not, you must open the temperature and pressure relief valve to get the air in.  Use a wire to remove any obstructions in the drain opening.
  • To flush your RV water heater, use can opt to use vinegar (in a 2:1 ratio of vinegar/water), 3% hydrogen peroxide (ratio of 1:160 hydrogen/water), and household liquid bleach or chlorinated water (ratio of 1:230 chlorine/water).
  • Let the solution stay for a few hours.  After that, flush the system thoroughly, as it is quite hard to get rid of the smell and taste, especially if use chlorine (or you can use the filter).
  • Never forget to use the manufacturer’s guide as reference especially when doing any RV water heater repair by yourself.

Do keep in mind that when trying to troubleshoot and repair Atwood water heaters and Suburban water heaters, this guide does not hold the complete list of problems as there are many factors that can directly or indirectly affect the performance of your RV water heater.  Always refer to the manufacturer’s manual and follow instructions or call your Atwood or Suburban tech support for more details.

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