RV Water Heaters – The Atwood Water Heater and Suburban Water Heater

RV Water Heaters – The Atwood Water Heater and Suburban Water Heater
August 30, 2012 Lorelie

RV water heaters are very useful appliances when it comes to providing hot water for your needs even while you are currently traveling – in the shower, for dishwashing, for clothes washing, handwashing, etc.  When it comes to the subject of RV water heaters, there are two most common and popular types according to brand or the manufacturer’s name – the Atwood and the Suburban water heaters.

Atwood RV Water Heater

Atwood water heater units come from a group of famous RV water heater manufacturers that are producing and designing models for outdoor applications and recreation vehicles, for several years.

Each and every Atwood RV water heater model is certified by the Canadian Standards Association for installation in RVs or mobile homes, and they strictly comply with the local codes and American ANSI standard.  Atwood water heaters are recognized for their reliability in the RV setting, quality and even in marine products and service.

Atwood also offers a wide array of RV accessories such as the adjustable thermostat, door mounting system, drain plugs, thermal cut off kit, so that you can be fully equipped while you are on the go, whether you are traveling somewhere or having a camping trip.

Take Note:  During the cold winter season, in case you are not going to use your RV, it is recommended that you drain all the water from the Atwood water heater unit, as it might freeze.


The Atwood water heater unit and the Atwood RV products are specially designed to save space, reduce visibility and to offer more attractive and integrated appearance of a mobile home.  They are reliable and light, so they can be utilized even in difficult mobile outdoor conditions.

Based on its lighting options, there are basically three Atwood water heater models available:

  1. Atwood RV water heater with electronic ignition
  2. Pilot ignition – which has to be manually lit.
  3. Pilot re-light ignition – which has to be manually lit also.  It automatically re-lights when extinguished by the wind.

Based on its sizes, there are typically two Atwood water heater tanks available:

  1. The 6-gallon capacity – has a gas input of 8,800 BTU.
  2. The 10-gallon capacity – has a gas input of 10,000 BTU.

The Atwood RV water heater mainly utilizes propane gas or LP for heating.  They can also actually operate from an electrical source, off an electrical hook-up or a generator, with the use of the RV’s engine-cooling system and by combining two fuel sources.

If you are currently using motor coach engines and wasted energy to heat the water, it is actually a huge advantage, as your hot water is readily available when you arrive at your destination, thus saving you on energy/propane.

Take Note:  Never run a gas water heater when the RV is in motion.

As a matter of fact, Atwood water heaters are very easy to service.  Most of the RV water heater parts are readily accessible from the exterior, which saves you time for troubleshooting and repairs because there is no need for the service technician to enter your RV to complete his job.

Even if it is very accessible, problems can still arise if the water heater is not properly protected or maintained.  This is why Atwood water heater units have a multiple protection system which includes a high-temperature limit switch, thermostat and a temperature-pressure relief valve (TPR).

Take Note: In the case of gas RV water heaters, the fresh air for combustion has to be provided from the outside environment and combustion products must be vented out from the RV.

Prices of Atwood RV water heaters:

Atwood RV water heater units with an electronic ignition are typically more expensive than units with only the pilot light.  The price also varies on the gas BTU input and capacity, as it can range from about $400 up to $600.

Atwood RV water heater units with only the pilot light is more affordable and its price ranges from $280 up to $450.  You can search for them at online stores that deal with camping products and services, RV stores, Amazon.com, eBay, etc.


Suburban RV Water Heater

Suburban RV water heater units are typically available in the North American market and can range from three different sizes and types – from 4 to 16 gallons.  Each and every model is easy to install and can fit in almost any type of RV.

Depending on the design and model of your RV, your personal preference and motor home requirements, you can purchase Suburban water heaters that are of high recovery and uses propane gas, or units that are a combination of gas/electric, and models that are using coach engine heat (also called motor aid models).

Parts of a Suburban RV water heater:

Suburban water heater tanks have a capacity of 4 to 6 gallons and are with standard-mount doors, whereas flush-mount doors area readily available for all Suburban water heaters.  On the other hand, gas water heater units either use the pilot light or the direct spark ignition.

  • An ignition system with direct spark ignition is actually good for places with bad weather so that you can control the heater and its heating process with a remote switch from the inside of the RV.
  • On pilot light models, there is a re-ignitor so you no longer have to re-light the pilot when it is extinguished or when the gas supply is turned off.

Benefits of a Suburban RV water heater:

One of the key benefits of owning a Suburban water heater unit is its longer performance life, thanks to the 2 protective parts and systems.

  • The first protective part is the anode rode which almost neutralizes the aggressive water action on the metal tank, providing a cathodic protection.  Keep in mind that the anode rode must only be removed for draining or inspection and replaced only when worn out.  Take note that you should always replace the anode rode once a year, or when ¾ of the anode rod’s weight is gone so you can keep the water heater unit performing efficiently.
  • The second protective part is the porcelain lining which is a corrosion-resistant material so that heated water cannot significantly harm your RV heating unit.

Typically, Suburban water heater manufacturers offer up to 3 years of warranty, but in order to naturally prolong the life of your Suburban RV water heater unit, you must exercise proper care and maintenance.

Models of Suburban RV water heaters:

All Suburban water heaters have tank sizes that range from 6 to 16 gallons and are considered to be fast-recovery units with 12,000 BTU gas input and can provide high 10.2 gallons per hour recovery.  This means you get more hot water with less “cold sandwiches”.  Also, with a specially-designed insulation jacket, more heat remains and there is less heat loss.

In order for you to obtain a faster recovery rate, your RV water heater must be able to utilize both a gas burner and electric heating element at the same time.

Due to its small size, Suburban RV water heaters can be easily installed.  It is also very convenient to use, operate and maintain.

Suburban RV water heaters aren’t sold directly to customers and are normally being sold exclusively through local motor-coach dealers, but you can still opt to buy Suburban water heater units online.

Prices of Suburban RV water heaters:

The common price for a Suburban RV water heater that has a 10-gallon tank size with 12,000 BTU is around $350.


For troubleshooting, problems and repairs concerning Atwood RV water heaters and Suburban RV water heaters, please refer to this how-to guide.

Comment (1)

  1. steve morgan 3 years ago

    My rv is in Fla full time We leave it for 6 mo”s in the summer Should the tank be drained for that 6 mo”s?

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