The Best RV Water Heater Buying Guide For 2021

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A steady supply of hot water is something that we’re so used to, we often don’t think about what truly goes into it. On your RV, it’s even more difficult to get a steady stream of it on demand.

Well, it would be, but we’ve gone ahead and researched the very best RV water heaters to take all the guesswork out of it for you.

Let’s look at what you should have in a water heater, especially if you’re refurbishing an older RV, and start out with the very best one.

No Time? No Worries. Quick and Digestible Info Sheet on Our Top RV Water Heater Below

Suburban 5117A

Why is it better than the rest?

  • Fits seamlessly into most RVs
  • Long durations of hot water use
  • Pilot ignition


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Suburban 5117A Water Heaters 6 Gallon Review

6 Best RV Water Heaters For 2021

With that in mind, let’s now take a closer look at our top picks.

Let’s dive into the specifics and review each RV water heater individually. You can use the list below to jump and review specific models, or you can read along and go through all the information.

    1. Suburban 5117A
    2. ATWOOD GC6AA-10E
    3. Girard 2GWHAM
    4. Suburban SW6DE
    5. PrecisionTemp RV-550
    6. Atwood G6A-8E

Best Overall: Suburban 5117A

Suburban has been a long-time favorite of the RV community for well over 40 years, and it shows in every one of their products.

Their tanks come standard with porcelain-lined steel, which includes an anode rod designed specifically to reduce/eliminate the damages done by hot water over time.

Suburban 5117A Water Heaters 6 Gallon Review

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While you’ll have to get your access door replacement separate with this model, you get six gallons of water fed from a pilot light ignition.

Suburban’s heaters, especially the 5117A model, get good enough to allow you and another to have back to back hot showers while still running the faucet or the showerhead. 

Depending on the flow rate, the number of people who can use warm water may even increase further.

For warranty information, you can check here.

PROS

  • Fits seamlessly into most RVs
  • Long durations of hot water use
  • Pilot ignition

CONS

  • History of the product arriving with minor damages/grease on the exterior
  • Getting through to customer service is difficult

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Perfect water heater for a one-man install
  • LP heat source

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.6 x 12.6 inches
  • Volume (gallons): Six gallons
  • Type of power gas/electric: Gasoline
  • BTUs: 12,000
  • Power: N/A
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): No (Pilot ignition)
  • GPM (gallons per minute): 0.25 on standard setting (24 minutes of hot water)

ATWOOD GC6AA-10E

Our runner-up includes some of the best water pressure you’ve ever felt in an RV shower, providing you with optimum comfort.

This comes with an aluminum rod, which is slightly more prone to rusting than an anode rod, but it still gets the job done for 10-15 years (on average) before requiring a replacement.

This unit gets the job done right with dual fuel sources and direct spark ignition.

ATWOOD GC6AA-10E

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Operates quietly, though light humming can be heard if you pay attention.

Following proper maintenance, tactics ensure a long life, and with the ability to service 95% of all working parts directly through the exterior access door, you’ll be able to ensure this water heater will age alongside your RV for years to come.

PROS

  • Excellent water pressure for maximum comfort
  • Quickly heats up water

CONS

  • Does not work with a 30A RV
  • Slightly noisy operation

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Aluminum anode for corrosion resistance
  • Comes with a white door for exterior

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 17 x 21 x 15 inches
  • Volume (gallons): Six gallons
  • Type of power: Dual
  • BTUs: 8,800
  • Power: 1400 Watt
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): Yes
  • GPM (gallons per minute): 0.40 on standard setting (15 minutes of hot water)

Best Tankless: Girard 2GWHAM

Girard’s model comes with a few drawbacks as they go up against the kings of the industry, Suburban and Atwood, but this unit is still great enough to break our list.

Startup time can be a bit of a hassle. The water temperature might not rise quickly, and you might get more cold water than you wish for. But if you plan accordingly, this won’t be an issue.

Girard 2GWHAM

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It has an excellent recovery rate of gallons-per-minute and more than enough power to maintain hot water flow.

One perk for tankless heaters is the quiet operation, but they took it a step further.

With a brushless motor, you won’t even know this is running – it’s virtually silent.

With straightforward adjustments to your heat output, you can find the perfect temperature with a flick of the wrist. Plus, it has a temperature control system that detects the outside temperature and adjusts accordingly.

The anti-freezing feature makes it a perfect option for RV owners who love winter.

Easy installation, and a great alternative for those who have large-scale needs, and can’t fit more than a six-gallon tank in their RV.

PROS

  • With 42,000 BTUs of power, you’ll never want for anything else
  • Extremely quiet operation thanks to the brushless motor
  • Freeze-protection

CONS

  • Initial heat-up time is extended (between 20-30 minutes on average)

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Simplistic install eliminates the need for additional gas lines/special plumbing
  • Internal regulator keeps things energy efficient

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 15.5 x 22.5 x 12.5 inches
  • Volume (gallons): Tankless
  • Type of power: Dual
  • BTUs: 42,000
  • Power in watts: N/A
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): Yes
  • GPM (gallons per minute): Tankless / endless

Suburban SW6DE

Dual-heated and sporting some serious power, this 1440 watt, 12,000 BTU unit has the claim to fame that every RV water heater in the industry vies for: the highest recovery rate of any model on the market.

Kick on both sources and recover water at a rate of 10.2 gallons per hour, while basking in the constant amenities of a brick-and-mortar home.

Suburban SW6DE Review

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This unit has an extremely lightweight and compact design at just under 35lbs (empty), making it a one-man job to replace your old unit with this new one.

Between removing your old unit and slipping this one into place, you’ll spend 20-25 minutes tops.

Simple to install, and comes with a Polar White door that properly fits without much hassle.

Flick on the DSI to immediately begin heating your tank, and begin experiencing consistent hot water with the best rating in the industry.

PROS

  • Lightweight unit
  • More than enough power to heat/cool your entire cabin
  • Quick installation process

CONS

  • DSI is known to experience issues; sellers will cover it, but it’s an inconvenience when and if it does go out

EXTRA FEATURES

  • The highest recovery rate in the industry when using dual sources at the same time
  • Includes “Polar White” door

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 12.75 x 12.75 x 19 inches
  • Volume (gallons): Six gallons
  • Type of power: Dual
  • BTUs: 12,000
  • Power: 1440 Watts
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): Yes
  • GPM (gallons per minute): 0.30 on standard setting (20 minutes of hot water)

PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater

Last but not least, our pick for a tankless unit comes from the professionals at PrecisionTemp.

We have to give credit where credit is due – this unit operates on a whopping 1.5 amps all year-long, and a maximum of 3 amps in the dead of winter.

With 55,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units) of power, you’ll be good to go for just about any circumstance.

PrecisionTemp RV-550

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Wall-vented and designed specifically for your RV, this ultra-lightweight model comes at a high cost but makes up for it with immense power, reliability, and thermal efficiency.

RV full-timers have been using PrecisionTemp products for well over a decade without issue, reaping the rewards of energy efficiency year-round. Its  20-lb propane tank is capable of providing 940 gallons of hot water.

Enough heating capacity, the capability of supplying a good amount of hot water, and the efficient use of propane gas make it an eco-friendly source to meet any RVer’s hot water needs.

PROS

  • Highest BTU rating on our list
  • Extreme energy efficiency, even in cold months
  • Half the size of six-gallon tank water heaters

CONS

  • You may need to purchase additional brackets to secure this in place if your previous water heater slot is large; you don’t want it rattling around or bending
  • High cost

EXTRA FEATURES

  • VanFlame technology control system integrated into the unit

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 13.5 x 13.5 x 14.25
  • Volume (gallons): Tankless
  • Type of power: Propane
  • BTUs: 55,000
  • Power in watts: N/A
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): Yes
  • GPM (gallons per minute): Tankless / endless

Atwood G6A-8E

If you’re currently looking to replace your old Atwood water heater, this is just the ticket.

As reliable and long-lasting as your previous one, and just as easy to install.

These were designed to replace predecessor models, including the exterior door – this unit comes with one just for purchasing it and is extremely easy to install.

The Best RV Water Heater Buying Guide For 2021 1

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On the downside of this door, it’s less secure than others.

It won’t fly open while you’re on the highway, but it is easier for a potential vandal to pluck off.

With a pilot ignition, 8,800 BTU output, and lightweight build for easy installation, this unit is an easy pick for quality control.

Setting up the gas line is simple, though it can take a few minutes to flush before operation from time to time.

For the perfect replacement heater that won’t give up on you, Atwood’s G6A has you covered.

PROS

  • The lightweight build makes for an easy installation and less drag
  • Replaces most previous Atwood water heaters without further intervention

CONS

  • The pilot has difficulty staying lit on its own
  • Takes 3-4 minutes to clear your gas line

EXTRA FEATURES

  • Includes white door for exterior

PRODUCT INFORMATION

  • Dimensions: 16 x 12.5 x 16 ⅞ inches
  • Volume (gallons): Six gallons
  • Type of power: Gasoline
  • BTUs: 8,800
  • Power in watts: N/A
  • DSI (Direct Spark Ignition): No
  • GPM (gallons per minute): 0.19

Honorable Mentions

If you haven’t found what you are looking for yet, here are three more water heaters perfectly suitable for a life on the road:

  • Camplux 5L Portable Propane Tankless Water Heater is the heater option you want to go for if you value your and your family’s safety more than anything else. It features a flame failure device and an oxygen depletion safety shut-off protection. In addition to those, it does well to save energy and to offer protection against freezing.
  • Eccotemp L10 Portable Tankless Water Heater is extremely lightweight, portable, and compact, making it an ideal choice for not only RVing or camping but also more outdoor activities such as hunting. With 2 “D” cell batteries and an option on Amazon to purchase it as paired with an EccoFlo 12-volt water pump, it’s designed to supply you with hot water even when you’re in the most remote of locations.
  • If you’re worried that you might need to have a knowledge of plumbing or venting while installing a water heater to your RV, Excel Tankless Gas Water Heater should be your go-to. It’s vent-free, it looks nice, and it’s eco-friendly too because it’s designed to save both water and energy.

Table of Contents

All About Water Heater Types

No two water heaters are built the same. Here are the four main types you’ll run into on your search:

GAS

Straightforward and simple, this uses natural gas to heat up your tank. You can usually hear the sound of the flames kick on, though a lot of people are becoming preemptive about using gas on water heaters in their RVs.

Gas water heaters are about as efficient as electric ones in terms of heating water, but depending on the rest of your RV setup, electric heaters might be more practical.

ELECTRIC

Utilizing 120V of electricity (on average), you can heat your water fairly simply. Flick a switch, and you’re good to go.

Electric tankless water heaters generally heat water at the same speed as gas, though they may prove to be more energy efficient when you’re already utilizing electricity, especially if you have a portable generator and it’s already turned on.

DUAL

Gas-Electric Water Heaters Review

Some of the heaters use a dual power source: gas when you have it, electricity when you don’t. As you might have guessed, you can use these with either method, which gives you control over which type of energy you’re utilizing.

PROPANE

You’re only going to find liquid propane on tankless heaters. Propane tankless water heaters allow for fast heating, low consumption, and are cheaper to refill.

Water Heater Storage

Primarily, you’re only going to run into six or ten-gallon tanks.

Storage doesn’t have to be the biggest issue with choosing the right RV water heater model for you. Depending on your needs and ability to conserve/be conscious of your water usage, a six-gallon tank can be more than enough for two people at a time.

If you’re taking the family out on a trip, and you have children/teens who aren’t as careful with the water (long showers, washing their hands and playing in the sink, etc.), you’ll definitely get more out of a ten-gallon tank.

TANKLESS HEATERS

Tankless heaters are an entirely different game. Here are some of the pros and cons of using them:

Benefits

  • For single-use, utilizing the amount of water you need may save you money
  • No difficult installation/chance of damaging wires and gas line
  • Easier to be economic with your water usage

Drawbacks

  • Exhaustion and overheating: produces exhaust and throws heat on certain models
  • Often come with shorter warranties/expectancies than tank models
  • Wall-mounting require more thorough work, whereas a tank already has a designated area

Suburban Vs Atwood Water Heaters

Suburban and Atwood are two of the most beloved and widely-used RV water heater brands on the market.

Smaller brands have been purchased by them, and now, they’re basically the only two players in the market with any reputable history. But there are key differences between the two:

Suburban models are generally longer-lasting by utilizing slightly tighter pipes and dispersing water at a slower pace. Many RVers state that they can have two showers, back to back, and still wash a load of dishes with no problem.

Atwood models are better for comfort and a quality shower. They provide greater pressure, albeit it for a little higher water output. Each type only takes between 10-20 minutes to get fully heated, whether it’s propane or electric.

Related – How to heat the camper?

What To Look For When Buying An RV Water Heater

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? You’re not alone.

Crucial components to your RV always take careful deliberation. These are the primary factors you should focus your energy on. These will govern how you use, maintain, and enjoy your RV water heater.

SIZE

It’s not just about the capacity of the tank, but the dimensions of the product.

There are loads of stories online about purchases gone awry because the new heater was slightly too big to fit in the preexisting slot where the old heater was. Pay extra close attention.

HEAT-UP TIME

This partially depends on your volume and the heating type that you’re using. Heat-up times, for a six-gallon tank, can take from 10 to 20 minutes on average. Some of the heaters feature adapters, gas regulators, and heat exchangers, which might help you with heat-up time and level. Nonetheless, you should plan accordingly, because you might not have on-demand water when you need it the most.

TANK/TANKLESS

Tank Water Heaters

Tankless hot water heaters come with the benefits listed above. Your price point and usage will greatly be impacted depending on your decision, so decide whatever works best for you and your wallet.

VOLUME

Are you going it alone, or bringing a few family members/friends for the ride?

Take into consideration your average party size, and the fact that they’ll be bathing/using the hot water in the kitchen sink. If your RV can’t fit a larger water tank, consider minimizing usage.

How To Prevent Tank Freeze During Winter

There are two main methods to this.

One is setting alarms and timers and waking up to operate the tank every 2-3 hours. It leaves hot water in the tank, and by the time it’s chilled enough to be an issue, you’re turning it back on again.

However, nobody wants to do that. Wrap your pipes in heat tape and really work to insulate the area when you install your new water heater.

Leaving the bench/access point on the inside of the cabin wide open is also a pretty good way, especially if you have a heater on throughout the RV while you’re sleeping.

Also, don’t forget to winterize your RV.

How To Install A Water Heater In Your RV

You’ll have to begin by removing the old one, and here’s how to do that.

  • Step #1 – Disconnect the electrical wires that lead to your circuit breaker before doing anything, and just to be safe, keep the switch in the off position as well. You absolutely have to do this before heading to step two. It’s good practice to ensure your RV is powered down when performing this. If you have a gas line headed there instead, disconnect that as well
  • Step #2 – Once you have everything in place, after unpacking and inspecting your RV water heater and hopefully, the door kit if you need one, you’re going to use a pry bar top to gently remove the edge of your current water heater. This is located through the exterior-access door on the outside of your RV. Once you loosen it, pull it forward 2-3”, and stop.
  • Step #3 – Now that you have it loosened, it’s time to head inside and disconnect the water line. From there, head back outside and begin removing the unit. You’ll have to exert some force to remove this from the RV, but as long as everything is disconnected inside, don’t be shy. Apply enough force to remove it, but not enough to damage your RV.
  • Step #4 – You’re free of the old unit. If your water heater was old or you bought an older RV, it may have separated when it came apart. This is due to shoddy cardboard lining. Your new unit is ready to go in. Ensure that you’re feeding the wires in as you carefully install the new unit, so you don’t end up tearing the wires or losing them underneath the unit. This is the point where you’ll want to use your new door kit if your old one was rotten. Be sure to use a multitool or scraper to clear away old putty.
  • Step #5 – It’s time to reconnect and test it out. Once everything is tight and secure, flip the engine on, turn on the water heater, and you should be good to go. If issues persist, revisit the steps and ensure that everything is properly connected.

Leak Prevention

Leaks in RV Water

You don’t want to cause damages to your water tank by ignoring a leak, or not knowing when one occurs.

This is how to stop a leak before it wreaks havoc on your system: preventative maintenance measures.

Leaks are usually the result of a faulty temperature and pressure relief valve, or corrosion over time, so understanding how to prevent these common issues from occurring is key.

Regular maintenance and inspection of your water heater on a predetermined basis, such as every three months, can greatly combat the potentiality for leaks. The best ways to perform maintenance on your RV water heater are:

  • Inspecting the anode rod
  • Test the strength and placement of the temperature and pressure relief valve
  • Flush a quart of water from the storage tank

What Will You Decide?

Prefer Suburban over Atwood? Have a story of your own regarding your RV water heater?

Let us know in the comments below. It’s an important part of your RV, whether you’re taking short vacations or full-timing it.

We’ve gone through the process to select the very best water heats for you – be sure to scroll back up the page and make your selection and let us know what you picked in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “The Best RV Water Heater Buying Guide For 2021”

  1. Where did you get the, “Initial heat-up time is extended (between 20-30 minutes on average),” for the Girard 2GWHAM?
    I just replaced a lackluster, wasteful-of-propane, Suburban SW6DE, with this Girard and it exceeded all our expectations. Our heat-up time is 15 to 20 SECONDS! Half of that is just to get the cool water out of the line between the heater and the faucet (which of course takes exactly as long as it did with the hot tank). This state-of-the-art microprocessor-controlled model is head and shoulders above earlier tankless RV water heaters.
    It works just fine with an ordinary propane regulator and regular RV water pump. It even works with only 30 psi of campground “city” water pressure when its inlet flow reducer is dialed back a bit.
    Like all ‘tankfull’ water heaters, the Suburban used gobs of propane in standby mode and contributed a couple of degrees to inside temperature of the RV, thus wasting more energy in the summer as the A/C needed to run longer to counteract that.
    The Girard uses no propane whatsoever in standby mode, only when you actually draw some water from the hot faucet.
    Also, the beautiful digital control panel lets you momentarily and very easily set the desired water temperature, which saves even more propane (and water when boon-docking).

    1. EXCELLENT comment/reply; sadly this article ignores the state-of-the-art Trump Aqua-Go hot water heater which, in my opinion, is the unit all Travel Trailers should have installed in the first place.

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