The Best RV Water Heater Buying Guide For 2018

Last Updated: October 5th, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Hot water is something you just can’t live without – we go over the best ways to achieve it on the road, through energy-efficient and excellent RV water heaters.

We’ve hand-selected these models for energy efficiency, durability, and base our findings off of personal use as well as information from RV experts.

Whether you’re here to explore new options due to a recent water heater eruption or you’re a first-time RVer, there’s a solution and an explanation for you.

We’ll go over everything from installation to leak prevention and maintenance.

6 Best RV Water Heaters For 2018

ImageProduct NameFeatures
hd-table__image
SUBURBAN 5117A WATER HEATER
  • Fits seamlessly into most RVs
  • Long durations of hot water use
  • Pilot ignition
CHECK ON AMAZON
hd-table__image
ATWOOD GC6AA-10E WATER HEATER
  • Excellent water pressure for maximum comfort
  • Quickly heats up water
CHECK ON AMAZON
hd-table__image
GIRARD PROD ON-DEMAND TANKLESS WATER HEATER
  • With 42,000 BTUs of power, you’ll never want for anything else
  • Extremely quiet operation thanks to the brushless motor
CHECK ON AMAZON
hd-table__image
SUBURBAN SW6DE WATER HEATER
  • Lightweight unit
  • More than enough power to heat/cool your entire cabin
  • Quick installation process
CHECK ON AMAZON
hd-table__image
PRECISIONTEMP RV-550 WALL VENTED TANKLESS HEATE
  • Highest BTU rating on our list
  • Extreme energy efficiency, even in cold months
  • Half the size of six-gallon tank water heaters
CHECK ON AMAZON
hd-table__image
ATWOOD G6A WATER HEATER
  • The lightweight build makes for an easy installation and less drag
  • Replaces most previous Atwood water heaters without further intervention
CHECK ON AMAZON

Let’s dive a bit deeper and review each water heater individually:

🏆 Suburban 5117A

Suburban has been a long-time favorite of the RV community for well over forty 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.

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

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

For warranty information, you can check here.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • History of product arriving with minor damages / grease on 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)

Suburban 5117A Water Heaters 6 Gallon Price: $344.94 Suburban 5117A Water Heaters 6 Gallon Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

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 a direct spark ignition.

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.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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)

NEW RV ATWOOD 6 GALLON GAS/ELECTRIC GC6AA-10E WATER HEATER DSI WITH WHITE DOOR Price: $469.00 NEW RV ATWOOD 6 GALLON GAS/ELECTRIC GC6AA-10E WATER HEATER DSI WITH WHITE DOOR Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

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.

This unit is extremely lightweight 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.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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)

Suburban SW6DE RV Water Heater Camper Trailer DSI Elec/lp w/White Door Price: $339.00 Suburban SW6DE RV Water Heater Camper Trailer DSI Elec/lp w/White Door Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

Atwood G6A

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.

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.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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

NEW ATWOOD RV WATER HEATER G6A-7 SIX GALLON LP GAS PILOT LIGHT WITH WHITE DOOR by Atwood Price: NEW ATWOOD RV WATER HEATER G6A-7 SIX GALLON LP GAS PILOT LIGHT WITH WHITE DOOR by Atwood Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

Best Tankless Water Heaters in 2018

🏆 Girard Prod On-Demand Tankless Water Heater

Love them or hate them, tankless water heaters aren’t going anywhere.

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

Startup time can be a bit of a hassle; plan accordingly, and this won’t be an issue.

It has an excellent recovery rate of gallons-per-minute and more than enough power to run continuously.

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.

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.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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

Girard 2GWHAM On-Demand Tankless Water Heater Price: $508.57 Girard 2GWHAM On-Demand Tankless Water Heater Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

PrecisionTemp RV-550 Wall Vented Tankless Heater

Last but not least, our secondary 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 of power, you’ll be good to go for just about any circumstance.

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 and reliability.

RV full-timers have been using PrecisionTemp products for well over a decade without issue, reaping the rewards of energy efficiency year-round.

Benefits

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

Drawbacks

  • 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

PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater - Wall Vented Price: $1,175.00 PrecisionTemp RV-550 Tankless Water Heater - Wall Vented Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. Last Updated: 11/10/2018

Introduction To RV Water Heaters

Hot and potable water are two things you just can’t live without.

When it comes to the mobile hot water system you’re utilizing for your RV, there are a few things to consider. We’ll get into types, efficiency, and installation in this thorough buying guide.

Benefits Of An RV Water Heater

  • Cleanses water with heat for sterilization
  • Provides the comfort of home while you’re on the road
  • Hot water is always needed for bathing / useful for first aid
  • An alternative way to heat up your cabin in winter

Hot water is a necessity, and it’s simple to achieve on the road.

Every RV water heater has something to offer, whether it’s getting hot water faster, using less energy, or it helps keep your family completely comfortable.

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 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.

These are about as efficient as electric in terms of heating, 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.

These 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

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 propane on tankless heaters. These 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

  • 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.

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. Plan accordingly.

Tank/Tankless

Tank Water Heaters

Tankless 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.

Do Portable Water Heaters Work In Your RV?

Technically, they will work, but for safety purposes, you should never put a portable water heater in your RV.

Portable water heaters, or tankless heaters as they’re often called, produce small levels of exhaust and throw heat. Apart from that, it’s not energy efficient in comparison to tank water heaters.

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 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.

Recommended Reading

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *