There are things we can do with our RV’s to keep them working properly, and therefore save money on service calls! And, RV water heater troubleshooting is one thing you can easily do when you want to keep your water flowing hot!
So, where should you start? Getting the cover off your water heater, located on the outside of your curb-side or street-side sidewall, is any easy thing. It is just a turn-able tab that secures the cover. Once you have located the cover and opened it up, you want to be sure that mud daubers have not made themselves a home in your water heater. They love the environment that this space offers!
You can prevent this from happening by purchasing screens that are specifically designed to cover the vent areas for both Suburban and Atwood water heaters. This will prevent them from building nests in and around the burner tube of your gas fired heater. If you are using the electric element most of the time, you may not notice a decrease in efficiency until at some point you don’t have electric available, and you find the heater won’t ignite.
The following method will work well on most six and twelve gallon Atwood and Suburban RV water heaters.
RV Water Heater Troubleshooting Steps
Pam and I use electric most of the time on our two twelve gallon water heaters. But, when servicing them last spring I noticed a build up around the burner tubes. I was changing out the anode rods in my Suburban water heaters, and that’s when I noticed the build up.
When you work on your water heater be sure to turn off both the gas and electric switches inside, and allow the unit to cool off before working on the it. If you want to speed up the process, with the heater off, turn your faucet on in the hot water position till you have run about ten gallons through. That should be enough to cool it off so you can work on it.
While I was servicing the water heaters, I took the opportunity to remove the air burner tube and use compressed air and a flexible wire brush to blow out the inside of the tube, and all around the inside of the water heater compartment. We had been out west for awhile and I am still blowing out the dust and dirt from New Mexico!
If the burner assembly is operating properly you will hear a “roaring sound,” and there should be a blue flame visible from the chamber, not a yellowish flame which could indicate some debris has gotten in the burner tube.
If you have removed the burner tube, put the burner assembly back together, and once the rest of your simple RV water heater troubleshooting is completed, fire up the water heater using the gas and verify the roaring sound and the blue color of the burner chamber flame. Now that this is completed you can address step two of my RV water heater troubleshooting method.
The next major problem you can have with an RV water heater is sediment build up in the tank. Hard water can create calcium and mineral deposits that sit on the bottom of the tank. This can cause the water heater to fail before its time!
The next step is to drain the water heater by removing the drain plug. Atwood water heaters have just a drain plug while the Suburban water heater’s drain plug is actually an anode rod. Because they are steel tanks the anode rod serves to protect the steel tank from rusting. Because Atwood tanks are aluminum, they do not require an anode rod.
So, depending on which one you have, remove the plug with the appropriate size socket wrench, with an extension, to make it easier to turn it out. Again, as long as you have properly cooled the water in the tank you should not be scalded by the the water that will come out of the it! Also, before removing the drain plug be sure that you have turned the water off to the RV, as well as relieved pressure in the system by turning on a faucet inside for a moment.
Let the water drain out. Once it is empty you want to use a flushing wand to stick inside the tank and remove the sediment that will have accumulated in the bottom of it. Let the water pressure from the hose attachment allow you to force the chunks of calcium and minerals out of the tank. Do this till the water coming out is clear.
If you have a Suburban water heater, inspect the anode rod. If it is more than half gone you should replace it! They are relatively cheap. And since they are designed to save your tank from rusting out, you want to check it at least once a year, more if you are a full timer like Pam and I.
At this point replace your tank plug, or anode rod using a little plumbers putty (makes it easier to remove next time), and turn your water on to the RV. The tank will refill and you are back in business. Don’t switch the unit on inside until the tank is full. Here’s a little side note about the air pocket inside the tank:
I hope this helps you to improve the efficiency and life of your RV water heater. This RV water heater troubleshooting method is easy to do and will ensure you get years of trouble-free use from the unit!
As always, we are here to help you have years of trouble-free RV experiences. Please leave a comment below if you found this information useful, you have a question, or would just like to say hello!
Howard and Pam