RV Water Heater Repair

How to repair Suburban and Atwood RV water heater

Hot-water-heaters-reviews.com and RV water heater repair guide leads you through the common problems and troubleshooting so you can have worry free RV-ing, camping and relaxing outdoor vacation.

We have collected the long list of symptoms, problems, troubleshooting and repairs from our experience, consumer complaints, RV heater forums, professional plumbers and manufacturers. This review covers RV heater repair instruction on two of the most popular RV brands, Atwood and Suburban.

Note: Installation, troubleshooting water heaters, diy RV repairs, servicing, should be done by a certified individual/installer.

Common Problems and Repair Instructions

Problem - pilot outage

  • If thermocouple or gas control magnet are weak and not performing as usual than replacement is required.

  • If pilot flame is poor recommendation is to clean or replace orifice.

  • If U tube is blocked, remove the obstruction.

  • Adjust the gas pressure per instructions from manufacturer manual if you have an incorrect reading.

  • Adjustment is required if there is an improper air adjustment and for main burner alignment.

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

  • If thermocouple is weak, replace it. If it is loose, tighten connection at the gas control; if it is not hot, reposition it to have better contact with pilot flame.

  • Hold the knob longer before releasing as it takes time for thermocouple to send the signal that a flame is present.


Problem - No sparks on electrodes

  • Secure electrodes to the main burner if it is loosely attached.

  • Reposition electrode to have a proper gap.

  • Clean dirty electrodes.

  • Secure wire connection on circuit board if it is loose.

  • Replace electrode if the insulation is cracked or wire inside is loose.

  • Replace circuit board if it defective.


Problem - gas burner won't ignite

  • Gas valve doesn't open gas because; no voltage for electric spark. Check and replace, if needed: circuit board, E.C.O., solenoid valve; tighten loose wires on E.C.O., wiring harness and solenoid valve.

  • Clean or replace orifice if you have a blocked burner orifice.

  • Remove obstruction if U tube or main burner is blocked.

  • Replace gas control if it is out of calibration.

  • Align flame spreader if it is mis-aligned.

  • Electrode, solenoid valve or circuit board is defective.


RV water heater repair - Insufficient hot water

  • Remove obstructions from partially blocked burner and U tube.

  • Adjust air shutter, burner and burner orifice holder if there is an improper air and main burner adjustment.

  • Reset to desire temperature if temperature selector is out of place.

  • Thermostat has to be placed against the tank. If it is defective, replace it.

  • Fix bypass lever and flame spreader if they are improperly positioned and mis-aligned.

If for some reason you experience water is dripping from your pressure and temperature relief valve don't worry. Since the water heating in RV vehicles runs in the closed system, when the water expansion happens the excess pressure has to go somewhere; so the valve is used.


emergency plumber

If the dripping problem occurs often here is the way how to repair your RV hot water tank; by allowing the air pocket to be established.

  • Turn of the RV water heater and cold water supply

  • Open the tap in the RV

  • Let the water out through the pressure relief valve till it stops.

  • Once the water stops running, release the valve handle.

  • Close the tap in the RV and turn on the cold water supply.

  • As the cold water fills the tank, the air pocket will develop. Repeat the procedure as often as needed.

  • If this is not the solution for your problem, than an expansion tank needs to be installed.

Problem - Sooting

  • Solution is to unblock obstructed main burner, U tube, or exhaust grille.

  • Adjust main burner alignment, valve, air shutter or flame spreader.

  • Check out is the recommended gas supply present.


RV water heater repair - Irregular ignition and fails to ignite

  • Replace cracked electrode insulation.

  • Replace fluctuating thermostat.

  • Tighten loose ground wire on gas valve.

  • Tighten the poor ground on the electrodes.

Keep in mind when troubleshooting Atwood and Suburban hot water heaters that this is not a complete list of problems, as there are many factors that can directly or indirectly affect your RV water heater performance. Always use manufacturer's guide for reference and instructions or call Atwood or Suburban technical support for details.

How to remove rotten egg smell

If a bad odor is coming from the hot water faucet of your RV, the odds are you are having a rotten egg problem, also known as hydrogen sulfide or sulfur water. This is happening because of the chemical reaction between released hydrogen and sulfur from the water or when bacteria develops.

If your RV water heater, like Atwood for example, has a protective coating on the interior of the tank, during the process when it fights corrosion, this protective shield releases hydrogen from the water. Hydrogen sulfide compound will be the result of chemical action between sulfur and released hydrogen and it produces that stinky rotten egg odor.

To prevent corrosion and early tank failure and leaking, there is another solution, used by Suburban RV water heater. Their way to protect the tank is with the anode rod. Again, because of the aggressive water action, anode rod tends to deteriorate and produce sediments in the tank, where bacteria develop and produces rotten egg odor.

If using antifreeze when winterizing water heater, this process can accelerate sacrificial anode rod decay, unless you remove it.

Should you replace RV water heater? The answer is no. Use the RV repair instructions below.

Solution for this problem is to flush RV's water heating system. First you have to drain heater tank. When you open a drain plug water should flow steadily. If not, open pressure and temperature relief valve to get the air in and use a wire to remove any obstacle in the drain opening.

To flush your RV water heater, you can use vinegar (in a ratio 2:1 vinegar/water), 3% hydrogen peroxide (1:160 hydrogen/water), and chlorinated water or household liquid bleach (1:230 ratio chlorine/water).

Let it stay for a few hours and after that, flush the system heavily, as it is hard to get rid of the taste, especially chlorine (or use filter).

And don't forget to use a reference manufacturer's guide often when doing RV water heater repair.


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