A review of the Atwood water heaters for heating water in recreational vehicles (RV). The buyer’s guide reviews the types, models, main features, and advantages, and compares the models, so you can buy an Atwood unit that will provide a reliable service for many years.
The article also guides you through the main Atwood parts and shows you how to troubleshoot your RV water heater.
With the purchase of the quality RV water heater, your outdoor/camping adventure won’t be inconvenient and uncomfortable anymore. That means hot water for the shower and dishes. In order to ensure an obstructed flow of hot water, a good quality heater should be installed, such as Suburban or Atwood.
Buy an Atwood, because Atwood is one of the largest manufacturers of RV water heaters and products for “difficult mobile conditions.”
When it comes to selecting the right model, choose one which provides enough power, shown in BTU-s, and flow rate in GPH – higher values, more expensive models are.
Select the right type.
See is it better to install a tank-type or tankless (on-demand) – that depends on your budget, RV installation capability, and your preference.
From the tank-type models, you have an option to buy electric, propane gas, combination gas/electric and motor-aid tank-type, where the electric/propane is the most popular.
More expensive ones are tankless, and its greatest advantage is the continuous hot water flow, so no limits on the water delivery. These do not utilize a tank, but heat exchanger, and the powerful gas burner for on-demand heating.
Electric units are designed to get power from the generator or the electric grid – using 120 V. Most of the time they are equipped with one heating element.
Motor-aid type uses the engine heat for heating water. This is the most efficient type but works only when the engine is running.
Propane type uses the LP or propane gas and can be further divided into the models with the manual pilot light, including the re-light option, and with an electric ignition or direct spark ignition.
Combined models, as the name says, combines the electric and propane type and when they run simultaneously, they provide a quick recovery rate.
As said, Atwood manufacturer offers a decent selection of RV water heaters for instant, on-demand, reliable and convenient hot water delivery. Either installing in a new RV or replacing the old model, Atwood models are designed to fit.
Atwood also offers a decent RV accessory line such as the door mounting system, adjustable thermostat, thermal cut off kit, drain plugs, so that you can be fully equipped for worry-free water heating when on the road, traveling, camping or even repairing.
Thanks to its small and compact design and the above accessories, Atwood water heaters save space, reduce visible portion and provide more integrated and attractive appearance, while supplying you with the hot water when away from home.
Atwood tankless water heater is available only as the OD-50 model and is powered by the propane (LP) gas. The main advantages include on-demand heating, continuous water flow, high energy efficiency, and cold weather protection. In tank-type products, no matter which brand you choose, the amount of provided hot water is limited, as the tank can carry only a few gallons of water.
The tankless models utilize the powerful gas burner with the maximum gas input of 50,000 BTU which ensures instant water heating and fast delivery. As the unit is equipped with the modulating gas valve, the power can be reduced to 16,500 BTU, saving even more energy while delivering hot water that is enough for small jobs.
According to the manufacturer, the cold weather kit, known as Thermal Blast, includes the components to protect the water tubes and gas valve from freezing.
You can buy a tank-type Atwood water heater that can operate using one of the three fuel options: LP, electric, and engine heat.
Atwood RV water heaters that are powered by propane or LP gas are the most popular. Models that are using the electricity operate only when connected to the electrical grid or a generator. A combination heater can operate using both a gas burner and one 1400-watt heating element simultaneously, providing fast recovery.
The gas-powered Atwood RV water heater that utilizes the electronic ignition is convenient and safe for use as the ON/OFF switch to light the gas burner is located inside the RV.
The model with the pilot re-light ignition allows the user to light the pilot manually, and if for some reasons it goes out, it automatically re-lights.
The models with the pilot ignition are the simplest type. As the above models, it has to be manually lit also, but only when the destination is reached, not while traveling. It takes half an hour to have the water hot and available for use.
Gas-type models are available only in two sizes (capacity); 6 and 10 gallons, while the gas burners come with the gas inputs of 8,800 BTU and 10,000 BTU. Moreover, when comparing with the residential gas water heater and comfort it provides, RV type is good enough only for small jobs – do not expect long showers.
The flue tube design allows Atwood to be more efficient than traditional water heaters. As the tube provides more contact surface, it takes the flue gases more time to exit, so more heat is transferred to the water. Also, with the addition of the gas burner with the lower gas input, the whole process will be more efficient - over 80 %. Other benefits include the higher recovery rate of 18 GPH and reduced LP gas consumption. According to the manufacturer, the 6-gal model outperforms the traditional water heater with the larger tan, such as 10 and 12 gallons.
The most efficient of all three types is the motor-aid type, a type that is using the engine-cooling system or simply stated, the heat from the engine. Since the engine heat is already generated, by adding a heat exchanger to the heating system, the water and energy savings are guaranteed. The problem is that hot water is available only when the vehicle is running, so your hot water is ready when arriving at the destination.
The advanced models from Atwood XT series are using the Exothermal Technology to increase the hot water output but keeping the heater's size almost the same as any other Atwood water heater. Due to the innovative approach, the XT series can provide 50% more hot water than the standard type. The new models do not require 120-v switch and the heating element can be powered by the 12-v relay.
Another smart idea from the Atwood XT series that saves money and time is the winterizing bypass capability for easier installation and protection against freezing days.
XT series is available in two sizes; 6 and 10 gallons with the inputs of 8,800 and 10,000 BTU, utilizing all three fuel sources as the above standard type; gas, electric and engine heat.
Atwood water heaters are easy to service. Majority of the RV water heater parts are accessible from the exterior, saving you time for troubleshooting and repairs, no need for entering the RV by the service technician.
Even being easily accessible, problems can arise if the heater is not protected or maintained properly. This is why Atwood hot water heaters have multiple protection systems consisted of the high-temperature limit switch, thermostat, and TPR or temperature-pressure relief valve to prevent excessive water expansion.
Note: For gas RV water heaters, the fresh air for combustion has to be provided from outside and combustion products to be vented out RV.
Every Atwood RV water heater is certified by the Canadian Standards Association for installation in mobile homes, and they comply with local codes and American ANSI standard as well. Such compliance and the advanced features, ensure that these RV heating units are recognized for the quality, reliability, and performance.
After analyzing the online user reviews of the Atwood RV water heaters and taking into account over 90% of the positive comments, it can be concluded that Atwood is a good brand to buy.
Models with electronic ignition are more expensive than those with the pilot light. They provide more convenience as the lighting can be done from inside the RV. The price depends on the gas input and capacity, and it can range from $400 to $580.
The units with the pilot light are simpler and cheaper – the price range is from $290 to $430.
If you would like to have longer showers and the money is not an issue, the recommendation is to buy the combination electric/LP water heater or tankless, both resulting in the higher power and recovery rate.