Explore the RV water heater repair and troubleshooting guide to find solutions for the common problems related to RV water heating, so you can have worry-free RV-ing, camping and relaxing outdoor vacation.
We have collected the long list of symptoms, problems, troubleshooting and repair tips from the RV users, consumer complaints, RV heater forums, professional plumbers and manufacturers. This guide covers RV heater repair instruction on two of the most popular RV brands, Atwood and Suburban.
Note: Installation, troubleshooting, repairs, and servicing, should be done by a certified professional.
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If your RV water heater is making a noise while it is working, such as high pitched, popping or whistle sound, it is time to check some elements before going on a long trip.
What makes the high pitched noise on the electric heaters is the limescale (calcium) formation on the element or even corrosion.
Popping noise is also the result of mineral deposits build up in the tank, and it can affect both electric and gas units.
The whistling sound can come from the stuck debris in the check valve.
The solutions for the above noise problems are in periodic maintenance such as cleaning and flushing or element replacement if the problem is severe.
Here is how to troubleshoot the RV water heater when you experience the pilot outage (button is released):
If for some reason you experience water dripping from the 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 opens.
If the dripping problem often occurs here is the way how to repair the RV hot water heater; by allowing the air pocket to be established.
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 and 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.
There is another solution to prevent corrosion, early tank failure and potential leaking, and is found in Suburban RV water heaters. 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 the RV water heater? The answer is no. Use the RV repair instructions below, or contact a professional.
A solution for the rotten egg smell problem is to flush the RV water heating system. First, you have to drain the 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 go with one of the recommended solutions: you can use vinegar (in a ratio 2:1 vinegar/water); or 3% hydrogen peroxide (1:160 hydrogen/water); 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).
Keep in mind when troubleshooting Atwood and Suburban RV water heaters that this is not a complete list of problems, as many factors 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.
Also, don't forget to use a reference manufacturer's guide often when performing the RV water heater repair.