If it’s time to replace your RV water heater, this article is going to give you the latest news on what’s hot in the world of RV water heating. Even if you simply want to upgrade your existing RV water heater, you’ll benefit from reading this review of the best RV water heaters and all the information I’ll be providing along with it.
There are a couple of things you might want to learn more about before deciding which RV heater is going to be the best for your needs. Technology changes all the time and the improved RV water heaters that you’ll be able to buy today are a far cry from what used to be considered the best RV water heaters. A lot has been done to make these appliances more efficient and effective. When experiencing the great outdoors, there’s no need to leave the comforts of home behind. A quality RV water heater is going make your shower all the more enjoyable and take the hassle out of washing the dishes.
We’ll be reviewing two RV water heaters that use a tank, both offer the ability to use either gas or electric, or a combination of the two. These being the Atwood 6 Gallon Gas/Electric GC6AA-10E Water Heater and the Suburban Sw6De 6 Gallon Dsi Electric Ignition/Lp Gas RV Motorhome Trailer Water Heater.
We’ll also be reviewing a tankless or water on demand RV water heater: the Girard 2GWHAM On-Demand Tankless Water Heater.
Before you begin your search for the best RV heater, get to know your RV. You’ll need to consider pipes and connections. Size can also be very important. If you’re looking at an RV water heater with a tank, you’ll probably want the largest one available, this will provide the most hot water for longer showers. A large tank will usually be about 10-gallons. This is way smaller than the water heater in your home but is as big as it gets by RV standards. The thing to look at is if you’ll have the space to accommodate a large water heater.
If you know your requirements, the next step is to choose the best type of RV water heater that will meet these requirements.
RV Water Heaters with a Tank
RV water heaters that use a tank are cheaper than tankless water heaters. A water heater for your RV that uses a tank, can cost almost half as much as one that doesn’t use a tank.
These RV water heaters are basically the same as those used in most homes, just much smaller. A water heater holding 40-50 gallons is considered small for a home. When it comes to RV water heaters, you’re looking at 4-10 gallons (some can be as large as 15-gallons but these aren’t too common). Most RV water heaters use a 6-gallon tank as these require less space than large ones and provide a reasonable
amount of hot water.
These small tanks have a disadvantage though, you’re limited to the amount of hot water at your disposal and this will mean shorter showers. Things aren’t as bad as they once were, modern RV water heaters are much more efficient, they have a faster recovery rate than those using older technology. Even though the new RV water heaters have been greatly improved, a tank will be more limited than a water on demand (tankless water heater). We’ll be covering these water heaters next.
1. Suburban Sw6De 6 Gallon Dsi Electric Ignition/Lp Gas RV Motorhome Trailer Water Heater
Along with Atwood, Suburban is another brand that cannot be ignored when discussing RV water heaters. The Suburban Sw6De LP Gas/electric RV water heater is, like the Atwood model, a 6-gallon version. This is also a combination gas and electric water heater.
Even though Suburban claim that this 6-gallon water heater has the best recovery rate in the industry, the specs tell a different story. Despite having a higher BTU capacity for gas and a higher electric wattage that the Atwood 6-gallon model, the recovery rate for the Suburban Sw6De doesn’t match that of the Atwood GC6AA. They are, however, similar in most regards.
With a 12000 BTU LP gas burner and a 1440W electric heater, one would expect this model to outperform the Atwood. Yet the recovery rate for the Suburban when using LP gas is 10.2 gallons per hour and 6 gallons per hour when using the electric heating element. They don’t give a recovery rate for combination usage, but I estimate this to be about 16 gallons per hour. So it slightly under-performs when compared to the Atwood equivalent, but by a very small margin. I doubt this difference will be noticeable in practice.
The Suburban also has the convenience of a direct spark ignition for gas operation, so there’s no need to go outside and light the pilot flame. It measures 12.75” in width and height with a depth of 19-3/16”, these dimensions are slightly different to the Atwood in that it’s slightly narrower but slightly longer – the overall volume of the unit occupies about the same amount of space. There are two different door options for the suburban and these are sold separately.
So in general, these two 6-gallon tank RV water heaters are almost identical and both use the best modern technology. Looking at the various prices form a number of outlets, the Suburban is generally a little cheaper (but the prices are very similar). If you find the Suburban at a price that seems to be significantly cheaper, it might be the better deal. Though you need to remember that this price won’t include the door. I wouldn’t consider the minor difference in recovery time to be a deal-breaker.
2. Atwood 6 Gallon Gas/Electric GC6AA-10E Water Heater
Read any review of the best RV water heaters and the name Atwood is bound to come up. They are to RV water heating what Coca-Cola is to soft drinks. This is definitely one of the top brands in the RV water heating business.
The Atwood 6-Gallon GC6AA has a distinct advantage in that it can use LP gas or it can be used as an electric water heater. LP gas heats the water much faster than electric water heating. Though you might not always be able to get LP gas or it could run out when you’re miles from anywhere. So knowing that you have a combination water heater is certainly comforting.
The gas burner provides 8800 BTUs of heating – petty good for a small water heater. It also has direct spark ignition, so there’s no need to light a pilot flame every time you want to take a shower. When using LP gas, the recovery rate is 11.6 gallons per hour. This means that it will take under half an hour to regain full temperature once you’ve exhausted your 6-gallon supply of hot water.
The electric heater provides 1400W, which is also quite a lot for a small water heater. Though it’s not as great at heating the water when compared to gas. Using an electric supply means a recovery rate of 6.2 gallons per hour – just over an hour to reheat the full volume of the tank.
If you rate comfort over economy, you can use this as a combo water heater, meaning that you’ll be using LP gas and electric heating simultaneously. This will give you a recovery rate of 17.8 gallons per hour – it will take roughly 20-minutes to fully reheat the tank. If the weather is mild enough, the combo heating mode could keep your shower warm enough to keep going for longer than you’d ever need.
Durability and serviceability are tops. The tank is aluminum clad and it has an access door that allows most of the service parts to be accessed from the outside. Your cutout dimensions are Height: 12.5”; Width: 16” and Depth: 16-7/8”. You really shouldn’t have a problem installing the Atwood 6-gallon water heater into any RV.
This is a brand new model from Atwood and has all the features and durability improvements one could hope for. The combination of both gas and electric heating just about negates the drawbacks of using a small RV water heater with a 6-gallon tank. It’s almost as good as tankless water heater when it comes to fast water heating and costs much less.
Tankless Water Heater for RVs
Water on demand or tankless water heaters for the RV will be the more expensive option when compared to those that use a tank. These water heaters heat the water as it flows to your shower or faucet – they’re direct water heaters. So when you turn the hot water on, the heater unit is switched on and the water flows through series of pipes along a heat transfer, instantly heating the water as you use it. They will usually use LP gas as this is the fastest way to instantly heat the water.
There are two main advantages to using a tankless water heater and this is why many are prepared to pay more for these versions. Because it heats the water as it flows to the outlet, there’s a constant supply of hot water – unlike a tank that will need time to reheat the water once you’ve exhausted the tank’s capacity. Your shower time won’t be limited by the volume of the water tank.
A tankless water heater saves on electricity or LP gas because it only heats the water as you need it. Water stored in a hot water tank will experience a heat loss when it stands for any period of time and this means that it’s constantly re-heating the water.
So if you’re willing to pay more for a tankless RV water heater, it’s going to make your life more comfortable and probably save quite a bit on fuel. A tankless water heater is the best there is.
3. Girard 2GWHAM On-Demand Tankless Water Heater
If you’re spending more on a tankless water heater, then you want to get the best unit for the money you’re spending. Some may disagree, but the majority will tell you that the Girard 2GWHAM is the best tankless water heater for an RV.
It has a whopping 42,000 BTU burner that can heat a good flow of very cold water to a high temperature instantly. A 12V input that draws only 3A and supplies power to the silent-running brushless pump that supplies the correct water flow for the desired temperature.
All this is controlled by a microprocessor that measures the temperature of the cold water entering the heater and adjusts the heat to water flow ratio to give you hot water that’s exactly where you set it. You can choose to set the water temperature cooler to save on LP gas or crank it up to have piping hot water on demand.
The computerized control also has freeze protection that will turn on and circulate water through the system when the ambient temperature drops too low. You don’t need to worry about burst pipes in icy weather. Though this only protects the pipes within the water heater, the pipes in the walls will need to be properly insulated against freezing weather.
The Girard 2GWHAM measures 15.5” X 22.5” X 12.5”. So it occupies roughly the same space as a 6-gallon water heater, but provides a limitless hot water supply.
This is easily the most advanced tankless water heater that you can get for an RV and is well worth paying a little extra for.