Atwood Mobile Products and Suburban Manufacturing have been making products for RVs for decades, and their RV hot water heater models dominate the recreational vehicle market.
Over the years these two companies have refined the designs of their units, so that their models can be easily installed and take up the least amount of valuable floor space. They have also improved their operational efficiency, and have included durable components that can withstand extreme weather and rough road conditions.
Both companies make propane-fired tank water heaters. Atwood only makes 6 and 10 a gallon models, but Suburban models come in 4, 6, 10, 12 and 16 gallon tank sizes.
When purchasing either an Atwood or Suburban model you will need to choose between three different ignition options. Firstly you will need to decide whether you want a pilot light model or a model with an electronic direct spark ignition system. If you decide on a pilot light model, you can choose one that needs to be lit manually each time, or a model that you initially light manually and then subsequently automatically relights.
You will also need to decide whether or not you want a model with a supplementary water heating system. If you do, then you can select a model with electrical elements in the heating tank, or a model with a heat exchanger that utilizes the RV engine’s heat to heat the water. You also have the option of a model that has both supplementary heating systems.
The Suburban units have a more powerful combustion system, and their models have a faster recovery rate than the standard Atwood units. However, Atwood has recently created water heaters that use an innovative exothermal technology that results in a 50% higher hot water output without increasing the tank size.
A few years ago PrecisionTemp created the RV-500, which was the first propane tankless RV hot water heater. This tankless unit is designed to be easily retrofitted in the place of a 6 or 10 gallon Atwood or Suburban unit.
If you purchase the RV-500 you will never need to be concerned about running out of hot water, and your water temperature will always be consistent. Unlike the tank units, the RV-500 does not suffer from standby heat losses. Its microprocessor controlled combustion system is also more efficient than that of tank models. As a result of this higher efficiency, this tankless unit uses up to 50% less propane than the tank-type models.
You can use an electric water heating unit in your RV if you have a generator, or if you can rely on electrical hook-ups. Some RV owners purchase compact under sink electric min-tank units to supplement their hot water supply, or as a back-up for their main RV hot water heater. The most popular models are the Ariston water heaters distributed by Bosch, or units made by Stiebel Eltron, Eemax and Rheem.