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Suburban RV Water Heater: A Buyer’s Guide


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Suburban RV water heaters are extremely popular among RV owners, in fact, they're among the top brands available. They're reliable, well-built, and considered to be among a great choice to heat your water when you're on the go. Finding a hard-working water heater will help you spend more time with your friends and family rather than trying to solve problems.

If you're an RV enthusiast you understand the freedom and pleasure of choosing your next adventure. You also enjoy the ability of driving your home-away-from-home to explore new places. One of the advantages about owning an RV is you're able to bring your living space with you, and that includes a hot shower in your personal bathroom! This article will help you learn more about Suburban RV water heaters, and we'll even recommend a few of our favorite models.

What is a Suburban RV Water Heater?

An RV water heater is a water heater that's installed directly in a recreational vehicle (RV), and Suburban is one brand that manufactures these products. Because they are easy to install and compatible with nearly all RVs, they have become one of the most popular brands on the market.

Suburban makes a wide variety of RV water heaters, which means there are plenty of models to choose between. There's no doubt you'll be able to find a Suburban RV water heater model available to meet your needs.

RV driving by old growth tree

What Types of Suburban RV Water Heaters are Available?

There are three major types of Suburban RV water heaters available in the United States and Canada. Each can be a good option for different types of RV owners. They range in size from 4 to 16 gallon tanks and are fueled with either gas or an electric/gas combo.

Gas water heaters are a great option for RVers who regularly visit remote locations without access to hookups since they use liquid propane (LP) as fuel. In addition, they tend to get warmer quicker and recover faster after use.

However, gas water heaters aren't perfect. They can use a lot of fuel, and when you run out of gas, your water heater is no longer able to heat water.

Another popular option is the Gas and Electric Combination. These water heaters have plenty of flexibility since they can run on gas only, electric only, or both fuel sources. It's important to note, that when they are operating in the electric mode the amount of electricity available for other 120-volt appliances will be limited. 

Here's an overview of the three model line-ups available with Suburban RV water heaters:

Pilot Ignition Suburban Water Heaters

Suburban offers 3 models in this gas-fueled line-up. Each model utilizes a manual pilot light which is an ignition method that's been around for years. In addition, the 2 larger models come equipped with a re-ignitor so if the pilot light should go out or the gas supply is shut off you won't need to relight the pilot.

Combined with their lower price tag and simple design these are a very popular choice among RV owners. Here's the 3 available models:

SW4P - With it's 4-gallon tank, the SW4P is the smallest model in the Suburban's pilot ignition line-up. It has a BTU rating of 9000 and a recovery rate of up to 7.6 gallons per hour.

SW6P - The SW6P is a consumer favorite and has a 6-gallon tank. It has a BTU rating of 12000 and a recovery rate of 10.2 gallons per hour.

SW10P - The SW10P has the same BTU rating and recovery rate as the SW6P, however, the SW10P comes with a 10-gallon tank for campers that require higher volumes of hot water.

Direct Spark Ignition (DSI) Suburban Water Heaters

Instead of using a manual pilot light, Direct Spark Ignition (DSI) water heaters utilize an electronic ignition. A switch mounted inside the RV will ignite the burner, and since you'll never need to leave the comfort of your RV, this can be a huge advantage when weather is less than pleasant.

Suburban offers 5 models in their DSI line-up. They are as follows:

SW4D - Suburban's DSI SW4D water heater has a 4 gallon tank and a 9000 BTU rating. The recovery rate is up to 7.6 gallons per hour.

SW6D - The SW6D has a 6 gallon tank, a 12000 BTU rating, and a recovery rate of up to 10.2 gallons per hour.

SW10D - Offers the same BTU rating and recovery rate as the SW6D model, expect it has a 10 gallon tank.

SW12D - Has a 12 gallon tank with the same BTU rating and recovery rate as the SW6D.

SW16D - For those with high hot water needs, the SW16D is equipped with a 16 gallon tank. The BTU rating and recovery rate is the same as the SW6D.

Gas and Electric Combined Suburban Water Heaters

Arguably Suburban's most popular line-up of RV water heaters is their Dual Fuel models, which combines both gas and electric within the single unit. RV owners have the choice of using an electrical hook-up, a generator, or run off gas to heat their water. 

The gas burner has a 12000 BTU rating and is capable of delivering a recovery rate of up to 10.2 gallons per hour. A 1440 watt incoloy electric heating element is used when the water heater is in the electric mode. It can achieve a recovery rate of up to 6 gallons per hour.

One of the major benefits of duel fuel RV water heaters is the option to operate them with both gas and electricity simultaneously. When this is done the recovery rate is an impressive 16.2 gallons per hour!

Suburban Duel Fuel RV water heaters are available in both Pilot Ignition and DSI models:

Pilot Ignition Duel Fuel: SW6PE (6 gallon tank) and SW10PE (10 gallon tank).

DSI Duel Fuel: SW6DE (6 gallon tank), SW10DE (10 gallon tank), SW12DE (12 gallon tank), and SW16DE (16 gallon tank).

Electrical Shore Power Connected to RV

Benefits of a Suburban RV Water Heater

Suburban RV water heaters have several unique benefits that make them stand out from the competition. They're equipped with steel porcelain-lined tanks which are pressure tested twice during production, and include an anode rod for added corrosion protection. 

In addition, Suburban offers a three-year limited warranty. However, if you drain your tank regularly, check and replace the anode rod as needed, and perform other maintenance, it's not uncommon to double or even triple their expected service life. Some owners have seen 20+ years of use before needing to replace their water heater.

Another benefit is the selection and affordability of Suburban water heaters. As outlined above, there are plenty of models and sizes to choose between. You shouldn't have a problem finding a water heater that will work for your RV and meet your needs within your budget. 

RV parked in front of a lake

How Much Do Suburban RV Water Heaters Cost?

The cost of a Suburban RV water heater depends largely on the model and tank size. The Pilot Ignition series are typically the least expensive. They're solid performing water heaters, and since they use older, yet proven, technology they're not as complex. These heaters tend to fall in the $300 to $500 price range

Suburban's DSI water heaters tend to be a little more expensive than the Pilot Ignition series, but not by much. It's more likely that you'll be in the same price range, but you'll be able to find a water heater that can give a little more bang for the dollar.

The Gas and Electric Combined RV water heaters are the top of the line for Suburban. There are models available around the $400 mark, but you can also find more expensive ones for over $1,000. It really just depends on the tank size and features you're looking for in a new water heater. 

If you're on a tight budget and only want to pay around $400 for your RV water heater, you should be able to find one in each of the three model line-ups. The difference really comes down to the tank size and power your heater is able to deliver. But it is important to consider that as the price increases, you'll notice the features following suit.

Does an RV Water Heater Need to Be Professionally Installed?

If you're doing a direct swap with your old water heater, the process should be pretty straight forward and something that you can handle yourself. But, installing a new water heater can turn into a huge headache too. If you're not into DIY projects, it's probably a good idea to have a professional install it for you. 

However, if you're interested in tackling the install yourself, here's a video that takes you through the process:

Watch the Video

RV with two bikes

Top Suburban RV Water Heater Picks

Our three favorite Suburban RV water heaters all fall in the Gas and Electric Combined line-up. We particularly like the flexibility of fueling your water heater with gas only, electric only, or both gas and electric simultaneously. These options will not only allow for a wide range of travel destinations, but also the ability to maximize hot water output and recovery time.

All three water water heaters share the same specifications:

  • 12000 BTU input rate
  • 10.2 gallons per hour recovery rate when operating on gas
  • 6.0 gallons per hour recovery rate when operating in electric mode
  • 16.2 gallons per hour recovery rate when both gas and electric is used simultaneously
  • 1440 watt incoloy electric heating element
  • 12 volt control switch mounted inside allows for igniting the gas burner and powering the electric heating element from inside the RV
  • Single piece die-formed metal control housing which protects the controls from the weather.
  • Porcelain-lined, steel tank
  • Anode rod

Here are our three favorite Suburban RV water heaters:

Suburban SW6DE DSI / Electric Water Heater

The SW6DE Suburban DSI Water Heater is a 6-gallon Direct Spark Ignition (DSI) / Electric RV water heater. Some competitors use a cardboard style jacket to help prevent heat loss, but Suburban manufactures a specially molded insulation jacket made from copolymer. Since it's molded specifically to fit the tank, it is much more effective at preventing heat loss.

Because many RVs are equipped with 6-gallon tanks, the Suburban SW6DE should easily fit your designated water heater space. However, you should always check the dimensions to make sure it properly fits.

Suburban Manufacturing SW6DE RV WTR HTR 1 PK

Suburban SW6DE DSI / Electric RV Water Heater

Suburban SW10DE DSI / Electric Water Heater

The Suburban SW10DE DSI Water Heater is a 10-gallon Direct Spark Ignition / Electric water heater for your RV. The SW10DE has all the advantages of the SW6DE, only it has a larger 10 gallon tank.

Six and ten gallon tanks are the most common tank sizes on RVs, so the chances are high that the SW10DE will fit your RV's designated water heater compartment whether your upgrading from a 6 gallon tank or simply trying to do a direct replacement. 

Suburban 5243A Electric Water Heater SW10DE with Direct Spark Ignition - 10 Gallon

Suburban SW6DE DSI / Electric RV Water Heater

Suburban SW12DE DSI/Electric RV Water Heater

The Suburban SW12DE is a 12 gallon Direct Spark Ignition / Electric RV water heater. With it's larger tank it's the perfect choice for those who enjoy camping with larger groups, and if you're flying solo, twelve gallons of hot water means a longer shower!

Although, many RVs have a big enough compartment to accommodate these larger water heaters, you should definitely take the time to measure and verify that it will fit, or you may even want to consult with a specialist. 

Suburban 5247A Water Heater SW12DE - DSI/Electric, 12 Gallon

Suburban SW12DE DSI/Electric RV Water Heater

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