I noticed a small water trail under the water heater cover.
There several reasons why water would be running under the cover (over pressure valve leaking is quite likely the culprit), but only one reason (That I could think of) why water would be coming from the burner area, the tank itself is leaking!
I did some research and we have a Suburban SW12DE. It’s a 12 gallon water heater with direct ignition that runs off of propane, electric, or both. I also learned that other RV water heater manufacturers (Atwood for example) have a different footprint and are not plug and play compared to replacing with the exact same unit. Also, since our cover has custom paint with three colors this would make replacing it for a different vent configuration expensive.
When discussing the issue with our friend, Lee, he mentioned that since the heater is relatively new, maybe we could just replace the tank. Great idea, only the Surburban models do not have serviceable tanks (although, Atwood models do). Major Bunmer! So, it looks like a direct model replacement is the way to go.
I have always had very good luck purchasing parts at www.pplmotorhomes.com. They are cheaper than Amazon and have free shipping. I ordered on September 16th and received it on the 18th! Only 50hrs from order to the door step via UPS!
The water heater on our Class C Motorhome lasted 15 years. According to the manufacturer date this one was a little over 4 years old! A couple different factors may explain this. First we have been fulltimers for over 3 years now. Many more heating cycles than our Class C that sat it storage 300+ days a year. Also, I replaced the anode rod about 18 months ago (original lasted over 2 years). I was surprised to see it was totally gone. This may have contributed to the water heaters demise.
I was intending on replacing it while we were here. No need now!
Everything considered, I believe it was likely a manufacturers defect that caused the premature failure. Here is a picture inside the burner tube.
So here it his step by step pictorial on how I replaced the water heater.
First, make sure all the power (both A/C and D/C) as well as the propane are turned off. Find the A/C breaker for the water heater and turn off.
Now you can turn off the water supply. You can do this by shutting off the main supply or by simply opening the water heater bypass valve if your unit is equipped with one. This will allow you to have cold water supply to your rig while your replacing the heater.
Next we need to drain the heater by removing the plug/anode rod. I put some buckets under the rig to catch the water so I don’t have to stand in a mud puddle!
Our water heater cover came with a plastic retaining clip. They are known to become brittle as the suns UV rays weaken them over time. It would cost several hundred dollars to replace our custom painted cover if the plastic clip broke and the cover flew off when we were traveling. I replaced it with a metal clip. Best money I spent on the rig. Click link to purchase.
I also removed 2 screws that attached the heater to the wall.
Next you can disconnect the gas line. Be sure to support the burner side with another wrench or plyers if the flare nut doesn’t loosen right away. You may break the aluminum casting of the burner assembly if your not careful.
Now you can grab the heater and start to wiggle it out. If you feel some resistance STOP! The water or electrical connections may not be designed to allow removal without first disconnecting them from the rear. (I replaced the water heater in our Class C Motorhome without having to get behind the it). This is as far as the heater came out until I felt like something was holding it back.
After removing most of our stuff it looks much bigger!
After you remove all the screws that hold the walls together they should come out. I also disconnected the 120V, 12V and antenna receptacles so I could have better access and totally remove them from the basement. (Turn off the appropriate breaker before removing outlets).
You can see that the water lines were preventing the removal.
I got out the shop vac and cleaned up some of the debris left over from the factory. I removed what I could reach when our solar was installed but I have much better access now that the heater is removed.
Installation is pretty much the same steps in reverse. I lifted and wedged the heater into the opening so I could make the electrical connection s.
Then the D/C power for the control board.
Now you can push it all the way in to make your propane connection. It can be hard to grab the line so I used a pair of needle nose plyers with tape on the ends to grab it.
Now we can attach the propane line and protective rubber grommet.
Now for the water lines. When I squeezed myself in the basement I realized I made a mistake! Evidently the new heater doesn’t have new brass fittings on the rear. I have to reuse the old ones. They would have been easier to install while the heater was on the picnic table! Minor bummer!
The cold water inlet is actually a check valve preventing water from back flowing.
Next a reattached the water lines. These fittings should be hand tight or just a tad tighter depending on your grip. If you overtighen it with a wrench or plyers you may damage the rubber seal or deform the plastic fitting to the point where it will leak. If this happens you may have to start over with a new fitting.
Time to fill the heater with water and check for leaks. After I purged all the air out of the system I verified there are NO LEAKS. AWESOME!! Next I turned on the power and the propane and turned the unit on. It fired right up!
You will probably smell something burning for a couple of mins. This is the oil left over on the inside burning off.
With the electric and propane both on it took 33 mins for the unit to come up to temperature shut off. I ran some hot water to heat up the water lines and checked for leaks again and found none!
Time to install the outside trim and put the basement walls back where they belong. First I removed all the silicone from the trim ring and wall of the rig. Be VERY CAREFUL not to scratch the painted surfaces.
This is time consuming but important. Next place the trim on and tap around the outside until it is seated flush against the wall. Now install the 4 screws and tighten until they are snug. Don’t get carried away and bend the trim. Next install the 2 side screws that attach the unit to the wall. I used a spring loaded punch and drilled a pilot hole to make it easier.
I applied a thin bead using a caulking gun. The better you are at doing this the less you will have to clean up.
Put on cover and stick it with a fork!
Next I harvested spare parts from the old heater. Ever since I was a kid I always enjoyed taking things apart. It helped me understand how they work.
Was able to salvage the complete burner assembly, wiring harness, control board, and thermostats. Didn’t have a large enough socket to remove electrical heating element. I also left the over pressure valve behind as they never leak (unless you test it!)
I also mark when I do things with a marker for easy reference.
Easy enough for a DIYer to tackle if they have basic knowledge of electrical and plumbing systems. Said another way: If you have the knowledge and confidence to replace a kitchen faucet, a 120 Volt outlet, and a burner on your grill or kitchen stove you should be able to do this.
As with any project that involves propane and/or electricity.
DO NOT ATTEMPT UNLESS YOU HAVE THE NECESSARY KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL TO DO IT SAFELY!! If not hire a professional.
I’m not sure how much money I saved by doing it myself (around $200?), but I can rest easy as I know it has been done correctly.
Thanks for reading!
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