Knowing whether your RV water heater is gas or electric is not only smart, but it can save you a lot of money. (Why run your heater on gas if it also is electric and you’re already hooked up at a site that provides electricity?)
Many water heaters with tanks these days are a hybrid gas/electric combination. You can find out if your RV water heater is gas or electric by checking the model number on the side of the system.
Because the model number can be difficult to decipher unless you know what you’re looking for, we’ve broken it down below.
Deciphering Your RV Water Heater Model Number
Most RV water heaters with tanks are manufactured by Atwood or Suburban. Atwood also manufactures the brand Dometic.
If you have a tankless water heater, this article won’t be much help. Girard is the main manufacturer of tankless water heaters.
This article breaks down the various types of water heaters if you’re just starting out and trying to figure out which one to choose.
Below is the breakdown for both Atwood and Suburban RV water heater model numbers:
|How to Decipher Your RV Water Heater Model Number|
|Example Model: G6AA-10E||Example Model: SW6DE|
|Example Model Broken Down:|
6 Gal – Runs on Gas or Electric – Auto Ignite
|Example Model Broken Down:|
6 Gal – Auto Ignite – Runs on Gas or Electric
|G – Gas||SW – Suburban Brand Water Heater Tank|
|Number After ‘G’ = Water Capacity in Gallons||Number = Water Capacity in Gallons|
|C – Combo Type Gas & Electric||E – Electric|
|E – Direct Spark Ignition – Auto Ignition||D – Direct Spark Ignition – Auto Ignition|
|P – Pilot or Manual Ignition (You light yourself)||P – Pilot or Manual Ignition (You light yourself)|
|A or AA – Heating Element Type||R – Reignite|
|Last Number or Number Near the End – Model/Version Number||M – Motor Aid Heat Exchanger|
Keep in mind when looking at this table that these model numbers do not correspond to every letter or number listed in the rows below. Those example models are just that: examples.
Additional letter definitions are provided for when you do have them in front of you.
In these examples above, our Atwood water heater is strictly gas, while our Suburban water heater is a hybrid of both gas and electric.
Where to Find Your RV Water Heater Model Number
Typically, your RV water heater model number will be on the front or back of your heater. You should not need to remove your heater from your rig to view the model number – it should be visually accessible.
Your RV water heater will typically be stored on the side of your rig, however, this can depend on the make and model of your rig.
Differences Between Gas and Electric RV Water Heaters
The main difference between these two types of water heaters is the type of power being used to conduct heat and subsequently heat your water.
Gas/Propane-Only RV Water Heaters
This is the original type of RV water heater that is designed to run anywhere at any time. The beauty of this type of water heater is that you don’t need electricity to run it. So, if you’re camping out in an area where electricity is not accessible, a gas water heater may be the best choice for you.
These heaters work in a similar way to residential water heaters. A spark ignites a small gas flame that heats up the water in your water tank. A tiny bit of electricity from your battery is used to ignite and maintain the flame until your water is heated, however, this is negligible.
Electric RV Water Heaters
Typically, electric RV water heaters are a combination of gas and electricity. This type of RV water heater can be especially beneficial if you are one that likes to both boondock (camp out in the middle of nowhere) and hook up at a local campground.
These types of water heaters usually cost a bit more upfront than a gas/propane water heater, however, maintenance and upkeep costs tend to be the same.
Electric and gas hybrid water heaters can heat your water up much more quickly than a typical gas/propane RV water heater. This is because you can use the electric and gas elements at the same time. If you are only using the electric feature, your water will take longer to heat up than a gas RV water heater.
Electric water heaters will draw from your battery energy in order to run, so it’s usually best to be hooked up to an electric source when using your electric RV water heater. Many campgrounds have included electricity.
If you have a gas-powered RV water heater you can purchase kits online to convert it to both gas and electric — you don’t have to have one or the other, too, with a hybrid model!
You can easily figure out your model number and what it means using the table above.
Remember to keep your water tank clean, and to drain your tank in the winter or when not traveling. You don’t want your lines to freeze or to have any mold grow up in there.