Atwood (Aluminum) vs Suburban (Steel) RV Water Heaters

Are RV Water Heaters Interchangeable?

If you’re looking to replace your old RV water heater with a new one you might be wondering if it’s even possible to install a different brand.

In most cases, RV water heaters are interchangeable so long as the hole in the wall of your camper is big enough.

Related Product: Tired of waiting for hot water? Check out the new Furrion Tankless RV Water Heater (click to view on Amazon)

That means it’s possible to replace an Atwood with a Suburban RV water heater or the other way around.

The main question is, which type of RV water heater is best?

Should you get the aluminum clad Atwood Dometic or the porcelin lined steel tank Suburban?

In this article, I’ll go over the specifics of each type of RV water heater and to pros and cons.

The end decision is up to you but knowing the difference between each kind can be helpful in choosing the right RV water heater for your RV.

See Also: This Is The Best Heated RV Water Hose For Long-Term Use

Suburban RV Water Heaters

Suburban RV water heaters can be identified by their steel tanks and need for an anode rod.

The steel tank is lined with porcelain on the inside to protect it from corrosive elements and help with insulation.

Suburban SW6D 5138A/E

New Suburban Sw6De 6 Gallon Dsi Electric Ignition/Lp Lp And Gas Rv Motorhome Trailer Water Heater

Check Price at Amazon

Anode Rod

On top of the porcelain lining, there’s also a replaceable anode rod that removes much of the corrosive elements in water to protect the tank.

The anode rod could be either a pro or a con depending on the kind of RVer you are.

Some campers like using an anode rod and it opens up the option of being able to use magnesium or aluminum zinc in the tank.

The type of anode rod you should use depends a lot on the kind of water you put in your RV.

You can read more about aluminum vs magnesium anode rods in this post here.

Anode rods do need to be replaced yearly or sometimes even more depending on how much you use the RV water heater.

A full time RVer will probably need to replace the anode rod twice a year vs a summer camper who may only need to replace it every other season.

The anode rod does make a Suburban water heater more work than an Atwood Dometic.

BTU & Recovery Rates

Compared to Atwood water heaters Suburban has a higher BTU output.

For example, a 6 gallon Suburban has a BTU input of 12,000. The 6 gallon Atwood Dometic has a BTU input of 10,000.

The recovery rate on 6, 10, 12, and 16 gallon Suburban models is 10.2 gallons per hour on gas and 6.1 gallons per hour on electric.

You can run the electric and gas at the same time to increase the recovery rate to 16.3 gallons per hour.

Compared to Atwood the recovery rates are actually slightly slower.

But the steel tank offers better insulation meaning the water will stay hot for longer in a Suburban water heater.

See Also: Best RV Water Filter Systems & Cartridges Reviewed

Size Options

One thing Suburban does really well is they have lots of different size options.

You can choose between five different tank sizes; 4, 6, 10, 12, and 16 gallons.

Compared to Atwood which only offers 6 and 10 gallon tanks.

If you are building your own camper or want to get a much larger hot water heater for living full time in your RV, Suburban has a lot more options.

Suburban Models & Specs

Suburban ModelSW4D 5135ASW6D 5138A/ESW10D 5142A/FSW12D 5146A/FSW16D 5150A
Cutout Size (WxHxD)12.75″ x 12.75″ x 19.19″12.75″ x 12.75″ x 19.19″16.38″ x 16.38″ x 20.50″16.38″ x 16.38″ x 22.25″16.38″ x 16.38″ x 27.00″
Gallons46101216
Dry Weight28.5 lbs35 lbs40 lbs46.5 lbs49.5 lbs
BTU9,00012,00012,00012,00012,000
Electric Watts1,4401,4401,4401,4401,440
Recovery Gas*7.610.110.110.110.1
Recovery Elec.*6.16.16.16.16.1
Recovery Gas/Elec.*13.716.216.216.216.2
DSI (Direct Spark Ignition)YesYesYesYesYes

*Gallons Per Hour

(click links to view models available on Amazon)

Pros & Cons

PROS

  • High BTU Input
  • 5 Tank Size Options
  • Steel Tank Retains Heat Longer
  • Replaceable Anode Rod

CONS

  • Slower Recovery Rate
  • Heavy Tanks

Atwood Dometic RV Water Heater

In 2017 Atwood was bought by Dometic. That’s why when you look at Atwood water heaters they are called Atwood Dometic or you get results that are Dometic water heaters.

Atwood and Dometic water heaters are now the same thing. If you are looking for a direct replacement for an Atwood water heater you should look at Dometic ones.

See Also: What Should My RV Water Pressure Regulator Be Set At?

Now that Atwood has been bought it’s been difficult finding all of the different models and sizes available.

Some of the older Atwoods can still be found online but the new models are under the Dometic name only.

I’m going to give the info on the new models since those are the easiest to purchase.

Many of the old Atwood water heaters can be replaced by the Dometics with a simple adapter kit.

Atwood Domeetic WH-6GEA

Atwood | Dometic WH-6GEA Water Heater #94002BP

Check Price at Amazon

Aluminum Tank

Atwood Dometic RV water heaters have aluminum tanks and do not require an anode rod.

If you install an anode rod where the plastic plug is it may void the warranty. Even though some companies sell anode rods for Atwood Dometic water heaters it’s not recommended.

It also means Atwood Dometic water heaters are lighter than Suburban. That’s something to consider if you are having trouble with weight or your RV feels unbalanced.

This is usually a bigger issue for smaller campers.

As far as insulation the Atwood Dometics will lose head a little faster but they heat up water faster and with less gas.

BTU & Recovery Rates

Both the 6 and 10 gallon models have a 10,000 BTU rating. The electrical is 1,400 watts and you can run both at the same time for a faster recovery rate.

The recovery rates were a little difficult to find but in general, the recovery rate for gas is around 10 gallons per hour and 9 gallons per hour for electrical.

When combined you can get a recovery rate of around 19 gallons per hour. That’s around 3 gallons more than Suburban.

See Also: Best RV Shower Heads That Increase Water Pressure

Size Options

Overall Atwood Dometic has fewer size options than Suburban, and finding the different models can be difficult.

Dometic seems to now be making two basic RV water heater sizes; 6 and 10 gallons.

Atwood Dometic Models & Specs

Atwood Dometic ModelWH-6GAWH-6GEAWH-10GEA
Cutout Size (WxHxD)12.75″ x 12.75″ x 19.88″12.75″ x 12.75″ x 19.88″15.75″ x 16.25″ x 20.6″
Gallons6610
Dry Weight17 lbs17 lbs22 lbs
BTU10,00010,00010,000
Electric Watts1,4001,400
Recovery Gas*101010
Recovery Elec.*99
Recovery Gas/Elec.*1919
DSI (Direct Spark Ignition)YesYesYes

*Gallons Per Hour

(click links to view models available on Amazon)

Pros & Cons

PROS

  • No Anode Rod Needed
  • Faster Recovery Rate
  • Lightweight Tanks

CONS

  • Limited Tank Sizes
  • Now Need Adapters to Directly Replace Old Atwood Models
  • Less Insulated

Atwood vs Suburban RV Water Heaters

It seems like most RVers choose Atwood over Suburban.

Even though they have a lower BTU rating on average they have a faster recovery, which means more hot water with less propane.

They’re also very lightweight which is important for campers, especially small ones.

See Also: 7 Signs That Your RV Propane Regulator Has Gone Bad

If you live in a residential RV or camp for long periods of time in RV parks getting a larger Suburban RV water heater could be more beneficial than a smaller Atwood.

Most of the sizes for the hole cut out in an RV are pretty similar between both brands but it’s a lot harder to make the cut out bigger than it is to fill a small gap.

Whatever size or brand fits your RV best is usually the way to go.

Have any more questions about Atwood Dometic aluminum Water Heaters vs steel Suburban? Leave a comment below.

by Jenni
Jenni grew up in a small town in Idaho. With a family that loves camping, she has been towing trailers since a very young age.

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