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How To Replace an RV Water Heater Thermostat

How To Replace an RV Water Heater Thermostat

Over the years we’ve shared quite a bit about maintaining an RV water heater. Last year we even performed an internal inspection using a borescope. But this is the first time we’ve had to share a repair project.

Actually, “project” seems like too strong a word for what’s involved in replacing the thermostat on the electric side of our Suburban water heater. It was so easy that virtually anyone can do it in just a few minutes.

Hot water is one of the main things that separates us self-contained RVers from our hardy, tent-dwelling fellow campers. Even though tenters probably consider it to be a luxury, we have to admit that we’re spoiled enough that it would be hard to live without.

Water heaters aren’t nearly the most-complicated systems on most RVs. That distinction usually goes to RV refrigerators. The most complicated problem we’ve ever dealt with on the heater (actually it was the one on our first RV) was a “popping” sound coming from the propane burner. That turned out to be a cracked crystal on the propane orifice.

This time, we’re having an issue with the electric side of the heater. Watch the video to see what our symptoms were, and how we resolved the situation.

Our water heater may be different than yours. We have a 12-gallon bi-fuel (propane/electric) model. Some of the smaller Suburban units have a different set-up, with the same electric-side thermostat as ours, but a completely different thermostat design for the propane side. And Atwood heaters are completely different than Suburbans.

But the symptoms of a failing thermostat may be similar, as ours started off with the water not getting as hot as it should when heating on electric.

Regardless which brand of water heater your rig has, this short video will hopefully give you some idea what to expect, and what to do, if your hot water isn’t so hot.


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The two thermostats listed below fit our Suburban 12-gallan Propane/Electric water heater (Model #SW12DE). Check the parts list at the end of the Installation & Owner’s Manual for your water heater to be sure you order the correct replacement for your model (you can look in the Suburban Water Heater Document Library or the Atwood Mobile Water Heaters Support Center (lower right side of page) if you don’t have your manual handy).

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Adam McLaughlin

Sunday 30th of August 2020

3.5

JOHN SCHRETLEN

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Troubleshooting and ordering took longer than the repair - those are the way snags ought to be.

I see that you tested your fix and it worked. Did you consider cleaning the tank a bit so the new thermostat would have an excellent contact?

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Hi John! That hadn't occurred to us, as we think it's physical contact vs electrical contact that makes the thermostat work. Of course we might now have to remove, clean and re-install it to find out for sure!

Speaking of cleaning the water heater, we just reached the 1-year anniversary of our borescope inspection & cleaning video. So we loaded up on vinegar and a new anode rod, and went out a couple of days ago to video the 1-year follow-up. We wanted to see what the condition of the tank was in back-to-back annual borescope inspections for the very first time. What we found surprised us, and might surprise you, too. But you'll have to wait for the video to find out! How's that for a teaser? LOL We've got it penciled in for next month, so you won't have to wait too long. :)

Mike Fisher

Thursday 12th of October 2017

From a plumbers son...what a fine job you did with your tutorial for everyone to get a little better on the DIY side of this keep them " running and working ". The bride and I as empty nesters have just purchased our first MH and we should be taking possession of it in the next week or so as it has also flew the coup and is being driven to the dealership as of this reply. It's a small Class A RUV a Thor Axis. It just might be a fine MH to learn on and maybe one day a bit of full timing or at least 6 months. So the adventure will start shortly fro the Bride and I and our Certified Therapy Dog Han who is a 118 lb Bernese Mountain Dog who thinks he is attached to the brides heels and her shadow! So as a resource to us we will be standing by for another RVGeeks CLIP and who knows maybe one day we will meet and you can say..why did you that ? Here is a better way >>>Newbie Geez they need all the help we can give them..were we like that years ago? Ha! Also congrats of 15 years and let's hope you guys will give each other and we subscribers at least another 15 years of help and do it in a happy and healthy way! You guys rock the trimester scale by me! < FISH < the K9Piper

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Hi Mike! Thanks for the comment. Congratulations on your first RV! You much be so excited. Best of luck with it, and lots of safe and fun travels.

Allan Kirch

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Great video! Thanks especially for including the diagnosis steps which is usually the most difficult part.

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Thanks, Allan. Glad you liked it. We thought that adding in the steps we took to diagnose the problem would be helpful... glad you agree! ;) Plus, the repair was so easy that the video would have flashed by in a blink if we hadn't! LOL! This is the first time we've ever had a thermostat fail, so we're not sure if the symptoms might be different for other people (like not heating at all), but this was our experience. So we hope it helps!

Frank McCulloch

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Another great "how to". Keep up the awesome postings.

TheRVgeeks

Thursday 12th of October 2017

Thanks, Frank! Glad you liked it!

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