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Suburban Hot Water System Maintenance

Article by Rob Smith - Caravans Plus

The most common caravan & RV Hot Water System (HWS) used in Australia is the Suburban. These gas and electric hotwater systems require some simple maintenance. You should inspect them every 6 months or before a big trip.

Video Guide to Suburban Maintenance in 3 mins

How to look after a Cavavan / RV Hot Water System.

What is an Anode?

Suburban Heaters are fitted with a sacrificial anode. The water in Hot Water Systems is slightly corrosive. The job of the anode rod is to protect the metal inner tank. The anode is made of a softer metal than the tank and so redirects the corrosion. Because the annodes are intended to corrode they need to be inspected / replaced periodically.

Suburban Anode new vs old
Suburban Anode New vs Used

1. How to Inspect / Replace an Anode Rod

Before trying to inspect the anode make sure your Hot Water System has been turned off long enough to cool down. The water will drain out when you remove the anode.

1) Switch of the HWS and disconnect 240 volt power to the caravan.
2) Turn off the gas supply at the bottle.
3) Turn off the 12 volt pump.
4) Disconnect mains pressure water from the caravan.
5) Turn on your taps to release any pressure.
6) Open the pressure relief valve.
7) Remove anode with a tube spanner (below).
8) Flush and rinse the tank.
9) Install new anode if needed.
10) Refill the tank before turning on.

To remove the anode you will need a 27mm socket or 1 1/16" tube spanner, don't forget you will need some pipe thread tape. The anode is located near the bottom below the burner tube. Using the tube spanner loosen the anode remember this is going to allow the water to drain from the tank. Removed the anode and inspect, it is recommended to replace anode if it is less than 50% of original diameter.

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2. How to Flush the Suburban Tank

If you are inspecting the anode it is a great idea to flush and rinse your tank before you close it up. You will be surprised at the amount of muck that accumulates in your drinking water. The correct method to drain the hot water system is by removing the anode as described above.

You can flush the tank by sticking a garden hose inside the tank. The hose method is better than nothing but it is hard to get enough pressure to clean it properly. The Camco Rinser attaches to a hose and does a much better job.

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Suburban 240V Elements

All electric Suburban Water Heaters are fitted with a 1440watt / 240volt element. This element has been updated from the original design but will still fit older units. The new design increases the surface area of the element producing a more efficient and quieter system. As the unit ages it is common for calcium build-up to develop on the element, this can lead to an increase in noise level and recovery time.

Suburban 240v element new vs old
Suburban 240v Element New vs Old

3. How to Inspect / Replace an Element

Before starting any maintenance work on Suburban water heaters ensure you have disconnected all forms of electricity and gas. You will find the element under a protective cover. For combined gas/electric units this is located behind the main burner tube.

1) Use the Anode Removal Section to drain the tank.
2) Using a small spanner you will be able to disconnect and remove the burner tube giving easy access to the element cover.
3) Remove the cover by unscrewing the 2 or 3 holding screws to expose the element.
4) Remove the 2 x 240 volt wires from the Element head using a philips head screwdriver.
5) Flush and rinse the tank.
6) Remove and Inspect the element. Speciality 1 1/2 inch tube spanner required (below).
7) Install the new element so that the final position of metal terminals are horizontal.
8) Reconnect the 2 x 240 volt wires. Polarity not important.
9) Replace plastic cover and reconnect burner tube.
10) Refill the tank before turning on.

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4. How to Clean the Burner Tube

Gas models of the Suburban Heaters have a gas burner tube which needs to be cleaned periodically. The burner tube is susceptible to cobwebs, rust and other debris which will stop it working efficiently. A yellow flame is a sign that things need a clean. Use a toothbrush and compressed air to clean the burner tube. It is rare that they need to be fully replaced.

Suburban Gas Burner Tube Problems
Suburban Gas Burner Tube
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Suburban Hot Water Systems

CaravansPlus has a complete range of Suburban spare parts and heaps of easy to use Diagrams to help you find whatever it is you need for your next job.

Was this helpful?

4.7/5
(40 votes)

35 Comments

  • comment-avatar

    Valerie

    This was very helpful. Will not delete it. Would never have attempted to replace the element. Now we will. Thank you.

  • comment-avatar

    Lynn Rees

    Brilliant 馃憤

  • comment-avatar

    Stephen

    Many thanks for the tips.

  • comment-avatar

    Ron

    CaravansPlus are to be commended for the helpful imformation they supply to us R/V people. Thanks, Ron W.

  • comment-avatar

    Tim

    Really good information and wish I had it when I had to replace the element some months ago

  • comment-avatar

    Franklin

    Well worth the read and to keep for future reference.

  • comment-avatar

    Terry

    Great advice ad guidance thanks!

  • comment-avatar

    Ben

    Very helpful

  • comment-avatar

    John

    Many thanks. Good to know how to do things properly.

  • comment-avatar

    Richard

    Very useful. My element was about 50% corroded so it was replaced. I cleaned the spiders out of the burner tube whilst I was at it. Depending on how you use your vehicle, spider webs in the burner tube can be a fairly frequent problem. Suggest that you clean the burner tube after the vehicle has been stored for a while. You will get more precipitate on the element if you travel in areas with hard water or bore water.

  • comment-avatar

    Brian

    Great advice. It is amazing the number of people not aware of the Anode Rod & it's importance.

  • comment-avatar

    Kerry

    Excellent advice. Will keep for future reference

  • comment-avatar

    Grant

    Thankyou for sending these tips. Video very helpful. Will have to check out before Christmas holidays. Will keep for future reference. Brilliant and easy to follow guide. Thankyou

  • comment-avatar

    Paul

    Thanks. Very good advice. Will pass on.

  • comment-avatar

    Ian

    I think it's good that you post these hints as a lot of users may otherwise do incorrect maintenance which might not be safe. As a retired tradie sometimes its good to have a reminder.

  • comment-avatar

    Brian

    Very helpful as many people don't know about this.

  • comment-avatar

    Robert

    Very lmformative will save money and inconveniance in the long term

  • comment-avatar

    Phillip

    Very helpful thanks

  • comment-avatar

    Adam

    Great simple advice to follow thanks. Will check mine before next outing in Dec. and order a new anode/element as soon as required. I have passed this on to other mates and look forward to any similar valuable info.

  • comment-avatar

    Wayne

    You have produced a easy to read and understandable article. Well done, after just replacing the element in my hot water tank I wish it was around then.

  • comment-avatar

    Allan

    Just watched your video, printed hot water maintenance pages which will stay in my c/van for future ref, thank you so much, I reckon you will save me a lot of money over life of my caravan

  • comment-avatar

    Paula

    That was very helpful and looked very easy to do. Thanks, much appreciated.

  • comment-avatar

    Warren

    You people are great most company's don't give this type of info away, will check mine and be back to you should I need anything. Thanks again

  • comment-avatar

    Peter

    Very helpful. Don't allow any sediment to dry in the heater anode thread as replacement of the new anode will be difficult. ie. cross threading is likely.

  • comment-avatar

    Steve

    Excellent notes and video - simple and easy to follow. Just completed the whole process in about 15 mins. Longest task was the tank rinse. A great deal of sediment removed. Cheers

  • comment-avatar

    Richard

    Thanks for this article Rob. A couple of points: Introductory paragraph: "You should inspect them every 6 months or before a big trip." There is an argument for making this inspection AFTER a trip, and removing the accumulated soup before it can cause more damage by being left stagnant in the tank. Not necessary every time, but according to experiences on the trip. From Section 1 "To remove the anode you will need a 27mm socket or 1 1/16" tube spanner, don't forget you will need some pipe thread tape." There could be a reminder to be careful with the tape. There was a lot used in the video. If there is no electrical connection between the tank and the anode then the anode will not protect the tank.

  • comment-avatar

    Peter

    Thanks for the reminder it is something I had not thought about but i now have it on my list to check before our big trips. An easy to follow system thanks again for the help.

  • comment-avatar

    Alan

    That's why I went with Truma no hassles like this...

  • comment-avatar

    Thank you so much for such an informative and easy to follow article of caravan hot water systems. This sort of information is invaluable to caravaners like us.

  • comment-avatar

    Alan

    Would have helped to show cleaning the burn tube and settings as they are very sensitive and burner rarely ignites first go

  • comment-avatar

    Clyde roy

    Video very good have had no trouble with the unit since fitting to van after replacing the Truma unit with problems

  • comment-avatar

    Col henssler

    Hello,after releasing water from pressure valve,then removing anode and cleanig out sludge. Question,do you replace anode and refill hot water tank when the caravan is sitting for 3 to 6 months Cheers col

  • comment-avatar

    Phillip McAllister

    My question is, I have a leak that can't be found, there is a clear hose (pipe) that runs to floor it been leaking, is this normal it's not connected to anything but runs though the floor. If not I will replace it all. The unit about 7 years old. SW4DEA .

  • comment-avatar

    ed stevens

    good infro thank you however you did not tell me how to replace the 240v switch on a gas electric unit

  • comment-avatar

    Kevin

    Thank U for the information, direct and to the point.

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