I wonder how much thought people have given to the hot water system they have fitted to their RVs? I’m tipping not a lot. I know we certainly didn’t pay too much attention to it when we bought our first caravan, trusting the manufacturer knew what would be a good unit to fit. With the second van we certainly paid more attention and for good reason.
Not all hot water systems are created equal, especially those specifically designed for RV use. Most have a storage tank and most will work on a variety of power sources, usually gas or 240v. There are a few other options out there including those that are continuous systems that do not rely on a tank and those that include a heater for the RV as part of the design. In the end all have their good points and bad points and the performance could vary considerably depending on the installation.
In this comparison, we look at 2 of the most popular hot water systems on the market. The Suburban 22.6l gas/electric and the Swift 28l gas/electric units.
From the outset, both of these units look pretty similar. They fit into the same cavity, so theoretically, you can exchange one for the other if you want. Both offer useful amounts of storage capacity, with the Swift just ahead by 5.4 litres and both use gas and 240v mains to heat the water and both are very easy to use via a remotely mounted control switch.
From the outside, on the caravan wall, they are quite different. The Suburban has a drop down door to access the anode, safety valve and gas regulator. The door on these units is locked shut by a rather awkward latch that always feels like it will snap off every time you use it. The Swift has a more permanent cover that requires a screw driver to remove it. It may be a bit more time consuming to remove the Swift’s cover but I prefer it to the Suburban system.
While both these units have sacrificial anodes to prevent their tanks from corroding, the Swift’s larger tank is stainless steel so in theory it should not consume its anode as quickly as the Suburban unit seems to. I was horrified to see what ours looked like after a few months. The corresponding amount of calcium gunk in the bottom of the tank meant I had to flush out the tank every few months. Not exactly a pleasant experience. This was necessary to prevent this build-up getting in to the plumbing and fowling up the tempering and flow control valves. The Swift’s stainless steel tank should be more reliable and less prone to corrosion and build-up.
From my perspective, I could care less about all this as the real test of these units is in their ability to produce a good supply of hot water. Kylie loves a very hot shower and we found the Suburban incapable of satisfying her, no matter how high I turned up the tempering valve. On the other hand, the Swift seems to provide much hotter water to the point it is almost scalding on the highest setting. This also means better cleaning up after cooking and meals as hotter soapy water dissolves grease and oils better than tepid water.
The other thing I noticed about these two is where the hoses connect. The Swift is on the outside of the unit where the Suburban is at the rear of the tank. In the event these connections leak, the Suburban will leak inside the van causing all manner of problems whereas the Swift will flow safely to the outside. Much better in my opinion.
After having now owned both of these units, I would say the Swift is far superior to the Suburban system. It has a slightly higher storage capacity, its stainless steel tank should be easier to maintain, the access to the front panel is more robust and it definitely produces hotter water. It’s also less likely to cause huge problems if the water connections leak. Both cost about the $800 – $900 mark so price isn’t an issue.