What do you do when your Atwood water heater tank needs leaks?

View of Atwood water heater that has been repaired from inside a camper.

A good many RVs have water heaters made by Atwood with either 6 or 10 gallons tanks. Atwood water

If the tank has to be exposed, everything on the outside of the water heater has to be removed.

heaters work just fine, but have no tolerance for freezing temperatures. Forget to drain the water heater during a freeze and you will end up having the existing tank welded, installing a new tank, or buying a entire water heater.

Naturally most dealerships would prefer to sell you an entire water heater. Since my business plan depends on trying to find ways to save my customers money and because I am fast at pulling and installing water heaters, I always try to have the existing tank repaired. Did you know you can have the tank welded, if it splits during a freeze? Most folks didn’t know and most dealers won’t tell you.

If you are lucky, as I was with the water heater in the graphics, I did not have to disassemble the water heater as the split was where the element screws into the tank. If the split is not readily visible, it will be necessary to take everything off the front (exterior side) of the water heater to completely expose the tank. On a good day, I can normally do that in 15 minutes or less and can put everything back together in about 20-30 minutes, after the tank is welded. You do have to install new clamp rings, which go over the burner tube on both ends. Not always easy the first time, but they basically are tapped into place until they fit tightly down on the burner tube clamping it to the pan.

A welded tank will last every bit as long as the new tank, but next time, try to remember to drain the water heater. :)

Questions or comments are welcome in the comment box. I will get back to you!

Steve (Mobility RV Service 423.341.8792)

 

 

14 thoughts on “What do you do when your Atwood water heater tank needs leaks?

  1. thanks for the confidence boost in wanting to just get it welded, I am going to try it through a professional welder. i got a crack at the base after not winterizing properly. I was originally scared not to weld after reading posts about it expanding and contracting. from your picture of the tank and where your weld was, my weld will be needed on the opposite side of that base. Is that any more difficult? Will we still have to mess with any rings or have to completley take the tank out and disconnect from the other elements or just pull tank far enough out while still connected and then weld? Lastly the styrofoam didnt make it is that a big deal? Thank you again for you service to the rv industry
    - The Orton Family

    • Whether your tank has to be removed from the mounting pan depends on if the split is accessible without disassembly. Taking things apart is not a big deal, if you take your time, although most dealers simply prefer to sell you a complete new water heater. Getting the rings back in place takes patience and many do-it-yourselfers simply leave them off, but they are there to seal the inside of the camper in the event something catches fire.

      The styrofoam can be purchased separately. It insulates the tank so the water heater cycles on and off less often and isulates the living area from the heat the heater gives off, but serves no additional purpose. In the past, water heaters used to come wrapped in an insulated cardboard, before they went to the foam.

      Good luck,

      Steve

  2. Hi, I have a Winnebago Rialta 2004 and an Atwood water heater. In the Rialtas the water also gets heated by the engine coolant that comes around the water heater through an extended pipe directly from the engine. I have a leak of coolant that is staining my carpet. The leak seems to be inside the heater box rather than the outside pipe connections and in the Rialtas everything is so difficult to access. We actually don’t use the heater. How difficult is to get rid of it completely? That way it would be easier to deal with the coolant leak. Please help! And thanks, Margarita

    • Your leak is unusual, although not impossible. The fix is simple and costs next to nothing. On your water heater you have two connections for the coolant and two for the water. Make sure you know which is which. One hose goes in and one comes out of the water heater for the coolant, it makes no difference which is which so don’t worry about it. To bypass the water heater simply disconnect each hose and connect them using a plastic or brass connection with a male end on each side like you can find at Lowes or Home Depot. That way the coolant just flows through the hose and back to the engine.

      Now, here are the cautions. First you want to make sure the engine has not been recently run as if it has been, the coolant will be scalding hot and will burn the crap out of you. Engine coolant is often hotter than boiling as the engine is a pressurized system. That means a potential trip to the hospital burn unit if you do not pay attention to what I am writing here.

      Secondly, since the system is, or can be under pressure, I would put a clamp on the hose back far enough so I could fit the coupling in, and then I would pinch the hose down as much as possible without splitting it. Since you will not be sure which is the inlet and outlet, I would clamp each side. I would also have something in which to collect coolant that might come out and I would try to disconnect the hoses from the water heater slowly. Now as you do this, you have to remember your water heater is also full of coolant so you will have to have a plan to drain it. It is difficult for me to go much further without seeing the hose arrangement for your water heater.

      Now please note what I am suggesting here has been done for years, so I am not inventing anything new, but if you do not fully understand any part of what I am saying, have a technician do this for you and do not attempt to do it yourself. I do not want you to get burned and do not want you to make a total mess with coolant spraying all over your carpet (and I will not accept any liability, if you go about this incorrecty)! Remember, folks like me get paid to do things that can be dangerous or can cause damage.

      Now in order to avoid a load of “how about doing it this way or that way”, yes there are a ton of options as to how to go about this and I described coupling the hoses behind the water heater as that is what most owners do. In an ideal world, it would be best to actually drain the hoses and the water heater by removing the lines where they tee off the engine, but most folks have a hard time figuring out which is what. It also would be better to cut lines and drain the system where there is no carpet, if that is possible. Every RV is different, and just in case you are wondering, I think running coolant through the water heater addresses an issue that is entirely unnecessary and simply sets owners up for problems down the road, a worthless gimmick, if you will.

      Again, an aged hose or a bad connection that drips only when the engine is running and the system is pressurized is a far more likely possibility.

      Good luck,

      Steve

    • Remember the ring kit is for a new tank without the ring behind the pan on the burner and exhaust tubes, but if you just pulled it and had it welded, you most likely left the rear rings in place so you only need two to go on the outside of the pan.

      Steve

    • No, I pull the water heater, Only takes about 15 minutes. Depending on where the break is, it is not always even necessary to break it down to weld the tank. Takes another 15 minutes to put it back in. I have only had two tanks in the last five years that were so badly split they could not be welded.

      Steve

      • OK, great! I’ve got one to fix right away. We just bought it and it had not been winterized properly. Thanks for putting this info on the internet!

        • I always use the same welding shop and it normally costs me about $45.00 to get the tank welded. If I had to disassemble the heater, it costs about $20.00 for the ring kit to put it back together. If this is your first one, note which wire goes where and pay attention as you disassemble it.

          Good luck,

          Steve

    • Putting new rings on an Atwood after retanking or having a leaker welded is really a pain the first time you do one. Do enough of em and it only takes about 15 minutes to get the whole thing back together. I actually called tech support at the factory, by the way, to see if they had any tips and the person I spoke with had no idea how to go about it. I will also tell you a lot of dealers and techs will not retank and even try to put one back together, so you are not alone, if you are having trouble. It is far more common to sell you an entire water heater.

      The bottom burner tube that is straight cut is the simplest, while if you have one of the older model tanks with the taper cut on the exhaust tube, that one is the toughest. Normally I start them somewhat tilted and tap them on going around using a flat tipped punch and a small ball pean hammer. I hold the tank in place while doing this by setting it in a plastic waste basket that conforms to the sides of the tank so the tank can not move about. Sometimes as you do this, the ring will stretch so it is not a tight fit, so after I push it all the way down into place, I drill an 1/8″ hole just past the ring and put a #8 screw in the tube so the ring can not slip back off.

      In my work, I see a lot of units where the rings have been left off, which is always a mistake. The rings are there as fire stops and without them, if the water heater were to catch fire, there is a possibility the flames could get out of the outside water heater pan and into the camper. The same would hold true if there was a gas leak.

      I know this can be really frustrated (and I always carry a spare set of rings with me just in case I mess one ring up), but I am sure you can do it, if you take your time.

      Good luck,

      Steve (Mobility RV Service 423-341-8792)

  3. Hi I have a 6 gallon Atwood LPG Pilot Tank Model.
    Winterized, Drained the Tank over Winter, and placed the water into bypass.
    Yesterday, I turned on the water supply and Started up the Water Heater..
    After 15 minutes or so I realized that the water Hot water tap was still running cold, and the water tank was in bypass..
    I un-bypassed the water tank, and allot of air came out the nearest hot water tap. After an hour the water is luke warm, and the burner is running continuously. Noticed there is water dripping slowly from the inside of the burner tube..
    Is the burner tube damaged, and water leaking into the burner tube evaporating and preventing the water in the tank from heating up in 1/2 hour as per normal ?
    Is the burner tube replaceable or repairable ?

    Sean

    • Hi Sean,

      The burner tube is not replaceable, but I have never seen one leak in 15 years of service work and am wondering if that is the problem. On a 6-gallon pilot model, I would not expect more than warm water in 30 minutes and would not expect it to be fully hot for a couple of hours. Remember that flame is only about 8,000 btu

      You are going too fast. First verify the water heater is full of water by opening the temperature pressure relief valve on the outside of the water heater. Does water immediately run out?

      Make sure the bypass is totally closed and the inlet and outlet valves are completely open.

      You are worrying about things I regard as highly unlikely, if not impossible, so let’s do this one step at a time.

      Steve

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