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Old 11-22-2011, 07:47 AM   #1
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Location: Beaverton, OR
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Suburban Water Heater Install

I finally figured it was time to correct a build decision I made back in 2004. Back then I chose to go with the 2 1/2 gallon electric water heater. It has worked fine, I just wanted something more for boon-docking. I decided to go with the Suburban SW6DE, this is the six gallon, direct spark (no pilot) ignition, with electric. It went for $326.00 at You have to purchase the door separately. I went with the propane water heater cause because I already have propane for my furnace and cook top. Adding the electric heating option seemed to be a no brainier because I already had a circuit for an electric water heater.

Now on to the install, I have an 2004 ford EB with a custom aisle floor plan. The current furnace is mounted in a Closet(D) cabinet with the water heater being just forward of that in a Galley(B) cabinet (under the sink)

For my install I decided it would be better to move the furnace forward, under the sink, and have the water heater take up the space previously used by the furnace. First, the water heater needed the larger space, I also believe the water heater door fits better towards the back of the EB. Second, in the evening the porta-potti comes out and sits in front of the furnace. I don't usually run it at night, but like to be able to switch it on in morning when needed. Moving it forward will get better airflow for the furnace. After removing the old appliances I had a better idea in what was up was in store for this project.

First I needed to plug a couple of holes in the floor left by the old water heater plumbing. I used elevator bolts with a washer and nyloc nut. Similar to how the cabinet brackets are bolted to the floor. I used butyl rubber to aid in sealing the mess. I also took the time to change the SMB plastic thru-floor sleeve with some marine thru-hull fittings by Forespar, CF 251 1/2 for the copper gas line and cf251 3/4 in for the water line. The water line was going to have to move also, I started to take down the cabinets to make more room to work. I was kind of happy that SMB uses the L-brackets for their cabinet making at that point.

First I enlarged the existing whole in the paneling for furnace so it would fit the water heater. I found that I would need to trim some additional interior metal wall also. The ground for the furnace was attached to the metal body here. With hole cut, back cabinets removed and rear trim removed I was able to see how the water pipe was running. I made one tie wrap cut and was able to bend the pipe at a tighter arc and make the water line come down between the new water heater and furnace locations. I also moved the electrical outlet out the paneling and was also able to run it back into the water heater area. I decided to fill the whole vacated by the 110 plug with a low voltage outlet and use a blank face plate with a grommet to run the wires for the furnace. I also move the ground attachment for the furnace behind the outlet. At least now if I were to have ground connection issues I can get to the attachment. At this time I also decided to cut a hole for air between the adjacent cabinets to allow additional air flow for the fresh air return of the furnace, that is located on the rear top and sides of the furnace.

The Suburban NT instructions refer to having 1" of clearance on one side, 8" on the other, and 1" on top. If you don't you need to provide adequate ducting to not restrict intake air. Well I have 1" in on one side and about 2 1/2" on the other, I gave myself 2" on top. Since these things are notorious for having difficulty not firing up with low voltage, I figure I would do everything I could to make sure airflow was not an issue. I also added 11 1 1/2" vents to the front for extra intake air.

Now was a good time to run copper gas for the furnace. To stay within RIVA rules I believe the gas line Tee's need to be on the outside of the van, So my Thru-hull fitting was added right above the existing gas line. I removed the existing line between the Stove T-Connection and Furnace elbow, I added another T-Connection where the new furnace location would be, the old furnace elbow would now attach to the water heater.After completing the new T insert, it was time to build the new service lines. I put a the flair on one end I pushed it thru the thru-hull fitting and started making the bends necessary to make the attachment to the furnace, and of course add the flair nut.

Now that that was out of the way it was time to look at the water heater. After cutting out the interior metal wall that was still in the way, I proceeded to drill some corner relief holes. I swear this part took the longest, I must have measured twenty times before I committed to cutting the hole in the side of the van. One the holes were cut it was just a matter of finishing with a jig saw, I must say it cut the metal like butter. I was very happy to see that the hole was good and that the door would fit.

From this to this

Now I had to start putting the cabinets back together. I needed to cut a hole between the two cabinets for both the cold and hot water, I chose to cut a U in the back so I could easily remove the panel again, without worry about removing water lines

Now I started to turn to the wiring, I chose to put switch to turn on the water heater up and the side of the closet. The wires ran through the paneling and up and out . The upper wires would be covered by a false top that covers up the actuator for electric top.

The next step was wire in the AC and then turn to the plumbing. I had already put a tee in the fresh water pipe and has one end going up to sink and the other going out in front of the water heater. I also purchased a Hot Water Tank By Pass kit, Since the water heater is in a cabinet adjacent to the back door, I decided to put in some sort of water port. I had found this one by D&W Incorporated at . Note: There web site is difficult to navigate at best, if you order from them remember to order the paper catalog.
You can also order directly from

It has a quick connect piece to attach to a hose

Now I donít have to hook to the hose to the faucet to wash down the dogs, kids, etc. The plumbing is really just a lot of planning, You can really and should do the majority outside of the van. I used in most cases the Apollo Pro Crimp rings, they secures crimp ring position on pipe, and guarantee proper placement. The fittings and tools I ued were also made by Apollo plumbing.

Before applying the silicon to the water heater door, I also wrapped the edges of the cut out with butyl rubber.

I painted the door with a rattle can.

Now it was time to tighten all the fittings, get the soap bucket and test for leaks. Once I verified that all things were working well, I put silicon in the thru-hull connectors and dressed up the copper tubing.

It was actually a fun project, but it took a little longer than I expected. I used a common array of tools, with the PEX tools being really the only ones that were specialized and that I needed purchase.


2004 E350 EB V10 E/PH 2WD
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Old 11-22-2011, 09:06 AM   #2
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Re: Suburban Water Heater Install

Very nice write up. I'd never heard of elevator bolts before and had to look them up. Cutting a whole that large in the side of my van would really make me nervous. Kudos on the work.

Open the pod bay doors Hal.

Once I exit Hal, this is what I do.
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Old 11-24-2011, 07:07 AM   #3
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Re: Suburban Water Heater Install

Great job !
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