Forest River Water Heater Operation Guide (How To Turn On)

RV makers rarely build their own components. They buy them in large quantities to help cut their costs. One of those large purchases is water heaters. Forest River seems to be a majority of Suburban water heaters for most of their RV models.

You will find the operating instructions after the installation instructions in the owner’s manuals. These instructions are very simple to follow and the key is in the first step- make sure the water heater is full of water before turning it on.

To learn more about how to operate a Forest River water heater, just continue to read our article. It delves into the topic to make sure you have the best information possible. Take a few minutes to get this information so you will always know how to operate your RV’s water heater.

Forest River How To Turn On The Water Heater


There are at least 2 models of water heaters that Forest River installs. Unfortunately, we can only provide operating instructions for two of those models. There are up to 10 steps to light this component.

1. Direct Vent Gas Water Heater Models

The first thing you need to know about these models is that it does not have a pilot light. It has an automatic lighting system so you cannot light it by hand. Some of the steps will be the same for both models described here:

Step 1- turn off all power to the water heater

Step 2- turn off the gas supply and wait 5 minutes for the gas to clear

Step 3- after 5 minutes turn the power and gas supply back on

Step 4- turn the switch on the water heater to the ‘on’ position. If the burner fails to light, you will have two more tries before lockout

Step 5- if the lockout occurs, shut off the water heater switch for 5 seconds and then turn it back on. The system will reset during that time.

Step 6- if the burner fails to light, call a Suburban repair shop for help.

2. Porcelain Lined Steel Tank RV Water Heaters

Step 1- follow the first three steps listed above. This model also does not have a pilot light so do not try to light the water heater by hand

Step 2- locate the switch plate for the water heater. This can be located anywhere in your RV or trailer

Step 3- once found, push the rocker switch marked gas to the on position

Step 4- you will have 3 attempts to light the burner before lockout

Step 5- if you reach the lockout, push the rocker switch to off and wait 5 seconds before turning it back on again. This will reset the device.

Step 6- if the burner fails to light, make sure there is water in the tank, the gas supply is turned on, and make sure the reset button is in the right position.

Step 7- if you still cannot light the burner, call a Suburban technician to help diagnose the problem.

Forest River Hot Water Heater Operation


The water heaters are designed to be at default below 4500 feet above sea level. No modifications are needed to operate these heaters and the above instructions will suffice. Just make sure you fill the tanks with water.

The modifications come in when you go above 4500 feet above sea level. The appliance needs to be derated 4% for every thousand feet above that level. Not above the 4500 cut-off marker but above sea level.

That means you will need to derate the water heater 20% at 5000 feet above sea level and 32% when you are at 8000 feet above sea level. If you do not do this modification, you will not get sufficient oxygen to burn the fuel properly.

That will lead to all types of problems. To get the proper derate instructions, the manual says to contact a Suburban manufacturing outlet, your local gas company, your RV dealer, or a service center.

Then when you return to an area that is 4500 feet or lower above sea level, reverse the derate to make sure the water heater works like it is supposed to. Then when you have an electric water heater in your unit, always make sure to fill the tank with water before turning it on.

The manual states that even a brief operation without water can burn out the element.

Forest River Water Heater Switch

There will be different types of switches in different RVs and trailers. Below is just one option and yours may be designed a little bit differently.


Notice the reset button next to the on button. This could be a rocker switch or a switch you need to press to get the water heater turned off and then press again to turn it off.

The 2013 Aviator from Forest River has the rocker-style switch. This is an easy-to-operate device that should only take 15 seconds to light the burner. The reset is easy to do if the water heater’s burner does not light after 3 tries. You will be put in lock out but it is not a serious issue to deal with.

Just make sure that before you light any model of water heater in your Forest River RV, you do not smell gas in the area. It is best to shut the gas off and let it clear before attempting to restart after a lock out.

Some Additional Words

Water heater operation is made simple by water heater manufacturers. They know that you have other things on your mind and try to make this operation as user-friendly as possible.

The instructions to turn your water heater are usually found in the manual after the installation instructions. You can find the two manuals we used here and here.

Also, Forest River has a list of component manuals you can access if these two links do not cover your model. Just click here to get to that web page.

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