How To Heat An RV Without PropaneAnthony Day
Propane isn't always the best way to keep your RV warm. You might use electric heaters, solar panels, or a wood stove instead. Insulation also matters.
Propane works reasonably well, but it can be more expensive, and you can run out of propane in cold weather. Alternative power sources are often better. Besides other power sources, there are many other ways to keep your RV warm in cold weather.
Alternatives to propane include space heaters for individual rooms, oil radiators, wood stoves, and electric blankets. Insulation also makes a huge difference. The better insulated your RV is, the cheaper it is to heat it.
From electric heat pumps to solar panels, each of the different alternatives has advantages and disadvantages. If you know a little about the options, you can choose the right way to heat your RV. There are also some common safety precautions for heaters and generators that you should know about.
As someone who has lived and traveled in RVs for years, I know how important it is to insulate them properly. Though it is not quite a bad source of heating, propane is not the best for most people. Do everything you can to trap as much heat in your RV as possible and use a cheap, reliable power source.
Bring A Generator
Electricity is a better way to heat your RV than propane. You should always have a gas generator with you as an option. You can run heaters on the batteries for a while, but they will run out.
If you stay in the same spot for any time and you cannot charge your batteries there, you will need a generator. You might also need a generator when you don't expect to need it. Take a gas/diesel generator with you, even if your RV's batteries are usually enough.
What Are The Advantages of Electric Heating?
While propane heaters can sometimes be cheaper than electric heaters, this is not the case if you are staying at an RV park. If you can use the electricity at the park as part of a flat rate you pay, heating using electricity is a much better idea.
If you are doing something like cold weather camping, a propane heater can be better than running a generator all the time. However, most people with RVs are better off with electric heaters most of the time. A lot of the time, the electricity at an RV park is "free" - you only pay for the campsite, and you can use a lot of power and not be charged extra.
The best thing about electric heating is that you can heat specific rooms instead of your entire living area with a propane heating system. You will often waste energy heating the entire RV with propane to heat only one room. Either using only electric heaters or having both propane and electric heating is the best choice for most people.
Is Propane Heating Good Technology?
Most propane heating systems use ducts to heat your entire RV. This can be cost-efficient if you would otherwise have to pay for electricity, but you cannot heat only one room at a time with these systems.
Propane heaters are also not very efficient - about 70% of the fuel burned actually heats your RV; the rest is wasted.
On another level, many people say that propane heating is cheaper. If you are always going to be paying for electricity or using a generator, a propane heater or wood stove might be a better idea than an electric furnace. You might also consider solar panels if electric heating is expensive at the places you are staying.
In my experience, electricity is cheaper. The lower cost estimates for propane assume that 1) you will always want to heat your whole RV and 2) you will rarely get free electricity included in your total bill. With electric heaters, you also don't have to go out of your way to buy more propane.
Some People Use Both Propane and Electric
Some RV owners have both propane heating ducts and portable electric heaters. This way, you can alternate back and forth between the two depending on which is cheaper. If you are staying somewhere where the power isn't free, and you can't rely on your batteries, you can switch to propane.
Alternative Heating Sources
As well as electricity, you can use a wood stove to heat your RV. There are many types of electric and solar heating systems, each with different advantages. Simply buying thicker blankets can also lower your heating bills.
While space heaters are somewhat inefficient in terms of how much heat they produce for what they cost to run, they still have their advantages. Space heaters are cheap and widely available - if you need a heating solution quickly, you can find inexpensive portable space heaters anywhere. Space heaters are also great if you need heat only in specific rooms.
Sometimes, people buy heaters that turn out to be inadequate. Measure your rooms first - you need enough heating power per square foot of space to heat a room adequately. You will need more than one space heater to heat your entire RV.
Don't assume that space heaters are always safe because they are electric. If you use space heaters carelessly, you might start a fire. You should use space heaters when you are inside the RV; you should not run them for a long time when you are away from them.
Are Space Heaters Worth It?
Anyone can install a space heater with no skills - you buy it, plug it in, turn it on, and it works. Many of them are also small, so you can fit them into an RV with limited space, and you can move them around easily. You can usually adjust how much power the heater uses and how much energy it uses.
Space heaters are best for heating one room per heater, not the entire RV, as the heat doesn't always circulate from room to room well. You also need to be careful where you place your space heater. The heat can damage furniture or laminated flooring, and it can be hard to find a good spot to place the heater.
Use An Oil Radiator
Oil radiators are good heaters if you want to keep the heat on for a long time. Electricity makes the oil inside them heat up, and the temperature remains constant and keeps your room warm. They are similar to space heaters and are mostly for heating a single room and not your whole RV.
The one watt per square foot rule also applies to oil radiators. If you are heating a 75-square-foot room, you need roughly 75 watts. You may need more power if your room is not well-insulated.
A disadvantage of oil radiators is that they take a long time to start/stop producing heat. After you turn your radiator on, it may take 20 or more minutes before the oil gets hot enough to produce much heat. These heaters also continue to produce heat for 20 or 30 minutes after you turn them off.
Use A Wood Stove
Many people don't even think of wood stoves when considering how to heat their RVs. Wood stoves are an underrated choice. Depending on where you are taking your RV, it can be easy to find wood.
Many people and some businesses give scrap wood away for free, so you can use it for most of your heating needs in many or most places without spending anything. Wood can be even better than electric. You might not want to let it be your only source of power - have an electric or propane heating system as a backup plan.
Electric Heat Pumps
Heat pumps are a good, efficient choice unless the weather is very cold, in which case they might not be good enough. If you already have air conditioning, you might already have a heat pump. They sit at the top of your RV and move heat from the outside (even if it is cold) into your RV.
RV heat pumps are more efficient than space heaters and run on electricity, so heating is free wherever the electricity is. Heat pumps are more or less running an air conditioner in reverse. Hot air is pumped into rather than pumped out of the RV.
Hydronic Heating Systems
Hydronic heating systems can help you heat your RV cheaply in the long run. While hydronic heating systems are expensive and complicated to install, they may save enough money to make them worth it in the long run.
A hydronic heating system heats the RV through the water lines. They are often powered by electricity, which is usually generated by the RV's engine. They drain your RV's battery, so you will have to be careful when you use them.
Even if you like to fix or install things yourself, you might get a professional to install a hydronic heating system. It is complicated and usually only for an RV mechanic who has done it before.
Radiant flooring heats your RV from underneath the floor using electric circuits. Radiant flooring is energy-efficient and runs on your RV's electrical system. Radiant flooring is safer than space heaters are.
Radiant flooring is not good enough for very cold temperatures. If the temperature goes below freezing for a long time, radiant flooring may not be enough.
Another reason why electricity can be cheaper than propane is that you can use solar panels to generate electricity for free. Solar panel technology is vastly better than it was a few decades ago and is good enough to keep your RV's electricity running.
The main problem with solar panels is that they don't produce much electricity on a day when the sun isn't shining brightly. Depending on how powerful your solar panels are and how much electricity you use, panels might be enough if you manage your power supply carefully.
If you are at a location where the electricity isn't free, you might use the panels on most days but pay for electricity if the sky is overcast and you are low on power. Solar panels are best if you have a large RV that has room for more than one panel.
Warm Blankets and Hot Water Bottles
Sometimes, these simple and low-tech methods will keep you warm enough at night that you will be perfectly comfortable without needing to run heaters continuously. Your blankets should be particularly warm, not only somewhat.
Replace your thin blankets with thick down comforters, and cool air might not bother you during the night. If it is genuinely cold, you will need heat, but a lot of the time, a simple blanket is warm enough.
Boiled water will stay hot in water bottles for a long time, so you can use them to stay warm. You can also get electric water bottles that you plug into an outlet. If there are any cold drafts in your home, you can hang blankets up to block them.
It doesn't always need to be t-shirt weather inside your RV when it's cold outside. If you wear sweatshirts and cotton pants indoors, you won't have to run the heat continuously.
During the spring and fall, when it is sometimes but not usually cold at night, you might use heated blankets as your main source of warmth. Heated blankets only require a 12V and not 120V power source and are a cheap way to heat your RV in a season where the day is warm and the night is cool.
Don't over-rely on heated blankets. If you get up during the night, it may be more than a little cold in your RV. After a certain point, you need better heating than a heated blanket.
Part of the point of propane/electric/wood heating is that it keeps the lines and tanks in your RV from freezing. An electric blanket will do nothing to prevent any of your lines from freezing solid. Don't try to rely on warm clothing, hot water bottles, or electric blankets in winter temperatures.
Some dehumidifiers double as heaters. Although most dehumidifiers do not keep you warm, they are relevant if you are using an RV in cold weather.
There may be a lot of condensation inside of your RV if you sleep in it, so everyone needs a dehumidifier. You might as well get a dehumidifier that produces heat as well as reduces condensation. You probably can't use a dehumidifier as your main heating source, but you can save power with a dehumidifier that doubles as a heater.
Insulation Matters As Much as Heating
If you do a poor job insulating your RV, it will be expensive to heat it, regardless of what power source you use. Doing an excellent job insulating an RV can be harder than insulating a house. RV walls don't keep the heat in nearly as well as house walls do.
Your RV almost certainly already has some fiberglass or foam insulation. However, some RVs are much less well insulated than others. Insulation is often inadequate unless you improve it before using your RV in cold temperatures.
Make Necessary Repairs
First, you want to look for any damage that needs to be fixed. Things like small cracks and gaps might seem like they aren't a big deal, but they can let cold air get through.
Sometimes, you might need to make bigger rather than smaller repairs. You could need new windows, or even a new roof to keep the cold out. Other times, merely sealing a few cracks is enough.
You might need to open up your walls and add more insulation. Look for cracks and use foam seal insulation to fix them. You may be able to do this yourself without hiring a professional to do it.
Prevent Drafts in Windows
You might solve most or all of your problems heating your RV if you seal your doors and windows properly. Sliding doors, in particular, can allow cold drafts to get through. Cold air can also get in around your storage cabinet unless you put more foam or fiberglass insulation behind it.
You might also use plastic shrink wrap to cover your windows. It doesn't look great, but it does work. At least in the short run, you might fit transparent plastic wrap tightly over your windows to keep the cold out.
Your door might also let a cold draft in. Sometimes, hiring a professional to insulate it properly is the best way to permanently fix the problem. In the short run, you might use plastic wrap and a draft stopper to stop cold drafts.
Insulate Vents and Pipes
Vents and pipes are other places where cold often gets through. Get insulation, get heat tape, or get a hatch vent insulator to keep the cold out. The water pipes under your RV might freeze unless you insulate them.
While every RV comes with some insulation, not every RV is adequate for cold weather use. Your RV will often need some work before you can use it in the winter in a cold area.
Instead of using radiant flooring to generate heat, you might use ordinary foam flooring to keep the heat in. Foam mats are cheap and easy to find. They absorb heat, so your RV will stay warm for a while after you turn the heat off.
Safety Issues With Heaters
Space heaters are the most dangerous. While they are not so dangerous that you should avoid using them, you do need to be more careful with them than with other heating sources.
Space heaters are responsible for tens of thousands of fires and thousands of hospitalizations every year. Again, this does not mean you shouldn't use them, but you do have to use precautions and recognize them as unsafe.
Don't put things like newspapers or anything else flammable near a space heater. Use space heaters when you are in the RV and rely on another source of power when you are away from it. If your power outlet is slowly becoming charred or discolored, it needs to be replaced, or else it may cause a fire eventually.
About THE AUTHOR
Hi, my name is Anthony, and RVs are what I'm passionate about. I bought my first RV when I was 21, and I've been hooked ever since. I'll guide you on how they work, how they can be used in different environments, and how they fit into our everyday lives.Read More About Anthony Day