Heaters for the RV

heaters

How To Stay Warm In Winter

STAYING COMFY IN A RV DURING THE WINTER MONTHS IS ALWAYS A CHALLENGE. EVEN THE SNOWBIRDS THAT GO WAY SOUTH ARE SOMETIMES CONFRONTED WITH A COLD SPELL OF A FEW DAYS.

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Staying warm during such a period can be difficult, yet good planning of your van conversion will keep your Cargo Van and you nice and cozy.

coldHeating issues are common in RV’s, where manufacturers seldom make an extra effort to upgrade the wall, floor and ceiling insulation, which leaves the occupant vulnerable when no electricity is available. With full hook-ups there is seldom a problem, yet many of us with smaller sized RV’s frequently like to boondock and are struggling to stay comfortable.

And all of us with a recreational vehicle endure the troubles with our windows. No double-paned windows as we see in our homes, which makes it too warm in summer and too cold in winter. And lots of condensation all-year long.

So before choosing the right heater, improve your wall and window insulation and perhaps get a few more blankets.

As with the entire website, this article focuses on Cargo Vans, but its content is relevant for other RV’s as well.

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Heaters
campgroundThey usually depend on where you go camping and may be built-in or portable.

First determine how you plan to use the heater; is it just for 15 minutes in the morning, just to warm up or do you expect cold spells of multiple days. Then choose the correct type of furnace. Especially with cargo vans the source for heat, like propane or diesel, is not always available and may limit your choices.

As with any fuel source in or around your RV, ALWAYS install fire and carbon monoxide alarms inside. They are inexpensive, easy to install and run on batteries.


Electrical
Inexpensive to buy, yet costly to operate, these heaters are easy to use and make temperatures comfortable if you are hooked up to 110V AC. Good when you’re in a campground.

Portable Propane
catalyticWithout an already built-in fuel source available, portable heaters are the way to go. Most are the radiant type, which radiate heat in waves to the object they hit and often operate on propane cartridges, while some can be connected to a regular propane bottle.

Catalytic heaters require no electricity to operate, thus preserving the RV’s batteries and since there is no open flame, they consume less propane.

They do consume oxygen and ventilation is a must to avoid asphyxiation and lessen the chance of condensation inside the van. Look for a model that has an auto-shutoff switch, in case of a tip over or even a lower oxygen level.

Built-in
propexThese units require an integrated fuel tank, like an underfloor propane tank or separate bottles, which have the added advantage that they can supply fuel for cooking, a water heater, etc.
A blowing fan makes for whole-vehicle warming with a thermostat on the wall.

A Suburban furnace comes standard with many RV’s; they suck your batteries empty and are loud.

A Propex heater can be installed underfloor, has built-in exterior venting with low amperage and does well on high altitude.


dickinsonAn alternative would be a Dickinson marine furnace (video) that features a beautiful, intimate open fire suitable for RV’s. It is cold to the touch and has outside ventilation. The biggest disadvantage for small recreational vehicles is the amount of space lost for proper installation.

Diesel
Those who are fortunate enough to drive with a diesel engine, could opt for an expensive, but well proven heater from Eberspacher or Webasto. These cabin heaters pump up from the vehicle’s fuel tank or from a separate tank. Has to be adjusted for high altitude and needs annual service when used frequently.

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9 comments

  1. IN EXPIDITING. LOOKING TO RAISE A ROOF ON A USED E-350 EXTENDED CARGO VAN AND INSULATE. ALSO LOOKING FOR HEATING OPTIONS. SUGGESTIONS? WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?

  2. INTERESTED IN CONVERTING E-350 EXTENDED CARGO VANS WITH; 1. RAISING ROOF, 2. INSULATING 3. HEATING OPTIONS

    1. I think that the article above gives a good overview of your heating options. But before thinking about heating, you should focus on insulation. In addition to the walls, both floor and ceiling need your attention and after finishing your conversion, don’t forget suitable treatments for your windows.

      Installing a raised roof requires some serious knowledge and professional abilities and probably is better left to the professionals. A fixed roof addition would be preferable, as one that you can raise and lower may pose additional heating problems during the colder part of the year.

      BTW I’m just a private person, with some experience in converting a cargo van and currently in the process of doing it again with a new European style van. I’m located in Central Florida.

  3. What’s the hack for overriding MB’s thermostatically and ignition-restricted fuel fired booster? Seems so similar to the diesel heaters so often promoted. Mine does smell of diesel and I’m not a fan of polluting that much…
    But, the lower condensation inside is attractive.
    BTW: I’ve had my ’16 144 for 5 days. Waited five months for it to be built. Happy so far.

    1. I’ve had the same waiting period with mine; too long for my taste, but at least, you get exactly what you wanted. And congratulations with your new van!
      As you probably know, I have a 2016 Ford Transit 148 LWB MR and I have only a general knowledge of Sprinters. Couldn’t advise you on your problem, except to visit the Sprinter forum and post your question there.

      Van Williams

  4. I really want to start spraying foam in strategic deep crevices in my five day old 144″. The beeswax sprayed in at the bottom 6″ of all the exterior walls has me concerned. I wonder what filling that with spray foam would do. Would I be blocking the exit for any condensation that does form?
    I have a theory: Except that the whole steel member be insulated from the inside, won’t each member act as a transmitter of coldness or heat? Or, does the glop of adhesive between the exterior sheet metal and the ribs cut down on that dynamic?
    Theory: you just gotta insulate from the inside to the innermost steel. Everything outside that is connected to the exterior and will conduct the temps between the inside and the outdoors. Yes?

    1. Insulation is an endless conversation piece. Too many topics and too many opinions. I’ve written several article about it; just do a search for it on the website.
      In general, one tries too prevent contact between a cold and a warm(er) surface by creating a break or airspace beyween them. And yes, a steel member wil conduct, but you try to minimize that. Always remember that in a van, there are so many places that allow heat/cold to enter the vehicle (around the doors, the a/c vents, etc.) so 100% is unrealistic.
      Don’t know about the bees wax; never heard about that before. What is its purpose?
      The foam will probably not adhere to that, but since it’s only the bottom 6 inches, that wouldn’t worry me too much. The spray foam has at least a few issues: first make sure that it is a closed cell material, otherwise you may invite moisture and rust. Also, a spray foam application can cause the, already very thin sheet metal of the outer skin, to buckle. Once you spray it in, you won’t be able to access that space anymore, like to pull a new wire or repair an old one. Not major problems, just so you know. It is a good insulator though!
      I can only speak about a specific issue that I have in my Transit. I recently found out that any condensation on the inside of my windows flows directly into the wall cavity. To make it worse, there are no weep holes at the bottom of the walls. The only weep holes I could find were in the two front doors. So, I will be creating those myself and very likely I will create an air space at the skin of the vehicle, then a 1-2″ layer of poly-iso, finished with a layer of denim or thinsulate. Close it off with the wall paneling. That way, condensation (which cannot be prevented completely) can flow along the sking down to the new weep holes, keeping the van dry in the long term.

      Van Williams

  5. I’ve been looking at this gas/petrol heater at $1,131 CDN. It’s the only gasoline heater I’ve found. Do you know of any others?

    Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Petrol 12v with universal installation kit
    Fuel type: Petrol / Gasoline
    Voltage: 12 Volts
    Max Power 2.2 kW

    Includes:

    Air Top 2000 STC Heater 12v (Petrol only)
    Electrical harnesses and connections
    Stainless steel exhaust pipe (1m)
    Combustion Intake pipe (1m)
    One 60mm Air outlet
    Plastic fuel pipe,
    Fuel metering pump
    1 metre 60mm flexible ducting
    Air entry and air outlet grills
    Kit supplied with 8mm fuel t-piece
    All necessary clips and screws
    Comprehensive installation manual
    AirTop 2000ST Instruction manual

    1. Hi Angela,
      Besides the one you mentioned, there is also the Espar Airtronic B1/B4, which is generally more expensive. While they look the same, their performance is slightly different, especially at higher elevations.
      I am also looking at the Webasto heater. Both are difficult to find and it’s even harder to find someone to install it. So you may be forced to install it yourself (if you live in the US).
      Van Williams

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