“Selecting An RV Heater (Without Going Broke)”

select rv heater

Journey

My years of living in a travel trailer have long gone by, yet many good memories linger. Traveling along the highways from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia in the North and Mexico to Guatemala in the South.
Visiting many of the well-known and lesser known treasures in North America, often following the seasons to stay comfortable both in winter and summer.
espar airtronic B1LC
Sometimes we ended up in Death Valley in mid-summer with temperatures over 110’F or similar heat in Saskatchewan. And under these circumstances, living and boondocking in an RV, the only thing you can do is open the doors and windows, take it easy and sip on a cold drink.

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More serious was overwintering on Vancouver Island; while mild temperatures abound, humidity and lack of sunshine kept us cool to the bone and kept us contained in a campground on most days. In todays Class B, with much more battery power, some boondocking under these conditions is feasible, but only with the help of a good heater.

My Choice Of Heater

As with many features of a cargo van conversion, need of an appliance is based on the owners requirements. Some campers like to use a heater during the night, others go to snowy winter destinations.
My use is limited to getting rid of the morning or evening chill, which can happen anytime during the year. So the heater is not absolutely necessary, yet can add a lot of comfort to living in a van and that’s one of the goals of this conversion.
Type of heater is also based on fuel availability; Webasto or Espar heaters are the optimal, yet pricey choice for diesel vans, others may choose a Propex built-in propane heater with additional tank. I described many more heating options in this recent article.

I have narrowed down my options to:

Webasto Air Top 2000 ST
Manual altitude correction possible.
Espar Airtronic B1LC
Altitude correction requires a $300 electronic module.
Propex HS2211
Under-floor Installation, but needs an extra propane tank.

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WebastoEsparPropex
ModelAir Top 2000 STAirtronic B1LCHS2211
Locationinteriorinteriorexterior
Fueldiesel/gasgaspropane
Fuel consumption14-28 hrs/gal14-33 hrs/gal3 hrs/lbs
Power consumption1.2-2.4Ah0.8-2.8Ah1.7Ah
Dimensions LxWxH12.2 x 4.7 x 4.7in18 x 8.9 x 4.7in
Weight5 lbs 12 oz6.4 lbs17 lbs

The gas versions of the Webasto Air Top 2000 ST and the Espar Airtronic B1LC are difficult to find in North America and all ‘overpriced’ options of $1000 and up, but much better than the affordable catalytic and other heaters for the RV, that pose a much greater safety risk. webasto air top 2000 STMy van will come with a gas engine and as such I long focused on the propane solution. Since then, the plan to use propane for cooking, was replaced by an induction cooktop, but the fuel source for a water heater, such as the Eccotemp L5 Portable Tankless water heater has not been determined yet.

An equally good solution are the diesel heaters of Espar and Webasto; these appliances are readily available and can be connected directly to the van’s fuel tank. With my gas engine option, I would have to install a dedicated diesel tank, just for that purpose. That doesn’t make it a clean solution and add another couple of hundred dollars to its price tag.

Lately I found out that these diesel heaters have their gasoline equivalents, which are difficult to find and generally even higher priced. This would make it a simple rig without propane and no added complexity, with a single fuel source for the van and heater.

There is the issue that the gasoline version would be more dangerous than the diesel option, but as far as I know, the heater design is identical other than the programming and fuel atomizing screen, with the same safeties built-in. Now is gasoline in general more dangerous than diesel, but propane can be worse yet, while it’s used many more RV’s. We never think twice about that.

propex hs2211These diesel, gas & propane heaters work on similar principals: air intake and exhaust are both ported to the outside which helps preventing condensation and avoids CO2 detectors. Some people do complain about the Espar noise levels, but extra insulation may keep that at acceptable levels.

If I buy the Ford Transit, the Webasto and Espar heaters installation should be a snap, as they can tap right off the Transit’s auxiliary fuel port.

Because this is an high priced item with limited use, I may wait with the installation till the end of this project. I do have to incorporate it into the design as each heater has its own installation requirements. This still allows me to choose a different solution, when my needs change during the conversion.

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7 comments

  1. Did you ever reach a decision on heaters? I’m thinking about doing the propex you suggest, mounting it underneath but maybe keeping the tank inside so it stays warmer in winter. Thoughts?

    1. Originally, my plans were based on propane for heating, cooking and warm water. With a Lithium based system getting more mature, I have chosen to go all-electric. Heating will be supplied (hopefully) by a gas version Espar type system.
      I still find the exterior installed Propex a good system for propane based vehicles. You mentioned “keeping the tank inside so it stays warmer in winter”; that indicates to me, that you might be located in a colder climate location. I’m not really familiar with that, but it could create issues with the propane when it gets too cold. Putting it inside could be one solution, a good insulation of the tank another. I would contact a local propane dealer and ask for his/her opinion. Propane in a colder climate, works much better than solar. That’s the opposite when living in Arizona.

      Van Williams

      1. Propane reverts to liquid near -44 I believe, even higher when under pressure.

        The military in cold places such as Alaska, has switched to jp8 diesel heaters to avoid the freezing issues. If you plan on going anywhere in the -negative temps I would not rely on propane.

  2. I picked up a gasoline Wabasto Air Top 2000 earlier this year and finally got around to installing and testing it in the last few weeks. The shop that I got it from said that with the gas version, there’s actually less problems since they burn much cleaner compared to diesel, so don’t really have issues with carbon build-up.

    1. The heater is probably going to be one of the last things that I will install; since this article was written, I’ve decided to go ‘all-electric’, so the Propex is, while still a very good solution, off my list. I’ve heard the same thing about the gasoline version, less issues than the diesel. Only still difficult to find one.
      Did you install it yourself (especially the connection to the tank) or did you go to an installer?

      Van Williams

  3. I tried finding/buying the Espar but as of last week (supposedly) it’s discontinued. Do you know where I might be able to get one

    1. Hi Kristi,
      There are two heaters that I consider; the Espar and the Webasto (gasoline). While they look alike, they have a lightly different performance.
      I have links to a few sellers (this is not an endorsement – buyer be aware) to set you on the right path:
      http://54.160.74.141/shop/airtop (affiliate link)
      http://54.160.74.141/shop/webasto (affiliate link)
      https://esparparts.com/air-heaters-c-860.html
      https://www.heatso.com/eberspacher-airtronic-b4-12v-4kw-heater-petrol-gasoline/
      https://www.heatso.com/webasto-air-top-2000-stc-gasoline-petrol-12v-heater-kit/
      http://thermokingmichigan.com/products/espar-air-heaters/
      There are several gas models; some work better at high altitudes than others. Good luck and let me know if you succeeded.
      Van Williams

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