There are many reasons you might want to, or need to, heat your camper without electricity. While no one can argue with the impressive efficiency and convenience of campsite hook-ups, sometimes shore power just isn’t an option. Take boondocking, for example. Or more basic campsites that may be a convenient overnight stop.
Apart from shore side availability, cost can be a factor. Some places charge extra for electricity when you’re using heating.
Your inbuilt furnace may be noisy, inefficient and unpractical, forcing you to look at other solutions. Or maybe you just like to be prepared, who knows what could happen especially in bad winter weather.
Whatever your reason, I have the solutions. Read on and check out my thoughts on some alternative heating systems and get the low down on staying warm with my tips and tricks. They are proven to help keep your precious heat from going out the window. Literally!
Here’s my take on how to heat a camper without electricity, wherever you may be.
Propane Radiant Heaters
Ceramic or catalytic propane heaters are the most commonly used backup RV heat source. I say backup as the inbuilt furnace is usually considered the primary source of heat. Over time, many people find their radiant propane heater becomes their go-to heat source.
Practical, quiet, cheap to run, inexpensive to install and purchase, today’s radiant propane heaters are also safe to use.
Fitted with automatic cut-out systems so your oxygen level never gets dangerously low, you won’t need to fear the consequences of using one without the windows open. If it cuts out you just need to make sure you get some fresh air circulating.
As there is no flame, there’s no risk of any harmful gases being released. Other systems that feature a live flame risk creating carbon monoxide, which can be fatal in large enough quantities. This is especially pertinent in an enclosed space like a camper. Carbon monoxide is caused by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels.
However, as they only radiate heat, you’ll have no such worries.
Apart from the obvious fire hazards that apply to any heat source with RVs containing highly combustible materials, modern propane radiant heaters with automatic cut outs are definitely one of the safer options out there.
Radiant propane heaters take up less space than other more bulky systems and portable ones can be stowed out of the way when not needed. Space being important in any mobile home no matter how large. You can also wall mount a slim propane heater with air vents as a permanent heating fixture.
Lastly, radiant propane heaters use less propane than your traditional furnace and they allow you to heat up just part of your RV should you so wish. This also makes them an economical choice. No wonder they’re so popular.
Kerosene heaters are cheap to run and heat up quickly. They are popular for use in cabins and other isolated places. However, upon burning, the kerosene releases an oil-like film that can be dangerous on your electrical equipment in a small space like an RV. Kerosene can also smell strongly when burnt, not something you really want in your home from home.
As you’re burning a fuel, oxygen will be depleted from your living space. You will need to pay particular attention as this can be extremely dangerous in such small quarters. Always use this type of heater with a window open. Burning kerosene can also release carbon monoxide, so you will need to have a carbon monoxide alarm if this is something you’re considering.
Any live flame in as tight a space as a camper is a serious fire hazard, not to mention the high number of extremely flammable materials.
I can’t really safely recommend using a kerosene heater in your RV. Plenty of people have done so and not had any issues, but that doesn’t mean that they’re safe by any means.
As the saying goes, better to be safe than sorry.
Plenty of RVers install solar panels to top up their batteries. This is great for keeping the lights and the power on when you’re boondocking or if you stop off at site without hookups. It’s also free power once you’ve made back what you spent on your setup, inverter and batteries.
However, did you know that it’s possible just to purchase a solar powered heater?
Solar powered heaters include a solar panel that powers the attached heater via sunlight. As with any solar panel, if there’s no or limited sunshine, you’re not going to get much from them. However, in theory solar panels offer unlimited power and you’re going to get good days even in winter.
Solar powered heaters are attractive as they are easy to install and free to use, requiring no other power source. This makes them a good enough buy for many RVers depending on where they intend to be using them, of course. It also offers some their first taste of solar power, the chance to dip their toe in to see if it is likely to work well for them before starting to build up an expensive set up.
These heaters are a great way to gain a little extra heat, but if you’re planning on using solar powered heaters you will need a backup source of heat that is more reliable.
Hydronic Heating Systems
Hydronic heating systems replace your standard RV propane furnace system with a diesel heated boiler. This boiler provides instant hot water which is used for heating alongside your regular uses such as cleaning and showering.
Convenient and easy to use, hydronic heating systems are an increasingly popular choice. They do, however, require a complete rehaul, which doesn’t come cheap. Aside from the price, the boiler and its fuel take up a considerable amount of space although some of this is offset by removing the original set up.
Hydronic systems are renowned for their quiet efficacity. They also allow for multiple heat zones.
Heat exchangers automatically come into action as soon as a drop in temperature is detected. Warm air is evenly distributed throughout the whole zone from the floor and the walls.
If you’ve just purchased an RV and are thinking of redoing it to your taste, then it may be the ideal opportunity to install a hydronic heating system. If, however, you’re happy with your existing set up, you may not really feel like gutting it out completely in order to fit a hydronic system.
There are specially designed mini wood stoves available, ideal for RVs up to 40 feet long. You can either wall mount or floor mount one as required. Smoke exits your living area via the flue which must surpass your roof by one foot.
Mini wood stoves do not only heat up your RV quickly, they can also be used as a stove, saving you money on cooking fuel. I found it to be a great little energy saver and used mine to heat up water for washing up and cleaning too. They also provide a cozy glow and are beautiful focal points. Durable and easy to use, these great little burners have the added bonus of removing humidity from your RV.
Like any installation with a live flame, proper attention must be paid to any fire hazards. You will also need to open a window or have it wall mounted with fresh air intake vents.
Wood stoves provide an eco-friendly way to heat your camper. The mini versions take up little space and are low maintenance. Bear in mind you’ll need a ready supply of wood to burn that’s cut to a suitable size, so make sure you’ll have enough storage.
You can take advantage of the long-lasting heat that the burner gives out after being put out, for warmer starts to winter nights.
There’s not much point heating up your camper if you don’t make sure it’s well-insulated. Even high-end RVs are known to have drafts and poor heat retention. The same reoccurring problem zones apply to all trailers.
My top tips for problem areas will help you to keep your internal temperature well above the exterior temperature. Even overnight, without heating throughout the night.
So, let’s take a look at how you can maximize your camper’s heat retention and stay warm and cozy for longer.
Windows are responsible for a large amount of heat loss from your mobile home. Tape around the opening edges of every window you won’t be opening. Insulation tape will prevent any drafts from getting through and will pull off without marking your interior in time for summer.
When it comes to the window pane itself, I’ve found that rolls of reflective insulation work a treat. You can cut individual pieces for each window and simply insert them between your pane and the blinds. This will help keep your living space warm overnight and during those long winter evenings. Simply remove when you take up your blind.
These pads also work great when you’re out of your RV during hot summer days, helping keep temperatures down by blocking the sunlight.
After windows, doors are one of the main culprits when it comes to heat loss. Fitting shrink plastic kit to the screen door is an excellent and inexpensive way of insulating your door area. Kits are easy to fit and can be taken down in a few minutes for summer.
For maximum efficacity apply shrink plastic to both sides of your screen door.
If you’re not going to be parked up for a great amount of time, there’s little you’ll want to do to the exterior. However, you can place rugs inside to help you stay warm and provide extra comfort.
For those of you wintering in one place, winter skirting can provide an extra layer of insulation and serve as a barrier between your mobile home and the cold ground.
As heat rises, it’s essential that you insulate your hatches. Styrofoam pieces are perfect and can be cut to just the right size, so they squeeze into place, blocking any air currents too. Cheap and effective, they’re also useful to keep the temperature down on hot summer days by blocking out the sun’s rays.
If you have a hatch in your sleeping area, Styrofoam is great for blocking out any unwanted night-time light such as the full moon or street lights. An inexpensive, multi-use buy.
Wrap Up Warm
One of the best, cheapest and most effective ways to keep warm is to pile on the layers. While you may have your heating on for a couple of hours or intermittently, turning it off overnight is often more economical and recommended for safety reasons.
Here’s some of my favorite ways to keep toasty on winter evenings and overnight.
Layer up. A few extra layers, t-shirts, long underwear, sweaters, any items of clothing will do. Adding layers traps extra air that works as an insulator, keeping you warmer.
Hats are definitely the way to go. Not only do is the largest proportion of heat lost from the head, nothing says winter cozy quite like a snuggly beanie. For extra warmth on those sub-zero nights, wear it to bed.
Thick warm socks are also a must to keep your extremities protected.
Clothing aside, make sure you have plenty of warm blankets and bedding. If you’re struggling to stay warm even under the covers, try a sleeping bag. Built for camping and extreme conditions, you’ll definitely feel the difference as their body-embracing design stops heat from escaping.
Cooking. A hearty meal will not only warm you up, running your stove or cooker will also heat up your living space. Slow cooked meals will taste twice as good if you savor them with the oven door ajar after switching it off.
Partition your space for efficient, quick heating.
If you have a large camper or RV, just heating one particular area will cost less and be much more effective. You may want to heat your sleeping area late evening, then your main living space first thing. Partitioning these areas will really allow you to feel the difference from your heating, and rapidly too.
When you park up, pay attention to how you orientate your RV in relation to the sun. You want to have it shining directly on your side with the most windows for an added heat bonus.
Getting out and about will warm you up, keep you active and save on heating costs. One of the main advantages of owning an RV is exploration. So, make the most of it and profit from each place you visit.
I hope that this guide has been a useful read and wish you all the best in staying warm this winter. RVing is all about flexibility, get yourself a backup heating supply and if the winter blues still get you down, why not make the most of your wheels and become a snowbird!