How to Heat Your RV Without Propane [6 Tips That Really Work]

How to Heat Your RV Without Propane

As a kid, camping was our go to family holiday. In Winter we always made the trip in my uncle´s RV, as my parents assured me it would be warmer. But I remember once there was a problem with the propane heating systems and we spent a bitterly cold night huddled together under blankets in the RV until my uncle bought the supplies he needed to heat the RV without propane. It was on this trip that I learnt the importance of heating systems!

Most RVs come equipped with a propane heating system and they are great. They are safe (if you keep on top of the required maintenance) and easy to use, most are automatic. But if your RV doesn´t have a propane system, or you are thinking of switching for some reason, there are plenty of alternative heat sources for your RV.

Electric Heaters

Electric heating is a great option if you are looking for something clean and efficient that doesn´t produce nasty by products like Carbon Monoxide. A portable electric heater also allows you to choose to just heat part of your RV if you wish, rather than wasting energy heating the whole space when you aren´t using it.

Electric heaters for your RV are pretty much the same as the electric heaters that you buy for your home, though some are more suitable for use in the confined space of an RV use than others.

Good electric heater options for RVs include a cube heater or ceramic heater; ceramic refers to what the heating element is made from. These electric heaters have more powerful fans than other electric heaters and therefore are great at pushing the heated air around your RV. However, powerful heater fans also generate a lot of noise, so if you aren´t great at sleeping with noise, or want to preserve the quiet ambience of your campsite, this could be a problem.

Cost and convenience can also be a challenge with electric heaters. Clearly you will need access to electricity to run your heater. This is OK at campsites where they charge a flat rate for electricity, but these days campsites are regularly metered, or charge a surcharge for using heaters, which can put a big dent in your wallet.

Finally, electric heaters are not without their risks. While most electric heaters will have built in safeguards to prevent tipping over or over-heating, but I have heard about fires starting from old heaters catching. To avoid this make sure you don´t skimp when purchasing an electric heater for your RV.

Despite these drawbacks, electric heaters are a great option, especially as a back-up heating when camping in Spring or Fall when aren´t sure whether you will need to heat your RV every night. They are relatively cheap and easy to use.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are basically air conditioning systems that heat instead of cool. In fact, most pumps double up and can be switched to either heat or cool your RV depending on what you need. While I´ve always thought of air conditioners as not very environmentally friendly, it turns out that heat pumps use less electricity than electric heaters, as they deliver 2 to 4 times as much heat per unit of electricity as most electric heaters, and are also better at heating the whole space than electric heaters. However, like electric heaters, they can be quite noisy.

While a heat pump might be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than electric heaters, a heat pump will cost a lot more up front than an electric heater so you need to know that it is the right solution for you before investing.

If you are considering camping in colder climates, a heat pump is not for you. They simply don´t work well if it is very cold. In the past we had a heat pump that would constantly turn to defrost mode when it was too cold outside. Generally speaking heat pumps simply don´t work when it is below 30 degrees.

Hydronic Heating

Some newer RVs come with hydronic heating systems as a feature – if your RV has a hydronic system, lucky you! RV hydronic systems work a lot like home heating systems. A mixture of water and anti-freeze is heated a pushed around a series of pipes to small radiators strategically placed throughout the RV. The fluid is heated by the engine when driving, and by a small boiler system when parked. The boiler is usually powered by diesel or propane, so you need to be extra careful as all the same risks apply.

If you are thinking of investing in a RV, this is a great feature to include on your wish list, especially if you know you´ll be travelling in the Winter months. However it is expensive and troublesome to install hydronic heating as a new feature in an existing RV.

If you have a hydronic heating system, to use it well it pays to know where your thermostats are. In our last RV, which had one of these systems, the thermostat in the bedroom space was located just above the radiator, so we had to set the temperature higher to ensure the room warmed up. In contrast, the thermostat in the living room was on the exterior wall right next to the window, so we needed to set it low to ensure that the we didn´t waste power overheating the room.

Solar Heating

While still relatively new on the market, solar heating is a great option for the environmentally conscious. While we´ve not yet used solar ourselves, we´ve seen quite a few different set up when speaking with other RVers on various campsites.

The best solar heating system I´ve seen is the Eco Solaris. This system is made from a photovoltaic panel that produces electricity, and a heat panel that absorbs heat from the sun. Th fan sucks in air, that is then heated by the heat panel, and then pushed back into the space by the fan. If you are interested in the details you can watch a short video here.

Despite what we might think while shivering on our adventures, the Winter sun is strong and can produce enough power to heat an RV, as long as you align your panels to the South. While the initial cost outlay is more than for most other heating solutions, once the panels are in place solar will save you money. One man living in a small house in Canada managed to heat his house for a year for only $100, thanks to the type of solar panels you can use on an RV.

The other benefits that RVers using solar always mentioned was the freedom! If your RV is solar powered it means that you can pretty much pull up and stop anywhere, without being limited to campsites and spaces that provide electricity. So many people gushed about the ability to visit new, exciting and out of the way places thanks to the freedom provided by solar.

Insulation

No matter which heating solution you choose, it won´t work well if heat can easily. In general RVs are made to be as light as possible when you are pulling them, which often means that they don´t hold heat well. However, there are some simple things to do in order to improve your RVs insulation.

Cover Your Hatch Vent

While your RV roof is probably well insulated, the roof hatch is likely letting heat escape. SInce hot air rises, roof vents are a major culprit for heat loss. You can purchase hatch vent insulators for your RV to cover the hatch in Winter and stop heat from escaping. If you can´t find one for your RV, you can make your own out of a material such as styrofoam. Make sure you cover all the vents in the roof of your RV.

In fact you should look for any gaps that are letting air, and heat, escape and cover them with whatever you can: styrofoam, blankets, durable tape. Just stop the warm air from escaping your space.

Insulate the Window

Like the roof hatch, your windows are probably letting as lot of heat escape from the RV. Heavy blinds and curtains can be sufficient to significantly reduce the amount of heat that escapes, or you can try reflective insulation blinds, which use a reflective material to push heat back into the space. Use velcro to create firm but usable seals between the curtains and the window.

Skirting

Outside elements also penetrate your RV from below, especially as there are probably more gaps in the bottom of your RV than you think to make space for pipes and equipment. You can reduce this with skirting, which is pretty much what it sounds like, a skirt the wraps around the lower part of the your RV and act as an extra barrier between you and the elements. Generally made from a lined vinyl, there are many different ways to attach the skirting to your vehicle from snaps to suction caps. It is important to balance ease of use with a firm seal to prevent heat loss.

Before applying your skirting, spend some time under your RV and do what you can to fill any gaps without interfering with the pipes.

Keeping Warm

Remember that to keep warm you don´t necessarily need to heat your entire RV, you just need to heat you!

  • Bring quilts or electric blankets to sleep under.
  • Pack the right clothes! If it is going to be old make sure you bring your fleece and thermal underwear.
  • Wear a beanie! You lose a lot of heat from your head, so cover it up with a nice wooly beanie.
  • Your feet are the same. Pack warm socks or even slippers to use at night.
  • When sleeping at night use a hot water bottle. It will keep you warm without the expense of having to heat the whole RV space.

Happy (and warm) camping!

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