How to Keep Warm in Winter When on The Road | RV Heating Tips

Sometimes weather and climate keeps you from having a good time while camping or even going to camping at all. Cold nights and rainy days will keep you shivering all throughout your trip. 

Your storage space will be filled with a lot of blankets and sleeping bags to keep you warm through your adventure instead of other things that you may want to bring. 

There are a lot of ways to keep warm on the road, it maybe electrical heaters, gas heaters or diesel fueled heaters. There are so much options available that it might confuse you on what to use.

Well now you won’t have to do that, because I will be providing you with some tips for Heating your RVs! Cold nights and bad weather won’t bother you anymore and I’m sure you’ll enjoy more of your warm cup of coffee after these tips.

What Are Electrical Heaters?

An electric heater is an electrical device that converts an electric current into heat. The secret to an electric heater is the electrical resistor, as electric current passes  through a resistor, it will convert that electrical energy into heat energy.

A generator or a basic main power source is needed to be able to use portable electrical heaters to heat your RV, trailer or motorhome. Safety precautions must also be kept in mind when using heaters in confined spaces.

Make sure to know the correct amount of wattage the heating unit requires to operate before buying and if you will be using a generator. For example, you will need to buy a heater with less wattage (say 1800 watt) if you have a Honda EU20i which has 2000 watt for the generator to be able to run the heater unit.

Note: Electric radiant/bar heaters are not covered here as these are considered unsafe for use in RV’s. Oil filled column heaters are also not included as they draw a lot of electrical current and can trip electrical circuits.

Here are the different types of electric heaters you can use for your travels:

Electric Fan Heaters

These heaters can supply almost immediate heat but tend to be the least economically efficient of the electric heaters and should not be left unattended. Depending on the model of the fan and the settings some may be louder. To avoid burns, purchasing a fan heater with a plastic cover over the heating grill is recommended as the plastic cover does not get hot although the heating grill will. Choose a fan that has an automatic cut-out feature for things such as the heater tipping or overheating.

Most Popular Brands of Electric Fan Heaters:

  • Dyson
  • Kambrook
  • Goldair
  • DeLonghi

Ceramic Heaters

Most ceramic heater models have a fan which makes them quite effective for larger spaces and are more energy efficient than most types of electric heaters while some models include a heat sensor to assist in maintaining the room temperature. 

It is recommended to look for ceramic heaters that does not have exposed radiant heating elements and have safety features such as thermostat and tilt safety cut-off switches. Make sure to keep anything flammable away from the front of the ceramic heater and should not be placed on top of the heater. These heaters should also be plugged directly into a socket without using an extension cord.

Most Popular Brands of Ceramic Heaters:

  • DeLonghi
  • Honeywell
  • Holmes
  • Goldair

Convection Heaters

Not all models of convection heaters come with a fan but these heaters are more suited for long heating periods rather than the occasional fast heating and those that include a fan if more effective as it disperses the heater air. These heaters depend on natural convection with the heated air rising and being replaced by cooler air flowing being drawn over the heating element.

It operates similar to an electric fan heater but the surfaces do not get hot which makes the risk of fire ignition lower and safer if children are around. However, convection heaters will be needing much space which makes them unsuitable for RV’s. In some models the fan can also be a bit loud so you would have to turn the television’s volume up and you would have to talk louder.

Some brands have features such as electronic thermostat, timer, remote control, thermal cut-out or tilt switch and frost watch. Other models, such as on of DeLonghi’s have safety tilt feature where an alarm will sound if the heater is tipped over, have anti-frost protection and a thermal cut-out. You may also want to find convection heaters with micathermic panel which absorbs then releases warm air so you will feel the benefit of both convection and radiated heat.

Most Popular Brands of Convection Heaters:

  • Omega Altise
  • Rinnai
  • DeLonghi
  • Dimplex
  • Goldair

What Are Reverse Cycle Air Conditioners?

Most caravan trailers, fifth wheelers and motorhomes have an air conditioner but not all have a heat cycle. Some air conditioners have a fan heat cycle or there is the Air Command air conditioner which is a true reverse cycle air conditioner. 

The manufacturer Air Command claim their ‘Wren’ is a reverse cycle refrigerator heat pump, which produces almost twice the heating output compared with their competitors’ products. The Wren also has an auto de-icing function on the heat cycle.

If you are away from a power source, a good size generator such as the Honda EU20i (2,000 watt) will run a standard air conditioner in your RV. 

However, if you want to run an air conditioner on a generator in temperatures in the high 30 – 40 degrees some users have reported generators of that size tripping out due to the heat so they believe a larger generator is required (ie. the Yamaha 2.4). 

Thermostats in air conditioners have been known not to cope with the load in very cold conditions so travelers have looked to the fueled blown air heaters as another option. See article – Heating your Caravan with Gas / Diesel

Most Popular Brands of Reverse Cycle Air Conditioners:

  • Daikin
  • Mitsubishi
  • Rinnai
  • Panasonic

What Is The Difference Between Gas or Electrical Heaters?

Gas heaters provide more heat rather than electric heaters in the same amount of time. Gas is actually cheaper than electricity, so its possible that gas heaters have a lower operating cost than electric heaters. Electric heaters are only  cheaper when used in heating a small space. You may need to consider gas or electrical heaters specially if you need a larger gas storage to provide enough gas for heating as well as cooking when choosing an air blown heater that operates on LPG gas.

Manufacturers of Gas Operated Heaters:

Truma (UK) Limited 

This manufacturer has a various range of heaters for caravans, travel trailers, 5th wheelers and motorhomes that run on electricity or LPG gas. The manufacturer states the Trumatic S2200 is only approved for caravans and the S3002 and S3002 P are approved for caravans and motorhomes.

Truma Trumatic is one of their models of blown air heater that operate with liquid gas and suck air from the outside, warm it and then the heated air is passed outside by an exhaust fan. The manufacturer claims it is best suited for the small caravan, trailer or motorhome. The manufacturer states the gas consumption for the Trumatic E2400 model is 100g/ph on half setting and 200 g/ph on full setting.

Suburban

This manufacturer has a range of furnace heaters for RV’s, caravans, travel trailers, motorhomes and boats. The Suburban NT RV Furnaces are LPG gas fired with electronic ignition. There must be a certain gas pressure for these units to operate and 12V DC to control the thermostat. LPG gas certification is also required and an annual inspection by a qualified service technician is recommended.

These Suburban heating furnaces have a heating range from 24,000 – 40,000 BTU depending on the model. See article – What is BTU?. The heaters can also be either standard AC power or 12V depending on the model.

Suburban state their ducted SF Series are suitable for midsize to large RV’s and the ductless DD Series are suitable for smaller RV’s.
It is recommended that you inspect the furnace during the heating season at least monthly for the presence of soot in the vent. If there is soot in the vent, the furnace should be immediately shut down as continued operation in this condition could cause serious property damage or loss of life.

Propex Heatsource

The manufacture provides a range of blown air heaters that run on clean burning butane gas or propane gas. The manufacturer claims they provide quite, maintenance free operation being easy to control with an electronic thermostat. 

Two models are available one with 2kW heat output and the other with 2.8 kW heat output. Propex also have a range of gas fuelled water heaters for motorhomes, trailers and caravans.

What Are Diesel Fueled Heaters?

Diesel fueled heaters may be an option for you if you like prefer to bush camp where you may not always have an electrical power source available. Diesel fueled heaters such as the Dometic Eberspacher Airtronic diesel heater and Webasto Air Top air heaters or the diesel heater are reported to be very efficient and economical.

Webasto Air Top Series 

Webasto Air Top Series are an air heating system that runs on diesel fuel. The manufacturer claims the air heaters have a short heating-up time and are cheap to run. 

There are three models that cover the heating range required from a campervan up to the larger recreational vehicle. Webasto claims the air heaters can maintain a constant temperature with its electronic thermostat. They also have optional accessories so the air heater can be operated by digital timer, remote control or ‘phone’.

The air blower motor unit is usually installed in a cupboard with the duct outlet close to the floor. It is also wise to purchase the option of the muffler for the air heater if it not included as this will help reduce noise. As the motor can get some heat to it, it is best not to place items that may melt nearby.

The exhaust is usually vented to the driver’s side of the RV so any fumes will not be near the annex or awning area. The diesel air heaters come with a plastic storage tank for the diesel fuel and this can be mounted on the exterior of the RV.

Most of the models of air heaters have the option for a second air blower. Some owners have one air blower into the main body of the caravan, travel trailer or motorhome and one say in the shower/toilet cubicle which can also double for a drying room. 

If you have a air blower vented into the shower cubicle make sure it is covered when showering. If water gets into the pipe it can damage the heater and will not be  covered under warranty. 

Some owners have also had the control switch located close to their bed so they can start the heater without leaving the warmth of their bed but Webasto also have a Remote Start Unit that can operate up to 35 metres or a Digital Timer that has three individual start-up times which you can program 24 hours in advance.

Dometic Eberspacher Airtronic 

Dometic Eberspacher Airtronic  operates by drawing in room air, heating it and then blowing it back into the RV compartment. For those of you with a motorhome, the fuel burning heater can operate independently obtaining its fuel from the vehicle’s own tank. The Airtronic D2 delivers 2.2 kW of hot blown air whereas the Airtronic D4 produces 4 kW of hot blown air.

The fuel consumption varies of course, from model to model and whether the Airtonic is operating on high or low function. For example, the manufacturer claims the Airtronic D4 Camper Plus uses 0.11 l/ph on low, 0.25 l/ph on medium and 0.38 l/ph on high. 

The manufacturer also claims it is maintenance free after installation but installation must be done by an authorized installer for any warranty or liability claims.

Other optional accessories include LED display, 24 hour timer as well as radio and telephone remote control are available.

Eberspacher also have a Combitronic air and water heater. The Combitronic heats the hot water as well as provides air blown warmth and operates as a duel fuel system on either diesel fuel from the vehicles own tank, mains power or a combination of both.

Truma

Truma also have a Combi D Diesel Heater, designed by J Eberspacher, which heats the vehicle (motorhome or can be modified for a caravan) and the water at the same time under ‘winter operation’. Under ‘summer operation’ only the water is heated. The dimensions of the Truma Combi D6 are 525 mm long x 450 mm wide x 300 mm high, weights 15.8 kg (without water) and it holds up to 10 litres of water. 

Time taken to heat the water only is about 20 minutes but to provide warmth to the vehicle or caravan plus heat the water boiler takes about 80 minutes. 

Diesel fuel consumption is between 220-630 ml/hr in regular operation at medium heat output (1,000 W) 110 ml/h. Rated thermal output: 2000/4000/6000 W. The current input at 12 V from 1.7A to max 7 A for short periods for heater and boiler and the power required to heat the boiler max. 1.8 A. Standby current is approx. 0.001 A.

Truma state the asymmetrical shape of the 10 litre stainless steel hot water boiler improves water mixing providing better showering without having to adjust the temperature of the water.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying A Heater

  • Heat Output – you will need to know how much heat you will be needing depending on your space. Larger trailers or motorhomes that does not have insulation or double-glazing will need a more powerful heater.
  • Heater Performance – Look for heaters that are more effective and much easier to use. Digital controls, thermostats and timers can give you much more control over the temperature. You may also look for heaters with a built-in filter that can prevent dust and allergens from being spread if you are asthmatic or allergic.
  • Safety – Tip over protection will automatically stop the heater when tipped over to avoid any fire. Automatic Cut Out feature may also be one of the features to keep in mind as it automatically turns off within a certain amount of time if in case it was forgotten. Drip protection is also useful to keep water droplets or condensation from entering the heater while in operation.

Related Questions:

What Are Blown Air Heaters?

The blown air heaters commonly require 12V DC current to start the unit and for thermostat control. As a guide only, air blown and LPG gas heaters producing 2kW of heat would adequately heat a 20 foot caravan trailer or motorhome and basic safety precautions should be taken when using heaters in confined spaces.

What Are The Heating Options Available?

Most RV’s are now insulated and have an option for double glazed windows which provide some buffer against weather conditions. For best efficiency close the door of the RV, draw the curtains over the windows and maintain a temperature of about 20 – 23 degrees C.

Some RV’s may already have existing heating appliances or have an option to upgrade. For example, the Geist Xklisive range of caravans has an upgrade pack available that includes underfloor heating and Winnebago motorhomes have an option for a diesel furnace heater.

There are several heating options available for your caravan, trailer or motorhome such as reverse cycle air conditioning, electric ceramic heaters and LPG gas or diesel fueled air heaters.

What is a Heat Measure?

Some heating appliances rate the amount of heat being produced as an equivalent of a BTU or kW.

What Is A BTU?

BTU = British Thermal Unit. A BTU is the quantity of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.

1 BTU is the equivalent of the heat of a single wooden kitchen match.

What Is A kW?

kW stands for kilowatt. A kW is defined as a unit of electrical power equal to 1,000 watts (or 1.341 horsepower). A kilowatt-hour equal to 1,000 watts of electricity used for 1 hour and it is a common measurement for how electricity is sold.

1 kW = 1000 watts

1,000 watts = ten 100W light globes

1W = 3.4127 BTU/hr

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