how to heat an RV without propane

While propane is very commonly used to power RV furnaces, it isn’t the most efficient fuel type out there. If your budget isn’t the biggest, then you at some point will probably start thinking of replacing propane heating with some other heating methods.

And today, we are going to give you a couple of ideas of how to heat an RV without propane.

How To Heat An RV Without Propane with Active heating

Active heating involves the use of tools that are specifically designed to heat up the air in the RV. This is in contrast with improving RV insulation which just helps with keeping heat in without directly heating the air.

There are many tools that perform active heating, each with its own upsides and downsides which we will overview below. However, one common thing between active heating means is that they require an energy source – whether gasoline or electricity – so before choosing a heating tool, make sure that you will be able to power it.

Portable RV heaters

Placing a portable heater in your RV is by far the easiest way of going about improving heating in your RV. Portable heaters aren’t the cheapest out there, but they are very convenient – you only need to place a heater in the desired spot and turn it on. 

On the other hand, unlike some other heating options, portable heaters heat up the air in a limited area. They aren’t suitable for improving heating in your entire RV, so if that’s your goal, portable heaters alone won’t help. You may use several heaters, but this may be a problem if power consumption and free room are big issues for you.

There are several types of portable heaters that you could use. Let’s overview them along with their pros and cons.

Space heaters

Usually priced quite cheap around $20-40, portable space heaters appear to be the most widely used tool for RV heating. Space heaters are also pretty efficient – a heater needs to only provide around 10 watts of heating power for every 1 square foot of floor space in your RV.

On the other hand, space heaters need to be kept 3 feet away from walls, objects, and flammable surfaces. For smaller RVs, this may or may not be a problem.

Radiant heaters

Unlike space heaters that circulate air for heating, radiant heaters direct heat in a single direction. Radiant heaters thus are better for heating small areas, as well as for temporary heating needs. Plus, radiant heaters are less of a fire hazard than space heaters, but they should still be kept at a distance from other objects.

Radiant heaters should provide the same amount of heating power as space heaters – 10 watts per 1 square foot of floor space. However, they tend to cost more than space heaters.

Oil radiators

Oil radiators, as suggested by their name, rely on oil for heating. The good thing about oil is that it stays warm at a steady temperature. Aside from that, oil doesn’t cool down immediately – it takes about half an hour for it. On the other hand, it likewise takes around half an hour to heat up.

Oil radiators cost around as much as space heaters, but they are much less of a fire hazard. On the other hand, oil radiators tend to occupy more floor room than space heaters.

An oil radiator should deliver around 50 watts of heating power for every 50 square feet of floor space.

Radiant flooring

Radiant flooring is difficult to install, but it is safer than portable heaters, as well as doesn’t add as much weight to the RV. You may have to address a professional to install radiant flooring in your RV since it involves laying low-voltage electrical circuits in the existing flooring.

Radiant flooring should provide sufficient heat in any RV when temperatures are above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. For colder weather though, you may need to improve the insulation in the RV to prevent heat loss and make radiant flooring more effective.

Pump heating

Heat pumps make use of the RV’s air conditioning system to draw heat into the RV from outside. Pump heating tends to be more efficient than portable heaters, but its upfront installation is costlier. However, when up and running, heat pumps can heat up the entire RV. In bigger RVs, more than one pump may be required for sufficient heating.

The bad thing about pump heating is that it can’t operate at temperatures less than around 35 degrees Fahrenheit. For cold weather, other means of heating are going to work better.

Hydronic heating

Hydronic heating systems work like home heating systems. They rely on a mixture of water and anti-freeze running through a series of pipes and radiators placed throughout the RV. The fluid is heated by the RV engine while driving and by a boiler system when parked. The latter can be powered by electricity or diesel or propane fuel.

While hydronic heating is pretty efficient and heats up the entire RV, installing such a system in an RV is a costly and time-intensive process. Plus, you probably won’t be able to install it yourself, so you will have to spend additional money on hiring a professional.

Solar heating

Solar heating is an environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient heating option in the long run. Unlike what you may be thinking, solar heating isn’t about hooking your electrical heaters to a solar panel – there are actually solar systems out there that are specifically designed for heating.

Solar heating systems usually consist of a heat panel that absorbs heat from the sun, a photovoltaic panel that produces electricity, and a fan that sucks in air. Air is drawn towards the heat panel, heat up, and pushed into the RV. Solar heating can work even in winter when the sun is weak, though maybe not as effectively as in warmer seasons.

Solar heating can be expensive to install, but once up and running, it is the most efficient heating solution among the ones overviewed.

Improving heat retention

Improving heat retention in your RV won’t heat it up directly, but it will help the RV or Camper trap heat in and make active heating means more efficient.

RVs do feature insulated interiors, but many RV models out there have sub-par heat retention that doesn’t keep the heat in very well. So unless you know that your RV is in fact well-insulated, you may want to improve its insulation.

Below are a couple of things that you could do to improve your RV’s heat retention. These tips are aimed at short-term improvement of heat retention and thus don’t take too much time and money to implement. But keep in mind that they probably will not be as effective as improving the insulation located in the RV’s walls and floor.

Block off the walls of RV

Walls are particularly vulnerable to heat loss, especially windows. To improve the walls’ heat retention, you don’t have to rip into them to install additional insulation – simple tools like curtains, shrink wrap, reflective insulation, or foam boards can work pretty well. Most importantly, such tools aren’t expensive and are easy to install.

Cover the doors of the RV

Doors are also weak points in your RV’s heating. Fortunately, it’s again rather easy to block them off.

One option is to drape insulated blankets or plastic shrink wrap over the entry doors from their interior side. Then, you may place a draft stopper against the bottom edge of the door to limit air circulation. Remove the door protection only when you need to get out of the RV.

Cover vents and pipes

Vents and pipes can be covered with foam insulation or heat tape. You may get foam insulation from a hardware store. Alternatively, you may buy a hatch vent insulator form an RV parts supplier, which may be the better option.

Vents should be blocked with foam blocks. Alternatively, if you have access to the RV’s roof, you may block off the vents from the outside with tape, which should be more effective.

Aside from that, use some heat tape to cover the water pipes running beneath the RV to prevent them from freezing.

Lay foam flooring in the RV

Purchase some foam mats and lay them in large rooms and near heat sources. Foam floor mats absorb heat from their surroundings and keep the RV warm. 

Foam flooring is also easy to install and remove, which will come in handy when you no longer need it. Aside from that, it makes for a more pleasant surface to step on.

Install a skirt on your RV

Outside elements can easily get into the RV from below through gaps and openings. Covering interior flooring with foam mats allows to somewhat improve the insulation from inside, but for added effect, you may want to add protection from outside as well.

Skirting can reduce the loss of heat from below the RV. A skirt wraps around the lower part of the RV and acts as a kind of a barrier between it and the outdoor elements. Since they attach to the RV in a variety of ways from snaps to suction cups, installing and removing a skirt shouldn’t be too big of a problem.

If you liked this article you might enjoy our other how-to guides.

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