How to Heat an RV Without Propane

Propane is the most logical way to cook and heat the interior during those cold winter nights for most RV dwellers. Propane is a compact, easy transport, and energy-dense alternative that makes it easier to keep heaters, cooktops, and even a refrigerator running when boondocking.

Using propane gives you a way to reduce the strain on your electrical system, especially if you are completely off the grid and don’t have that much electricity to spare.

But what if you don’t have access to propane? Or do you want a backup heat source if you run out of propane deep in the wilderness? Here are the top RV heater alternatives you can use to rescue the situation.

Warning: Any open flame heat sources like propane, kerosene heaters, diesel heaters, and wood burners produce a percentage of carbon monoxide. Ensure your RV is well vented and aerated to remove the carbon monoxide and bring in fresh oxygen. Failure to vent your RV well could lead to suffocation.

Diesel Heaters

If your RV runs on diesel, using a diesel heater to stay warm sounds like a very logical way. Diesel heaters burn diesel fuel to heat a metallic heat exchanger. A fan then draws cold air over the heat exchanger before pushing it out through the other side as heated air.

Well-designed diesel heaters are safe and provide a reliable heat source while drawing minimal power from your house batteries.

Check this too: How Much Does a Gallon of Propane Weigh?

You can get a unit with an independent diesel tank or wire your unit straight to your RV’s main/reserve diesel tank.

They are a convenient heat source that won’t have you taking detours to refill propane canisters. Moreover, diesel is one of the most readily available fuels in the current world. You can get it in any fuel station, truck stopovers, or even from a kind farmer with a private stock for his farm implements.

Since it isn’t as combustible, you can always pack extra in fuel cans or fill your RV’s diesel tank to the brim without turning yourself into a rolling firebomb.

Electric Space Heaters

If you have a reliable way to produce electricity, there’s no reason why you should shun electric space heaters.

They are compact, safe, and easy to use. Their only bane is that they require tons of kilowatt-hours to run. It is more than a modest RV with an average battery pack, generator, and solar system that can handle most cases.

If you spend time at an RV park with an electric plug, you can run your electric space heater or even a compact heat pump for as long as you are plugged in.

Other times when it would be reasonable to run an electric heater are:

  • You turn on your generator to recharge your house batteries, and it generates more power than you need just to charge up the batteries
  • You have a big battery bank that is full after a very long sunny day when your solar panels generated maximum power
  • You have an alternator charging system and are preparing for a long trip guaranteed to top up your battery bank in no time
  • You have absolutely no other option to stay reasonably warm

Electric heaters come in different shapes and designs. It is up to you to choose which one you want. Avoid buying unknown brands from Amazon as they mostly ship from China with no local support.

You will be better off buying from physical stores with warranty support or a known brand with local representation.

  • Radiant heaters: Heat up fast using exposed ceramic or quartz surfaces. Great for instantaneous heat. Harder to maintain a steady temperature with
  • Oil-filled heaters: A heating element heats oil that radiates heat to the space through a couple of fins. Heat up slower but easier to maintain a steady temperature with
  • RV heat pumps: These are replicas of the efficient heat pump we use to warm houses. They use less electricity per hour but won’t necessarily produce sufficient heat on the coldest of the days
  • Infrared heaters: Radiate infrared light that only heats the objects the invisible light lands on. They don’t get hot to the touch like ceramic and radiant heaters…

Heated Flooring

If you are building a custom RV, you can start on the right footing by installing heated panels on your floor. Keeping the underside of the RV warmer is a convenient way to heat the entire environment since hot air rises.

Moreover, you will get less chilly vibes since you don’t have to step on a chilly floor every time you try to move around.

The heated floor could draw from your electric supply or be water/fluid based where it uses hot liquid from your engine cooler or a solar water heater system to keep the floor warm.

Floor heating won’t bring your RV to the perfect temperature, but it will help make other heating processes more efficient.

Kerosene Heaters

Kerosene heaters are somewhat similar to diesel heaters. The only difference is that they burn kerosene to warm the heat exchanger. It will produce way more heat than an electric heater per hour, making it better at heating bigger spaces.

Just like diesel heaters, it needs extra planning to install properly. The only caveat is that you will always have to fill up with kerosene when going on a trip. Not to mention that kerosene is more volatile than diesel.

ProTip: If you can, go with a diesel heater. They make the same amount of heat and are easy to refuel. 

A Wood Burning Stove

The last option would be using a compact RV wood-burning stove. Some brands rode the #RV life and miniaturized traditional wood stoves to fit campers and RVs.

Since these units vent all the smoke out through a chimney, you shouldn’t worry about your small living space turning unbearable. 

Be warned. They get very hot. Use them on very cold nights. You can also use them for cooking or heating water.

Wood burners will be a perfect solution if you camp out in the wilderness, where you can gather dry wood from the snow-covered forests.

Passive Heating Techniques

While active heating is the go-to solution to keeping your RV warm in the cold season, you can get good heat retention or absorption through passive heating solutions.

Let the Sun in

Park your RV in an open place with your biggest windows oriented to catch as much of the winter sun as possible.

Letting sun rays directly into your motorhome heats the inside space reducing how much energy you will need to bring up the temperatures later on.

Moreover, the perfect orientation will also be optimal for solar power generation if you have a couple of solar panels on the roof.

You don’t have to open the windows, just draw the blinds or curtains, and the sun will stream in through the glass.

Ensure Your RV is Well Insulated

The most crucial step in passively heating any space is proper insulation. Good insulation keeps the warmth in by limiting heat exchange with the chilly air outside.

Insulation varies and could include:

  • High-grade insulation of your choice on the RV walls and floors
  • Rugs or interlocking foam tiles on the RV floor
  • Reflective insulating sheets custom made to fit all your RV windows. Install these when the sun goes down to limit heat loss through the windows
  • High-grade insulation on the RV’s roof

Limit Air Flow By Insulating Vents

While open vents are great at circulating cool air in summer, they will let in the cold draft at night or in winter.

Find a way to limit airflow through vents. This reduces how much air you lose or let in without blocking airflow. After all, it would help if you still had some air circulation to bring in the fresh air and vent out stale air.

Button up big vents on the roof and the floor, and ensure that your windows and doors close tight. Anything other than a couple of well-placed ventilation holes to draw in the fresh air and vent the RV should be insulated to keep your motorhome warm.

Use an RV Skirt

Your RV floor gets colder than a house floor because of all that cold air blowing under your RV. Blocking this cold draft can considerably reduce heat exchange hence making your unit warmer without spending energy actively heating the interior.

You can purchase stock RV skirts for your motorhome model or make your own using reflective insulation sheets.

Anything that can limit airflow under the RV will work. Be as creative as possible. Here are some creative solutions that will still get the job done:

  • Lining plastic storage bins around the RV
  • Leaning plywood panels cut to size against the RV all way round
  • Building skirts from foam board or vinyl
  • Lining the bottom of your RV with straw bales wrapped with tarps or garbage bags (be careful, they’re flammable)
  • Packing snow around the bottom of your RV

Snow is a good natural skirting. You just need a shovel and the perfect weather, and you’re good to go. However, only use it if you will be camped for a while. Shoveling off the snow in the morning to drive away can be a bummer.

Get Some Rugs and Carpets

Carpets and rugs will make your RV cozier regardless of how well insulated it is. Rugs are soft to the feet and have air pockets that trap more heat.

They will help your RV feel warmer by retaining more of your body heat or any heat generated by heaters or even your stove as you fix a quick meal.

Dress Warmly

Finally, you can make everything feel way warmer by dressing warmly every time you are in your RV. There’s no point spending energy to warm up the RV so that you can be comfortable with just your underwear on.

Putting on some warm and comfortable clothes will let you heat the RV to a lower temperature but remain comfortable since your clothes will compensate by keeping your body heat close.

Check this too: Should I Disconnect My RV Battery When Plugged In?

After all, most of the heating keeps you comfortable as most appliances and fixtures will be fine with the temperature a couple of notches above zero.

Personal heating devices like very cozy blankets, electric blankets, a warm hoodie, wool socks, heated water bottles, and so forth will keep you comfortable while spending less heating energy.

Oscar

In his spare time, Oscar loves tinkering with electronics. Solar panels, wiring, old TVs and sometimes DIY powerwalls. When he is not busy trying not to electrocute himself, you can find him in the garden tending to his vegetables and chickens.

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