Furnaces, Heat Pumps & Space Heaters. Oh My! The Pros & Cons of RV Heat.

TheRVgeeks Propane, Winter RVing 42 Comments

Not sure whether to fire up your furnace or plug in the portable heater? Is it too cold to run your heat pumps? Will your plumbing freeze if you make the wrong choice? Will you freeze if you make the wrong choice?

This video takes a detailed look at the most common types of RV heat and the pros & cons of each. If you like to start the camping season early and end it late, or just buck the trend and head for a cold climate, these tips will help you sort through the benefits and limitations of the most common RV heating choices.

Depending on the temperature and how spend most of your time RVing (boondocking or hooked up… and if so, how many amps), the best heating solutions will vary. We’ll cover which heating systems help keep moisture and condensation down and which add to it… which systems are the quietest… which use lots of electricity or propane… or very little. We’ll let you know which choices are good for boondocking and which will save you money when power is included in your campground fees.

We have lots of heating options on our rig and we use them all at one point or another, depending on the situation. This overview of the good, the bad and the ugly of RV heating systems will sort out the benefits and drawbacks of each choice.


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Comments 42

  1. I found this video very helpful and informative. I have a travel trailer with an enclosed insulated basement. So the only way for me to keep the tanks from freezing, as far as I know, is to run the propane furnace. I’m plugged into a 30 amp at a campsite and loving the space heater. It alone keeps the interior plenty warm. I just wish there was a way to circulate the warm air inside the trailer with the basement without having to set my LP furnace thermostat higher than the inside temperature. Is this really not possible? Of not, is there any modification I could do? I would think this is a common problem but I’ve found virtually nothing online.

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      Hi Seve! Thanks for the comment and great question. We have a pretty well insulated basement, and it sounds like you do, too. When we use auxiliary heating methods (such as electric space heaters) that don’t send heat to the basement compartment, we put a 60-watt incandescent light bulb down there in a drop/trouble light. We also put the remote sending unit from our indoor/outdoor thermometer down there so that we can easily confirm the temperature down there without going outside. We mentioned that in a couple of videos, including our most recent ( http://www.thervgeeks.com/winter-rving/electrical-mod/ ) and in our original video about how we RV in the winter ( http://www.thervgeeks.com/winter-rving/how-to-rv-in-the-winter/ ), bit of which have some more useful information about cold weather RVing. Keep in mind that we were RVing in a somewhat moderate winter climate (BC’s Lower Mainland) where the temps rarely get below the 20s. If we were in a much colder climate, with temps in the teens or single digits or below, we might need more than just a single 60-watt bulb to prevent plumbing from freezing in the basement. Hope this helps!

  2. Really enjoyed the video, but the statement of (waking up dead) is an oxymoron. My wife and I are just getting ready to retire and Rv. Watch everything related to this. Keep up the good work.

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  3. Wow! Lots to consider, we won’t be staying long in northern states, so light bulb is simple effective idea, will hook that up. My main concern was the overnighting and concerns with holding tanks of water, grey water, what babes should be off during our travel through cooler northern states at night ? Should I be thinking about a small v line heater?

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      You mentioned your RV is sealed and insulated underneath. If so, short periods of slightly below freezing temps shouldn’t be a problem. Watch the weather forecast and stick to the coast if you can.

  4. Heading south from BC down Hwy 101 on west coast. My concern is water plus freezing up, don’t think it will as driving coastal at sea level not big elevation changes, so temps shouldn’t get terribly cold… but better check with you all out there if I should be precautionary! Heading out mid February, 5th wheel/truck, RV is sealed and insulated on bottom, just have to make it through Washinton, Oregan, Nothern Calif… any input? Great vid on wifi ranger, not sure of cost, but great for road planning routes, camps. We’re from Ladner, BC, near Vancouver, did cross Canada last summer, loving this RV travel!,
    Cheers, gmoney

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  5. As usual I enjoyed your RV Heating Options video. We have a 2001 Dutch Star and was wandering about a feature on the thermostat that I use quite a bit for heating. It has a ‘heat strip’ option that when used circulates heat via the AC ducts. I can use it on zone 1 or 2 or both. I have never used it in freezing weather so do not know if it would be sufficient to heat the RV. But it seems to work great during the night to keep the RV around 64 degrees when the weather outside is in the 40 – 50 degrees (that’s cold enough for us). Nice to get up and have a warm unit. Have you seen this feature and do you have any pros and cons using it to heat the RV? We do use the furnace for quick heating (too noisy when my wife is still sleeping) and also have a small portable electric heater.

    Thanks again for the helpful videos.

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      Haven’t seen these ourselves, but have read about them. Not used so much any more now that heat pumps are pretty common from the factories, a heat strip warms the air coming out of the A/C system without running the compressor. Kind of emulates having a heat pump. Basically turns your A/C unit into a big space heater, so has all the pros and cons of those. Thanks for the comments. Means a lot coming from a fellow Newmar owner. :)

      1. It is important to recognize that this is a simple resistance heater and does not have the energy efficiency advantages of a heat pump. It does, perhaps, circulate the air better than a space heater, but probably at the “cost” of more noise. Also note that the energy efficiency of a heat pump becomes somewhat academic if you are paying a flat daily rate for electricity.

  6. Hi Guys,

    My email was probably dated around Christmas or New Year when you posted you nice video and article about replacing house batteries. Anyway, before you go looking around, here’s what I said:

    The point about using felt washers under the terminals for helping avoid corrosion is great, but- here is where I really had brain fade….

    The wing nut type should not be a candidate for felt washers between the cable and the post! Doing so will isloate the connection and won’t allow the batteries to properly charge. You will not be able to start the generator either…ask me how I know. I still wonder whatever possesed me to install these washers that way…I guess it really illustrates what a great insulator they really are.

    Thanks again guys.

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      Oh yeah… felt washers are great under clamp-on type terminals, but I can sure see how they’d get in the way if placed under the wing-nut type. Unwanted insulation!

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  7. first I would like to thank you guys, for all that you’re doing for us RV’ers . before we purchased a RV we started looking around for some information about them, on line books ads etc… Finely I went to an RV park and started to ask questions. The owners of different were so helpful, six of them mentioned TheRV geeks and gave me your IT address. Well last year March we purchased our first RV, a Holiday Rambler 35ft no slide outs( not sure if we would like RVing ) we Love it. Enough of past history, we go camping once a month in NC at Sycamore Lodge camp grounds. This year. has been a cold winter with ice and snow, we used a combination of electric space heater set up at the front and used the furnace set at 65* this worked out for us, kept the RV temp at 65-66* with the furnace not on all the time . Thanks to you guys we now have updated lighting, and clean and polish the windshield with 0000 steel wool. Keep the post coming.

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  8. Thanks for this great video. Lots of information that is new to me. We, also, have an electric fireplace and love the heat it puts off. Even in very cold weather we rarely need to run our furnace-maybe just long enough to take the initial chill off in the morning. We do use a small space heater in the bedroom sometimes.

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      Oh yeah! We do see that more and more RVs are coming with fireplaces. I guess we’d classify the pros and cons of them as being similar to a large space heater?…. electric, focused heat, and maybe not always powerful enough to heat an entire large RV by itself… but with a beautiful ambiance. :) Thanks for adding that in Trisha!

  9. Hi Guy’s, like the others we love your videos and are interested in your heating one. We live and camp in the Rocky Mountian area ( Colorado) and have alot of questions about ceramic type heaters at altitude. The Mr. Heaters top out at 6000 ft. but some say they are using them hunting at 9 to 10,000ft with no problems. The Kozy world heater looks good, but sold out on ebay, what are the limitations on that unit if you know. Are there others that can be used, I know of the olympian models but no others. We have a 33ft. motorhome and lov to get out early and stay latter, and we love to boondock. Any suggestion’s. Thanks guys. EC & HC

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      Holy Cow, Ed! That was fast. They were showing in stock when we posted the video this afternoon. We understand that supposedly all propane-burning appliances have reduced abilities at higher elevations (sorry, we should have mentioned that as a “con” but we forgot, having only spent summers in the mountains…. thanks for commenting on that). So we haven’t spent enough time any real time at high elevation in the cold to speak from experience about the Kozy World’s performance there.

      Okay… now I’m particularly glad you mentioned the elevation issue…. because I just checked, and Kozy World claims only a 4,500′ limit on installations! We’re heading into the Rockies this year, so hopefully we’ll be able to report that that number is very pessimistic, just like you’ve heard about the Mr. Heater units (although it will be summer…. but we’ll try to test anyway). We sure can’t recommend the Kozy World for your situation until we’ve had successful first-hand high-elevation experience with it, or hear from someone who has.

      Not sure what else might be out there, but maybe someone else can comment who knows of an alternative.

  10. I feel you missed an ideal answer to heat pumps by not including the portable free standing units which vent through a window available at your building supply store. I have been using one for 4 years and it is rated at 13,000 btu heat and cooling at 10 amps and only run 5-600$. The real plus is in the heating mode it will work at almost any temp. because it is using the temp inside the coach not the outside temp.

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    2. You are mistaken. A heat pump/AC has a cold side and a hot side. In heat pump mode it extracts heat from the outside (at a cold temperature), raises the “quality” (read: temperature) of the heat and rejects it to the heated space. Both sides in the same space simply short circuits the heat transfer process.

  11. Great “how to” video….First really enjoyed the presentation(s) in Phoenix and now find I am in need of help! Living in Long Beach Ca. is not the area for service of Rv’s. Have a 38′ (02) Holiday Rambler. Went to top off propane and find that I have a small pin hole in the fill line. Located part # 04100173 and called Coberg, Or. They no longer carry it! Is there a after market company that makes these hoses? I really don’t want to replace this myself but would like to find said replacement hose . Plus is there a way to isolate the propane? 1/2 full now! Thanks
    PS. My wife signed up for your Rally Special and had 30,000-40,000 pics on Hard Drive and dropped it. History now….but looking forward to learning Picasa.

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      Hi Scott. First off, a leak in your propane system is a potentially catastrophic situation. Do we understand correctly that propane is actively leaking out of your RV right now? If so, do we understand correctly that your propane tank is not filled directly, but rather has a fill hose that extends from the side of the RV to a center-mounted tank, and that is the hose that is leaking? If so, we’d think that there must be a shut-off directly on the tank itself. You should CAREFULLY approach the situation to see if you can shut it off at the tank. If you smell strong propane, you might want to call a professional immediately. Either way, extinguish all sources of flame or spark immediately….. fridge, water heater, furnace, etc. The very first thing you need to do is shut off the tank if possible. Follow the hose to the tank to find out. Once you stop the leak, we’d suggest posting your question on the forums at http://irv2.com, where there are thousands of experienced RVers, some of whom will likely have some idea where you should start looking for the part and service you need. By the way, I think you must be confusing us with Geeks on Tour, as we don’t do presentations. lol Best of luck.

  12. Most rv ‘ offer an option for grills that do not have a regulator, you might be able to remove the grill regulator and install a quick connect. Then you can purchase a quick connect regulator for those times when grilling at home from a high pressure tank

  13. Being a full-timer in cold climates (I’m not) certainly complicates the options. Good overview!

    Having both a heat pump and propane furnace in a 26 ft rig, I thought I was covered; however even with a ducted furnace (much quieter than unducted), the noise when cycling is disturbing when sleeping. We discovered that, with shore power, a 1500w space heater works great on chilly (down to high 30s) nights. The on/off noise is barely noticeable.

    I did a recent calculation that indicates electricity via a propane generator is roughly 10x the cost of utility rates. Thus, running the heat pump or space heater when boondocking is a bad choice. At night, I doubt that we’ll ever use the heat pump or propane furnace again when shore power is available.

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      We absolutely agree with not running a generator (of any kind) for heat when boondocking, except in an emergency. We get around the problem of hearing the heat-pump come on during the night by using a white noise machine. ;-) We also use our space heater a lot, too! A great testament to having multiple choices.

  14. Great video! Thanks! I have a question for you guys- Our new RV (Winne 30T) is on order [longest 8-10 weeks ever]& it comes with an outside low pressure propane outlet. My problem is that our grill has a regulator & takes the little high pressure cans. How can I bypass the reg & still have temp. adjustment? Do we need a new grill? Saw a beauty @ HD today. It is bigger & I will wait & see how it would fit. We grill ALL the time being in Tucson. TIA! Don & Bobbi

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      Not to spend your money, Don, but we absolutely love our Weber Q grill, which has a regulator that can be unscrewed, leaving the temp control in place. It would then probably be a breeze to adapt the propane line directly to the grill with a quick release. Here’s a link to our Weber Q1000: http://amzn.to/2FSRBHV And don’t forget the stand: http://amzn.to/2nEIqV6 ;-) Years ago we ran a high-pressure line across from the driver’s side propane tank to the patio side, teeing in with an Extend-a-Stay Because it’s a high-pressure line, we still need the grill’s regulator. We didn’t yet know about the problem with oil forming in long runs of high-pressure propane line… until we found oil in the original regulator. We now have a little fuel filter right at the grill to stop any oil, but the ideal solution is to regulate at the tank and bring low-pressure propane across. It’s on our project (and future video) lists!

  15. Boating industries also have options that could be adapted to RV. Not really sure why no one thought about it yet, but some of the options are burner running from engine gaz or propane. Other options I have seen is to use small wood burning stove which are very energy efficient and can also be used as stove top heating elements for cooking.

    Obviously all these options would require major work on the RV, but given the fact that a single small wood log could produce heat for 8 hours, I think it’s worth considering, not mentioning really cozy in the evening :-)

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      Funny you should mention boats. We actually have a video shot last summer that we haven’t gotten around to editing yet, where we spent a week helping friends of ours deliver their new 53′ Krogan Whaleback from Annapolis, MD to New York Harbor. We wanted to compare the systems on a “land yacht” to a “yacht yacht” to show the differences (which were pretty cool). Hopefully we’ll get around to editing that one soon.

    2. lived on a 33 ft sailboat for three years. It had a small wood burning stove. I used to cut up duraflame logs and burn those. Was a nice atmosphere when I did that but the stove was so small it would only last about 2 hours or so. Was a pain waking up cold and inserting another log all the time. So I bought an electric space heater. My boat was always hooked up to shore power. Plus southern Cali coast seldom gets below 50 in the winter!

  16. every one of your videos are awesome I would love to have a library of your videos on CD I have an old motor home it is a 1988 Pace Arrow 34 would love to have what you have 45 footer we go camping here Dayton Ohio to a campground called natural springs it is in new Paris Ohio.

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      Thanks Raney! But don’t feel too much “length-envy.” As much as we love our rig, if we had it to do over again, we’d go smaller (we’re only 43′ by the way). lol

  17. Hi guys.

    Good video as always. However you forgot electric floor radiant heat. Here’s are my comments:

    Pros: No noise. Warmmmmm feet in the morning. No moving parts. Heat the entire coach or just zones. Cats love ’em. Can be powered by shore power or generator. Can use them while motoring by running the generator unless plugged into the inverter. They also heat the basement area from the above floor mass.

    Cons: Electric, work best with shore power. Slow to heat up the floor and coach. But once warm, the floor tiles retain the heat.

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      Hi Mike! Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. Sorry we didn’t include radiant heat. Part of the reason was that the video was already running SO much longer than we anticipated (lol) and also, we thought that radiant wasn’t a primary heat source, but a supplementary system to keep those big tile floors warm. Is that the only, or main, heating system in your rig, or do you also have hydronic, propane furnace, or something else? Either way, it sounds like the “floor” version of our heated mattress pad. Wonderful! :)

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