We all know that traveling in an RV is a fantastic way to explore the world around us while we continue to enjoy the comforts of home on the road. Many of us enjoy traveling in all seasons, and one challenge RVers may face is staying warm during the colder months.
We’ve written about several options including diesel heaters and small propane heaters, and answered the question “Can you use a propane heater indoors?” But today we’re looking at something completely different: how to convert an RV furnace to electric with the RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat Add-On System.
This cost-effective solution can help you stay warm and cozy in your RV in any season. But what are CheapHeat hybrid RV heaters and how do they work? Are they safe? Do they save money over time?
In this post, we’re exploring the benefits and features of the CheapHeat system and how it can improve your RV heating experience.
- 1) What Is the CheapHeat Add-On System?
- 2) What Is the Downside of Using CheapHeat to Convert an RV Furnace to Electric?
- 3) Is It Safe to Use the CheapHeat Add-On System to Convert an RV Furnace to Electric?
- 4) Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews & Giveaways
What Is the CheapHeat Add-On System?
The CheapHeat system is essentially an add-on module that enables you to run your furnace like it was a big space heater, using AC power from the shore connection (or your generator) to heat your rig instead of propane.
Most RVs come equipped with standard electric or gas furnaces, which can be effective but also have limitations, such as high fuel consumption, uneven heating, or inadequate insulation. The RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat Add-On System is designed to address these limitations and provide an affordable, efficient heating solution for RVs.
This is an electrical heating option that works as an add-on assembly to an RV propane furnace, allowing you to choose between propane or electricity to heat your rig.
The CheapHeat unit is mounted directly downstream of the existing gas furnace and uses tungsten heating coils (with replaceable fusible link) powered by 120V or 240V AC power to provide the heat. A 12-volt fan motor on the furnace pushes the heated air through the ducts in the RV.
In addition to the heating coil, it also uses a solid-state controller to communicate with the existing wall thermostat and the fan motor. All you need to do is select “Electric” or “Gas” on a wall switch, depending on which source you want to use (propane or electric) to run your furnace.
The controller works with both 30-amp and 50-amp shore power, using all the functions of your existing propane furnace with the added electrical heating coil assembly.
Let’s take a look at some key features and benefits of this system:
One of the main advantages of CheapHeat is versatility. It can be installed alongside your existing propane furnace or electric heating system, giving you multiple options for heating your RV. This allows you to choose the most cost-effective and efficient heating source for any situation, be it propane, electric, or a combination of both.
The CheapHeat system uses electricity to generate heat, which can be more cost-effective than propane in some cases (think nightly or weekly RV park stays, where power is included in the rate). This can mean savings in the long run, making it a good investment for RVers who often travel in colder climates.
Considering the limited amount of storage space on so many RVs, having a built-in electric heating system is more space-efficient than keeping portable electric space heaters on board.
While burning propane for heat is generally about 60% efficient, according to RV Comfort Systems their electrical heat source is 100% efficient since the heating core is mounted in the direct flow of the distribution system. That means all heat produced is forced through the ducts. (For more on propane furnaces, see our post How Does a Propane Furnace Work?)
Reasonably Easy to Install
Installing the CheapHeat system is fairly straightforward, and can be done by a handy RV owner or competent DIY personnel. The system comes with detailed installation instructions, (shown here). There are also RV service facilities that can install the system with a qualified RV technician at the helm.
This video shows the CheapHeat installation process:
With the CheapHeat system, you can take advantage of your RV’s existing zoned heating (if applicable) to heat specific zones in your RV, allowing you to focus warmth on the areas where you need it most. This saves energy and ensures that you’re not overheating areas of your RV that don’t need as much heat.
CheapHeat includes a remote control that allows you to adjust the temperature and heat settings, making it easy to maintain a consistent, comfortable temperature throughout your rig as needed.
No Low-Temp Limits
The CheapHeat system doesn’t have the low-temp limits that heat pumps do because it doesn’t rely on extracting heat from the ambient (outside) air. That means you can still use it when it gets too cold for your heat pumps.
Furnace Blower Works Less
Tests show that CheapHeat heats an RV in less time than propane, so the furnace blower assembly works less to heat the same space. That’s partly because propane RV furnaces require pre- and post-purge cycling of the blower assembly to remove unburned propane and other gases from the sealed combustion chamber.
If you’ve ever wondered why your propane furnace has periods of blowing cold air, it’s due to the fact that for every heating cycle, there are about 2 1/2 minutes of runtime with no flame or heat being produced. When switched to electric mode, the fan motor only operates when heat is being produced.
The system can be configured to three different wattage ratings – 1,800, 3,750, and 5,000 watts, depending on the shoreline power limitations.
If your RV is equipped with a furnace duct to the basement and/or the enclosed water compartment, using the CheapHeat module means that you are also able to keep your basement warm and prevent your water lines from freezing. This is a benefit above and beyond using space heaters, which will keep YOU warm inside but won’t provide any heat to your RV’s basement.
What Is the Downside of Using CheapHeat to Convert an RV Furnace to Electric?
If you mostly boondock (even in cold weather), installing the CheapHeat Add-On may not be worthwhile for you. Sure, you could use your generator to run the electric heat, but you’d still be burning fuel to do that.
Boondocking aside, the real beauty of the CheapHeat system is how it works for RVers who are connected to shore power. But this is also where there’s a downside.
If you convert your RV furnace to electric, you’ll have to worry about exceeding your shore power capabilities. Otherwise, you may constantly be tripping the circuit breaker. This means when you’re running the furnace in electric mode, you may need to force your RV refrigerator and water heater to run on propane so you don’t pop the breaker at the pedestal.
As a result, RV Comfort Systems suggests that RVers not use other power-hungry appliances and devices while running the furnace in electric mode. (At least not on 1 30-amp circuit.) This is no different than managing other large power-draw items when on anything less than a 50-amp connection.
Is It Safe to Use the CheapHeat Add-On System to Convert an RV Furnace to Electric?
According to the manufacturer, the CheapHeat system is safer than using portable space heaters. To support this, they note that the coil assembly is safeguarded against failure by more than one method, making the permanently installed CheapHeat unit safe.
RV Comfort Systems says that the safety of the system is further enhanced by oversized components in the controller, a bi-metal safety switch wired into the coil assembly to protect it from an over-temperature issue, and a replaceable fusible link that acts as a failsafe device for the common leg of the coils. This acts as an in-line circuit breaker to protect against potential over-current or overheating situations.
Finally, the manufacturer notes that no carbon monoxide is produced using electric heat, making the CheapHeat system safer than gas heat in this regard.
RV Comfort Systems notes that the only connection between the CheapHeat unit and the existing propane furnace is a simple wiretap on the fan motor conductor. According to CSA America (the RV Furnace certification group), this does not affect the ANSI certification of the gas furnace.
You can determine the correct model for your RV and how to ensure there’s room for it to be installed by reviewing this pdf document on selecting the right system for your rig. For much more information, visit the RV Comfort Systems website.
Have you installed a CheapHeat system in your RV? If you have, we’d love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below.
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