Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We like to boondock in the national forests of the West in summer but find that most mornings can be quite chilly until the sun warms up the outside air. But using our furnace runs the batteries down too fast. Is there a better way to deal with those chilly mountain mornings? —George and Fran
Hi George and Fran,
The quick answer is a catalytic heater. Here’s why. A forced air furnace that comes with an RV works quite well, roaring into action with its powerful fan blowing hot air through ducts as it was designed to do. It’s great on chilly winter days as well as mountain mornings in summer. When it gets too hot, the thermostat turns it off. When you start to shiver, it roars into action again. The comfort level lies halfway between these two ends.
On the other hand, the catalytic heater just sits there quietly glowing. No roar. And no guzzling of propane. It’s effective when within several feet of its infrared radiant warmth but not when at the other end of the RV. However, when left on long enough it heats up most of the air inside.
The standard furnace draws air in through a grill installed at floor level on the inside of the RV. A flame heats the air that the fan then blows out through ducts to the far reaches of the RV. But if you’ve ever stood outside your RV and held your hand up to the furnace’s exhaust (where the byproducts of the flame-type heating process are evacuated) you will notice a lot of heat coming out. So much heat that 400-500 BTUs are lost, reducing the furnace’s efficiency to only about 60% to 70%.
However, the catalytic heater uses chemical combustion (platinum is the catalyst) – not a flame – for heating the air, and therefore has virtually no harmful or dangerous unburned byproduct to eliminate, so does not require venting to the outside.
It does produce a small amount of carbon monoxide (CO) but is 99+% efficient in producing pure heat to the inside of the RV. Since the heater consumes oxygen, it requires some outside fresh air replacement, such as a window or roof vent opened one-quarter inch. But using stove burners or the oven for heating the interior, which are not vented to the outside, is dangerous and should not be used.
The beauty of the catalytic heater is that it is quiet, consumes only pennies in propane per hour, is safe, and if installed as a portable heater attached with a quick-connect to a propane extension hose, can be moved around the RV to where you need direct heat.
With the low, medium and high settings you can regulate the heat so you can leave it on, maintaining an even temperature, without having it cycle on and off, hot and cold, like the furnace.
Another important factor for boondockers is that catalytic heaters require no electricity (they use a button piezo lighter). As you have discovered, the furnace left on for long periods when it’s cold and pulling eight amps doesn’t take long to suck all the juice out of the house batteries.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .