Full-time RV travels — Heat with gas or electricity?


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

heat-billFor full-timers, keeping an eye on the budget can be critical to your lifestyle. When boondocking, your heating source choices are limited – gas prevails. But if you’re calling an RV park a temporary home – or any other place where you’re paying for electricity – the question is clearly: Which is cheaper, gas or electric.

It’s time to pull out the calculator as we’ll throw a few statistics out to help you make the call. All things being equal, electricity produces 3,800 btus per kilowatt, while LP produces 92,000 btus per gallon. Now to compare these energy apples and oranges: It’s a ratio of 24:1. As long as a gallon of propane costs you less than 24 times the cost of a kilowatt of electricity, all things being equal, the gas is cheaper.

In our part of the country (southern Arizona) RVers report paying about 17 cents per kilowatt of power in the typical RV park. Our favorite LP supplier is charging $2.05 per gallon. Remember the rule of thumb – a gallon of propane should be less than 24 times the cost of a kilowatt of electricity. A Kw of electric17 cents times 24 equals $4.08. LP down here is still the fuel of choice. But remember we said, “all things being equal”. Are they?

When heating with a factory equipped LP furnace, a great deal of heat is “going up the chimney” or rather, out the vent on the side of your rig. Let’s say it was 40% of the burned energy. That’s a lot of those btus heading out into space. By my calculations, once LP reaches $2.45 it might be time to think about running an electric space heater. But for those who use a non-vented heater, like a blue flame or catalytic heater, the efficiencies are MUCH higher and you’ll still find LP a great saver.

Of course, other factors come into play: If you buy your LP ‘in the park’ or delivered, you’ll probably pay a lot more money. But if your back disagrees with the idea of lifting and tossing a big, heavy LP container, electricity may be better for heating–and less needed for the heating pad.


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You need to buy a watt meter about $20 on ebay. I used it to determine my usage on all my electrical appliances after a surprise. I was paying my own power in my 5th wheel not having a fireplace. The cost about $1.45 per day in Yuma during the winter. The surprise was the next year when I had a new trailer with an electric fireplace and my costs jumped to $4.50 a day with just a few hours use in the morning and evening. Any time you use a heater with a fan, you must power the heating element and the motor to move the air. I now use two radiant, globe type heaters and my costs are $2.27 per day. An electric blanket is great to warm up the bed and some nights leave on low. It’s unbelievable how very little an electric blankets uses for power.

Larry McGaugh

RV Comfort Systems, has successfully engineered an electrical heating option, an add-on assembly to any RV propane furnace, so today’s RVer can simply choose propane or electricity to heat the interior of the coach. Called the CheapHeat™ System, this unit is mounted directly downstream of the existing gas furnace and employs tungsten heating coils powered by 120 or 240-volts AC to provide the heat. The 12-volt fan motor on the furnace then pushes the heated air throughout the distribution ducting in the coach. It can be configured into three different wattage ratings, 1,800, 3,750 and 5,000 watts, depending on the shoreline cord limitations.

The only connection between the CheapHeat™ and the existing propane furnace is a simple wiretap on the fan motor conductor. According to CSA America (the RV Furnace certification group) it DOES NOT effect the ANSI certification of the gas furnace.


In my 5th wheel the LP heats a large basement which is not all that airtight. Also a little vent heats the water hookup compartment, Where Elect just heats the living area. I am still not sure which is better.


I have found that electric heat simply doesn’t feel as warm as LP heat once temps hit 45F or below. So I tend to use a combination of electric heat (in my case, I use space heaters that run about $20 at Wal-Mart) and LP ( residential vent-free fireplace and a indoor-rated tag-a-long LP space heater that I mounted to the wall in the bathroom area). Most of the time I have found that park AC is cheaper than LP. But I did make a spreadsheet for comparison in OpenOffice. I posted a downloadable link in my little blog but could only save it in .xls (Excel) which still opens in OpenOffice, the cell width may need a little adjusting. I also cook on LP (a tank lasts about 3 months with heavy cooking) and use a microwave. I also like knowing that if the power goes out due to snow/ice storm, I can stay warm. https://lorndavi.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/lp-vs-ac-spreadsheet/


For us electric is the way to go. We are full-time and camp at COE and State Parks and usually stay the 14 day limit at each stay. The daily fee includes water and electric so we never pay extra for electric. A few times if it gets cold we may have to use propane for our furnace but rarely. For cooking it’s convection microwave and electric frying pan.