Wednesday, November 29, 2023


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

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

For 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.

##RVT767 ##RVDT1242

Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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PennyPA (@guest_60093)
3 years ago

It would have been nice if they had included pictures that corresponded with the tire markings it so people could see what the article was talking about.

Re: gas vs electric heat, most RVs in this day and age, heat a certain amount of the basement which includes your pipes. If you heat with just the electric space heaters you are no longer heating your pipes and you will run the chance of freezing.

RV Staff
3 years ago
Reply to  PennyPA

Hi, PennyPA — In the tip about tires and serial numbers, if you click on the link to the Tire Institute of America, there are very clear pictures and explanations of all of the serial numbers. And if you get the pop-up to sign up for the TIA, just click on the X in the upper right corner. Have a great day. 😀 —Diane at

Don (@guest_60088)
3 years ago

This is a technical “nit” but it’s important to keep your terminology correct. A kilowatt is NOT a measurement of power used. The term you’re looking for is Kilowatt-hour. I.e. an appliance drawing 1000 watts (a kilowatt) uses one kilowatt-hour per hour it’s running. Mike Sokol will be proud of you if you keep your terms right!

Mike Sokol
3 years ago
Reply to  Don

Yes, I am a bit of a nit-picker, aren’t I?

Jeff (@guest_60081)
3 years ago

I have 2 Electric Heat Pumps on both A/C’s and as long as the outside temp is not below 40 degrees, these babies work great. In fact if you leave them run, they will BAKE you out of the RV.

I usually only use them to get the Chill out of the RV in the mornings. And I am not a Full Timer!

Heat Pumps work great, as far as I’m concerned!

George (@guest_3063)
7 years ago

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 (@guest_3055)
7 years ago

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.

Theo (@guest_3053)
7 years ago

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.

Tom Gutzke (@guest_60117)
3 years ago
Reply to  Theo

If its below freezing outside I would definitely use LP in your situation as it will keep the water lines from freezing.

LMS (@guest_3050)
7 years ago

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.

Brenda (@guest_3049)
7 years ago

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.

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