Thursday, December 8, 2022


Full-time RVing: Staying warm — without busting the bank



By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Here’s a question from an RV forum: Can you live full time in your RV on $1,000 a month? We know some that do. While that question is too multifaceted to tackle in just one little post, we thought it might be good to talk about one aspect: Heating your rig.

Being a full-timer allows you the freedom to “travel with the sun.” Sure enough, you’ll find lots of full-timers heading south as winter rolls in. Mexico for some — that’s a lovely place; but for those who must (or want to) stay stateside, those Sunbelt states are a good place to “hole up” when the geese start flying.

But staying warm is important. Even in Quartzsite, you can wake up with below-the-freezing-mark temps in the deep end of winter, as recent events have shown. Happily as Sol tracks across the sky, daytime temperatures rise up. But you’ve seen the news lately — those nasty fuel prices aren’t going to hit just our tow vehicles — you can expect the price of ALL heating fuels will increase. What’s to be done?

Many RVers have found that the efficiency of their factory-provided RV furnaces is far from wallet friendly. If you fire up that RV furnace and stick your hand anywhere close to the outside breather port, you’ll know an awful lot of your heating budget is flying outside. That’s just the nature of the beast. So consider retiring your furnace and using a localized heat source in your rig — either a catalytic or “blue flame” style heater.

“Cat” heaters use a specially treated catalytic “bed” or mat that allows heat to be produced from propane flamelessly. They’re highly efficient, and most are equipped with a sensor that shuts them off if the oxygen levels in the RV become low enough to be of safety concern. They use no electricity — a real plus for boondockers. However, most cat heaters are adjustable only to the degree of “high, medium, and low,” meaning you set them and they run continuously — they can be too hot or too cold.

photo: R&T De Maris

“Blue flame” style heaters don’t have a catalytic bed, but have a burner, the flames of which can usually be seen, kind of like a mini-fireplace. Some of these have a completely adjustable thermostat that will “turn off and on” to accommodate a steady room temperature. A close cousin, “brick” heaters don’t have burners, per se, but have one or more ceramic blocks with tiny orifices. Some are completely adjustable, others like cat heaters are high, medium, low guys. You pay your money and take your choice.

In any event, all these fellows are “air breathers.” Always follow the safety instructions that come with the product. That usually means cracking a window to provide plenty of ventilation. And since these are not “outside vented” they will put humidity into your RV. If you’re staying in high-humidity country, you’ll have to take actions to contend with this. Down in the desert areas, the added humidity to some is a side benefit.



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10 months ago

If you want to full time on a bare bones budget, heating your rig should not be an expense. Move further south to where heating is not an expense.

5 years ago

I use a mix of heating devices in my 40 ft bus conversion. I use two electric space heaters (one in the front and one in the rear) which is good until the outside temps drop down to 45F. Then they really don’t do that great of a job to me. I also have a residential LP fireplace that I added a blower under. The blower makes a big difference. In the bathroom/dressing room is a wall mounted LP space heater (Dyna-Glo Tag-a-long rated for indoor use). I have a heated mattress pad on the bed (the kind you sleep on top of) and I use a 0F sleeping bag as a comforter. I also have an LP/CO/Smoke detector in the bus. The few windows I left in the bus are aluminum framed. I made interior storm windows that help keep the interior warm as well. The storm windows also create a thermal bridge so it’s helping keep the bus warm in winter and cool in summer. When running the fireplace heavily (like overnight), I go thru a 20# tank in about 5-6 days. I don’t like being cold. Nor do I like wearing a lot of clothes.

Jan E. Van Hoven
5 years ago

While our trailer is not a 4 season, my wife and I have found a couple of ways to help cut the cost down during the colder months. First we put 1/2 inch insulation boards under the slide-outs. Second we bought some plexiglass and cut them to fit the inside of the windows. Cheap and really helped with the fuel bill. Just remember to remove the insulation under the slide-outs prior to closing.

Larry McGaugh
5 years ago





Furnace with Ducted CheapHeat™ SA7 adapter Furnace with plenum CheapHeat™ PL7 adapter

_The CheapHeat™ is 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. 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 electrical heat source is 100% efficient and all heat produced is forced through the ducts since the heating core itself is mounted in the direct flow of the central distribution system. Compared to the burning of propane for comfort heating, which is approximately 60% efficient, the all-electric CheapHeat™ option is a viable option for serious coach owners to consider.

_In addition to the heating coil assembly, the other main component of the system is the solid-state controller. The controller is the very heart of the CheapHeat™ system. It communicates directly with the existing wall thermostat and the fan motor so all the user has to do is simply select Electric or Gas on a conveniently installed wall switch. This well designed and sturdy controller is engineered and applicable to both 30-amp and 50-amp shore power configurations. It coordinates all the functions of the existing propane furnace with the added electrical heating coil assembly. Considering actual load demands, all internal wiring components and connectors are purposely oversized by at least 30%. And every component part in the CheapHeat™ controller is UL® Listed and mounted in an industrial grade NEMA-1 UL® Listed/certified metal box.

_The coil assembly is safeguarded against failure by redundant methods making the CheapHeat™ unit totally safe and permanently installed, which is certainly not the case when RVers use portable space heaters for instance. Aside from overkill on the sizing of the components in the controller, a bi-metal high limit safety switch wired into the coil assembly protects it from any over-temperature situation. Additionally a failsafe device called a fusible links is included for the common “leg” of the coils, (see photo). Which acts as an in-line circuit breaker protects against any over-current and/or over heat problems. With redundant integral safety measures, plus the fact that no carbon monoxide is produced using electric heat, the CheapHeat™ System is deemed quite safe and viable. 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.

Tests have shown that the CheapHeat™ unit successfully heats the motorhome in less operating time, meaning the furnace blower assembly works less to heat the same space as burning propane. Here’s why.

_All propane-fired forced air furnaces require a pre-purge and post-purge cycling of the blower assembly to remove any trace of unburned propane and other gases that might yet exist in the sealed combustion chamber. Some pre-purge cycles can approach a full minute, while post-purge cycles can run up to about 90 seconds each. And if the furnace is equipped with a three-try circuit board, the run-time on the fan motor increases yet again. With the switch placed to electric mode, the fan motor only operates when heat is being produced. We receive emails every season from disgruntled RVers who experience this pre and post-purge cycling and cannot understand why the furnace is blowing cold air. Unless a fault exists, it’s just the nature of propane burning furnaces. For every heating cycle, there is a full 2.5 minutes of runtime with no flame or heat being produced.

Because of 40% energy loss through the flue along with the pre and post-purge cycles, the realized heat output into the coach with a 40,000 BTU propane furnace, for example, is reduced to about 18,000 BTU an hour when measured at the discharge registers. The CheapHeat™ system, meanwhile, produces a true, one-to-one BTU per hour heat output at the registers. Another factor to think about; it’s not uncommon for the propane furnace to purposely overshoot the temperature setting of the thermostat to compensate for the purging cycles. The elimination of this pre and post-purge cycling is a welcome relief to RVers, because it simply adds to a higher comfort level for the occupants.

The CH50-DH50 is comparable to a 40,000 BTU propane furnace (it does, however, require 50-amp shore power service). The CH50-DH37 is akin to a 30,000 BTU propane furnace and also requires 50-amp service. The smaller CH50-DH18 is equivalent to a 20,000 BTU propane furnace but only requires 30-amp electrical service. If your existing gas furnace does not have adequate space for the Add-On unit directly behind it, or you’d really like a furnace positioned on a partition wall in the galley, for example, perhaps the stand-alone CheapHeat™ heater is something to consider.

Jim Schrankel
5 years ago

Tommy, I know wha you mean about the “open window, stay warm” conundrum . Opening a roof vent 1″ will have a negligible impact on staying warm in your rig. After having an experience like you did in the tent would certainly make you nervous about cat heaters, but the oxygen sensors and the inherent design of RVs make them perfectly safe.

5 years ago

I owned one of those old Coleman catalytic heaters; they sure put out good heat, but yes, they are dangerous because they consume oxygen. We own a blue flame, and have used it for years. Typically, I just open one of the overhead vents.

We have learned a few tips to save on propane. If the weather is cold, we orient our motorhome front window toward the sunrise. If it is hot, we orient toward the sunset so we have a cool afternoon in the shade on the curb side.

Tommy Molnar
5 years ago

I’ve always been scared of these catalytic heaters, even though most RV’ers swear by them. How do you keep the heat in if you have to open windows?

50 years ago when I was a kid, a friend and I went winter camping and had a Coleman catalytic heater in our canvas tent. Luckily I had to get up and “take care of business” in the middle of the night and had the familiar headache and was dizzy. I threw open the tent door and woke my buddy up. I think I saved our lives!