Thursday, September 21, 2023


Furnace gobbles electricity when boondocking: Try this instead


Here’s a question from a reader of about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
Our RV’s furnace, though powerful and keeps us warm, uses a lot of electricity while booondocking. Is there a better way to stay warm? —Karen and Thelma

Hi Karen and Thelma,

I remember having the same question when I first started boondocking many years ago. Today, a lot of boondockers use a catalytic heater in addition to the built-in forced air furnace, whose powerful (and loud) fan that distributes the heat gobble up electrical amps and may leave you with dead batteries on cold days and nights. When I installed mine (a small Olympian) I decided to make it portable rather than built in, avoiding the cost of having a shop install it (which you would want to do for safety since it uses propane gas).

Olympian catalytic heater

With a low pressure gas regulator and hose (you can choose the length of hose you want) I could move it around my motorhome to where it was needed most. And with a Quick Connect I could easily disconnect the heater to stow it when not needed. The only installation necessary was to insert a “T” in the gas line to connect the hose to.

What the catalytic heater lacks is a fan – which is what draws the electricity – so using its radiant heat takes a little longer for the heat to reach the ends of your rig. But once the RV heats up you can decrease the heat output to whatever is comfortable. There is no electricity needed, there is no draw from your batteries, it uses the propane from your built in tank, and is wonderfully silent.

Since these heaters emit some carbon monoxide (CO) it is best to leave a window just slightly open (a slight crack is all that is necessary) to allow fresh air to enter. An added safety measure would be to install a CO detector. And the propane use is just pennies an hour, a very economical and effective heater.

Tip: On especially cold nights, besides throwing on an extra blanket, whoever gets up to start the morning coffee can also turn on the furnace (and the catalytic heater) for a few minutes to quickly heat the interior while the coffee brews – then dive back into your warm bed – so you are warm and toasty when the coffee is ready. Then turn off the furnace and let the catalytic heater maintain the warmth.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) .




  1. Bob, I believe the biggest reason to crack open the window is because of the large amount of CO2, Carbon Dioxide emitted by the catalytic heaters. The heaters emit extremely little CO, Carbon Monoxide.
    Also I would not use a catalytic heater with out installing Carbon Monoxide detectors. I have two installed. One in the living area and one near the bedroom.
    BTW, we have been using a catalytic heater since 2005. I do what you suggested, add a Tee in a propane line with a quick disconnect.
    We used the heater extensively on our 4 1/2 month trip to Alaska in 2016. 139 days on the trip and only hooked to electric for 2 nights. Dry camping or boondocking the rest of the time.

  2. Bob, also check out the 12 volt mattress heaters and blankets you can get from truck stops and Amazon. They’ll keep your bed toasty all night and draw only a tiny bit of power. Then as you say a shot of furnace when you start the coffee in the morning. One furnace cycle warms the coach up nicely and uses little power or propane.


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