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Safety tips for portable heaters in an RV

Winter brings cold temperatures, biting winds, and even snow or sleet. Will your RV furnace keep you toasty? How much will it cost to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your rig? Perhaps a space heater can supplement your furnace heat and save you money on costly propane, too. Before you get started, it’s important to know critical safety tips for using portable heaters.

Types of portable heaters

Here are some popular kinds of space heaters.

  • Portable electric heaters. Usually small in size, these heaters can be easily moved from your RV bedroom to galley to the living room. Electricity powers a heating filament inside the unit. A fan pushes the warmed air out into the surrounding space.
  • Radiant space heaters. These heaters also run off electricity, but they function a bit differently. Instead of heating the air, radiant heaters are engineered to warm you and other objects directly. Radiant heaters come in a variety of sizes and configurations and are best suited to heating smaller spaces with poor insulation.
  • Oil-filled heaters. This type of heating unit often resembles a residential radiator, though smaller in size. The heating system is filled with oil which is then heated by electricity. You won’t need to refill the oil. It’s sealed inside the system and continues to circulate through the heater, transferring heat through the metal fins. The heat circulates throughout the room by natural convection, rather than a fan.
  • Ceramic heaters. In this type of heater, electricity heats a ceramic plate rather than a filament. A fan blows the warmed air out into the room.

What’s best for RVs?

Electric heaters and oil-filled space heaters are typically recommended for use inside a home or RV. Other heaters are available, like propane-burning units. These are generally best used in wide-open spaces like a large garage or outside patio space. A fuel-burning unit can be problematic because they emit harmful fumes.

Things to look for when purchasing

  • Get recommendations. Look at posted reviews online, inquire at a local hardware store, or ask other RVers about the heaters they use or recommend.
  • Consider your space. A large RV will require a space heater that’s manufactured to produce a larger amount of heat. Look at the space heater’s packaging. You should find the heater’s warming capacity or the square footage it will heat. Compare that information with your RV’s square footage and buy the heater that’s recommended for your rig’s size. A general rule of thumb is to purchase a heater that provides ten watts per square foot of your space.
  • Check wattage. Look at the packaging again to make sure the space heater won’t overload your RV’s electrical system.
  • Safety logo. Look for a safety logo (ETL or UL certification) before purchasing the unit.

Helpful heater features

  • Tip over shut-off. This button or sensor is usually mounted to the bottom of the heater. If the heater is bumped over, the unit will automatically turn itself off.
  • Temperature limitation. Many space heaters also feature an automatic turn-off function that will activate if the heater becomes too hot.
  • Timers. You can purchase portable heating units that can be set to only run during the time you choose. At bedtime, use alternative methods of staying warm. Blankets, flannel sheets, and thicker pajamas will keep you warm overnight. They are much safer than an unattended heater.

Safety tips

Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Follow their recommendations to stay safe.

  • Plug the heater directly into an outlet. Do not use an electrical power strip or extension cords.
  • Place your heater a minimum of three feet away from all flammable objects like furniture, curtains, cabinetry, blankets, and more.
  • Frequently check the heater electrical cord to ensure it’s securely plugged into the outlet.
  • Keep children and pets away from the heater. This can help to prevent accidental burns and bump-over mishaps.
  • Make sure to keep your heater positioned flat on the floor, not on top of the RV dinette table or countertops.
  • Double check to see that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  • Show everyone traveling with you how to safely operate the heater.
  • Position your heater away from all water sources.
  • Never run the heater’s power cord under rugs, ottomans, or other furniture.
  • Do not leave a heater unattended, especially with pets or young children in the RV.
  • Unplug the heater when you’re not using it.

Do you use a portable heater to supplement your RV’s furnace? What type of heater do you like best? Why? Please respond in the comments below.

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Jim Johnson
26 days ago

For AC powered heaters up to 15A, the best device I have found is a wireless thermostat. You set the heater for its maximum, plug it into a controller receiver which in turn plugs into the outlet. There is a battery powered wireless thermostat that you place in an appropriate place in the room – like on a counter or hang on a wall. The thermostat can be set to a specific temperature and takes care of turning the heater on/off via the controller.

This device provides for far more accurate space heating.

Len Minor
26 days ago

We have been camping / RVing for 50 years! Lots of shoulder season! Central Canada.
I agree with all the info in the above article, and have a couple of my own suggestions.
When operating an electric heater often check the plug to see if it is heating up. This indicates a contact resistance between plug and outlet, which is a common fire hazard.
Also, we have found electric blanket the best thing for chilly nights

Tom
26 days ago

We have an oil filled radiator and never turn it on to draw the full 15 amps. It has a tip over safety switch also.

Drew
26 days ago

We use a space heater that’s a fireplace. It looks great and supplies enough heat as long as temps don’t get below 40 degrees. – Then we just fire up the furnace.

Sandi Pearson
26 days ago

We currently use a Comfort Zone (CR highly rated) ceramic tower design space heater during extreme cold 20s-teens. In addition, we have a fire place set on auto. The space heater does a great job and has both a timer and auto thermostat feature. In our coach we set it near the kitchen and bath and open drawers and cupboard doors to aid in freeze prevention. We travel full time and stay south for the winter but each year since we started there’s been a freeze even in the gulf coast area.

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