By Jim Twamley
RVers have been using propane heat for almost as long as there have been RVs. Most RVs come with a forced air heater that operates on electricity for the blower and uses a propane burner for a heat source. These heaters provide a warm, comfortable environment for your RV but take a big bite from your budget.
Alternative heating sources are more common now, but they all need to be handled safely. Properly installed, catalytic heaters are very cost effective. They should be vented to the outside of your rig and installed in a safe place away from anyflammable material. [Editor’s note: Not all catalytic heaters offer the feature of outside venting. Still, they may be used safely — read on.]
As with the heaters I’m going to talk about, they all require that you keep a window or vent open to allow for replenishment of oxygen (the stuff your body requires in order to keep breathing). Propane heaters with ceramic elements are very popular because many of them provide both radiant and forced air heat. The Mr. Heater company (Mr. Heater) makes many portable heater models, but the BIG Buddy (available at Amazon) is a good choice for the RV. This BTU beast has multiple settings allowing you to pump out 4,000, 9,000 and 18,000 BTUs an hour.
The nice thing about this unit is that it has a built-in oxygen shutoff sensor and tip-over cut-off switch for safe indoor operation. I put a unit like this in one of my previous 5th wheels and I ran a flexible connector hose from the propane storage rack to the heater inside my coach. You can use a portable propane bottle with this model as well; however, you may not bring the bottle indoors. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully when using it in this manner.
Mr. Heater also makes the “Portable Buddy” (at Amazon) that has the same safety features as its big brother but uses a one-pound cylinder and lasts 3 to 6 hours. It can also be connected to a larger propane tank. The nice thing about these heaters is that you can take them with you to workshops, enclosed porches, cabins, hunting blinds, tents and anywhere you need heat.
Tank-top heaters are for outdoor use only — NEVER use this kind of heater inside your RV. Please do not use your propane oven or stove top burner to heat your RV. People die every year because they try to heat their living spaces like this. Finally, check your fire extinguishers to make sure they are fully charged and ready to go to work in an emergency.
[Editor’s note: Buddy heaters are "ceramic” heaters, which operate differently than catalytics.]