How to Heat a 38′ Camper Without Electricity
RVing in established campsites is awesome; safe, has plenty of comforts, and is generally a nice place to socialize with other RVers.
But in my opinion, it doesn’t beat boondocking. And no, I’ve nothing against campsites, but the silence, serenity, smell of the forest, and peace of dry camping are unimaginable. Personally, when a bee or fly disturbs my attention, that’s when I know I’m in the right place.
Of course, there’re several challenges to boondocking, and the main ones, at least for many boondockers, are isolation, safety, and power/heat. And today, we shall focus our discussion on power and how to heat your rig without electricity.
After all, many RVers usually get stuck about keeping their campers warm without shore power connections or generators. In the guide below, I’ll provide you with a run-down of how we usually stay warm in our RV without electricity:
5 Ways to Heat your RV Without Electricity
1) Propane Furnace
Surprisingly, one of the easiest and possibly among efficient RV heating methods might already be installed in your camper.
Many modern campers usually come with a built-in propane furnace for heat generation. If not, you can retrofit one, but it may take some high initial investment. Usually, propane furnaces use the propane gas used in your camper for cooking to generate heat. Most propane furnaces are thermostatically controlled and warm quickly and efficiently.
I prefer them when temperatures drop below freezing for cabin warmth. And because they’re usually located in the RV basement, they tend to route heat downwards to prevent plumbing from freezing. Also, the propane furnace vents externally, so they hardly contribute to moisture condensation inside the rig or toxic emissions.
The biggest downside of heating your rig with a propane furnace is that it uses a considerable amount of expensive propane. Still, I usually don’t mind, provided my family is warm.
There’s no specific answer to the amount of propane you’ll use to heat your rig because there’re way too many factors to estimate. For example, the overall climate, preferred indoor temperatures, size of your rig, price of propane, and so much on.
However, in conditions where it’s just below freezing overnight and above freezing daytime, we usually empty a 30lbs cylinder in 4-5 days on our 30′ Airstream camper. There’s also a misconception that propane heaters don’t use electricity. It’s false.
Remember, the propane furnace uses a thermostat to operate, and for it to run, it takes a spark from your DC batteries to ignite the propane. Also, as the propane heater works, it has the DC fans blowing warm air through the vents throughout your RV. So, you’re constantly drawing some power from your DC battery as long as the furnace is on.
The good news is you shouldn’t worry much about the drain. A good battery can run for more than 10 hours of a continuous drain.
Finally, from personal experience, if you accidentally run out of propane while sleeping and there’s no more fire/flame, the furnace set-up makes your rig colder rather than warm. See, your thermostat doesn’t understand, so it’ll continue running the fan non-stop and never shut off because it’s trying to get to a specific set temperature but just can’t.
Therefore, it’s important always to check the level of propane available not to find yourself in a compromising situation.
2) Portable Space Heaters
I’m a big fan of space heaters, and I figure I’m the space heater king because I’ve had so many. They’re not as efficient as the propane furnace, and I love to use them alongside my propane furnace, especially when temperatures are hitting the teens.
However, the biggest benefit of having a space heater in your rig is that they’re portable, so you can literally tag along with them anywhere. Plus, they don’t require any electric hookups. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything better than the oil-filled electric space heaters that look like radiators.
They’re bulky, though, but generally much safer than other types. They also lack a fan, so they’re completely silent. I can’t tell you how silence is golden to I’m when trying to catch some sleep.
Of course, if you’re okay with noise and need a fan running to get some sleep, get the propane space heaters. Get one with an efficient fan- the larger the fan, the better. The smallest space heaters usually have tiny, loud fans that don’t move much air.
But whatever space heater you choose, you must ensure it has three heat settings, a thermostat, and a time. The different settings usually help with limiting wattage and precise temperature control.
Don’t also go for the crazy cheap and flimsy space heaters. A simple heater with plenty of safety features works great. The fire threat is usually great with portable space heaters, so choose a heater than kills the power if it’s knocked over or turned on its side.
If you’ve pets around, or long hair and lots of dust, I’d suggest you keep away from ceramic space heaters. On our last ceramic heater, the heat block was constantly getting blocked by a mat of felted dog hair, like a dryer lint trap, and it often reduced its cooling efficiency.
The biggest concern with space heaters, especially propane space heaters, is carbon monoxide poisoning. Propane space heaters can produce toxic carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas, and the quick build-up of this gas in enclosed spaces may be fatal to humans.
However, the safety threat of space heaters isn’t any different from that of LPG tanks in our houses. It depends on how you use the heater and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Nevertheless, here are some safety pointers to follow when using portable space heaters in your rig:
- Never leave your space heater unattended
- Keep the heater away from all flammable and combustible materials
- Ensure your rig has plenty of ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- Never run the space heaters while sleeping
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
3) RVs Heater
RVs, like cars, usually have RV heaters to help keep your rig warm. Using an RV heater works best if you’re camping in a motorhome, where the vehicle cabin connects to the living area. It’s also an ideal heat source when you’re on the go.
However, using RV heat isn’t a long-term or efficient method of warming your camper, but I wouldn’t mind using it as I find alternative means to stay warm. Plus, if your RV has an overheating problem that isn’t related to loss of coolant, running the heater can help the problem by slightly slowing the overheating.
And in snowy conditions, running your heater will help dry out the moisture your RV tracked and reduce the floorboard corrosion. It also helps to keep the windows clear and eliminate fog. Using the RVs heater function isn’t worse than running the A/C, though, in colder months, I’d suggest you let the engine warm up enough before cranking to the higher temperature gauge.
The reason is simple. The RV heater removes the heat from your RVs engine and moves it to the cabin, and the likelihood of the engine suffering wear and tear is high, especially if you’re hard on it. Even then, unless it’s not very cold or your RV is well-insulated, it’s unlikely that your RV heater will keep your cabin space warm for long.
4) Spot-Warming a Camper
Warming your bed is the greatest challenge to keeping your RV warm without electricity. Heaters are effective, but you can’t run them through all night. Same with propane. Therefore, you need to be more inventive in retaining body warmth when switching them off.
The good news is there are several solutions to help you stay warm. You could start by investing in thermal heating bags or blankets. These blankets hold most of your body heat, even in cold winter.
Laying hot water bottles, especially inside your sleeping bag, is also a great way to maintain heat.
Personally, I like performing some light exercises before heading into the sack. It raises my body temperature and keeps the blood flowing. Ensure you don’t overdo it to the point of sweating because it’ll start to cool you off later.
The trick with spot-warming is simply coming up with inventive ways to stay warm or retain higher body temperatures without using heating devices.
5) Proper Camper Insulation
Insulating a camper is a tough topic to research, and there’s too much misinformation around, even from Rvers, who seem to know what they’re doing. I usually go for my winter RVing in Maine, and it gets really cold in winter. Insulating my camper makes a HUGE difference and certainly helps my rig stay cool.
I won’t go into the details of insulating an RV because I have already covered it before. However, the key thing you must understand about insulation is that heat generally transfers through main principles:
Heat loss through conduction is mitigated by covering the entire RV surface. Remember, conduction transfers heat from your camper to the outside through thermal bridging. So, the most efficient way of handling heat conduction is covering surfaces bridging to the outside, such as windows and doors.
Convection is described as air movement, so the easiest way to handle heat loss through convection is to limit heat movement in your RV.
Finally, let’s talk about radiation. It’s the loss of heat between one body to another without contact.
Generally, the effects of radiation are minimized by limiting the effects of heat through reflective surfaces. For example, using reflective panels inside your camper radiates heat inside rather than allowing it to escape outside. It’s important to understand that insulation for a house may not necessarily be good for your camper.
The other important tip to remember when ventilating your camper is that ventilation is key. As much as you’d like to seal everything off, you must have free flow to the air to prevent moisture condensation.
Well, that’s everything you need to know about how to warm a camper without electricity.
And as you can see, there’re different ways to do so, and it’s not challenging either. You can pick one method, but I’d suggest you use a combination of these methods, especially if you’re in freezing conditions.
But whatever method you choose, it’s also important to exercise safety. The threat of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning are the greatest risks, especially with propane heaters.