Informational Guide

How To Heat An RV Without Propane

Learn how to heat an RV without propane as we explore alternative ways to stay warm with efficient solutions heating for your camper.

by Josh M

Recreational Vehicles (RVs) are more popular than ever, especially with the recent travel restrictions. You can use them at any time of year, and most models have built-in heating systems to keep you warm in the winter months.

However, some RVs don’t have propane heaters, so you’ll need to find another way to stay warm. In this guide, we’ll explain how to heat an RV without propane, and other tips for keeping the heat in.

RV Camper Night

Propane heaters have long been the preferred heater of choice for RV owners because they are efficient and cost-effective. However, there are a lot of other types of heaters available which are just as safe and just as effective. For those who travel in between cold and hot destination, also consider a combo type RV AC. For exclusive heating solutions, here are some of the best options out there:

Reverse Cycle AC

Reverse Cycle Air Conditioners work very differently from traditional heaters. They don’t generate any heat, but instead, they absorb it from the outside. They use an external coil to gather in the heat from the outside air and then dissipate it into the RV.

The great thing about this type of heating is that it’s inexpensive to run and can be reversed to provide you with cool air in the summer months. It’s completely safe but will need to be installed in your RV rather than other portable heaters, which can just be set up and turned on.

Space Heaters

Space heaters are a popular choice because they provide a lot of heat quickly. Cold air is drawn into the device, heated using coils, and then forced out into the RV using fans.

These electric portable heaters are usually only about $20-50, so they won’t cost you a fortune, and they’re pretty efficient and won’t cost a lot to run. However, there are some safety considerations. You need to keep them about 3 feet from the walls and flammable objects, so if you have a small RV, this won’t be a viable option.

Radiant Heaters

Radiant heaters are great for warming small spaces. However, they work differently from conventional heaters as they don’t heat the air in a room; they use infrared light to heat surfaces themselves. This direct heat is very effective and actually quite efficient.

Radiant heaters aren’t too expensive and are fairly cheap to run. They are well suited to small RVs, but you still need to keep them at least 3 feet away from any flammables to be safe.

Turned On Heater

Oil Heaters

Oil heaters work by warming oil within the heater, which then dissipates heat into the room. The advantage of this method is that the oil stays warmer for longer, and it gives a steady, controlled warmth for your RV.

Oil heaters are around the same price as space heaters but don’t have the same fire risk associated with them. They’re cost-effective to run but can take up a lot more space. This type of heating is perfect for medium or large RVs.

Alternative Ways To Heat A Camper (Without A Heater)

As you can see, there are some great heaters out there that will warm your RV up quickly. However, there are some other methods that can work well as a substitute for propane heaters:

Insulation

Insulation doesn’t actually provide any heat, but it stops heat from escaping your RV. The majority of the heat will escape from your doors, vents, and windows, and even tiny gaps or cracks can let a lot of cold air in.

Reflective insulation works well on your windows. You can buy rolls of it from most hardware stores and just use it to cover your windows. Window insulation like this has an R rating which determines how well it will trap heat inside. The higher the rating, the better, and most reflective insulation are between 4 and 20.

Your RV likely has several different vents. Unfortunately, a lot of heat can be lost through these, so you’re best off fitting a vent insulator over each opening. You can also use Styrofoam and tape around the opening to keep the heat in.

The best way to insulate your doors is to use plastic wrap. You’ll need to measure this to size and then tape it over each door. This won’t look stylish, but you’ll really notice the difference it makes to the temperature.

Insulation can cost you a bit upfront, but it generates long-term savings. It’s worth investing in some solid insulation, even if you’re going with a different heating option.

Solar Heating

Solar heating is an effective renewable method of heating your home or RV, but there’s typically a high up-front cost to have them installed. However, for a camper, you can opt for a smaller solar heating box. The insulation board is fitted into a black box which can be placed on your windowsill at a 45-degree handle. The sun will heat the board, and the heat will then dissipate into the RV.

Solar heating done this way is very affordable and can be effective. You are reliant on the weather, though, so if you’re pitched up in less sunny conditions, then this isn’t really a viable option.

Radiant Flooring

Underfloor radiant heating allows you to heat your RV without taking up any additional room. It can be challenging to install yourself, so you are best off getting a professional to fit the floor panels. Once installed, they are pretty cheap to run and give a comforting heat to your camper.

Pump Heating

Pump heating involves installing a pump on your RVs air conditioning unit to draw in warmth from the outside. It’s more efficient than portable heaters but costlier to install. You may also need several pumps if you have a large RV. Pump heating is a good option but won’t work at temperatures lower than 35 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s not suitable for those in freezing climates.

How To Stay Warm Inside Your RV Camper

There are many ways to improve the conditions within your camper van, but there are also steps you can take to stay warm. Using these methods won’t just help keep you cozy; it will also help lower your costs of running expensive heaters.

Wrapping up warmly is essential. It will help you stay warm in cold conditions, but also if you’re going out to explore the area. Wool socks, thermal underwear, and oversized pullovers will help fight off the cold. You can also use blankets to keep warm when the temperature drops overnight. Consider bringing several with you or investing in an electric blanket that will keep you warm with very little cost.

Preventing RV Air Leaks

RVs aren’t as well insulated as your home, and there are more leaks that allow air in. Vents, ducts, windows, and doors are the main culprits, but leaks can spring up anywhere.

Cold air coming into your RV can make it really uncomfortable and lower the temperature. It can also counteract the impact of a heater in the RV, meaning you’re paying to run it for no positive impact. On top of this, freezing air circulating around and underneath your RV can cause damage that is expensive to repair.

Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to stop air leaks:

RV Wind Skirting
RV Wind Skirting

RV wind skirting is installed all around the base of your camper. It helps stop cold air from circulating underneath your RV and causing freezing conditions that can impact your plumbing systems. This is an affordable way to help protect your camper from the cold.

Soft Wind Skirting

Soft wind skirting is where you use a soft fabric sheet around your RV to help stop freezing air from impacting your camper. It’s cheaper than hard wind skirting and works well as long as it isn’t too windy.

Hard Wind Skirting

Hard wind skirting is a more rigid structure around the base of your RV. It’s better against windy conditions and more permanent, so well suited for RVs that don’t move too often.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Can you stay in a camper in the winter?

Yes, but make sure you have adequate heating to keep you warm and comfortable.

How cold is too cold for an RV?

RVs are built to withstand the cold, but when you get to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s just too cold, and you need to get indoors.

Will RV pipes freeze in one night?

If the temperature gets low enough, then your pipes can freeze, but it usually won’t happen overnight. It will usually take about 24 hours for pipes to freeze.

Will RV holding tanks freeze?

Your holding tank can freeze, but the likelihood of this happening depends on the location. If the holding tank is above ground level, then the heat from the RV should keep it warm. If it’s lower down, then it might freeze in the winter months. If your holding tank freezes, it can cause damage and be a real hassle to fix, so it’s worth taking precautions to protect it.

Conclusion

Your RV is somewhere you go to relax and enjoy yourself, and you can’t do that if you’re shivering. There’s a lot of ways to keep your camper warm, and hopefully, this guide has helped you understand what options there are out there and the steps you can take to heat your RV.

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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