As the colder end of fall approaches and winter starts arriving, an RV can be a very cozy camping option. However, keeping one warm can go through quite a bit of propane. So why does an RV propane heater use so much propane, and how can one make propane last as long as possible during their short-term or long-term winter RVing trips? Follow these propane-saving tips below to help you stay toasty in your rig and go easier on your wallet this winter.
Your RV’s propane furnace is a pretty simple device. Propane is burned to heat air which is forced through the ductwork of the floor by an electric fan. Openly burning propane in an enclosed space without ventilation is generally quite deadly due to carbon monoxide gas. For this reason, the propane in an RV furnace burns in a tube and heating element that vents directly outside your RV. The air in your RV is blown over the heating element to heat it.
This necessary ventilation carries as much as 30%-50% of the heat generated by burning propane and blows it outside. That means you need to burn up to twice as much fuel to get the same amount of BTUs worth of heat inside your rig as you would if you were just burning propane inside.
This may sound like a design flaw, but ventilation is necessary for the warm, dry, and safe air being blown throughout your RV. Even though you should have your propane system and furnace inspected periodically, there is no way to modify this efficiency. The best ways to save on propane involve keeping the heat in your RV as long as possible or using other safe methods to heat your rig.
Check around slides, windows, doors, and any other potential gaps and close them off. You may find that some gaps need repairing, while other areas may just require you to add a bit of insulating material. For example, my motorhome gets cold drafts from the air vents. In cold weather, I stop this draft by placing a cloth in the air filter intake of the engine. The trick is remembering to remove the cloth before starting the engine up.
One way to find gaps is to go around with a temperature gun in your RV and look for cold areas. If a particular area is colder than the rest of the rig, there is a reason. Sometimes it’s because cold air is seeping in, which means warm air is escaping too.
A well-insulated RV will hold heat longer which will reduce the time your furnace has to run. Many of the same tricks people use in the summer to help keep their RV cool will also help in the winter. For example, placing those square insulating pillows in the roof vents can help a lot, considering warm air rises and vents are a significant source of heat loss.
In addition to vents, windows could always use a little extra insulation. There are several ways to do this but many use Reflectix material on the windows, just like in the summertime. To prevent condensation from forming behind it, we like to put our insulation on the outside of the windows.
Reflectix is bubble wrap with foil on either side. It is pretty inexpensive and can be cut to size.
In addition to window insulation and roof vent insulation, adding heavy curtains and carpets to your RV can help retain heat. The bottom line is the longer the heat stays in your RV, the less your furnace must run, which saves you on propane.
If your RV air conditioner has a heat pump setting, you can use that electrical heat source to save a lot of propane. There’s a catch, though. Typically RV heat pumps don’t work well once outside temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
Another option is to use a portable electric heater to help take the chill out of the air. It’s not recommended to use one if you are not actively able to keep an eye on your rig, though typical portable heaters have a few safety concerns to consider.
- They take 1,500 watts of power to run, so a 30 amp RV shouldn’t run more than one on high.
- They should have three feet of clearance around them.
- It’s not recommended to run them while sleeping.
- Relying solely on portable heaters and not running your furnace when it is below freezing can prevent warm air from reaching your pipes in some models, which puts your plumbing at risk of freezing.
Using a heating blanket with temperature settings while sleeping can help you keep the temperature much lower while remaining cozy. They also make heated fitted sheets, so the warmth comes from the mattress itself.
Keeping the thermostat in your RV as low as comfortably possible will cut down on the time your furnace must kick on each day. That being said, if you bundle up while inside your RV, you can probably stand to keep it colder. This doesn’t mean you have to suffer while winter RVing. Thick PJs, comfortable sweaters, and thick wool socks or slippers are all acceptable RV wear.
A propane-saving trick for comfort is only to kick up the heat when you need it. For example, if you keep the thermostat at 65 degrees all day and bundle up, you are going to eat up all that propane savings by kicking it up to 75 for fifteen minutes while you take a shower. So you can get out, dry off and get back into some cozy clothes before dropping the temp back down.
Propane saving tips aren’t all that complicated. Before heading out on your winter, RVing adventures just make sure you don’t have any gaps that let the cold air in, insulate your vents, windows, and floors, and keep the thermostat as low as you can comfortably stand it. Additionally, use supplemental heating sources like heat blankets and safely use space heaters to assist your RV furnace.
Do you know what else isn’t complicated? Feeling safe in your winter travels because you have Coach-Net’s 30+ years of experience providing roadside assistance and peace of mind to its members and RV technical assistance just a phone call away. So don’t forget to join or renew your membership before hitting the road today.
About The Author: Levi Henley
Levi Henley and his wife, Natalie, have been full-time RVers for over 5 years. They have also been Coach-Net customers for the same amount of time. They travel and workcamp around the U.S. in their 26-foot Itasca Sunstar motorhome with their two cats. They write for multiple RV-related publications and recently co-wrote “Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It.” You can follow their adventures on the road at henleyshappytrails.com
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