Winter RVing can be a beautiful, quiet, and fantastic time to go camping. If you decide to go RVing in colder weather, you may find out just how good or not good most RV insulation is. Even with the furnace keeping your rig at a toasty temperature, place your hand on the wall of many RVs, and you will be able to feel the cold pressing in.
Due to this lack of thick insulation, it takes a ton of energy to keep an RV warm in the winter. RVers are faced with two energy choices in colder weather, electricity or propane. Rather than run out of propane quickly, many RVers attempt to forgo running their furnace to heat their rig with space heaters instead. Space heaters can be a great tool to supplement your RV furnace heating. However, there are some considerations and safety practices one should follow.
The biggest issue with space heaters and RVs is the amount of power required to make them work. Your average fan or ceramic heater that you can pick up cheaply at big box stores has two settings. The low setting uses about 700 watts when running, and the high setting uses 1500 watts.
If your 30 amp RV tries to run more than 3,600 watts (or slightly less due to voltage variance among RV parks), it will start tripping breakers in your RV or at the power pedestal of the park. You can probably do the quick math to realize that a 30 amp rig simply can’t handle more than two space heaters on the high setting.
To add to that, your RV fridge and other electronics all pull power too, so running two space heaters day in and day out can push the system. Running an RV electrical system at its upper capacity, especially an older rig, can cause heat to build up in the wires posing a potential fire risk.
Bottom Line: If you plan to use a space heater in your 30 amp RV, it’s safest to limit it to one.
If your RV has a 50 amp system, you have a little more leeway as to how much you can run. Without going into a lot of details, a 50 amp rig has two 50 amp arms on its system. In other words, you have two 50 amp circuits in your rig totaling 12,000 possible running watts at 120 volts.
In theory, a 50 amp rig could handle about 6 or 7 space heaters and still run the other electrical appliances like the fridge, etc. Most RVers would stay comfortable in a moderately cold environment using just a couple of space heaters. A 50 amp RV can quite easily handle space heaters as a supplemental heat source from an electrical standpoint.
Regardless of your RV’s electrical capacity, most RV plugs are wired to a 15 amp breaker. So let’s say your RV kitchen has four wall sockets on one breaker. You can only plug one space heater on high into any one of those sockets. If you plug in a second, that will start tripping the breaker as a 15 amp breaker can only handle 1,800 watts at 120 volts.
Another thing to consider is your power bill. If you stay at a park monthly that charges for electricity, running a 1500 watt space heater several hours a day will significantly increase your power bill. In other words, whether it be propane or electricity, it takes power to heat your rig, and someone must pay for that power.
Close Quarters: In general, RVs are pretty small spaces, and it may be challenging to keep space heaters far enough away from flammable material like bedding and furniture to use them safely.
Frozen Pipes: Some RVs have enclosed underbellies and use some of the warm air from the propane RV furnace to keep the plumbing from freezing when winter RVing. Relying solely on space heaters in freezing temps could result in frozen pipes.
In general, the safest heating method is to use the heat pump setting on your RV air conditioner (if equipped) when outdoor temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your RV’s propane furnace when it’s below 40 degrees. However, if you wish to supplement your heating with a space heater, following the tips below will result in the safest experience.
1. Buy the right size heater. There’s no need to have a heater intended to heat a warehouse in an RV.
2. Buy a space heater with covers or guards to prevent burns.
3. Make sure the heater is at least three feet from all objects.
4. Pets can easily knock them over, or children can get burned on them, so place space heaters out of their reach.
5. Never leave a space heater turned on when going to bed or leaving the room or RV.
6. Ensure your space heater has tip-over protection and overheat protection. These features will shut the heater off in the event of malfunction by tipping or getting too hot.
7. Only electric or vented fuel-fired heaters should be used. They do make small propane heaters that can be used inside, and there are also many stories of rigs going up in flames due to improper use or going to bed with them running.
8. Plug space heaters directly into an outlet. Don’t use extension cords or power strips. Almost ALL power strips are not wired to handle the load of a space heater.
9. Though the majority of this article concerns electrical space heaters, it should be mentioned that one should never use gas heaters intended for outdoor only use. This can result in carbon monoxide poisoning and death.
Winter RVing can be a fantastic experience, and you can find some good tips for a comfortable and safe experience on the Coach-Net ~ Travel and Adventure Blog. When it comes to any questions, concerns, safety information, or help, remember that your Coach-Net roadside assistance comes with 24/7 Protect.
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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 work camp 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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