RV Propane Heater vs Electric: What’s Right For Your RV?
With winter in full swing, many campers are missing their RVs like crazy. Meanwhile, there are RVers who choose to keep on camping despite the chilly weather. The trick to enjoying winter camping trips? A heater, of course!
Most people who camp in cold weather only occasionally simply turn on the RV propane heater included with their trailer or motorhome. This is fine in some cases, but depending on your camping style and preferences, it might not be the best option for you.
Wondering what options you have besides the traditional RV propane heater, and which heating option would work best for you? In this article, we will discuss both of these things so you can head out on your winter camping trips with confidence.
Types of RV heaters
Let’s start by talking about each of the RV heater options. We will touch on the pros and cons of each in order to help you better understand your options so you can make a well-informed choice.
RV propane heater
An RV propane heater is what most trailers and motorhomes come equipped with out of the factory. As the name suggests, this type of heater uses propane to heat the rig, but it does still require some battery power to get going and to run the fan, so you will want to take that into account.
Because this built-in furnace has ductwork running alongside the pipes and into the underbelly, running it will help keep plumbing from freezing, especially if you have an enclosed underbelly. That said, this kind of furnace is notoriously inefficient, sending lots of heat outside and eating through propane at an incredibly fast rate.
Related: How Do You Repair An RV Furnace?
RV A/Cs with heat pumps
Some RVs come equipped with air conditioner units that include heat pumps. In some cases, this feature is in addition to an RV propane heater, but in other cases it is the only heater included in the RV.
These heat pumps run off electricity, meaning no propane is needed to keep them going, not to mention saving you money if electricity happens to be included in your campground fees. Unfortunately, these heat pumps only work in temperatures above 40°F, so they aren’t a great option if you plan on camping in super cold weather.
Portable propane heaters
Portable propane heaters are a great option for those who want a propane heater but don’t want to use battery power. These little heaters are small but mighty, and a single unit can easily heat an average sized RV. Because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, leaving a window open is necessary for proper ventilation, but they are still much more efficient than the big, built-in RV propane heater furnaces out there.
Unfortunately, they don’t heat any of the plumbing, so you will need to find other ways to keep pipes and tanks from freezing in super cold temps.
Electric space heaters
Finally, there is the option of using an electric space heater in your RV.
These are great because they don’t require propane, meaning they are free to use whenever you’re at a campsite with included electricity. Additionally, these heaters are much better at heating a room than the heat pumps mentioned above, and only a couple will be needed to keep an RV warm.
Of course, using electric space heaters is much more difficult when camping off-grid, so that is something to keep in mind.
What is the best type of heater for my RV?
Now that you know the kinds of heaters available to you, let’s narrow down your options by looking at the kind of camping you do. We will take into account the factors that matter most when choosing between an RV propane heater and an electric heater. This will help you decide which is ideal for you.
How often do you camp in cold weather?
If you only camp in cold weather once in a while, it might not be worth investing in new heaters. Your built-in RV propane heater is likely your best option, as it will keep you and your pipes warm without any extra effort on your part—and because your cold-weather camping ventures are rare, the cost of propane won’t be too much to handle.
How cold does it get?
When you do camp in cold weather, how cold does it get? If you routinely find yourself in temperatures below 40 degrees F and all your RV has in terms of heating is a heat pump, you might want to look into additional heating options. On the other hand, if you never camp in freezing cold temps, the heat pump might be sufficient.
Is electricity included in your site fee?
Where do you tend to camp? If you are usually in a campground and if electricity is included in your fees, it’s probably best to take advantage of the included electricity by choosing electric heating options. That said, some campgrounds ban the use of electric space heaters, so be sure to watch out for that.
Do you have easy access to affordable propane?
Using a propane heating option means you will need to have a way to refill your propane whenever needed. If you’re in an area where propane is hard to come by—or the fuel is incredibly expensive—you might be better off turning to an electric option, or at least supplementing with electric space heaters in order to keep propane usage down.
Do you boondock in cold weather?
Those who choose to boondock often will almost certainly want one of the propane options on hand. Running electric heaters while boondocking requires running a generator, and since these shouldn’t be run all night, propane is definitely your best bet for staying warm whenever hookups aren’t available.
If you’re looking to conserve battery power and get the most out of your fuel, a portable propane heater is definitely the best bet. However, the stock RV propane heater should be just fine for the occasional boondocking adventure.
At this point you should have a pretty good idea which type of heater will best suit you during the majority of your camping trips. However, some RVers choose to have a couple of different options handy, and if you camp often and in a variety of conditions, you may want to do this as well.
No matter which RV heater option(s) you choose, be sure to have a great time enjoying the beauty of winter in your tiny home-on-wheels!
For more tips on RV heating, check out these posts:
- 3 Ways To Keep Warm When RVing In Winter
- 10 Winter Camping Items You Shouldn’t Travel Without
- How To Avoid Winter Camping Problems In Your RV
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