RV Heating

Exploring Heating Options for Vans and RVs

Understanding the various heating options available for your RV or Van is important for comfort and safety. We are going to review five primary heating methods: Propane Forced Air Furnaces, Propane Catalytic Heaters, Electric Heaters, Air Conditioning Heat Pumps, and Diesel/Gas Space Heaters. We will explore how each works, alongside their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Propane Forced Air Furnaces

Propane forced air furnaces have been an integral part of RV heating systems for decades, evolving from basic models to advanced units offering efficiency, safety, and user-friendliness. Initially designed to meet the unique challenges of RV heating, these systems have undergone significant technological advancements. Brands like Suburban and Dometic offer a range of models with varying BTU ratings to suit different RV sizes and heating requirements. Their long-standing presence in the market is a testament to their reliability and effectiveness in providing comfortable, warm environments in recreational vehicles.

These systems use propane to fuel a combustion process, with the generated heat transferred to a heat exchanger. An electric fan then circulates this warmed air throughout the RV via ducts and vents, while the combustion gases are safely vented outside. This process is controlled by a thermostat, allowing for easy temperature regulation. Modern models have incorporated features like automatic ignition and overheat protection, enhancing safety and reducing gas consumption.


Effective Heating: Provides robust and even heating across the vehicle.

Thermostat Control: Offers precise temperature management.

Quick Heat Up: Rapidly warms the interior, ideal for colder climates.



Fuel Consumption: Requires a steady supply of propane.

Installation Complexity: Often requires professional installation.

Noise: The fan and burner can be relatively loud.

Propane Catalytic Heaters

Catalytic heaters have been a significant part of RV heating solutions for decades, primarily due to their efficiency and safety in the confined spaces of recreational vehicles. Originally gaining popularity for their silent operation and low fuel consumption, these heaters have evolved over the years, offering enhanced safety features and improved efficiency. Key brands in this space include Camco, known for their Olympian Wave heaters, Mr. Heater with their portable Buddy heaters, and Coleman, a long-standing name in outdoor equipment. These brands are celebrated for their reliable, durable, and efficient heaters, catering to the diverse needs of RV owners.

The operation of catalytic heaters is based on a chemical reaction facilitated by a catalyst, typically platinum, which produces heat without an open flame. This process, which involves propane gas passing over the catalyst, is highly efficient and safer compared to traditional heating methods, making it ideal for RV use. The heat generated is radiated directly into the living space, providing efficient and comfortable warmth. While these heaters are known for their silent operation and low maintenance, proper ventilation is crucial to prevent moisture buildup and maintain a healthy indoor environment. Their flameless nature and low fuel consumption continue to make catalytic heaters a popular choice among RV enthusiasts.


Energy Efficient: Consumes less propane compared to forced air furnaces.

Silent Operation: Operates without a fan or moving parts, ensuring quietness.

Ease of Installation: Simpler installation than forced air systems.



Risk of Condensation: Can increase humidity and condensation inside the vehicle.

Limited Heat Distribution: Heat is less evenly distributed compared to forced air systems.

Ventilation Required: Requires adequate ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

Electric Heaters

Electric heaters, including the Suburban Electric Wall Heater, are a popular choice among RV users for their simplicity, safety, and ease of use. These heaters convert electricity into heat through resistance heating, where an electric current warms up a wire, filament, or plate to radiate heat. The Suburban Electric Wall Heater exemplifies this with its compact, wall-mounted design, offering adjustable thermostat and variable heat settings for tailored comfort in RV interiors. Such electric heaters are particularly advantageous in RVs as they don't require combustion, thus eliminating the need for venting exhaust gases and significantly reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. They are also known for their quiet operation and the convenience of being able to quickly turn them on and off.


Ease of Use: Simple plug-and-play operation with minimal setup.

Safe Operation: No combustion involved, reducing fire risk and gas emissions.

Silent Operation: Most models operate quietly.



Power Consumption: Can drain batteries quickly if not connected to an external power source.

Limited Heating Capability: Generally less effective in very cold environments.

Dependence on Electricity: Requires a reliable electrical source for operation.

Air Conditioners with Heat Pumps

Air conditioners with heat pumps are becoming an increasingly popular choice for RVs due to their dual-functionality, offering both cooling and heating capabilities. These units work by reversing the refrigeration cycle used for cooling. In the heating mode, they extract heat from the outside air and transfer it inside the RV. This process is energy-efficient and particularly effective in milder climates where the temperature doesn't drop too low. However, their efficiency can decrease in extremely cold conditions, as extracting heat from very cold air becomes more challenging. These units are generally more expensive than standalone heaters or air conditioners but offer the convenience of a two-in-one solution.

Popular brands include Dometic, Coleman, Furrion, and General Electric (GE), each offering a range of models to suit different sizes and types of RVs. Dometic is well-regarded for its dependable and efficient models that cater to a wide range of RV types, offering seamless integration and operation. Coleman's offerings are noted for their durability and user-friendliness, appealing to a broad spectrum of RV enthusiasts. Furrion steps in with innovative designs that often blend sleek aesthetics with functionality, making them a popular choice among modern RV owners. General Electric (GE), known for its legacy in home appliances, brings its expertise to the RV world with units that are reliable and equipped with advanced features. Each of these brands provides a unique set of benefits, catering to different needs and preferences in the RV community. When selecting an air conditioner with a heat pump, it's crucial for RV owners to consider factors such as their vehicle's power capabilities and insulation quality, as these significantly influence the performance and efficiency of the unit.


Dual Functionality: Provides both heating and cooling, making it a versatile option for year-round comfort.

Energy Efficiency: Generally more energy-efficient than traditional electric heaters, especially in mild climates.

Uniform Heating: Offers even distribution of heat throughout the space.



Performance in Extreme Cold: Efficiency drops in very cold temperatures, making them less effective in harsh winter conditions.

Initial Cost: Typically more expensive to purchase and install than standalone heaters.

Power Requirements: Requires a substantial amount of electricity, making it less suitable for off-grid situations unless paired with a robust battery and solar setup.

Diesel and Gas Space Heaters

Diesel and gas space heaters are increasingly popular in both boats and campervans, prized for their efficiency and ability to provide consistent warmth in smaller, confined spaces. These heaters operate by burning diesel or gasoline, which is typically drawn from the vehicle's or boat's own fuel supply. This makes them especially convenient for those who are traveling or living off-grid, as they can tap into an existing fuel source. The heat generated by the combustion of fuel is then distributed within the space, often through a heat exchanger system that ensures safety and maximizes heating efficiency. One significant advantage of these heaters is their robustness in extremely cold conditions, where electric heaters might not be as effective.

Among the popular brands in this category are Webasto, Espar (Eberspächer), and Autoterm. Webasto is renowned for its versatile range of air and water heaters that cater to various sizes of boats and campervans, offering reliable and high-performing heating solutions. Espar, known for its durable products, excels in fuel-efficient heaters with user-friendly controls. Autoterm, another prominent brand, is gaining recognition for its high-quality heaters that promise effective heating and durability, even under challenging conditions. These brands are characterized by their quiet operation and sophisticated control systems, making them suitable for the confined spaces of boats and campervans. However, correct installation, particularly with regard to ventilation and fuel storage, is crucial for their safe operation, and regular maintenance is recommended to maintain optimal functionality.


Efficient Heating: Offers strong and consistent heating.

Fuel Availability: Utilizes the vehicle’s existing fuel supply.

Thermostat Control: Some models include thermostats for temperature regulation.



Installation Complexity: Requires careful installation and ventilation.

Fuel Odor: Can emit a slight odor during operation.

Maintenance: May require more maintenance than electric or catalytic heaters.

Each heating option for vans and RVs presents its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The choice largely depends on individual needs, preferences, and the specific circumstances of travel. It's crucial to consider factors like climate, vehicle size, power availability, and personal comfort levels when selecting the most suitable heating method.

Dec 13th 2023 Richard Sweet

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