It depends on what type of heater you choose.
Most RV heaters come with a furnace (or heater) along with a bevy of other appliances. Some of these appliances run exclusively on gas or fuel, and some run solely on electricity.
A few of them require both electricity and fuel to run. Your RVs furnace likely requires both. Electricity is needed for the “forced air” component while gas or propane is required to create the element of heat.
It is important to understand how your heater works so that if you are ever without fuel or electricity you know what your options are for climate control.
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How Does an RV Heater Work?
In most cases, an RV furnace is hooked to a thermostat. The individual components of the furnace itself include exhaust vents, ductwork, a blower or fan, an air intake, and wiring or a circuit board.
When you have your thermostat set and the temperature drops below the desired setting, your heater should automatically begin working. Propane will be burned to create hot air which will then be dispersed through the ducts by the blower fan. These heaters are very efficient but not always very quiet.
You will need both electricity and propane to power your furnace.
Are There Electric RV Furnaces?
In most instances, when someone is referring to an all-electric RV furnace they are talking about an electric box space heater. These heaters use only electricity. However, they are not very big and are optimal only for singular spaces, not your entire RV.
Although, there are electric wall heaters that can be installed throughout your motorhome. These will provide a climate experience that more closely resembles a ducted system. However, electric wall heaters can be pricey and must be installed correctly for your specific motorhome model.
There are also certain dangers associated with electric furnaces such as burning up electrical outlets and tipping over and igniting. Thankfully, most of them come with automatic turnoff as a protective measure but still be sure to follow all warnings and precautions. We will discuss the different types of RV electric furnaces later on.
Propane furnaces can be more expensive than electric heaters but as they are more efficient and typically pre-installed in all RVs, most campers use them more regularly than electric RV furnaces.
Do I Need to Maintain My Propane Furnace?
As with nearly everything else in your RV you will want to regularly inspect and complete routine maintenance on your furnace. This is for your comfort as well as your safety.
Most RVs used forced air furnaces so these instructions are tailored to a propane burning forced air furnace.
- You will want to regularly clean your registers and vents
- Check that the ducts are properly attached to the registers and not gaping
- The ducts should also be inspected for proper attachment to the furnace
- Clean the furnace and make sure that all electrical circuits are working properly
- Ensure that all exhaust and intake vents are free and clear of obstructions
Are There Other Types of Heaters?
There are other types of heaters that use different energy sources or sometimes, like a furnace, a combination of energy sources.
- RV Heatstrips
A heat strip is actually a coil that can be placed in your RVs air conditioning unit. As long as it is non-ducted. The coil is its own small heating unit that operates off of the AC unit’s power.
If you have a duct system don’t worry, there are heat strip models available but just know that they are more complex, less widely used, and have to be purchased specifically to the manufacturer of your system.
Heat strips can produce 1500 watts of heat, about what a small floor heater or personal heater pumps out. As the coil heats the air created by the AC unit blower passes over it and warms your motorhome.
These coils can be easily purchased online or from retailers and installed in your AC unit. Simply remove the AC unit cover and locate the receiver provided by the factory within. Next, plug in the coil, refasten the element bracket screws and reinstall the AC unit cover. Then it is ready for use.
Use your heat strip until your RV has reached a comfortable temperature. When you are done, you should turn the heat strip to the cool setting in order to lower the temperature of the coil by allowing the blower to pass air over it. Some AC units automatically continue to run the blower for a few minutes when the heat strip is turned off.
The heat strip uses only electricity. It has both a heat setting as well as a cool setting so you can turn it off in the warmer months when you would like only AC.
Heat strips certainly won’t be as effective as your furnace. They are perfect for conditions where it is a little cool but not really cold as usually, they are not suitable for temperatures below fifty degrees.
You can use both your furnace and a heat strip at the same time to give the temperature a boost while your furnace works to kick in.
- Air Conditioning Heat Pumps
A heat pump is really just an AC unit operating in reverse. They are a fan that takes air in instead of venting it.
When you turn on the heat pump it will draw air from the outdoors, warm it, then pass it into your motorhome. Similar to heat strips, they are optimal for only certain temperatures, typically forty degrees or above. Furthermore, heat pumps only take the chill out of your RV and do not cannot necessarily “heat” your RV.
Because the heat pump is pumping air from the outside in, it will need your AC units compressor to do this and electricity. Therefore continually using a heat pump can shorten the lifespan of your compressor.
- Electric Space Heaters
Unsurprisingly, electric space heaters require only electricity. There are multiple types of electric space heaters. The first is the ceramic space heaters.
These heaters are compact and relatively easy to transport. Like all other options previously mentioned, they cannot compare to using your furnace. After all, they are not high-powered.
Ceramic heaters work because of their ceramic plates, wires, and a blower. Wires conduct electricity that in turn heats up the internal ceramic plates. A fan blows over the plates and warm air is pushed away from the heater and into your room.
Tower heaters are just another design of ceramic heaters. They use the same method to heat your RV. They are usually bigger, especially in height. Some can disperse more heat and faster than a small, portable ceramic heater.
Both tower heaters and ceramic heaters are best when used only occasionally. They are not super durable or designed to be run 24/7.
Rolling fireplaces, built-ins, and inserts are another form of space heater designed to look like a real fireplace. Some RVs come with these or offer them as an upgrade. Alternatively, they can be purchased online or from a retailer.
Some are ceramic heaters while others rely on an infrared heating system. They are typically a bit bigger in size and can give off a decent amount of heat. They rely on electricity to work.
- Infrared Heaters
These heaters use electricity as well but warm our bodies by infrared light. We cannot see this light spectrum but when it hits our person we warm up. This process is similar to the see warming us when we are outside on a sunny day.
Some have blowers while others do not. Regardless, they work best when you are in close proximity to them so that you can absorb the light.
- Vent Free Propane Heater
These are fuel-burning heaters that use propane to heat your RV without using electricity. Don’t let the name fool you though, they don’t require a vent but do require ventilation. They are like electric space heaters in that they are small and portable.
You only need to attach it to your RVs propane system and crack a window in order to use it.
Surprisingly, some campers do use wood stoves in their RVs. These stoves use wood to heat the RV and don’t require electricity or fuel. However, they do require the installation (and maintenance) of a stovepipe to retain safe ventilation.
Electricity or Gas?
What type of heater you use depends on your access to power either in the form of electricity or gas/fuel. When you are boondocking or camping in an undesignated area without hookups, electricity may not be an option but fuel may still be a possibility.
You can also use a combination of heaters to warm up your space depending on the temperature outside and what appliances you have access to. The bottom line is that most RV heaters use both electricity and propane and because of this you may want to have a backup heating option just in case.
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