One of the lovely things about camping in an RV instead of a tent is the ability to control the climate indoors. In the summer you can keep your RV cool with an air conditioning unit and in the winter you can keep the temperature toasty with a furnace.
A heat strip is a modification that can be made to some RVs air conditioning units and used to warm your rig when it isn’t quite cool enough to turn on the furnace. However, not all air conditioning units accommodate a heat strip. Additionally, some individuals don’t find them adequate enough to warm their RV.
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What is a Heat Strip and How Does It Work?
Its name may be a little misleading after all a heat strip is actually a coil. This coil can be placed in your RVs air conditioning unit provided that it is non-ducted. The coil is a small heating unit that operates off of the AC unit’s power.
There are heat strip models available for ducted systems but they are more complex, less widely used, and have to be purchased specifically to the manufacturer of your system.
It can produce 1500 watts of heat, this is comparable to many small floor heaters or personal heaters. As the coil heats up the air created by the AC unit blower passes over it and warm air is circulated around your motorhome.
These coils can be purchased online or from retailers and added to your AC unit. All you have to do is remove the AC unit cover and locate the receiver provided by the factory within. Once you have plugged in the coil, refastened the element bracket screws, and reinstalled the AC unit cover, you are ready to go.
When your heat strip is working to heat your RV, you can let it blow until you are satisfied with the temperature. When you are done, you will likely want to turn the heat strip to the cool setting in order to decrease 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 or coil is electric. Thankfully, it has 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.
By using the coil and your air conditioner you can avoid having to turn on your furnace. The heating coil is perfect for conditions where it is a little cool but not cold as it likely won’t provide enough heat to combat temperatures below fifty degrees.
However, if conditions are below fifty and you would like to give the temperature a boost while your furnace works to provide heat, you can use the heat strip. It will give you some warmth until the furnace really kicks in.
Heat Strips versus Heat Pumps
Heat pumps and heat strips cannot be used together because the unit cannot be wired for both. A heat pump is essentially an AC unit operating in reverse.
When you turn on the heat pump it will draw air from the outdoors and warm it, then pass it into your motorhome. Like heat strips, heat pumps generally work at a certain temperature, most find this to be forty degrees or above. Additionally, heat pumps only take the chill off and do not 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. Having a heat pump instead of a heat strip can shorten the lifespan of your compressor.
Similar to a heat strip the heat pump will need a power hookup to run. Some individuals find that the heat strip draws more power than the pump and therefore they prefer to use the heat pump.
How Do Heat Strips Compare to a Furnace?
Many RV owners find that when the temperature is below fifty degrees, and certainly forty or below they prefer to use their furnace. Furnaces do not run solely on electricity but usually use some form of natural gas.
Furnaces have a great deal more heating power than heat strips or heat pumps. Therefore, if the temperature is downright cold, you will want to use your furnace instead of overtaxing your heat strip or heat pump.
As mentioned above, the furnace and heat strip can be used in conjunction with one another. While you are waiting for your furnace to kick in, you can use the heat strip to make the temperature more comfortable. Additionally, some individuals heat their motorhome with their furnace to the desired temperature and then use their heat strip to maintain that climate.
Concerns with Heat Strips
If you are not using a furnace, the heat strip may take too long to heat your motorhome. This is especially true if the temperatures outside are pretty chilly. One common complaint is that owners feel like the heat strip is just blowing warm air and not hot air and this takes forever to warm the place.
Another concern with heat strips is their location. As they are placed in the rooftop air unit, they are blowing air from the ceiling. Because heat rises the warming effects of the heat strip may have a hard time making it down to you.
Finally, some heat strip users complain of an odor. This seems to be relegated to a few individuals and may be the result of a faulty product. In most instances, no odor is experienced when using a heat strip.
If you are still interested in using a heat strip in lieu of your furnace and want to be very warm, consider pairing it with another heat source.
Some RV owners like to use portable electric heaters. Though make sure you are following all safety procedures. Others like to use a fireplace.
Electric fireplaces can come in the form of an insert that will be mounted into your RV space or they can be freestanding. Electric fireplaces won’t produce smoke or toxic emissions, they can put out a good amount of heat though.
Aside from the warmth, they also provide a nice homey ambiance to your RV. Electric fireplaces, when used with a heat strip, will help to provide warm air at a low to mid-level while the heat strip blows air from above.
Staying Warm Inside Your RV
No matter the type or combination of heating systems you choose, there are a few extra steps you can take to keep warm inside your RV.
Seal your RV from the outside and inside. Drafts and leaks can let cool air in and warm air out. On the exterior, you will want to check any seals found on windows or doors. These seals deteriorate over time, even with regular lubrication and maintenance. If the seal is hard or cracked it may be time to replace it.
On the inside of your RV, try to feel for any drafts and locate their source. Once you have found the leak you can use tape, insulation, or even silicone to stop the airflow.
Decorate with a purpose. How you choose to style the inside of your RV can actually help you moderate the indoor temperature. Rugs, curtains, and shades all have a part to play.
In the summer, closing the blinds can keep the sun from warming your RV. In the winter, closing your curtains or shades can help to keep the cool air out and the warm air in as it acts as a layer of insulation.
Rugs can similarly provide an insulative barrier between you and the cold floors. They can help your motorhome to feel warm and cozy.
Maintenance. You will want to perform general and regular maintenance on all of your heating appliances. AC units containing heat pumps or heat strips should be inspected and cleared of dust. Similarly, fireplaces and portable heaters need to be checked and cleaned regularly.
Keeping your furnace operating at optimal levels is also important. If you don’t follow the preventative maintenance guidelines not only will you be chilly but your furnace could waste a lot of propane.
Finally, adjusting the furnace temperature can help to save you money, propane, and keep you comfortable. Experts recommend setting it for a slightly lower temp before you go to bed (as you will be under blankets) and then turning it up in the morning.
Overall, heat strips can be perfect for a few select situations. In moderate temperatures, such as those found in the fall or spring, a heat strip can help take the chill out of your RV without having to use the furnace.
In colder temperatures, a heat strip can assist warming your motorhome faster when used in conjunction with the furnace. Ultimately, what type of heating appliance(s) you choose is up to you and your comfort level.
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