Climate control is important. In fact, it’s one of the biggest advantages an RV has over a standard car-and-tent traveling system, as far as I’m concerned. We can’t limit our travels to only destinations with mild temperatures if we wish to see more of the world. For this reason, almost every recreational vehicle comes with a built-in heat — most commonly one that runs on clean-burning propane.
An increasingly high number of RV owners are opting to replace their propane-fueled heaters with ones that run on alternative fuel sources.
An electric RV furnace is the most commonly-used alternative. To help readers choose between a conventional propane heater and an electric RV furnace, this article will compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of both heating systems and further profile the most prevalent options of electric RV furnaces.
Propane Heater – Pros and Cons
- Propane heaters most certainly have their virtues. The average user will find the system familiar and convenient — simply pull the knob of the thermostat to your desired temperature and relax while the gas does the rest. The familiarity of this technology comes from years of use, and with those many years comes a degree of safety and reliability that may, in some cases, outdo that of an electric furnace of RV. Simply put, the technology has been tried and tested for years to be as safe and effective as possible.
- In addition, most RVs that come with a built-in propane heater incorporated a system of ducts placed throughout the vehicle. This means a propane heater usually provides for uniform temperatures throughout an RV. For most users, this is a positive, but others might prefer their heat to be more localized in case, say, you prefer it cooler than your friends or other members of your family.
- Most propane furnaces are usually only 70% efficient, or perhaps even less. Essentially, this means the remaining fuel is wasted due to systematic flaws, and doesn’t do anything to warm up an RV. Efficiency is further sacrificed due to the aforementioned ducted layout of these heaters, which makes it impossible to heat one small area at a time. These heaters almost invariably waste propane, as well as time and money spent to refuel.
- Also, the furnace heats the entire rig, and some people would prefer to heat only a small comfort zone where they currently are seated, using much less propane. Not only does excess propane use waste money, but in some situations it is inconvenient and time-consuming to replenish the propane supply, providing an incentive to make your propane last as long as possible. Also, in some RV Parks, electricity used for heat is “free” in that it is included in the price paid for the campsite, whereas propane is never free. The power required by such a heater might exhaust an RV battery quite quickly as well.
David E. Damouth of Damouth.org explains:
All ducted furnaces depend on a 12v. fan to circulate hot air. The fan in my first RV drew 7 amps from the battery. Another RVer with a bigger rig and a higher output furnace reports that his unit draws 11 amps. On a cold night when the fan may run for many hours, this load, combined with other typical 12 v. power uses, may completely discharge a typical battery in a single night, if the RV is not connected to shore power.
RV Electric Furnace
In contrast to their gas-powered counterparts, electric RV furnaces are all clean-burning and operate on peak efficiency. Relying upon electricity to heat your RV will often be cheaper than using propane, but that depends on the specific regulations of your RV site. Sometimes sites provide power for free. Other locations will charge an incremental cost per day, so you’ll have to calculate the comparison in pricing, perhaps based on RV sites you visit regularly, to decide which saves you more.
Furthermore, electric furnaces are often very specialized in the area they heat — like a fan, but venting hot air instead of cool — so you needn’t waste energy warming your entire cabin when you only need the heat in one specific area.
The portable boxy designs — almost the polar opposite of the duct design of propane heaters — has its drawbacks as well. Often these boxy electric heaters have built-in safeguards to prevent overheating or tip-overs. But they can happen. Thus, there’s a risk of carelessness causing burns, which wouldn’t be a risk with a standard propane-powered furnace. Noisiness may also be a concern (though propane-fueled heaters aren’t silent either), though this depends upon which model you purchase. Read product reviews to find out what other users think.
So you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to forego propane in favor of electricity. Let’s talk about your choices in electric RV furnaces.
Electric Box-Style Heaters
The most common models are all small boxy models relying upon a ceramic heating element and a fan used to pump the heat outwards. Don’t confuse ceramic heaters with propane-powered catalytic heaters, which run much higher in price. Some models will boast about high or maximum efficiency, but this is meaningless.
All electric heaters are 100% efficient, so check the specs for more meaningful information on the heater’s performance, like the wattage. Most electric heaters have a wattage somewhere between 500 and 1500 watts. Obviously, a 500 watt heater will take longer to heat a smaller area than more powerful competitors.
These electric heaters will rarely cost more than $50 apiece, their value far exceeding the more all-encompassing propane heaters. A few well-rated options include the 1500W, $32.99 Lasko heater (with 900w low-heat and fan only settings), their 1500W oscillating tower heater for $53.98 and the Vornado vortex heater for $51.15 (with three heat settings from 750W to 1500W).
Electric Wall Heaters
Beyond these so-called cube heaters, you may choose to install an in-wall electric furnace like the Cadet 240V, 1500 watt wall heater or the 1500 Watt Marley wall heater. The model sells for more than $100, making it more expensive than cube heaters. The benefit is that you can install multiple vents throughout your vehicle to replicate the results of a ducted propane system if you desire, though you may need to check with a retailer or manufacturer to find out if you have the space to install their systems.
Another electric option is the infrared heater, or radiant electric heater. These heaters glow red while in use, emitting an infrared heat absorbed by a body without significantly heating the surrounding air. These models, which can be easily found in online stores, are great for focusing heat and they make no noise. Most of these models boast a 1500W output. Try the Dr. Infrared Portable Space Heater for $125.99, if you think these benefits are worth the extra cost.
Good luck in your search for the perfect heater, and may all your travels be as warm and cozy as you like.