Most people choose to put their RVs into storage for the winter. This decision may make sense for some, especially those who don’t like cold weather or cold weather activities. However, for some, the idea of putting their RV away for an entire season is devastating.
Fortunately, winter camping is completely possible in an RV. Not only that, but with an RV propane heater you can stay nice and warm in your motorhome or travel trailer, no matter where you roam.
Looking to replace or repair your RV propane furnace? Just want to know more about your camper heater? In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about RV propane heaters. Let’s dive in!
How Do RV Propane Heaters Work?
Let’s begin with the basics by asking, “How does an RV furnace work?” Actually, the answer to this question is simpler than you might imagine.
An RV heater is a forced air heater. What this means is that when the air in your RV falls below the temperature on the thermostat, hot air is forced through the vents and into the living space. That hot air is created using a flame fed by propane and forced out of the vents in your rig by a blower fan. This keeps your RV nice and toasty, and because the hot air is moving through ductwork under the floor, it also helps keep the pipes and tanks from freezing.
Besides the thermostat, flame, and fan, the system is also comprised of a circuit board, sail switch, safety limit switch, ductwork, and intake and exhaust vents. That’s it! The simplicity of this system is beautiful because it works well and remains solid during trips down the road while remaining relatively easy to repair.
What is the Best Propane Heater for an RV?
Looking to replace an old camper propane heater? Building your own RV and want to add a heating system? Need to add a propane camper heater to an old rig that doesn’t have one yet?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you’re probably wondering which one you should invest in.
In our opinion, those looking for a ducted propane RV heater option should look into the Suburban or Atwood models. These are well-known, durable, and well-made units that last for years. That said, they are pricey, and most RV owners will also have to pay to have such a unit installed.
Prefer to skip that huge price tag entirely? There’s also the option of using space heaters instead. Both electric and propane space heaters offer the benefit of a smaller price tag.
- Electric heaters are great for saving money if you’ll be camping somewhere with electric hookups included in the camping fee.
- Meanwhile, propane space heaters are better for the boondockers out there and use less fuel than the big RV furnace. However, space heaters will not keep the pipes and tanks in your RV warm, meaning they are much more likely to freeze in super cold weather.
Some of the best space heaters for RVs include the following:
- Lasko CD09250 Ceramic Portable Space Heater
- Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy
- Camco Olympian Wave 8 Gas Catalytic Heater
- Lasko 755320 Ceramic Space Heater
How Much Propane Does an RV Heater Use?
If you decide that space heaters aren’t for you and you’d rather just run your big RV furnace, you might want to know how much RV heater propane you should expect to use. After all, these things are known for being propane hogs, and knowing how much propane you’ll use can help with budgeting.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell exactly how much RV furnace propane your unit will consume, as there are several variables that must be taken into consideration. However, we can tell you that the average propane camper furnace uses around a third of a gallon of propane when running continuously for an hour.
Of course, the amount of time your furnace runs in a day will vary based on the outside temperature, the temperature your thermostat is set to, and how well your rig is insulated.
RV Propane Heater Troubleshooting
If you’re out winter camping, having your trailer or motorhome propane heater act up can be a real problem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to get the heater up and running again without calling a repair person.
Knowing the answer to, “How does an RV propane furnace work?” Is helpful when troubleshooting, so be sure to read that section above before pulling out the toolbox.
When the motor won’t run:
If the heater is turned on and the temperature in the rig is definitely below what the thermostat is set to, you should at least still hear the blower motor kick on. If you don’t, you have some sort of electrical issue.
The first thing you’ll want to do is check the furnace fuse. If it’s blown out, a simple fuse replacement should solve your problem and get you up and running again.
If the fuse isn’t the issue, you’re looking at a problem with the thermostat, module board, the motor itself, or—if you have an older RV—the small relay fan that some older models have.
When the motor runs, but nothing else happens:
If you’re hearing the motor start-up but there are no other noises, and nothing else happens after that point, you likely have a failed sail switch. In some cases, the switch is simply stuck and working with it a bit will fix the problem. In other cases, the switch will need to be replaced entirely.
Another issue that could cause a running motor with no other noises after would be a bad high-temperature relay. You can check for this problem by testing the voltage on the lead board from the high-temperature relay.
When the unit won’t light:
If your blower motor is running and you hear the clicking of the igniter and the clunk of the gas valve, you’re looking at an entirely different set of potential problems. These include things like bad igniter placement, a bad gas valve, and the most common issue of all: bugs.
You see, bugs really like to make themselves at home in the gas tubes and combustion chamber. Cleaning these things will often solve your problem entirely, making it a great place to start.
Things to Know About RV Propane Heaters
There are a few other things you may want to know about propane heaters before heading out on a winter camping trip:
#1. Safety First
Because a propane leak can be deadly, it’s important to invest in both a carbon monoxide detector and a propane detector. Keep these up and running by checking the batteries often.
#2. RV Furnace Cycling
An RV furnace will take a few seconds to turn on after the thermostat is switched to the “on” position. Once it does come on, you can expect to wait another 15–30 seconds before the flame ignites and warm air comes through the vents.
You’ll also hear the blower run for several seconds after the desired temperature has been met and the flame goes out. This is normal operation and not a cause for concern.
#3. Dusty Smell
If you detect a dusty smell coming from your vents, there is no need to worry. This is just the burning off of dust, dirt, and debris collected in the vents and ductwork.
#4. Propane Smell
The smell of propane, on the other hand, can be a sign of an issue. If you smell propane, check first that you aren’t running low. A nearly empty tank can cause this smell. If that isn’t the problem, it’s time to stop the flow of LP gas, open the windows and doors for good ventilation, and carefully inspect for propane leaks.
#5. Air Flow
Airflow is necessary for your RV furnace to work properly. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to keep your RV propane heater vented to the outdoors and ensure the air intake is unobstructed. Additionally, vents should be kept uncovered while the furnace is on.
#6. LP-Gas Regulators
All RVs come equipped with LP gas regulators. These wear out over time and must be changed out periodically. A bad regulator can cause problems with your camper heater propane supply, so this is a bit of maintenance you’ll want to make sure to keep up with.
To check your regulators, start up the furnace and look at the flame in the burner. It should be blue with no yellow. If this isn’t the case, you may have an LP gas regulator on the way out.
#7. Soot Around Vent
Soot around the furnace exhaust vent suggests an improper mixture of fuel and oxygen, resulting in fuel remaining unburned. This is likely an obstruction to the oxygen supply to the burner. Check for and remove any obstructions and adjust the airflow to the burner flame.