If you’re reading this and the sun is shining, you’re probably wondering why you need to know about heating your motorhome. However, if you plan to enjoy your campervan all year round, you’ll be glad you continued reading.
Depending on where you are in the world and where you intend to explore, keeping yourself warm in your campervan is crucial. If your motorhome is warm and cozy, it’ll make living and exploring in it a total pleasure.
Lucky for you, heating a motorhome is not that difficult if you know what to do.
Overview of Motorhome Heating
A motorhome that’s fully winterized will be built for all seasons. It will have full insulation, double-glazed windows, and a heater you can use without needing to find a mains power source. A central heating system comes as standard in many campervans and motorhomes, but is one system better than another?
How Does the Heating System Work in a Motorhome?
The central heating system in a motorhome is usually a small gas or diesel-powered heater unit or boiler. You’ll find it under a seat or tucked away in a cupboard. This type of system is commonly known as an air-blown heater.
In a high-end motorhome, there might also be a thermostat that automatically switches on the system when the interior temperature drops below a set temperature.
An air-blown motorhome heater draws oxygenated air into its burners and seals it off from the internal air. A fan drives the air across the heat exchanger, and this warmed air is then blown into the motorhome via a series of ducts.
Any noxious gases created because of the heating process are dispersed through a vent to the outside. Air-blown campervan heaters produce dry heat.
The motorhome uses a 12-volt DC supply to direct the heated air which means you don’t need to be connected to mains power for the system to work. However, a certain amount of power is required to start the heater, so you need to make sure your battery is sufficiently charged before turning the heater on.
What is the Best Way to Heat a Motorhome?
While air-blown heating systems might come as standard in many motorhome models, it’s not necessarily the right system for you. There are many different heating options for campervans and motorhomes, and it’s down to you to decide which is sufficient and suits your needs. Arm yourself with the information in this post, and you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
What Are the Different Heating System Power Sources Commonly Used in Motorhomes and the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each type?
There are several options when it comes to heating a motorhome. Below we’ll examine the most common alternatives and the pros and cons of each.
Propane systems are the most common method used for fuelling a heating system and keeping your campervan warm. The reason for this is that they also have a gas cooker and a refrigerator that runs on gas.
- Simple construction
- Risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Limited storage capacity
- More noise
- High maintenance cost
A full diesel system not only heats air in the living area but can provide hot water too.
- Can be installed outside to save space
- No additional storage space required
- Don’t need to worry about tapping into a gas supply
- Diesel smell
- Negative environmental footprint
Many campervans and motorhomes use electric heating systems. Some are air-blown systems, but there are also free-standing electric campervan heaters that plug into the mains.
- Very efficient at keeping an ambient temperature
- Energy efficiency
- Lower fuel cost
- No carbon monoxide emissions
- Quiet operation
- Easy to install
- Minimal maintenance
- Take a long time to warm up a space
- Drain a lot of electricity
- Longer charging time
- High upfront cost
- Limited power output
Hybrid Heating System
A hybrid system in a motorhome uses two or more energy sources to provide heat. The most common combi heaters or hybrid heating systems use a combination of electricity and propane.
- Energy efficiency
- Low heating bills
- Reduced carbon footprint
- Reliable all-year round
- Higher upfront cost
- Complex system
- Limited availability
- More components
- More noise
Hot Water Heating System Air-Blow
A hot water heating system uses a closed water circuit that is heated. Heat exchangers make the indoor air hot.
- Offers a high level of comfort
- Underfloor heating is an option
- Complex design
- Takes longer to heat the interior
Hydronic Heating System
A hydronic campervan heating system uses water to transfer heat throughout the vehicle. The system consists of a boiler, pump, and radiators or tubing that runs throughout the motorhome.
- Quiet operation
- Even heat distribution
- Energy efficiency
- Less likely to produce dry air or dust
- High upfront cost
- Limited availability
- More complex
- Higher energy consumption
- Limited cooling options
What are the Different Heater Options Available for Motorhomes?
Moving on from how you power your motorhome heater, there’s now the choice of heater to consider.
A gas heater is fuelled by gas canisters or a tank that you can choose to mount inside or outside your motorhome. A gas heater is not as sexy as a wood burner would be, but you’ll find it a very efficient and easy-to-use option.
A thermostatic control will help to maintain an optimum temperature in your motorhome and reignite the heater as and when needed. This is a particularly useful function as it means you won’t wake up to an ice box.
A petrol heater is worth considering if your motorhome runs on petrol. A petrol heater connects to the petrol tank. The burner of the heater is powered by petrol and heats the heat exchanger. Heated air is circulated around the vehicle with the help of a fan.
A big advantage of a petrol campervan heater is that the fuel is widely available. Consumption is relatively low, but you should consider the environmental aspect because petrol campervan heaters cause emissions, which doesn’t make it one of the greenest options.
A diesel heater uses the fuel from the vehicle’s main diesel tank to power the campervan heating unit. In addition, it requires a 12v electricity supply for the thermostatic controls and fan.
These are fan heaters and are popular in larger vehicles because integrated systems are available for hot water as well as hot air. This can be particularly useful if you’re using your motorhome all year round and like the idea of a hot shower.
With most diesel heaters, a heat exchanger warms the air. The warm air is blown around the vehicle using a 12v fan. The air for combustion and exhaust is piped in from outside into the sealed combustion chamber and back out again.
What are the Diesel Heating Options for Motorhomes?
There are two types of diesel heater you can choose for your motorhome: diesel air heater or diesel water heater.
The air heater works by pulling in air from your RV or camper van. This is then mixed with diesel and ignited to generate heat. A diesel air heater is efficient and easy to use during the winter. They are installed in the chassis or cabin.
A diesel water heater draws in water rather than air. The water is heated and converted into steam. The steam then passes through a heat exchanger to generate heat for the outside environment. This type of heater is installed in the engine compartment. This means you can also use your diesel water heater to warm up your engine during winter and reduce the likelihood of cold starting issues.
Diesel Heating- How Much Power Does It Need?
As a very rough guide, a standard diesel heater uses 0.1 litres of diesel per hour. However, remember that the fan heater only uses fuel when combustion is in process.
The power consumption of the thermostatic controls and fan depends on the required heating power and the type of heater. An approximation would be 10 to 50w. For more precise consumption figures, check out the user manual.
Does A Diesel Heater Smell?
With most diesel heaters, a heat exchanger warms the air. The warm air is blown around the vehicle using a 12v fan. The air for combustion and exhaust is piped in from outside into the sealed combustion chamber and back out again. This means it should not smell inside the vehicle.
Wood Burning Heaters
There’s nothing quite like a wood-burning stove for creating a beautiful, homely, and romantic feeling in any room, and there’s no reason you can’t have one in your campervan. One word of advice is that you must adhere to relevant regulations. Ideally, consult a HETAS-qualified installer before you think about installing a wood burner yourself.
One of the biggest benefits of wood-burning heaters is their sheer simplicity. You gather your wood, light the fire, and then sit back and enjoy the heat.
Wood burning heaters require minimal maintenance apart from keeping them clean and removing the ash. A legal requirement you should be aware of is that flammable materials shouldn’t be kept near the stove. This means you’ll need to store the wood far away, but it’s possible to do that very stylishly in the main body of your campervan.
Infrared heaters use radiant heat to transfer warmth to a room, much the same as the sun warms objects it shines on. Some infrared heaters also include a fan to help diffuse the heat.
This is a good option if you regularly travel with kids because it stays cool to the touch except for a small area at the front where the heat comes out.
Blown air heaters are a popular heating solution for motorhomes and campervans. They work by drawing in cold air from the vehicle’s interior, heating it using a heat exchanger, and then blowing it back out into the living space.
Air-blown heaters can be gas, diesel, petrol, or electric-powered. Some models can detect room temperature and automatically turn themselves on or off to reduce energy waste.
If you want your motorhome experience to be as eco-friendly as possible, electric heating is the way to go. Electric heaters are emission-free and produce no CO2. However, electricity tends to be more expensive than other heating methods.
Another downside is the electric heaters only run on 230 volts mains power. This means you’d only be able to use the electric heater when staying at a campsite with a mains supply you can connect to.
How Much Electricity Will You Use When Running Your Heater?
An electric motorhome heater uses around 40-45kwh/day on average However, it will depend on the volume of air in standard cubic feet per minute and the required temperature rise.
Which Type of Heater is the Cheapest to Run?
The cheapest type of heater to run is a wood burner. Apart from basic cleaning, you can collect the fuel you need for free. However, wood-burning heaters aren’t to everyone’s taste. Therefore, the next best thing would be a diesel heating system.
Can You Heat a Motorhome Without Using Electricity?
If the power source for your motorhome is solar power, heating your vehicle in the winter can be challenging. Luckily, there are ways you can heat your van without electricity. For example:
- Freestanding gas heater: This is a small portable heater that runs off a gas canister. You will need to remember to carry and replace the right type of canister and carry enough of them. Ventilating your motorhome is essential, otherwise, you’ll get condensation in your van and run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Paraffin/bioethanol heater: With this option, you also need to be careful and ventilate your space. They are very efficient at heating spaces and stay warm for a while.
- Wood stove: The problem with a wood stove is that it’s not easy to regulate the temperature inside and they take a long time to cool down. You might also struggle to get a motorhome or campervan insurance if you’ve got a wood stove.
- Terracotta/pot heater: This method works by heating a pot which then retains the heat however, it does come with some issues. The temperature is hard to regulate, it uses a naked flame, there is a high risk of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide poisoning, and it doesn’t cool down quickly.
- Soap/heat stone: Soap stone is a natural material that is very efficient at holding heat for long periods. The stone is heated in the oven, wrapped in a protective bag, and placed in your bed. It will keep your bed warm and toasty for a few hours.
What is the Best Motorhome or Campervan Heating Option?
The best campervan heaters are those that suit your needs. Now you know about the different options and their pros and cons, you can better decide which one is right for you.
If you regularly stay at campsites with electric mains power, an electric heater might be the best option. If you prefer wild camping and don’t mind collecting wood, a wood burner might be more suitable. It’s down to personal preferences and how you use your motorhome.
What Heaters to Avoid in Your Motorhome?
When it comes to heating your motorhome, you might be thinking that anything will do. However, there are some heating methods and heaters you should avoid. Check out the following list:
- Unvented gas heaters: The risks associated with unvented gas heaters include fire, excessive condensation, and health hazards such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Improperly installed heaters: If a heater is not installed correctly, there is a risk of the heater overheating, catching fire, or creating a potential electric shock hazard.
- Inefficient heaters: An inefficient heater could produce carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas that can cause serious health problems and even death.
- Heaters with no safety features: Motorhome heaters with no safety features can be risky because they can cause fires, explosions, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Electric space heaters with high wattage: These should be avoided in your motorhome because of the limited electrical capacity of the vehicle. A motorhome’s electrical system is designed to handle a certain amount of power. Exceeding that limit could cause the system to overload and potentially start a fire.
- Heaters with poor thermostats or controls: These are risky to use because they can cause overheating and are a fire hazard.
- Old or damaged heaters: These can cause fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other health hazards.
- Heaters with limited safety certifications: Heaters with little or no safety certifications may not meet the safety standards for use in a motorhome.
- Heaters not suitable for your motorhome size: A heater that is too large can result in overheating. A heater that’s too small means your vehicle is not going to be comfortable.
What Factors Should Be Considered When Selecting a Heating System to Ensure it Can Effectively Warm the Entire Living Space of Your Motorhome?
When choosing a heating system for your motorhome, there are several factors to consider.
The heating capacity of a heating system is measured in watts or BTUs. BTU stands for British Thermal Units. When you’re looking at different heating systems, make sure the one you choose can heat the entire motorhome living space. Err on the side of caution and overestimate slightly rather than choose an underpowered heater.
How do you determine the heating capacity required for your motorhome based on its size, insulation, and the climate conditions you plan to travel in?
To calculate the heating capacity required for your motorhome, you can use a heat load calculator. The calculator requires some information such as the square footage of your motorhome, insulation type, climate conditions, and other details.
Heating systems can run on various energy sources such as diesel, electricity, propane, and even wood pellets. Consider the availability of the chosen power source during your travels and the convenience it offers.
How does the power source of motorhome heating affect the overall efficiency and cost of operation?
The power source of heating can significantly affect the overall efficiency and cost of operation. The two most common power sources are propane and electricity. When used together, they provide the greatest efficiency levels.
If your motorhome is extremely limited in terms of storage space, choosing a fuel-efficient heating system is essential. This will prolong your heating capabilities without the need to refill frequently.
Insulation and Sealing
The best heating system in the world will be of little use if your motorhome is not well insulated and sealed. It will let in cold air and any warmth generated by your chosen heating system will escape immediately.
Thermostat and Controls
A thermostat allows you to set and maintain a desired temperature inside your motorhome. It provides better control over the heating process. A user-friendly control panel is essential for convenience.
The two main types of distribution are blown-air and wet systems. Blown air is the most common and works by blowing hot air through ducts and vents. This type of method is generally less expensive. Wet systems use a liquid, usually water, to distribute heat throughout the motorhome. The liquid is heated by a boiler and circulated through pipes and radiators to provide warmth.
Safety is paramount when it comes to heating your motorhome. Look for heating systems with safety features such as automatic shut-off in case of overheating or low oxygen levels. This is especially important if you’re choosing a propane or diesel heater.
Are there any certifications or standards that motorhome heating systems should meet to ensure safety?
Yes, there are UK certifications and standards that campervan heating systems should meet to ensure safety. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 (GSIUR) apply to leisure accommodation vehicles and residential park homes, including caravans and motorhomes. In addition, the Advanced Competency Scheme (ACS) is a form of accreditation.
Some heating systems can be very noisy. This may be an undesirable feature if the heater is in a small living space. Look for systems with lower noise levels.
The type of fuel used by a heating system can have a significant impact on the power consumption and running costs of the system. Gas is generally the cheapest, as long as you use a user-refillable system.
If you’re going to be enjoying your motorhome in a variety of different locations, make sure the system you choose is suitable for the range of conditions you’ll encounter.
Installation and Maintenance
Consider the ease of installation and maintenance. Some systems require professional installation while others are more DIY-friendly options. Regular maintenance is important for optimal performance.
Weight and Space Constraints
Ideally, you want a heating system that’s compact and lightweight to avoid adding unnecessary weight to your motorhome. Unnecessary weight can affect the motorhome’s fuel efficiency and handling.
The Size of Your Motorhome
The size and layout of your motorhome will impact the efficiency of its heating system. A larger motorhome might require a more powerful heating system or multiple heaters strategically placed.
As we all know, the price of several types of fuel tends to rise as well as fall. Keep this in mind when choosing your heating system and look for the most fuel-efficient.
Further Accessories to Help Keep Your Motorhome Heated
Several additional accessories are available to help you keep your motorhome heated.
- Integrated blowers: Integrated blowers are designed to provide heat to the interior of a motorhome by blowing warm air through a series of ducts and vents. The blowers are integrated into the motorhome’s heating system, and you can control them using a thermostat or other control panel.
- Heat distribution vents: Heat distribution vents are a part of the motorhome’s heating system. They are used to distribute warmer air throughout the vehicle.
- Heating timers: Heating timers allow you to control the heating system in your motorhome. You use the timers to set the temperature and time at which the heating system turns on and off. This is a useful feature if you want to ensure your motorhome is warm and comfortable when you wake up in the morning.
- Heated floor mats: Heated floor mats are a type of low-voltage electric floor heating system. You can use them to warm up the floors of your travel trailer, campervan, RV, or motorhome. The mats are made from heavy-duty glass fibre fabric that contains heat-conducting carbon fibres. The fibres heat up within a few minutes and provide a comfortable floor temperature. This can also be a used as a form of underfloor heating.
More Tips to Keep Your Motorhome Warmer
As well as picking the right heating system, there are several other things you can do to ensure you stay cozy and warm in your motorhome whatever the weather outside.
- Cover up the windows of your camper with reflective insulated panels: Extra insulation in the windows is always a clever idea because they tend to be uninsulated and allow the outside temperature to transfer into your vehicle.
- Use warm bedding for spot warming your motorhome: When your bedding is warm, it means you’ve got somewhere to snuggle when the temperatures plummet.
- Cover the floor of your Motorhome with thick, plush rugs: This provides an insulating layer and keeps your feet toasty warm.
- Place rolled towels or blankets at the bottom of doorways to help prevent drafts from getting in and sucking heat out of the motorhome: Drafts can be the bugbear of many motorhome owners, and this is an effective way of minimizing the damage they cause.
There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a cozy van when the weather outside is decidedly chilly. Most motorhomes and campervans have some sort of heating, but it helps to know what else is available should you decide to make some changes. If you’re in the market for a new roving vehicle, it helps to know what to look for when it comes to keeping warm when the temperatures outside are dropping.
Can you leave the motorhome heating on all night?
Yes, it’s perfectly safe to leave certain types of motorhome heaters on overnight, if they are in good working condition, and you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The safest heaters to leave on overnight are oil radiators, ceramic heaters, and infrared heaters.