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Heating Your Campervan in Winter

When the weather is excellent, we love living and traveling in campervans. But when the season turns frigid, van life becomes more uncomfortable and inconvenient without a heater in our van. Many of us stop traveling altogether during the winter months. Wouldn’t pushing a button and instantly heating your campervan would be nice?

It’s possible! This article discusses the prevalent campervan heating solutions on the market today. We will also detail which van life heating option we used and our thoughts on our decision.

Spoiler alert: We LOVE our diesel heater.

Simple Propane Heaters

These propane heaters are simple and convenient and heat your van quickly. They are stand-alone devices and use standard 1 LB (green) propane canisters.

Pros

  • Low Entry Cost – Starting at ~$60, these propane camping heaters are affordable to most in the campervan community.
  • No installation Necessary – No need to drill holes or connect any wires. A stand-alone product that you can store and take out when needed. Very convenient.
  • Easy To Use – Connect your heater to a propane supply tank, and you’re ready.

Cons

  • Burn Through Propane Quickly – A single 1lb propane tank sells for ~$6-8 but only lasts about 3-6 hours. Propane costs can quickly add up here.
  • CO Poisoning – In propane combustion, oxygen is consumed, and carbon monoxide is produced and released INSIDE the vehicle. This leads to potential suffocation & carbon monoxide poisoning if the heater is operated incorrectly.
  • Fire Hazard – Sadly, deaths caused by a tipped-over heater are not unheard of.

Best Option: Mr. Heater (Buddy)

  • Auto shut off if low oxygen
  • Auto shut off if tipped
  • 3-6 hours usage per 1 LB of propane
  • Portable & easy to use
  • Easy storage when not in use
Mr. Heater | Propane Heater
$78.33

Requires 1 LB propane cannisters to operate. The unit may shut off above 7,000 feet. Includes auto shut off, if tipped over.

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02/18/2024 04:46 pm GMT

Do We Recommend?

Unfortunately, these simple propane heaters are a NO from us. And unless budget is a serious concern, we don’t think this is the best solution for heating your campervan.

Despite the many positive reasons for these simple propane heaters, the serious safety concerns related to oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide poisoning, and fire hazards are enough for us to pass on these heaters.

According to Propane101.com, almost 25% of all propane-related deaths are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning. Yikes!

Plus, we want to preserve our propane for cooking and don’t want to look for propane centers to fill up constantly.

Electric Space Heaters

You see these electric space heaters everywhere in homes and offices. You plug them into any standard 110V socket and turn them on. No messy fuel is required, just electricity.

But getting electric heaters to work in your campervan requires a robust electrical system and a considerable investment in batteries and an inverter.

Pros

  • Low Entry Cost – Starting at ~$20, these electric heaters have the lowest entry price of any campervan heating solution.
  • No Installation Necessary – Similar to simple propane heaters, installation is unnecessary. Store it away and take it out when needed.
  • Easy To Use – Take the heater out, plug it in, and turn it on. Incredibly simple.
  • No Fuel Needed – No propane or diesel required. Just electricity.

Cons

  • Expensive Inverter Required – An electric heater may be cheap, but it will require a sizable inverter to power it, which will cost money.
  • Large Battery Bank Required – These heaters draw 800-1500 watts. So, you will also need a sizable battery bank to power an electric heater for any substantial amount of time.
  • Electricity Dependent – If your batteries are drained, you can quickly find yourself stranded in the cold without heat.

Best Option: Lasko Electric Heater

  • Low cost
  • Built-In Thermostat
  • Portable & easy to use
  • Easy storage when not in use
  • Overheating protection
Lasko | Electric Heater
$29.99

Three temperature settings and the lowest setting requires 900 watts of power. Requires minimum 2000-watt inverter to operate.

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02/18/2024 04:41 pm GMT

Do We Recommend?

Because of their high electricity demand, we would never rely on an electric space heater as the PRIMARY heating solution for any campervan.

However, as a SECONDARY solution, a small electric space heater makes sense if you plan to park your campervan in an area with access to shore power (i.e., RV park or driveways). With access to unlimited electricity, these electric heaters become much more practical.

Fuel Operated Heaters

These heaters are designed specifically for campers, boats, and any other type of mobile home.

Depending on the type, these heaters can operate on various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and propane.

Because installation is required, it’s best to plan ahead and figure out where this heater will be installed during your camper van build.

Pros

  • Low Cost For Fuel – Our diesel heater can run for 40+ hours on a 2.5-gallon tank. That’s roughly 5 hours of heat for every $1 of diesel.
  • Combustion Pollution Exits Outside – Unlike the simple propane heaters above, the pollution from the combustion process remains outside the vehicle, which means there is no chance of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Convenient Control System – Many of these heaters have convenient control systems that allow you to set your desired temperature and timer.

Cons

  • High Entry Price – The original, higher-end models cost roughly $1,000 per unit. Made-in-China models can be purchased starting at ~$130.
  • Installation & Assembly Required – Substantial installation and assembly are required. You will also need to drill multiple ~1″ holes in the floor of your vehicle. Assembly instructions will also be limited, from our experience.
  • Elevation Restriction – Depending on the make and model, diesel and gas heaters are rated for use only up to 2,000-3,500m in elevation. (See more below)

Altitude Concerns

Diesel and gasoline heaters are only rated up to a certain altitude. This is generally between 2,000m-3,500m above sea level.

This is because the higher the elevation, the less oxygen in the air for the heater to burn cleanly. Using the heater at extreme altitudes for extended periods of time puts the heater at risk of clogging the heating element and, ultimately, breaking the device.

Our first diesel heater was a cheap China-made one that quickly malfunctioned after being used above 2,000 meters.

We replaced the broken heater with the more expensive Espar D2 diesel heater (with an auto-altitude adjuster up to 4,200m), which has worked great since.

Best Overall Option: Espar D2 Diesel Heater

  • Extremely fuel efficient
  • Rated for up to 3,500m altitude
  • Works at higher elevations for short periods of time
  • Awesome user control panel
  • Expensive: $1,200
Espar Airtronic Diesel Heater
$1,055.00

We can't rave enough about our Espar heater. It keeps our van toasty during the frigid winter months and regularily works above 14,000 feet.

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02/18/2024 08:56 am GMT

Best Budget Option: Espar Knock-Off

  • Extremely fuel efficient
  • Simple temperature control system
  • “Rated” for up to 3,500m in altitude
  • More Affordable: $130
Top Value Pick
12V Diesel Heater (Budget)

Keeping the camper van interior warm when it's cold out is a top priority. And this Chinese-made diesel heater can help you keep warm at an extremely affordable price. Comes with automatic high-altitude adjustment for up to 16,000 feet.

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Do We Recommend?

Installation was challenging, and our heater wasn’t cheap, but we loved our Espar D2 diesel heater. It keeps our van interior warm and toasty in the early mornings and the evenings.

We highly recommend these fuel-operated heaters as THE primary solution for heating your campervan during the winter months.

Even during the winter months, we’ve been able to live and travel comfortably in our campervan, which is the biggest reason to invest in a heater like this.

We want to clarify that the cheaper Chinese-made model we purchased worked great for our needs, but only up to about 2,000m above sea level. If you don’t think you will be spending much time at that altitude, these cheaper heaters will also meet your needs.

Best Van Life Heaters For Heating Your Campervan

In conclusion, based on your needs, budget, and situation, different van life heating options exist to heat your campervan during those chilly winter months.

Van life during the winter can still be fun!

Whichever heating solution you choose for your van, remember that the most important aspect is keeping yourself safe.

If you have a simple propane heater, remember to have proper air ventilation to allow fresh oxygen to enter your campervan.

If you have any personal experience you’d like to add to your heater, please let us know in the comments below!

Happy traveling!

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