How much propane does it take to heat an RV in the winter?

In today’s blog post, we will answer the following question: How much propane does it take to heat an RV in the winter? We will discuss how much propane you need to stay warm on a cold winter night, how exactly does the heating system of an RV work, and what are some alternative methods to stay warm.

How much propane does it take to heat an RV in the winter?

The average sized-RV heater would use ⅓ of a gallon of propane/hour to heat an RV in the winter. Most RVs use 20 lbs or 30 lbs propane tanks, which would last you for 10, respectively 16 hours of continuous use. We made this list to simplify things and help you understand better how much propane you need in order to stay warm all night:

  • For an 11 lbs tank: 2.6 gallons of propane for 7 hours
  • For a 20 lbs tank:  4.6 gallons of propane for 10.5 hours
  • For a 30 lbs tank: 7 gallons of propane for 16 hours
  • For a 40 lbs tank: 9.4 gallons of propane for 21.5 hours.
  • For a 100 lbs tank: 25 gallons of propane for 84 hours.

Understand the heating system of an RV and save propane

In most trailers and RV, the heating consists of a propane gas furnace, some models also offer a heat pump installed in the air conditioner and high-end models are equipped with the Aqua-Hot water heating system from Airxcel or Truma. It is also possible to find a decorative electric fireplace that can also heat, although it cannot heat the RV on its own.

The principle of the furnace is simple: it needs a supply of propane gas to heat the air and a 12V power source to operate the fan pushing the hot air through the hatch or into the ducts. The 12V current is also used to supply the microprocessor governing the operations of the furnace which is DSI ignition, i.e. automatic.

To start the furnace, you must use the thermostat installed on one of the walls of the RV, usually in the main space. Some larger RVs may have up to three different temperate zones and therefore may have multiple thermostats. 

Some thermostats only control the furnace, while in other cases they also control the air conditioner. There are manual thermostats, digital thermostats and in some cases, the thermostat is integrated into the control panel when it is electronic.

Most RV thermostats are in degrees Fahrenheit, not Celsius, so the conversion should be made if it is not possible to change the thermostat’s unit of measurement. For reference, 32 degrees Fahrenheit equals 0 degrees Celsius and 68 degrees Fahrenheit equals 20 degrees Celsius. There are several conversion tools readily available online.

The small trailers and tent trailers have a ductless furnace, the hot air is pushed through a grill installed in front of the unit. Larger trailers and motorhomes will have a furnace with ducts. The ducts run through the RV frame, under the floor, and hot air is pushed through hatches installed on the floor or at the bottom of the furniture.

  • Thermostat for furnace only: This thermostat is the simplest to operate, it has a selector that can be engaged for start-up and then simply moved to designate the temperature to be maintained. Some models will have a button for ignition and a second for temperature selection.
  • Thermostat for furnace and air conditioner: The combined thermostat offers several modes. To start the furnace, you must therefore make sure that the thermostat is in “HEAT” mode and that the temperature selected is above the current temperature. The mode is chosen either by a selector button which can be placed in four modes: “COOL”, “FAN”, “HEAT” and “OFF”.

Alternative heat sources for your RV

There are other tools that can help heat an RV, they are often offered as an option. It is also possible to use extra heaters making sure to respect the rules of the manufacturer regarding the ventilation of the RV.

  • Heat pump: By equipping the RV air conditioner with a heat pump, it allows the air conditioner to be used for heating. In short, the air conditioner can run upside down and therefore send heat indoors instead of outdoors. This system may be suitable for cooler temperatures, but will not compensate for a furnace.
  • Electric fireplace: Electric fireplaces require a 30 or 50 amp connection depending on the model of fireplace and RV. These operate like the residential models, one button for ignition, one button to change the mode and two selectors to adjust the heat generated down or up or the intensity of the flame depending on the mode selected. 

It is possible to operate the fireplace without heat, only for the atmosphere, or with heat.

  • Water heating system: These systems are not common and are found in some diesel-powered “pusher” units, the Aqua-hot heater uses diesel, 120V electricity and engine heat to heat water that circulates through ducts up to heaters arranged through the motorhome. This system also acts as a water heater and replaces the propane furnace. For more information on this system, see the Aqua-Hot website.
  • The Truma Combi system is also a combined water heater and furnace system, the air is heated by circulating through the hot water tank and is sent through ducts for optimal distribution of the hot air in the RV. This type of heater is used in some models of class B motorhomes. For more details on this system, see the Truma website.

Conclusions

We firmly believe that RV camping is possible all year round. Still, if you’d rather stay at home wisely this winter, that’s understandable. The only thing: don’t forget to winterize and park your RV properly to avoid unpleasant surprises next spring!

If you have any questions, comments or tips on how to travel and stay warm in an RV during winter, please feel free to share them!

FAQ on How much propane does it take to heat an RV in the winter?

How to turn on the trailer heating?

It is not difficult to turn on the trailer heating. The heater in your trailer is much like your home heating system. Just turn the thermostat to the position you want for the temperature. You should hear the heater blower start, then the electronic ignition.

How to insulate an RV for the winter?

A little extra insulation, such as curtains and rugs, makes it more comfortable in winter. So, take out the thick bedding or invest in an electric blanket, it will help. Park your RV so that the windows face the sun during the day.

How cold is too cold for an RV?

A temperature between -19ºF and -25ºF (-28 Celsius to -31 Celcius)  is just too cold for an RV. It is extremely difficult to endure such low temperatures in an RV, as frostbite could occur in just a few minutes. Besides, the RV pipes would freeze in no time and it would be too difficult to turn on the engine of the motorhome.  

Can I run my RV generator all night?

Yes, it is possible to run your RV generator all night, but the type of generator you have will determine how long the fuel will last.

References

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