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How Do You Heat Your RV Whilst Boondocking?


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Prepping to spend a lot of time camping off grid now, we are trying to get our ducks in a row, and our thoughts are turning to the cost of not very effective propane furnace heating versus other forms that others might be utilizing without depleting their battery banks too much, or alternatives.

 

We intend to be in warmer climes during the winter months and cooler climates during the summer, but anticipate we will need something to take the chill off in the mornings and evenings in the MH and sometimes a fan to circulate air in the summer, and whilst we overnight between moving locations. We were considering the Dyson, Hot Cold but the reviews we've read haven't been that encouraging generically thus far .

 

Would very much value your hands on experience on what type, make, model is working effectively for you out there doing it already? If you can share in brief how much you draw off your battery banks that would be awesome.

 

FWIW: We are naturally very low consumption energy users in every day usage (one light for reading, others all off, watch very little TV, residential fridge low draw). We layer clothes, but just want to be comfortable mornings and evenings if temps drop substantially as it appears they tend to at times.

 

Thanks in anticipation for your sharing in how you keep warm during chilly hours.

 

Helen.

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It depends on your type and size of rig, but what I have found that works well for me to take a chill off is the Mr. Buddy portable heater. There is a smaller single burner unit, but I prefer the larger dual burner with multiple heat settings. It has a battery powered fan to help circulate heat, but I rarely use it. It's also really great heat for just sitting outside on a cool night. It's pretty easy on the propane and even cheaper if you have an inline propane connection in your rig, or refill your own 1# bottles (which is what I usually do).

 

For better heat distribution in cold weather, and for cooling in the summer, the best fan I have found is the Fan-Tastic endless breeze box fan. It's certainly not cheap, but it is by FAR the best 12v fan I have ever had (more than worth the price on a scorcher), and sips juice off the battery bank. Even on high it only draws a bit over 3amps. Low.. I think is a bit over 1amp. It really moves a decent amount of air.

 

All that being said, I ONLY run my Mr. Buddy in the early morning and evenings to burn off a chill or to take a shower. I generally move with the climates, but if I expect below freezing temperatures, then I WILL run my furnace at the lowest temp setting. Just enough to keep a hard chill out. The Mr. Buddy doesn't have a thermostat, so it is not well suited for general heating. For me anyway. My rig is a 25' single slide, so even on the low setting it will cook me out of bed if I leave it running.

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We have a Mr Buddy. Our rig is not plumbed with an in line to the on board tank. If just overnighting we use a 1kb bottle. If we need it boondocking as in the desert at night we just drop the line out a corner of the window to a 20lb bottle. It heats a nice portion of our 40ft MH with no problem.

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I have used the Olympian Wave 6 or 8 with the portable foot kit and 6' flexible hose to a quick disconnect. I look behind cabinet drawers to find the copper propane pipes going to the stove, furnace, water heater, or fridge and tap into that with a "T" going to the quick disconnect I mount in the side of the cabinet. I have installed this setup in my last 5 RV's over the last 10 years.

 

Because I need more heat than the Olympian will supply, I now use a Kozy World 15,000 BTU vent free heater. We have a 29' class A with single pane windows and the big windshield which lets in lots of cold. The Olympian just doesn't put out enough heat.

 

When I need an extra jolt of heat in the morning I open the door to my oven and turn the oven on to about 350 degrees for 30 minutes to an hour. I figure if I can cook something in the gas oven for 2-3 hours and not be in danger, I can heat with the oven for 30 minutes or so. I also may run the furnace for 15-30 minutes.

 

Of course with all this I have the ceiling vent open an inch or two to prevent any carbon dioxide (CO2) build up. I also have 2 carbon monoxide (CO) detectors as well.

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Puts out a ton of heat, and is very quiet.

 

If you're interested I just checked my book. The Big Buddy puts out 4,000/9,000/18,000 btu's. I'm just guesstimating, but with 2 - 1# bottles.. on low.. I probably get somewhere around 10 hours continuous.

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If you're interested I just checked my book. The Big Buddy puts out 4,000/9,000/18,000 btu's. I'm just guesstimating, but with 2 - 1# bottles.. on low.. I probably get somewhere around 10 hours continuous.

At $2-$3 a bottle that gets expensive quickly if you don't refill the bottles. If you can tap into your RV's propane system one pound of propane is about 70 cents if propane is $3.50/gallon.

 

Is it possible to remove the built in regulator on the Big Buddy and attach it directly to the RV's low pressure propane system?

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How do you handle the moisture buildup when using an un-vented propane heater in cold weather?

Opening a window slightly and opening the ceiling vent a little helps. But moisture build up is a problem. Especially with large single pane windows. I wipe them down frequently. On the RV's we have had with dual pane window it was much easier to deal with it.

 

To those of us who dry camp or boondock a lot, the advantages of the un-vented gas heaters far out way the disadvantages.

Advantages:

-- I can go a long time between filling my propane tank

-- I don't deplete my house batteries by running the forced air furnace

-- It is quiet inside my RV. No constant noise of the furnace starting and stopping.

-- We can camp in locations with nice views, peace and quiet, rather than being crammed into an RV park where the view is the RV next to you and all the noise of the people around you.

 

Disadvantages:

-- Moisture build up

-- On time installation of the propane quick disconnect.

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And to add to Al's post - CO detectors. I use 2 with number readout. CO is a very insidious gas that can kill quick.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide

http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

 

This is the heater that we use - it has a thermostat so you can 'control' the heat, O2 depletion sensor, good for 240-400 sq ft., wall mount (although we didn't) so the back side is cool, convection heat (no danger to furry critters or objects in front of it). Add in WDR's fan (which we also use) to circulate the air (blowing about it.

 

You will want a fan of some sort. This helps to even the temps otherwise you get the hot head, cold feet syndrome and when your feet are cold, the rest of you can feel cold.

 

on edit:

 

Hint: As this is the 'end' of the heating season, I bought mine cheap - $100 or so several years ago.

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Is it possible to remove the built in regulator on the Big Buddy and attach it directly to the RV's low pressure propane system?

 

You should keep the regulator, but I don't see why it couldn't be tied into the existing LP lines. The big buddy only needs 1/2 psi to operate, and the line they sell to go along with the heater actually bypasses the internal regulator.

 

I don't have one, or know a heck of a lot about them, but evidently there is a quick connect hose available that does not require the regulator (or someone didn't know what he was talkin bout). Maybe someone around here knows more about that.

 

I typically just use 1 pound refills. Like you said.. at $2-3 a pop. Over the counter pounders would get spendy real quick. Not to mention having to lug enough canisters along with you for an extended stay. I do have a hose for an external tank, but I've only used it once or twice in the past 7 years or so. Then again, on a bad day, I might run mine for 'maybe' an hour or two total... so the 2 - 1 pounders are generally good for a week.

 

I don't stick around long once temps start dropping down into the 45-50 degree range overnight. Why be cold if you don't gotta.. :P

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To those of us who dry camp or boondock a lot, the advantages of the un-vented gas heaters far out way the disadvantages.

 

X2. Amen~~

 

For extended boondocking, there really aren't many other viable/cost effective alternatives. Condensation is just a part of it. Keep you temperatures lower, vent well, use a fan to keep the air constantly circulating... hold your breath whenever possible :D

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About the regulators. Any device which has a connector to attach directly to the 1# container or directly to a 5 gallon tank, has a built in regulator. These cannot be connected directly to the low pressure propane lines feeding the fridge, stove, etc in our RV.

 

It could be that you could remove the regulator and connect it directly to the low pressure line. But w/o knowing for sure if the heater is designed to operate on the standard RV low pressure you are taking a risk that could kill you.

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The Big Buddy that we have has dual connections. High pressure for the 1 pound propane bottles, and a low pressure quick connect for connecting a low pressure line from your RV's propane system. I have a low pressure hose, with a quarter turn ball valve on the end that we pull out when we use the heater.

 

The radiant heat that this heater puts out is amazing, and it warms your bones like only radiant heat can.

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We both like the desert which is good because it usually gets warm during the day. But the desert - even AZ and SE Calif - can get mighty chilly at night; which is good because the DW and I are both veterans of cross-country skiing have warm clothing and bedding that works well for us.

 

At night we close the day-night shades and close the curtains for extra insulation.

 

We have a Big Buddy (a smaller version - would that be the "not-quite-so-big Big Buddy?) that we originally bought to keep us warm at ice skating parties but which has migrated to the motor home. I plan to eject the built-in ice maker (about the height of a bar-size fridge but half the width) that really doesn't work well (all the ice is in one big clump... but at least it's frozen) and put in either an Olympian (we have one in our travel trailer and it rocks) or maybe a vented catalytic in the spot it occupies (to reduce the condensation).

 

For the time being we use a "system". Main salon furnace set to 55-60 overnight. Otherwise no heater. One of us gets up at 5am or so every morning (usually the DW) and starts the generator (6.5kw propane). Then turns the furnace to 70F. The AC oil-filled radiator heater comes alive with the generator. Refrigerator switched to AC and set to "colder" (usually 4 on a one-to-five scale of lights).

 

The generator stays on about an hour or until all use of the microwave or coffee maker is needed. By this time the radiator heater has heated up pretty well and its high specific-heat keeps it warm for another hour. And the RV stays warm once the sun starts to hit it. So we turn the main furnace down to 60F when the generator goes off. Refrigerator turned back to propane and turned back to one or two (warmer).

 

We generally dress warm if necessary during the day (layers of poly-pro, smart wool, down) and even wear wool caps inside if it gets too cold.

 

At some point we'll turn the furnace or the Buddy on. It's surprising just how fast the RV warms up, though. We also open the day-night shades and curtains to allow sun to heat up inside the coach.

 

In the evening, if we did not get enough from the solar panels to put the batteries in a state where I'm comfortable with them, we turn the gennie back on to watch a movie. Once the generator goes on, so does the radiator heater, the fridge to AC (and set colder) and, at least at night, the electric blanket goes on and turned to max (warms the bed up). :P

 

Is this too much management for most? :D

 

WDR

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Thanks for the feedback, it's really appreciated. We like to sleep in a fairly cold bedroom at night, so that's no problem overnight, but like to take the chill off upon rising in the living area, so would only be using for a short time here and there when south, or more when stopped during travelling from Alberta down south or back north during shoulder seasons

 

Appears thus far The Big Buddy seems to be the most commonly used. Just curious why one would opt for a catalytic over the Big Buddy or vice a versa. Just thinking which one is safer from a Carbon Monoxide perspective? Noted that they have low oxygen level cut outs, are these reliable (of course we have a CO2 detector as well in the rig). If all else is equal on CO2 emissions, cost of operation, is one more effective at delivering heat quicker or more uniform than the other? Just thinking about what Wenvalley said regarding radiant heat.

 

Thxs.

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We have an Olympian Wave 8 attached to the movable kitchen island. We had a propane outlet plumbed under the refrigerator to a threaded outlet. This goes via a propane hose to the catalytic propane heater. All of the sites on-line state that the only byproducts are water and carbon dioxide with some other minor burn products. Have to be sure that your propane and CO detectors are operating (I will err on the side of caution). Leaving the heater on at night keeps the main cabin in the low 50s when it is in the high 20s outside. If the outside temperature is in the high 30s or above we turn off the heater at night. We do use the forced air heater in the morning. Get up half an hour before we really get up (we are going on 75 and like our creature comforts) and it will be in the high 50s to mid-60s.

 

Things are completely different if it is below 20 F outside since the forced air heater needs to come on during the night to prevent pipe freezing; however, such temperatures mean that we have left for warmer climes (if planning has been done properly)

 

A primary reason to use catalytic heater is that it supposedly does not give off CO (bu again make sure CO detector(s) are operable). The catalytic heater does require that one has about three square inches of window open. It is most likely that an RV with slides open has air entering but, again, we err on the side of caution.

 

Our Open Range rig (which is basically entry level) does have all double pane windows, R30+ on floor and ceiling and R9+ on all walls. If nights get really cold, then it might be a good idea to bring in slides which decreases total volume to be warmed, removes drafts, and decreases total area that can emit heat (absorb cold)

Reed and Elaine

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We use a Mr. Heater blue flame 20,000 btu heater. We also have a Mr Heater buddy heater but much prefer the blue flame that has a thermostat and can modulated off and on as needed. The buddy heater does not do this and just blazes away at one of 2 settings. Both are setup to just quick connect into the existing propane system. We crack a window at one end of the rig and crack open the bath vent for ventilation when the heater is on. Moisture is an issue in colder areas but adds just enough to make it about perfect in the areas of Arizona we winter. I added another CO detector so we have one at both ends of the rig.

Later,

J

 

PS We enjoy watching the blue-flames dance around when it fires.

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In theory a btu is a btu but it makes me wonder a little. I have tried the catalytic heaters and didn't find them satisfactory so I went a radiant that I have been happy with mostly. I was curious if anyone had experience with both the blue flame and the radiant of the same approximate btu rating and if you found their heating ability essentially the same. I believe the radiant is the same most refer to as infared.

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Actually I have all 3. LOL - more than that really.

 

10K blueflame - Nice heat - thermostat - NG or propane, I've used it on both. Standing pilot, heat goes straight up, I put a 12v computer fan behind it at the top point ~15 degrees toward the floor, added a small disk thermostat to turn the fan on and off.

 

Mr Heater Big buddy - 3 heats as WDR? said above. A lot of radiant heat (line of sight - you see it, you can feel the heat), 2 ceramic blocks glowing (depending on the setting) bright red into yellow. Do NOT put anything in front of this, like a cat!! They will get singed!! (Sometimes they just aren't that smart).

 

8K Olympian cat - 4, 6, 8,000 BTU (3 settings). The difference is, the heat is spread over the whole surface which is 10?? 20?? times as large as the ceramics in the Big Buddy. Still is radiant heat but instead of being concentrated in 12 sq in it's over 2000 sq in which is why it seems so much less.

 

I also have the oil filled heater, propane torpedo, industrial ceramic, electrics, etc. When you live an active life in the cold, you get heaters.

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thanks, mine has the radiants like the big buddy. I forget the out put but with both radiants going I believe it is 9 or 10K. Definitly takes the chill off quick with both radiants going. Mine is propane. I would not leave it unattended or on at night. No standing flame or thermostat on mine. I guess I am the thermostat.

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As a HVAC tech some years ago I found this to be an informative post with a question that interest me also. We had been using small electric heaters in our previous motor home and while they would take the chill out they were not going to heat our 29' class C. The heaters sold by Lasko and Honewell and others are 1500 watts. You get 3.4 btu's per watt so they can put out 5000 btus of heat. Most people are familiar with this type of heater so you can understand what that amount of energy feels like. I agree with other posters that the noise is annoying.

 

Our furnace in our Class C was 30,000 btus. i believe the ductwork was undersized or their just was not enough outlets going to the entire length of the coach. consequently the furnace would short cycle. I never used it below 18 degrees so it might have performed better in colder outside weather.

Important to this discussion is that that furnace used a heat exchanger and was vented to the outside (combustion by products are expelled through a power blower to the outside air.) The heat exchanger transfers the warmth to coach indoor air. Outside air is used for combustion of the propane alleviating oxygen depletion inside the coach. This furnace might be 80% efficient which means 20% of the energy used is expelled to the outside of the conditioned space. The good part of this is that the combustion by products are really wet if memory serves me right 1000 cu ft of natural gas will generate a gallon of water when burnt.

Propane generates 4 cubic feet of water vapor for every cu ft of gas burnt. Double what natural gas generates. so for every cubic foot of propane burnt you would generate 2516 btu's and 4 cubic feet of water vapor.

 

The catalytic mr buddy radiant heater are very efficient 99% + but they are direct vented meaning combustion by products go directly into the condioned space. So you are increasing your effiency over your furnace but trapping all the combustion by products that the furnace exhausts to the outside.

Motor homes campers and house trailers are very well sealed and that is why they have always had combustion air from the outside to burn the fuel. When you are using a direct fired appliance you are using the rooms air. As the oxegen in the air is burnt up you can no longer have complete combustion. This is when the carbon monoxide will be generated. There will also be aldehydes made and unlike Carbon monoxide they smell and will make your eyes burn. While this is happening the flame will no longer be blue and will be yellow and make smoke and soot in extreem cases. I am not sure how a catalytic heater would appear probably there would be visible flame instead of the red glow. So some heaters have OD sensors which would be a welcome safety device.

Some old numbers state a surface unit on a stove to be about 7500 btu's an oven about 15,000 those numbers are for residential units. Note that unlike your RV furnace they burn the room airs oxygen and are manual controled. This is probably why everyone says never use your oven for space heating.

 

Seems like my RV stove surface units are hotter than the ones on our house stove. Propane does have more energy than natural gas. Propane has 21,591 btu's per pound.

Carbon Monoxide is oderless. One sympton of poisening is euphoria. Later their might be vomiting and surely headache. This is after you are in fresh air. If you fall asleep or pass out then it is likely you won't wake up. I believe it is cumulative also the little doses hang around in your body and combine. So the devices don't generate carbon monoxide if they are in good condition and have enough fresh air to burn and this cannot be understated.Interesting to me Mr. Heater wants a filter in the gas lines that they sell with their heaters on Amazon. Oddly some hoses did not require a filter it might be built in to the hose? That would be good advice as I think propane can vary in quality and make up. The Mercaptan that is added to natural gas and propane to give it a smell is a known carcinogen. What happens to it when burnt I do not know. The workers at a refinery told me that it only took about a tablespoon to oderize a railroad tank car of propane. So the quantity we are exposed to is small.

 

A good link http://www.thermocycler.com/Literature/Direct%20Fired%20Heater%20Moisture%20Lotz%201303.pdf

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Questions about Camco Heater http://www.amazon.com/Camco-57341-Olympian-Wave-6-Catalytic/dp/B000BV01CK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422277339&sr=8-1&keywords=olympian+wave-6+heater Is this a ceramic like the Mr. Heater? Is it divided into sections that might not be lit on lower setting as in the Big Buddy?

The Camco seems over priced compared to the Big Buddy that has its stand included and provisions for bottles or low pressure hose hookup. It is kind of clever the way the BB takes the bottles inside and probably helps to deter freezeup. That being said it also makes it bigger.

 

A side note to my post above is I tried to find the efficiency of my previous coach's furnace. Attwood does not talk effiency on their web site or in their promotional literature. A residential furnace with forced combustion will almost always be 80%. Commercial rooftop furnace/AC units were sometimes as low as 50%. So my numbers need some more work but you can see that I am leaning toward just using my new old Damon Astorias furnace because of the work, expense, hoses laying on the floor. Our previous coach sucked our tanks dry in 2 days when we had a freak cold snap and snow and then a power failure last year at Custer State Park. So while it ain't really camping it is like Scouting and the BSA motto is "Be Prepared". 18 degrees and no power and a foot of snow made it interesting. We had fuel so could have run the coach or the generator :)

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You didn't mention the size of your RV, however there are low power RV furnaces available. I have a 12,000BTU Atwood 8012 II furnace that only draws 1.8 amps, and have used it, combined with a pair of 6V 232 amp hour batteries & a 95 watt solar panel for up to a month of boondocking. While I prefer a small cube electric heater when I have hookups because it it quieter, the Atwood is quieter than many other furnaces.

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I heat mine with the furnace. It's safe, relatively quiet, doesnt put moisture into the rv, has a 60 pound fuel tank mounted outside and vented, distributes the heat well, keeps tanks warm, turns on with thermostat, nothing bad to breath, peace of mind and sleep well.

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