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Energy Buffs Please Advise


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Going Full Time, we're clearly going to hit weather where we will need to have some hear.   Hubby and I like to boondock/dry camp extensively by choice, so our questions are based on that we have 980ah of newish golf cart batteries, 1000w solar system.

What is the best/cheapest options for providing ourselves with heat when not connected to hook ups, just generator and ideally just using our battery banks/solar system.   How long would our battery array allow us to safely run these options.

Are we better to just use furnace (which will burn propane also at a cost) and how long will our batteries last running that Suburban (2003)?

Are we better off running electric space type heaters?   If so which one gives you the best combo of efficiency providing heat coupled with low energy pull?   Also how long would our batteries last not depleting them below 50% and preferably not that low.

Any and all advice for the most efficient and cheapest option for heating based on boondocking for the most part would be appreciated.

As always thanks for your kindness and your experience sharing everyone.   Happy & Safe Travels.

FTW.

PS:    FYI:   All garage sales done = never again!!!   Acreage being measured and photos and aerial shots being done on Monday which we are well prepped for so should be on market real soon.    Guy in now upstairs stretching the carpet for nicer showing as I type.    Wish us a speedy and rewarding sale moving forwards.   

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A 1000 watt solar system will produce, at most, 1000 watts of power.  That's 1000 watt-hours each hour it receives full sun which is pretty short in the winter.  A typical plug in electric heater will draw that much power or up to 50% more while it's running.  They all produce the same amount of heat, 1 Kilowatt-hour equals 3,412 BTUs of heat energy.

You may be able to use an electric space heater for a few minutes on your solar and battery power to take the chill off in the morning if you have a power surplus but in general you should plan on using your propane furnace for heat.

The furnace only uses a few amps to run it's fan motor, so it's draw isn't a significant amount of the battery storage you have available.  Also figure on it using about 1/4 - 1/3 gallon of propane each hour the flame is on.

If your solar system is meeting your power needs it's best and cheapest to use propane for heat.  Running your generator to power one or two electric heaters uses more fuel than just making heat directly in the furnace.  And gas or diesel is usually costs significantly more per gallon than propane.

If you're going to boondock, the best investment you could make to keep track of your battery power is a battery monitor.  These have a shunt that is installed in line with the batteries and keeps track of the current going in and out of them.  It displays how much power you have in the batteries like a fuel gauge shows how much fuel is in your tank.  There are several available ranging from $50 to $300.  Here's one example.

https://www.renogy.com/500a-battery-monitor-with-shunt/

 

 

Edited by Lou Schneider
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On our AF I can just run the oven at broil with the door half open in the morning to warm up the camper. The AF has heavy insulation tho. Furnaces are notorious for running down batteries and using a lot of propane.

As for your other question it depends on the size of your solar array and the size of the battery pack. I'd recommend at least four 6V golf cart batteries. Lithium are very expensive and do not pay back their investment unless you keep that RV for many years.

Solar arrays are less effective in the winter because of the low sun angle and the cloudy weather.

Adding foam sheet insulation to the RV belly and putting Reflextrix in the windows will help.

Edited by agesilaus
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For heat about the best that I am familiar with for dry camping is the Olympian RV Wave-3 LP Gas Catalytic Safety Heater that can be plumbed into your propane system and uses no electric power at all. If you spend your time in the far south where winters are mild it will help by needing much less heat and increasing the hours of available sun for your solar panels. 

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We're boondockers and used a catalytic heater for 16 years.  It's an awesome way to heat as it's a constant warmth; unlike a RV furnace that goes on and off.  However, we never slept with it running.  Besides we like a cold bedroom.  First one up took a minute to turn it & came back to bed for 10 min or so and then the whole RV was warmed.

You do need to leave a couple windows cracked a bit as it gives off moisture.

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Thanks everyone for your input.   We have a Mr Buddy Heater with the small gas canisters for taking the chills off for short periods of time when needed during the day or late evening.   Cracked windows, but the canisters are expensive and don't last long.   Like 2Gypsies we like a cold bedroom at night, and have used furnace for short period in morning to warm up and dive back in bed whilst waiting for few minutes.    Never have needed to run furnace a long time without hook ups, and it's really not that effective we've found generally. 

Just thinking if there might be odd long cold days stuck inside where we need several hours intermittently throughout of heat maybe.   Of course we can always top off our batteries with the generator running to maintain the batteries, but like to use that as little as possible.

Was just wondering if there was a simple low energy consumption simple plug in heater that might be more effective than running the furnace.   I found Hulk Heater and Alpha??? tiny ones, supposed to warm up to 300+ sq feet, but not sure how good they really are in reality.   I bought something similar small for air cooling that really helped when directly close pointed to face (not effective for any space area), and didn't drain the batteries.  However for heat we need something to keep us warm at the dinette at least when playing cards/reading etc.

We don't really want to get into hooking up propane lines ideally but appreciate that option.

Again thanks everyone for sharing makes and models if possible of what you used or a similar model today that's available.

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I use a Mr Buddy heater that I plumbed into our propane system.  Never use while we are sleeping.  If its going to be very cold at night I will set the thermostat on the furnace to come on at 50 degrees.  Then as stated by others I'll get up in the morning and start the Mr Buddy and go back to bed and wait for it to warm up.  

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4 hours ago, FULLTIMEWANABE said:

I found Hulk Heater and Alpha??? tiny ones, supposed to warm up to 300+ sq feet, but not sure how good they really are in reality.

Heating ability is as much the ambient temperature than it is the size of space. It also goes to heat distribution. The Hulk is 800 watts, or 6.6a at 120V so if you are working via an inverter at night that means 66+A from your batteries for the entire time it operates. The smallest Alpha is only 350 watts so it will use less electricity at about 3a but it will have to run twice as long if it can even do the job. Your propane furnace uses electricity for the blower but the heat is from propane. so for the heat gained you would use less electricity. There is no free ride when you are dry camping. A smaller electric heater draws less energy per hour of run time but it must ran far longer to produce the needed heat. The key to supplying your electricity from solar is to use less of it. You could run your generator but that has cost too.

Go back and read the post by Lou Schneider again. He put it very well  and is a very experienced RV traveler who has spent a lot of time off-grid and he has a solid electrical background. I know many an RVer who spends long periods dry camping who have much larger solar systems than yours and not one of them depend on electric heat. I wonder if you really understand electricity and solar systems? You may find it educational to visit the information section of Chad Heiser's website as he has a lot of free information.

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There is no way to make electric heaters more efficient.  1500 Watts (1500 Watts with 120 volts is 12.5 amps) is equated to 5118 BTUH.  If you are off grid, trying to heat with an electric heater powered form batteries and an inverter is not the best solution.  You need to either use the propane furnace (and batteries) or get a Mr. Buddy catalytic heater.

Happy camping.

Ken

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Again thanks every one for your shared experience/knowledge.   Kirk you are absolutely right I haven't a clue about electricity or consumption so you are right!

Like I said we have our furnace and a Mr Buddy heater that has done us well to take the chill off when on extended trips from April to October typically, but going FT and out over the deepest winter months, albeit we intend to be south as possible, thought I'd ask in case there was something easy to plug in or not.

Thanks again.

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1 hour ago, FULLTIMEWANABE said:

we intend to be south as possible,

The general rule of thumb is to be south of I-10 for the winter months. Nights still get cold but days warm up. Thus, all the people who turn their heat on for a few minutes in the morning to take the chill off.

Linda

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Have a look at the small diesel heaters. Easy to install. Very cheap to run. Safe.

Do a Google on diesel heaters for RVs. Amazon has the cheap Chinese ones for just a few dollars. Many, many Australian RVers use them.

Edited by bruce t
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7 hours ago, bruce t said:

Amazon has the cheap Chinese ones for just a few dollars. Many, many Australian RVers use them.

Looking at diesel heaters on Amazon, the wide array of them would make me think that someone here must be buying them, yet I have only heard of a few RV folks here that use one. One issue with the portable ones is carrying fuel for it.

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We have found that for cold weather (same for real hot weather) that it is best to be at a place that has electrical hookups and not trying to boondock it. While we have used our propane furnace when boondocking, it does suck both propane and 12v electric power for the fan which then takes a long time for our AGM batteries to recharge the next day and if conditions are not perfect for the solar panels, we are now having to run the generator (which sucks even more propane) to top of the batteries for the next night.  

If we have shore power hookup, we just run an electric radiator heater that will keep our trailer comfortable in cooler temps. We do have to run the furnace to heat the basement if we are in real cold weather along with running our 12v tank heaters and the hot water tank to keep stuff from freezing but we try to avoid those situations as much as possible but they do happen and being on shore power helps (unless you are in Texas and they get a freak winter storm that shuts down their electrical grid, that was not a happy time! We went thru a lot of propane that time and even it was getting hard to get due to the power outage.).

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We boondock almost exclusively and never run any electrical appliance from our inverter.  If we need to use an electrical appliance, we'll turn on the generator (typically only the microwave plus occasionally using clippers to groom the dog or cut my hair).  We spend the winter near Yuma and usually only have to turn on the furnace for a short time in the morning to take the chill off.  It's a rare day when we have to run the furnace at any other time during the day.  We do not use an electric heater.

I don't know what RV you have, but keep in mind that running the furnace probably also sends heat to the basement keeping it above freezing (never been a problem near Yuma).  If you were to use an electric heater exclusively, no heat would go to your basement unless you made separate arrangements to heat the basement.

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5 hours ago, Kirk W said:

Looking at diesel heaters on Amazon, the wide array of them would make me think that someone here must be buying them, yet I have only heard of a few RV folks here that use one. One issue with the portable ones is carrying fuel for it.

I think they are mostly used in trucker's sleeper cabs but I sure liked having mine in my van. Maybe they only heat relatively small spaces? Mine would only run for ten hours then shut itself off and it wouldn't run at all if my fuel tank was lower than 1/4 tank.

Linda

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Most of us have smaller solar systems and smaller battery banks.  Trying to use the batteries for heat would just not work.  Your system of about 1000 amps solar and nearly 1000 A/H of battery capacity is huge.  With an appropriate inverter you should be able to use a small electric space heater just to take off the chill.  By small, I mean something on the order of 300 watts or so.  I have a small space heater with 3 settings.  The lowest is about 350 watts.  That should work but certainly make sure you use the lowest setting and do not use any other appliances at the same time.  Even with a large solar and battery bank, I would not do this unless hooked up to A/C power.  I would run the regular furnace for a few minutes instead.  The cost of the propane is negligible.

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OK I'm no expert so I'm not going to give a black and white opinion.

BUT. But the KEY is your EXPECTATIONS. Some folks get by with a 12v fan. Or a pair of warm socks. Others need the full kit. (Friends of ours wont camp unless they can run all 3 of their a/c at the same time).

Have a look at this YouTube video. Yes it's Australian but it's still relevant. After all it's just electrons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VR2whaDPvdU  For more info look at many of their other videos on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/c/AccelerateAutoElectricsAirConditioning/videos

Most Australians can get by with 4-600wats of solar and 2-400amps of lithium. Australians boondock way more than Americans. Maybe we smell a bit off as well but my point is, as I said above, EXPECTATIONS.

 

 

 

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So many of you now have given such good  information on your personal using and experiences, regarding my heating concerns, so THANK YOU for your time and sharing.   It is very much appreciated.

RayIN, it really is not a question of "Trying to survive on as little as possible".    We have enough to keep us well and truly above the poverty line till we hit well into our 100's.  If we wanted to we could quite comfortably stay at Oasis Las Vegas for 4 or 5 months, or similar type RV parks.   However, that is not what we enjoy.   We are into anything near water, lakes, mountains, serenity, space around us, small towns and so on.   We just don't enjoy the hassle of booking in and out of CG's, some with crazy rules, disappointment when we have done so on the places sometimes, and worry about arriving late or leaving early disturbing folks.    It's purely a personal thing on enjoyment factor nothing more or less.    

However with the above said and done, you can take the gal out of ??????, but you can't take ??????? out of the gal.   I grew up with very little money in our family but always a warm bed, food in our stomachs and clothes on our back.   By nature we are very frugal in our usage of general every day things.   Yet I'm the type that will blow $10K on a memory such as our trip to Turks and Caicos many years ago as well as other memory making trips/cruises etc with our children when younger.   We've only been able to get into the position we are today with very careful spending over the years, holding down 3 jobs and working very very very long hours,  and I have no intention of squandering it unnecessarily if there are alternatives for the same comfort levels.

BruceT, our expectations aren't high by any means, I was just curious especially after reading about the Icy mess in Texas last year I believe what others used, and for sure if something like that happened we'd try to head somewhere before it hit better weather wise and book into FHU's.   We are happy to layer for coolish times, but when it's a little frosty of course need heat hence the generic question at the beginning.

I'm sure our Mr Buddy Heater we already have and our furnace + generator if needed will suffice for our first winter out there.   If not I'm sure there's a Walmart, HD or Lowes close by to purchase something 😀.

Anyways, again thank you all for your input some great ideas and absolutely we will try to be South of I10 in the winter months 👍.

Happy & Safe Travels to you all.   I'm sure this thread might be of interest to others new to FT, on options you've all used.

Edited by FULLTIMEWANABE
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11 hours ago, FULLTIMEWANABE said:

..... I grew up with very little money in our family but always a warm bed, food in our stomachs and clothes on our back.   By nature we are very frugal in our usage of general every day things.  .......

I am also very frugal by nature.  But some quick numbers will show you can only save pennies by using a small electric heater a couple of hours a day to take the chill off.  Running a small electric heater will produce the equivalent of about 1000 BTU/hr.  A couple of hours a day means 2000 BTU.  A gallon of propane is 91500 BTU.  So a gallon is equivalent to using the electric heater 2 hours a day for 45 days.  That saves all of about $4.  Just use your furnace.  That will give you more comfortable, even heat without using floor space for an electric heater or a Mr Buddy.  You have plenty of power to run a furnace blower.

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2 hours ago, JimK said:

  Running a small electric heater will produce the equivalent of about 1000 BTU/hr.  A couple of hours a day means 2000 BTU.

The basic conversion for electric heat is 1500 Watts (1.5 kWatt) equals 5,118 BTUH.  You can just ratio this value down to 1000 Watts equals 3,412 BTUH and 500 Watts equals 1,716 BTUH.

1000BTUH equals 293 Watts which is a very small electric heater.

Ken

 

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