There is nothing worse than shivering in your own vehicle when outside temperatures are low. The built-in standard fan heater is often not sufficient for warm temperatures if you regularly use your motorhome for winter vacations.
That’s why, unfortunately, shivering nevertheless often occurs during winter camping vacations – and motorhome owners are annoyed by cold spots as well as temperatures below 68 ° F inside the vehicle, even though the heating is on.
This can have several causes. Perhaps the heater size is not sufficient for your camper. Or the heating system does not fit your usage profile. Sometimes warm air outlets from the blower heater are mounted in the wrong places, causing cold corners. But don’t worry, with our tips for use and retrofitting you can leave for your next winter vacation with peace of mind. If you’ve installed a blower heater that uses a medium to heat air and distribute it into the vehicle, then you’re in the right place. For this type of heater, there are a few small optimizations that will have a big effect.
Optimal placement of the heater in the motorhome
First of all, the placement of the heater is important. This is especially true for new installations. While it used to be common practice to install the heater under the rear bed, today there is a move to install the heater in the seating area, which is usually centrally located.
There are two reasons for this: First, the warm air is distributed throughout the caravan via pipes using blowers. Air as gas is more compressible than water, and heat is lost when it is transported through long pipes with many corners. That is why it makes sense to distribute from a central location with few curves. The second reason is that the heater housing radiates heat, and that comes in handy when you’re cozy in the seating area. The bedroom, on the other hand, many like rather cool and ventilated with fresh air.
Streamlined Y-distributors improve the heat output.
If the heater is installed in the motorhome, then of course it is very difficult to change the location. But you can focus on directing the heat to where it’s lacking. First, ask yourself if the warm airline into the area you find too cool has unnecessary bends somewhere. One option, for example, is to replace the widely used tees with streamlined Y-distributors at the branches. Many people go for tees because they save space and fit well behind furniture. But they don’t realize that only 30 percent of the warm air passes through the bend, while the rest just flows out – and is thus lost. So better suited are Y-distributors, which take up more space but allow the heat to get where it needs to go.
If the distribution lines in your motorhome are very long, additional fans can also help distribute the warm air. Instead of splitting the line multiple times, it’s also better to plan the branch for the area farthest from the heater, close to the heater – and run the warm air pipe parallel and without crossovers all the way to the exhaust vent. Also remember that some areas don’t always need to be supplied with warm air at all, for example, the wastewater tank, which only needs heat when it freezes. Here you can install a string barrier, which blocks the airflow in this area by means of a flap in the pipe section. Simply pull the cord – and the heat benefits other rooms.
Underdocking instead of long strand lengths in the motor home
If the strand length is too long due to unfavorable installation in the motor home, an under-sink system can also help. Here, an insulated heating pipe, which must be weatherproof, is laid under the superstructure floor. This means that the warm air only has to travel a short and direct route and the temperatures climb. Another advantage is that laying it outside frees up space in cabinets and seating chests.
But be careful: when branching, you must again make sure that Y-pieces are used. Since two holes have to be drilled in the vehicle floor for the culvert pipe and professional sealing of the floor panel is essential, you can consult a specialist from the workshop here.
Warming furniture and walls with wall fans
Most of the time, air heaters blow their heat into the open space, but furniture and walls are not heated this way, although they can retain heat much longer. If you find it uncomfortable that the wall next to the bed is very cold, you can try an isothermal pipe between the mattress and the wall.
The regular slits in the fan will ensure that the warm air is evenly distributed around the bed as well as the temperatures will be comfortably warm. Wall-mounted ventilators, which are often installed in seating areas, work in a similar way. The short pieces of plastic tubing have a slot and are inserted into the nearby heating duct. They ensure that some warm air is diverted and allows it to rise up the wall. This provides comfortable warmth as the furniture in the seating area heats up.
If despite these optimizations, there are still areas that are not heated, the only thing that helps is an auxiliary heater to support the main system. However, since new supply lines for gas or diesel are necessary here, we definitely recommend leaving this to the workshop.
The optimum temperature
When it comes to temperature control, experience and a bit of intuition are what count. Especially with the S heaters, whose temperature selector knob has only a symbolic graduated scale without degrees. At the lowest level, these heaters maintain an interior temperature of about ten degrees Celsius; at full heat output, they can certainly manage up to 86 ° F – depending, of course, on the quality of the insulation and the prevailing outside temperatures. When starting up, the gas heater always burns at full power until the set temperature is reached. Only then does the control slowly take place via the throttling of the gas supply.
Heaters with on-screen control panels and digital display and settings signal the highest accuracy, but when it comes to temperature preselection, they sometimes have to contend with technical conditions – as our comparative test showed. This is because, depending on where the measuring sensor is installed, external influences can affect the heating control. Even slight cold bridges, for example in the area of the temperature sensor, can fool the sensor into thinking that the ambient values are incorrect. As a result, the heating system simply continues to operate and the room temperature deviates from the preset value. In particularly critical installation situations, experts also advise retrofitting and additional, i.e. second, thermo sensor at a more suitable location.
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Pay attention to the heater if you have water in the pipes and tanks
Motorhome winter camping tip number 1The enemy of every motorhome (caravan): water in the car. The even bigger enemy: frozen water in pipes and tanks. So if you want to operate the water system even in winter, you have to make sure that the heater heats all areas of the vehicle where water is running or standing. If you only heat the interior with fan heaters, you will be surprised that at some point the water drains out below when the cold-sensitive safety valve (“frost monitor”) opens. Or when the wastewater tank freezes through. Keep your heater running, even if you’re only gone for a short time. If temperatures drop below zero, you can also add a tiny bit of salt or antifreeze to the wastewater tank (not the freshwater tank!!). Many winter campers leave the drain valve of the wastewater tank permanently open and place a bucket underneath to catch it, which is emptied regularly.
Checks the base vehicle for winter resistance
Arrival and departure are also part of winter camping. Make sure that the base vehicle is winterized. This includes, above all, washable winter tires (without ifs and buts) with the snowflake symbol. Check the antifreeze for the radiator and spray water, and make sure that the wiper blades and rubber seals are still in good condition. If you don’t know how to help yourself, you should consult a workshop that can do this for you for little money. If like us, you are surprised by days of snowfall in the Alps despite good winter equipment, you will appreciate snow chains. So if you really winter camp, you should pack suitable chains in your car. Again and again, it is also mandatory to have them at least with you.
Relate: Water in RV: Guide for Beginners
Airs regularly and properly
Proper ventilation is especially important in winter. When there is a high-temperature difference between indoors and outdoors, moisture condenses more easily on the boundary surfaces. This can often be seen on the inside of the cab windows in the morning when the blinds are opened. It is precisely then that proper ventilation is called for. It is also worth knowing that there are mandatory forced vents in properly installed windows and hatches, where there is always a little draft. As at home, the same applies in the motorhome: do not ventilate continuously, but intermittently. Also make sure that the air circulation is not blocked and, for example, that the ventilation slots behind the cupboards or at the bed are not plugged. It is also highly recommended to measure temperature and humidity with a weather station.
How to get warm in bed
If at the beginning of a trip the whole car is still chilled through, and so are the beds, it quickly gets cold from the underside of the mattress when you fall asleep. The remedy is quick with a freshly warm-filled hot water bottle. But we have found an even more elegant solution: Warming under blankets, which are laid under the bedsheet. If we have shore power, it becomes cuddly warm in bed in a few seconds and the creeping cold from below is history. Of course, you have to turn them off before you go to sleep – or buy a variant that switches off automatically after a certain time.
At a glance: Ten tips for proper heating in the caravan
- Check at home. Maintain the heating system before the start of the journey and test it for proper functioning.
- Heat with foresight. Observe the caravan’s long heating-up time and start heating early enough. Do not allow the caravan to cool down, even during longer absences. Continue heating on a low flame.
- Secure air supply. If the combustion air is drawn in under the vehicle floor, the opening must be kept free of dirt and slush. The intake of the heater must not be in the spray area of the wheels when the vehicle is in operation.
- Ensure good exhaust ventilation. Extend the roof chimney in winter (available from accessories dealers). The caravaner does not need to clear the roof during snowfall in order to operate the heater. Check side chimneys for icing due to condensation or meltwater.
- Save heating energy. Insulating mats on windows and roof hoods aid heating efficiency. An awning serves as an effective cold lock. Openings for forced ventilation on the vehicle must not be sealed, otherwise, there is a risk of suffocation or poisoning.
- Secure gas supply. Make sure propane cylinders are full. Find out in good time where the next filling or exchange point can be found. Automatic two-cylinder changeover switches supply the heater with power even if no one is on board. At low temperatures, the regulator on the gas cylinder can freeze.
- Heating with electricity. Before using the electric auxiliary heaters, it must be clarified whether the campsite’s fuse protection can withstand the power guzzlers.
- Ventilate the caravan properly. The exchange of humid air helps against condensation. Shock ventilate several times a day (all windows fully open for a few minutes) instead of permanently ventilating with the window slightly open. The vehicle does not cool down, and fresh air warms up faster.
- Keep your fingers away from the stove. Never use the stove’s flames or the gas oven as an auxiliary heater. There is an acute risk of suffocation due to the high oxygen consumption.
- Do not misuse the heater. Do not obstruct the hot air outlet at the vents or the sheet metal cladding. Never hang clothes to dry at these points or in front of them. This not only reduces the heating capacity but can also damage the heater and poses a fire hazard!
As the outside temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, you may start to see water droplets condensing on your windows or walls. This is a sure sign of indoor humidity problems which can lead to RV damage and personal health issues.
The average-sized RV furnace will burn about 1/3 of a gallon of propane while running continuously for an hour. Based on this estimate, a gallon of propane = 3 hours of continuous RV furnace use.
Along with skirting, wrapping your pipes in heat tape, and adding insulation, there’s another great way to keep your rig warm in the winter: invest in some small indoor space heaters! You can use electric or propane space heaters to supplement your RV’s furnace.