Propane vs. Electric Heaters for RVs

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Owners of recreational vehicles, or RVs, may find themselves in locations that require heat to remain comfortable. There are several methods available that RV owners can use to warm up. Two of the more popular choices for heating RVs are propane and electric heaters. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Propane RV Heaters

  • The convection type of propane RV heater notwithstanding, a propane RV heater is more economical than an electric RV heater. It costs more than two times as much to use electric RV heaters as it does to use propane. One model of RV heater, called a Propane Radiant heater, is extremely efficient. It warms the interior of an RV by heating physical objects in the area, which in turn radiate the heat to warm the ambient air. These models of propane RV heaters operate between 95 percent and 99 percent efficiency in converting propane to heat.

Disadvantages of Propane RV Heaters

  • Most RVs come equipped with a built-in ducted propane furnace, which employs a 12-volt electric-powered fan for air circulation. If not connected to shore power (electricity provided by campgrounds) the fan, along with other loads, can completely deplete the battery overnight. The typical propane furnace is only rated about 70 percent efficient with some estimates as low as 50 percent. These types of propane furnaces are designed to heat the entire interior, while it may be desirable to heat only a small area currently being occupied. It can also be inconvenient and time-consuming to replenish propane supplies.

Advantages of Electric RV Heaters

  • Electric RV heaters operate at 100 percent efficiency and include the added benefit of a clean operation that produces no harmful byproducts, such as carbon monoxide, as some models (non-catalytic) of propane RV heaters do. When docked at a campsite where the cost of electricity is included in the fee, electric RV heaters present a low operating cost.

Disadvantages of Electric RV Heaters

  • When electricity usage is metered at a campground, meaning it is a separate and additional charge to the rental fee, it can cost substantially more than propane for the same amount of heat. In addition, very old or low-end portable electric RV heaters may not have the same safety features such as built-in protection against over-temperature and tip-over that are available on higher-quality portable electric RV heaters.

Considerations

  • The propane furnace heaters in older-model RVs should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure the combustion chamber is not defective and to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Unvented RV heaters should be equipped with an ODS (Oxygen Depletion Sensor) and backed up by a CO alarm and propane alarm. It is ill-advised to have the propane bottle inside the interior of the RV.

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