Is a heater necessary? - Fiberglass RV

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Old 06-22-2010, 06:17 PM   #1
Mike Whitney's Avatar
Trailer: Lil Bigfoot
Posts: 89
Hi all -

I'm hoping to get some opinions/info on having a heater in our trailer.

My original thinking was that we're not going to camp in the winter, and when we used it last summer before stripping it right down, we were cooking most of the time. That said, when I did all of the body work prior to painting, I filled the hole from the original furnace, thinking I'd gain some valuable cupboard space.

Recently a friend said I'd probably want to re-think the heater b/c things tend to sweat etc, and we'd be faced with moisture inside at one time or another. He went on to say the heater was more of a necessity in terms of 'drying things out' VS keeping you warm. Sadly, I tossed the old one, so I'll have to find a replacement if the consensus is a 'yea'.

Any thoughts on this? I'm at the stage where if I need it, I can still build it into my cabinetry.

Thanks in advance -

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Old 06-22-2010, 06:35 PM   #2
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Name: Donna D
Trailer: Escape 5.0 TA, 2014
Posts: 24,540
Are you looking to boondock, or will you be plugged in to a current bush? Trust me, it doesn't take "winter" to want a heater of some sort. The last NOG, which was the last full weekend in April was very wet. It was nice to be inside a warm trailer during the nighttime hours... late evening and early morning. I used a cube heater and it was nice and toasty! I'll be going to the Oregon Gathering in a few weeks and expect it will be cool there too. Right in the middle of July... so, I'll use the cube heater again. That's MY style of camping, I like to be plugged in... don't need a propane heater even if I have one. YMMV

Donna D.
Ten Forward - 2014 Escape 5.0 TA
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Old 06-22-2010, 06:46 PM   #3
Mike Whitney's Avatar
Trailer: Lil Bigfoot
Posts: 89
Hi Donna -
My original thoughts were: "Lose the propane heater, gain cabinet space, and if need be, just bring a small plug-in ceramic heater".

Ideally, we'd be plugged in, but we just got back from a trip this weekend (had to tent it b/c my egg is still apart ) and there were no hookups at the provincial sites. We may run into this more often than not. My wife would prefer the conveniences, but we don't want to limit ourselves either.

I guess I'm answering my own questions. The propane heater allows for heat anywhere, which is appealing. I guess we just haven't really used the trailer enough or camped in cool/cold weather enough to know.

I am concerned about moisture in the unit though, and the damage that can follow.

Is it fair to say that a heater, more importantly, is necessary to keep these units dry?

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Old 06-22-2010, 06:50 PM   #4
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Trailer: 2003 Casita Spirit Deluxe 16 ft (Eggs-Car-Go with ivy the tug)
Posts: 111
I agree, we have a propane heater in The Casita but the fan is very loud and the heater is overkill. We use a small ceramic heater on low and it does all the heating we need. We have been known to dry clothes after a day at a craft show where it rained 8'' using the little heater. These little campers don't need a lot of BTUs
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Old 06-22-2010, 08:13 PM   #5
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Name: Rachel
Trailer: 1974 Boler 13 ft (Neonex/Winnipeg)
Posts: 3,012
I'm not so sure a direct-vent type propane heater will keep things all that much dryer than a cube heater or a cracked-open window.

The thing is, a lot of the reason that fireplaces and woodstoves and the like keep things dry is that they suck air in, heat it up and dry it out, and then the moisture goes up the chimney. But the typical propane furnace in our eggs does not work that way; instead it is "direct vent" with a sealed combustion chamber. If you noticed, the old pipe that led to the grate on the outside was really a pipe-within-a-pipe; that's the "direct vent" part. What happens is that air comes in through one of the pipes, goes into the combustion chamber (which is separated from the inside camper air), and then goes back out the other pipe as exhaust. The air in the camper is heated up, but it (and its moisture) do not go "up the chimney," like they would with a traditional furnace, a woodstove (if you have one that uses inside air for combustion) or a fireplace.

Now, of course if it is cold out, and you are breathing out human-temperature air, you will get condensation in the camper. You can eliminate a lot of that by not breath.... erm, I mean, by cracking a window open. Moving air also helps (as in a fan; but the window really makes a huge difference all by itself).

If you have electricity, and run a cube heater - along with the cracked window - you will also eliminate a lot of moisture. Basically, it comes down to warm air condensing on a cool surface (your breath/the window frames/window panes, etc.) You can even notice it on the walls if you have a heater on but block the warm air off (say, if a blanket is touching the wall). I put a "ring" of Reflectix around the wall next to my bed when I was winter camping to eliminate that issue (even though my Boler's walls are insulated).

Okay, it sounds like I'm contradicting myself here, but I would say it boils down to this:

You breathing (moist, warm air) + cold air and walls = moisture (condensation) on walls.
Any ventilation, especially combined with heat = reduction in moisture.

It's just like the beads of condensation you get on your ice cold drink's glass in warm weather. Warm air condensing on a cool surface. If you aimed a fan on the glass, a lot of the moisture would be carried away.

So, I don't believe there is nothing "magical" about the propane direct-vent heater; it doesn't work like the old fashioned "flue" effect you would get with a fireplace etc. carrying the moisture out automatically.

You can get the same effect as a direct vent heater with an electric cube heater -- both need a cracked window and/or other source of ventilation for the moist camper air (as I understand it).

Note that if your propane furnace requires a fan to operate that it will take electricity too. Not as much as a cube heater, but a significant amount over a night.

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Old 06-22-2010, 08:23 PM   #6
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Trailer: 1982 Scamp 13 ft
Posts: 379
We removed the propane heater several years ago because we wanted the extra cabinet space. We use a cube heater, which works great for us. There is some condensation if it's really cold outside, but we crack a window & that helps. We have never regretted our decision to switch from propane to electric heat. Of course, we don't boondock either.

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Old 06-22-2010, 09:44 PM   #7
Mike Whitney's Avatar
Trailer: Lil Bigfoot
Posts: 89
Any thoughts on these heaters?

or these?
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Old 06-22-2010, 10:02 PM   #8
Trailer: Burro 13 ft
Posts: 51
I'm pretty curious how this will play out. My Burro came with a small cat. heater that seemed to work well but I yanked it for my reno. I'm considering putting it back in as I hope to mostly boondock and avoid campgrounds at all costs. I don't have any experience with these heaters (or campers in general, life long tent guy until now) so want to know if these are safe and efficient. i have a thermostatically controlled Fantastic fan that I'm installing after my paint job, so should be able to control heat and moisture pretty well. Below is a pic of my heatre before I removed it:
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Old 06-22-2010, 11:43 PM   #9
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Name: Roger
Trailer: 2009 Trillium 1300 "Homelet"/2014 Subaru Outback "Rosie"
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We visited Bryce Canyon NP in July, 1996. We were in a tent and froze! It turns out it got to 25F that night.

Do you think you need a heater? Can you say, "Frozen pipes?"
A charter member of the Buffalo Plaid Brigade!

Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right.
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Old 06-23-2010, 02:44 AM   #10
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Name: Matt
Trailer: U-Haul VT16, Escape 19
Posts: 987
I do have a Mr Heater portable buddy. It seems to consume more fuel than spec - one lb lasts about 5 hours on the low setting. You'll still need ventilation because, although it has a low oxygen shutoff, it will still be making CO2 and water vapor all the while it's running. There is no thermostat so you have to shut it off manually, and there's condensation on the bottle forming too. It's fair for a backup or an emergency but probably a bad idea to sleep with one running in an enclosed space. Due to the oxygen sensor it won't work reliably over 7000 ft or so, if that's a concern.

On the plus side, it's toasty warm, and there's a kit available to plumb it into a 20# tank.


Planning our next Escape!
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Old 06-23-2010, 08:38 AM   #11
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Name: Ches
Trailer: 1992 Kustom Koach 17 FT
British Columbia
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I would not buy a RV with out one.
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Old 06-23-2010, 01:14 PM   #12
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Name: Darnelle
Trailer: 13 ft Scamp
Posts: 310
We have a propane furnace in both campers, but have never used either. I don't trust sleeping next to an appliance that is burning gas.

We have winter camped and then we bring an electric heater and camp where there is electricity. The tiniest heater will heat up our camper in no time and, in fact, we have had to turn it down! Also, when the weather is that cold, the state camp grounds here are almost empty, so it's sort of like boondocking (quiet and nature), but we get all the conveniences of electricity and outhouses (if you can call that convenient!)

As for moisture, a heater alone is not the solution. In our older, and less-well insulated camper, we have had condensation inside in July. 3 bodies exhaling all night long is a lot of moisture in that small space. We keep a vent cracked open regardless of the weather, and we are attentive to condensation on windows (have never had condensation on any other surface). If we have a rainy camping trip we make sure to air out the camper as soon as we can -- on a sunny day we open all windows and doors and turn on the ceiling fan.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:15 PM   #13
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Name: theresa
Trailer: Outback (by Trillium) 2004
New Brunswick
Posts: 1,428
our trillium outback comes with a proprane furnace and we love it! we used it exclusively while boondocking on the way down to florida this spring. we also own a ceramic heater but it is useless while boondocking so it stayed home.
sure, there can be condensation on the windows in the morning--but simply opening the window works to eliminate it. also, even on the coldest nights of our trip---which were -10 C ...we were snuggly warm with the furnace set on its lowest setting...

after we arrived in florida, we thought we should refill our propane tank--thinking it surely would be quite substantially drained because of the 6 full nights we had run the furnace--and were pleasantly surprised when the total cost to refill our 20 lb tank was a mere $2. WOW!

one other note----dennis had adjusted the settings of the furnace to have it cycle less frequently--we found it quite comfortable this way---we remained snuggly warm and the furnace noise, which i know some have written to say bothers them---was never a disturbance.

all in all,,,even though our ceramic heater is terrific when shore power is available, i'll NEVER give up my furnace!
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Old 06-23-2010, 07:14 PM   #14
Mike Whitney's Avatar
Trailer: Lil Bigfoot
Posts: 89
Good feedback here - thank you.

I'm now in the market for a furnace. I think the original was an Atwood 12000 BTU type. Sadly, there are no used ones anywhere, and the best price I can find is on eBay for $349. Does anyone have any info RE good models etc or used RV parts places in the US? There's nothing up here that I can find.

The short of it is, if we are boondocking and the temp drops significantly we'll likely wish we had the furnace. Plus, it will likely be a better sell with a furnace.

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