If you’re trying to decide which is the best RV heater for your setup, this article will help you make the right choice.
You are very close to the elements when inside your RV, so when the temperature drops outside, you’ll feel it inside your RV very quickly.
That’s why heating your RV is one of the first things anyone considering spending time in an RV thinks about.
If you are currently looking for an RV heater, our top list and guide below has you covered.
Our Top 5 Best RV Heater List
- Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable RV Propane Heater *Our Top Pick*
- Lasko CD09250 Ceramic Heater *Best RV Heater for the Money*
- DeLonghi Portable Oil-Filled Radiator *Best Electric Heater for RV*
Scroll down to read individual reviews of each heater…
Factors to Consider Before Shopping for a Heating Unit
For starters, here are some things you will need to know before shopping for a heater for your recreational vehicle.
- How big is your recreational vehicle? – This is primarily important because of space considerations and how much heating you will need to keep your RV warm. If you have a large recreational vehicle, you will need a heating unit that has ample power to heat all of the spaces in your RV. Additionally, the RV size is a good indicator of the heater output capabilities that you should be shopping for. Lastly, the size of your recreational vehicle will also determine whether or not you will need more than one heating unit to keep it warm.
- In what climates do you mainly operate or inhabit your recreational vehicle? – If you mainly operate and/or inhabit your RV in colder climates, you will need an efficient heater with a high enough British thermal unit to keep the spaces within the RV heated. This is even more critical if you are in areas where it is perpetually cold since this will require more heat, thus increasing your use of the heating unit. Lastly, depending on the size of your RV, it may be necessary to have more than one heater when occupying especially cold climates in order to keep all spaces throughout the RV warm. These factors are also important to keep in mind because frequency of use will contribute to how much energy you will more than likely end up using.
- Will you be staying in a particularly dry climate? If so it is highly recommended that you invest in a humidifier along with your heater. Heating units have the tendency to dry air out, thus increasing breathing difficulties. A humidifier will contribute towards better air quality and circulation in order to minimize this issue.
- Does your recreational vehicle have any pipes, built-in air vents, or other determinants that will affect the type of heater you should purchase?
- When shopping for a heating unit, we recommend that consumers look for heaters that consist of additional features that benefit its users and increase the comfort of the living space. Some of these types of heaters include self regulating and environmentally friendly units. Furthermore, be sure to look for units that are not likely to cause fires or produce carbon monoxide.
Why are British Thermal Units (BTU’s) Relevant
The power or speed at which a heater has the ability to warm up the air of a recreational vehicle is measured in British thermal units. Heating units power at different BTU’s per hour, therefore the factors we discussed above will play a crucial part in how you select the amount of British thermal units your heater should have. If you plan to run the heating unit somewhat frequently, it is ideal to shop for a unit that is highly efficient. Additionally, if your recreational vehicle is exceptionally large, you will more than likely need to purchase a heating unit that has the capacity to run at more than 16,000 British thermal units per hour in order to keep it warm.
Key Things to Look for and Know about Recreational Vehicle Heaters
Here are a few of the main qualities that a first-rate recreational vehicle heater should have.
- Safety- It is important to shop for heating units that have some level of safety reassurance in order to reduce the chances of fire and exposure to carbon monoxide.
- Efficiency– Energy efficiency is one of the key attributes that a good RV heating unit should have since the conservation of energy subsequently helps to protect the environment. Moreover, if your RV is situated in an area where electricity is metered, it can end up costing you a lot of money to run a heater that is low efficient.
- Low Noise Level- Heaters that produce a lot of noise while operating are not favorable since they can be disruptive to the people occupying the RV, especially at night or times when the noise can be deemed disruptive. It is best to search for a heater that functions as quietly as possible in order to avoid sleep disruption and to minimize the possibility of disturbing your neighbors.
Types of Recreational Vehicle Energy and Heaters
As we mentioned in our introduction, there are several types of heating options to choose from, therefore having some basic knowledge of each will be helpful when shopping for a heater. We will explore the different types shortly, but let us first discuss the different types of energy that heaters can function on.
How can you fuel an RV heater?
The type of energy that you use will depend specifically on your RV, convenience, as well as preference.
Gas – Gas heaters are favorable for recreational vehicles since gas is already accessible in the RV for other purposes, such as cooking. They are available as stand-alone heaters with and without fans and as water and air heaters. They are also available with air channels and independently controlled air flow to the separate living areas in the RV. The heating output that you will need for these will not only be dependent upon the size of your recreational vehicle, but also how well insulated the RV is.
Electric – The power of electric heaters is normally between 300 and 1500 watts. Most electric heaters are efficient and do not create harmful byproducts. Cube heaters are the most common type of electric heaters used for recreational vehicles. They are compact and consist of powerful fans. A high quality portable electric heater is usually made with some form of built-in protection to deter over-heating, but these protective measures are not always full proof so it is especially wise to exercise caution when using an electric heater.
Diesel – If your recreational vehicle operates on diesel fuel, then a diesel heater, which is known for its rather low consumption rate, will be practical since you have the ability to easily fuel at almost any gas service station. With this option, your RV heater will receive the necessary fuel directly from the vehicle’s tank.
Types of Heating
Air Heating – Air heating is the process by which the air in the RV is heated directly with a heating element or a burner. Air heaters have the ability to run on electricity, diesel, or gas.
Convection Heaters – These heaters mostly use fans in order to circulate and heat the air of the spaces they occupy to an ideal temperature. They fall under the sub class of heaters known as electric coil heaters and ceramic heaters.
Radiant Electric Heaters – Radiant heaters are quite unique because they heat the spaces they occupy through objects, people, and the floor as opposed to heating the air directly. The heat energy is released from these warm elements. Radiant heaters produce approximately the same amount of electricity as conventional heaters, but they are safer than conventional heaters. Since they do not use fans to function, they do not make noise when they are in use.
Halogen Heaters – These mobile heaters use radiant heat from tubes that are comprised of halogen, which is a combination of nonmetallic elements that quickly heat up and create a warm radiating source of heat. Unlike other commonly used mobile heaters, they do not use gas powered elements or electrical coils.
Kerosene Heaters – These heaters do not burn heat as well as propane heaters, thus they have a higher chance of emanating harmful gases that are dangerous in enclosed spaces. They also emit a pungent odor that can be uncomfortable to endure.
Propane Heaters – Propane itself is a highly efficient heating fuel and it is “clean-burning”. In terms of heaters, it is a gas that is compressed into a liquid. Propane heaters are even more efficient and economical than electric heaters, but they emit a strong unpleasant odor. They can be considered safe as long as they are used properly. The potential danger of these heaters is the organic byproduct of carbon monoxide that they have the ability to release into the air.
Catalytic Propane Heaters – Catalytic heaters are different from other propane heaters because the propane in them is combined with oxygen in order to create heat on the surface of a high temperature platinum catalyst. This eliminates an open flame and the strong presence of carbon monoxide, thus making these heaters very safe to use. They do not produce a lot of noise and can be installed almost anywhere in your recreational vehicle; this also makes them ideal in terms of convenience. The downside of catalytic heaters is that they are much more expensive than a good quality electric heater.
Oil-fired Radiators – These heaters use an electrical component in order to heat a basin of thermal oil inside of the appliance. They are easily adaptable, standalone units that can be installed almost anywhere in your recreational vehicle. Since electricity is the energy source of oil-fired radiators, they are considered highly efficient and are considerably inexpensive to operate. Also, because they do not actually burn oil, the threat of carbon dioxide emission is not a factor. The downside of oil-fired radiators is that they have the tendency to explode when their thermal fuses do not shut off. With that said, it is best to keep all objects approximately three feet away from these heaters.
Frequently Asked Questions
What heater type is the least costly to operate?
When hooked up to shore power, oil-fired radiators and halogen heaters are more often than not the cheapest to run, whereas fan heaters and bar fires are more expensive. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the power rating of an appliance, the more it will cost to operate.
However when shore power is not available, gas and diesel heating options are usually the better option.
Is it less costly to allow the heater to operate continuously throughout the day?
This notion is an all too popular myth. The exact opposite is true; you will almost undoubtedly save money by turning off your heater at intervals throughout the day or when you do not need it. Also, keep in mind that heaters can dry out nasal passages and the skin; therefore it is not ideal, nor is it safe for them to run overnight. We recommend allowing the heater to run up until bed time and then shutting it off just before sleep. Use more than one blanket, preferably fleece types since they hold heat, and/or wear warmer pajamas in order to stay warm.
Top 5 RV Heaters Reviewed
Here is our list and reviews of the top RV heaters currently on the market. Although we have explored various types of heaters, this list solely consists of the types that we recommend based on our set criteria of safety, efficiency, and minimal noise levels.
1. Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Propane RV Heater
The Big Buddy is a portable RV Heater that seems especially well-suited for the RV lifestyle. Not only is it able to put out a significant amount of heat without any issues, but it also has the safety features necessary to help owners to feel comfortable keeping the heater running even when the heater is not being directly watched. It is a great combination of some of the better features on the market, all in a package that clearly keeps utility as its primary concern.
This heater is approved for use both inside and outside, but it really shines when it’s used to heat a space like an RV. It works best in a three-hundred square foot range, which is plenty of space for the average RV owner. The output of the device is fairly significant, with a range of 4,000 to 18,000 BTUs. This means that it’s just as good at adding a little extra heat to the space as it is for keeping you warm when all other heat sources have bee exhausted.
Also important is the fact that the machine will shut itself off if one of several different situations occur. If the unit is knocked over, if the pilot light goes out, or if the oxygen level in the RV gets too low, the heater will cut off. This helps to prevent some of the most common dangers that come from owning a portable heater while still allowing you to enjoy the device when it is working correctly.
2. Olympian Wave 3 LP Portable Gas Catalytic Heater by Camco
This portable gas heater is a great example of what RV owners should be looking for when trying to find a secondary heat source. While it doesn’t quite put off enough heat to take over for the built-in heating of the vehicle, it does help to warm up the space quite nicely. Easy to use and move around, this unit also has the benefit of being very easy to keep fueled. The simple and silent heater is a perfect choice for those who need a bit more heat but who don’t want to dedicate much space to another device inside their RVs.
One of the most attractive features is the low noise level. While larger heaters might put off more heat, they generally do so by using loud blowers or fans. While this might not be a big deal when you’re using the device outside, it can be very problematic if you’re trying to use it closer to the interior of your RV. This unit doesn’t use a blower or a fan, so it’s virtually silent – perfect for enjoying nature or just getting a good night’s sleep.
Like all of the top heating units, it’s also good solid safety features. This one, in particular, prevents against accidental discharge, which can stop potential fires. It’s the type of safety feature you need when you’re on the road, especially if you’re not going to be able to watch the heater while it is being operated.
3. Mr. Heater Buddy 9,000-BTU Portable Propane Heater
One of the most liberating things about the RV lifestyle is not having to be chained down to just one location. Unfortunately, many of the tools that you need to really get the most out of RV travel do keep you too close to the vehicle. If you’re looking for a heater that can travel, though, you might do well by considering this unit from Mr. Heater.
Not only is it able to put out a significant amount of heat, but it’s also able to be moved around with ease.
The portability of this unit is really second to none. The lightweight design and the carry handle makes it easier to cart around than almost any other heater out there. Fortunately, the unit is also quite sturdily built, which means that you won’t have to worry about the heater getting damaged while you move it. This makes it ideal not just for those who like to camp outside of their RVs, but for those who tend to pack away their heating units when they’re not in use.
Of course, there’s more than just portability here. The heater can heat up a space of up to 225 square heat with ease and can put out a fairly warm 9,000 BTUs at its highest setting. The unit is also incredibly safe, able to shut itself off if it senses any of the common danger conditions. If you’re looking for a heater that combines utility and portability, this might be the best choice for you.
4. Lasko CD09250 Ceramic Heater – Best Heater for the Money
This little heater was designed with office use in mind, but it’s also one of the best heaters for those who drive RVs. While it might not be the biggest or the burliest heater ever made, it is both one of the most efficient and most practical. Meant to heat up the space under a desk in a cold office, this is the type of heater you can use if you’re looking to keep warm on a cold night.
It might not be the strongest primary heater out there, but it’s among the best for personal comfort.
One of the most appealing parts of this heater is that it can be stowed almost anywhere. Since it was designed for indoor use, you won’t ever feel uncomfortable using it inside your RV. You can keep it up front if you don’t feel like you’re getting enough heat from the vehicle, or you can bring it to the back when things get too chilly. While the heater certainly isn’t going to take care of the entire space as easily as some of the larger heaters on the market, it is better at heating up specific spots.
With an adjustable thermostat and a carry handle, this is also one of the most convenient heaters out there. It is rated for indoor safety and capable of turning itself off when it overheats, allowing you to enjoy the comfort of the device without worrying about whether it will cause a problem. This simple heater is the answer to some of the most common heat issues for RV owners.
5. DeLonghi 1500W ComforTemp Portable Oil-Filled Radiator – Best Electric Heater for RV
Silent, steel, and safe, this oil heater is perhaps one of the most professional-looking devices on the market. Solid and easy to use, it’s able to not only stand up to the needs of the average RV owner but also to the rigors of travel, all without having to rely on heavy maintenance or gentle handling.
It’s the type of heater you need when you want to be absolutely sure that you have an alternative heat source. And in our opinion is the best electric heater for RV owners.
One of the more unique features of this heater is the ComfTemp button. It allows you to maintain an optimal cabin temperature with the press of a button, cutting down on your fuel costs and allowing you to more efficiently heat your RV. There are actually a number of different heat settings on the unit, allowing you to do anything from off the cold of a snowy day to helping to warm off after a brisk summer night. The level of control you get with the unit is matched by very few other heaters on the market.
A note should also be made of the steel construction of the unit. It’s very solid, especially compared to most of the plastic-bodied units on the market. While this does make it much harder to move around, it also keeps the heater safe from the bumps that tend to occur on the road. If you want something that’s going to stand up to the test of time, you might want to look here.
Our number one choice of best RV heating unit is the Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Propane RV Heater. Out of the other four models on our list, this model best fits what we consider an ideal heating unit. With low noise level during operation, high efficiency, and reasonable pricing, this heater surpasses the others in comparison. Despite the risk of carbon monoxide emissions with this heating model, proper use of the heater will minimize this safety concern.
Ultimately, the heater that you decide on will depend on preference of heater type, energy usage type, and whether or not cost is a factor for you.
Now that we have covered the basics and the complexities in terms of heater categories for your recreational vehicle, you have the essential information needed to make an informed choice and purchase. Shopping for an RV heater no longer has to be an off-putting process now that you are aware of the key attributes that every quality unit should have and the important things there are to know about recreational vehicle heaters. Adding to that, it is important to remember that an efficient and well-designed unit does not have to be super expensive. There are quite a lot of less expensive, yet practical RV heating units on the market.
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