Are RV Furnaces Safe? Top Tips For Using Yours Safely

Are RV Furnace Heaters Safe?

For some RV enthusiasts, their RV furnace is something they really never think about, as they limit their adventures to warmer times and climes only. But there is a lot to be said for ‘off-season’ RVing. In the fall Mother Nature offers a show of color that is a wonder to behold all over the country, and an RV can be a great way to see the best of it. In the winter the snow offers recreation and beauty.

If you will be venturing out when the temperatures drop, you’ll need to make use of your RV furnace and you will need to make sure you do so safely. So now is a great time to learn more about all of this if you’ve never given it much thought before.

Types of RV Furnaces

There are, in fact, several types of RV furnaces to choose from, and they all come with their own set of pros and cons. Here’s a look at the most popular, along with some advice about how to make use of these RV furnaces safely.

Forced Air RV Propane Furnace

 typical image of a RV hot air furnace - propane fired
What an RV hot air furnace – propane fired – looks like.

A forced air furnace is the type most commonly found in RVs. It is not a very complex system. It comprises a blower motor, a thermostat, a circuit board with a safety limit switch and some fixed ductwork. When the temperature in the RV falls below the one set on the thermostat, the heater will ‘kick in’ and circulate warm air around the RV until the optimal temperature is achieved.

A forced air RV furnace needs both electricity and propane to function. The propane is burned to create the warmed air and then electricity powers the blower motor and fans that circulate it.

There are several reasons why a forced air RV heater is such a popular choice.

They are inexpensive, easy to take care of and in addition to heating the RV cabin they also heat its basement, which prevents the RV’s pipes from freezing.

On the downside, a forced air RV furnace can be rather noisy, burn a lot of propane and if it is not vented properly – and those vents are not maintained – it may stop working and on rare occasions, it could pose a fire risk. Not to mention these propane furnaces use a lot of electricity, and can drain the batteries in one night.

Fortunately, maintaining a forced air RV furnace safely is not too hard.

Before every trip in colder weather you should ensure that you check all the ducts are properly attached to their corresponding registers and ensure that they are clean and free of debris. While you can make this basic visual inspection yourself it is also a good idea to have your forced air RV heater professionally serviced on an annual basis, to make sure that it is safe to use.

Vent Free Propane Heater

A white blue flame vent free dual gas heater
Typical image of a blue-flame vent-free heater for use in an RV

Some folks, if their RV did not come with a forced air RV furnace, and sometimes even if it did, prefer the silent, efficient operation of a vent free propane heater instead. In fact these are quite popular with the more experienced winter desert boondockers and full-time RV’ers.

These vent-free propane heaters resemble standard home heaters and run solely on propane – however they run on far less propane than the electricity-eating furnace type mentioned above – cutting down on your RVs overall electricity consumption.

The one danger about this type of an RV furnace is that it does need to be vented while it’s running, and it does involve keeping at least one window cracked open at all times.  Another downside is that they build a great deal of moisture and the smaller your square footage, the greater the build up of carbon monoxide.

With that said, all vent-free heaters that are manufactured in the United States come with an in-built internal oxygen sensor that basically shuts off the heater if the oxygen levels get depleted in the room. This safety-mechanism along with the oxygen sensor and the LP detector that come equipped in most RVs – makes this a viable option.

Vent-free heaters come in different sizes, ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 BTUs which is good for heating up between 100 square feet and up to 1,000 square feet.

Because it is hard to hook up to your RVs propane system you’ll need a professional to install it. Though, if you’re anyway handy with a pipe cutter and a flaring tool, you’ll be able to install it yourself.

If you’re looking to upgrade to a vent-free propane heater because of the inefficiency of RV furnaces in terms of propane use and battery power consumption, there are several types to choose from on the market and each comes with it’s own set of pros and cons.

These are some of the most common brands Vanguard, ProCom, Mr. Heater, Kozy World and  Empire Comfort Systems, ProCom.

Electric Heat Pump A/C

Air Conditioner w Heat Pump
Typical image of an air conditioning unit with a heat pump – this is for an RV without a duct system.

An electric heat pump air conditioner is an electric heater that is built into an RV air conditioning system and operates like a residential mini-split. They offer plenty of advantages – they only use electricity, they are quiet, and usually very safe. On the downside, they use a lot of electricity fast, so if you are not connected to shore power running them may quickly drain your batteries.

Essential RV Furnace Safety Tips

No matter what type of RV furnace you choose, there are some safety tips you should keep in mind at all times.

As an RV moves, and things get moved around a lot more than they do at home a thorough inspection of the furnace system is a must before every trip, and an annual professional inspection is a must.

You should also make sure you have a working fire extinguisher in your RV and that your carbon monoxide monitor or alarm is working as well.  You can also use a combo LP/CO detector to detect both LP gas leak and carbon monoxide levels.

You may also need (or choose) to run a small fan to circulate the air, especially if running a vent-free heater.

How to Stop RV Pipes From Freezing

Earlier, we mentioned RV pipes freezing, and if the temperatures drop low enough that is a very real danger. Frozen pipes can, of course, lead to burst pipes, and that is an absolute disaster. It’s also possible that your water tanks will freeze as well, leaving you with no water and a potentially damaged tank. So making sure that your whole RV stays warm is another must.

A forced air RV system does heat the basement where all of this is located, and will provide a good measure of protection for it from the cold. A vent free propane heater won’t usually do this, so that is another thing to keep in mind if you choose to make use of one.

This having been said, in very cold or windy conditions even your forced air system may not be enough to prevent a big freeze. Some people choose to further protect their RV basement and its contents from the elements by installing – or making use of – a wind barrier like an RV skirt around the whole RV when it is stationary and these can be a big help. They will also help prevent small wildlife from entering the basement, another plus.

In answer to the original question, yes, RV furnaces are safe when used properly and can offer a way for you to get more use out of yours than ever before. Just make sure that you keep up with your RV furnace maintenance, have the proper safety equipment on hand and monitor your fuel use and thanks to an RV furnace you’ll be able to head off on lots of cold weather adventures as well as sunny warm weather trips.

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