What Type of Heating Should I Install in My Camper?

Campers can be as luxurious as you want them to be, but they rarely come with central heating. One of the most frequently asked questions that people ask is What are the options for heating motorhomes and which ones should I choose?

When considering the options for heating motor homes, there are typically three main types in running diesel, wood and gas. Although other types of heating are available (eg portable heaters or space heaters), these three models are usually chosen for installation in a campervan.

Candles are an option to stay warm, but it may be more atmosphere than a practical heat source!

The most important things to keep in mind when determining the right option for campervan heating are:

  • The size of your van;
  • Easily obtain replacement fuel sources;
  • Cost of installation;
  • Maintenance costs;
  • Fuel costs.

Diesel heating in a campervan

Diesel heaters use the fuel from the vehicle’s main diesel tank and the leisure battery or electrical source to power the device. They are often popular in larger vehicles because you can get integrated systems for both hot air and hot water. This is really useful if you camp all year round and you feel like a hot shower!

As a very rough guide, a typical diesel heater requires 0.1 liters of diesel per hour. It is important to note that the stove only uses fuel when the combustion is in progress.

The thermostatic controls and the fan need 12 volts of electricity. The consumption depends on the required heating capacity and the type of heating; as a margin guide, it is 10 to 50W. The user manual will inform you about the lowest wattage that your electrical input needs to have in order for the heating to work.

Most diesel (and gas) stoves use a heat exchanger to heat up the air, which is then blown around the vehicle with a 12v fan. The air required for both combustion and exhaust fumes is fed directly from outside into the sealed combustion chamber and back outside without entering the vehicle itself. As always, it is very important to ensure that safety requirements are observed during installation. (See the safety section on this blog!)

Pros of diesel heating in campers

  • Very trustworthy;
  • Use it well at low temperatures (a big advantage!);
  • It is unlikely that the fuel runs out because of the accurate internal fuel gauge;
  • Easy to find replacement fuel abroad;
  • Relatively low operating costs for both electrical and fuel requirements;
  • Can be mounted outside the vehicle, saving space inside;
  • Short time needed to heat the van (provided you have adjusted the correct kW output in relation to the vehicle size);
  • Can regulate the temperature with a thermostat.

Disadvantages of diesel heating in campers

  • The heating system can be noisy (for your neighbors)
  • An older stove or a poorly maintained stove can give off fumes
  • They use (usually) more electricity than a gas stove. This can be compensated if you have solar panels
  • Expensive to buy; Webasto heating elements can cost from £ 800 – £ 2000, depending on the KW output.
    • Alternative models are becoming increasingly popular, but beware of the danger of buying abroad if you adjust yourself. You might find that you have to think about how to translate many Chinese instructions …
  • They must be regularly maintained and maintained.

owner Simon solved many of these problems by installing a completely different type of diesel heater in his Mercedes Vito campervan conversion. It is called Refleks – it looks a lot like a wood stove but actually behaves more like an AGA and comes with a convenient stealth mode! Watch the video here.

A diesel stove in a self-built campervan
 66MK refleks diesel heater in full profile

Wood stove in a campervan

There is something beautiful and romantic about the vision of a wood stove in every home. Just because you’re in a campervan as opposed to some Scandinavian log cabin, does not mean that you can not participate in that vision!

As with any heating system that you must adhere to the relevant regulations. Our recommendation is that you speak with a HETAS qualified installer before you start an installation yourself. This is particularly relevant because the required ventilation is calculated on the basis of the DEAS regulations.

Which KW output of the stove should you get? That is a very difficult question to answer. It depends on the cubic space of your van empty. As a rule of thumb, divide the cubic space by 14 and this gives you a KW output that is needed for the space. So for a medium-sized van, a 2 kW burner would be perfectly suitable. The smallest of the beautiful Windy Smithy stoves is the Wendy at 2.5 kW and go up from there.

* For the purposes of this blog, the average can be considered as a VW T5 format.

One of the most important advantages of wood burners is their pure simplicity; Bringing wood, light fire, enjoying warmth. Once inside, they are inside and you do not have to maintain them except to keep them clean and free of ash. They are without doubt the most cozy and atmospheric heating option and can also serve as a cooking source.

It is a legal requirement that you have no flammable materials next to your stove. This means that wood and hardboard must be stored far away, which can be done effectively and stylishly in the main body of the van. If you have wood in the ceiling, you may need to observe a chimney with two walls – thoroughly examine it before you place the hole in the roof!

Pros of wood stove heating in campers

  • Cheap to buy – £ 100 – £ 300 for a 2kw unit is typical
  • Fuel is cheap. Wood can be cleaned up or you can buy a full box with logs (1.26 x 1.14 x 1.0 m) for £ 150 – £ 250 at online stores (you have to find somewhere to store as many logs!)
  • Quiet to run;
  • Exceptionally cozy;
  • Easy to maintain – nothing electric to go wrong!
  • Dry heat dissipation – excellent for drying clothes and boots.

Disadvantages of wood stove heating in campers

  • Can stink for inexpert fire makers!
  • You need to find storage space for kindling / wood – a shop in sub-lash is probably not the next Dragon’s Den investment
  • Some insurers do not cover fire if they are caused by a solid fuel stove, so contact them before you commit them
  • Some campsites (very little in our experience) do not allow you to light a wood-burning stove
  • For a smaller unit you have to refuel more often, this can burn up at night
  • A larger unit may produce too much heat for the size of the van and you will find that you are pulling away in the depths of winter!
  • Complex safety regulations to meet (OK not so much a disadvantage as a necessity, but it is worth mentioning because there are many!)

Making and maintaining a fire is a real art form and as you learn these Neanderthal skills, be prepared for some smoky nights and stinking clothes!

One way to make an expensive first purchase in the future is to buy a stove as high as possible. The cleaner the air, the less soot filters, so you are more likely to comply with possible future new laws.

It is worth noting that not every burner needs to be bought in the store; Bella & # 39; s owners have their handmade from a reclaimed gas bottle and a garden fork!

The best way to know for sure is to take someone away for a romantic weekend and see if it matches your imagination!

The inside of a self-built campervan with a wood stove to heat the van
Blubelle has a super smooth and cozy wood stove for you to get warm!

Gas heating in campers

Campervan diesel heaters blow heated air around the van through special ventilation openings. This option for heating motorhomes is powered by gas cans or a tank that can be installed internally or externally. It is not as sexy as a wood stove, but due to its efficiency and ease of use it is a very popular choice for many people.

Most heaters of this type operate on thermostatic control, so they will maintain an ambient temperature and automatically re-ignite when they are needed. This is particularly useful at night to prevent you from waking up to an ice chest and a frozen nose!

The costs can vary enormously from this type of heating, depending on whether or not you opt for an LPG Auto tank without a support arm or an internal Butane bottle. An undercountered tank with filling point, regulator and indicator level can be reset between £ 500 – £ 1000. However, a big advantage is that you do not take up space in your van. The replenishment point (also on the outside) is universal in the EU and the UK and in general a lot of cheaper per liter than bottled gas. An internal cylinder is much cheaper to install, but you may need to replace the connector abroad. If you make much colder climates on the beach, they will run out faster, but it may not be practical to carry a reserve.

The costs can vary again for the stoves themselves. Propex gas heaters are one of the most popular choices. These are delivered with a bit of a brand price tag – for example, an HS2000 will cost about £ 480.

A propex heater to heat the inside of a campervan
Propex heating from Sylvester with channels

The costs of running are not that bad. Wanda’s owners say it normally costs around £ 15 to fill their 20-liter tray, which they have done about six times since February 2018. This takes into account a full rental period and their own colder trips! According to the manufacturer, the use of the HS2000 consumes about 142g gas / hour to heat a medium-sized van. That is a pretty cost-effective way to heat your camper!

As with everything that has to do with gas, you must have your work deregistered by a registered gas safety engineer; if you plan to rent it out, this must be a landlord’s certificate. For information, see our blog about signing your installation for renting your vehicle.

Pros of gas heating in campers

  • Efficient to run;
  • Easy to find fuel to refill (when using car gas);
  • Controlled via thermostat;
  • Advantageous fuel source (usually!)
  • You can leave it on at night;
  • Fast to heat the air to the required temperature;
  • When using propane gas, this works at very, very cold temperatures!

Disadvantages of gas heating in campers

  • The fan can be noisy in the van, although this can be improved with sound-deadening channels;
  • If you do not accurately measure the required ventilation for the cubic meter of your EMPTY van (ie without units or devices), you may need to post ventilation afterwards;
  • Can be very expensive to purchase an underslung unit and the cheaper internal tanks have a much smaller capacity.
The inside of a self-built campervan with gas stove, Belfast sink, 6 hanging mugs and the edge of a comfortable sofa
Cooking on gas in Florence!

Safety First

Regardless of whether you plan to rent out your campervan there are a few super important things that, frankly, we consider a good idea to take with you in your build.

For example, if you have an open flame in a small area with a lot of wood, install a fire extinguisher!

A closet in a self-built camprevane with, among other things, a fire extinguisher such as bananas, grapes, tea towels, books and a chessboard
Clarence’s fire extinguisher handy

If the gas starts to spin at any time, install a carbon monoxide detector!

carbon monoxide alarm in a self-built campervan
C0 alarms are discrete but essential – Rosie has one!

If you plan to generate additional income by renting your RV, you need a gas safety certificate from the landlord. We have already written some useful tips on this, as well as the other things you need to consider when converting to renting.

There is no right answer!

In the same way that people enthusiastically claim that the milk must first come in when making a cup of tea, (these people are wrong, incidentally) or vice versa, there is really no right answer. It is a personal preference based on research and circumstance when choosing what type of heating you should install in your camper

One thing we probably all agree on is that sleeping in a cozy van is preferable to a humid and chilly night under canvas. The fact that most of our vans have heating is a good reason to take one away for a break, regardless of the weather. If you are in the process of choosing your heating system for campers, why not take a test drive a few times over the weekend and choose the brains of our experienced owners.

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