A portable propane heater can be a source of fast, efficient heat during chilly nights and winter months.
But can you use a portable propane heater in an RV? Is it safe?
Quick answer: Yes, you can use a propane heater in an RV. However, the heater must be fully functional (ideally new) and its oxygen intake must be well-adjusted. Also, always ensure the propane heater stands firmly. If necessary, build an anti-tip-over construction.
But first, you must find the right portable propane heater for your motor home.
What’s the Best Propane Heater for RVs?
The best portable propane heater has to be efficient, super portable, and safe. Of course, you must factor in the size and heat output of the heater, but safety has to come above all else.
After testing several portable propane heaters for indoor use, the best option for an RV was hands-down, the Mr. Heater Big Buddy. Mr. Heater brand is very popular when it comes to portable RV heaters because they are reasonably priced, safe, efficient, and durable.
The Big Buddy in particular is perfect for just about any motorhome size out there as it can pump out 4,000, 9,000, and 18,000 BTUs an hour and heat up to 225 sq. ft. in less than 15 minutes.
It is only 9 pounds heavy and 15 inches tall, making it easy to move around the rig.
The solid build of this portable heater is a big reason why it’s so popular. The knob is high quality and responsive, the handle is solid, and it has rubber legs, so it can’t slide around.
The Big Buddy also comes with an Oxygen Depletion Sensor and an accidental tip-over safety shut-off to ensure safety when used indoors. That’s worth gold, especially for RV usage.
The advantage of this heater over the Little Buddy is that it’s compatible with a bigger 20lb tank, so it lasts longer (up to 108h of continuous usage medium settings), and it can get way hotter when necessary.
If you want, you can turn your RV into a sauna using it…
Do Propane Heaters Cause Fires in RVs?
A propane heater can theoretically cause an RV fire, but it’s highly unlikely if you use it properly. A propane heater can only cause a fire if there’s a flammable item near it or if you use a combustible spray in the vicinity.
Luckily, the best propane heaters, including the Mr. Heaters Big Buddy, have a tip-over safety shut-off that shuts off the heater when it falls.
That said, it’s important to shut off the heater before going to bed or leaving the RV. While the chances of a portable heater causing a fire are slim, you must keep an eye on it and ensure it’s well-adjusted and maintained.
Do Propane Heaters Give Off Carbon Monoxide?
Yes, any space heater that burns fuel can give off carbon monoxide. This includes propane heaters. However, carbon monoxide emissions will only occur if the heater is improperly adjusted or broken.
Carbon monoxide occurs because of the incomplete combustion of fuel such as propane, wood, and kerosene. This could be because there isn’t enough oxygen in the room to cause an ideal burn or the heater is not working properly.
There have been instances where a heater was knocked over, and something broke inside without the owner’s knowledge.
And since carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, the only way to tell if your heater is emitting any is to have carbon monoxide detectors in the RV or keep a close eye on the heater itself.
When a portable propane heater is not working properly or burning propane to completion, you will notice the flame is orange or yellow instead of blue, and some soot will start collecting inside. The heater will also cause more condensation than usual, which is usually the first sign people notice when the heater starts malfunctioning.
Safety Tips for Using Propane Heaters in an RV
A portable propane heater can cause a fire or produce carbon monoxide if you don’t take these safety precautions.
Place the Heater on the Floor
A portable heater must sit on a stable level surface, preferably the floor, where the chances of falling are slim. It should also be out of high-traffic areas or somewhere it can be knocked over accidentally.
Ensure there is nothing near the heater, or at least nothing flammable. And if you have kids or pets in the RV, keep the heater out of their reach but still on the floor.
Park the RV on Solid Ground
Again, the heater needs to be stable and level. Park the camper exchanging on solid ground (not slanted or shaky), preferably at an elevation of below 7,000 ft. Parking the RV too high reduces the amount of oxygen you get inside, which can lead to incomplete combustion.
When driving, make sure the heater is placed in a way it can’t tip over. Again, falling can break adjustment causing improper burn and carbon monoxide.
Regularly Vent the Room
Any room that uses a propane heater must be well-ventilated. Crank the windows and door open during the day to allow moisture and any harmful gases to leave. Ventilation also allows more oxygen to get into the room, which is good for achieving that ideal burn.
It’s also important to have good ventilation when the heater is on, even if it’s nighttime and chilly. Propane heaters use up a lot of oxygen, leaving the rest of you with limited air to breathe.
Monitor the Heater
I recommend keeping a close eye on anything burning fuel indoors. Other than that, installing carbon monoxide detectors and oxygen sensors in the RV also helps a lot. These sensors will alert you if oxygen levels in the room go below normal and if there’s any carbon monoxide in the air.
How to Refill Propane Heaters on the Road
A 20-lb propane tank will heat an average-size camper RV for a week on low settings. On maximum settings, it will last for 24h.
But nobody blasts full heat for 24h continuously.
This means you will have to refill the tank occasionally when you are on the road.
Thankfully, many refill stations and hardware stores that cater to RVs and campers refill propane tanks at a very low cost of $3-$4 per gallon. In other words, you can refill a 20-lb tank for around $15. Propane is the second cheapest way to heat a room without electricity, only next to a wood-burning stove.
If you are new to using propane heaters, I recommend letting the guy at the filling station refill it for you just to be safe. Alternatively, you can exchange the empty tank with a full one at major stores like Walmart or Lowes, but this costs a little bit more.
A portable propane heater is the safest and cheapest way to heat an RV in cold weather off-grid.
All you have to do is practice safety precautions and keep the heater (and the propane tank) in good condition. The heater should be new, well-adjusted, and fully functional.