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Readers Write - Winter Heating Tips for your Recreational Vehicle

Well, it is October and that means the Subject D’Jour is Winter Heating Options for your recreation vehicle. I have talked about this subject in past posts.

Surviving the Arctic Blast


Winter Heating for your Recreational Vehicle

Reader Carl wrote us:

Hello, my name is Carl and I recently found your website on living full time out of your RV. I am still rather new at this having gotten laid off in march of 2009. I lost my home and my car when I got laid off. In order to try and make a positive out of a very bad situation, I used my severance check and purchased an old 1982 Vogue II 33′ class a motorhome that was already set up for full time living. I have been loving every minute since. I spent last winter in Ajo Arizona and it was the greatest winter ever!

Unfortunately, due to problems beyond my control, I am unable to return to Ajo this winter. I am now set-up in my parents driveway. It gets a fair bit colder here than in central Texas but I would still like to get your advise as to how I should prepare for winter. I have electricity but no sewer hook-up. My plan was to empty the black and grey water tanks as well as the fresh water just like if you were winterizing an RV that you weren’t staying in. Do I need to do this or would it be safe to keep using the tanks? Right now I just dump my tanks in my parents septic tank and hand fill the fresh water tank. I am worried about bursting pipes though and thought it might be better to be cautious and just use their facilities.

I read your article on heating and believe I will go for the Extend-A-Stay system and a couple small space heaters. I have always been one to keep my home on the cold side so me energy usage hopefully won’t be too bad. Have you written any other articles on preparing for winter?

Your story is an inspiration for me. I was afraid I would not be able to continue full-timing but I am now more committed than ever.

To which I replied:

Hi Carl
Where are you wintering and how cold will it get there?

Then Carl said:


Sorry, I thought I said where I am now. Wichita Kansas. We average around low 20’s for lows but it has been known to drop into single digits and even below zero at times. I am hopping a couple space heaters will work because I have been told to expect $300-$400 per month for propane. I really can’t afford that. It would have been cheaper to go to Ajo for the winter! Any suggestions you might have for me would be greatly appreciated.


Let me see what I can help with here. Miss Kathy lived in a travel trailer in Boise for 2 winters and she has given me some suggestions as well.

First, the heating.
Your onboard propane furnace is a huge propane hog — and noisy as well. It is my back up heat source ONLY. One advantage is that there are pass thrus from the interior of my bus to the baggage compartments . When the propane furnace is on, some heat passes through to the baggage compartments and helps keep things warm.

My primary heat source is one of those

Little Buddy portable propane heater for a recreational vehicle

The Little Buddy warms up the Old Girl on a chilly Fall morning

electric tower heaters with a thermostat and a remote control- less than $50 at Lowes. I close off the back of the bus and use it to heat the front. When it gets colder I have a Little Buddy portable propane heater and run the supply hose outside to one of those portable propane bottles. I do NOT run it at night and I make sure my carbon monoxide detector is functional and I leave a vent cracked. If it gets REAL cold, I will use the propane furnace. Some people swear by those electric radiator heaters that are oil filled. I just don’t have room for one.

Don’t forget about an electric blanket or an electric mattress pad as well. I have found I can sleep comfortably even if the inside temps get 50 degrees or below. I just wake up early and fire up the electric heater from the bed with the remote…. then I go back to sleep for 30 minutes or so.

Now for your tanks and water lines. Your holding tanks should NOT freeze. Water lines are another story. If the temps here dip into the low 20’s or below and stay there, I have several trouble lights. You know, the shop light things with the little plastic cage around the bulb. I put a 40 watt bulb in them and place them in the baggage compartments close to the tanks and water lines. Make sure your septic hose is drained well each time you dump the tanks.

For fresh water, I would not use the onboard tank. I would get some heat tape and wrap the water hose going to your city water connection. Make sure it is out of the wind and you should be good unless it drops into the single digits. If I saw that coming, I would pump 10 or 15 gallons in my onboard tank and unhook the hose.

Alot of people in trailers will stack straw bales along the bottom of the trailer to block the wind and insulate. Any sort of skirting would help as well.. I do not know how feasible that would be in your situation.

Make sure your windows and door are well sealed.

What else can I help with?


Carl answered:


Thanks for the suggestions. I am going to try the tower heater and see how it works. My concern about the holding tanks is that I have an older coach without basement storage. My tanks are open to the elements on the bottom. It is my understanding that this isn’t a problem with most newer coaches. I am thinking about skirting the coach with hay bales. Do you think it would help to put a couple of the work lights you mentioned under it to help keep things thawed? I am also covering the windows with foam to help things out. This blocks the view but, then again, there isn’t much to see here in Kansas anyway.

I am also curious if you have ever heard of covering some of the vents for the refrigerator and putting a work light under the cover to help keep the refrigerant from gelling and plugging the coils? This is something I just read about but am not sure if it is really a problem.

My last question is, do you jack up your coach to get the tires off the ground so that they don’t flat-spot? I have heard this can be a real problem and, at more than $2000, it would be very costly.

Let me know what you think.


And I finished up by saying:


My tanks are enclosed in the storage bays. I understand your concerns. I used to put one of those lights in my pumphouse in Tennesee when it got cold. As long as the area is closed off, I think it would be beneficial. Just a thought— What about a roll of insulation like you put in a wall. Would it be possible to put some of that on the tank bottoms and secure it with bungee cords or something?

Never heard that deal about the refrigerator.

I jack the tires up but never off the ground.

Nothing really new  or earth shaking here.  Heating a recreational vehicle during the winter months is more of a challenge simply because they are not built the same way a stick house is.  RV manufacturers could make them more energy efficient –at a cost to the buyer and they could put better standard heating systems in them – again passing the cost down to the buyer.   Some manufacturers do make what they call ‘all season’ products which address some of the inherent problems with RV heating and cooling.

If you are planning on wintering over in a colder climate in your RV,  use common sense!  If someone else is paying the electric bill, electricity is your best bet.  If you are paying the bills, calculate the btu cost of electricity vs. propane.  There are little widgets on the internet that will allow you to do that.  If you are boondocking on BLM land or some such, propane is the way to go. In a boondocking situation, an Extend a Stay is a great upgrade for your motor home.

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2 comments to Readers Write – Winter Heating Tips for your Recreational Vehicle

  • don

    You know these rigs have wheels on the bottom for a reason. If you want R-17 insulation; it just ain’t there. Pull them damn thing to someplace warmer!

    I had an oil filled heater in my house in Seattle; thought it was totally useless. I have heard of some people who liked them though.

    Of course anything you can do to relieve the cold will be advantageous. I’m thinking; straw bales would insulate the underside by blocking the cold air. Hell, big pieces of Styrofoam would do well against the sides of a rig but having them flying around in the breeze couldn’t be good!

    Best of luck; I still think using the wheels is the best idea!

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  • coal

    During the winter up here in Ontario, I usually deal with a good solid six weeks of minus 20 weather and the wind too. Keeping your unit out of the wind is critical. Each unit has thier own items that need to be addressed for winter rv living, only way to figure them out is to get out there and camp.

    I do okay and have for 15 years now. Having electric power is crucial, although I have done it without. Having a electric space heater running in your rig, helps dry out the propane heat moisture as well as keeping the temp in the trailer more even. Helps alot with propane usage too.

    Another good thing to have is a electric blanket, consumes little power and one can turn down the rigs temp overnite and still be comfortable.

    Those oil filled rad type electric space heaters, never worked for me, prefer the ceramic little black box fan forced heaters, especially the ones with the built in thermostat and different settings for power.

    I also have a Espar diesel heater the same as the ones that they use in transport trucks, I have yet to mount that into my fiver, but had it in my truck camper last winter. And that is the way to go, consumes less energy versus propane and I was able to run the Espar on low and heat the truck camper very nicely, very consistent and quiet temps. Figure I will plumb this into my heat ducts in the fiver and let it run on low, around 4000 btu, just let the heat continually pump into the trailer and if too cold the propane furnace can take up the slack.

    From the tests I did last winter in my truck camper, 20 itres of diesel fuel would easily run the Espar for 7 days.

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