Double Tank Propane Heater

How to Heat a Campervan Without Electricity

Key takeaways

The only reliable way to heat a campervan without electricity is to use a portable fuel powered heater.

Portable fuel powered heaters, like the Mr Heater (propane), output plenty of heat without requiring a connection to the vans electrical system.

More powerful non-portable fuel powered heaters, like the Webasto diesel heater or Propex propane heater, provide more heat than most portable fuel powered heaters, but require an electrical connection that draws up to a couple volts per hour (meaning you’d want a separate 12v lithium battery to run them for long periods).

Portable electric heater with fuel tank operating independently next to diesel air heater with electrical connection - electric heater stick figure stands in distance angry

A simple portable propane heater, like the Mr Heater, cost under $200, and will run for up to 5.4 hours with a 1 gallon bottle 1.

Heater Mr Heater 9BX Mr Heater 12HB Mr Heater 18B
Output 4,000-9,000 BTU 6,000-12,000 BTU 4,000-18,000 BTU
Fuel Tank Size 1 Gallon 1 Gallon 1 Gallon
Max Run Time 5.4 Hours 3.6 Hours 5.4 Hours

 

Getting By With Less Electricity

One thing people don’t often consider, is that reducing the amount of space you need to heat, will reduce the amount of power required to use an electric heater. This is the thought process behind using electric blankets (which are a great way to heat a campervan if you have a small power station and don’t want to use propane or other fuels).

A large bank of 100 amp-hour batteries pointing toward a fully heated van next to a single 100 amp-hour battery pointing toward a person under a heated blanket

Calculating How Much Heat You Need

As discussed in our article ‘what size diesel heater do you need‘, you can calculate exactly what size heater you need, by following this simple formula:

(Length x Width x Height of Living Space) x (20 BTU’s)

BTUs stands for British Thermal Units – 20 BTUs is the recommended amount of heat per cubic ft of space used in home heating and air.

If you apply this formula to your vehicle, you can calculate out how much heat you’ll need. One important thing to note is that the efficiency of your heater is greatly effected by how good your insulation is (and how many windows you have).

Vehicle Length Width Height Cubic ft BTU’s
Sprinter 170 Ext 15.75 ft 5.83 ft 6.58 ft 604.19 ft³ 12,083
Ram ProMaster 159 12 ft 6.25 ft 6.41 ft 480.75 ft³ 9,615
Ford E-Series 10.11 ft 6.13 ft 4.49 ft 278.41 ft³ 5,568
VW Van 8.85 ft 4.925 ft 4.42 ft 192.65 ft³ 3,853
Dodge Caravan 7.29 ft 5.16 ft 5.08 ft 191.09 ft³ 3,821
Chevy Astro 10.5 ft 4.65 ft 3.90 ft 190.41 ft³ 3,808
Ford Transit Connect 9.79 ft 4.05 ft 4.12 ft 163.35 ft³ 3,267

To conclude, portable propane heaters are the best solution for campervan heating without electricity. If however, you’re ready to invest in a more powerful, but slightly electrical dependent solution, consider a gas air heater.

Footnotes

  1. You can attach larger tanks to greatly increase the run time.
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