Using Propane Gas to Heat Your Van: Propex Review
Propane heat is popular for good reason: it’s cheap, requires little maintenance, and can last for months at a time.
But there are 2 important reasons why propane falls short of diesel & gas heat.
Propane vs Gasoline & Diesel
The first, is that propane is an entirely separate fuel source that’s not as convenient to keep track of as people imagine. Gasoline and diesel heaters plumb directly from your vehicles fuel tank, eliminating this concern.
The second reason why you might want to avoid propane is that popular portable propane heaters like the Mr Heater, although cheap and efficient, don’t exhaust water vapor or carbon monoxide outside of your vehicle like ventilated heaters.
This can lead to mold and carbon monoxide exposure (which is one of the most dangerous risks vanlifers face).
(For short term heating, portable propane heaters like the Mr Heater are great, just be sure to use a carbon monoxide detector and proper ventilation.)
Both of these issues, monitoring fuel and dealing with condensation, are eliminated with ventilated gasoline and diesel heaters.
Propex Propane Heaters
If you want to use propane, Propex makes ventilated propane heaters that are great for vans and overland vehicles.
Each utilizes a simple electrical connection to control the thermostat and ignition, an inlet and exhaust hose for cycling air and fumes, and a propane inlet for supplying fuel.
Note: A portable propane heater is the best way to heat your van with no electricity. Propex units require a 12v connection, so although you don’t need a campervan inverter to run them, they do draw power.
The main differences between the 3 Propex models are:
- Heat Output
- Inside vs Outside Mounting
Inside vs Outside Mounting
There’s a lot of debate about inside vs outside mounting:
The HS2211 is externally mounted:
“I choose the external mounted for interior space…I do not mind the two holes coming up into the rear part of the van, also it will be more quite than inside.”
“I installed an HS2211 underneath driver side between frame rail & body about 6 yrs ago. It’s been great. Every cubic inch of space is important so I opted for the external version.”
The HS2000 & HS2800 are internally mounted:
“For me it came down to location and ease of install and I did end up doing an interior propex. The down side for me on the external was the fact that it required some rather large holes to duct the air into the cabin and I didn’t have the room externally for a satisfactory mount.”
“I’m installing a diesel heater that claims to be suitable for mounting under the van, but I was concerned about water intrusion. The propex looks like it’s sealed better though, but because I’ve been known to cross a few rivers, I opted to install it inside instead.”
Most vans will stay comfortably heated with 3,000-12,000 BTUs. How efficiently your van utilizes the heat put out by your heater depends largely on what kind of windows you have and how well your van is insulated.
|Heater||Mount Location||BTU Output|
To see if you need the HS2800, follow the formula mentioned in our diesel heater size article:
(Length x Width x Height of Living Space) x (20 BTU’s)”
20 BTU’s (or British Thermal Units) is the standard measure of heat output recommended per cubic ft of space used in home heating and air.
To figure out how much heat you need, just multiply the square footage of your vehicles living space by 20 BTU’s.
For reference, here are the heat needs of 7 popular vans:
|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|
Reviewing Propex Heaters
Propex heaters are definitely the best ventilated propane heater for van life and overlanding… but are they worth basically the same price as a diesel van heater from Webasto or Espar?
Turns out, yes.
Cost of Heater
When comparing the cost, there’s only a couple hundred dollar difference the Propex, Webasto, & Espar 6,000-9,000 BTU heaters.
Assuming you only need 6,000-9,000 BTUs, price probably won’t be the deciding factor.
|Heater||Cost||Max BTU Output|
|Propex HS2000||$1,095||6,650 BTU/h|
|Propex HS2211||$1,167||7,500 BTU/h|
|Espar Airtronic S2-D2L||$1,199||7,500 BTU/h|
|Propex HS2800||$1,183||9,200 BTU/h|
|Webasto Air Top 2000 STC||$1,357||7,000 BTU/h|
|Webasto Air Top Evo 40||$1,599||13,650 BTU/h|
|Webasto Air Top Evo 55||$1,799||18,800 BTU/h|
|Espar Airtronic D4L||$2,059||13,650 BTU/h|
|Espar Airtronic D5||$2,999||18,800 BTU/h|
Cost to Run for 24 hours
When you compare the cost of running each heater, propane furnaces are slightly cheaper because propane is less expensive. 1
|Heater||Cost Per 24 Hours 2||Gal/h||Max BTU/h|
|Webasto Air Top 2000 STC||$5.76||0.06||7,000|
|Espar Airtronic D2L||$6.72||0.07||7,506|
|Espar Airtronic D4L||$11.52||0.12||13,650|
|Webasto Air Top Evo 40||$10.56||0.11||12,000|
|Webasto Air Top Evo 50||$15.36||0.16||17,000|
|Espar Airtronic D5||$18.24||0.19||18,800|
When it comes to maintenance, propane wins again.. Webasto claims their heaters are “maintenance-free and do not have to be inspected” but it’s clear from user reports that diesel heater maintenance is way more common than propane:
“They will foul up pretty quickly if allowed to run at low power continuously. My experience is that Webasto copes better than Eberspacher on its low power setting, but both really need to be allowed to burn themselves clean quite frequently.”
“I have had my boat inc. Propex heater for 13 years and apart from checking the installation have not touched it and it has always been totally reliable.”
In response, another user reported:
“You are rapidly convincing me that the next time my Eberspacher dies (£1,000+ spent on repairs in 8 years) I will look into fitting a gas Propex.”
Propex heaters are also easier and less expensive to install because they don’t require drilling into your vehicles fuel tank like diesel heaters (diesel heater installations can cost up to $1,200)… (the externally mounted Propex HS2211 requires drilling into your vehicles floor to accommodate the cold air inlet and hot air outlet)
Using Propane Gas to Heat Your Van
In conclusion, for short-term use, ventilated heaters (propane, diesel, or gas) are generally too expensive to justify, so portable propane heaters like the Mr Heater make the most sense.
For long-term use, Propex heaters are the best propane heating option because they are ventilated.. when comparing propane to gasoline or diesel, although propane can be difficult to keep track of, overall, it cost less to run, require less maintenance, and produces plenty of heat.