Choosing a Heater for your Campervan

November 12, 2020 in Tips for Owners and Tips for your Motorhome

Winter is coming...to your motorhome! It's time to consider what heater is best suited for your van, and we've got an extensive guide to help you do exactly that. Whether you're planning to spend Christmas in your campervan or merely enjoy a quick weekend away during the frost, a heater is a must-have for a comfortable winter in your campervan. 

1. Why install a heater?

If you’re planning on travelling somewhere where the cold will last more than a few days, fitting a heater in your motorhome is a must. For one, your options for winter destinations will open up a whole lot more if you can be comfortable at low temperatures, particularly for mountain-lovers and winter sport enthusiasts. Secondly, campervan batteries can freeze, so keeping them stored inside a warm van ensures a drama-free tour. Also, sub-zero temperatures can also lead to frozen water tanks and pipes, causing irreversible damage. This can also be avoided by keeping your water systems fitted inside your van. Depending on several factors, may just need to wrap up warm and sleep with a hot water bottle, or fit a long-term solution to your motorhome. We’ve listed all the possible campervan heating ideas and their pros and cons. 

Goboony campervan motorhome VW van H2 winter rain autumn

2. Things to consider before buying a heater for your campervan

As well as considering your chosen destination carefully, think about your van’s insulation. This is the number one tip that will improve your comfort levels all winter long. When converting your own van, explore your options for insulating the walls, ceiling, and floor early on, and pick the best materials to reduce heat loss. If your camper has already been converted, don’t worry, there’s still plenty you can do to improve thermal energy efficiency; attaching skirting to the outside to insulate underneath the vehicle, putting thick rugs on the floor for added cosiness, and using thermal curtains or covering the windows at night with foam boards. Opening these covers up and allowing winter sun through the glass during the day makes a big difference too. 

Also, consider how much space you’re trying to heat, and ways you can minimise this. For example, keeping thermal curtains drawn between sections of your van, like the cab and living areas, makes for more manageable areas to warm up. Vans with higher ceilings will take more heating, and as heat rises, you should consider having your sleeping arrangements up high to make sure this warmth isn’t wasted. 

Choosing the right heater for your campervan depends largely on the most readily available fuel to power it by, how often you’ll need to replenish this, and the cost of doing so. It also depends on the space you have to safely store your heater, and whether it needs to be fitted to the inside or the outside of the vehicle. 

Goboony campervan motorhome comfortable woman h2 kettle vanlife

3. Campervan heating ideas by fuel type

Electric heaters have many pro factors. They’re lightweight, safe for indoors, don’t emit any smell or CO2, give off consistent heat, and are adjustable, not to mention, super affordable. Unfortunately, they’re also such a huge power draw that it’s recommended to camp with a hook-up (unless you have a large enough generator). This obviously limits the freedom to roam in your camper during colder weather, as there’s, unfortunately, no way that this demand could be met by solar panels if your van has them. A less energy-intensive solution is plugging a 12V electric blanket into your campervan’s cigarette lighter if you just need some added warmth on slightly chilly nights. Otherwise, our top picks for electric heaters include the Vornado MVH Vortex heater, or the Lasko Ceramic Portable Space Heater. 

A diesel heater for a diesel-fuelled van just makes sense. They provide even, comfortable heating, are cheap to run after installation, requiring little fuel. They also produce low levels of condensation. Unfortunately, installation is extensive and therefore start-up costs are high, and they can be a bit noisy. Our top of the range pick would be the Eberspacher 12V Airtronic Heater. The slightly cheaper Webasto Air Heater kits are dedicated diesel heaters for vans.

A campervan gas heater is probably the most popular piece of winter kit for vanlifers, as propane is easily accessible and are relatively inexpensive. Coming in a variety of sizes, gas heaters are easy to use and can easily attach to other camping equipment. However, good ventilation is necessary in your van, as these heaters cause high condensation, and they also pose a CO2 risk. Make sure if you invest in a propane heater, you also fit your van with a Carbon monoxide detector. Propex is the brand of choice for a campervan gas heater, with systems in a range of sizes for small campervans to big motorhomes. Some models are installed underneath the vehicle, others go in a bed-box or cupboard. These heaters are high quality and economical: a 13kg propane tank gives around 90 hours of heat from the smallest Propex furnace. 

Wood stoves are undoubtedly a cosy and romantic option, but practical too; they produce dry heat, and are fairly inexpensive to operate. However, sourcing wood can be hard on the road, and it’s bulky to transport a stockpile. Also, wood stoves have expensive start-up and installation costs. If installing yourself, remember that there are lots of crucial parts to include (chimney cap, pipe flashing, vent pipe, fire pox, heat fan, temperature thermometer, humidity monitor).  Alternatively, Vesta Stoves produce a variety of wood-burning stoves especially designed for campervans. 

4. Winter vanlife tips

If you're serious about vanlife, you'll definitely need to survive a winter in your campervan!

There’s more to being comfortable over the winter than just installing a heater for your campervan. Though it sounds counterintuitive, ventilation is key to a comfortable van. Water vapour in the form of steam may feel like it warms up your living space, but don’t be fooled – this will condense on walls and windows and can cause big problems for the van’s integrity, as well as your health. Keep your living area well-ventilated to ensure stale, humid air gets replaced by fresh, dry air. Other tips to avoid condensation include drying your laundry outside (under a cover) or in a laundromat, and cooking with a slow cooker or a vented oven, which is another great source of heat. 

Also, consider your pitch carefully, taking into account shading and aspect. Letting the morning sun defrost and warm up your van will save some energy with heating and make for a more pleasant wake-up call! 

Goboony campervan motorhome woman h2 resting cosy

Of course, if your camper just isn’t built to see you through comfortably through cold weather, and winter sports aren’t your thing, consider sticking to warmer climes or heading south. But, taking into account these campervan heating ideas will definitely open up your winter travel options. A toasty van means you can save some money on campsite costs compared to summer, get away from the crowds, and still have a unique experience of landscapes when they’re at their most dramatic. Even if your favourite part of an epic cold-weather adventure is regaining feeling to your toes and sipping a hot toddy in a cosy van! A warm campervan is also ideal for renting out your campervan in winter and getting some long-term motorhome bookings.

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