Unless you decide to follow warmer temps there will come a point in the year when you’ll need a way to heat your camper van. There’s nothing worse than freezing through the night and waking up in a cold van. Sure, starting up the van and blasting the heat will eventually work but it’s far from the best solution.
Below we’ll cover the 4 most common ways to heat camper vans.
Diesel/Gas Camper Van Heaters
Diesel/Gas heaters are our recommended method of heating. They run on the same fuel that powers your engine and pull from the main vehicle fuel tank. This means that you don’t have to store a separate type of fuel and refilling is as easy as filling up the tank. Diesel/Gas heaters are also the cheapest to run as the fuel is less expensive than other fuel types(half as expensive to run per BTU compared to propane.)
However, the upfront cost is higher and the installation is much more complex. You need to tap into your field tank and drill holes in the floor to provide intake and exhaust. Diesel/Gas heaters also get finicky at higher altitudes and require adjustments to function properly.
- Cheap to run
- Complex installation
- Need regular cleaning/maintenance
Popular Diesel/Gas Heaters
Propane Camper Van Heaters
Propane is also a great way to heat camper vans in colder conditions. Propane is a readily available fuel and is likely already being used for other appliances such as stoves.
There are two main types of propane heating options
- Externally vented
Isolated propane heater
Isolated propane heaters and self contained and typically portable. They use disposable canisters and the combustion happens right in the van. These are the cheapest and simplest solution to heating but there are some big drawbacks. First they burn propane pretty quickly. A typical 1lb Coleman canister will get you about 3.5hrs of heat before running out. In addition, because the combustion happens in the open, they produce moisture and release carbon monoxide. With isolated heaters you need to ensure constant airflow to prevent moisture and harmful gas buildup.
- No installation
- Creates moisture
- Releases carbon monoxide
- Limited run time before needed more fuel
Popular Isolated Propane Heaters
Externally Ventilated Propane Heater
Externally ventilated propane heaters have the advantage of providing heat while also expelling combustion gases outside the van. They use a heat exchange process so that none of the combusted air is mixed with the heated air being expelled in the van. This means no rise in moisture or carbon monoxide levels.
These heaters are on the more expensive side and do require extensive installation. Like diesel/gas heaters they require external intake, exhaust and a fuel line. They also require a large enough propane tank to keep them running. Propex is the leading propane heater at the moment and will run for roughly 60hrs on a standard 20lb BBQ propane tank. If you are already planning on installing a large propane tank for hot water or cooking then this is a great option.
- Clean burning fuel
- Maintenance free
- Fuel can get expensive
- Complex installation
- Unless using swappable tanks, need to refill at designated propane refilling stations
Popular Externally Vented Propane Heaters
Wood is an interesting solution to heater a camper van. Wood heating is the oldest form of heat and very reliable. You never have to worry about clogged intake/exhaust or altitude issues. Miniature wood stoves also add a cozy feeling and can help achieve that cabin on wheels feeling. They are also relatively cheap with most costing less than $500.
There are a few downsides to wood stoves. You’ll need to constantly feed them with fuel and have a dedicated place to store the wood. You also have to cut a rather large hole in the roof of your camper van for smoke to escape. Finally, you have a fire inside your van and a hot metal box so you have to be more careful about what is put near it.
- Maintenance free
- Dry heat and does not increase moisture
- Cheaper than propane/gas/diesel heaters
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Wood storage takes up space
- Manual process to add fuel
- Requires large exhaust chimney in roof
- Large hot piece of exposed metal
Popular wood stove heaters
Electricity really isn’t a feasible heating option unless you have shore power. You would need a massive battery bank to meet the demands of electric heat sources. Even then, you would likely run through all of your power within a day or two.
Electric heat sources have a ton of benefits though. They are relatively silent and provide very dry heat. Most electric heat sources create heat through resistance and heat up very quickly. The most common types of electric heat sources are ceramic space heaters and electric blankets.
- Dry heat
- Environmentally friendly
- Need shore power or impossibly large battery bank
As you can see, there are many different ways to approach heating your camper van in the winter. From cheap and easy to expensive and complex, like almost everything else in your van build, it’s really up to you and what you’re looking for.
While we recommend Diesel/Gas heaters, we also realize that the installation can be intimidating. Reach out to us and we’ll happily help you with the installation.