How to Beat the Summer Heat in an RV

There are a lot of ways to beat the heat in summertime when you’re traveling in an RV. The most obvious is simply to head to a cool place when a heat wave hits. Afterall, your home has wheels!

How to Beat the Heat in an RV

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But there are other things you can do to prevent the sun from baking the interior of your home, even if you don’t have electrical hookups to run the air conditioner. And if it does get unbearably sultry, and you do need to run the A/C from a portable gas generator, there are some tricks we’ve learned to make it possible…

GO SOMEWHERE COOL – In the MOUNTAINS, FAR NORTH and/or NEAR WATER

Cooler places are located either in high elevations, and/or up north, and/or by a big body of water — the ocean or a lake.

This may seem simplistic, but places in the eastern states like Acadia National Park in Maine, where you might get out on a boat, or the White Mountains in New Hampshire where you might catch a cool train ride to the top, are good bets.

Moraine Lake Rocky Mountains in Canada

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is a cool place, even mid-summer.

In the west, the key to temperature is elevation. Many folks who are new to the western states are surprised to find out that there can be a 20 degree difference in temperature between two places that are just 150 miles apart.

For instance, Phoenix, Arizona (1,100′ elevation), is 20 degrees hotter than Flagstaff, Arizona (6,900′ elevation). And the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (9,000′ elevation), (about 200 miles further away) can easily be another 10 degrees cooler than that.

Likewise, Stanley, Idaho is about 15 degrees cooler than Boise, Idaho. It is just a few hours north but is 3,500′ higher up.

In Utah, Zion National Park (3000′ elevation) is 10 degrees hotter than Bryce National Park (9,000′ elevation), and if that’s still a little toasty, a run up to Cedar Breaks National Monument (10,000′ elevation) will be just a bit cooler still.

RV in mountains and trees

Camping near trees in the mountains is pretty cool!

Generally, you can’t go wrong in the Rocky Mountains, and a trip to Ouray, Colorado (7,700′), or Banff National Park in Canada will definitely be much cooler than most other places when a heat wave buries North America.

Similarly, the coasts enjoy wonderfully cool sea breezes. The whole west coast, from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is much much cooler than the communities that lie directly inland (over the coastal mountains), 150 miles from the coast.

Go to the beach to stay cool in summer

Life is definitely cool at the beach (Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho)!

Bandon, Oregon, on the Pacific coast is 15 degrees cooler than Bend, Oregon, which is in the inland desert, baking away behind the range of coastal mountains that stop the flow of cool air coming in from the Pacific.

If the ocean isn’t easily accessible, spending time near a big lake can do the trick.

Play in the water to stay cool in summer

Want to get cool? Find your inner child and play in the water with a toy wagon.

Large lakes offer “sea breezes” in the afternoons, and many lakeside towns have fantastic waterfronts, like Seneca Falls, New York, in the Finger Lakes, and McCall, Idaho, on Payette Lake.

GO SOMEWHERE COOL IN TOWN

The worst part of the day is the late afternoon and evening, and that’s a great time to get out of the rig. A late afternoon or early evening outdoor picnic under a shady tree in a place with a breeze or cool grassy lawn will work wonders. A trip to the air conditioned library or bookstore with a little cafe inside can be a delightful change of pace.

A hot afternoon is a perfect time to take in a matinee at the local cinema. If the laundromat is air conditioned, the heat of the afternoon might be the time to get that chore done, or if your laundry is already clean, doing the week’s grocery shopping could give you an hour or two of air conditioned respite at the supermarket.

HOW TO RUN a 15K BTU RV AIR CONDITIONER with a YAMAHA 2400i GENERATOR

Sometimes, it’s just too darned hot to survive without air conditioning, and in that case it’s really nice to turn it on.

We boondock every night, and we have just 490 watts of solar power on our RV roof and 434 amp-hours of battery capacity in the basement.

Yamaha 2400i portable gas generator for RV

Our generator gets a good workout a few times a year running our 15k BTU air conditioner.

Dometic RV Air Conditioner 15k BTU

This RV roof AC unit takes some oomph to run!

So, the only way we can get air conditioning in our trailer is to drag out our Yamaha 2400i gas generator and set it up to run our Coleman 15,000 BTU air conditioner.

Some folks say this can’t be done, but we’ve been doing it for years.

We use a variety of adapters to plug the generator into the shore power outlet on the outside of the rig.

To get from the 15 amp outlet on the generator to our shore power outlet on the outside of our trailer, we could use one adapter plus the shore power cord:

50 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 50 amp Female dogbone adapter (15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp 125 : 250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord (50 amp Male plugs into dogbone above)

However, when we first bought our trailer, we stayed at an RV park that had a 30 amp pedestal that didn’t match our 50 amp shore power cord, so we had to buy an adapter. Making good use of that adapter with our generator now, we use two adapters plus our shore power cord when we connect to the generator:

30 amp Female to 15 amp Male dogbone adapter

15 amp Male to 30 amp Female dogbone adapter
(15 amp Male plugs into generator)

50 amp Female to 30 amp Male RV dogbone adapter

30 amp Male to 50 amp Female to RV dogbone adapter
(30 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord

50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord
(50 amp Male plugs into previous dogbone)

When the generator is powering the RV this way, the generator supplies power to the converter inside the trailer (or inverter/charger), which charges the batteries as efficiently as possible using a multi-stage charging algorithm (if the converter or inverter/charger is a “smart” charger).

Our 2400 watt generator is able to power our 15K BTU air conditioner just fine. However it sometimes takes a little coaxing to get it to fire up because there is a big spike when the air conditioner’s compressor first turns on. Over the years, we’ve learned that the trick to persuading it to run is the following:

  1. Run the generator for a few minutes with no load and make sure it is warmed up
    (also make sure the hot water heater and fridge are set to “gas” and no other electrical appliances are running)
  2. On the air/heat control unit, set the Fan button to High On
  3. Set the System button to Fan and let it run for a few minutes
  4. Set the System button to Cool and listen to the compressor come on
Coleman RV air conditioning control unit

Make sure the genny is warm and let it power the fan on high for a while first… THEN switch on the A/C.

Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer

Keeps the gas in the genny fresh

If the last step trips the breaker on the generator, set the System button back to Off, restart the generator and try again.

On a few occasions it has taken us 2-3 tries to get the air conditioner going. However, most of the time it fires up on the first try.

We always run it for 4-6 hours when we turn it on, and it purrs along just fine. However, we run the air conditioning just a few days each year. The rest of the time we stay cool using other means.

To keep the gas in the generator (and in the gas can) fresh and to ensure quick starts after storage and to prevent gumming and varnish, Mark puts the stabilizer Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer in the gas.

POSITION THE RV
— BIGGEST WINDOWS FACE NORTH and SMALLEST WINDOWS FACE WEST

The toughest time of day is the afternoon when the sun is in the southwest and western sky and is slowly baking the RV. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the sun to set while everything inside the rig quietly fries!

No matter what the wall and roof insulation R-factor is for an RV, the windows are where all the heat comes in. So, keeping them shaded as much as possible throughout the day makes all the difference in the world.

Every rig has a different arrangement of windows, but if you can position the biggest ones to face north or east and the smallest ones (or the wall with no windows if you have one) towards the west and southwest, the difference to the interior temperature will be astonishing.

If there is a way to block the afternoon sun entirely by parking next to shade trees or a building, that is even better.

SET UP THE RV AWNING

Even if the awning will only shade a small part of the RV’s walls and windows for a few hours of the day, this is still helpful! When an RV wall gets hot, you can feel the warmth on the inside of the rig. And you can especially feel it in the cabinets. There’s nothing like a hot bottle of olive oil in the kitchen pantry!

Shade from RV awning

Even though it’s shading just one small window, the awning is keeping the whole wall cool.

Modern rigs have wonderful powered awnings, but ours is the old fashioned manual crank type of awning. The other day we heard two RVers complaining about how putting these old awnings out was really difficult and was a two man job.

It’s actually not that bad, and Mark does it by himself in just a few minutes. Here are the steps:

How to set up RV awning - loosen handle

1. Unscrew the knob on the back of each awning arm.

How to set up RV awning - undo clip

2. Open the clip right above the knob on each awning arm

How to set up RV awning - use tool to lower lever

3. Use the awning tool to open the lever on the roller

How to set up RV awning - lower lever

4. Pull down on the lever to open it.

How to set up RV awning - lever in lowered position

The roller lever is now in the down position.

How to set up RV awning - hook awning loop

5. Use the awning tool to pull out the awning by grabbing the webbing loop

How to set up RV awning - pull awning out

6. Pull the awning part way out with the awning tool

How to set up RV awning - lower awning completely

7. Grab the webbing and pull the awning out the rest of the way

How to set up RV awning - Close RV door handle

8. Close the RV door handle to get it out of the way

How to set up RV awning - Pull awning arm out

9. Slide out the awning arm in its track

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down awning arm

10. Pushing down on the awning arm to keep the canvas taught, tighten the knob.

How to set up RV awning - Tighten down other awning arm

Do this on both sides

How to set up RV awning - Raise awning

11. Open the big awning handle to raise the awning up.

If it looks like it might rain, position one side of the awning a little lower than the other so the water will drain off of the awning.

When Mark closes up the awning for travel, he puts velcro straps around the arms to keep them from accidentally opening as we travel.

Another neat awning trick is to get an awning shade extension that drops from the edge of the awning to the ground. This provides shade from touching the rig even when the sun is at a low angle.

INSULATE THE WINDOWS and HATCHES INSIDE

The day/night shades in most RVs are great for reducing sunshine in the rig, but do little for eliminating the heat that pours in through the glass and metal frame.

RV window in summer heat

Pulling down our night shades doesn’t block much direct sunlight.

We cut Reflectix, which is a bubble wrap kind of aluminum foil that comes in a huge roll, to fit each window (a pair of scissors is all you need). We labeled each piece for the window it fits into.

Reflectix rolled up to keep RV cool in summer

Reflectix picks up where RV insulation leaves off…

We raise the RV’s day/night shades, press the piece of Reflectix against the window, and then lower the shade to hold the Reflectix in place.

RV window in summer heat with Reflectix

A layer of Reflectix behind the shade blocks all the sun!

RV Vent Insulator

When leaving the trailer, we close the hatches
and put vent insulators in them.

In our big rear window we jam a pillow under the large piece of Reflectix to hold it up. Otherwise it would drop to the floor.

If we are going to leave the rig for a while, we close all the windows and put an RV Vent Insulator in each of the roof vents. It is amazing to come home after many hours of running around to find that the rig is still fairly cool inside.

However, if we are planning to stay home, we don’t like to live in a tomb, so we have another strategy using fans and open windows that allows us to have some ambient light coming in…

STAY COOL WITH FANS

We rely on two different types of fans to stay cool.

Vent Fans

We have a Fan-tastic Vent Fan in two of our trailer’s four roof hatches. These are designed to push a maximum amount of air in or out of the rig. We set them to push the air out of the rig, and then we open the windows on the shaded side of the trailer to let the cool air from outside come in.

Fan-tastic Fan in RV hatch

Fan-tastic Fan in an RV hatch

If we were to replace our Fan-tastic Fans, or if we wanted to upgrade another hatch to one of these or a similar type of vent fan, we would choose a very simple model that does just the basics.

Our Fan-tastic Fans are whiz-bang models with remote control, rain-sensing, auto-opening, auto-closing, slicing and dicing and who knows what else. Unfortunately, they have minds of their own, and they won’t listen to reason.

They auto open and auto close at the weirdest times, they don’t necessarily know when it’s raining, and they make it impossible for the mechanically challenged (ahem…me) to turn them on or off or to open and close them. There are way too many buttons that do way too many different things.

Also, Mark has had to rebuild various parts of both of these fans, and by the colorful flow of expletives I heard him let loose on these jobs, I would gather that it was not easy.

Portable Fans

While vent fans help move fresh air through the rig by forcing hot air out the vents and pulling cool air in through the windows, portable fans are a godsend to aim right at you when you start reaching the boiling point.

We have a standalone, portable 12 volt Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan (and DC extension cord) so we can move it around the rig.

Fan-tastic Endless Breeze Fan

A 12 volt fan may seem necessary, but…

We got this fan in Quartzsite one year for our (not yet purchased) sailboat and we’ve used it a lot in the years since then. But it is extremely noisy. Forget trying to sleep with it running nearby! It’s also kind of silly to spend so much money on a 12 volt fan when a smaller and quieter 120 volt fan will do just as good a job, if not better, for a fraction of the cost. All you need is an inverter.

Portable fan in RV to keep cool

…A small, quiet, cheap portable fan will run on an inverter just fine!

Our little portable fan is terrific, but there are lots of portable fans in all kinds of styles that are just as good.

MAKE ICY DRINKS!

Last of all, there’s nothing that can cool down your body temp like an ice cold drink. A smoothie in a blender tastes wonderful and can bring your core temp down quite a bit. We make ice using old fashioned ice cube trays in our freezer, and we use a few cubes and frozen fruit in our smoothies to ensure they are as cold as possible.

Our Osterizer blender draws 1000 watts, which is well within the limit for our 2,000 watt pure sine wave inverter.

Osterizer blender and frozen berries for smoothie to keep cool in RV in summer

Smoothie time – Get cool with lots of ice and frozen fruit!!

Those are a few of our tips for surviving the dog days of summer in our RV without hookups. It can take a little finagling and strategy, but these things have kept us cool in our trailer for ten summers now!

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How To STAY WARM in an RV – Survival Tips for Winter RVing!

Winter RVing is loads of fun, but figuring out how to stay warm in an RV on those chilly winter mornings and long cold dark evenings makes all the difference between having a great time and wishing you were in a house. Going to a southern state is a good start, but it may not always fit with your overall full-time RVing itinerary. You might get caught in an early winter storm, like we did in one year in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Or you might get whipped by a blizzard on your way south, as has happened to some of our snowbirding friends who wanted to celebrate the holidays at home in Montana before trekking south to Arizona in January.

Here are some tips for ways we’ve found to stay warm in our RV in winter…

Winter RVing Tips How To Stay Warm in an RV

Brrr…How do you stay warm inside of this??

WINTER RV TIP #1 – STAY IN BED UNDER THE COVERS TIL SPRING!

One winter RVing tip is to go to bed and stay in bed until the spring wildflowers begin to bloom. Our two little RV companions, Chrissy the cockatoo and Weazie the ferret (named for former beloved pets) seem to have decided to go that route this year.

Winter RVing how to keep warm in an RV

One solution – jump under the covers and stay there until Spring!!

WINTER RV TIP #2 – GET AN EFFICIENT SPACE HEATER!

A better option is to get a good and efficient heater. The factory installed propane furnaces that come with most RVs is very inefficient. The blower uses a lot of electricity. What’s worse, the heater goes through a lot of propane, because much of the hot air is exhausted outside the RV (just go outside on a cold day and put your hands by the RV furnace vent — they’ll be warm in a jiffy!).

If you will be plugging into electric hookups a lot, and staying for just a few days at a time in most of the places you travel to (with no metering on the electricity and unlimited power built into the overnight camping fee), then it makes sense to get a really great electric space heater.

WINTER RV TIP #3 – INSTALL A VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER!

If you are going to be boondocking (or dry camping), out in the southwestern deserts — or even in Florida or Texas — then you will need an RV heater that is efficient both in its use of electricity and its use of propane. The best option is a vent-free propane heater.

Winter RV tips vent-free blue flame propane heater

We LOVE our vent-free propane heater.

We have been using ours since Mark installed it in 2008, both during the winter and the summer, and we love it. We have a whole blog post explaining how this kind of heater works, what the technologies are behind the different styles of vent-free propane heaters on the market, what kind of heat each type of heater produces, and how to install one here:

Choosing and Installing a Vent-Free Propane Heater in an RV

We have used this heater from sea level to 10,000′ altitude year round, and we share some tips for heating strategies we’ve used when we’ve camped on a lofty mountaintop as temps plummeted and a snowstorm rolled in:

How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snowstorms

 

WINTER RV TIP #4 – GET A PORTABLE VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER!

Mr Buddy Portable Propane Heater Staying warm in an RV

A portable vent-free propane heater is an easy way to go.

If you love the idea of using an efficient propane heater that doesn’t use any electricity, but you’re not keen on doing a permanent installation, another great option is to get a portable propane heater.

 

WINTER RV TIP #5 – INSTALL A VENT-FREE PROPANE FIREPLACE!

Pleasant Hearth Vent-Free Propane Fireplace 35 inch

How about a vent-free propane FIREPLACE?!!

On the other hand, if you are outfitting the RV of your dreams for a life of full-time RV travel or of winter snowbirding RV adventures, then you might consider installing a vent-free propane fireplace that is built into an elegant mantel. These heaters give off the same incredible heat as the more industrial looking vent-free propane heaters, but they have the cozy and inviting appearance of a fireplace and produce a beautiful (and mesmerizing) flame. What a great addition to an RV!!

 

 

WINTER RV TIP #6 – SHRINK-WRAP YOUR RV SCREEN DOOR!

One of the easiest ways to winterize an RV is to shrink-wrap the screen door. By covering the screen door with a thin layer of plastic, you can keep the big RV door open all day long, close the screen door, and let the sunshine fill your rig with light and warmth. It is really surprising that just a thin layer of plastic on the door is all it takes to keep the cold air out and let the warm air in (if you aren’t in sub-freezing temps!!).

Winter RVing Tips Shrink-wrap RV screen door

Shrink-wrapping our RV screen door keeps the cold air out and lets the sun shine in!

We learned this trick from our RVing mentors, Bob and Donna Lea, in our first winter of RVing back in 2007-08. The beauty is that the installation of the shrink-wrap is less than a one hour job, and you can remove it in the springtime in just a few minutes.

Winter RVing how to stay warm in an RV use Window Shrink Film

Window shrink-film kit

We love having shrink-wrap on our screen door so much that we’ve gone through quite a few summers without removing it. Up in the mountains, it can be chilly in the summertime, with a brisk breeze blowing into the rig in the mornings, so the shrink-wrap can work its magic there too, and it also keeps the dust out.

This year, however, we took the shrink-wrap off our screen door when we got into the heat and humidity of the northeastern states in August, so we had to reinstall it just a few weeks ago.

To get started, all you need is

  1. Pair of scissors
  2. Razor blade (or boxcutter or sharp knife)
  3. Hair Dryer
  4. Window Shrink Film kit
Winter RVing Tips - Tools to Shrink-wrap RV screen door

All the tools we used to shrink-wrap our screen door.

The window shrink film kit comes with double-sided tape, and all you have to do is outline the door with the tape, remove the backing, press the plastic onto the tape, trim off the excess and then heat it up with a hair dryer to make the plastic taught. It is best to clean the frame of the door with alcohol or film remover first so the tape adheres well.

Winterize an RV screen door attach double-sided tape

Press the double-sided tape along the frame of the door, going around the plastic sliding insert
by the door handle.

Go around the little slider opening for the door handle, because you need to be able to slide this open and closed (the shrink-wrap is covering only the screened parts of the door!). Then peel the backing off the tape all the way around the door.

Winter RVing winterize screen door remove tape backing

Remove the backing from the tape.

Press the plastic onto the sticky tape around the door frame.

Winter RV Tips - Winterize screen door and hang plastic shrink film

Hang the shrink wrap around the door frame.

Then use a razor blade to trim off the excess all the way around the door. Get the plastic as taught as you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect, though, because all the wrinkles will be taken care of in the next step.

Winterize RV screen door - trim off excess plastic shrink film

Use a razor blade or box cutters to trim off the excess plastic.

Using the hair dryer on the high setting, wave it gently back and forth over the edges of the door. The plastic will miraculously shrink up and become taught.

Shrink-wrap RV screen door and use hair dryer to shrink plastic film

Use a hair dryer on the high setting to shrink up the plastic along the door frame.

Once you’ve gone around the frame of the door, wave the hair dryer across the middle to tighten that up too. Keep the hair dryer moving so it doesn’t melt the plastic in one spot.

Shrink-wrap RV screen door and shrink plastic film with hair dryer

Keep the hair dryer moving and wave it across the plastic to tighten it up.

If it’s cold out, you can always give yourself a blow dry too!

That hot air feels good!

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Once it is done, open the outer RV door open and close the screen door. The warm sun will pour in, but the cool breezes will stay outside!

Winterize RV screen door sunshine comes in

Morning sunshine fills our kitchen

Note: Since publishing this post, we have refined our shrink-wrap system even further. We have found that it is easy to make this into a Dual Pane system but adding a second layer of shrink-wrap film on the INSIDE of the RV door. What a world of difference this second layer makes!!

 

WINTER RV TIP #7 – ORIENT THE RV WINDOWS (and DOOR) TOWARDS THE SUN

Every RV floorplan is different, with the largest windows and the door placed in various locations, depending on how long it is and whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome. Take a look at where your biggest windows are, and try to orient the rig so those windows are in the sun for most of the day.

Our biggest windows are in a big slideout on the curb side (passenger side) of the trailer and also in the rear of the coach. So, in the wintertime we are best off orienting our rig with the truck headed northeast. This places our biggest windows towards the southeast and southwest.

In the summertime, the opposite is true as we try to avoid having our windows facing the sun. Our best orientation in the summertime is for the truck to be headed northwest. This way, although we get blasted with some sun in the morning, our biggest windows are blissfully shaded during the long hours of blazing hot sun as it shines from the south and sets in the northwest.

This does place our RV refrigerator in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day in the summer, but we’ve never had trouble keeping our food cold with the fridge on the highest setting during those hot months (of course, our fridge died recently, but we discovered that that was to be expected because of its age!).

How to stay warm in an RV Orient the RV windows towards the Sun

For our rig, it’s best to orient the truck to the northwest in summer and the northeast in winter.

Note that the sun doesn’t travel the same arc in the sky in the summer months as it does in the winter, as shown by the orange arrows in the graphic above.

In the dead of summer, the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. During the day it is high in the sky, almost directly overhead. In mid-winter, the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest, traversing a very low arc in the sky. At its highest, the sun is only halfway up the sky. These low angles are advantageous for keeping an RV warm in winter, however, as the sun shines directly in the windows into the center of the coach.

WINTER RV TIP #8 – INSULATE THE HATCH VENTS

The RV roof may have some fabulously high R-rating that the manufacturer proudly touted when you bought it, but that applies only to the parts of the roof that are solid. Most RV vent hatch covers are thin pieces of plastic, and they don’t have much of an R-factor at all.

You can give the vent hatch covers a hand by using a hatch vent insulator. These have reflective insulation on one side to make them even more effective.

How to keep warm in an RV Hatch vent insulating pillow

A hatch vent insulator really helps!.

Another option is to cut styrofoam to the exact dimensions of the hatches. When we bought our fifth wheel trailer from the manufacturer NuWa Industries, we asked them to cut four pieces of the Blue Dow insulating styrofoam that they used in the walls to the exact dimensions of our four roof hatches.

The great thing about having insulation on the hatches is that they work both summer and winter. We often use ours in the summertime when we leave the rig for the daytime hours.

Another helpful benefit is that they block out all light. So, if you are parked under a bright light or there is a full moon that wakes you up as it shines right in your eyes, you can block out the light with an insulator in the bedroom hatch.

How to stay warm in an RV hatch vent insulation

We use Blue Dow foam from the fifth wheel walls cut to the dimension of our hatches

 

WINTER RV TIP #9 – DEALING WITH CONDENSATION!

One of the biggest annoyances in cold, winter weather in an RV, is condensation. If you run a vent-free propane heater while boondocking, whether it’s a portable heater or one that is permanently installed, condensation will build up on the insides of the windows when the dew point is at a certain level.

Condensation on an RV window in winter

Insulation on our windows – ugh!

You can minimize the condensation build-up by running the RV furnace for a while to blow out the moist air. You can also open a window a crack, or open the RV door for a bit.

Absorber XL towel wipe away condensation

Absorber towels sop up moisture with ease.

The fastest way to deal with the condensation is simply to wipe it off with an Absorber towel. As the name implies, these towels are incredibly absorbant. They are most effective when they are damp, so they come with a little plastic container that will keep them damp for months.

Simply wipe the window and then wring out the towel. And repeat. Once the window is dry, give it a final swipe with a soft microfiber towel. This gets rid of any streaks.

To make your life easier during the winter condensation season, remove the window screens and put them in a closet. This way, you aren’t fighting with the screens every time you wipe down the insides of the windows.

How much do we love our Absorber towels? We have two — blue for him and red for me!

 

WINTER RV TIP #10 – INSULATE THE WINDOWS AT NIGHT

Like the big roof insulation R-factor that doesn’t account for the hatch vents, the well advertised high R-factor in the walls doesn’t account for the windows, which is where much of the heat in a rig escapes, especially at night. Closing the blinds makes a difference. When we’re in a remote area with no one around, we prefer to keep the blinds open so the first light of morning fills the rig. But we can’t do this in the wintertime unless we want to wake up to a rig that is 5 degrees cooler than it could be.

Likewise, on the worst of the cold winter nights, covering the windows with Reflectix insulation makes a big difference. This aluminum foil insulation comes in a big roll, and you can cut it to the exact dimensions of each window. Just use a marker to write on each one which window it’s for.

To put one of these window insulators in place, simply hold it against the glass and then lower the blinds over it. In the case of our biggest one in the back of the rig, we rest the bottom of it on a spare pillow so it doesn’t slip down.

Reflectix insulation keeps heat from escaping out an RV window

The window-sized piece of Reflectix Insulation is held in place by the window shade.

We keep all of them rolled up together in a closet and use them both summer and winter. In the summertime, they help immensely with keeping the heat out during the day.

 

WINTER RV TIP #11 – USE THE OVEN

One of our favorite ways of warming up the inside of our buggy is by baking. Mark is the Resident Baker in our household, and there is nothing like a batch of yummy muffins or a fresh loaf of banana bread coming out of the oven to warm us up inside and out!

How to stay warm in an RV baking muffins

On a brisk morning, there’s nothing like a fresh loaf of banana bread coming out of the oven!

After the baking is done and the oven is off, we keep the oven door open for a while so we can enjoy the residual warmth as it cools down. By the way, we recently discovered Chiquita banana bread mix, which is absolutely delicious and tastes just like a loaf made from scratch. It requires two bananas, and lately Mark has been adding raisins to it too.

On a cold afternoon, we’ll bake something in the oven for dinner. The longer it takes, the warmer the buggy will get during the baking process! Anything from frozen pot pies or lasagna to a whole chicken does the trick nicely.

 

WINTER RV TIP #12 – DO SOME EXERCISES

As soon as we wake up in the morning, we do some modest exercises. We might be shivering when we first turn on the vent-free heater, but a quickie round of 25 sit-ups and pushups always gets the blood flowing, and by the time we get in a few rounds with the hand weights, we’re sweating and turning the heater off!

This is also a great way to work off those extra calories from the tasty muffins, sweet breads and pies that keep coming out of our oven!

Exercise to keep warn in an RV in winter

One way to take the chill off — do a set of sit-ups. Still cold? Roll over and do a set of push-ups!

 

WINTER RV TIP #13 – PLAY THE FIREPLACE DVD

Fireplace DVD How to stay warm in an RV

Fireplace video.

This may sound a little goofy, but a video of a fire burning in a fireplace is really fun and makes the rig cozy. The video simply shows logs in a fireplace burning down to embers, accompanied by the crackling sound a fire makes. It is surprisingly realistic, and quite funky. The crazy thing is that whenever we play it, the person sitting in the recliner closest to the TV always feels a little warm on the side by the fire!

 

WINTER RV TIP #14 – INSULATE THE HOT WATER HEATER and HOT WATER PIPES

To conserve propane, we always heat the water just once a day, right before we take our showers. After we’re done, we have warm water for dishes, etc. By insulating the hot water heater, the water stays warmer longer. We also put insulating pipe foam on the hot water pipes that run from the heater to the shower and the vanity and kitchen sinks.

Taking a shower in an RV in the winter can be a numbing experience if temps got to freezing the night before, no matter how hot the water is in the hot water heater, because the cold water has to run through the pipes before the hot water reaches you in the shower.

If we are conserving water, we’ll bring a small cooking pot into the shower and run the cold water into it. Then we’ll warm that water up on the stove later for dishes or whatever. Even though it’s less than a quart of water, this way it’s not wasted on our bodies as we hop around in the shower shouting expletives and soaping up our goose bumps!

For more tips on heating an RV, see these articles:

How to Heat an RV in Snow Storms and at High Elevations

How to Install a Vent-Free Propane Heater in an RV

 
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Boondocking at Big Bend National Park – Cheap & Scenic RV Camping

How to “Boondock” at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend in Texas is an unusual park in the National Park System because they offer a few inexpensive RV dry camping sites scattered about the park grounds. It isn’t really “boondocking” like you’d find on other government public land managed by the US National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. However, it is a very inexpensive and scenic alternative to staying in a conventional RV park or campground. For first-time boondockers, it can offer a great introduction to dry camping amid nature and solitude in your RV.

Big Bend National Park assigns these campsites on a first-come first-serve basis, as if the entire National Park were one huge campground. The sites that are big enough for large RVs are very few and are tightly controlled, and the system for obtaining a “Backcountry Camping Permit” to stay in one can be confusing. Here is what we learned about the system when we took part in it for two weeks during February and March, 2015.

RV Boondocking and camping in Big Bend National Park Texas

“Boondocking” at Big Bend National Park

All five of the Visitors Centers in the park have computer access to a database of dispersed campsites throughout the park. You can obtain a permit and reserve a site in person from a ranger at one of these Visitors Centers 24 hours ahead of your stay. The permit is $10 and you can reserve up to 14 consecutive nights in specific campsites on a single permit, reserving as many different sites as you like and as are available.

An important point is that the permit is good only for the actual nights and sites you reserve through the ranger when you purchase the permit. If you want to extend your stay or change your campsite after you buy your permit, you have to cancel the remaining nights on your permit and buy a new one. Also, you can’t obtain a permit to reserve a site without appearing at a Visitors Center in person.

As a courtesy to other campers: if you don’t use all the nights on your permit (the weather might turn and send you scurrying, as it did to us), be sure to cancel the remaining nights on your permit by stopping in at the Visitors Center or calling them. Otherwise, the site will sit vacant while other RVers are wishing they could use it.

Big Bend National Park Texas RV boondocking_

“Boondocking” at Big Bend National Park

Many RVers have small driveable rigs and there is no evidence they are using a site during the day while they are out hiking, so unless you tell the Park Service you are vacating your site, they will have no way of knowing that you left early.

Our Experience Getting a Permit

From what we observed, there is one computer at each Visitors Center that has access to the backcountry camping permit database, so a line for permits forms during popular times. We stood in line at the Panther Junction Visitors Center in the middle of the park for 30 minutes on a Saturday morning when the weather for the next few days was predicted to be sunny and in the high 70’s.

The other people in line were primarily backpackers and car/tent campers getting permits either to do extended overnight hikes across the park or to camp in remote dispersed campsites we could never reach with our truck and trailer. We were the only RVers in line waiting for a site big enough for a big rig.

Each person spent about 5 minutes with the ranger, first reviewing the map of the National Park to pick out a campsite and to learn from the ranger what the site was like, and then filling out the permit application, and lastly listening to the ranger read the camping rules aloud.

Big Bend National Park RV camping and boondocking in Texas_

Hannold Draw

When our turn came, we were advised against staying in a particular site that we later found out would have been perfectly fine. However, an RVer had complained at one time that the site was unlevel, so this particular ranger decided not to present that site as a viable option to other RVers with big rigs.

It is wise to study the National Park map (click here and go to “View Park Map” — the campsites are the light colored tents) and even to drive to the various dispersed campsites to assess whether or not your rig will fit and whether you might enjoy camping there. In general, rigs under 30-35 feet in total length end-to-end (hitched up) would fit in most sites along the main roads.

One of the rules that appears to be enforced is that you are not allowed to run a generator in backcountry camping sites. We overheard two rangers discussing a tent camper who had hidden a generator in his tent! If you don’t have solar power installed on your RV, a small portable solar power kit may be the way to go.

amping in Big Bend National Park in an RV in Texas

“Government Spring” site at Grapevine Hills

RV Camping Strategies at Big Bend

It is common to find that all the campsites are booked for the first few days after you arrive. So, plan to stay elsewhere at first and keep checking back until a site opens up.

The campground at Rio Grande Village on the far eastern end of the park has both full hookup sites that can be reserved online and dry camping sites that are first-come first-serve. Rates range from $33 for full hookups to $14 for dry camping to half that for Seniors with the Senior Access Pass.

The other two campgrounds inside Big Bend National Park — Cottonwood, towards the southwest near the Santa Elena Canyon hike, and Chisos Campground, up in the mountains near the Lost Mine and Window Trail hikes (review of those hikes here) — have smaller sites that may not accommodate bigger rigs. However the Big Bend Resort & Adventures RV Park in Terlingua-Study Butte just outside the western boundary of the park offers full hookups and advanced reservations.

Each of the “boondocking” campsites we saw in Big Bend has pros and cons. One strategy for tackling Big Bend National Park with an RV is to spend a few days camped on the western side at Big Bend RV Adventures, a few days of “boondocking” in the dispersed campsites in the middle and a few days in Rio Grande Village at the eastern end of the park, as there are outstanding things to see and do in each of these locales. Camping near your planned activiites will cut way down on the commuter driving you do across the park!

For those with more rugged rigs, there are some fabulous sounding campsites that will get you deep into nature. We didn’t camp at or even see these locations, but friends with an Earth Roamer RV enjoyed some true backcountry camping experiences in their rig.

RV camping boondocking in Big Bend National Park Texas

Grapevine Hills

Summary of the Larger Backcountry RV Campsites in Big Bend:

Grapevine Hills

There are three campsites on this dirt road that goes 6 miles out to the Grapevine Hills hike with the balancing rock. The first is 0.3 miles in on the left side and is suitable for a big rig. This particular site is also known as “Government Spring” and can accommodate a big rig and a smaller one comfortably if friends are traveling together.

Campsites two and three are 3.7 miles down the road on the right hand side and they are essentially a double site. The views of the Chisos Mountains are lovely, however this is a very busy road with lots of people flying by at wild speeds to get to and from the hiking trail at the end, so it can be very dusty.

Paint Gap

There are three campsites on the first part of this dirt road. The first at 0.9 miles would be suitable for a rig of 35′ or less end-to-end. The second and third are 2.1 miles in and are good for a trailer of 25′ or so. We weren’t sure we could have squeezed our 36′ fiver in there. See the comment from Robin below who had a great time there with a 24′ travel trailer.

Croton Springs

There are two campsites in a huge open area at the end of this dirt road down about 0.5 miles. Probably 3 or 4 big RVs could fit if friends were traveling together. This is the site that one RVer apparently felt was too unlevel for a big rig, but when we drove down here we thought it would have been an awesome place to stay and just wished the ranger had mentioned it as an option.

K-Bar

This is a very rough dirt road that has a small site for a small trailer, van or truck camper at 1.1 miles. Further on, at 1.5 miles, there is a little more room, but it would take some jockeying for a big rig to get set up. See the comment below from Robin who said they loved the second site and got their 24′ travel trailer into it just fin!

Hannold Draw

This is a highway maintenance yard about 0.1 miles down a dirt road that has a huge site big enough for several RVs and even has a horse corral. The entrance is quite steep and we used 4×4 Low Gear to climb out. The enormous trash heaps are a little off-putting as you drive in (“Are we going camping in a junkyard?” we asked each other!), but there is a berm on the west side that provides wind protection (if it’s from the west), and the mountain view is beautiful.

Dust on the road camping in Big Bend Texas

Dust can be a problem at some sights (this is Grapevine Hills).

Notes

  • The busy seasons at Big Bend National Park are Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break in March.
  • There is water at the Panther Junction VIsitors Center (limit: 5 gallons per person per day)
  • There are RV dump stations at Big Bend Adventures RV Park outside the western boundary of the park and at Rio Grande Village at the eastern end of the park.
  • Cell phone and cellular based internet access is acceptable at the boondocking sites with a WiFi booster and antenna. WiFi is sometimes available at Rio Grande Village, however when we were there we heard it had been turned off because someone had been abusing the priviledge.

 

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What To Do in the Rain while Boondocking? Wash the RV!!

Did I mention that Texas has been giving us extreme weather lately? First she tried to freeze us out, covering our buggy in ice.

Icicles on our fifth wheel RV

Icicles on our rig – wow! And look at that layer of grit and grime!

Then Texas dumped a bunch of snow on us. We opened the RV door one morning to find ourselves surrounded by the white stuff!

Looking outside our RV door at snow

We woke up to snow one morning

Snow on our RV steps

Right up to our door!

Snow on our RV in Texas

You never know what you’ll get for winter weather in Texas!

This eventually turned to rain, and we drove a few hundred miles on roads that spat all kinds of miserable black grime all over the rig. When we finally stopped in Livingston (for a few days of drizzle and fog!), our beautiful home was a dirty mess!! Of course, it began to rain again and then it began to pour.

What to do while boondocking in the rain rather than just forlornly wishing you could play outside? Clean the rig !! After all, the pre-rinse had already been done, and all the sticky things (like bugs!) were nicely unstuck by now.

Mark got out his favorite telescoping brush that did us such great service on the boat, and he spent two hours in the pouring rain sudsing up the truck and trailer and letting the soft rain water rinse it all off. Clever!

Washing our RV in the rain

Mark takes advantage of the rain water for an easy rinse cycle…

After the rain stopped (not that it was sunny… just not raining), the rig dried off and now sported a wonderful shiny luster, thanks to a wax job we got back in Florence, AZ. We were very happy campers, especially Mark, who had worked so hard and gotten so drenched in the rain.

But then it was time to move on. Our aim was to get out of Texas and go east. But this crazy state wouldn’t have any of that. While the rest of the country basked in clear skies, Texas persuaded her neighboring states to the east to join her in taking a good long bath.

Texas Rain

Not Fair!!

Good grief! We waited for a few days for a weather window, and it finally seemed to come. At least, it came long enough for us to escape a little ways east of Houston. So we ran for it.

Big mistake! Out on I-10 the skies began to spit. We slipped into the first rest area we could find. Mark was crestfallen as he inspected the RV in the drizzle. The whole thing was covered in a thin layer of road grit. His wonderful washing job was history. Ugh!

What to do while waiting for the rain to stop? Aw, heck — wash the RV!

We didn’t have a water source, so we put our two buckets behind the back of the fifth wheel to catch the rainwater that was falling in a steady stream from the gutters. They filled up in no time. We also didn’t need any soap. The dirt was primarily on the bottom half and was already streaming down the sides of the trailer!

Buckets catch rain from the RV roof

Our buckets were soon overflowing with rain water!

We try to avoid dividing the labor in our buggy into pink and blue jobs as much as possible, preferring to find some shade of lavender for all the chores that need to be done. So, now it was my turn to get wet. Out I went into the drizzle to bring a little shine back to our RV and to try to put a smile on Mark’s face.

It didn’t take much effort, just a little elbow grease and a nice upper body workout. Then our truck and trailer were sparkling clean again.

Mark absolutely loved it. He got to enjoy the whole process with a beer in hand, and he didn’t have to lift a finger. Ha! He sure gets a kick out of watching me work!!

Using rain water to wash the RV

I get the new layer of road grit off the rig while Mark enjoys a beer and a laugh!

As I mentioned above, the great thing about rain water is that it is soft water and it doesn’t spot. There’s no need to wipe down the windows! The key, though, is to wash the rig before it stops raining so you get a good natural rinse.

Next morning the roads were dry, and our clean truck and trailer hit the road once again.

If you find yourself sitting in the rain in a soggy, dirty buggy, and you want to play outside and knock out a chore at the same time, throw a bucket or two under the RV’s gutters, and give your baby a wash!

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RV Heater – How to Install a Vent-Free Propane Heater in Your RV

Installing a vent-free propane heater is one of the best upgrades you can do for your RV if you plan to be spending a lot of time in chilly places. This page reviews how ventless propane heaters operate in comparison to traditional RV furnaces, it discusses the different technologies used in the design of various types of vent-free gas heaters on the market today — including catalytic heaters, ceramic brick and plaque heaters, and blue flame heaters — and it presents a step-by-step guide for installing a vent-free propane heater in your RV or camper.

You can jump to the various sections of this page here:

 

This post was first written in January, 2009, but was completely overhauled and rewritten in October, 2014.

INTRODUCTION

 

Warming my hands over a vent-free blue flame propane heater in my 5th wheel camper RV

Happiness is… a vent-free propane heater!

We froze in our trailer during our first winter in Arizona. Morning temperatures in the kitchen were often 40+ degrees F, and although daytime temps could get as high as 70, as soon as evening came, the temps in our trailer dropped into the the 50’s.

Brrr! It’s hard to sit around in the evening in those kinds of temperatures. All modern motorhomes and campers (ours included) come equipped with a propane furnace. However, these loud, inefficient beasts use a lot of electricity, and can drain the batteries in one night.

During that first winter (2007-08) in our 27′ Fleetwood Travel Trailer, we discovered that the more experienced winter desert boondockers (both snowbird RVers and those living the full-time RV lifestyle) installed vent-free propane heaters in their rigs. These are wonderful little appliances that use far less propane than a furnace and no electricity at all. When we upgraded to our 36′ Hitchhiker 34.5 RLTG fifth wheel in May, 2008, we decided we would install one. All summer long we thought about the project, but never found ourselves in a town where there was a good selection of heaters to look at or anyone knowledgeable about installing them in RVs. So we dawdled.

As the nights got colder in late November, 2008, and we relied more and more on our trailer’s electricity-eating furnace, we found ourselves in the warm company of our good friends Bob and Donna Lea Jensen and their vent-free, electricity-free propane heater. Bob has installed quite a few of these little devils over the years, and he gave us some hints and loaned us two critical tools for the project: a pipe cutter and a flaring tool. We learned a lot through this process, and I thought it might be helpful, along with our other RV tips and tricks pages to include some notes here about our project.

There are several types of vent-free heaters on the market, and each has its pros and cons. In the end, we opted to buy a 20,000 BTU thermostatically controlled blue flame heater made by Vanguard. The night before the installation we laughed as we bundled ourselves into our recliners wearing multiple layers, buried under blankets for the last time. Mark’s face peaked out from under his hood as he read. The night after the installation, in shorts and t-shirt, I had to poke my nose out the window to get some cool air. In our excitement, we had inadvertently heated the bedroom to 85 degrees.

We have used and loved this heater year-round ever since, running it near sea-level in the southern states in the winter months and using in the cool mountains during the summer months!

 

COMPARISON OF RV FURNACES AND VENT-FREE HEATERS

RV PROPANE FURNACES

Propane uses oxygen as it burns and gives off moisture as a by-product. Therefore it has the potential to use up all the oxygen in an enclosed space and kill any living, breathing occupants while creating a layer of condensation on the insides of windows. Yikes! To accommodate these unpleasant aspects of propane heating, conventional RV propane furnaces use a large blower system to bring in outside, oxygen-rich air. In turn, they vent the moist, oxygen-depleted air from inside the rig to the outside. Circulating the air this way keeps the oxygen level in the air fairly constant and significantly reduces the build-up of condensation on the insides of the windows, as the moisture gets blown outside along with the exhausted air.

Atwood RV furnace
However, by blowing all this warm air outside, the furnace is effectively heating the outdoors. If you stand outside an RV next to the furnace vent on a really cold day, you can warm your hands and body quite nicely. Also, this blower requires electricity to run. RV furnaces are DC, so they do not require an inverter or generator in order to operate. However, the amount of power they use is astronomical (our 40,000 BTU furnace uses 11 amps DC). If you are boondocking, or dry camping in the desert as many winter Snowbird RVers do, you are then faced with a choice of either keeping the RV unacceptably cold, or using a generator to keep the batteries charged (even our big solar power installation on the Hitchhiker 5th wheel was not enough to keep up with the furnace blower during the winter).

Besides heating the outside air and running the batteries down, a major disadvantage of a standard RV propane furnaces is that the blower is really loud. There is nothing like being deeply absorbed in a really great movie and listening to some very profound dialog being exchanged in whispers, and having the furnace suddenly roar to life and drown out everything being said. Our furnace blower often woke us up out of a sound sleep too.

VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATERS

In contrast, vent-free propane heaters are silent and provide heat without using any battery power. This is because they rely on you to give them fresh air: you have to crack open a window while they run. All US-made vent-free heaters are built with an internal oxygen sensor that shuts off the heater if the oxygen level in the room becomes too depleted. In addition, most RVs come equipped with an LP gas detector that will sound alarms if the oxygen in the air drops too low or if an LP gas leak is detected and you can install a combo LP/CO detector as well to detect both LP gas and carbon monoxide. You may also need (or choose) to run a small fan to circulate the air. This will use some battery power, but you can decide how much or how little to use the fan.

Living without heat in an RV

Brrr… This was what life was like before we installed our vent-free propane heater!

So, in essence, when using a vent-free heater, you must find a happy balance between several variables. Determine which kind of heater will best suit your needs (see descriptions below), figure out where to place it in the RV, which window(s) to crack open, and how often to run a fan (if at all), and if so, which kind of fan to use (a little DC fan, like one used in a computer, a large AC ceiling fan that will require an inverter or generator to run, or an optional blower fan that can be purchased with the heater).

Heat rises, so in 5th wheel campers the heat tends to gather in the bedroom. Simply close the door to the bedroom, or crack it slightly open to control the movement of the warm air into that space. Likewise, if you use a ceiling fan, you can experiment with running it forward or backward, either to draw air up and move it out along the ceiling or to push the warm air down towards the floor.

Propane has a fixed capacity for providing heat. One gallon of propane contains 92,000 BTUs of potential heat, which means a 40,000 BTU RV furnace running full blast will burn through nearly a gallon of propane every two hours or so. During the coldest periods, it is a real pain in the neck to keep having to refill the propane tanks as you fly through propane trying to heat your rig.

Our Lynx travel trailer came with a 30,000 BTU furnace, and our Hitchhiker 5th wheel came with a 40,000 BTU furnace, both installed at the factory. These were sized appropriately for the square footage of each camper. However, we have found we can easily heat our big fifth wheel to higher temperatures in less time using our 20,000 BTU vent-free propane heater instead of the factory-installed 40k BTU RV furnace. So, a smaller vent-free heater that burns less propane per hour can effectively heat a given space more quickly than a traditional RV furnace that is twice its size.

Because of the inefficiency of RV furnaces in terms of propane use and battery power consumption, when we use the RV furnace alone for heat in 30+ degree F overnight temps and 40+ degree daytime temps, we find we have to keep our trailer at 50 degrees while sleeping at night and at just 60+ degrees during the day. Cold as that sounds, this uses up almost a gallon of propane a day and we can barely keep the batteries topped off using our 490 watts of solar panels alone. Worst of all, living like this is really uncomfortable.

Using our vent-free blue flame heater in the same conditions and burning the same one gallon of propane per day in those conditions, we can easily keep the 5th wheel at 76 degrees all day long. And we use almost no electricity.

To clarify, we have two 30 lb (7 gallon) propane tanks, and when outside highs are in the 50’s and lows are in the 20’s, we go through a tank of propane each week. When outside highs drop below freezing 24/7, we can go through a tank in 3 days.

 

WHICH IS THE BEST TYPE OF VENT-FREE HEATER?

 

When choosing a vent-free propane heater, there are a lot of products on the market. Catalytic and ceramic heaters produce infrared radiant heat which heats objects situated nearby much the same way the sun does. They create a warm, baking sensation on your skin, but if you move away (like moving into the shade outdoors), that sensation goes away. The air in the room warms up over time as the objects in the room warm up.

In contrast, blue flame heaters heat the air, rather than the objects in the room, providing a more even, uniform warmth. Gradually, the objects in the room heat up as the overall temperature of the air in the room rises.

All of these heaters come in different sizes, ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 BTUs, which are good for heating 100 square feet up to 1,000 square feet. Small ones can be hung on the wall, out of the way, while big ones that appear modest-sized in the show room suddenly become monster heat sources that dominate the floor space when you get them home to your RV.

 

CATALYTIC INFRARED RADIANT HEATERS

Olympian Wave-8 Catalytic infrared radiant heater for use in an RV
Catalytic heaters were the original vent-free heaters. The major brand is the Olympian Wave, manufactured by Camco, and their primary models are the Wave-3, Wave-6 and Wave-8 heaters. These provide 3,000, 6,000 and 8,000 BTUs of heat respectively.

Catalytic heaters provide infrared radiant heat by way of a large pad on the surface of the heater. A chemical reaction in the pad causes heat to radiate off the entire pad. If you stand in front of a catalytic heater, your skin will feel a nice baking warmth on it. The closer you sit, the more you will bake. This is a great feeling when you are chilled.

These heaters have been in use for years, and have an enthusiastic following. They are also quite expensive ($300-$430), often as much as double the cost per BTU as the other types of vent-free heaters. They do not have thermostats, just a “high” setting and a “low” setting, so you must manually turn them on and off or to high or low to regulate the temperature in the RV.

If the pad on these heaters becomes dirty, it is possible to replace it for about $100. A friend of ours tried to clean his by vacuuming it, and inadvertently ended up destroying the pad. Because the pads had changed slightly since he bought his unit five years earlier, he could not replace the pad and had to replace the entire heater instead.

You will need a brass elbow fitting from Camco for the installation. You may also want leg stands so the heater can stand on its own two feet and a dust cover to protect the catalytic pads when it is not in use.

 

CERAMIC (BRICK or PLAQUE) INFRARED RADIANT HEATERS

Mr. Heater Ceramic infrared radiant heater for use in an RV
Ceramic infrared heaters are a slightly newer technology that has been warming RVs for quite a few years. The most popular brand on the market is Mr. Heater. Other brands include Kozy World, Empire and ProCom. These are generally offered in one, two, three and five brick configurations providing 5,000, 10,000, 15,000/20,000 and 25,000/30,000 BTUs of heat.

Ceramic heaters provide the same infrared radiant heat as catalytic heaters. Across the front of the heater there are small ceramic “bricks” or “plaques” that heat up to a glowing orange/red color. Like a catalytic heater, standing in front of a brick (or plaque) ceramic heater will toast your toes to your thighs on the front of your legs. The heat from the bricks interacts with your skin and you will feel a wonderful tingly warmth.

These are extremely popular units and can be quite inexpensive ($130-$350). Most can be purchased with or without a thermostat. One big disadvantage is that the area directly in front of the bricks gets hot enough to burn things. Any flammable items that come too close to the bricks could catch on fire. If a cat or dog wanders past and flicks its tail against the bricks, it might get singed. If a toddler sticks its fingers in there, a trip to the hospital might ensue.

 

BLUE FLAME HEATERS

Mr. Heater Blue Flame vent-free propane heater for use in an RV
Blue flame heaters are the newest technology and provide a different kind of heat than the catalytic and ceramic heaters. Rather than radiating heat, blue flame heaters operate via convection (the principal that heat rises), drawing cool air in through vents at the bottom of the heater and emitting warm air out the vents in the top. This is a heating method that is much like central heating in a house. Once the air temperature has risen sufficiently, the objects warm up as well. If you keep your RV at a warm temperature all the time (especially at night), the objects in the room will never get cold.

Blue flame heaters draw cool air in from floor level through a row of vents at the bottom, heat it up, and emit the warm air out of vents at the top, relying on convection (the fact that heat rises) to move this air instead of using a blower. You can warm your hands and body by standing in front of one, but it is more of a warming sensation than a baking one. The area in front of the blue flame is covered by fireproof glass (it’s actually a ceramic material) and it is not burning hot. So, there is no risk of items immediately in front of the heater catching fire. Blue flame heaters are a good idea for people with pets or children.

The most popular brand is Mr. Heater. A few others include Empire Heating Systems and ProCom, the same makers of the ceramic brick heaters. These manufacturers produce both blue flame and brick heaters in the same chassis, so other than the appearance of the bricks or the flame, the unit itself has the same look whether it is the brick or blue flame version. The typical BTU range on these heaters is 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 30,000.

Blue flame heaters are as popular as the brick ceramic heaters, and are in the same price range of about $130-$350. They can also be purchased with or without a thermostat.

BLUE FLAME FIREPLACES !!

Pleasant Hearth Vent-Free Propane Fireplace 35 inch

.

There are some wonderful blue flame heaters that are designed to look like fireplaces, complete with logs, trim and beautiful wooden mantels. Manufacturers include Pleasant Hearth and ProCom.

These cost about $200-$300 more than the regular blue flame heaters, but what a beautiful addition to your RV. You can sit and watch the yellow flames dancing around the logs and warm your bones at the same time. I saw one of these units in an old travel trailer and was enchanted. The owner had built his own mantel out of an old coffee table, and it was lovely. I wanted one of those units so badly!!

The only place for a unit like that in our rig was along the backside of the “L” in the kitchen counter, which is just a few inches from the wall of the entertainment slide-out when it comes in. If we had the carpentry skills, we probably could have slipped a fireplace in there, recessed under the counter.

The only downside would have been that it might have gotten a little hot under the counter, and we would have had to be extra careful that the heater was fully cooled whenever we brought the slide-out in, or we would have cooked the gelcoat on the outer wall of the slide. Also, as it turned out, that particular location for the heater would not have provided the same warmth when we sat in our recliners as the heater does in its current spot in the kitchen in front of the oven (even though it would have been closer). It’s just the way the air flow circulates in our particular trailer.

PORTABLE HEATERS

Mr Buddy Portable vent-free propane heater

.

If you don’t want to hassle with installing a dedicated gas line for a vent-free propane heater in your RV, you can opt to get a portable unit instead. The portable ventless heaters are all infrared radiant heaters with bricks (plaques) that have air intake vents in the bottom for convection as well. They have built-in blowers that run on a 6 volt a/c adapter (sold separately) or on 4D batteries. They are very popular.

They are manufactured by Mr. Heater (with the brand name “Big Buddy”), and they come in sizes from 4,000 to 18,000 BTU. They run on the small Coleman style portable propane canisters but can also be connected to a larger BBQ style propane tank.

If you plan to run the heater from a large propane tank instead of the little propane canisters, Mr. Heater sells a companion flexible gas hose with a regulator and quick release connector on it for just that purpose. Mr. Heater make nice carrying cases for these heaters as well.

 

OPTIONAL EQUIPMENT for VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATERS

Thermostat

Usually this option is just $30-$50, and it is well worth the cost if you plan to be in your RV for extended periods of time. A manually controlled heater will have several heat settings (usually three), but you will need to monitor the heat in the room and adjust the settings as you get warmer or cooler. A thermostatically controlled heater will cycle on and off as its sensor detects changes in temperature. Ours typically cycles on and off in 5-10 minute increments, keeping the temperature within 2 degrees.

On our unit, the thermostat has a simple analog dial that can spin from “1” to “5.” These are arbitrary numbers rather than fixed fahrenheit degree markers. However, once you figure out how “1 1/4” or “2 1/2” relates to temperature, you can keep the temperature in the room tightly controlled by turning the dial to the setting you want. This is especially nice if you plan to keep the heater on all night, as the temperature in the RV will remain constant while the outside temperature drops.

Feet

Most units are designed to be hung on a wall, however most also have an optional stand so they can be placed on the floor. Most smaller units include the feet as an option (about $25) while most larger units come with the feet at no extra charge. The great advantage to hanging a unit on the wall is that it is always there, ready for use. If you use your RV during all four seasons, it is nice to know that if you suddenly find yourself in a chilly spot, you can simply flip the switch and have your heater working for you, rather than digging it out of the back of the closet (a lesson we learned after the fact!).

The advantage of having the unit standing on its own two feet is that you can move it around the rig. This is especially true if you don’t use a fan of some kind to move the warm air around the rig. If you go this route, make sure you have plenty of flexible gas hose so you get maximum range for placing the heater in different spots in the rig.

Blower

Most ventless gas heaters can be purchased with an optional blower. As soon as you start blowing the air around the RV, you are signing up to use the batteries to keep the rig warm, something the vent-free solution was aiming to avoid. However, the power consumption should be less overall than a furnace. Some blowers are thermostatically controlled, allowing them to cycle on and off as needed. This is efficient, as the blower and batteries won’t be in use all the time the heater is on. Rather than a built-in blower, many people opt to install a small DC fan which uses very little power. If your rig has a ceiling fan, that can also be an option, although it will require the inverter or generator to be turned on. In our case, our inverter is turned on from the moment we wake up until we go to bed, so running the ceiling fan when the heater is on during the day is no big deal.


 

HEATER PLACEMENT

When we installed our ventless propane heater, we tried placing it in several locations. We also tried turning our ceiling fan both on and off and running the fan both forwards and backwards (blowing towards the floor and towards the ceiling) before we settled on a final arrangement.

Kozy World Vent-Free Propane Heater connected to flexible gas hose

This ceramic heater has a flexible gas hose that allows it
to be moved around the RV.

We found that the best setup was to place the heater directly below our ceiling fan (in front of the oven at the base of the stairs in the kitchen) and to set the fan to blow towards the ceiling, drawing the warm air up and distributing it outwards throughout the RV. It was astonishing to find what a difference it made as we moved the heater to various places in the trailer and tried each placement with or without the ceiling fan, and blowing up versus blowing down.

Our RV is a “rear lounge” fifth wheel
, and we found that the area around the recliners was a significant cold air pocket. Doesn’t it figure! That’s where we like to be on cold evenings!! There are large windows surrounding the recliners, which make that area cold, while the warm air in the rig congregates high up on the ceiling just in front of the stairs leading to the bedroom (that is, if the bedroom door is closed. Otherwise the warm air settles in the bedroom itself).

We assumed that facing the heater towards the recliners just 5 feet in front of them would warm up this cold pocket. Wrong! No matter how high we set the thermostat, and no matter what we did with the ceiling fan (which is located 10 feet away right in front of the stairs leading to the bedroom), the recliners were still cold.

When we moved the heater to the base of the stairs leading to the bedroom, and turned the ceiling fan on “high” and set it to blow towards the ceiling, we could immediately feel the warm air encircling us as we sat in the recliners. Who woulda thunk??!!

Heater Sizes and Capacities

Most manufacturers state the square footage their various heaters are designed to heat. We decided that we’d rather buy a slightly larger unit (that is, one rated for a larger space than the interior of our fifth wheel), and simply keep the heater on a lower setting than to find ourselves unable to heat the buggy adequately. Our rig is 360 square feet, which put us somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 BTUs. We ended up buying a 20,000 BTU heater, and we typically keep it set to 50% of maximum during the evenings/mornings and 25% of maximum at night when temps outside are in the 20’s and 30’s. If we had purchased a 10,000 BTU unit instead, I think it would have been cranking at max volume most of the time during the mornings and evenings and on stormy days. As a rough guide:

Vent-free heater BTU ratings and square footage
6,000 Up to 200 sf
10,000 Up to 300 sf
20,000 Up to 700 sf
30,000 Up to 1,000 sf

There are legal ratings for the sizes of vent-free heaters and the rooms they can be operated in. Less than 6,000 BTUs is okay for a bathroom, and less than 10,000 BTUs is okay for a bedroom. These are the ratings that are being referenced when you see a sticker on a larger unit saying “not designed to be used in a bedroom.” The idea is that a large unit operated at max volume in too small a space will use up too much oxygen in the room too quickly. Of course, such a scenario would have the occupants of the room running out the door because it would be way too hot for comfort.

 

SAFETY OF VENTLESS PROPANE HEATERS

Some people may worry that these kinds of ventless propane heaters aren’t safe, fearing that it might blow up the RV or suffocate them. These heaters are extraordinarily well regulated by various governing bodies, and designers have to meet stringent guidelines and submit their heaters to a battery of very challenging tests before they can be brought to market. Vent Free is the industry organization for all the vent-free gas heater manufacturers. Their website spells out all the testing, guidelines, state by state requirements, laws and safety record for these heaters. Through September 1, 2005, they claim that there had not been a documented death due to a vent-free propane heater (see that claim here). Visit their website at ventfree.org.

In addition, at the factory, RV manufacturers install a LP Gas Detector Alarm system (various brands are used) to detect LP gas leaks in the RV and alert anyone inside. These are installed because many RVs come equipped with propane-based appliances, including things like the stove, oven, hot water heater, refrigerator and RV furnace. All RV owners should be aware of where their LP gas detector is located. It is usually installed near the floor, as LP is a heavy gas that settles down low. Propane is found in highest concentrations near the floor.

Some RVers run their vent-free propane heater overnight as they sleep. We don’t do that. If the overnight low temps will be well below freezing (i.e., 25 degrees F or below), we run our RV furnace, set to 50 degrees, all night long to keep the plumbing from freezing, because the furnace is ducted throughout the basement.

 

OPERATION AT HIGH ELEVATION

Most of these heaters are sold with an official limit for operating altitude. The problem at higher altitudes is that there is not enough oxygen for the propane to burn properly. Some units are rated for use up to only 3,500 feet, while other manufacturers have a stated limit of as much as 5,000 feet.

Our blue flame vent-free propane heater is rated for use up to 4,500 feet, but we have used it extensively at altitudes up to 8,500 feet and have used three times for two week periods at 10,000 feet.

The key to operation at altitude is the Oxygen Detection Safety-pilot (ODS) sensor which has been standard equipment on all US-made vent-free heaters since the 1980’s. This sensor shuts off the gas to the heater when it detects the oxygen level has dropped to 18% (normal sea-level air is 21% oxygen). We find that whenever the ODS shuts our heater off, our stove and oven continue to run without a hitch. So, in reality, the stove and oven are actually more dangerous, as they do not have built-in ODS units to shut them off when the oxygen in the room gets too low.

5th wheel camper rv in the snow

A surprise autumn snowstorm at 10,000 feet elevation in Colorado during a two week stay taught us a lot
about how vent-free heaters function at high altitudes.

We use our heater all summer long as we travel through the western mountain states. We find that it works very well at 6,000 to 9,000 feet, taking the chill off cold mornings and raising the temperature inside the RV from a brisk low to mid-40’s to 75 degrees within an hour.

We have spent months at these altitudes. On occasion, if we have been running the stove and oven as well as the heater, the heater will unceremoniously turn itself off. This is no problem. We simply open the RV door to let some oxygen-rich air into the rig.

We have also spent several periods of 10 days to two or three weeks at 10,000 feet. Here we had more difficulty with our vent-free heater when the outdoor temps dropped into the high 20’s overnight (and we got two inches of snow on our roof!) and daytime highs were in the 40’s. The heater needed some coaxing to make it work. We tried two methods of combining the RV furnace and the ventless propane heater at this altitude. Neither was ideal, but this will give you a sense of what to expect and what to try:

1. Run the RV furnace all night long to keep the rig at 50 degrees overnight, and then use the RV furnace to raise the temp to about 60 in the morning. We found that this method used gobs of electricity and propane and didn’t make us very warm. What’s worse, when we tried to use the vent-free blue flame heater after running the furnace, the furnace would not have sufficiently replaced the interior air with exterior oxygenated air, so the vent-free heater could not run very long before it shut off due to having insufficient oxygen around it. So, in essence, using the RV furnace meant we couldn’t use the vent-free heater. We found we could run the RV furnace all day long but the temps in the rig would never exceed 61-62 degrees (the high temps outside were in the 40’s, lows in the mid-20’s).

2. Leave the furnace off overnight and run the ventless propane heater in the morning to warm up the rig. The temps inside our bedroom typically stay about 10 degrees above the outside temps if we don’t heat the RV overnight, so we woke up on some mornings to interior temps in the high 30’s. (We close our bedroom door at night to help keep the bedroom warm). The vent-free heater miraculously heated our indoor RV temps to 70 degrees within an hour of turning it on. At this point, around 70+ degrees, the heater would shut off. We could coax it to run a little more by opening the RV door and fanning the outside air into the rig, but it would shut off again after another 10 minutes or so. So then we would turn on the RV furnace.

Any sensible person would have gone and gotten electric hookups at a campground and run an electric ceramic heater, but we aren’t always very sensible. Camping at 10,000 feet in snowy weather is rather extreme. Most of the boondocking spots we stay at in the summer months are down around 6,000 to 9,000 feet, as I mentioned above, and the heater works beautiful at those altitudes. During the winter months we are typically at elevations of under 1,500 feet and the heater works like a champ without missing a beat.

Note: Since publishing this article, we have enjoyed yet another year of toasty warm heat from our blue flame vent-free heater in the mountains from spring through fall and at low desert elevations in the winter. We were also caught in another even bigger snowstorm on a mountaintop at 10,000 altitude once again and tried a different heating strategy that kept us warmer and dryer. Our article about that experience is here:

How to Heat an RV in Cold Weather and Winter Snowstorms

 

WHERE CAN YOU BUY A VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER?

We had the worst time trying to find places to look at these heaters and find people knowledgeable about installing and using them in RVs. In some states it is illegal to sell these kinds of heaters (here’s a link to the state-by-state regulations for vent-free gas heaters from ventfree.org), and in mountain towns they are scarce because of their issues with operating at high altitudes. In four months of summer travel when we were looking to buy, we found just two propane gas companies selling vent-free heaters, one in Jackson, MS and one in Kanab, UT. We ended up learning the most from fellow desert boondockers in Arizona, Nevada and California during the winter months and from salespeople in mom-and-pop hardware and RV parts stores in Yuma and Quartzsite, Arizona.

If you know what you want, you can get a much better deal buying online, and Amazon sells all the major brands and accessories. We paid $290 plus $25 tax for our heater, a Vanguard 20,000 BTU blue flame with a thermostat and no blower (it came with feet). After buying, we found the same unit online with free shipping and no sales tax for $175 (Vanguard heaters are no longer made). Ace Hardware told us they could order a similar unit for us, shipped to their store in a week, for $215. So we paid a premium for our unit, but we did talk to a lot of sales people in the process and we saw a lot of the units (and warmed our hands over them), and knew exactly what we were buying.

Cost of installing a vent-free heater

Our entire project cost $385. The heater was $315 (including tax), and parts totaled $70. We were able to borrow the tools, but found they cost only about $15 to buy. We were quoted between $60 and $100 for the labor for the installation. As stated above, we also could have saved about $140 on the heater if we had purchased it online.

 

INSTALLATION OF A VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER IN AN RV

Following is a pictorial step-by-step guide showing how we installed our vent-free propane heater in our RV.

Installing fIttings on the vent-free propane heater

The installation begins with work on the heater itself…

Working under the kitchen cabinets to install the new gas line for the heater

…however, the bulk of the installation involves tapping into an existing copper gas line to connect a new flexible gas line that goes to the heater.

The first step is to do a little work on the heater itself…

Installing the feet on our ventless blue flame propane heater

Attach the plastic feet so the unit can be freestanding and be moved around the trailer easily.

Installing the gas valve on the blue flame heater

Attach a brass elbow fitting at the base of the heater.
A flexible gas hose will eventually connect to this elbow.

Installing the thermometer on our ventless blue flame propane heater

Attach a thermistor (an electrical resistor type of thermometer) for the internal thermostat. This went on the lower back corner of the heater.

 

Our heater came with feet so it could be freestanding, and it also came with a thermistor, or resistor based thermometer, for the thermostat. These were attached before beginning the actual installation of the new gas line in our trailer.

The brass elbow did not come with our unit, but we found one with the right pitch, thread and diameter at the gas and electric supply store where we bought the other fittings for our project.

Second Step — Turn off the gas and tap into an existing copper gas line

The gas hose for the heater will tap into an existing copper line in a kitchen cabinet

The new flexible gas line for the heater will connect into the existing copper line.

We decided to tap into the copper gas pipe that runs between the refrigerator and the stove at the back of one of our lower kitchen cabinets. Mark measured the pipe and found it was 3/8″.

The goal was to cut the existing pipe and insert a series of fittings that would allow us to attach a flexible gas hose at that point, effectively creating a new leg of flexible gas line. This hose would then run out through a hole drilled at the base of the cabinet and attach to the heater. All of this is low-pressure pipe and fixtures.

Layout of all the gas fittings for installing the vent-free blue flame propane heater in our fifth wheel trailer RV

To create a new leg of flexible hose gas line requires a T-connector (to rejoin the severed pipe), F-F gender changer, On/Off valve and flexible gas hose with a stopper at the other end.

At a gas and electric supply store we picked up a male-male T-connector that would be inserted into the cut copper pipe.

The base of the T would connect to a female-female gender changing connector, and then to an on-off valve (which has male fittings at either end), and finally to a female connector on the end of the flexible gas hose.

Most of the year the heater would not be in use, so we bought a stopper for the end of the hose that goes to the heater.

pipe cutter for cutting gas pipe

Specialty tool #1: Pipe cutter

When the heater is disconnected, this stopper would be screwed into the end of the hose and the heater would be put in a closet.

However, we later discovered we wanted easy access to our heater during all four seasons, so the stopper never gets used!

 

The existing gas line is cut

The existing gas line is cut.

A universal gas appliance hookup kit manufactured by Mr. Heater includes all these parts except the T-connector!

Flaring tool showing both parts

Specialty tool #2: Flaring Tool.

The first step, after turning off the gas, was to cut the pipe. This requires a pipe-cutter, a small, inexpensive tool.

Once the pipe was cut, the next step was to connect the T-connector between the two severed ends of the copper pipe.

practice flare on scrap piece of copper pipe

Practice flare.

This would be done by first sliding a female connector onto each of the two pipe ends and then flaring the ends of the pipe with a flaring tool so the connectors couldn’t slide back off again.

The female connector is slid onto the pipe before the flare is done

The flare prevents the female connector from coming off the pipe.

The male-male T-connector would be screwed into this (and its companion) female fitting on either end of the pipe, rejoining the pipe and making a new connection available for the gas hose to go out to the heater.

flaring tool for flaring the end of a gas pipe

Flaring tool with scrap practice pipe in it.

Mark had never used a flaring tool to flare a pipe before, so he wanted to practice it first on a scrap piece of pipe.

Flaring the real pipe under the kitchen cabinet

Flaring the real pipe inside the cabinet.

He made the practice flare by inserting the scrap pipe into the appropriately sized hole in the tool and then screwing down both ends of the tool to snug the pipe into it — as if it were a bad guy in the old days having his head and hands put in the stocks in the town square!

One flare finished second flare beginning

One flare done, now do the other.

Then he inserted the pointed end of the flaring tool into the end of the pipe and twisted the crank, slowly flaring the end of the pipe as the point pressed further into it.

Two wrenches tighten T-connector in place

Tightening the T-connector with two wrenches

He slid the female connector onto a short piece of pipe and felt a snug fit between the pipe and the connector. The flare was just right. Now confident that he could flare a pipe properly, he contorted himself to get the flaring tool set up on the real copper pipe at the back of the cabinet.

T-connector with F-F gender changer

T-connector with F-F gender changer ready for the shut-off valve to be attached.

He began by sliding a female connector onto one end of the severed pipe under the cabinet and flaring the pipe’s end. Then he did the same thing to the other piece of the severed pipe. Then he screwed the male-male T-connector into the two female ends of the pipe to rejoin them, and he tightened the T-connector using two wrenches.

He attached a female-female connector to the base of the T, making it possible to screw the male-male valve into place. This valve would allow the gas to the heater to be turned on and off. After the valve, he attached the female end of the gas hose.

Connecting the flexible gas hose to the shut-off valve

The new flexible gas line connects to the shut-off valve.

Finally, he drilled a hole in the front base of the kitchen cabinet and ran the gas hose through the hole. The other end of the gas hose was attached to the elbow connector he had placed on the bottom of the heater.

Tightening all the connections with wrenches, and turning the gas to the trailer back on, the heater was now ready to be used.

Hole at base of the cabinet for the gas hose

The new flexible gas line will come through this hole and connect to the heater.

Mark checked for gas leaks using a tiny spritzer bottle filled with a few drops of Dawn dish soap and water. Spraying this mixture on each connection, he looked for bubbles to form which would indicate a gas leak.

To give us flexibility in moving the heater around the rig, we originally used two lengths of gas hose: a 3′ length for under the cabinet and a second 12′ length that attached to it with an inline male-male connector.

Vent-free blue flame propane heater installed in a 5th wheel trailer

What a great little heater!!

The idea was that the 12′ gas hose would give us lots of flexibility for moving the heater around the trailer. However, we found that it was too long and too bulky and the best position for the heater was close to the stove anyway. So we replaced the 12′ hose with a shorter 4′ one.

After the installation was finished, it didn’t seem like such a big project after all, and what a thrill it was to toast ourselves in our warm buggy. Our timing was perfect: the next week brought a big cold front, multiple days of rain, lows in the 30’s and highs in the fifties. We were snug as bugs in a rug while the winds howled outside.

 

There are tons of choices for installing a vent-free propane heater, but these four are among the most popular. If you buy a heater from Amazon, make sure it is PROPANE and not NATURAL GAS, as the pictures look the same. We receive a 4-6% commission for purchases made through any of our Amazon links (at no cost to you) which helps us maintain this site — thank you!

Good luck with your project, and stay warm!

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Disclaimer: This blog post describes our vent-free propane heater installation. We are not responsible for any installation other than the one in our own rig.

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San Diego Anchorages – Boondocking on the Water

Isla Coronado Sur

Fishing boats rafted at the Coronado Islands.

A ketch anchored at La Playa Cove.

Beautiful mansions cover the hillside at La Playa

Cove anchorage.

We decided this was our favorite house.

The roses smelled so sweet too.

sv Groovy gets a new light bulb on the mast.

Mark changes the bulb for our

anchor light.

Folks of all kinds enjoyed La Playa Cove for

the weekend.

Hobie's slick trimaran sailing kayak.

Segways of the sea.

"Sure, I can squeeze through there."

A surfer gets a tow from a windsurfer.

Morning dawns at Southwestern Yacht Club.

Our kayak became our lifeline to shore.

A closed paddle-boat restaurant fills our view at the A9

cruisers' anchorage.

Those dirty towels sure pile up on a boat.

Sunsets from our cockpit were a little slice of heaven.

The full moon hovers over downtown, serenely

keeping an eye on the chaos of humanity below.

San Diego Anchorages

Late August, 2010 - We pulled out of Baja Naval marina in Ensenada,

Mexico after a flurry of paper chasing to get our exit documents together

in a form that was acceptable to the Port Captain.  The position of Port

Captain carries a lot of prestige, and he or she holds ultimate power over

all boating activity in the port.  Having checked into Mexico through Hotel

Coral & Marina, the Ensenada Port Captain told us we now needed our

exit crew list to be written on the letterhead of Baja Naval Marina, to show

our movement from one marina to the other during our stay.  Good grief.

The cruising guide had indicated we could write up our exit crew list

ourselves.  No such luck.  Lots of boats leave Mexico without getting exit

papers, but because we plan to return in a few months it seemed wise to

follow the prescribed protocol, so we put a few miles on our shoe soles

that morning as we ultimately made three trips to visit the Port Captain.

The morning was misty, and the sea created a smooth, undulating

blanket beneath us as we motored into the sunny haze.  We planned to

stop at Las Islas Coronados for an overnight rather than do the entire 70

mile trip to San Diego in one shot.  These islands are a few miles

offshore from Mexico, lying just below the US/Mexico border.  We had

heard to steer clear of the fishing activity at the south end of the

southernmost island before turning in to the anchorage that lies at its

midpoint on the eastern shore.  So we were very surprised to find that

fish pens and fishing boats occupied the entire eastern shoreline of the

island, effectively blocking us from turning towards our planned

anchorage until we got all the way to the northern tip.

Doubling back south and snaking our way along the shore, we eyed the

eight or so rows of three or four fish pens per row.  A lone sailboat was

anchored amid 30 or so fishing boats, and we took a spot nearby.  It is a

pretty little anchorage, and when morning came we didn't want to leave.

The gulls were calling each other, seals surfaced here and there around

the boat, and the rocks glowed orange in the sunrise.  Facing the hustle

and bustle of San Diego did not seem appealing at all.  Being anchored,

and free, after months of harnessing our boat in a slip, tying it down like a

horse penned in a stall, this brief whiff of pure freedom beckoned us.  After

all, opening our souls to this world of nature is why we chose to get a boat

and go cruising.

However, our

truck was parked

in 72-hour on-

street parking on Shelter Island and it was now 96 hours since we'd

parked it.  Duties and obligations reeled us in, and we sailed into the US

customs dock in San Diego and filled out more paperwork for more

uniformed officials to document our arrival back in the US.

Our arrival coincided with the arrival of summer in southern

California, despite it being August 17th.  The sun shone from first

light every day for ten straight days, and it seemed like it must be

June.

We spent a few errand filled days tied up at the harbor's Police

Dock, taking advantage of having easy access to our truck and

stores from a slip in the heart of San Diego's sailing community.

We were in an intermediate phase now, without a permanent slip

for the boat, but not yet cruising full-time without wheels on land.

Our plan was to hop between anchorages until mid-October,

finishing our various outfitting projects on the boat and learning to

live on the hook, before setting sail for southern Mexico.

One delightful free anchorage is

available--weekends only--at La

Playa Cove behind Shelter Island.  Tucked between the

San Diego Yacht Club docks and the Southwestern Yacht

Club docks, this pretty spot is hugged by a hillside

studded with multi-million dollar waterfront homes.  As we

swung slowly from side to side at anchor, we admired

these beautiful glass-walled mansions, imagining what

that life must be like.

Shelter Island had unexpectedly become like a second

home to us after we spent October, 2008 and half of

January 2009 parked along the streets in our fifth wheel.

So we enjoyed getting to know its other side, soaking up

its unique warmth and familiarity from the water.

Our first anchoring experience at Isla Coronado Sur on the way to San Diego had revealed that

our anchor light bulb at the top of the mast needed changing.  It took two sailors to change this

light bulb, one manning the winch (me) and one scurrying up the mast to change the

bulb (Mark).  What crazy stuff this boating life gets you into.

Being the first truly

gorgeous, sunny, warm

weekend of the summer,

the cove was soon filled

with merry-makers of

every type.  If you had

something that could

float, this was the

weekend to take it out.

We saw rubber dinghies,

sleek little sailboats, a

Hobie sailing trimaran

kayak, traditional

kayaks and even folks

who could walk on water.

These standing paddlers

are like Segway riders of

the sea.

Lots of hot shot sailors

came through the

anchorage in impossibly

large boats, weaving

between everyone under

sail power alone,

showing the world just what amazing sailing skills they

have.  It was a little unnerving when a single guy showed up in a

ketch, a sailboat with two masts and three sails, all flying.  For a

moment the bowsprit on his boat threatened to hole Groovy right

through the middle, but he turned just in the nick of time and anchored

perfectly, running his engine for less than three minutes as he

dropped the hook.

Big kids, little kids, kids who ride on boats -- all love La Playa Cove.

During this time we gradually adapted to our new life at anchor.  No

longer able to simply step ashore and walk a few paces to our truck,

we now had to get ashore by boat.  We used the kayak at first, as it is

just so much fun to run around in.  Getting into the kayak from the

back of Groovy can be tricky, since both boats move, and not always

in a synchronized manner.

Ferrying family and friends

to the boat was a new

experience too.  Since the

kayak is built for two, and

two only, each visitor had to

be brought aboard one at a

time.  And a ride in the

kayak is never a dry affair.  Wet butts, wet feet, and salty hands were the name of the

game, but it was all such a blast.

When the weekend ended Monday morning, the boats

slowly drained out of the anchorage and we headed

over to our new home base, the A9 anchorage off the

end of Harbor Island.  This anchorage is free to all non-

San Diego County residents, and you can stay for up to

90 days, renewing your 30 day permit twice.  Not quite as picturesque as

La Playa Cove, it is still a very pretty spot.  Situated behind a now-closed

paddle boat restaurant and very upscale marina, it lies between the San

Diego airport and the Navy's airbase with a great view of downtown.

There is a constant stream of planes coming and going on either side,

and boats of all sizes ply the harbor's waters.  Tankers, cruise ships,

Navy ships and sunset cruise boats come and go all day long, and

between them the pleasure boaters fly about at full speed in power boats

and at half speed in sleek sailboats.

We loved our new spot and continued to adjust to this new life on the hook.  I did a load of laundry by hand, to alleviate the huge

pile-up of dirty clothes that would require a trip ashore by boat to get to a laundromat.  We found little things that were trivial in the

fifth wheel or living at a marina, like getting groceries or disposing of garbage, now became Major Expeditions.  Every trip on or off

the boat required a kayak ride and we got used to hugging our groceries and balancing bags of trash in our laps as our legs

pushed the pedals.

Mark continued working on the

various projects he'd tackled to get

ready for long term cruising in

Mexico.  Access to the truck was

both a boon and a bust, as it needed

to be moved from Shelter Island to

Harbor Island, a distance of several

miles.  Not a big deal for the truck,

but the kayak on the other hand...

Mark's legs were sore after soloing

the kayak against wind and current

while I drove the truck around to

meet him.

Late afternoons in the cockpit were

pure heaven.  We would kick back

and watch the scene around us.

Jets arrived in regular one minute

intervals to our left, the coast guard

choppers hovered over their base

just a little further on, and the Navy

jets exploded into the skies across

the harbor on our right.  It wasn't a

tranquil anchorage, but the hum of

human activity was intoxicating in

its own way.

What a surprise it was, as we sat

there one afternoon, to see the full

moon suddenly appear above the

city skyline right in front of us.

Mother Nature still sets the stage for

all human activities, even in our

biggest cities.  It hovered and winked

over the glowing buildings, welcoming

us to our new life of boondocking on

the water.  Happily, many more

enjoyable days in San Diego's

anchorages lay ahead of us.