Motorhoming guru Bill Savidan shares tips on efficient ways to keep your RV cosy.
An RV interior can lose heat in many ways, one being faulty seals on doors, windows and hatches. Sorting it out may be as easy as giving the seal a clean. It may involve replacing the seal or realigning a hatch or door. Whatever it is, fixing it will help retain the heat.
RV windows are usually double-glazed and fitted with blinds and sometimes curtains, which add an insulating layer when closed. Bear in mind that heat loss through the cab windscreen can be significant, so fitting a window cover once the sun goes down is a good solution. Available to fit popular European vehicles, the covers are not expensive, and easy to fit.
Carpets provide good floor insulation, and an extra layer or two of underlay makes it even better. Underfloor heating like that in house bathrooms can be installed in RV lounges and bedrooms, where the confined space makes it very effective. Just check that the flooring material underneath the heat pad is suitable for this.
Three-way fridges are another common source of heat loss. There should be an airtight seal between the fridge and the surrounding interior cabinetry to keep cold air and fridge exhaust from entering the RV. If you have a draught in this area of your RV, get it fixed ASAP. Although the cold air coming in is a nuisance, the fridge exhaust can contain deadly carbon monoxide gas and it must be rectified before you use the RV again. Note, sealing the gap with masking tape or duct tape can be a temporary solution.
Kiwi RVs use four energy sources to power heaters: LPG (liquified petroleum gas), diesel, electricity and combustible materials (wood or fuel pellets).
In New Zealand LPG is ahead of diesel as the most popular fuel for cooking, water heating and space heating. Both are used widely, both are considered safe and both are economical, diesel costing a little less to run.
LPG underfloor space heaters are the least expensive space heaters to purchase. However, they have drawbacks. In operating mode the fans are noisy, and they switch on and off continuously to maintain the selected room temperature. They also deplete the house battery (around 1.5 amps/hr) because their heater control systems and fan are 12V DC powered. More sophisticated gas heaters like the Truma VarioHeat and Combi models replicate the best features of diesel heaters, and have a variety of fan settings that accurately maintain the room temperature.
Like all LPG appliances, these heaters must be installed and signed off by an appropriately qualified gas fitter, which rules out DIY installations. For safety reasons LPG cylinders must be turned off while the vehicle is underway, so the heaters are out of service while you’re travelling.
Diesel fuel heaters, on the other hand, can be kept running as you drive. Leaking diesel, unlike LPG, is not a significant fire hazard because it is so difficult to ignite. This characteristic requires a more complicated heater lighting procedure so that the flame remains burning the whole time the heater is switched on. To maintain the selected temperature, the flame intensity varies, and so does the fan speed. It is this variable speed fan that makes the diesel heater quieter than the LPG. It also supplies the heat more evenly. Diesel heaters can be fitted by tradespeople or DIY, and do not need an installation certificate. Diesel supply can be the vehicle fuel tank, or a separate tank (up to 10 metres from the heater) can be installed in petrol-motored RVs or caravans.
Electric heaters are carried in most RVs for use when 230V power is available. Another option for warming up the bed at night is the good old electric blanket. These can draw power from the house battery through a pure sine wave inverter as well as from 230V grid power. A typical 150W electric blanket will use a maximum of around 12.5amps/hr, so 30 minutes to warm the bed, say 7amps/hr, is not a significant drawdown on the battery. Before you do this, check with an electrician that the house battery and inverter are up to the job.
Wood stoves are not common now and are mostly found in older, larger bus conversions and house trucks that have room for them and the wood or pellet supply. New wood heaters are still available. Some are a work of art and they give the heartstrings a nostalgic tug but, because of size limitations and for safety reasons, they are impractical for most modern motorhomes.
Those who stay put over winter could consider fitting a skirt to all four sides of their RV. It stops the cooling effect of wind blowing underneath the RV. Skirts can be made from vinyl fabric, plywood sheets or styrofoam boards.
And it’s a good idea to have a hot water bottle per person on board in case all else fails – they’re cheap, easy to use and surprisingly effective at keeping you warm.