We spend many nights per year in our travel trailer without a connection to shore power. In fact, this is one of our favorite ways to camp. This makes us rely on our preparedness and the systems in the travel trailer that can be run off grid vs the always being plugged in having every comfort of home feeling. RV’ers call this boondocking, and we are a fan, a big one. Our longest boondock trip was 9 days. We did however have a generator to keep the batteries topped off as nights were almost freezing and we had a 1 year old infant on the trip. We were able to stay warm and enjoy the early spring weather in Glacier without any worry.
Will a RV furnace run on battery? Yes, the furnace will run on batteries. Heat is actually produced from propane, but the blower fan runs on battery. The typical furnace will draw about 8 amps of power. It is a good idea to have solar or generator power to supplement the charging of your batteries when not connected to shore power.
The 12 volt battery system in your RV runs many of your electronics on your Camper, RV, or Travel Trailer. It is easier to explain what it does not run, typically your 12 volt system will not run your a/c, TV, or any other 120 volt plug in items located in your trailer.
The 12 volt system will run the blower on your furnace to allow you to heat your RV while you are off grid. Propane gas is used to fuel the furnace and the 12 volt fan blows the heated air around your coach.
How long Will a 12 volt battery run a heater?
The furnace in your travel trailer will run without being hooked up to electric as long as you have appropriate battery power. For example, lets say you have 2 12v 100 amp hour batteries providing 200 amp hours. Typically, you are not supposed to draw down over 50% of capacity on lead acid batteries giving you 100 amp hours of usable capacity. A typical blower fan uses 8 amp hours. If there is no other draw on your batteries, you can expect your heater to run continuously for about 12.5 hours.
Even though this looks like a small amount, your heater is never on 100% of the time. Lets say it only runs for 20 minutes every hour to keep your coach heated, it would last 37.88 hours between standby time and running 20 minutes per hour.
This number still may not be accurate as you may set your thermostat back at night, or turn your heat off when you are not in your trailer or off on a hike.
Looking at a third scenario, let’s say you only use the heater at night for 8 hours. Under the same parameters of 20 minutes per hour, your trailer would use 105.6 amp hours over 5 days. Now you can see how this time can be extended greatly. It is almost impossible to calculate how long your batteries will actually last because there are so many variables: outdoor temperature, desired indoor temperature, amp draw of furnace motor, size of RV, insulation used in RV, solar heat gain, etc.
For a good rule of thumb, if you are planning on going camping over 3 days if you have 2 healthy 12 volt batteries, plan on another way to charge your batteries if you are in need of heat such as solar or a generator. Drawing your batteries down past 50% will cause permanent damage.
If you extend your amp hours available in your battery by buying larger 12 volt batteries or upgrading to 2 6 volt batteries, you can gain some additional heating power.
How to heat an RV without propane?
If you do have access to shore power or a generator, always bring along an electric heater to supplement your furnace or even take the place. At night you may need to just run a small electric heater in your bedroom to keep one area of the trailer heated and not run the whole furnace wasting propane on unnecessary spaces.
When we are boondocking and we need to charge our batteries, we plug the heater in to gain some heat without using propane. This is better than using propane as the generator does not charge the batteries at as high of a rate as the motor on the furnace will use. Obviously, we will use more fuel on the generator by working it harder, but not by much.
If you position your RV to get direct sunlight in the fall, winter, and spring, you can take advantage of natural light to help heat your RV as well as provide free lighting within. In the summer, you would want to do the opposite and avoid natural light to keep the heat out of your rig.
10 Tips to make your batteries last longer while running your furnace
There are several ways to make your heating power last longer when you are boondocking or not connected to shore power. This ranges from easy items such as turning your heat down to more expensive items such as installing solar.
Set your Thermostat Back at Night
Typically sleeping in a cooler environment provides a better sleep, also while sleeping you gain warmth from blankets or sleeping bags while camping. Try setting your thermostat back at night to whatever you feel comfortable with in order to save battery power.
Turn your Heat off when not in trailer
While you are off on an adventure, make sure you turn your heater and other devices off as to not use battery power when you are gone.
Buy Higher Amp Hour Batteries
Higher amp hour batteries will tend to last longer than cheap batteries you that come with your RV or that you can buy over the counter at a parts store. Here are our top high amp hour batteries compared.
Manually turn your thermostat on when you need heat and off when you are up to temperature
Your body may feel heated, but your thermostat may say it is time for heat. When we really want to save battery power from running our heater, we manually turn the heater on to heat up the RV, after it is heated, we manually turn it off. This keeps the heater from cycling when we are still feeling warm in our trailer as to not keep heating unnecessarily when we are actually warm for the time being.
Make sure your Ductwork connected properly
While winterizing our RV, we found out one of our heating ducts was not actually hooked up. Here is an after picture of hooking it up to the louvers. We were getting heat out of the unit, but it was also circulating heat behind our cabinets and water heater first. If you want to install an additional duct, follow our how to guide.
Always make sure to wear multiple layers so you are warm and can dial back the thermostat to keep your heater usage down as much as possible.
Position RV to get maximum direct sunlight
You would be surprised on how much heat you can get even in the winter if you are positioned in direct sunlight. We recently visited our RV in storage in February when the temperature was about 45 and sunny, and the RV was surprisingly warm.
Insulate areas in your RV
There may be areas where the factory skimped on insulation on your RV, we have found a few areas ourselves in our trailer such as the floor on the slide out or under the folding part on our murphy bed which goes into the passthrough storage. We purchased some closed cell foam insulation to add to keep our heat in and the cold out. Also, insulating your vent covers will keep a lot of heat in.
Install Solar to keep your batteries charged
Keeping your batteries topped off can be accomplished with some rooftop or suitcase solar. If you have about 200 watts solar, you may start off the morning recharging your batteries at 2-3 amp hours and in the afternoon you may see 4-5 depending on the sun. If your fan uses 8 amp hours and you use it for 2 hours per day, you may need 4 hours of sunlight to recharge it depending on the conditions. We installed this solar kit and it has worked great! If you want to learn more about solar, read our guide on how much you will need.
Bring a generator to keep batteries charged
We use our generator to keep our batteries topped off when we are out boondocking. Typically we have to run it 1-2 hours using the onboard charger to fill up our batteries per day. We camp in popular campgrounds and like to enjoy the quiet outdoors, so we plan on upgrading to solar to get rid of the constant generator sound. We have a 2,000 watt generator that powers everything we need besides the a/c. Learn more about the top generators we recommend.
More ways to stay heated in the winter.
If you are still looking for ways to stay heated, read our post on the top tips to keep warm in your RV or travel trailer in the winter.
Are RV Furnaces Gas or Electric?
RV furnaces are gas which is supplied by electric to run the fan to blow the hot air around. The only electric heat in a camper would be either from a heat pump, heat strip in your a/c unit, or from a plug in electric heater.
If buying a new RV, it will most likely come with a ducted furnace that uses both propane gas and electricity. A ducted furnace is similar to the A/C system in your house. There is a control panel that controls the heat and air. The air flows through air vents located on the floor and/or ceiling. The propane heats the furnace while the electricity turns on the furnace and makes the fan move to circulate the heat. There are many benefits to this type of furnace. It warms the entire RV quickly and the basement part of the RV. This is beneficial because, on cold nights, the furnace will prevent the water and sewer hook-ups and pipes from freezing.
Another benefit is that this type of furnace has an external vent, so that moisture does not build-up within the cabin. One downside to this furnace is that it uses a lot of propane. If you run out of propane the furnace will not work, even though it’s hooked up to electricity.
Tip: Always run on one propane tank if you have dual tanks instead of both. Therefore, if you run out in the middle of the night you can switch the tank over on the regulator and get propane in the morning. If you pull from both tanks, when you run out you will not have any reserve propane to keep you heated until you can refill.
If you have an older RV, then you most likely have a non-ducted furnace. This is an older style of furnace. This furnace isn’t as efficient as the newer ones and just run propane. They really use up propane. There is no central control panel or floor/ceiling vents. There is only one square vent that supplies heat to the entire cabin. Generally, these have a more difficult time heating the entire RV, especially if it is large. Also, if you have a custom-built RV with no A/C or heat system, then you can have a non-ducted furnace installed.
It is recommended for furnaces to be serviced once a year. You will need to take the RV to a mechanic and not service it yourself. Furnaces can be dangerous since you are dealing with gas and electricity, you have to be cautious so they do not catch fire or explode.
Do RV furnaces have filters?
All furnaces, ducted and non-ducted, do not have filters. Since these furnaces run on propane, and some with both propane and electric, there is no filter because it could catch fire. You need to keep all ducts clean for the air to flow and to prevent over-heating.
To keep the ducts clean, you must make sure items are not covering the floor and/or ceiling vents. Many people put a trash can in front of a wall vent or the return vent unknowingly, it must be moved. Also, check the outside vent to make sure nothing is blocking it and clean it periodically. Many times, bugs or spiders like sit in this vent.
If a spider gets in this vent, they will spin a web that blocks the air from venting. This could also create a potential fire or cause the propane to release back into the cabin of the RV. If you ever smell the propane, shut the propane valve off immediately. This could mean that there is a leak somewhere or a blockage. This is very dangerous and could create a fire, an explosion, or cause dire health risks. A good tip is to purchase a carbon monoxide detector for the cabin.
Another good tip is to vacuum all vent covers inside the cabin, i.e. the vents on the floor and ceiling. By vacuuming, it will remove all dust build-up, hair build-up (especially if you have a dog or cat with you), or anything that could be blocking the ventilation.
Also, it is a good idea to vacuum around the furnace itself. The vent cover that hides the unit is easy to remove. Once removed, vacuum around the unit but be careful to not disturb the unit. There is most likely the same dust and hair build-up around the unit like what is in the cabin vents.
If you would like to have your furnace pulled out, checked, and deep cleaned, always take it to a licensed technician. As said previously, they can be dangerous if handled improperly.
Do RV furnaces run on electricity?
Yes, RV furnaces will run while you are plugged into electric. Your furnace will still run off of your 12 volt power, but your batteries will be charged from your on board charger. If you do have access to electricity, it may be a better benefit to invest in a small heater like the one we recommend on our page about how to keep your RV heated in the winter.
What is the best electric heater for a RV?
We prefer an electric heater that uses a fan to circulate the air in your trailer. Another important feature is to find a heater with a thermostat and not just high, medium, and low settings. You may wake up with the RV too hot as it is not self controlling. We like this model as it fits our criteria.
Is 1 12v battery enough to power a RV furnace?
Yes, 1 12v battery would be enough to power an RV furnace, but it would be better to have two. If your one battery has 100 amp hours, you can safely draw it down to 50% or 50 amp-hours. This would give your RV 6.25 hours of heater runtime without any other draws to spread over the days of your trip.
Helpful Products Mentioned in this Article:
An electric heater with a thermostat will work wonders by giving you constant heat while plugged in at a campsite.
Upgrading to Lithium Batteries will extend the time you can run your heater as they have much more usable capacity than Lead Acid. They also run better in the cold than Lead Acid. 1 Lion Energy UT1300 will give you more power than two 100 amp-hour Lead Acid batteries.
Insulating your vents will provide a lot more heat retention as they are cheap plastic with no insulation factor.
A solar kit like our favorite here will keep your batteries charged in the winter giving you peace of mind that you will not run out of battery.
If you are not into solar, a generator that is remote start can greatly improve your cold-weather camping. You can start it in the morning to make your coffee without stepping foot outside in the cold!
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