Propane Heaters for RV Enthusiasts


Thinking of taking that dream road trip across America? You've planned what to wear, which monuments to visit, and the best dives to eat at, but there's one important aspect of your runaway vacation you might not have considered - the heating.

Most RV enthusiasts are enthusiastic about the outdoors. Enjoying a meal al fresco requires tables, chairs, a grill, and the help of a portable propane heater.

Propane heaters are a pivotal part of the whole RV experience, so don't forget to grab yours before you start the journey. This article is designed to help you research and select one that's ideal for the recreational vehicle lifestyle.

So let's hit the road, pound some asphalt, and start by looking at the basics of propane heating, as well as other uses for that 20 pound propane tank.

What Are Propane Heaters?

These heaters are fairly simple to understand. They use our oldest and most primal method of warmth - combustion. Combustion is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel source and an oxidant (i.e. substance).

Heat is energy that is released when a compound undergoes a complete combustion with oxygen. In other words, this heating method takes propane, burns it, and converts it into heat.

How Do They Work?

The fuel in your tank is propane gas that is stored under pressure in liquid form. Propane fuel is a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining (as you can see, nothing goes to waste!).

Using a supplied or bought LP tank adaptor hose and regulator, you hook-up the propane tank directly to the heater. Simple!

The Different Types

There are two main types of propane heating systems: convection and radiant.

Convection Propane Heaters: These units naturally heat up and replace cold air, quickly warming their surroundings. Convection heat requires no fans so noise is minimized. The convection method tends to take somewhat longer to heat up than infrared units. Open flames are covered by a burner shield for protection. Convection heaters are normally free-standing units.

Convection Heater Styles

Radiant and Infrared Propane Heaters: These units use a propane tank and an attachment. A radiant heat bulb provides easily adjustable temperature and instant heat output. There are no open flames with the infrared heating method and you can usually direct heat in a specific direction.

Infrared Heater Styles

Using Propane to Cook

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The beauty of operating propane units on your excursions is that you can use that same 20 pound propane tank for cooking. This duality saves you money and is a convenient way to enjoy a clutter-free trip.

Road travelers simply play a game of detaching and reattaching the LP tank to the heater or barbeque via a certified hose and regulator set. Many units will come equipped with a proper gas regulator, but if not be sure to carefully read the owner's manual for guidance.

You aren't limited to portable barbeques either; there are propane burners that allow you to place large stew pots or pans on top. Enjoy your favorite meals while on-the-go to save time and cut down on expenses.

Using Propane to Cool or Clean

In addition to using propane heating, propane tanks are also handy for powering your refrigerator or water heater. Propane powered refrigerators offer the ease of portability thanks to a compact size. You'll want to keep drinks cold and food from spoiling, so having a portable propane refrigerator is a cost-effective idea.

Similarly, while on the road you won't always have the convenience of a shower. Most RV owners don't have a full bathroom onboard, so they rely on roadside showers, campgrounds, or nothing at all. The convenience of showering whenever you please sounds too good to be true, but with a gas water heater it's possible.

As with propane cookers, propane refrigerators and water heaters operate on the same LP tanks. Adding propane heaters to the mix is logical and beneficial to your budget.

propane cylinder

Carbon Monoxide 

There are many carbon monoxide poisoning awareness movements out there, some of which are warranted. Carbon monoxide can be seriously dangerous, sometimes resulting in fatalities. Yet, the mere fact that these heaters generate CO2 does not mean they are explicitly a health risk.

Portable units use combustion (as we already learned) to generate warmth. No matter if you are using a convection or infrared option the same CO2 concern applies.

What are CO2 Dangers?

Often several members of the same party will experience the same symptoms simultaneously - a huge tip-off that an unhealthy amount of carbon monoxide is present.

Since CO2 is odorless and tasteless, you need to rely on tell-tale signs. A number of symptoms credited to carbon monoxide poisoning include:

How Do You Get CO2 Poisoning?

Propane itself is not the culprit, rather combustion is. The combustion of any substance (i.e. wood or natural gas) will create carbon monoxide, since CO2 is a natural byproduct.

All propane appliances are designed to draw in air needed for combustion while out comes the exhaust, containing the invisible CO2 gas. Carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in the space. This is why propane refrigerators, grills, and water heaters require adherence to strict ventilation standards.

Most propane heating units are designed for outdoor use only, although there are specially-designed indoor units. As long as you follow proper ventilation standards specific to each product, you are in no danger.

Propane heating is safe outdoors and only poses a risk when improperly used in enclosed spaces. The same is true for other propane appliances.

Can I Travel with Propane On?


This heating method should never be used indoors unless otherwise specified. Thus, it is not safe to travel with propane heat on. What about my other appliances? This depends on the specifics of the appliance, but generally people ponder this when referring to refrigerators and water heaters.

It's Not Necessary

First off, unless you are going to be traveling for longer than six hours or the outside temperature is extremely high, it isn't really necessary. If the fridge has been on and the items inside for at least 24 hours (say you stopped for the day at a campsite) things should remain cold for 8 to 12 hours.

Spoilage is not instantaneous and most refrigerators are well insulated to keep the cold in.

Portable water heaters are point-of-use machines, meaning they instantly heat water as it passes through. Thus, it is not necessary to travel with your water heater on. Simply power the unit when you've stopped in an appropriate location and enjoy a hot shower within minutes.

It's a Gamble

Secondly, it's risky traveling even with ventilated propane appliances in your recreational vehicle. Although there are new OPD valves and connecting hoses, there are still chances for disaster to strike. Propane lines can break on bumpy roads or if an accident occurs.

Propane in the line could escape through a breakage, causing a fire hazard when near the pilot light, and have costly results. It is better to simply turn off the appliance and valve. Simply keep your unit disconnected and stored until you stop.

It Can Be Inconvenient

It can also be inconvenient to travel with propane on. When entering a gas station, it is required by law to have your propane unit shut-off. As no open flames are allowed, you must turn off the tank valve, as well as your appliance since pilot lights cause risks. This requires an extra-stop before fueling, an unnecessary waste of time.


Hopefully this education on propane safety hasn't scared you away from the many efficient and rewarding propane appliances. They are ansafe, effective choice and can keep you comfortableon the road. Prevention is key; having the knowledge to saves lives and property empowers you.

Propane heaters and their appliance counterparts make the RV experience whole. In order to efficiently travel you'll need convenient and cost-effective ways to keep food, cook, shower, and heat.

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