How do frugal fulltimers keep their rigs warm


photo: R&T De Maris

Discussions between future and new fulltimers often revolve around how-much-does-it-cost. And, of course, that’s all relative to your personal lifestyle, necessities of life, how much you already have, and what excesses are a vital part of your lifestyle.  In the end it comes down to how well you control your expenses without sacrificing too much, such as the question of how do you heat your rig – with actual heat or with multiple blankets, for instance. 

Being a full-timer allows you the freedom to “travel with the sun.” Sure enough, you’ll find lots of full-timers heading south as winter rolls in. Mexico for some — that’s a lovely place; but for those who must (or want to) stay stateside, those Sunbelt states are a good place to “hole up” when the geese start flying.

But staying warm is important. Even in Quartzsite, you can wake up with below-the-freezing-mark temps in the deep end of winter, as recent events have shown. Happily, as Sol tracks across the sky, daytime temperatures rise up. But you’ve seen the news lately — those nasty fuel prices aren’t going to hit just our tow vehicles — you can expect the price of ALL heating fuels will increase. What’s to be done?

Many RVers have found that the efficiency of their factory-provided RV furnaces is far from wallet friendly. If you fire up that RV furnace and stick your hand anywhere close to the outside breather port, you’ll know an awful lot of your heating budget is flying outside. That’s just the nature of the beast. So consider retiring your furnace and using a localized heat source in your rig — either a catalytic or “blue flame” style heater.

“Cat” heaters use a specially treated catalytic “bed” or mat that allows heat to be produced from propane flamelessly. They’re highly efficient, and most are equipped with a sensor that shuts them off if the oxygen levels in the RV become low enough to be of safety concern. They use no electricity — a real plus for boondockers. However, most cat heaters are adjustable only to the degree of “high, medium, and low,” meaning you set them and they run continuously — they can be too hot or too cold.

“Blue flame” style heaters don’t have a catalytic bed, but have a burner, the flames of which can usually be seen, kind of like a mini-fireplace. Some of these have a completely adjustable thermostat that will “turn off and on” to accommodate a steady room temperature. A close cousin, “brick” heaters don’t have burners, per se, but have one or more ceramic blocks with tiny orifices. Some are completely adjustable, others like cat heaters are high, medium, low guys. You pay your money and take your choice.

In any event, all these fellows are “air breathers.” Always follow the safety instructions that come with the product. That usually means cracking a window to provide plenty of ventilation. And since these are not “outside vented” they will put humidity into your RV. If you’re staying in high-humidity country, you’ll have to take actions to contend with this. Down in the desert areas, the added humidity to some is a side benefit.