An RV Heating Systems Warm Up

Contributor

Tucker Ballister

Favorite Trip

5 Months Solo on the Road

Home Base

Hendersonville, NC

Favorite RV

2008 Fleetwood Bounder

About Contributor

Tucker Ballister is our Technical Content Writer. He’s a lover of the open road and the proud owner of a 2021 Sunlite Classic travel trailer (his 3rd RV to date). Check out more of his RV adventures, gear reviews, and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.

Staying comfortable in cooler weather is much easier when RV camping versus tent camping. That’s largely due to the efficiency and effectiveness of an RV heating system regulating your trailer’s interior temperature. Climate control flexibility in an RV is one huge reason why many transition from tent to trailer life in the first place. 

If you’re new to RVing, let’s explore RV heating systems and how they work. We will also highlight some popular manufacturers and models should you ever need to replace or install a new RV heating system. 

Understanding the Types of RV Heating Systems

Gas, hydronic, and electric — these are the main RV heating system designs you’ll find in modern recreational vehicles:

LP Gas RV Furnaces

Example of LP gas furnace inside RV
Photo by Camping World

The majority of modern RVs are equipped with a propane-burning furnace. A wall-mounted thermostat typically regulates these furnaces, and propane is supplied by either an ASME tank (in most motorhomes) or DOT cylinders (in most towables). The ignition and the fans for combustion air and room air for these furnaces require 12V DC power, allowing them to operate whether you’re boondocking or connected to campground shore power. 

Suburban, Dometic, and Furrion are examples of RV furnace manufacturers. If you want to learn more about how furnaces work, explore this tutorial.

RV Hydronic Heating Systems

Control board for Truma hydronic RV heating systems
Photo by Taxa Outdoors via YouTube

The hydronic heating system for RVs utilizes a heat source to heat water that is then distributed to radiators placed throughout the RV. The heat source is typically fuel-burning, electric, or reliant on primary engine coolant. In the final case, the engine’s water pump circulates coolant through an internal heat exchanger located inside the system’s boiler.

Many RV hydronic heating systems supply interior heating, continuous hot water, in-floor heating, and engine preheating. While they’ve been around for decades, these heating systems are more common on luxury class A motorhomes and class B camper vans from manufacturers like Newmar, Tiffin, and Winnebago. 

Aqua Hot, Precision Temp, and Oasis are true hydronic heating systems for RVs. Truma and Alde are examples of hybrid RV hydronic heating systems that function well for smaller class B and C motorhomes but don’t provide the same amount of heat or hot water as the true hydronic systems.

Electric RV Heating Systems

Couple inside with demo of electric RV heating systems behind them
Photo by Camping World

Electric heating systems are a more recent development in RV design. The most common type is a wall-mounted electric fireplace, but other examples include heat strips in RV air conditioners and portable space heaters. 

Most electric fireplaces in modern RVs require 120V AC power, meaning you’ll need to be connected to shore power or a compatible RV generator. 

CONTOURE, Furrion, and Greystone are examples of electric RV fireplace manufacturers.

RV air conditioning units with an optional heating element (AKA heat pump or strips) aren’t designed to be whole RV heating solutions, but they can be useful to supplement another heating source. Like fireplaces, they require power from a pedestal or generator.

Their main drawback is that they become inefficient below 50℉ and completely ineffective below 35℉. Additionally, they only heat the living space and won’t provide heat for the basement of the belly pan, where your plumbing and holding tanks are secured. Only gas furnaces or hydronic heating systems with basement exchanges can heat those spaces.

Dometic and Furrion are examples of manufacturers of RV A/C units with heating elements.

RV-safe space heaters are the final electric option for heating your RV. They must be rated for safe use inside a recreational vehicle and require 120V AC power from a pedestal or generator. This makes them a reasonable option for supplementing a furnace or hydronic heating system, but not for heating your entire RV (in most cases). 

How Does The Heating System in an RV Work?

Technician working on RV heating systems
Photo by Camping World

Basic RV heating systems with a gas furnace provide forced air heating. A DC ignition source sparks a propane burner that heats air, and a 12V fan distributes that heated air to your RV’s interior.

Hydronic RV heating systems rely on a fuel-burning, electric, or coolant-heated source to warm water, which is then distributed to heat exchangers throughout the RV. These heating systems often provide multi-zone heating, quiet operation, and the ability to rely on campground power for fuel savings. 

Electric RV heating systems, such as fireplaces, portable space heaters, and air conditioners with heat strips, rely on 120V AC power. The exact operation depends on the design of the individual appliance manufacturer, but all require shore or generator power. 

Common RV Heating System Brands

These are some of the most popular manufacturers of RV heating systems. Others not listed below include Aqua Hot, Oasis, Precision Temp, and GE.

Suburban

Founded in 1947, Suburban RV is a leading manufacturer of LP gas RV furnaces, gas/electric and tankless water heaters, ranges, ovens, and other RV appliances. In 1998, Suburban RV became an AIRXCEL brand, joining a family that includes Aqua-Hot, MaxxAir, Dicor, and others. 

Dometic

Dometic creates various industry-leading products for RVers, boaters, and tent campers. This includes furnace thermostats, water heaters, refrigerators, and more. Today, there are more than 40,000 Dometic resellers and repair shops worldwide.

Furrion

Furrion is a Lippert brand known for innovation in creating more energy-efficient products for the RV and Marine industries. Founded in early 2006, Furrion has quickly become one of the industry’s leading electronics, appliances, and energy equipment suppliers.

CONTOURE

CONTOURE 40 Built-In Electric Heater with Fireplace Design
40″ Built-In Electric Heater with Fireplace Design

CONTOURE manufactures space-saving appliances for RV and residential use. Founded in North America, the brand has also built a reputation throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas.  

Alde

Alde Hydronic Heating System for Towables
Alde’s Hydronic Heating System for Towables Photo by Alde

Alde is one of the leading providers of hydronic heating systems for travel trailers and motorhomes. Founded in 1949, this Swedish-based company provides components to many popular RV manufacturers.  

Learn more about Alde RV heating systems.

Truma

Truma Combi Heater
Photo by Truma

The Truma company was established in 2013 with a headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana (near many leading RV manufacturers). Their RV heating systems have become popular in many compact class B RVs, and they tout their designs “backed by 75 years of German engineering.”

Learn more about Truma RV heating systems.

FAQs About RV Heating Systems

Exterior of RV Gas Furnace
Exterior of RV Gas Furnace Photo by Camping World

Let’s answer a few common questions about RV heating systems:

What is the most efficient way to heat an RV?

Modern RV furnaces are reasonably efficient, but you can minimize propane consumption by supplementing with a portable space heater, an electric fireplace, or an A/C unit with a heat strip. If you’re not paying for electricity, this is an excellent option. 

However, some RV parks monitor electrical usage at each site and charge the occupant accordingly. While this is more common for parks that offer monthly site rentals, using your furnace more than an electrical heating option will be more efficient in these cases when you factor in the cost of electricity. 

How do I know if my RV furnace is gas or electric?

Listening to your furnace’s operation is the simplest method to determine if it’s gas or electric. When you start a gas RV furnace, you’ll hear the fan come on, and the flame ignite in the burner tube several seconds later. Electric furnaces do not have any flame, so you won’t hear an audible ignition with this type of unit. 

How long will an RV furnace run on propane?

The answer depends on your furnace’s BTU rating and the degree of use. An RV furnace cycles on and off based on the electrical signals it receives from the thermostat. Your furnace will burn propane faster with colder outside temperatures and a higher thermostat setting. This video details the process for calculating how long your propane will last based on your usage.


Learning how RV systems work makes it easier for you to maintain them properly, recognize issues when they arise, and troubleshoot those issues to find solutions. Here are a few more overviews of critical RV systems: 

Do you have any lingering questions about RV heating systems? Let us know in the comments below. 

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