How to Keep Warm in Your RV During Cold Weather
Older RVs and Cold Weather
The problem with RVs is that they are generally not designed for cold weather. A thin-walled vehicle, full of crevices and cracks, exposed on all sides to chilly winds, can be less than cozy.
Oh sure, motorhomes have had propane furnaces in them for decades, but the older ones are not very effective when the outside temperature drops low, mostly because older RVs are not as well insulated as some newer models.
So, if you want to travel into the more northern climates of the US, especially in the winter, you need to make the appropriate preparations to help your older RV keep you comfortable.
How to Stay Warm in an RV
Here are my suggestions for staying warm in an older, poorly insulated RV.
- Spend time finding and plugging air leaks in your vehicle.
- Use window covers, shades, and rugs to add to your insulation.
- Maintain your furnace and turn it down at night.
- Use your heat pump instead of your furnace on coolish nights.
- Wear warm clothing, especially on your feet.
- Use electric blankets and a ceramic heater to deliver heat where you need it most.
Temporary Fixes for RV Air Leaks
Before you start wondering what to do to make your furnace work better, take the time to seal your RV well and prevent air leaks. It is a little silly to have a furnace blasting heat into your RV if the heat is immediately leaking to the outside world.
The first thing to do is take a good inventory of your RV, and inspect all the slides, windows, and door seals.
The rubber seals and gaskets around your windows, doors, and slides should be maintained and lubricated regularly. If they have deteriorated too much, they should be repaired or replaced.
Cracked and hard seals will not keep out the elements. They are probably letting cold air into your RV, in all those places where you can see that the fit is not perfect.
Once you have taken care of the gasket and seal problems you can see on the outside of your RV, make a thorough check for air leaks on the inside.
If your RV feels drafty, find the spot where cold air is coming into it. The leak is often something that can be fixed with a little silicone rubber, or maybe a little strategically placed spray-foam insulation. Or you can use insulated "snakes" (see below) or painter's tape.
Insulated "Snakes" to Keep Out Cold Air
One of the things that we used in our older RV was a couple of those insulated "snakes" that you will find in places like WalMart.
They are yard-long stuffed cloth tubes, usually about four inches in diameter. They are often sold to be placed along the bottom of the door of your house, to stop the cold air from entering. They are cheap, and work well to plug the small spaces under the doors of RVs.
I picked up several of these a few years ago and they work great for me. I stuff them along the bottom of my RV door and block out the cold air that seeps in on those cold winter nights. I figure they paid for themselves the first cold spell we experienced, one winter in Orlando that lasted four weeks.
Painter's Tape to Keep Out Cold Air
Another quick temporary fix is the use of painter's tape.
You can buy this tape at your local hardware store. It's like ordinary tan masking tape but has one great advantage: the glue won't stick to the surface when you pull it off, even after several days or weeks.
If you are going to be in a campsite for several days, and you have a bad cold air draft behind a cabinet or appliance, place some of this painter's tape over the spot and get immediate relief.
And when you hit the road, the tape will come off later easily, without leaving any residue.
Using Curtains, Window Shades, and Rugs as Insulation
Cold air circulating around your windows and under your vehicle's floor will steal your heat.
Curtains and Shades
If you have Day-Night shades and windshield window shades, as almost all RVs do, you should keep them closed.
Even if you do not have thermal-pane windows in your RV, closing the shades will trap an added layer of air between the window and the shade that aids in the overall insulation of your RV interior.
Another thing you should do is place throw rugs in the central parts of your RV floor where you walk the most often. These rugs, placed in the heaviest traffic areas of your RV, can shield your feet from the cold and often uninsulated floors of a camper.
Using Your RV Furnace to Advantage
Keep your RV furnace in tip-top condition. Read your owner's manual, and perform any required preventative maintenance on your furnace regularly. A furnace can waste a lot of propane if it is not kept in good shape.
You should also be realistic with your furnace temperature setting.
At night, just before going to bed, we set our furnace to a very low temperature of around 52-54° F.
Our reasoning is that while we are sleeping, the furnace only needs to keep the temperature of the RV at an acceptable base level for lying in bed under the covers.
When we get up in the morning, we immediately turn the furnace temperature up to around 63-64°. The furnace will run for eight to ten minutes, and then the RV will be at a comfortable temperature for moving around and starting your morning.
This procedure not only saves us significant money on propane costs, but it eliminates a lot of noise (propane furnaces are notoriously loud), and it doesn't dry out our RV and our sinuses nearly as badly as it would if we ran the furnace at a high temperature all of the time.
The air conditioners on the roof of our RV are the heat-pump type, which can do either cooling and heating, and we save a lot of money using them strategically. A heat pump works pretty efficiently down to about 40° F. So on nights that are cool but not near freezing, we run the heat pump, instead of our propane furnace, to heat the room to a base temperature of 52 to 54° F. This saves us a lot of money over the winter.
Wear Warm Clothes
The proper warm clothes are the next layer of cold management you should address. The right clothes will improve your comfort level dramatically.
Here are some tips we have learned for dressing inside in a cold climate:
- Keep a pair or two of warm sweatpants and a sweatshirt in your RV. They are not only useful when outside, but they can also keep you nice and cozy when sitting around inside the RV.
- Wear socks when inside. Don't walk around on your cold floor barefoot. The socks will not only make your feet feel warm, but they will block most drafts from affecting your feet.
- A pair of bedroom slippers is also good to wear in your RV on a cold night.
- And, of course, when you go to bed, wear some pajamas.
Try an Electric Blanket
An electric blanket can end up being your favorite accessory in your RV on a cold night.
You will remember that I recommended that you set your furnace down pretty low at night when you go to bed. Well, with a good electric blanket on your bed at night you can be very comfortable and sleep well even when the space heater cannot keep the air temperature very high.
The electric blanket is your third level of comfort control equipment, and once you use it a couple of times, you will never do without one again, on a cold night.
And a good, dual-control electric blanket will save you electricity and propane on those cold nights.
Try a Ceramic Electric Space Heater
One option I cannot stress too highly is the purchase of a good ceramic space heater.
The purpose of having a space heater is to bring up the inside temperature in part of the RV a few degrees above the base level provided by the propane furnace.
This space heater should be your second level of heating. It will be cheap to operate, and it will provide a steady heat in the small section of the RV that you are using throughout the day. Place it in the living area during the day, and in the bedroom area during the night.
Get a space heater that meets the following requirements:
- Small footprint. Storage space is always to be considered when purchasing anything for an RV.
- A ceramic design, as this type has a better safety record than older open-element types.
- A built-in sensor that will turn the heater off if it is ever kicked over.
- A multi-speed fan for adjusting the amount of heat it puts out.
- A removable filter that can be easily cleaned and replaced when it becomes clogged with dust and dirt.
One of these heaters can make a big difference in a room's temperature, and it will keep the furnace from cutting on nearly as often as it would if you did not use one.
Of course, these space heaters are no use if you are rough camping without electricity, but in a campground with electrical hookup it can be a very efficient tool for keeping your RV comfortable.
In summary, if you are going to be RVing in a cold climate, whether for only a couple of days or for a week or more, prepare for it, and attack the cold efficiently.
And, if necessary, be prepared to use these tips for improving your RV comfort level.
You will enjoy your travels a lot more!
Common Questions on Your RV Furnace
What's a BTU?
A British Thermal Unit, a measure of energy or heat. One 4-inch kitchen match when burned completely will generate 1 BTU of heat.
© 2009 Don Bobbitt