Are Space Heaters Safe to Use in My RV? – What You Need To Know
Well, it’s that time of year when the temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere are getting colder the further north you go and, as we all probably know, winter and RV’ing are not very compatible.
Then I got to thinkin, “Are space heaters safe to use in my RV? Are they safe for my readers to use?” Is there anything we need to worry about?
Now, I don’t use my trailer at all in the winter, ( call me a woos. I can take it), but, I know there are some hardy souls out there who do. And, as I said, RVs and winter living don’t really go together. The walls in most of them are thin (2 inches), so, there isn’t much insulation. The insulation under the floors isn’t that great either although it is a little thicker and most underbellies are sealed up these days.
Overall, you’ll be pretty scuppered (Father-in-law vernacular for “out of luck”) when it comes to keeping yourselves warm and snugly in your RVs when those temperatures start to get down towards the freezing level and beyond. (“Baby, it’s cold outside”, I’m sure you recall the song?).
I was actually thinking about using a space heater in my own RV, a travel trailer, just to keep the chill out and the air a little drier and I started to wonder, is it safe to use a space heater in your RV? If it is, what’s are some of the best space heaters (next article) to use for this purpose? Which ones should you stay away from?
The Included RV Furnace!
So, what do we do if we want to camp when it’s cold anyway? Well, let’s talk a little about that heater that comes with your RV, the one that runs on propane.
First and foremost, they do a pretty good job of heating up space in an RV, what with all the floor vents that are in most units. That’s what they are built to do. Our “Couples Trailer” is a little smaller than those used by families so, even though there are no heater vents on the floor, the heater still does the job. However, the drawback is that, on those cold nights, no matter what kind of RV you have, it’s going to use a lot of energy (propane) to keep your unit warm.
Second, they can drive you nuts on those cold nights when they keep going on and off and, on and off throughout the night. I don’t have to tell you, RV furnace fans are loud and on those cold nights they can stay on for a loooong time.
Last of all, some older motorhomes, small trailers and especially those older van conversions, don’t come with heaters unless you install one so when it gets cold, there aren’t many choices other than extra blankets Or a really good sleeping bag (or a big dog?). Hot water bottles won’t do the job either. (I can hear some of you younger folks saying, “What’s a hot water bottle?”)
Enter the Space Heater
I did some research trying to find information about the major causes of RV fires. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be much info on that specific subject. There was a lot of info around the causes of house fires but little if anything to do with RVs
However, what i did find was a little surprising. My research found that during the period of 2011 and 2015, portable as well as stationary space heaters were found to be responsible for more than two out of five (43%) home heating fires in the US and five out of six (85%) home heating fire deaths” (https://www.nfpa.org/) I had no idea that it was that high.
So, are RV’rs at a higher risk than homeowners when using space heaters? I ‘m no expert but I think the risks are about the same. I suppose it could be a little higher because RV’rs are living in a smaller space. However, I think that with proper attention to safety, at home or in our RVs, we can significantly reduce that risk.
Space heaters have been around for many years now and the technology behind them has been getting better and better. With features like tip-over switches on the bottom and other sensors, they are much safer now than they used to be.
But, how are you supposed to know which one is right for you? After all, you want it to be practical, affordable and, most of all, you want it to be safe especially if you’re travelling with children and/or pets.
Many people like to take their RVs with them when they go hunting. Around our area, that’s from September to the middle of December depending on what one goes out hunting for. It’s good to have a little extra heat after a long cold day in the woods. The ones that run on Propane are great for those Ice-fishing huts too.
At a campsite with power, an electric ceramic space heater would be a great addition on those cold nights. They come in various sizes and configurations so there are choices for everyone.
Space heaters, good ones, are quite good at providing dependable heat in an enclosed space while higher quality ones come with energy-efficient and durable components that help make them last a lot longer and they are pretty quiet as well.
I’m going to presume that you are still in the research process, trying to figure out what the best option would be for you because you’ve found this post. So Let’s discover together what I think are some of the best, and safest, space heaters for our RVs.
What About Those Safety Features?
There was a time when these units first hit the market, there were no safety features at all. I guess manufacturers thought that the consumer was pretty cautious or they probably didn’t think about the possible issues that could arise from them.
Well, things have changed a lot over the years. Due to fires and loss of life because of these devices, laws have been created that have changed the way these heaters are made and, these days, they are much safer.
Today, the better ones on the market all have auto shut off safety features that kick in if they get knocked over or even if they are lifted. There is a button that compresses under the unit. When it’s knocked over or lifted this button decompresses and shuts off the heater.
Others run on propane and have a pilot light. If the pilot goes out or the unit gets knocked over, the unit automatically shuts off.
But, there are other things we can do to increase the safety of the space heater we have chosen. And it doesn’t take very much.
- First and foremost you must read the owner’s manual and follow the safety recommendations.
- Make sure all the smoke and CO detectors are working properly and replace them at least every year. Check them before you go out for a camping trip and replace it if not working.
- Only use heaters with an auto shut off when tipped over.
- Do not use or leave a space heater running when you are not home.
- Maintain a minimum of at least 3 feet of empty space around your heater.
- Don’t allow children to play near the heater
- Make sure your heater is on a flat and solid surface.
- Make sure there is adequate ventilation. Open RV windows and roof vents. This will allow fresh air to move through the RV.
- Don’t disable any of the sensors or safety switches.
- Don’t use with extension cords. If you must, make sure the extension you use is CONSTRUCTION GRADE. That’s at least 16-gauge.
RV Electrical Wiring – Is It Adequate
Most RV electrical panels look very similar and this brings me to another thing that you need to take into consideration when purchasing a Space heater for your RV. Is the wiring in your main panel adequate? An easy way to find out what the gauge of wire is in your trailer is to ask your service technician.
Another interesting thing that I found out during my research for this article is that USA electric outlets weren’t designed to be heavy enough for the task of providing 1,500 watts continuously for hours on end. the chances are that this is the case in other countries as well so, that might be worth checking out as well.
A typical electric space heater, (lets’ use a 1500W ceramic heater), will draw about 12 1/2 AMPS. the formula to calculate that is Watts divided by Amperage + Amps. That is the first part of the puzzle.
You might think that would be just fine for a 20 Amp outlet and I would too. But, it turns out that those 20 Amp outlets are only rated for 16 Amps (80% of 20Amps) on a continuous basis. Now you’re down to a 16 Amp outlet providing 12.5 Amps.
That circuit could be using only 14-gauge wire when it should be 12-gauge (14 is thinner than 12) which would only be using a 15-amp circuit breaker. 80% of a 15-amp capacity is only 12-amps. Heater draw – 12.5-amps. The actual capacity of a 15-amp circuit breaker is 12-amps. Looks like we have a problem here. Read more about Heater safety here.
So. it would seem that the wiring could be an issue and should be checked by asking your RV service guy some questions.
You might want to sign up for the newsletter from the link I provided. It’s really good and the website is jam-packed with information about everything to do with RV’ing.
Well, we’ve covered a lot in this article and I really hope it has been helpful to you as you try to make a decision about using a space heater in your RV. Check out my next post.
Yes, there have been some issues with these but I really believe that these issues are caused more by the users NOT taking proper and adequate safety precautions when using them. Sadly some people look for short cuts and, in the end, that can and has been very costly. I repeat, VERY COSTLY. Loss of property and loss of life.
So, if you don’t get anything else out of this post, at least take away the parts about safety. We will all have a much better experience because of it. And who doesn’t want that kind of memory?
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I hope it has been a help to you and if you have any questions or other comments, please leave them in the comment section below and I will reply asap. I value your comments and won’t ignore anyone.
Happy Camping and please… be safe,
Owner and author of My Stay Home Business