Campers

Do PopUp Campers Have Heaters?

A pop-up camper heater is an essential facility for temperature control inside the cabin when the outside temperature drops below 0. 

Do PopUp Campers Have Heaters? Yes, pop-up campers have heaters installed to warm the cabin during the winter season. The latest designs have already installed heaters that can work on both electric power and propane fuel. The selection of the heater’s feasible rating depends on the cabin area and climate conditions in the camping area. 

Do PopUp Campers Have Heaters?

Pop-up campers are the compact, economical, and slightly less facilitated substitute of modern RVs. However, people do modifications in pop-up campers according to their requirements, and you will find almost all facilities in them for a camping experience.

You will find this basic amenity installed in almost all pop-up campers. People retrofit their previous canvas/tented pop-up campers with electric or propane space heaters.

Other options can be portable heater/air conditioner combos, catalytic heaters, or some even use wood fire furnaces to keep their room warm. 

We will discuss various heater options, their installation and operational cost, safety features, and other related aspects for a convenient camping experience during the winter season.  

Comparison chart of electric and gas heater for Pop-Up Camper 

Features Electric Heater Gas Heater
Power Source AC power source/rechargeable batteries Propane as fuel
Heating element Resistive/ceramic element Propane Burner
Initial Cost Lower Comparatively Higher
Operational Cost Higher Lower
Forced Air Circulation Yes Yes
Portable Yes Yes
Safe for Inside Use Yes Yes

Electric Heater for Pop-Up Camper

Electric heaters are compact, portable, and easy to install and use. You need to purchase the one having appropriate capacity, plug it into the power source and enjoy the cozy environment in your pop-up camper. We will discuss important aspects of portable electric heaters one by one.

Design

Electric heaters are simple and inexpensive ones to use in a pop-up camper. The primary component of an electric heater is a heating element, also known as a filament.

According to the heater’s power rating, it is a resistive element that comes in various sizes and shapes.

Mostly they are wire wounds with a piece of high resistance wire wrapped around a ceramic or insulating material in a cylindrical shape with high temperature withstanding capacity. 

The second part of the electric heater is an adjustable thermostat with a temperature settings range. It has a thermocouple or any temperature sensor installed that disconnects the heater’s power supply as soon as room temperature reaches a set point.

The optional third part is a blower fan to distribute the heat evenly in your cabin. You will find it in front of the heating element to suck air and throw it inside the room.

All electric heaters don’t have this forced fan circulation of heat. Another term for such heaters is oscillating heaters that use a forced fan circulation to better distribute the heat in the cabin area instead of localized heating. It improves the efficiency of the unit. 

Working Principle

The resistive element is a wire of high resistance. As electric current passes through it, its temperature increases as electrical energy dissipate in the form of heat. Therefore, electric heaters draw huge currents.

Power Rating

The electric heaters’ power rating is measured in watts or kilowatts and indicates the resistive filament’s heating capacity. You have to select the heater according to the cabin area and camping site’s temperature during the winter season. 

Typical ratings of portable electric heaters are in the range of 1000-1500 watts for pop-up campers.

Higher the rating, the higher the power requirement and massive power source you needed. Therefore, keep in mind the availability of healthy power sources, mostly shore power.

You can use 2 heaters if a single heater is unable to control the room temperature.

Power Source

Primary power sources in a pop-up camper are deep cycle batteries, rechargeable on solar panels. Their numbers can vary from one model to another or according to owner requirements.

However, these batteries are not sufficient to operate an electric heater for a longer duration. Therefore you need a shore power supply to run electric heaters in snowy weather when sunlight is not available. That is available when you dwell at a campground or boondocking.

Power Consumption

You can measure an electric heater’s power consumption in terms of kilowatt-hours (kWh). It changes according to the heater’s usage time, power rating, outside temperature, and thermostat settings. 

Cost

Portable electric heaters with heating filament are pretty much inexpensive. Their typical price range is $40-50 for the one having 1500 watts power rating.

However, they are expensive in terms of operational costs. It can vary from 15-20 cents per hour according to the camping area’s electricity tariff. 

Safety Measures

Electric heaters are safe to operate as compared to gas ones. However, the presence of heat dictates to be extra cautious to avoid the risk of fire in the pop-up camper. Here are few safety measures to prevent any mishap.

● Use power outlets of sufficient rating according to the heater wattage and amperage. Otherwise, they will end up melted and burnt out.

● Electric heaters of 1-1.5 kilowatt rating draw about 12-17 amperes current. Therefore, use circuit breakers of suitable rating to avoid excessive tripping.

● A tip-over switch is a relatively new safety feature to detect any tilt in the heater’s orientation. It senses as soon as the heater falls from its recommended position and turns it off. It reduces fire risk due to the heater’s falling on flammable surfaces like clothes, wood, or plastic material.  

● Overtemperature protection is a feature to ensure the safety of the heater. If the heater is of lesser capacity and unable to reach the setpoint, it can burn itself. This protection turns off the heater if the resistive element’s temperature goes above the material’s threshold limit.  

● Circuit breakers of proper rating are essential for short circuit protection. As soon as the circuit current goes uncontrolled, the breaker trips the circuit, and the power supply to the heater turns OFF.

Gas Heaters in Pop-up Camper

It is a heater that uses natural gas or propane as fuel, and the resulting heat of combustion keeps the pop-up camper warm. It is also known as a propane heater.

The core heating element of a propane heater is a burner with a pilot igniter. You can connect the burner with a propane cylinder via a pressure regulator.

The function of a pressure regulator is to control the pressure of gas fed to the burner. You can change the pressure setting to increase or decrease the burner flame. The Rotary valve on the cylinder cap controls the quantity of propane to the heater. 

ON/OFF switch of the heater will turn ON the pilot igniter to start the burner operation. You will find a limited range of temperature settings on the thermostat installed on the heater or inside the cabin. Its function is not accurate as that of an electric heater.  

You will also find a 12V DC fan working on battery in some designs to blow the hot air in the vehicle.

A filament gauze above the burner increases the burning area of propane and uniform heat dispersal in the cabin.

First, connect the heater with a propane cylinder and turn on the valve nicely and slowly; otherwise, propane can freeze due to the evaporation of gas as a result of sudden expansion through the nozzle of the cylinder. Next, turn the heater switch to the ON position. 

Rotate the thermostat knob to desired settings, and you hear the heater blower fan turned ON. It will clear any unburnt propane fumes before actual ignition that starts at the burner after 30 seconds. You can see the blue flame through a peephole.

The color of the fire is an indicator of complete combustion and the health of the heater. After a minute, the propane heater’s filament gauze turns amber, which indicates the start of the heating operation.

You will find the heating capacity of propane heaters on its nameplate as BTU per hour. BTU stands for British thermal unit. Typical ratings are in the range of 10,000-30,000 BTU. You can calculate it according to the size of a pop-up camper and climatic conditions outside. 

A general rule of thumb is to have 20-30 BTU to heat a square foot of enclosed area. Therefore, a pop-up camper with 400 square feet covered area will require a propane heater of 8000-12000 BTU heating capacity. 

Source Fuel

Propane is the most common fuel that people use for gas heaters. These campers have distinctive fireproof cabinets to store 20lb propane cylinders. You can access them from outside the vehicle due to safety purposes. 

It is popular due to its good heating efficiency and cheaper costs.

Fuel Consumption

1 lb of propane gives a heat amount of about ~20,000 BTU. A propane heater of 10,000 BTU will consume ½ lbs in one (1) hour of continuous operation. But the heater’s usual operation will not be nonstop as it turns OFF as soon as it achieves the set temperature on the thermostat. 

This calculation is an indication of low fuel consumption and inexpensive operation of the propane heater. 

Cost

They are a bit expensive in comparison to electric heaters, but their operational cost is low. A propane heater of 10,000BTU per hour heat rate has a price range of $140-$200 for different brands and variants. 

Associated Risks and Safety Measures

You should handle propane gas with due care to avoid any mishap or fire incident. Here are few safety-related instructions for the usage of propane heaters.

● Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless toxic gas and causes death if inhaled. Therefore, you should install a CO detector near the heater to raise the alarm in case of excessive amounts. 

● Propane is a flammable material, and its leakage is a risk of fire. It is also odorless gas, and you need to install a combustible gas leakage detector to identify its presence in the cabin.

● Propane heaters need oxygen to complete the combustion process. Therefore, a supply of fresh air or vent availability will serve the purpose and prevent oxygen shortage. Install a sensor to detect the lack of oxygen levels in the room.

● The presence of combustible fuel and its burning poses a risk of fire. You can prevent it by appropriately fitting gas pipes, portable fire extinguishers, and a fire detection system by installing smoke detectors.

● Like electric heaters, these propane heaters also have tip-over protection to turn off the heater in case of any disorientation. 

Space Heater

They are portable heaters of limited capacity to heat a small area. They come in various types and designs with electric power, propane, natural gas, and even wood as fuels. Their usage is limited to 1500 watts in the USA.

In the case of electric versions, you need AC power or a generator to fulfill power requirements. They are portable and don’t require any installation. The latest designs have readily available tip-over shutoff protection to avoid the risk of fire.

Water Heater

It consists of a water boiler, circulation pipes, a pump, a radiator, and a blower. The electric pump circulates the hot water from the boiler to the radiator pipes.

Heat exchange occurs at the radiator surface as air passes over the tubes. The blower throws the warm air into the cabin.

It needs propane fuel in the boiler and electric power to run the water pump and blower fan. It is a bit expensive in terms of installation and initial cost. Moreover, it needs more space and plumbing options for its installation. 

Steam Heaters

It is similar to water heaters, except it has steam as a heat transfer medium rather than hot water. They require more fuel to produce steam. Other features are similar to that of water heaters. 

Air Conditioner with Hot/Cool Options

Portable air conditioners with both heat and cool options are available, and you can easily install them in a pop-up camper. Typical ratings are 2000BTU-2500BTU and low power consumption as compared to electric heaters.

Their price can be on the higher side, between $500 to $600, but it is a one-time investment. They have a safer and quieter operation than gas and electric heaters because there is no combustion or heating element involved. Moreover, it will condense the moisture inside the cabin and dehumidify the air.

Catalytic Propane Heaters

They are propane heaters with no combustion. A chemical reaction between propane and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst produces heat. It requires no electrical input for heating or ignition of fuel.

They are small in size, and power ranges from 5000BTU-15000BTU according to the cabin’s size and climatic conditions. The absence of combustion reduces the risk of fire.

Its disadvantages include the shortage of oxygen in the area, and it produces moisture in the cabin as water is a by-product of chemical reactions taking place. Therefore, you should use a low oxygen detector to avoid suffocation.

Wood Fire Furnace

It is a seldom-used primitive level, low-cost option. You can use an insulated shielding box to contain the fire. Use an air vent to ensure the continuous oxygen supply inside the pop-up camper.

You should install flue pipes in the fireplace to exhaust the produced gases and smoke. But it is not a wise option due to CO2, CO, smoke, and fire risk. 

Ceramic Heaters

They are electric heaters with fan-forced circulation to distribute heat in the cabin. Their only difference is a ceramic filament to produce heat. They have low initial costs in the $20-$40 range according to power output in range 1000-1500 watts.

Ceramic is better than resistive filament in an electric heater with less fire risk if something comes in contact with the filament. Moreover, they are efficient and require less amount of electrical energy to operate.

Is there any Central Heating System Available at Campgrounds?

Due to the large camping area and the varying number of campers, a central heating system is expensive. It also requires a significant infrastructure for efficient heat distribution through pipes.

Therefore, campgrounds don’t have any heating facility to avail for campers. However, a designated place can usually be available for centralized campfires to enjoy heat during the winter season.

Are Portable Heaters Safe for a Pop-up Camper?

Modern portable space heaters, whether electrical or propane, have adequate safety features to ensure their useability inside the enclosed areas.

Therefore, they are pretty much safe for use inside the camper. However, handle them with due care as there are risk factors due to flammable materials. 

Tips to prevent heat leakage from pop-up campers

● Repair any holes in the canvas sides to prevent heat loss in winter.

● Weak thermal insulation of the sidewalls and windows causes heat to transfer outside the cabin. Therefore use double-layered thermally insulated plastic glass on windows.

● Only heaters will not be sufficient in temperatures below 0, so you can use sleeping bags to further thermally insulate yourself.

● Use of Reflectix thermal insulation on windows to avoid heat transfer.

● Use of reflective solar bunk end covers on the rooftop to prevent heat loss inside the cabin during a heater is working.

● Keep your camper in sunlight during day time to keep it warm.

● Avoid unnecessary opening/closing of doors and windows to prevent heat loss.

Conclusion

In the limited space of a camper, you don’t need to purchase expensive heaters or furnaces to keep it warm during the winter seasons.

Portable space heaters working on electric power or propane gas with plug-and-play arrangements are the most feasible and economical solutions to enjoy in the pop-up camper during the winter season.

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