4 Ways to Heat Your Van This Winter

Did your water jug freeze last night? If so, it might be time to get serious about heating your van and preparing for winter!
For some, winter may only be an inconvenient chill that makes warm morning coffee taste even better! While northerners may face sub-zero temperatures, drifts of snow, and excessive wind chill. Either way we all want to stay cozy when the temperature drops. In this guide we are going talk about everything you need to know about keeping warm during these frosty months. Creating a warm and comfortable space takes a bit more then just a good heater so first let's talk insulation.

1.Insulation

Insulation. Keeping the heat it and the cold out. Believe it or not maintaining a warm temperature starts here. Proper insulation is almost as important as the heat source itself. It's purpose is to form a convection barrier ,or in simpler terms, a temperature barrier. By natural law hot moves to cold so the heat is always trying to disperse and escape to the colder air outside. This convection layer is what slows down that process and keeps in the warmth created by your heat source. So it's obvious that the bigger and better the layer the more heat you can keep inside. It's also important to insulate as many surfaces as possible to include the floor, ceiling, and walls. Any cracks or gaps in coverage will create a cold well that essentially sucks out the heat. Windows are typically the biggest source of heat loss. So it might be worth sacrificing the view to cover them with insulation during the winter months. There are varying types and quality of insulation as well as methods to install. However, we've got a lot to cover so we will talk about that in a separate conversion article.

2.Heat Sources

When it comes to heating there are a few good options that work really well for vans or RV's. Each has their pros and cons so we will go over each to help you find exactly what you need!

Sub-Zero Sleeping Bag

When heating the entire van is not possible or too expensive nothing is more cozy then a mummy bag. These are sleeping bags specifically designed for winter camping use. Typically rated from zero to negative forty degrees you can be sure to find one that will work for you. Keep in mind that the lower the temperature rating the higher the price. Anything below zero degrees might be sort of spendy so if your really on a budget a "blanket pile" can also do the job just as good. Think layers. More the merrier. Either way this will at least keep you warm enough to sleep comfortably. For those who have an adequate electrical system consider adding a heated blanket to the mix. On high these typically consume 75 to 100 watts. When combined with more blankets to retain heat though the low setting could suffice which uses only about 40 to 50 watts.

Propane

Propane heaters are typically the cheapest type of heater. That being said it's probably the best option to get you in the game. These heaters provide instant heat and can increase the temperature in a small space rather quickly. Fuel is usually housed in either a 1lb or 20lb cylinder. The smaller 1lb bottles are typically not refillable without extra attachments but 20lb tanks can be switched with full ones at a lot of stores.

 What's a good propane heater?

  • Mr. Buddy- lot's of safety features and intended for indoor use. The favorite among van dwellers. 1lb bottles or 20lb tank with adapter hose.
There are a few downsides to propane however. When burned, propane creates quite a bit of moisture. That moisture tends to condensate on windows or poorly insulated surfaces. This leads to either iced over windows on the inside or other problems caused by dampness later on like mold if not cared for. Another negative is carbon monoxide. The silent but deadly gas can collect in dangerous amounts if there is not proper ventilation. This is a possibility with most types of heaters but be aware that you will need a carbon monoxide alarm. From a safety perspective it is not recommended to keep propane indoors or in your vehicle. That's why most RV's have their tanks mounted underneath or in an outer compartment. Yes, a lot of folks still do but just be aware of the danger. What is the danger? Well I'm glad you asked. The reason propane is not kept inside is in case of a leak. This is what makes propane dangerous. It's literally a flammable gas. When trapped inside without being able to disperse in open air a spark or flame could cause a huge fire ball or explosion. Now does that happen often? No, not really. There are a lot of safety precautions to prevent that. Like the smell of propane. Did you know that rotten egg smell is actually added to propane since its an odorless gas. It is indeed so you can easily smell a leak.

Diesel Heater

Known for ease of use and reliability the "chinese diesel heater" has become very popular among van lifers. They work great in both automatic and manual modes. It's an added perk if your vehicle already runs on diesel but the unit also requires power for the control unit, fuel pump, and ignition. This system heats air by burning fuel in the heat exchanger and then blows the heated air into the van. No worries about fumes though as the system is vented. As stated in the product description "This type of heater has the advantage of compact structure, light weight, high thermal efficiency, economize on electricity and fuel" What's a good diesel heater? The Webasto Dieslel Heater is the top choice among many van owners.

Wood Stove

There's nothing more cozy then snuggling up next to a fireplace. Compact wood stoves have become very popular in both tiny homes and nomadic vehicles. Besides the cozy aesthetics they provide dry heat and utilize cheap fuel. So not only does this option not produce extra moisture but it can actually help combat moisture accumulation. Some stoves use other forms of fuel like coals, pellets, or corn but most compact styles use wood. This means that the fuel is rather cheap. You may even be able to find everything you need in your environment which makes this choice very sustainable. Since smoke and fumes go out the chimney there is much less worry about carbon monoxide. Depending on the size you may even be able to cook on these stoves. Sounds pretty good right? Well even wood stoves have a downside. The chimney and smoke created takes away quite a bit of stealth. Also, as the fire burns down you may have to wake up in the middle of the night to add wood or stoke the fire. Another consideration is installation. It can be tricky to cut a hole in your roof for the chimney and a wood stove tends to take up a bit more space since it needs clearance from walls or fireproof material surrounding all sides. Also, these small wood stoves need the chimney to be cleaned more regularly then a typical stove. That because in it's compact size there is less heat generated then a standard sized one. This causes more creosote deposits to build up inside the chimney. If unattended for long periods creosote can catch fire and start a chimney fire. What are some good wood stoves? 

 Cubic Mini Dickinson Marine Kimberly

Electric Heat

Electric heaters work great for providing constant and steady heat. Some even have thermostat control. They are extremely easy to use and don't require installation. Here's the catch. They use way too much power. Most vehicle power setups that utilize a solar or battery bank system cannot meet the energy requirements that these heaters need to operate. The only way you could use one is with an external power hookup to a standard AC outlet or a generator. For these reasons I wouldn't personally recommend this option for van dwellers unless you expect to have external power available to you. Pro Tip: It's probably not likely that your van will be heated all the time when you aren't in it. So how can you you prevent your water, fruits vegetables, liquid soap, etc from freezing? Use a cooler or build an insulated box for these items. Then heat up some water and fill a container with it. By placing that container in the cooler it will keep the temperature inside from freezing. Another option is a battery operated thermos. Placing this inside will do the same and may even last longer.

Safety Note

Make sure to heed all warnings for whichever method you chose and be sure to install them correctly. Make sure that nothing flammable is nearby or that nothing can fall onto your heater. Also, never leave pets or kids alone with the heater. Not even for a minute. Remember that if the heater burns something to create heat you will want to have a carbon monoxide alarm to go with it. Also keep a fire extinguisher in a location that's easy to access. Hopefully this guide has helped you have a better understanding of what to look for as you check out different vehicles. For more helpful guides like this one check out our Guides Page! Head over to our Facebook group for more tips on staying warm, insulating your van, and more!