Everyone who’s ever owned a camper van knows that your biggest enemy is the weather; Mother Nature doesn’t care about your little weekend getaway and won’t change those rain clouds to bright blue skies just for you. The same goes for temperature. No one wants to sleep outside on a cold winters’ night. But you might be saying, “Well, I’m not exposed to the elements. I have a comfy campervan to rest in.” And this is where the fatal mistake is made.
Although campervans may look like they provide plenty of warmth, unless you have a top-of-the-line heating system fitted, you’re going to be wrapping up in plenty of layers just to stop yourself from getting frostbite.
So, what makes a great heating system, and what is the best heating system available for your campervan conversion? These questions, and more, will be explained in this article. Without further ado, let’s get stuck in…
Table of Contents
What are the Main Methods of Heating Your Campervan?
Before we start ranking and comparing the different methods, we first need to know and have a firm understanding of what these methods are.
Most campervans are heated by a system that falls under one of these three categories: Diesel heaters, wood-burning stoves, and LPG heaters.
Diesel heaters draw fuel from the main diesel tank of the campervan and through a burner/heat exchanger under the vehicle. The hot air produced from this exchanger is then filtered through a vent/grill, before being pumped into the main living space of the van.
With wood-burning stoves, it’s pretty self-explanatory. You simply burn wood, and your van is heated through the heat produced from that process.
LPG stands for Liquefied Petroleum Gas; LPG is essentially a mixture of different flammable chemicals such as Propane, Butane, and Autogas. These chemicals are then combusted to produce heat. The system itself works much in the same way as diesel heaters, but instead of taking fuel directly from the tank of your van, you’ll need to hook-up a separate fuel source. This could be a disposable canister or a reusable fuel tank.
Now we know what they are and how they work, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each heating system, and determine which one is the best for our campervan.
Diesel heaters are probably the most common heating method on our list, and that’s because they’re also the easiest systems to set up. The only additional piece of equipment you need to set one up is a heat exchanger/filter.
Diesel heaters are the most cost-efficient of the methods on the list (in the long run that is). You can just use the fuel you have left in the tank to heat your van after a long day of driving, without having to purchase any additional fuel. There’s no need to go out and buy an extra fuel source/s. They’re also most convenient in terms of the availability of fuel. If you need to do a quick refill, you can simply refuel at any ol’ petrol station.
One of the biggest differences between diesel heaters and other heating methods (which can either be seen as an advantage or disadvantage based on personal preference) is that diesel heaters produce more of a clean, dry heat. You don’t get any of the humidity and condensation that you can get from other heating systems.
An amazing quality-of-life feature of diesel heaters is that you can use them to preheat your campervan while you’re still driving so that the interior is nice and toasty for when you finally decide to park up and settle down for the night.
One of the biggest downsides to diesel heaters is that they are horrible for the environment; but of course, this the same for anything that burns fossil fuels.
Now earlier we said that diesel heaters are one of the most economical choices in the long run, and that’s true; the key phrase being, “in the long run”. The upfront cost for a heat exchanger can put some people off as, depending on where you’re looking, they can be pretty expensive.
Another downside is that they can be incredibly noisy if you’re equipment becomes worn out, or if you don’t have the correct sound dampening and filtering gear. This problem can also occur if the equipment wasn’t installed properly.
Of course, all of this is given that your campervan runs on diesel in the first place. If you have a van that is electric or runs on regular unleaded petrol, then it’s not worth shelling out for a diesel heater, as the other options on our list will be better suited to your needs.
Speaking of other options, let’s delve into our second choice of heating systems…
Wood Burning Stoves
Wood burning stoves are a great option for those who are looking to keep their campervan heated while on a budget. First of all, the wood itself is almost always free. On most campsites, you are permitted to take wood from a designated pile which the camp’s maintenance team keeps stocked up. However, if you’re looking to head out onto the open road, then consider buying a supply of wood to burn that will last you the duration of your trip. This will cost you a little bit, but it’s still cheaper overall than LPG (which we’ll get onto shortly).
But it’s all well and good having the wood you need to burn, and nothing to actually burn it in. Stoves are generally pretty inexpensive, depending on the size and make. Similar to the diesel heating system from before, the wood-burning stoves require an initial investment but then will be more cost-efficient in the long run; wood-burning stoves especially, as the fuel is free, unlike in diesel heating systems.
Wood burning stoves can also be used for cooking, as well as heating your van. A lot of pf people say that cooking should be done on an open fire instead and that stoves should be focused primarily on keeping the van warm. Well firstly, on a lot of campsites, open fires aren’t allowed due to the dangers of starting accidental fires, particularly in dry seasons. Secondly, wood-burning stoves are 80% more efficient at cooking food than open fires; this means you won’t need to use as much furl, and your food will cook quicker; it’s a win-win scenario with wood-burning stoves.
Another great thing about stoves is their portability. Depending on the size of your stove, you always have the choice to either set up your stove outside or inside your van. If you’re going to be using the stove purely for heating purposes, and not cooking, then you’re most likely going to have your stove kept inside your vehicle at all times; you’re also more likely to have a larger stove which may not be best suited to be taken outside anyway.
One thing you have to be careful of when it comes to using wood-burning stoves indie your campervan is making sure that your van is well ventilated. Apart from a constant smoky smell, without proper ventilation, you’ve got a massive fire hazard on your hands, especially if your stove is decently large in size.
Let’s move on to our final heating system…
LPG Heating Systems
As previously mentioned, LPG refers to any fuel source that runs on a mixture of different flammable chemicals.
Most LPG canisters are comprised of butane or propane, and these chemicals can cost a pretty penny. While individuals canisters may not be too expensive, due to the rate at which you can burn through them, you’ll end up totaling a pretty hefty gas bill over time. LPG is definitely the least cost-effective method of heating your campervan on this list, due to its constant long-term maintenance.
Although, the canisters themselves are extremely convenient. They’re portable and easy to tuck away in storage for a later date. The fact that you can buy different sized canisters makes it so you’re not over-spending on fuel and you’re not taking up valuable space inside your van.
LGP has the most energy output of all the heating systems on this list.
Of course, with all flammable materials, fire hazards are always something to be wary of. Making sure you have a suitable connector for your gas canisters will not only maintain that you’re getting the most out of your canister, but it will also make sure that you’re not pumping your caravan full of dangerous gases; gasses that aren’t good for your lungs if you’re breathing them in 24/7, and gases that could set your whole van ablaze. Again, ventilation is key for your campervan. It’s always best to fit a gas leak detector and/or a smoke alarm inside your van.
Aside from refillable and replaceable gas canisters, you can also purchase and install a permanent tank that is fitted to the undercarriage of your van. Not only does this help improve the cost-effectiveness of the LGP heating system, but it also frees up a lot of space within your campervan that would usually be reserved for storing gas canisters.
Now we’ve gone through the positives and negatives of all three major heating systems for campervans. But before we make a final decision as to which is the best, we need to go through any additional factors you might need to consider before ultimately deciding on what system you are going to use.
Apart from the effectiveness of the systems themselves, there are also some additional factors you need to consider when determining which system is best for you; the biggest one being space.
If you’re tight on space in your van, then a diesel heater is the one for you, since they’re hidden beneath the van or attached to the exterior of the van. You could certainly get by on LPG or a stove even if your space is limited, but you might have to compromise when it comes to saving space for other appliances.
Another thing to consider is how often you’re going to be using your campervan. If you’re only going to be using the campervan a few weeks out of the year, it’s probably not worth installing a permanent LGP gas canister or a diesel heater. You’re better off using single-use canisters or a pocket-sized wood burning stove.
Now we’ve discussed all the pros and cons of each system and gone through any extra factors you need to consider; we can come to a justified conclusion. The best overall heating system for your campervan is..
The choice to install a permanent canister or use single-use ones gives more freedom to campers who might prefer to stay for a few months at a time or a few days at a time. These options also allow for more storage options, which is convenient for campers who don’t have a lot of storage space available in their van. Although the constant upkeep might deter some people from choosing LGP heating, it makes up for it due to its simplicity and energy output.