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Do RV Furnaces Run on Electricity?

Camping during the winter season can sometimes be a challenge, but your RV’s furnace will keep you warm if you treat it right.

Cold weather brings concerns about water pipes freezing, insulating windows, and keeping yourself comfortable in frigid temperatures.

Generating heat from within the vehicle will accomplish all of those goals. So an RV furnace becomes essential in creating a great winter camping experience.

We’re taking a look at the best way to use them efficiently for a warm and toasty stay.

Let’s jump in!

What Is An RV Furnace?

A typical RV furnace provides the primary heat source in travel trailers and motorhomes. This heating system consists of a motor, a blower, a thermostat, and ductwork that transports the heat throughout the rig.

It’s usually the best way to disseminate heat throughout your vehicle without worrying about ventilation in the rig, unlike some propane or oil space heaters.

Most recreational vehicles come with some type of forced air furnace built-in. Although newer RVs may have a heat pump system or a dual water heater/furnace installed.

How Does An RV Furnace Work?

The furnace in a recreational vehicle is powered by electricity (either 110v AC or 12v DC power), with the heat being provided by propane. They work in coordination with a thermostat. As the air in your vehicle becomes colder than the setting desired on the thermostat, the furnace kicks on.

Internally, propane is ignited within the furnace, creating heat. Then the furnace blower pushes this warm air through a ducting or vent system in the RV. It takes both propane and electricity to keep a forced air furnace running.

Boy sitting in front of RV at winter time.
Keep your RV cozy by using propane in your RV furnace.

Do RV Furnaces Run on Electricity?

Electricity and propane are required to create heat from an RV furnace. Electricity is needed to power the fan in the blower, and propane provides the heat when it’s ignited in the unit.

The blower then pushes the hot air through ductwork and out vents in the recreational vehicle in a forced-air system. Because electricity is used for the operation of the fan, it’s essential to keep the hot air circulating through the RV.

How Much Propane Does It Take To Heat An RV?

If your RV furnace runs continually, it will burn, on average, ⅓ of a gallon of propane per hour. That means one gallon of propane will be used every three hours. Most propane tanks hold between four and five gallons of gas. So at this rate, your tank will be approaching empty after 12 to 13 hours. 

Keep in mind, however, that the figure above is based on the consistent running of your furnace. That might be the case on freezing nights. But with moderate outdoor temperatures, the typical furnace cycles on and off as it reaches the set thermostat temperature. So propane will last longer under those conditions.

There are also many ways you can improve those numbers. First, ensure you have insulated your rig thoroughly, such as putting Reflectix in all windows. Check all caulking and insulation around doors and windows before winter arrives, and inspect slide seals for any air leakage.

And be sure to do regular maintenance on your furnace system to keep it running efficiently. 

Pro Tip: Are your propane tanks running low? We uncovered Where to Refill Your RV Propane Tanks on your next adventure!

Woman in warm RV in fall
Propane and electricity are both used to run an RV furnace.

How Long Will An RV Furnace Run On Propane? 

Depending upon the size of your propane tank, the RV furnace should operate consistently at a rate of no more than ⅓ gallon of propane used per hour. Many recreational vehicles have propane tanks that hold 20 gallons (4.6 lbs), meaning the tank will be empty in 12 to 13 hours if your heater runs continually.

The other factor in propane usage is the size of your furnace. A 30,000 BTU furnace will burn about ⅓ gallon of propane per hour if in continuous use, around 12 to 13 hours. A 20,000 BTU furnace will not burn as much, maybe about ¼ gallon per hour or 16 to 17 hours.

So check the BTU rating on your particular furnace to get a better understanding of your propane limitations, and remember that you might also be using propane for cooking or for heating water, so the tank will empty even faster if that’s the case. Prepare accordingly! 

Pro Tip: Keep warm this winter with these 5 Ways to Heat Your RV This Winter.

Can An RV Heater Run On Battery Power?

If you have a penchant for boondocking, your RV heater is designed to get its electrical current straight from the house battery. As long as you also have propane to heat the air, your furnace will continue to work on DC power to keep your rig toasty and warm.

But you’ll need to watch your battery and propane levels if you continue to operate the furnace without electrical hookups for more extended periods.

What’s The Cheapest Way To Heat An RV? 

A good working RV furnace is necessary if you want to enjoy winter camping in your trailer or motorhome. Its use of propane and electricity to do the job is most likely the least expensive way to produce heat.

And because the power needed can be provided by both AC or DC power, you can run the furnace while you’re boondocking off-grid or stealth camping. As long as you have juice in the battery and propane in the tank, your winter excursion should be a success!

What’s the coldest temperature you’ve ever camped in?

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