Being warm in the cooler months makes everything easier. If your camper is well insulated this will go a long way to keeping you warm on colder nights. The combination of insulation and great window covers is your first consideration. Just like a house, if the insulation isn’t there, then heating will be costly and super ineffective. [see our Insulation How To HERE]
That said, if you are dreaming about waking up in July immersed in a Haw frost or you are spending a lot of time up the hill, then there are a ton of heating solutions.
Before we get into this, as mentioned in our cooking how to, be mindful of Carbon Monoxide. C0 is a tasteless, odourless gas that is poisonous and can be fatal at higher doses. Always get your heating system installation approved by a safety engineer and install a carbon monoxide detector in your camper. They are as cheap as $10.00 and could save your life. We recommend spending a bit and getting a dual gas alarm if you are using lpg.
The four most common ways of heating campers are, small wood fires [yes it is a thing!] LPG heaters, diesel heaters and electric heaters.
Yes, people intentionally put a fire in their vehicles. Before you dismiss this as the realm of Gypsy housetrucks, there are some serious merits to having a fireplace in a larger camper. A fireplace dehumidifies a space, they add a cooking option and wetback [hot water] option. AND there are NZ made ones, like the Little Honey and the Little Cracker. Have a search on Trademe.
On the downside, you need a decent amount of space. They aren’t the cheapest option and installation can be niggly. Invariably your camper and everything there in will smell smoky. But damn who doesn’t like a fire.
Diesel Heaters and LPG Heaters
We’re going to lump these in together because they are basically the same concept just different fuel sources.
They operate by drawing fuel and combusting it inside a heat exchanger then a fan blows the hot air through the camper. The exhaust and any C0 are ducted outside; only hot air is circulated around your living space. Most consume less than 0.2L of fuel per hour as well as a very low 12V draw which makes them extremely efficient to run.
Many operate as a night heater maintaining a constant temperature throughout the night. Programmable heaters are significantly more expensive than manually operated ones.
If you have a diesel engine you can run a fuel line into your camper’s tank but it is a tricky process. An independent fuel tank is more than often opted for which means you’re not running down your fuel when you want to bug out. [and maybe even have spare fuel]. Installation will require cutting a hole in your camper’s floor or wall for the exhaust. The electrical side of the install is very straightforward.
If you’re running an LPG stove, you’ve got a LPG gas tank anyway. So hooking up an LPG heater is a good double purposing of that fuel source.
Diesel and LPG heaters are flexible options for where they get installed in your camper. Underneath camper seats, bottom of a cabinet or under the bed. And they are pretty small units at about 40 cm x 20cm for the main unit. Common brands in NZ are Ebersacher, Webasto, Propex, Whale and Truma.
If you are going for an interweb hack and want to risk a knockoff, just search Trademe and a bunch of $600.00+ RV diesel heaters will pop up.
If you’re not a tight budget a combo unit that also heats water are worth a look. They are 3k + nzd, but an air heater is on average $2k, a water heater is $600.00-1500.00. Add installation costs of both, plus all the extra space of two units, that big spend isn’t so bad.
The Portable Option
Of course none of these permanent fixed heaters help you if you are in a tent, ground or roof. BUT exactly the same units do come in portable enclosures. The idea is that you set it up outside and simple run the hot air vent into your tent, because this is a heat exchanger there’s no issue with CO. And they aren’t too pricey… in fact even the Gasmate Ducted Heater is $499.00. The enclosure includes a rechargeable battery that will run for 5 hours. They can run off butane cans [7-8 hours run time] or LPG.
Then there’s the diesel version which are built around knock off diesel heaters as shown above. Search on e-Bay and a slew of them will come up for around $250.00 nzd. By this stage you’ll realise these are all just enclosures, housing the fuel tank, heater and the electrics, you just need a 12v power source… and it’s only $250.00.
The biggest issue with external heaters is keeping then dry. They are designed to need a lot of airflow for the exhaust and intake. But the nights you want them are probably the stormy ones. The next rabbit hole you can go down is putting the whole thing in a Pelican case…and yes there’s a ton of You Tube clips on doing just this. Here’s one such…
As mentioned in our How To Cooking, electricity is an inefficient way to get heat. You need a lot of it, so the draw on your house batteries is just too much. BUT a lot of NZ campers have 240v electric heat panels installed, and with good reason. They are compact, cheap as, quiet and absolutely no fumes or C0 emissions. If you have shore power, especially in NZ where campgrounds with power hook ups are so prolific, maybe it is just about how you camp in the colder months.