Carbon Monoxide & Winter Heating Anxiety


So as I’m researching and going back and forth between what kind of vehicle I need, could I really pull it off, would I regret it, should I go all out at first, or start with a smaller “test” rig for a year or two…

The last couple of days, I have growing concerns about living full time in a van in winter. I just have nightmarish visions of CO poisoning or the gas tank exploding or something, hah! Which might be a bit extreme, but one can’t be too careful when living with flammable and explosive materials. Nothing is entirely safe, even in a building, CO could be an issue, or a bear if tent camping, etc. Common sense applies and everything is a risk ultimately; detectors fail, leaks and accidents happen. But I am looking for some reassurance that with a proper set-up, winter heating in a van can be doable long-term, and hopefully does not have much more increased risk than other living situations. Maybe fear is trying to prevent me from diving into living this dream a little too…

I had romantic notions of a little woodstove (gasoline and open fires, CO…ugh), but realistically a little propane heater or something might be best. And lots of appropriate clothing and blankets no doubt…

Anyone have any experience/guidance on this?


Honestly I think you are overthinking it.

And yes this could also be true

You said it yourself, nothing is safe anywhere. But when you walk into a building im sure that’s the least of your concerns, because you trust the setup and safety precautions.

It’s the same thing with having heating inside a van, do your best, and do a lot of research, and you will be fine! + since your so concerned, you probably will go that extra mile to ensure your safety. Which in return will make your setup even safer.

Lot’s of people have setup heating and never faced any problems.

But of course it’s best to be safe then sorry. Which is why you should do your best to ensure safety, but you shouldn’t let it stop you.

Good luck :blush:


In all honesty I think driving is more of a Hazzard then when we get to a location and settle in. We prepare our vehicle and get things sorted with so much attention to detail that most people with a commuter vehicle never contemplate. So it’s really a matter of your preparations. A CO detector is a must plus a newer style smoke alarm. And then it’s just a simple check list.
Do I have everything the window or vent cracked for ventilation. Did I test the alarms.
And so on. I have used sailboat woodburners oil and diesel burner’s and at one shamefully low point, due to the lack of maintenance on my part, long story… I used an alcohol stove and tericotta pots turned upside down with holes I made in the bottom’s for an emergency heater. So don’t worry too much about heat. Remember just until 90 years ago we heated our living space as our primitive ancestors did and we’re still here.
Before I got into vanlife I heated my house with pot belly stoves and used solar for all of my electrical needs. I spent two years adapting to life off grid and I am from Cleveland Ohio where winter temperature’s are usually in the teens to minus twenty F so it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Just plan your moves and get in touch with the inner nomad in you. Best of luck with your build.



It seems like most people won’t run unvented propane heat while they sleep, I won’t run propane period, because of it’s dangers.

Where I spend winters sometimes is COLD, so I do need to run heat all night long to be comfortable. For this reason, I choose kerosene (diesel works as a backup fuel too), do to it’s safety. Wick type kerosene appliances are not pressurized, and kerosene or diesel is far less volatile than propane. Additionally, you can get a much higher output kerosene heater easier and cheaper than you can find a propane one. I’ve done winters down to -40f to -50f, so it is doable.

I also have 12v electric blankets, mattress pad, and seat cushions. My kerosene stove can also double as a heater, and I have a backup smaller heater as well. When you’re dealing with life threatening cold, extra safety precautions and backup plans need to be in place. Batteries tend to die in frigid temperatures too, so you really need to be prepared for that too.

To prevent moisture and mold problems, you need almost constant ventilation, even in the winter, so you need enough heat to compensate for that necessary ventilation and still keep you warm. You want to keep your whole rig warm and dry, including the cab. Moisture and ice can really play havoc on the vehicle’s electrics. You’re better off without insulation so that snow and ice will be melted off. Your rig will hold the heat just fine, even with lots of windows, and ventilation. Proper ventilation pretty much defeats insulation anyway. Insulate your body not your vehicle.

They have hand, feet, and body warmers. Some are disposable, but some are reusable. I keep some of the reusable ones for a backup plan, or if I need to work outside in the extreme cold. Obviously you’ll need good winter clothing too. One of my prize possessions is a thermo-electric jumpsuit that will either heat you up or cool you off. I think they have vests available too. I worked outdoor construction, and it can really be a challenge in frigid weather or sweltering heat.

With proper planning and precautions, you can do this and actually enjoy it. Keep a good stock of water, food, and fuel on hand in case you get snowed in or iced in.



I know it’s been weeks since I’ve been on here, but thank you so much for all these replies! Really helpful to wrap my mind around, especially when I’m getting a lot of resistance and suspicion from friends/family when I mention considering spending winters in a van. I want to have back up plans in case sleeping in the vehicle doesn’t work out for the coldest weeks of the year too, and even that would be more doable for me than year-round rent!



Back up plans are a good thing. Mine revolve around me staying comfortably in my van, but I also have an emergency fund large enough to include more traditional housing if the need ever arises.

The fears of friends and family can usually be overcome with a good plan, and good backup plans. Listen to their fears, so you can prepare for those scenarios. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and the better preepared we are, the better off we’ll be.



To stay healthy without the existence of carbon monoxide, I always prefer to use electric stoves, electric heater and electric water heaters. I didn’t allow my husband to burn fireplace within the RV or camper van. There is nothing to have more value than our lives. I know electric stuff could be expensive as compared to gas ones but no compromise on environmental and human safety. For a better heating system for your vehicle, you can see these portable electric heaters.



If you’re staying only in campgrounds with electricity, and in only mild weather, all electric can work, but all electric is terribly inefficient if you’re boondocking, or in really cold weather. For all practical purposes, that would require a generator. Even with a generator, plug in 1500 watt electric heaters only put out about 5,600 BTU’s of heat. Enough for a chilly evening or morning, but not sufficient for truly cold weather.

For boondocking, non-electric, fueled appliances are far superior in performance, and with proper precautions can be used completely safely. Today we have the luxury of having carbon monoxide detectors, propane detectors, and low oxygen detectors. Even with the inherent dangers of pressurized fuels, they are the choice of many.

Non-pressurized wick type appliances are much safer, and consequently my preferred choice. They still require due diligence, and proper safety precautions, but they won’t turn your home into a bomb from a simple leak, or if the flame goes out while in use.

The availability of choices is a very good thing, and between them we can be prepared for just about anything. In the end, our safety is in our own hands, and we should never forget that.


"Those who believe money can't buy hapiness, don't have either." ~ An Anonymous Vandweller