Help me! Fuel choice for heat, and electrical system choices

Hi all. Background info: New here and building out a Transit long WB high roof extended van (delivery in early 2022). Van will be used approx 180 days a year, often for months long trips - we are newly retired but not full-timers. We have extensive backpacking and car camping/tent experience, but vans are a new frontier (and cushy camping upgrade) for us. Primary use will be spring/summer/fall in US and Canada. Hot water will be calorifier off engine coolant (with 120VAC 1000w immersion element when on shore power or off small gen). Ventilation is a MAXXair fan. Van has a 31 gal gas tank and aux fuel port (gas) stubbed out from factory (no need to drop tank to install a pick up tube if necessary). Will typically carry one 20lb propane tank.
Question 1 - I’m up in the air between Propex propane heater (2000 or 2800) vs Espar or Webasto petrol (gasoline). Any guidance on sizing, ease of installation (they seem similar), reliability (and soot concerns with gas?), odors, high altitude problems, etc. would be appreciated. We will typically be travelling in 30 - 90 °F weather, so heat use will be intermittent as needed (cold mornings and pre bed time mostly).
Question 2 - Electrical system. Van comes with two 70 ah AGM batteries, with one being isolated when the ignition is off, leaving a 70ah house battery (with maybe 1/2 that capacity usable?) Typically then van will be driven daily, but not always if we are just lounging around for a day or two. DC loads are a 12VDC compressor refrigerator (the largest load - maybe 20 to 40 ah daily?), MAXXair 7500 fan (typically running on low when in use), water pump (Sureflow 2.8 gpm), LED lighting, phone and computer charging. An electric coffee maker would sure be nice, however I calculate one 12 cup pot as 1000w for 15 minutes brew time = almost 20ah from a battery! Not including inverter losses! Yikes! Two pots on a raw day would discharge far over half of a 70 ah AGM house battery (and most of its available power). We could nix this load by brewing coffee with a propane percolator, but I like the convenience of the electric pot. A lot of our camping will be in tree covered sites, and we will often drive around in the van (charging while travelling anyway) so solar doesn’t seem a great economical choice, plus it complicates the build and roof structure (I wouldn’t otherwise need a roof rack). I’m thinking of buying a 100ah AGM deep cycle to supplement the 70ah house battery, but need help sizing the AC/DC converter charger and an inverter. We will carry a small 2000w inverter gen for battery charging, water heating (1000w immersion element in calorifier), etc. to run as needed, but I don’t want to start up a noisy generator in the morning just to brew coffee. Electrical loads seem to be greatest when running a generator is typically not allowed and/or impolite to others. I’m rambling on here, sorry. This is all somewhat confusing. Please help with your experience and recommendations! [Afterthought - I’m leaning toward nixing the coffee maker, but still think the 70ah battery will fall short].

Thanks, Len and Cary


Any of the listed heaters are also going to require power… They can also be quite noisy… For those reasons, I prefer a wick type portable kerosene heater that can also use diesel or cooking oil. It does require ventilation, but it is totally silent and requires no power. Then I place a thermoelectric woodstove fan on top of it to circulate the heat, and it is still silent and requires no power.

I would not get a gasoline heater. I have heard that they are finicky and unreliable. I am not a big fan of propane, too many risks for my taste. All of the heaters listed come in diesel models, so if I wanted one of those kind, I would choose diesel.

I don’t have propane at all, my heaters are also cookers, then I took several alcohol single burner stoves and added carbon felt to them for a wick, so I can use kerosene, diesel, or cooking oil in them. The flame is totally adjustable, and they burn forever on very little fuel. They don’t suffer from the short cooking times that many of camping alcohol stoves suffer from, and they are also very stable.

I’m thinking that if you ran your rig while making coffee, you might be able to get away with not adding an additional battery.

I don’t see the value in converter/chargers. Near as I can tell, a regular automatic battery charger hooked up to shore power works just as well. It makes no sense to me to convert shore power to 12v so you can run all your 12v appliances just like you would off the battery. With the battery charger hooked up to shore power keeping your battery topped up, it seems like the end result is the same.

Solar doesn’t make sense for me either…

A 2000 watt inverter is going to draw ~200 amps from your battery(s). They figure battery capacity at what you use over a 20 hour period. So if we take a 70ah battery / 20 hours = 3.5 amps typical draw. That’s a long ways from 200 amps, and many inverters will draw the full amount whether it is needed by the appliances or not. Even -IF- it would power the inverter, it would likely be for a very short time, and quite possibly might damage the battery from such a draw.

These days almost everything is available in 12v models, eliminating the need for an inverter all together.

Immersion heaters are terribly inefficient, and I have never heard of anyone using a calorifier in a camper. I use a fire coil, also called a shower coil on a stove burner, my heater, or in a campfire to supply endless hot water with no power required. I don’t remember the brand I have, but it looks about like a 10" frying pan, but it is a copper coil that is only maybe 1/2 inch thick, with hot & cold hose attachments in the handle.

You can regulate the water temperature by the water flow, the slower the flow, the hotter the water. I usually just recirculate the water in a water jug to the temperature I want, so I’m probably only heating the first half of the jug, which when mixed is about shower temperature. On the stove or heater, I put my cast iron Dutch oven on it to hold it in place.

Whenever possible, my water jugs are painted black, and I can place them in the sun for solar heated hot water. Surprisingly, it even works well in the winter if the suns out.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible." ~ Einstein

In 30 to 90 degree weather, you probably won’t use your heat much at all if you insulation is good. I do not like propane for heat. We used to use it and it’s about the least economical choice of all of them. You will plow though propane. We have a Webasto gasoline heater and have used it above 10000 feet without issue. You really just need to take care of it and make sure you set the unit up to run at high altitude that takes all of 10 minutes to do. You could also get the next size up, which does that automagically but it’s definitely going to be overkill for the van. For what it’s worth you can always get the diesel version and the extra tank if you didn’t want to run gasoline, but you already have the fuel and storage for it without taking up extra space. The actual install itself is pretty simple. It’s only difficult if you put is somewhere such as under one of the front seats as there is already so much under the van there and it can be difficult due to that.

As far as the electrical system you’re definitely going to need more batteries with that setup. I would think 200ah minimum for standard batteries, which you’re stuck with. I think you would need to change all batteries to lithium, even the starting because of the isolator. You don’t necessarily need a roof rack for solar, but you might want a rack for storage anyway. For the coffee you could always go the french press route.



Thanks for that review on the gas heaters. Most of the reviews of themm I’ve seen have been negative, but you never know whether they were first hand, or just somebody repeating what they had heard.


“Everything should be made as simple as possible." ~ Einstein