Hello! Just got into the Van Life with my super awesome adventure dog. Right now, I don’t have any additional electric other than a couple standard cigarette lighter ports. I know there are both heaters and fans that plug into those, but I’m worried about them draining my car battery. Any advice on how to safely use them until I get wired? Has anyone had any luck with the battery powered fans? Recommendations on models of heaters? Any advice welcome. Thank you much!!!
Electric heaters only work with shore power, and even then only in very mild temperatures. A 1500 watt electric heater is still only a little over 5k BTU’s, sso very weak for truly cold temperatures. A typical factory camper van will come with a 20k+ BTU heater for comparison, and they’re still only designed to be 3 season campers, not 4 season ones.
Basically your choices are kerosene, diesel, alcohol, or propane. Propane while the most popular, is actually the worst choice for many reasons. Most RV stylee diesel heaters need to be vented outside, which means cutting a hole in your van, which is also a bad idea. So the best choice for unvented heaters is wick type heaters, due to safety concerns. (If the flame goes out, no pressurized gas to create explosion risks).
Alcohol works, but is by far the most expensive option due to the price of the fuel. So officially, that leaves us with wick type kerosene heaters, cook stoves, & lanterns. What many people don’t know is that you can also use diesel in many of these. Kerosene burns cleaner, but sometimes diesel is easier to find close by.
Unlike propane, kerosene & diesel produce a much drier heat than propane, so they don’t create the moisture problems propane causes.
So let’s compare heaters & cookers and their differences. ( I have both, but I also sometimes winter in areas where it gets to -40° and below. ) The heaters typically offer only minimal adjustment, while the cookers offer full range adjustment. For this reason, many people choose to use their cookers for both cooking and heating. A large pot of sand or dirt on a stove makes an excellent heater, and can radiate heat for a very long time even after the stove is turned off.
Unvented heaters do require your van to be ventilated, but most of us ventilate ours vans 24/7 regardless to prevent moisture problems. A carbon monoxide detector is also highly recommended. I run my heat all night if it’s cold enough, and unlike with propane, my detector has never gone off.
Now we need to take into consideration your pooch. Your heater needs to be positioned so that it can’t burn your pooch, and so they can’t knock it over, including with their tail or jumping up to counter, etc. Safety is important. Truck stops have both 12v heated blankets and seat cushions. These might be a better option for you than running heat while you sleep. I’d suggest getting a house battery and an isolator for this option though, just don’t get conned into solar. Only the solar sales people truly like solar, for the rest of us it’s a very expensive scam. A generator is far cheaper, more reliable, and more versatile than solar. The only thing green about solar is the green going into other people’s pockets.
Nearly new, deep cycle house batteries can frequently be found wrecking yards very cheap, and sometimes battery recycler places too. My advice is to never buy expensive house batteries. My under $20 junkyard house batteries usually last 5-7 years. ( My 2x $350 ea. house batteries lasted only 9 months when getting charged by solar.)
12v plug into the cigarette lighter fans can be found at any auto parts store or truck stop. In the winter, aim it towards the ceiling to bring hot air collected there down to keep the lower half of your van warm. If your floor isn’t carpeted, put down throw rugs to help keep the heat in and keep them from becoming slippery.
Thank you so much! That was very helpful. Happy trails to you!