Once you decide on your insulation, you should have a good idea of your heating needs (if any). Be sure to consider how the heater and it’s fuel source will fit in your camper’s layout, especially how close it is to any combustible materials (check the heater’s instructions for minimum offset distances).
Because we think we might re-build in the near term we went with the portable “Mr. Heater”, but one of these other options may work better for you.
DIY Camper Conversion Heaters
There are many plans and pins out there for terra cotta pots + tea candle heaters, but we were scared off by the equally prevalent “TERRA COTTA CANDLE HEATERS CAUSE FIREY DEATH” videos on youtube. Small stoves look like a safer option, but are still going to require you design a safe, cleanable chimney with a water tight vent. They also mean bringing potentially wet/dirty twigs and wood into your living space. This might be fine for a sprinter, but it wasn’t feasible for our truck bed camper conversion. A billowing chimney is also liable to blow your stealth if that’s a concern, but it certainly looks cozy and buring wood doesn’t have the same moisture issue as propane…
Portable Propane Heaters
This is where many people end up, they’re cheap, efficient, and you can leave them behind in the summer.
Carbon Monoxide is the first big drawback – a living space must be well ventilated when a propane heater is being used. That obviously cuts down on efficiency, but it’s manageable for most people. Note that you’ll still have *some* carbon monoxide in the living area, but the idea is that it’s a safe amount. We’re installing a separate carbon monoxide alarm in addition to the automatic shutoff that’s build into the “Mr. Heater”.
Moisture is the second big drawback – quite a bit is produced in the combustion process, which is already a problem in Camper Conversions.
Even with those drawbacks, most people end up with the Mr. Heater (including us). The Mr Heater is particularly attractive because of it’s built in safety features: it automatically shuts of if there’s low oxygen in the area, if the pilot light goes out, or if it gets knocked over. To minimize carbon monoxide levels you should always have a window and a vent cracked when operating a propane heater, and we’re installing a separate carbon monoxide alarm, but it’s nice piece of mind to know the heater will automatically shut off those other methods all fail. We looked at installing a combustible gas alarm, but couldn’t find any that were battery powered. If you were motivated, you should be able to power one off your 12V DC system with a DC-DC step down converter.
Even if you go with a portable heater, you can use refillable propane tanks with the right fittings and hoses, but DON’T KEEP THE TANK IN THE LIVING COMPARTMENT. More information over here.
If you don’t care about being able to remove the heater and want a move “built-in”, polished look then you can integrate a heater. This would also allow for ducting, which might be necessary on large builds. Propane is the most common fuel source (you’d definitely want to go with a refillable tank system for an integrated heater), but you can also use diesel fired furnaces (this would only make sense on a diesel vehicle where you wanted to tap an existing fuel line)
Because of the power requirements, electric heaters aren’t really an option for the kind of small scale battery systems people put in camper conversions. The only exception *might* be if you just preheat the bed with an electric blanket in a very small camper. We talked about that briefly for our Truck Canopy Camper Conversion, especially when we were worried about our heavy foam mattress getting stiff in the cold, but we never actually did the math on BTUs versus Amp Hours.
Hope that helped! How do you heat your camper? Or maybe you insulated it so well you don’t even need heat?