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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all,

Getting close enough to pulling the trigger on a 136" HR gasser that I've started to *actually* plan for the buildout (aka pricing out different materials/components). The goal is to build an all-season, mostly off-grid camper: From springtime mountain biking in Moab, to backcountry skiing on Teton Pass in the middle of winter and everything in between. Let's just say we won't be parking in established campgrounds to plug into shore power and fire up the direct TV :D

Because we want to travel (comfortably) through winter in the mountains, I'm racking my brain over how to heat the van. Oh—before you say it—yes, I'm planning to insulate this thing crazy well. Based on my research, I think I have the following three options:

Propane: After reading countless threads both here and elsewhere on the interwebs, I'm ~95% convinced I want to avoid propane altogether b/c of associated risks. Besides our own safety, we have a dog and would love to keep the van at least sort of warm while out skiing. Also would be nice to come home to liquid water in our tanks... Can't imagine leaving a propane system running unattended. That said, it seems like a simple, reliable way to heat the vehicle rain/shine/snowed in/etc... Thoughts?

Electric: Because I'm turned off by propane, a DC powered heater seems like a reasonable option. After researching, it seems like the one I'd need is a 1000 watt unit... that's a lot of juice! I'm just scratching the surface when it comes to designing the solar/electric system, and that number frightened me a bit.

My question: Is it unreasonable to think of using a DC powered heater for an off-grid, winter application like this (limited solar due to short days, low sun angle, panels covered in snow...)? I assumed the van's alternator could pick up the slack but am reading that's pretty meager charging at best. Assuming it's not crazy to think of this option, would I need to design my electric around a massive battery bank? Also planning on having an efficient fridge, LED lighting, and charging capability for small electronics (phone, laptop, etc...)? Lastly: Batteries and cold temperatures... should this be a major concern?

Gasoline: I've heard that there are heaters that run on the vehicle's gasoline tank (like this one: https://esparparts.com/espar-airtro...-25393.html?osCsid=7krasdr1l0sgl9kuu6kq2u5os6). This gives me pause for a few reasons: 1) If propane scared me, gas seems terrifying, 2) I've read these systems can be fickle at high elevations—I live at 5,400' and spend lots of time above 10,000', 3) Nobody seems to use these... haven't seen a single person in this forum opt for a gasoline heater. Why? 4) Holy price tag!!!


Am I missing any options? Are my assumptions about these systems super flawed? Would love to hear what you all think based on experiences. Thank you!!
 

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Propane will work, The gas Wabasto will work and are as safe as Propane. Diesel is available and believe it or not some have installed a small diesel tank (a few gallons at most) to run an Espar heater. Altitude can be an issue but there are kits to convert to high altitude. Electric is crazy difficult to heat the van. Heat you? Perhaps with a 12 volt blanket but to heat the van is tough even in non extreme temps. Carbon atoms are your friend here. There are portable units with oxygen deplition valves to shut them off in high CO situations but I would never sleep with one on and even though I don’t know you I would hate to hear a poster here had died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Don’t do that. If you lean one way or the other many here have “expert” knowledge.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the reply, RD. I know this comparison might be futile, but how has your diesel heater performed at altitude, assuming you've been there? Any issues?
 

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I was considering the same options recently. I have a 159" gasser I just picked up.

If you're going to have any other appliances with propane such as a stove or h20 heater, just go with propane. Having 3 fuel sources is ridiculous. Propane is tried and true, and certainly can be made safe to be left on unattended.

There are diesel cooktops, but they introduce heat when on and can present a hidden heat touch danger. I decided that wasn't worth the risk and the extra heat in the summer was unwanted. Also, more potential maintenance with diesel appliances (fuel needs a good filter). Others will tout other fuel sources-butane, etc. I wanted a nice inset cooktop with good variable control, and for good options your answer is propane.

I'd say propane heaters are SO efficient, relatively cheap, and making a system safe with redundancy is common and very doable, go with propane.
 

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I have a 1500 watt electric heater I used for years in our tent and our tent camper. Considering how well our PM is now insulated, I think it should be fine. We're camping in the NC mountains in Oct., I'll let y'all know how it works.

We had propane furnaces in our two old RVs. Propane is really inefficient in cold weather. You'll use a bunch of it! Not a fan here.
 

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I have a 1500 watt electric heater I used for years in our tent and our tent camper. Considering how well our PM is now insulated, I think it should be fine. We're camping in the NC mountains in Oct., I'll let y'all know how it works.

We had propane furnaces in our two old RVs. Propane is really inefficient in cold weather. You'll use a bunch of it! Not a fan here.
Sure, it'll work fine. Many of us don't use generator or plug in power, and the battery banks required to run inverted ac and power a plug in heater are not practical at this time.
 

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Gasoline: I've heard that there are heaters that run on the vehicle's gasoline tank (like this one: https://esparparts.com/espar-airtro...-25393.html?osCsid=7krasdr1l0sgl9kuu6kq2u5os6). This gives me pause for a few reasons: 1) If propane scared me, gas seems terrifying, 2) I've read these systems can be fickle at high elevations—I live at 5,400' and spend lots of time above 10,000', 3) Nobody seems to use these... haven't seen a single person in this forum opt for a gasoline heater. Why? 4) Holy price tag!!!
Nobody? Um... there's a whole thread that discusses installing these.

http://www.promasterforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=57897

I think you'll find far fewer seriously considering electric.

IIRC there was a recent post that mentioned a new gas version with improved high altitude performance.
 

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Webasto gas heater installed in 2014 and am pleased with it. Expensive yes. Only thing that I done is my bad was running it while driving
without an intake filter. It became dirty and was shutting down on me because of it. Managed to get it cleaned out by turn on high for awhile.
It blew a pile of carbon out. Now it is fine.
Still need to install intake filter as to not suck in road salt/sand dust. So for now I only run it when parked.
I also installed a rear heater running off the engine antifreeze. Bought that at Princess Auto/Harbour Freight. This keeps thing up to temperature
when driving in extreme cold.

Safety? No worries. The fuel line is on the outside and installed very very carefully. If it did leak it would be on the out side and you would see or smell it from the outside.

I can keep the temperature at a very comfortable levels at below minis 25 c. Insulated underneath also with one inch Foamular board with foil glued and screwed. Flammable? Yes that is what the foil is for. Safety hype scare tactic of some venders. Like sitting is the new smoking.

Where are you parked at 10'000 feet? Are you in B.C.?
 

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There is a procedure for setting the Webasto to run at 5-10,000 feet. I'd venture that the gas Webasto is your best bet. I'd not have a worry running it unattended.
 

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Thanks for the reply, RD. I know this comparison might be futile, but how has your diesel heater performed at altitude, assuming you've been there? Any issues?
You've now got a few opinions. The choices are all spendy as the really cheap ones either won’t work or may be dangerous if even the slightest failure occurs. As for your question I have camped at 7000-9000 feet and had no problem but only for a night or two. No issues with the Espar Diesel heater. Many truckers are adopting them for heat as idling is being ruled out by regulation and by emissions. They are very reliable.
I’m going out on a limb here and going to say you really have two good options:
1. All Propane, installed exterior tank under the van, heater, cooking, hot water, etc.
2. Wabasto Gasoline heater fed off the tank, butane cooktop, water heater from engine coolant, etc.

The Propane sounds simpler and may be, but each function requires it’s own appliance just like #2 . The costs of #1 may be a bit less but refilling will be often when really cold and a nuisance.
 

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If you are worried about combustion gasses, get a hydronic system. This has an externally mounted combustion unit that heats antifreeze, which is then run into the living space and through a heat exchanger. That way, there is a 100% separation of the combustion from the living space - the only way combustion gasses can get in would be to be sucked into a window, and that has the same level of risk as for a generator sitting outside, or idling the engine, or parking next to somebody.

Additionally, a hydronic system can be installed to heat the engine, so that if you are in really cold environments, you have the benefit of a block heater as well.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Gas it is??

There is a procedure for setting the Webasto to run at 5-10,000 feet. I'd venture that the gas Webasto is your best bet. I'd not have a worry running it unattended.
Thanks, MsNomer! I saw something about an actual altitude kit (bought separately) -- maybe that was for the Espar? In your experience, did it sound like the settings were easily tweaked by the consumer, or was that something you needed to specify to the distributor? Have you used yours at elevation?

I skimmed your install thread (Thanks, Ziggy for linking to that!) and look forward to reading it in more detail. Bummer that those pics are being held hostage!

Nobody? Um... there's a whole thread that discusses installing these.

http://www.promasterforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=57897

I think you'll find far fewer seriously considering electric.

IIRC there was a recent post that mentioned a new gas version with improved high-altitude performance.
Thanks, Ziggy! I think I had actually skimmed this thread wayyy back when I started researching but had trouble finding it again. Still a noob and learning to navigate this forum.

Where are you parked at 10'000 feet? Are you in B.C.?
Colorado! Occasionally, we may end up even higher, though that's unlikely in the winter. Thanks for sharing your experience, uncubed!

---

Based on everyone's replies and some more reading, I'm leaning toward the gasoline-burning option. Though pricey, it seems like the best, most reliable product for my needs.
 

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Nix Electricity

My question: Is it unreasonable to think of using a DC powered heater for an off-grid, winter application like this . . . ?
Yes, it is unreasonable.

As the Self-Proclaimed Czar of Electricity (500ah of lithium, 800 watts of solar, 280amp second generator, 125 amp charger), we would not think to run our electric space heater without shore power. That heater draws north of 125 amps! That would suck our batteries dead in just 4 hours! Yes, we can idle the van to real-time power the heater - - but this is not a realistic overnight solution.

Electric mattress pads/blankets as suggested by RD are practical. They draw ~10 amps. We'll leave it to you to design an electric vest for your beast.
 

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Yes, it is unreasonable.

Electric mattress pads/blankets as suggested by RD are practical. They draw ~10 amps. We'll leave it to you to design an electric vest for your beast.
Hahah! I think we'll just leave the pup plenty of blankets and wrap him in a [non-electric] vest. He's the hearty type (read: maybe slightly overweight >:D ).

In all seriousness, thanks for the info. This electric blanket idea has me thinking: I might employ one of those small heating pads to keep my freshwater tank liquid during the coldest of nights. I've read elsewhere that even if the upper areas of the van stay above freezing, the floor (where my tanks will be located) might get cold enough that hoses/manual pumps might freeze.
 

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Yes, it is unreasonable.

As the Self-Proclaimed Czar of Electricity (500ah of lithium, 800 watts of solar, 280amp second generator, 125 amp charger), we would not think to run our electric space heater without shore power. That heater draws north of 125 amps! That would suck our batteries dead in just 4 hours! Yes, we can idle the van to real-time power the heater - - but this is not a realistic overnight solution.

Electric mattress pads/blankets as suggested by RD are practical. They draw ~10 amps. We'll leave it to you to design an electric vest for your beast.

That seems like a lot of power to heat a well-insulated van -- granted "well insulated" is relative. Does your heater actually run steady at near 1,500 watts to keep your van warm? And under what conditions (temperatures)?

We use a 1,000/1,500 watt portable electric heater for our uninsulated window van, and rarely run it at 1,500 watts. Normally the 1,000-watt "Low" setting is enough to stay comfortable even when outside temperatures drop into 30s (that part is very relative also). This last May we camped in Yellowstone where it dropped to 28 F and we did run it at 1,500 watts, but we're not used to cold or have much winter clothing, don't have cold-rated sleeping bags, and van isn't insulated at all.

I'm planning on being able to stay warm enough most of the time with 500 watts of heat in an insulated van, but it will require fewer and dual pane windows. The real challenge will be to isolate the cab area so the windshield and front door glass don't turn van into icebox.

Anyway, the more data I can get the more "realistic" my expectations should be. I'd also prefer staying all electric but without having to always rely on campground hookups.
 

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RV outlet suppliers have heaters for tanks for the purpose you need.

Winston- Hail the Czar, long live his majesty.
 

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Discussion Starter #17

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Wowbagger, the Webasto offers equivalent protection from combustion gasses. Everything combustion-related is isolated under the vehicle.

We have not yet adjusted for altitude nor run it at altitude.
 

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Re electric blankets, etc.:
Many years ago I tried that approach and found that the controllers failed because I was using a "modified sine wave" inverter. For these controllers you should have a true sine wave inverter.
 
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