Start and Run an RV Furnace (Battery, Generator, 110 volt)
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Your RV furnace allows you to travel comfortably during the winter or at high elevations. As long as it’s working properly, it will keep you and your guests cozy – even on the coldest of nights.
What is an RV furnace?
An RV furnace is a forced-air system that is powered by propane and electricity. It operates on 12-volt DC power and can run from a battery, generator, or from a 110-volt outlet using your RV’s converter when it is plugged into electricity. Most RV furnaces are “Direct Spark Forced Air” furnaces that have sealed combustion chambers which are vented outside.
Unfortunately, some RV’ers let magical winter getaways slip by as they either
aren’t aware that their RVs have a furnace or they simply don’t know how to use them.
Let us show you the ins and outs of your RV furnace and how to keep it working properly so that you never miss another chance at adventure, no matter what season you’re in.
Not sure how to safely drive your RV in snowy conditions? We’ll help you out. “Driving an RV in the Snow: The Ultimate Safety Guide”
For incredible ideas on winter RV destinations, please read “11 Breathtaking RV Destinations for December”
How Does an RV Furnace Work?
Before you’re able to comfortably operate your furnace on the go, you’ll need to understand how they actually work.
RV furnaces require three key elements: propane, electricity, and fire. The propane-fueled pilot light heats the air inside the furnace chamber, circulating it around. The blower motor will start to distribute hot air into your RV through a duct system.
Some models of RV have two vents: one for the intake and one for the exhaust. Other models will have one exhaust vent and a mesh grill for the intake.
*Note: When using your furnace, make sure to never cover the ducts or the exhaust vents in your RV as this can cause your furnace to overheat or trap dangerous gases inside the rig.
How to Start an RV Furnace
There are two ways to run an RV furnace.
- Manual light: All manual light furnaces work the same by you lighting a pilot flame which ignites the gas.
- Automatic or self-lighting: The operation of automatic furnaces will change based on which type of thermostat you’re using. It will be either digital or analog.
How to Start a Manual Light RV Furnace
- Before starting, consult your RV user manual for any specific information pertaining to your furnace
- To get started, make sure your thermostat is set to “auto” and “heat”
- Turn on your propane
- Next, go to your control panel and turn your knob to pilot.
- Push and hold the knob. If there is a striker button, push this a few times until the pilot lights.
- If there is no striker, or the striker does not work, use your lighter to light the pilot.
- Once the pilot is lit, release the knob and wait for the pilot light to light up completely.
- Turn the knob to an on position; you can then adjust the temperature as needed.
If you have trouble getting the pilot to light the first time, you may need to repeat the process a few times.
If after several tries you’re still unsuccessful, check to make sure your propane tank is not empty.
However, if the tank is not empty, you may have a more technical problem and should consult a service technician.
How to Start an Automatic RV Furnace
As opposed to manually-lit furnaces, automatic furnaces are easier to start and operate. Follow these steps to warm up quickly:
- First, turn on your propane tank.
- Then, make sure your thermostat is set to the desired temperature and proper setting.
- Once you set your thermostat, you should hear the fan start blowing. It may be followed by a click sound.
- Soon you should start to feel hot air blowing from the ducts. After a few minutes, you can adjust the thermostat to your desired temperature.
CAUTION: Whenever using your RV furnace, be sure to have proper ventilation such as cracking a window or vent to outside the RV. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly!
If not – replace the batteries or the detector. This is a combination of propane gas and carbon monoxide detector (amazon).
Does an RV furnace need electricity?
RV furnaces need electricity to run. Although gas furnaces can still create heat with propane, electricity powers the blower motor that circulates the heat into the rig.
There are three ways to produce electricity to run your furnace: by using a battery, generator, or 110 volt outlet.
Under normal circumstances, a furnace will draw about 8 amps of power per hour and use 500 to 1500 watts. Furthermore, the energy consumption of a furnace depends on how big an area you want to heat. Therefore, if you only need to warm a smaller area in your RV, the consumption would be lower (and vice versa).
To read more about RV electrical setups, check out: RV Electric Setup and Basics (RV Plugs and Voltages)
If you’re having issues keeping your RV cool instead of warm, see our “RV Air Conditioner Troubleshooting Guide“
Running an RV Furnace on Battery, Generator and 110v
Now that you know how to properly start your RV furnace, let’s discuss the various ways you can get electricity to it.
Running RV Furnace on 12V Batteries
If you’re going to run your furnace on your 12-volt RV batteries, you’ll first need to make sure they’re fully charged. You’ll also need to consider the amp draw of your RV’s furnace.
On full batteries, your furnace should be able to run for about 12 hours at 200amps power. As I said above, a furnace will draw about 8 amps of power per hour and use 500 to 1500 watts. Of course, this will vary based on what your thermostat is set at and how often your furnace runs.
It’s important to note that you should avoid using over 50% of your battery power as this may damage or break your furnace or battery permanently.
If your battery dies during the night, you will wake up freezing. At least I did when the battery died and I was too sleepy to figure out why I was so cold.
What Size Generator Needed to Run RV Furnace?
An RV Furnace draws power only for the blower and requires 500 to 1,500 watts. Depending on the size of your RV and the space that needs heating you will need between a 2,000-watt and 5,000-watt generator.
Before taking to the hills during a snowstorm, make sure you’ve got a large enough generator in tow. If you have a Class A, C, or fifth-wheel RV, you’ll probably need at least a 4,000-watt generator. However, smaller trailers and Class B’s should be okay with about 2,000-watts.
You’ll also need to consider if you plan to run other appliances with your generator. If you plan to use it solely to run your furnace, a 2000-watt generator may be plenty in a larger RV if your furnace only requires 500-1500 watts.
Can I Run My RV Furnace on 110v?
Most RV furnaces on the market come with propane furnaces built in to ensure that campers can stay warm, even where there’s no electricity. However, some models may have an adapter allowing them to use a combination of propane and 110-volt outlets.
Regardless of where your electricity is coming from, you will still need a fuel source – i.e. propane – for your RV furnace to function properly. If you want to use shore power or residential electricity to run your furnace, the fan motor will run but it will not blow hot air unless it is connected to propane.
Some older RV models may require a converter kit to run your furnace off of 110v, but the majority of newer models do not. So, depending on your specific RV, you may be able to hook up your 110v supply to your RV’s electrical input with an extension cord. This should supply power to your furnace. However, be sure not to power too many things in your RV at once as it could trip the electrical supply.
Pro Tip: I suppliment my RV furnace with a space heater when hooked up to shore power. I like the constant radiant heat from a space heater that reduces the furnace kicking on and off. Some people like this ceramic space heater with tipover protection but my favorite is this type of portable space heater on wheels (amazon)
Common RV Furnace Questions
Where is my RV thermostat?
The thermostat will be mounted on one of the interior walls of your RV. If you’re unsure where it is, consult your user manual. Thermostats come in analog or digital versions, similar to one you may have at home. You will also use it to control your RV’s cooling system.
Where is the RV furnace located?
The furnace may be more difficult to locate in your RV as they’re sometimes tucked into an interior location. Most of the time, you’ll be able to see a furnace exhaust on the exterior of your RV; the furnace would be just on the inside of that wall. Some other common spots for the furnace include under the couch, under the refrigerator, or next to the water cabinet. Your RV user manual should also show you where to find it.
How to tell if your furnace is working
If you hear the fan blowing and feel warm air coming from your vents, congratulations! Your furnace is working. If you have a propane furnace and are able to see the flame, it should look bright blue.
If the flame is not getting enough oxygen it will look more yellowish. This may be cause for concern, as it could be releasing poisonous carbon monoxide into your RV. If this is the case, turn your furnace off right away. Let the RV air out and seek professional assistance.
If your furnace is running correctly but your RV is not warming up after some time, check the filter to make sure it’s clean. You can then try resetting the furnace if it has a reset button. Otherwise, turn it off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it back on.
If the same thing happens, there may be a bigger problem with your furnace and you should have it checked and repaired by a professional.
Can you run your RV furnace without electricity?
You can run your RV furnace without shore power alternating current electricity. However, your RV furnace will need a power source, so a generator or batteries will be necessary.
In fact, most RV furnaces are designed to be able to be used off-grid. You can run your furnace with 12-volt batteries or a generator of the right size as long as you have enough propane. Also, as we discussed earlier, make sure that your batteries are fully charged…you do not want to drain them. You can also plug your rig in and have your generator running.
Can you pull a travel trailer with the furnace on?
You technically can pull your travel trailer with the furnace running. However, it is not safe. So you should turn the propane tanks off and keep the furnace off while driving.
Besides, RVs don’t take too long to warm up once parked at your campsite.
However, if you do want to run your furnace while you drive, make sure that none of the vents are obstructed by slides or supplies. Also, keep in mind that this will use an increased amount of propane.
Finally, be aware that propane is a flammable gas and there is a risk of explosion when your tank is open. So again, its NOT advisable!
Preparing for a Cold-Weather RV Trip
Before heading off into a wintry wonderland, there are a few things that you’ll want to double-check to stay warm and cozy on those cold nights.
First, you should ensure that your furnace is working perfectly. Turn it on and test it before leaving your house to avoid any issues on your trip. Also be sure you have all of power supplies you’ll need. Whether you plan to use batteries, a generator, or 110v, make sure that you have an adequate source of power for your furnace that will last the whole trip.
Most importantly, make sure that your propane and/or generator are full. We recommend bringing extra if you can.
If you’re new to RVing or aren’t savvy with the more “technical side” of your RV, you may feel a bit intimidated the first few times you run your furnace. However, the more you use it the more comfortable you’ll get…and the cozier your RV will be.
We hope that this has answered any questions you have about safely and efficiently operating your RV furnace. Here’s to nothing holding you back on your next getaway!
Speaking of moisture, are you wondering “Can RV Surge Protectors Get Wet?”
Need ideas for a spectacular Christmas trip? Read our “12 Magical Places to Camp This Christmas”
If you don’t intend on taking your RV out this winter, check out “A Guide to Winterizing Your RV”
For more help on planning your upcoming journey, visit our Etsy store where you can find tons of printable planners, packing lists and more.
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