If you’re new to the RV lifestyle, navigating a new way of heating your travel home may seem daunting. But never fear. Using an RV furnace is quite simple. To get started, you need a good understanding of the basics, including how your heater runs on propane and battery, how to adjust the thermostat, and where to locate vents.
Since your RV is just a home wheel, the good news is that the RV furnace runs similarly to a home. There are a few differences, and we will touch on those differences and similarities in this post.
Table of Contents
- RV Propane Furnace Work
- RV Furnace Work
- Final Thoughts
RV Propane Furnace Work
The first thing to note is that the fuel source for your furnace is propane. To generate heat, your furnace needs a fuel source to produce that heat. Propane is used in the combustion chamber to create heat and hot air for your furnace.
Propane is also used for appliances such as your stove and water heater.
Propane is stored in tanks in all RVs. These tanks are similar to barbeque tanks for your outdoor grill. What makes these tanks so great is that you can get them quickly refilled, just like your barbeque tanks. Replacement tanks can be done at gas stations and home centers throughout the USA.
The first step in getting to run your furnace the first time is to make sure that the propane tanks are completely full and that the propane tank gas valve is in the “on” position.
Where are my Propane Tanks Located
Depending on your RV type, the propane tank is stored in various locations. Here is a quick guide to where propane tanks are located:
Travel Trailer or pop-up propane is located at the front, by the hitch. These tanks can be exposed or may have a plastic cover that will cover one or two tanks that you may have.
5th Wheel propane is located in a compartment door at the front of your trailer. These tanks are usually a little larger but are still the barbeque type that can be refilled at some service stations.
Motorhome propane tanks are in the access door, usually just behind the driver or passenger cab. These propane tanks are different because they are fixed to the vehicle and cannot be swapped out at a service center. When you need to refuel, you will need to drive to the propane center to have them connect directly to your rig.
RV Furnace Work
So how does the RV furnace work, and what do you need to know before turning on your furnace for the first time? Below is your quick snapshot of the basic furnace components, what they control, and what you need to know to get them going for the first time.
Did you know that your RV furnace also has a power source besides a fuel source? The power source is needed because a blower motor will also need to operate to distribute the hot air produced. This blower motor is 12 volts DC and is provided by your RV battery. Even when connected to shore power, your converter will recharge your battery and provide the power needed to operate the blower motor.
Why is the blower motor at 12 volts DC? That’s because it will allow your furnace to run in case you want to go off the grid or don’t have shore power. The furnace will still be able to operate under battery power and keep you warm. Although the battery doesn’t last that long when operating the blower the motor, so a recharge will be needed every day or two if you are in cold weather.
The furnace vent consists of two parts: an intake and an exhaust. The intake draws air from outside the RV into the furnace, which is then heated and circulated throughout your camper by the blower motor. As this happens, hot air is released out of the exhaust vent near the bottom of your RV wall. This exhaust needs to be clear for proper airflow and operation, otherwise, hazardous carbon monoxide can build up inside your RV.
To ensure safety, check this vent regularly to ensure it’s not blocked or covered with dirt or debris. The exhaust vent at the trailer’s exterior gets very hot and can cause issues if you have any camping chairs or furniture up against the vent. If you have a burning smell outside your camper, check that this vent is clear of anything close by.
Interior intake vents are important to your overall air quality and need to be free and clear for the furnace to operate correctly. Your intake vent is usually a large vent, about one by two feet, and is located near the ground. It is also situated below an appliance such as your stove or refrigerator.
Check to ensure this vent is not blocked and that air can flow freely into this vent. Doing so will allow the RV furnace to get the needed air to push back through the ducts and into the rest of your trailer.
RV thermostats are designed with two main functions: temperature control and fan control. Setting the desired temperature will turn on the air conditioning or heating unit as needed, ensuring that your RV maintains its ideal climate. The fan setting controls how much air your camper circulates, allowing you to adjust airflow for more comfort or better air circulation throughout the interior space.
To use and adjust your thermostat, you will be setting the temperature and looking at the heat vs. cool and the fan speed settings. If you use your furnace for the first time and want heat, make sure the switch is set to heat. And that the temperature setting is higher than the room temperature.
Also, set the fan speed and if you want it to run continuously or on auto. My family and I noticed that when you run the fan on auto, it makes noise and can be a nuisance at night if you are a light sleeper. Also, if you are not on shore power and strictly running on RV battery power, you will want to limit the fan’s use since it takes that energy from your battery and can drain it reasonably quickly.
Another thing to look out for is if you have an electric space heater or fireplace in your RV. If you do, you likely have a disconnect switch to keep the air conditioner running accidentally while a heater is running. This is not desired because of the constant power and strain on your equipment if you were just constantly heating and cooling simultaneously with no downtime to the units.
Check by your fireplace. You will see a furnace / ac switch similar to a regular light switch. Make sure that the button is set to the furnace or heat position. Otherwise, the power is cut off to your furnace and will not start in the first place.
If you have any other issues, check out my posts:
Why your furnace is blowing cold? This will walk you through the possible reasons your furnace is not generating heat.
Why your furnace shuts off every 30 seconds? This is a great post on the common issues and solutions to why your furnace just won’t stay on.
Starting an RV furnace for the first time can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with what to look for. The good news is that this is a simple task, and following these steps will ensure RV safety by producing heat to warm up you and your family safe. First, turn on your fuel source by going to the propane tank valve. Then, ensure all your intake and exhaust vents are free and clear. And finally, set your thermostat to heat with your desired new temperature, and set the fan speed to auto. Enjoy your new RV, and stay warm!
Tony is an avid camper and RV traveler. He fell in love with camping on his first RV trip with his wife over 25 years ago. Tony loves sharing lessons learned and tips about RV maintenance and safe traveling.