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Old 12-06-2019, 08:45 AM   #1
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Truck camper propane heater question

I have a propane heater in my camper that requires battery electricity to operate the thermostat. Unfortunately I'm parked for a few weeks at a time so won't be able to recharge the camper battery from the truck camper. It's cold and not much sun in the winter so I'm thinking my only option is to buy a separate propane heater that does not require electricity. Is there an easier or any other options? Thanks.
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Old 12-06-2019, 09:14 AM   #2
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Not sure I follow...are you dry camping? Or staying at an RV park with electric?

Anyway, if you're having trouble keeping one of your batteries charged, why not get a 100 watt solar panel? That should keep things humming along after a day of sunshine.

What I'd do to camp out in winter these days is install a diesel mini 5KW heater. But there are also mini wood stoves that RV'ers use in some tight spaces like truck campers. Those burn pellets or tiny sticks of wood. If I were boondocking a lot, I'd look carefully at both options. But would probably lean towards the diesel heater so I'd not have to mess with wood and dealing with the ash.

Mini Diesel Heater for RVs

Cubic Mini Wood Stove

BTW, I spent an early part of one winter with a Lil Buddy propane heater and though it worked well, too well in fact, I did not care for the need to crack open a window in 20 F weather, or all the moisture it churned out. The thing would run me out of the house is short order, then I'd have to turn it off and the temp would plunge. Back and forth. Could not sleep with it on. Got too hot. This in a 36 foot class a.
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Old 12-06-2019, 08:03 PM   #3
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If no fan or I'm reading it right, just thermostat to gas solenoid coil .It would not take a very big solar panel to keep the battery up. For the price of a small panel with charger, may as well get a Home Depot has 100 watt for. $82 . A 20 amp MPPT charger would be better in low light. from 30 - $100. This could serve you for 20yrs.
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Old 12-07-2019, 07:27 AM   #4
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Thanks for the response. Yes I'm dry camping. Good ideas. I was looking at the lil Buddy propane heater but the mini diesel looks better. I guess you exhaust it out the window. Thanks again.
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Old 12-07-2019, 07:36 AM   #5
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Jim suggested this as well. I've never used solar and thought it wasn't an option because my electrical needs are in winter when I'm in the mountains and there isn't a lot of sun. Just a lot of snow. I'll look into the low light solar options you suggested. Thanks for the great idea.
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Old 12-07-2019, 08:34 AM   #6
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One follow up question. Since my power needs are minimal (thermostatic control 10 hrs 2 nights per week) do you know how many watt solar panels I would need? I'm in Canada and 100 watt panels start at over $300.
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Old 12-07-2019, 08:40 AM   #7
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Coldcamper,

Are you sure that your propane heater does not have a fan? If so, that would pull more electric than the thermostat.

Looking at the diesel heater, it looks like it pulls 5000w of power so not sure what you'd gain by installing this except to use diesel instead of propane.

Seems like some other source of power is needed (solar or generator unless you can plug in).
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Old 12-07-2019, 09:00 AM   #8
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I've never messed with solar but my thinking is that 100 watts of solar would be enough, if the only need for 12 volts was for the thermostat.

I do want to ask about the propane side of the equation. I'm sure you have it covered but what is your plan for when you start to run low on propane? My last two truck campers had single 20 pound tanks. I would not want to even attempt to depend on that to keep me warm for any length of time.
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Old 12-07-2019, 09:48 AM   #9
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There are lower cost solar panels...here's one at $75, and here's a link to a $18 for a 20 amp solar controller. So under $100.

Add 2 new 6 volt deep cycle batteries and you've got a nice system.

Solar panels will still output charging current even in shadow during the day, but not as much if covered by snow or deep shadow. You must account for that where you're staying before plunging into solar.

The diesel heater I linked above outputs 5,000 Watts per the call out, that's not the power it uses but what it produces, and I think they mean BTU not watts. As I recall from reading, actual power it uses is around 1.5 amps at 12 volt so 18 watts to run the electronics and the small fan. And it only is on when heat is called for by the thermostat, so typically 50% of the time.

A 100 amp hour battery will supply 5 amps for 20 hours before it needs recharging, so 0.75 per hour (1.5 amp half the time) would last 133.3 hours. If the heater is the only item on the batteries. Approximately.

And to OP: You don't exhaust the diesel heater out of a window, drill holes in the camper wall if you're careful about placement. Or hire a handyman to install it.

There's also kerosene heaters, I used one an entire winter up in Portland Oregon. But they suffer from the same problem the catalytic propane heaters do, can't really control the temp in the room. Once it's on the temp soars in the space, you turn off the heater, it plunges. But the kerosene heater I used was a bit more controllable then the propane catalytic, I'll say that for them. Impossible to use either one over night and be comfortable, IMO. And again, you need air, so there needs to be a vent or window open all night.
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Old 12-07-2019, 11:21 AM   #10
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I just thought of another low cost, no power solution. Back when I was a kid, we spent the winter in the snow covered mountains of Montana in an old cabin. Usually the wood stove kept us warm, but at night, we used several kerosene lanterns set low around the two rooms to provide warmth. They put out lots of heat and can be adjusted from low flame to high pretty easily by adjusting the wick position. They do smell, and can be smoky, or dangerous because of fire, but it's mostly harmless to breathe. Oh, and you need fresh air from like a partially opened vent or window.

The big issue these days is finding pure kerosene instead of that stuff that has dye in it, that stuff stinks. Government mandate. But that was back in the '90's when that happened, not sure they still do that. There is special pure kerosene for home use but it's price is obscene.

Anyway, here's a couple lanterns: Kerosene lanterns
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Old 12-08-2019, 06:38 AM   #11
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There may be a fan but there is no air being pushed out. The heater is turned on by moving the thermostat.
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Old 12-08-2019, 06:52 AM   #12
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I have a few tanks that seem to last the required time and it doesn't get too cold. A few cold snaps but usually 15 at night and 25-30 during the day.
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Old 12-08-2019, 07:04 AM   #13
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Thanks for the info. I figured that I would use as you say only about 1.5 amps per hour and I found a 75 watt panel and controller on sale. At that usage I could pull it out once a week on a nice day. Just have to keep the snow off. Thanks again.
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Old 12-08-2019, 07:11 AM   #14
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I built a cabin in the Rockies in the 70's and did much the same. Never thought of kerosene lamps as a heat source but it is a small space. My friend just built a camper and installed a wood stove. Thanks.
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