Is it safe to use a propane heater in a van?

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When looking at heating options for your van conversion, a propane heater is certainly one of the cheapest and most enticing options, but you might be left wondering: is it safe to use a propane heater in a van?

While there’s certain considerations to be made, using a propane heater in a van is a safe and affordable option, but only if used correctly. Let’s look at some of the key safety points when heating your camper van with a propane heater.

#1 Ventilation

While it may seem counterproductive, ventilation is actually key for using a propane heater inside a van, as it exhales potentially deadly carbon monoxide and prevents a build-up of condensation (more on that below). Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless gas which can cause loss of consciousness when inhaled and, eventually, death. For this reason, it’s important to open a window or door, even if it’s minus degrees outside, to ensure proper air circulation.

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Cracking open a window is key for ventilation when using a propane heater. Photo by Phil Aicken on Unsplash

#2 Monitoring

As with any heat source, a propane heater requires careful monitoring to ensure your safety. The easiest way to do this is to install a carbon monoxide detector in your van, which will alert you to potentially dangerous levels of the deadly gas. You should also regularly inspect your gas lines for damage or leaks, and replace any worn or perished hoses. Never leave your propane heater running overnight, or when you’re not in your van.

#3 Condensation

If you’re using a portable propane heater like the Mr Buddy ones, this will quickly cause a build-up of condensation inside your van. Burning hydrocarbons releases water which fills the air in the form of vapor, landing on every available surface and causing damp, so it’s important to provide adequate airflow when using one of these. If you have an integrated propane heater which exhausts outside then you’re in luck, as this will blow most of the moisture away, leaving you with warm, dry air.

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Airflow will keep your windows from steaming up with a propane heater running. Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

#4 Safety features

Most propane heaters come with built-in safety features, but never rely on these fully and always use your own intuition. Many heaters will have a feature that switches them off automatically if tipped over, or they will shut off if detecting low oxygen levels, although factors such as high altitude can cause this to happen sooner. Even so, beware of flammable objects in close proximity to your heater like rugs on the floor, and pay attention to bodily symptoms that may arise such as headaches and tiredness which could indicate unsafe levels of carbon monoxide.

Now you know how to safely use a propane heater inside a van, check out our top 10 tips for winter van life for other ways to keep warm.

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