You can take away the morning chill without running your RV furnace by adding an electric heat strip to any ‘heat ready’ RV air conditioner ceiling assembly.
Heat-ready ceiling assemblies differ from a regular RV air conditioner ceiling assembly because they have built-in controls to control the operation of the heat strip to convert your unit to both heating and cooling.
What is a Heat Strip and How Does It Work?
A heat strip is an electric heating coil that can be installed in most RV air conditioning units. It can be activated to warm your rig when it is not cold enough to use the furnace. They will not generate enough heat to keep you toasty in the really cold weather but are ideal for heating your RV in the fall and spring when the outside temperatures drop below a comfortable level.
A heat strip operates using the same AC power as the air conditioning unit. They produce 1500 watts of heat, the same as many space heaters, but they won't generate as many BTUs as a propane furnace. As the coil heats up the air created by the AC unit blower passes over it and warm air is circulated around your motorhome.
These coils can be purchased as an add-on to the main 13,500 or 15,000 BTU cooling capacity AC unit. To install, it's simple, all you have to do is:
- remove the air conditioner shroud
- mount the bracket that holds the heating element
- plug in the coil to the factory receiver
- reinstall the shroud
Don't forget, you may need to replace your ceiling assembly inside the RV with a heat-ready unit if it doesn't already have one. Otherwise, you won't be able to activate the heat strip.
If you have an RV wall thermostat controlling your RV air conditioner and RV furnace, you may have to replace it. You will need one that has dual heating modes for control of the furnace and the heat strip.
To use the heat strip, turn on the heat setting from your control panel, and you should get warm air coming from the AC ducting. Set the temperature setting on the dial to a level where the heat strip will maintain a comfortable temperature level.
The heat strip and air conditioner will operate independently of each other so they don't work at cross purposes. The heat strip can't be turned on when you are in cooling mode using the AC and vice versa.
Using the heat strip allows you to enjoy better energy efficiencies because you don't have to turn on your furnace when you just need to take the chill off.
You can also use the heat pump in colder weather to help heat your motorhome or trailer while the furnace gets the space up to the right temperature.
Heat Strips vs Heat Pumps
If you have or get an air conditioning unit that has a built-in heat pumps, you won't need a heat strip. The heat pump basically operates the AC unit in reverse and will perform the same function as your heat strip would.
When you are running the heat pump it draws air from outside and warms it, then blows it through the ducting into your RV. Similar to heat strips, heat pumps only work at a medium temperature, just enough to take the chill out of the air.
Your heat pump does run the compressor that also provides cool air in the summer, so you will have a shorter life span of your compressor in a heat pump-enabled air conditioner.
Heat Strip Issues
Heat strips don't generate as much heat like a furnace, so they can't be used exclusively to heat your RV, especially if you are full-timing.
Heated air from a heat strip originates at the ceiling, where the warmest air in the coach already is. So they're not as efficient as a furnace that blows air at floor level.
You might get an odor coming from the heat strip, but this usually only occurs when the strip is fairly new.
Other Heating Sources
Portable electric heaters are an option, although they can be unsafe if knocked over, which is more likely given that they are on the floor.
Electric fireplaces are available that can be mounted in a cabinet or used on a freestanding basis. In addition to producing a fair amount of heat, they are aesthetically pleasing and contribute to the homey feel of your RV.
Keeping Your RV Warm
Whatever heat source you use, here are some tips to improve the efficiency of those heaters:
Seal your RV: Make sure you don't have broken or missing seals, especially around your windows and doors as these can let the warm air out and cool air in. This means your heating appliances will have to work longer and harder.
Check the door and window seals regularly, replace them as necessary, and maintain them by spraying them with a seal conditioner.
In cool weather, with some heat on inside the RV, it's easy to find potential issues with leaks by just running your hand around the windows and doors to fell for cold air flows. Then use insulation, tape, silicone, or seal replacement to remedy the issue.
Interior Decor: Covering the windows in the summer with blinds keeps the sun from warming the interior air. Similarly, if you cover the windows in the winter, cold air radiating from the windows and doors will be insulated by the shades or curtains. In this case, thick curtains are best for insulating. Put down carpets or area rugs to insulate from cold air coming from the floor.
If you are living full-time in your RV and have single-pane windows, you might consider investing in double-pane upgrades.
Maintenance. Make sure that all the required maintenance is performed on all of your heating appliances, especially cleaning of furnaces and air conditioner filters. Rooftop AC units or heat pumps should be kept clear of dust that can cover the condenser coil or heat strip, decreasing the efficiency.
Lowering the furnace temperature at night can help to save you money and you will sleep more comfortably.
Heat strips can be a great alternative to running your furnace a lot if you have access to AC power, and if you don't use your RV in extremely cold temperatures.
When it gets really cold, a heat strip can be used in conjunction with your furnace to raise the temperature more quickly and keep it there.