Install and regularly check detectors for smoke, carbon monoxide, and propane. Don’t leave a space heater running while you’re asleep or away from home.
Don’t plug a space heater into an extension cord or a power strip (more on this later than well). Electric space heaters can also start fires by causing cords, power outlets, and the wiring inside your walls to overheat.
The amount of electrical current a wire can handle depends on its length and thickness. That’s one reason safety guidelines for using electric heaters say not to plug a space heater into an extension cord or a power strip–most extension cords and power strips use thinner 14 gauge wire.
If you plug a space heater into an outlet powered with 14 gauge wire, the extra draw could overload (and overheat) the circuit. Additionally, even if 12 gauge wire is used, the electrical outlet (receptacle) itself may only be rated for 15 Amps, which puts it at risk of overheating if you plug a space heater into it.
A 20 Amp receptacle will have one hole that is a T shape, as toucan see in the photo below that I took in my own RV. When I discovered it, the electric fireplace had caused the outlet to overheat and burn, even though it was still working and the breaker had not tripped.
Ultimately, you will have to determine for yourself whether the risk of using a space heater in an RV is worth the convenience it can provide. Another thing to keep in mind is that for many RVs, and especially four-season model RV’s, running the furnace is what keeps the water and sewage system from freezing in cold weather, so when temperatures drop below freezing, unless the RV is winterized, it’s a good idea to run the furnace as the main heating source and only use alternative heat sources as backup.
If you do decide to use a space heater, either as backup or as a primary heating source, I would recommend first evaluating the electrical outlets, breakers, and wiring in your RV to determine whether they are capable from handling a draw of a space heater. If you aren’t able to do this yourself, have someone who is qualified to do so (e.g. an electrician) inspect your RV’s electrical system, and upgrade any wiring/outlets as needed.
Also, I recommend that you choose a space heater that feels cool to the touch and has added safety features such as automatically shutting off if it tips over, overheat protection, and a thermostat (especially if you have kids or pets). For a list of heater models popular with Rivers, check out my blog post Choosing the Best Pacesetter for Your RV.
This is a special two-part article on a topic that’s not only seasonal, it’s very important to your safety, both in your home and your RV. In 2017, in Hagerstown, MD, (my town, in fact) there was a house fire around 3 a.m. which resulted in the death of a mother and her adult son.
The fire inspector reported that she had a portable electric space heater plugged into a string of outlet strips, and the wiring was covered in old newspapers. These heaters cause at least 25,000 home fires a year, along with 6,000 emergency room visits, according to the Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group.
If you remember some electrical math I’ve used in the past, wattage is simply volts times amperes (or V × I on this Ohm’s Law chart). That suggests we can divide the wattage of the appliance by the voltage and find out how many amps it draws.
And while a properly installed and maintained electrical outlet should be able to sustain that amount of current indefinitely, few home (or RV) owners do routine inspection and maintenance of their electrical outlets. And never put two space heaters on a single outlet or extension cord.
As toucan see in my video, an overloaded extension cord can reach the boiling point of water easily. The Cheapest system is specially designed to be able to run continuously as part of your RV’s furnace, and since it’s hard-wired into your circuit panel there’s no electrical outlet in the current path to overheat.
At first blush you may think not, since it does cost them more in their monthly electric bill compared to everyone heating with propane. However, they really DON’T like electric space heaters simply due to the risk of fire.
Also, I think that anyone installing a permanent electric heating system should consider upgrading their twist-lock shore power inlet to a Smartly, which has 20 times the contact area of an RV traditional twist-lock inlet. Join me next week for Part 2, where I’ll discuss various technologies for space heaters including coil, ceramic and oil filled.
Mike Soon is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. For information on how to support RV electricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the Like Mike Campaign.
Pin for later! If you camp or live in an RV in freezing weather, you’ll probably want to purchase some kind of heater to supplement your propane furnace. I’ll also recommend a few models of heaters most popular with Rivers to help you decide which one would be the best space heater for your RV.
If you’re looking for a cheap space heater for only occasional use, like a chilly fall morning on a camping trip, a small, portable ceramic heater is probably all you need. Features like oscillation, remote control operation, and timers make them a step up from the basic “plug it in and turn it on” ceramic heater.
The Lasso model below also has a safety feature now common in many heaters that will automatically shut it off if it begins to overheat. Find it here: Walmart.com Decorative space heaters that look like a small wood stove are an affordable choice popular with a lot of RV owners.
Find it here: Walmart.com Infrared heaters use radiant heat to transfer warmth to objects in a room (like how the sun warms objects it shines on) rather than simply blowing hot air into a space (though most infrared heaters also include a fan to help diffuse the heat). I especially like that it has a built-in thermostat, so it’s not running constantly and having to be turned up or down all the time, but only comes on once the room drops below a certain temperature.
Even though we were there in November and temperatures dropped below freezing at night, the oil-filled heater kept us plenty warm, and we even had to turn it down a few times. More recently, I bought the heater in the photo below to help keep the kitchen of my house from being so chilly, and I really love it.
Additionally, I would assume doing so would require the use of an extension cord, which adds extra risk (especially since the standard orange outdoor extension cord that many people might choose is not of a gauge low enough to handle the 12.5 Amp draw of most space heaters.) There has been one time, however, that we did run a portable space heater under our RV for a few hours, and that was when our black tank’s gate valve froze shut one day.
Normally our homemade vinyl skirting kept things plenty warm under our RV, but on this particular day the highest temperature was in the single digits, which is fairly exceptional for Missouri. If we lived in a colder climate where temperatures were often below zero in winter, I would not only make my skirting out of reflective foam board instead of vinyl, but I might consider placing a couple of work lights underneath for occasional use, which I’ve heard several RV owners say they use as they put out a fair amount of heat without drawing as much electricity as a space heater would.
Halogen work light from Walmart.com Most Rivers will want to choose electric rather than fuel-burning heaters as a supplemental heating source. However, when Ring in freezing, it’s a good idea to have a backup source of non-electric heat (and also a generator) in case a snow storm causes a power outage.
Not only is an indoor-use propane heater a good backup heating source for emergencies, it can also be used for boon docking in chilly weather. Find it here: Amazon.com Another propane heater popular with Rivers is the Olympian Wave made by Cameo.
It’s not exactly a heater, but if you’re just looking for a way to supplement your RV furnace in chilly weather so toucan keep the thermostat a set a little lower and keep from burning through quite so much propane, an electric blanket might be a good option. Just a week ago in Hagerstown, MD, (my town, in fact) there was a house fire around 3 a.m. which resulted in the death of a mother and her adult son.
The fire inspector is still investigating the exact cause, but her co-workers said she used electric space heaters extensively in her house. Space heaters cause 25,000 home fires a year, and 6,000 emergency room visits, according to the Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group.
If you remember some electrical math I’ve used in the past, wattage is simply volts times amperes. That suggests we can divide the wattage of the appliance by the voltage and find out how many amps it draws.
And while that’s a 20-amp circuit, in reality the electrical code originally designed that outlet for 15 amps of current, and assumed you would be drawing maybe 10 amps each on two separate outlets on a single 20-amp circuit breaker. And never put two space heaters on a single outlet or extension cord.
As toucan see in my video, an overloaded extension cord can reach the boiling point of water easily. I think that a 1,200-watt space heater is the largest I would use on a conventional electrical outlet, and even then it shouldn’t be run unattended.
The Cheapest system is specially designed to be able to run continuously as part of your RV’s furnace, and since it’s hard-wired into your circuit panel there’s no electrical outlet in the path to overheat. At first blush you may think not, since it does cost them more in their monthly electric bill compared to everyone heating with propane.
However, they really DON’T like electric space heaters simply due to the risk of fire. Join me next week for Part 2, where I’ll discuss various technologies for space heaters including coil, ceramic and oil filled.