Winter Caravanning: How to Heat a Caravan

22 Sep 2012

Winter caravanning doesn’t appeal to everyone but for those with a slightly more intrepid spirit than that required for summer camping, there are many bonuses. For starters, you can take your pick of camp-sites and, once there, your first choice of pitch too. All is quiet and solitude, the site itself is far cheaper – all this without the hassle and aforethought required in having to book months and months in advance.

For those who are already winter caravanning converts they will tell you there is nothing like it. However, the fun quickly disappears if you are not prepared for keeping cosy should the temperatures plummet. The following offers some information on how to heat a caravan as well as a few hints and tips. These will hopefully help you decide which choices are best for you and your needs so that your winter caravanning experience is snug instead of being an endurance exercise.

Factory fit heating options

All caravans will have some form of heating as part of their fixtures and fittings but depending on the age of your caravan and the type of heating offered, this may not be entirely suitable on its own to meet your winter caravanning needs. Most caravans offer either gas powered heaters or those that can use either gas or electric.

Gas only – this may get rather expensive. Your consumption will be high due to the fact that you will have your heating running more frequently and also that gas is utilised less efficiently in lower temperatures. Butane is not suitable at all for very low temperatures as it will not perform. Gas alone is rather impractical for winter usage as you will need to constantly replace used up cylinders and, depending on your set-up, even risk running out completely.

Gas with electric option heaters – these can be powered by gas alone, electric alone or a combination of the two and are generally better than the gas only option if you are on a camp-site which offers electric hook-up. The ability of the factory-fit heaters to keep you cosy will depend entirely on their output and efficiency which may vary considerably.

Some very new caravans are incorporating alternative heating systems to the traditional ones listed above, due in part to manufacturer’s recognising the rising popularity of off-season caravanning and the need for better caravan heating in lower temperatures. Such new designs are also available as retro-fits and accessories (see below).

Retro fit options

Unless you are lucky enough to have a shiny new top of the range caravan which incorporates the latest in heating innovations, then most winter caravanners opt for some kind of retro-fit heating device or accessory.

Free standing halogen heaters– these heaters, which come in a wide range of sizes, are very popular as they are safe (automatically cut-off if knocked over), have an immediate heating output, are typically energy efficient and are usually small and unobtrusive.  Additionally, of all the options, they are the cheapest to buy and easiest to use with no installation required.

Gas or gas with electric option – many older model caravan owners invest in these either to upgrade their original factory-fitted heater or to replace a unit which has failed a safety test/ceased working. Alternatively they are bought as an additional heating source to supplement the fitted heating appliance.  Again, as mentioned previously, they are not always the most suitable option for winter caravanning but it will depend on the model you buy.

Diesel powered heaters – many of these heaters which store the fuel in the caravan’s usual gas cylinder compartment, have the useful option of switching to power by electric. This option is gaining some popularity and there is some talk of certain new caravan makes factory fitting such systems. One major bonus of a diesel powered heater is that it can be operated while the caravan is being towed meaning you arrive with a toasty caravan.

Under floor space heaters – the latest of the caravan heating technologies to hit the market, under floor space heating is now being incorporated into several new build models. The heater itself is fitted beneath the caravan in a weather-proof cover, can be powered by either gas (propane or butane) or electricity and claims to reduce caravan heating costs by 25% due to its innovative energy efficiency design. However, these heaters currently come with a rather hefty price tag – around the £550 mark – so, although they are convenient, efficient and ideal for winter caravanning, they are not an option for everyone.


This may sound obvious but the bedding you require for winter caravanning will be very different to what is used the rest of the year.

The superior thermal properties of wool make it an excellent choice for keeping cosy (paradoxically wool is also able to keep you cool in hot temperatures) so investing in a high quality wool blanket or two is a good idea.

You may also want to swap your traditional bedding for a good quality sleeping bag(s). This is a vast subject in itself but with the right sleeping bag you will find it far easier to keep warm in bed than with sheets and blankets or duvets, even if these are winter strength.

Preventing heat loss

There are many places through which air and therefore heat can escape in a caravan. It doesn’t help that the shells themselves are often paper thin and don’t conserve heat well (some newer models have better insulation). It is of course vitally important that your caravan has adequate ventilation and this becomes even more essential depending on how you are heating your caravan and powering such things as your fridge.

However, not all of the places through which heat can escape are made that way on purpose and you may be able to take some steps to raise your caravan’s ability to hold the heat which in turn helps with fuel efficiency.

Check door and window seals – these do perish over time and may need replacing.

Check roof light seals – as for windows

Caravan doors – these are notoriously bad for inexact fitting and inadequate seals. It can help to put up a thick curtain over the inside of a caravan door.

Keep doors closed – if you have separate ‘rooms’ in your caravan and each is independently heated then do keep the doors closed at all times to help with heat conservation.

This is by no means an exhaustive list for caravan heating and a quick browse round any caravan accessory shop will show you a few of the options you have. Additionally, new innovations and products are being introduced all the time, each aiming to make the caravanner’s life a little more comfortable.

The decision you make for how best to equip your caravan for winter warmth will be up to you and will depend on when and how you use your caravan, the age of your unit and the budget you have available to make any improvements.

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