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Monday, November 30, 2009

Quick and easy catalytic heater installation

For snowbirds and boondockers heading for the desert and on a restricted electrical supply, catalytic heaters provide a practical, economical, and efficient way to stay warm this winter. Forced air furnaces are not only inefficient (at about 60%) but consume great quantities of electricity and propane--and are annoyingly loud, especially when they kick on at 2:00 in the morning.

Catalytic heaters, on the other hand, operate at about 98% efficiency in a flameless chemical reaction of propane gas and oxygen, require no electricity, cost just pennies per hour to use, are silent, safe, and run right off your rig's propane tank. But because they use volatile propane gas, if you install a catalytic heater permanently in your motorhome, fiver, or trailer, it should be done by a licensed RV or gas technician (in some states it may even be illegal to do it yourself).

However, if you make the installation non-permanent, it is an easy and legal job. Here is what I did:
  1. I purchased a tee fitting kit and installed the tee in my motorhome's propane line.
  2. I attached a flexible rubber, gas-use approved hose that went from the tee into the empty space behind the drawers in the galley.
  3. I then drilled a hole in the galley cabinet beneath the lowest drawer only large enough to feed the hose through.
  4. On the end of this hose I put a female quick-connect fitting and on the heater itself, an 18-inch hose extension with the matching male fitting. They snap together when I hook up the heater, and disconnect by pulling the collar back on the male end.
When in use, I pull the hose out through the hole. The fitting on the end keeps the hose from disappearing into the cabinet, and only the short end fitting shows when shoved all the way in. I allowed about six feet of extra hose so when I pull the hose out of the hole I can position the heater where I want it--it will reach the dinette in one direction and the door to the bedroom in the other. When the need for the heater passes with the season, I disconnect it, remove the legs, and stow it in a cloth bag in an outside locker.

Though it may be tempting to purchase a large heater, if it is too large, you may not be able to run it after your rig heats up since even the lowest setting will make the interior too warm and you will be faced with having to turn it on and off in order to regulate the temperature to your comfort level. A final note of caution, since these heaters require oxygen, they can suck the oxygen out of the air in a confined, closed space, so to be safe, open a vent or window slightly according to the manufacturer's recommendation--it doesn't require much, a quarter of an inch should be plenty.


  1. Hello Mr. Dilfey. Just wanted to say I really like this blog - great info. I have never owned and RV, but every night before bed I check out Craigslist to see about prices, and surf around about RV travel and the like. Just a dreamer I suppose. Anyway, if you ever read these posts and get back to patrons, here is a question or two. First - how did you find your passion for RV life. Also, what one piece of advice would you give for an aspiring RV'er like me who doesn't have a lot of funds, but craves an opportunity to experience life like you do? If you would like to respond, my email is thank you!

  2. Hi Ron - I'm glad you enjoy my blog and the RVtravel web sites. If you haven't looked yet, the forums at are also great places to learn more about RVing from the widespread and active RV community scattered across the country.
    My love of the outdoors started with camping in a pup tent while in the Scouts, grew to a van, and finally as General Manager of a RV rental and sales company. When I retired I sold my house and got rid of most of my stuff and became a fulltime RVer for the next 17 years. The learning process took that long, and continues today as things change, new gizmos come on the market, and the RV lifestyle reinvents itself.
    My suggestion to you is to start camping with whatever means fits your budget. Progress from there, to a tent trailer, for instance, a small towable. Even a basic unit is all you need to get into the outdoors and experience life as an RVer. Moving up to a larger rig is just a matter of adding more convenience, more gingerbread, more comfort, more space. You don't need a 40-foot diesel pusher motorhome to start RVing. Learn as you go. Discover what you find essential for you, and what you can do without--but go do it. There is no excuse for waiting until all the dominoes are lined up perfectly.
    Go do it. Happy travels.

  3. Sounds like sound advice. It's so true that you can have just as much enjoyment with a camper shell on a truck as you can with a 40ft class A. Just depends what your wants are.

  4. Bob,

    On your gas heater hook-up, your description did not say. But, I'm assuming that you installed the tee fitting on the low pressure side (e.g., after the regulator) of the system?

    I've ordered an Olympian heater and will be installing it later this winter. I enjoy the articles. Thanks for the good work.

    Ron Johnson