Using RV Furnace For The First Time Efficiently (Starting)

When you are a first-time RV furnace user, do not be afraid to ask your questions. That is how you learn to use different RV appliances including the furnace. After one or two times using them, you become a pro and can answer those newbie operation questions.

To learn more about this topic, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about if you are a first-time RV user or owner. The instructions and information here apply to when you are renting an RV for the first time.

Using RV Furnace For The First Time


First-time RV owners and users always have questions. Some of those questions may go like this:

- How much propane does a furnace use?

- How much electricity does it drain if boondocking?

- Does it make more sense to use an electric heater only if plugged in to save propane or does it barely sip the lp when it's running?

- What method or equipment does everyone prefer for heat when boondocking?

- I also noticed the heat coming up from the floor was plenty warm but there was room temperature air coming from the ceiling vents. Is that normal?

For the last question, the answer is normally yes unless you have a leak somewhere. As for the other questions, every RV owner has their own preferences and the answers are not as cut and dried as that.

The amount of propane used by a furnace will depend on the temperature setting you put on the thermostat. The furnace should not drain that much electricity but if you have a generator, this is not going to be a problem.

The third question is yes and no. Sometimes it makes sense and other times it won’t. It depends on your camping situation. The final question, most people use electric heaters.

Even though you get a lot of advice for your questions and furnace use, this is something you have to be flexible about. You will have to experiment a bit till you find what is comfortable for you and your family.

Once you learned the operating procedure, your use of the furnace will depend more on your camping situation and the weather outside than anything else. It will also depend on how warm you want to be.

To be efficient means that you may have to set the thermostat lower and endure a cooler interior. That is the guaranteed way of using less fuel or electricity. But if you do that, do not be surprised if the furnaces cycle frequently so it may not be that efficient.

How Does an RV Furnace Work?

Usually, the furnace operates in the way the furnace manufacturer designed it. These appliances are not made by RV manufacturers. Usually, they contract with outside manufacturers to make the components the brand wants inside their different models.

Each furnace brand may have a different operating system but only slightly different since the furnaces can only run on propane or electricity. To learn about Forest River’s furnace operation just read our article on that topic at the link Forest River furnace operation.

With most RV furnaces you will find that they have to use both electricity and propane. The electricity is to run the different parts inside the system while the propane is burnt to supply the heat.

The furnaces have burners with lighters and when you set the furnace for a specific temperature, the fuel is given the green light to flow and the lighter strikes a spark to ignite the gas.

This action only lights the pilot light. This is the little blue flame that is always on when the furnace is turned on. Without it, you would have leaking propane into your RV. When you move the thermostat higher or lower, the pilot light receives more fuel and the furnace ignites to produce the desired heat level.

In other words, an RV furnace operates on the same principle as a natural gas furnace in your traditional home. The key would be to have the pilot on as much as possible to have an efficient flow of gas and heat.

How To Start An RV Furnace


More modern RVs have an automatic furnace starter or lighter. That means you just have to turn the furnace on and the computer and furnace do the rest of the work.

However, older RVs may not have this feature and you will have to go outside, access the furnace area, and manually light the appliance. The process for this is quite simple and if you have done it at your traditional home, the operation is the same.

Once you access the furnace area of your RV, turn the dial to pilot and then push the dial in. This will activate both the gas flow as well as the lighter. Keep pressing the dial for about 5 to 10 seconds until you know the pilot light is lit and then release.

In some cases, you may not have an automatic lighter in the furnace. In those cases, you will have to use a long match or lighter to light the pilot light. When the pilot light is lit in both cases, turn the dial to on and go enjoy your RV’s warm interior.

What you need to watch out for is if the gas line has propane in it. The furnace won’t light if it doesn’t. This means checking your propane tanks to make sure the valves are open. If they aren’t, open them up. Don’t laugh, this situation has happened to many experienced RVers.

Starting Furnace For The First Time

Here are the steps you need to take to get your furnace burning for the first time:

- Twist open the propane tank, allowing the gas to flow into the combustion chamber.

- Turn on the furnace’s power switch, which should be located near the RV furnace.

- Decrease the temperature from the thermostat and bring it to the lowest level.

- Turn off the breaker providing power to the furnace.

- Check for gas leaks and bad odor from the lines. If you can’t smell anything foul, open up the breaker to allow electricity back into the furnace.

- The furnace should start up now.

If you are not sure or not getting any heat, you may have run out of propane fuel. Nothing may be wrong with the furnace although that is a possibility. Also, check your owner’s manual for any specific instructions for your specific furnace model and brand.

There is only a slight difference between how your RV furnace operates and how your traditional home furnace operates. The biggest difference is the size of the appliance.

The other difference is that the fuel supply is usually always on at home, unlike your RV where you may be turning it on and off frequently.

How To Use An RV Furnace


The first step in this part of using your furnace for the first time is to know a few facts. It has been said that 1 gallon of propane is good for 92,000 BTUs. The average 20-pound propane tank holds 4.6 gallons of propane otherwise known as 20 pounds.

One 20-pound propane tank should be able to produce roughly 400,000 BTUs. But all that fuel is not used by your furnace. You will have the hot water heater, the stove, and other propane powered appliances sharing in that total. So do not expect to use all of the propane for your furnace.

The best way to use the furnace is to set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature level where you won’t burn a lot of fuel. Keep in mind the higher you go the more BTUs you will use. On average the furnace will burn about 20,000 to 50,000 BTUs in one hour.

To use the furnace efficiently, you would have to set the thermostat to a lower temperature level. Just like you would with your traditional furnace. You will use the RV furnace much like you would your home furnace.

There is little difference between the two. The key is to watch out for leaks in windows, ceilings, and doorways and plug them as quickly as you find them. Most RV windows are doubled pane so you do not have to cover them with plastic to keep the heat inside.

Will an RV Furnace Work Without a Battery?

Yes, it will. Batteries are not the only electrical source you have to use. You will have shore power and generator power to make sure all your electrical features work.

You do not need to use your batteries while you are plugged into shore power or if you are using your generator. The battery power is your back up system when you do not have the first two options available.

Batteries come in handy when you are boondocking and you do not have a generator or you have run out of fuel for the generator. What you need to remember in this situation is that if you do not have an electrical supply, you won’t be able to run your furnace at all.

While your furnace may be a propane fueled appliance, many of its parts, like the thermostat, rely on electricity to work. Without those parts, you can’t set the temperature level, may not be able to light the fuel, and so on.

You will see some websites asking the question ‘can you run your furnace without electricity?’ their answer is, ‘as long as you have house batteries, you can run your furnace.’ The problem with that answer is that batteries produce electricity.

You are running your furnace with electricity if you use batteries. The real answer to that question is ‘No, you can’t.’ There is one more electrical source you can use when you are boondocking. You can go with solar power to help keep your batteries charged and your appliances working.

How To Make An RV Furnace More Efficient


There are ways to make your furnace more efficient. Here are some of those methods

1. Make sure your propane flow is at the proper level and the furnace is set to operate at that lower level. You can also upgrade your furnace to a modern alternative that uses less fuel to produce the same amount of heat

2. Improve your RV’s insulation- just like a traditional home. If your insulation is lacking then the heat will escape. This will make your furnace work harder and use more fuel. Keep windows and doors closed, look for and seal any possible leaks, and so on.

You may want to close any air conditioning vents that allow heat to escape. The little things do a lot.

3. Buy a programmable thermostat- this replacement device will help regulate your indoor temperature making sure the furnace does not produce more heat while you are away from your RV.

You can use this device at night as well to make sure your RV does not get too hot during the night. It is just one way to manage your fuel and heat supply.

Some Final Words

Do not worry if you are a first-time RV furnace user. Just because the furnace is in a mobile unit does it mean its operation is from outer space and you need a translator to use it.

If you know how your gas and electric furnace works in your traditional home, then you have a good idea of how an RV furnace will work. There will be minor differences between the two and you will have a little learning curve. But in the end, it is simple to learn and operate an RV furnace.

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