How To: Keep Warm in a Campervan (campervan heating)

keeping warm in the campervan

Campervan heating & Keeping warm in your campervan or motorhome

Exploring in your campervan or motorhome during the winter is, in our opinion, one of the best times to get away – but campervan heating can sometimes prove problematic. Here’s our guide to keeping warm in a campervan.

The landscape feels totally different during the winter and everything is so much quieter and generally more peaceful. 

However when the cold of winter really bites and you catch frostbite within 4 minutes of leaving the toasty warmth of your living room it can be hard to summon the courage to get out there and go explore. 

It need not be this way – here is our guide to keeping warm and safe whilst exploring in the winter – also check out our winter packing list and the most comprehensive motorhome packing list on the internet (…maybe) to make sure you have everything you need. If you’re new to motorhomes and campervans then we’ve also got you covered!

Table of Contents
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    Keeping yourself warm

    F f f freeezing!

    Lets not worry about campervan heating and the rest of that for now. Your heating systems could always fail so you need to make sure that you can keep yourself toasty and warm regardless of what happens.

    Thermals – great for keeping warm and comfortable to boot. 

    Woollen socks – wool is a great natural insulator so make sure you have plenty on hand (and foot…)

    Woolly hats – same deal, keep that noggin warm.

    Buff – these are really great little accessories, can be worn as a hat, a neck warmer, a headband and they really do help keep you warm.

    Gloves & Fingerless gloves – gloves for in case it gets really cold, and fingerless gloves are a really good way to keep warm if you need to retain use of your hands (i.e. cooking).

    Hot water bottles – a godsend for the coldest of days. Keep on your lap while driving if your cab heating isn’t so good, pop into bed 10 minutes before you jump in to pre-warm it.

    Blankets – a great way to add layers whilst sat around in the evening and mulitplies snuggli-ness levels by 1000.

    Appropriate bedding – make sure you have a high tog duvet and perhaps a blanket to go on top of that as well.

    Sleeping bags – warmer than any duvet so if you’re going somewhere super cold (Scotland, the Alps, Scandanavia) keep these on hand just in case.

    Appropriate clothing – this doesn’t just mean a big jumper or two (although yes – take big jumpers), but also make sure you pack plenty of thinner layers. Layering up creates more layers of air between you and the cold air and can be really beneficial.

    Campervan heating - Keeping your van warm

    So the big question – campervan heating and how to keep your van cosy and warm. 

    There are two main components to think about: Insulation and Heating System. We delve into both below:

    Insulation

    Typically, coachbuilt motorhomes have better insulation than their panelvan cousins due to the extra space available for the insulation.

    If you own a purpose built motorhome or campervan, or a professionally converted van then you’re probably golden on the insulation front. 

    However if you’re converting, or have a self converted van, which needs insulating then, although we’re not qualified to help you having never done this ourselves, we know who can help. Chesca and Ben from Overlanding Sophia can give you the lowdown. Find out here – Insulating the Walls.

    We’ve been following these guys for over a year now and they certainly know their stuff – I mean, they’re on van build number two (same van – new plan!). 

    Insulation however does go beyond just installed vehicle insulation. There are little things you can do to help regardless of your insulation situation. 

    Shut all your blinds to hold in heat and get yourself a set of genuine silver screens – perfect fit guaranteed and they really do insulate extremely well.

    If the sun is out then try to park with your windscreen facing the sun with the blinds open. When the sun is low in the winter it should shine directly through the window and you’ll be surprised just how much heat this can provide. Just remember to get the blinds back up as soon as the sun is on the way out. 

    motorhome silver screens
    Silver Screens on! Perhaps closing the door if it's cold might be a good idea as well

    Heating

    If you don’t yet have a campervan heating system in place then you’re definitely going to want to get that sorted ASAP for any sort of winter touring. Any professional motorhome service shop should be able to help you out. 

    Motorhome heating systems can typically be powered by either gas (propane or butane) or by diesel.

    We’re not going to dive into the nuances of different heating systems here as it’s too much for this post (we’ll write a dedicated post soon), but here’s a quick pros and cons list.

    Diesel Heater

    Pros

    • Cheap to run
    • Cheap (relatively) to install
    • Low maintenance
    • Powerful
    • Diesel widely available

    Cons

    • Uses more electric to run the its gas counterpart
    • Noisier than a gas blown system

    Gas blown heating

    Pros

    • Quieter than a diesel heater
    • Uses same gas source as hob
    • Low maintenance

    Cons

    • Fuel more expensive than diesel
    • Harder to source gas than diesel

    Keeping your water systems warm

    Equally important is keeping any water systems in your van warm enough to operate correctly.

    Water systems are normally made up of fresh water tank, waste (grey) water tank, toilet cassette (black water), a boiler and all water pipes. 

    All of these need to be kept above freezing otherwise you risk cracked pipework, broken boilers and cracked water tanks.

    If you’re lucky, some of your tanks will be onboard and not underslung – this will naturally keep them warmer than if they were outside directly exposed to the freezing temperatures. 

    Anything that is not internal needs some careful consideration, and even if internal you need to be aware for when it gets very cold.

    Pipework

    The best thing to do is get some pipe insulation, or lagging, and cover up any pipework you can get your hands on. Then when the weather turns cold open up any taps (with the pump off!) so that if the water inside does freeze it will hopefully expand up and out of the taps instead of cracking your pipes.

    Grey Waste

    Most grey water tanks will be underslung and often they will have a heating element inside of them, which you can turn on for keeping the temperature inside the tank from freezing. 

    Just make sure that the tank is not empty before turning of the element. If the tank is empty then you can open the nozzle just to prevent any drips in there from freezing up and cracking any pipework (same principle as opening the taps inside – gives the water somewhere to expand into)

    Boiler

    You have three options when it comes to your boiler. 

    The first is to turn it on to it’s lowest setting to keep the water inside warm – quite an expensive way to prevent freezing though. 

    Option two – you can drain it down so that there is no water in there to freeze – a pain if you’re wanting to use it though as you’ll need to prime it each time. 

    Finally the third option which is what we do, is to leave the boiler full, but make sure that the temperature cutoff lever is free to drop. This means that if it is in danger of freezing it will sense that and automatically dump the water inside of it. We find this is the best option for the UK as it rarely actually gets cold enough to freeze water inside of a van. 

    Fresh Water

    Your fresh water tank is large enough, and usually internal to the van, to prevent it from freezing. However good sense dictates to ensure that it is not full to the brim in freezing weather and to leave taps open when not in use. 

    Preventing condensation

    window condensation
    Karcher Window Vac

    It is extremely important to ensure that no matter how cold it is you keep your van ventilated. 

    This is for two reasons, one to help reduce the amount of condensation that builds up and two to ensure that dangerous gasses can’t build up.

    Typically we leave the vehicle cab vents on the fresh air settings, and if we’re cooking we just crack the roof vent above the hob.

    Another good tip is to make sure that you leave the lids on the saucepans when you cook – this will also help boil water faster, less steam will escape into your van and it will save on your gas bill!

    We also keep a couple of dehumidifiers in the van as well to just soak up any excess moisture in the air

    When condensation does build up use this karcher window vac – it truly works a miracle and you’ll be shocked at just how much moisture builds up, especially on the windscreen.

    karcher window vac
    You can also play silly buggers with the window vac!!

    Silver screens are both a great insulator and super helpful with preventing condensation build up, well worth getting a genuine set. Our only gripe with them is that they take up a lot of space in the boot and it’s annoying to have to dry them out after use. 

    Any wet clothes – bag them up and keep them in one place. If you’re just away for the weekend pack enough clothes so that you don’t need to dry out any wet ones. This saves on having to navigate around swathes of hanging wet clothes and also helps prevent moisture build up.

    Circling back around to those dangerous gasses – no matter how good your ventilation is make sure that you have a carbon monoxide alarm in your van. 

    Position this low – carbon monoxide is heavier than air and will build up from the floor first so you’ll get an early warning if the alarm is positioned down low.  

    campervan heating - Summary

    all weather campervan

    Now that you’re covered (literally) on campervan heating and how to keep warm you have no reason not to get out there – no matter the weather. If you are planning a summer trip then check out how to keep cool in a campervan

    So Go Explore!

    Looking for winter destination inspiration close to home – check out our UK road trip ideas!

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    2 thoughts on “How To: Keep Warm in a Campervan (campervan heating)”

    1. Alun Lloyd-Harris

      Hi there, I used to own your Motorhome MX05 ODT and it nice to see it still in service and i note that the modification i made are still in place also, rear full width mud-flap, electric heater, cooker wind shield, is the fold away draining board still in place? we now have a Swift Bolero, where i have doubled the water capacity to 200 litres for longer wild camping stints.
      Alun & Karen Harris

      1. Hi Alun!

        Yes it’s a great little van and been very well looked after throughout its life!

        Some great modifications from yourself that we have kept! And yes we have the foldaway extra sideboard above the bed still and there is also an extra sideboard added connected to the wardrobe above the fridge to create a full length worktop down the side of the van – very useful.

        Glad to hear your still out exploring – 200L is a massive water tank! We manage to make our 60L ( I think ish ) last about 5 or 6 days usually if we’re frugal with showering!

        All the best.

        Simon

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