It’s that time of the year again when the memory of warm summer days are quickly fading from our minds and the thoughts of cold, shivering nights are rushing in to replace them, filling us full of dread! But, today I have good news! Living the life of a Nomad on wheels goes a long way to solving that problem!
At one time my life was ruled by the time-clock but fortunately those days are gone forever!! Today my life is ruled by my own internal thermostat, if the temperature isn’t what I want it to be, I just turn the key and drive away to where it’s more to my liking! In the vandwelling/RVing world that’s know as being a “Snowbird” because we fly away with the weather and seasons.
Of course many of us aren’t in the position to be mobile yet; you may be living in a van or RV but family or economic circumstances require you to stay where you are and that just happens to be a cold area. I totally understand that! After my divorce I couldn’t afford to rent an apartment so I moved into a van, but there was no way I was driving away from my young children! So I lived in a van for 6 years in Anchorage, AK and I learned to adapt to living very comfortably in a van in extreme cold. It can be done and you can be comfortable!
To help you prepare, in today’s post I’m doing a comparison of the types of heaters commonly used by vandwellers. In future posts I’ll tell you how to connect your Mr. Buddy Heaters to a bulk, refillable propane bottle and when to use the filter. In particular I’ll show you how to connect the smallest Little Buddy heater to a bulk bottle because it’s more complicated than the others.
Vented Portable Heaters versus Non-Vented Furnace
To start. Let’s compare the main types of heaters, vented versus non-vented. Take a look at this chart and you’ll see the pros and cons of each and you can let your circumstances make the decision for which is right for you. Your budget and skill level will be the main factors. The portable heaters are cheap to buy and super easy to install and a forced-air furnace is just the opposite; it’s expensive and requires a high skill level. But, if you bought an RV and it already has a furnace, the decision is made for you.
The bottom line is that most vandwellers are going to be much better off with a non-vented, portable heater because they are much smaller and cheaper to buy and operate and equally easy to install.
Are portable heaters safe?
Your first question will probably be, “Are they safe to use in my van or tent? Will I die from carbon monoxide poisoning?” The simple answer is yes they are all safe if used properly and you will not die from carbon monoxide poisoning. You may think you don’t like the caveat “if used properly” but that applies to every fuel burning appliance. They all have the potential to become deadly if used improperly. The key thing with portable heaters is to follow the manuals instructions of ventilation and clearances around it exactly! But, that can be said for every fuel burning appliance. All of these heaters come with a low-oxygen sensor and accidental tip-over switch with auto shut-off to guarantee your safety. If you follow the manual and give them adequate ventilation (usually just lowering your front windows by several inches is enough–but don’t guess, read and follow the manual!) you will be totally safe! It’s also an extremely good idea to add a carbon monoxide detector to your rig. Get a marine grade one from Amazon here: Marine Technologies Combination Carbon Monoxide/LP Gas Alarm
Won’t opening the window offset the heater and leave me colder?
No it, won’t! Even the smallest of these heaters put out much more heat than will come in by giving them adequate ventilation. You can leave the windows slightly open while the heaters turned on and you’ll be toasty warm. Once you turn the heater off you can then close the windows and retain the heat they put into the van. The thermal mass of the van and its contents will continue to radiate heat over night so if you run the heater before bedtime and adequately insulate the van, it should be surprisingly warm the next morning.
A comparison of the heaters:
Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Heater: There are three sizes of Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Heaters and this is the largest, most expensive, and puts out the most heat with three heat settings, 4000-9000-18000. Because of its high heat output, I know several people that use these to heat their RVs instead of the furnace that came with them. One couple I know heats their 35 foot 5th Wheel with one and greatly prefer it to the built-in furnace. It’s ideal for RVs because of its higher heat output and yet some vandwellers chose them for their other advantages:
- They use their own regulator so they don’t need a filter like the others do and are less likely to plug up and need a repair.
- They come with a Quick Disconnect so they are easier to hook up and disconnect then move around or even take it outside using the green, one pound bottles.
- They come with a built in fan so if you have a larger rig you can spread the heat around inside your home. The fan runs off D batteries or an AC adapter.
- Having a greater variety of heat ranges allows the heater to grow with you. If you start in a van but then move up to a larger rig like a travel trailer this heater will work for both; using the 4000 btu setting for a van and the 18000 btu setting for the RV.
Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Heater: This is the middle sized heater in the Mr. Buddy Portable Heater series and it has two settings, 4000 and 9000 btu. For most vandwellers this is the perfect size because the lower heat is more suited to the small size of our vans. On low (4000 btu) I’ve found it quickly warms up a van to being very warm and will soon need to be turned off. Of course the colder it is outside and the less insulation the van has, the more you’ll be glad you have this size. At normal winter temperatures, many people have found that leaving just the pilot light on overnight keeps the van warm enough to be comfortable with adequate bedding. Get it from Amazon here: Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Radiant Heater
Mr. Heater Little Buddy Portable Heater: This is the smallest of the three sizes and I personally think it is the best choice for people in cars, SUVs, mini-vans and even vans because it takes up less space and has the lowest heat output at 3800 btu. Most people find that to be plenty and that the middle size Buddy puts out too much heat for the tiny space of cars and vans. With the lower output of this smallest heater, you can turn it on and leave it on with less time spent fussing with it. I had the middle sized Mr. Heater Buddy but I sold it and bought this one and I prefer it. Its major drawback is it’s difficult to convert to refillable propane bottles, but in a future post I’ll show you how. Get it from Amazon here: Mr. Heater 3800 BTU Portable Heater
Olympian Catalytic Heater, Wave 3: When I lived in a box van in Alaska for 6 years I used Olympian heaters as my only source of heat and I must tell you I consider them to be superior in nearly every way to the Mr. Heater Buddy heaters. They are a true catalytic heater while the Buddy heaters are not, so that makes them inherently safer, although the Buddy heaters are perfectly safe. They also have a 1500 btu setting, which is a much better size for most cars and vans because it provides a steady heat and burns less fuel. The only bad thing about them is they cost quite a bit more to buy and are slightly more complicated to install (they need a standard regulator on the refillable, bulk propane bottle). They make a larger Wave 6 and Wave 8 but you only need them in extremely cold areas, which most of us won’t be in.
Which one is Best for me?
There are no bad choices here, they are all great heaters! My advice is to buy based on 1) the size of your vehicle, 2) whether you might go to a bigger vehicle and 3) the severity of your winters:
- For most people in a van in average cold areas, either the Mr. Heater Buddy Portable Heater (4000-9000 btu) or the Mr. Heater Little Buddy Portable Heater (3800 btu) is the best choice. You don’t need to run them overnight and they can be converted to run off bulk bottles easily. They’re cheap to buy and cheap and easy to run.
- If you are in an RV then I recommend the Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Heater (4000-9000-18000 btu). You are going to appreciate the extra heat and the nicer features like a quick disconnect and built-in fan. Being portable you can have them in the living area during the day and in the sleeping area in the evening.
- If you are a person who runs cold or live in a very cold area, then I’d recommend the Olympian Wave series of heaters. They can safely be left on over-night giving you steady heat throughout the whole day. In Alaska I would turn mine on in October and it would run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until spring came, usually in May. I remember how wonderful it felt to finally be able to turn it off and know summer was near!! The Wave 3 should be warm enough unless you are in a very cold area. Then you may need the Wave 6 or Wave 8.
In my next post on heaters, we’ll talk about how to convert them to work off refillable propane bottles so you can save a lot of money on heat.
I’m making Videos with my good friends James and Kyndal on their YouTube Channel. See them here:
I have a series of videos comparing all these heaters. If you can’t see the heater video below, cut and paste this link into your browser:
Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.
Mr. Heater Big Buddy (4000-9000-18000): Mr. Heater, BIG Buddy Portable Propane Heater
Mr. Heater Buddy (4000-9000): Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Radiant Heater
Mr. Heater Little Buddy (3800): Mr. Heater 3800 BTU Portable Heater
My Buddy Filter: Mr. Heater Fuel Filter
Olympian Wave 3: Camco Olympian Wave-3 3000 BTU Catalytic Heater
Marine Grade Carbon Monoxide/Propane alarm here: Marine Technologies Combination Carbon Monoxide/LP Gas Alarm