Sunday, July 14,2024 11:19 pm EDT

A Warming Alternative: RV Comfort Systems Electric Furnace Upgrade Kits

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Option 1: Add an electric element to your existing furnace and save money using LP gas.

RV Comfort Systems’ solution allows users to switch between electric or gas heat with the flip of a switch, much like water heaters equipped with an electric option. The efficient CheapHeat electric add-on system allows some owners to get through the winter without refilling the propane.

The savings on propane alone could eventually cover the cost of the RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat kit, especially for full-timers, depending on RV usage and other factors explained below. Critical components of the CheapHeat system include Electric heating coils and the controller. The manufacturer offers three heater ratings, so there’s a good chance you can retrofit your furnace model. The heating coils’ special design is very efficient, plus they are UL-listed and fully protected by a fusible link and high-temperature safety features that prevent overheating if the blower motor fails.

rv comfort systems cheap heat furnace
(Top) The Plenum Arrives In The Kit With 4-Inch Knockouts For The Ducting Collars. (Above) The Heating Element Has A Fusible Link That Prevents Catastrophic Failure.

The CheapHeat’s specialized controller receives a signal from the thermostat when it’s time to cycle on. The furnace’s blower motor activates the heating coils and sends warm air through the existing system of ducting and registers. With the flip of a switch, you can choose between gas and electric heat.

With the CheapHeat system, no cold air blows during the heat exchanger heat-up or the post-cycle cooldown. Also, the blower motor will likely last longer since exposure to the intense heat from the flue surrounding it during everyday heat cycling in the gas mode is absent.

rv comfort systems installation
(Above, From Left To Right) Flexible Ducting Is Routed From Six Ports On This Suburban Furnace In The Fifth Wheel. The Ducting And Collars Are Removed From The Furnace’S Rear Panel To Start The Installation Process. Pliers Were Used To Fold The Tabs Flat On Both Sides Of The Furnace , Allowing The New Plenum To Fit Properly.

You will need to consider some things when ordering the CheapHeat system. You must order the cabinet adapter to match the existing furnace brand, which can be a Suburban, Atwood, Dometic, or Furrion. The multi-tap heater coil has three heater settings. The DH50 (5,000 Watts) and DH37 (3,750 Watts) heater settings require a 50-amp shore power service for your RV. The DH18 (1,800 Watt) setting will run on a 30-amp shore power service. The manufacturer provides a chart to help you select the correct setting for your application.

When RVCS tested furnace efficiencies with a Fuel Gas Analyzer, they recorded RV gas furnaces at about a 60 percent efficiency. Most RV furnace manufacturers claim them to be 80 percent efficient, but actual testing reveals that figure may be optimistic. RV furnaces experience efficiency losses, evidenced by the heat lost at the exhaust outlet. The bluing of the metal exhaust shroud indicates a temperature level where a 20 percent efficiency loss estimate may be lower than the actual loss.

There is no question that the user will save money running electric heat when hooked up to unmetered power. Staying in metered electric parks can lead to savings for full-timers, depending on electricity and LP gas costs, ambient temperature, and thermostat settings. Installation of the CheapHeat system requires a good understanding of AC wiring and electrical codes. The company recommends a certified RV technician perform the retrofit. That said, check the manuals and charts to ensure you have adequate power and clearance to install the system.

Option 2: Adding an All-Electric RV Furnace

RV Comfort Systems also makes an all-electric RV furnace for those who don’t have the clearance for the hybrid gas/electric system or compatible furnace or don’t want gas in their RV.

The all-electric furnace uses the same heater element and controller but comes with its own cabinet and blower motor. Also, because there is no firebox in the furnace, the blower fan is larger and runs at less than half the speed but moves more air with 80% less noise.
Before working on AC wiring, unplug the RV from shore power and turn off the inverter (if equipped).

Use 300V NEMA-rated wiring that meets national, state, and local codes and route low—and high-voltage wires from the shore electrical box to the CheapHeat controller box disconnect switch. Low-voltage wires connect the changeover switch, low-voltage power, and fan motor. The changeover switch comes with a 25-foot wire harness, which gives you lots of options for its location.

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(Above, From Left To Right) After Installing The Heating Element Into The Plenum And The Plenum Onto The Rear Of The Furnace, Use High-Temperature Aluminum Foil Tape To Seal The Edges. At The Top, Install The Junction Box For The 50-Amp Service. Below Is The Disconnect Switch, And The System Controller Is Mounted To The Right.

After completing all the low and high-voltage wiring as explained in the manual, double-check all wiring connections and plug the rig into shore power. As the RV Comfort Systems manual states, allow the system to run for the recommended 20 minutes the first time to be sure it’s operating correctly, not short-cycling due to airflow problems, and there are no overheated wiring problems.

Customers who have tested the RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat in areas where the temperature was very cold have reported that when the system is set to the correct setting and connected to the correct amount of ducting for the RV size, the electric heat raises the temperature rapidly and feels every bit as warm as the gas heat.

rv comfort systems cheap heat
(Above, from left to right) The two circuit breakers are wired to the gas furnace blower motor. Low-voltage wires connect the controller to the fan motor feed wire, override switch, and controller. It takes a little patience to follow the color-coded wiring diagram, but the instructions that walk the installer through the process are quite detailed and clearly marked.

Thanks to CheapHeat, you should save substantial money on propane since you can use electric heat exclusively. Electric power is cheaper or even free at an unmetered site. Eliminating gas refill trips if you are at a campground some distance outside a town is also a bonus.

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The gas/electric selector switch mounts in the panel that houses the existing dual thermostat.

The RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat system provides a practical alternative to high-cost LP gas. The cost can be amortized over a short period, primarily if you use the RV in cold climates and parks where electricity is included in the site fee.

All the parts in the kit parts come standard with a one-year limited warranty.

Assessing the Potential Cost Savings – Gas Vs. Electric

It’s important to know whether the investment in a furnace electric conversion kit is cost effective. Because of that, I’ve put together an explanation of how to assess whether you will get a good return on investment if you go ahead with the modification.

To accurately compare gas versus electric heating costs, we must first understand the real-world efficiency of RV gas furnaces. In our measurements, the average fuel efficiency of RV gas furnaces is 58.7%. This is the average efficiency observed after checking several models from Dometic (Atwood) and Suburban operating in actual RVs.

We did these tests using a Bacharach Combustion Flue Gas Analyzer, an instrument used to determine accurate fuel heat transfer from a gas furnace firebox to its flue discharge air. This practice for measuring fossil fuel furnace efficiency has remained unchanged in the HVAC industry for over 40 years. It’s not uncommon for furnace manufacturers to overrate their appliances “bonnet” (actual useable) capacity, much like gas mileage rating in the auto industry before stricter regulation by the EPA.

While some may claim that RV gas furnaces are as high as 85% efficient, the facts don’t add up. Among other things, this would mean that flue temps would be under 250° F. However, at this low temperature, condensation would occur in the form of nitric acid, which would eat holes in the metals used in the furnace firebox and flue system.

Additionally, metal turns purple at 550° F and blue at 575° F. You can often observe a small amount of bluing in and around any RV gas furnace exhaust, which indicates that efficiency must be well below 75%.

So, when determining gas vs electric cost of operation, we need to consider a gas furnace’s relatively low efficiency (60%), meaning 40% of every dollar goes out of the exhaust. With electric resistive heat, there is no exhaust, so 100% of the heat generated is used – a dollar benefit for each dollar spent.

If we do the math, every $1.00 equals $0.06 per kW. Suppose propane costs $3.00 per gallon, which equals $0.18 per kW. So, electric heat is always less expensive when propane costs $3.00 per gallon (and when rates are under $0.18 per kWh). This presents a significant potential for cost savings with electric heating.

rv cost of heating fuel estimator
Rv Heating: Cost Comparison At Different Electricity Price Levels ($/Kwh)
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Visit the RV Comfort Systems Website for more information.

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Is it cheaper to heat an RV with propane or electric?

The most cost-effective option to heat an RV is usually propane. However, in campgrounds where the power is included in your rental fee, then obviously electric is zero cost and therefore cheaper.

Can you switch an RV heater from propane to electric?

Yes, it is possible to switch an RV heater from propane to electric easily with an RV Comfort Systems CheapHeat Kit. However, the process will depend on the specific model of your RV heater. It is recommended to consult RV Comfort Systems or reach out to a professional RV technician for guidance on how to perform the conversion safely and effectively.

What is CheapHeat RV?

CheapHeat RV is a heating system designed for recreational vehicles (RVs) by RV Comfort Systems.

How can I heat my RV without propane?

There are several alternative heating options for RVs that do not rely on propane. Some options include electric heaters, diesel heaters, wood stoves, and portable ceramic heaters. It is important to ensure that the chosen heating method is safe, efficient, and compatible with your RV’s electrical system or fuel source. It is recommended to consult with an RV specialist or professional to determine the best heating solution for your specific RV.

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Richard Gastmeier
Richard Gastmeier
Richard is the President of The Part Shops which publishes several websites in the outdoor recreation niche, including RV Travel Life, This Old Campsite, Marine Part Shop and Powersports Part Shop. These sites offer valuable information and products related to the outdoor lifestyle, Richard has a wealth of experience in the niche over the last twenty years, both founding and managing RV Part Shop and also personally as an avid RV traveller and camper. He is also an aspiring boater.
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