Using RV Furnace For First Time

If you spend most of your time out in the wild with your RV, you would know that not having a working furnace in your vehicle is a recipe for disaster.

The RV furnace helps maintain the temperature inside the vehicle’s cabin during the winter months, while also sufficiently heating the water tank and the plumbing. So, you can enjoy a warm and cozy night inside your RV, with an unrestricted supply of water.   

  • How does the furnace work?
  • What do you have to do when using it for the first time?
  • Do you need a propane tank, electricity, or both?   

Many old-timers would know the answers to these questions. But we are here for all the first-timers out there. We are going to answer all these questions and a lot more in the following article.

Here is everything you need to know to get started on your journey:

Using RV Furnace For the First Time

When you first buy an RV, it is no less than an adventure to find all the useful components hidden inside. After all, every motorhome is designed differently and built according to the manufacturer’s convenience.

You have to find the thermostat’s location, the furnace’s location, and the propane tank’s location before you can even begin to use the RV furnace. Moreover, you have to acclimatize yourself to the controls. The thermostat on your RV might have an LCD touchscreen, it might have buttons or dials. It is also possible that there is a second thermostat hidden somewhere that you might not be able to see.

You must learn to use these features before moving further. And the best way to do that is by reading the RV’s user manual from start to end. The manual has all the information you might ever need regarding your motorhome, including knowledge about the furnace. It will tell you how to start it up, how to use the thermostat, and how to keep everything working properly.

If you have lost the user manual, try to look for it online or search relevant RV forums for specific information. The internet is full of knowledge so you are sure to find something of use.

If you can’t find anything useful about your RV, the following information should help you fire up the furnace.   

How Does an RV Furnace Work?

An RV furnace either runs entirely on propane or uses both electricity and propane to heat the motorhome. Most modern RVs use a combination of propane and electricity for their furnace, which is the safest and most efficient bet.

Although all electric options are available, they are not common. That’s because heaters consume so much energy that you need shore power to make things work. For that, you need to be on a designated camping ground or an RV park.

When you are boondocking, you only have access to solar power, which needs to provide electricity to all the other gadgets in your vehicle. In such cases, electric RV furnaces can pose a huge problem.

So, when you have the power and the propane, how do you turn on the furnace?

Follow these steps to know how it works:

  • You turn on the thermostat and set your desired temperature. It’s better to leave it on ‘automatic’ if it is your first time powering up the system.
  • The thermostat signals the blower motor, which starts working almost immediately.
  • After the fan reaches its full potential, it triggers the sail switch. This safety switch ensures there is enough airflow to help excrete the fumes from the furnace.
  • Next up is the high-level switch which measures the temperature inside the burner. If the heat is at an appropriate level, the component allows the gas valve to open.
  • Once the gas is released into the combustion chamber, a spark is sent to ignite the propane and start the heating process.
  • Afterward, the heat is released through the ducts and into the vents inside the RV. The excess is released outside through the designated RV vents.

Note: If you are a new RV owner, it is suggested that you open up all the doors, windows, and vents of the motorhome before starting the furnace. A brand-new furnace needs some time to settle. It goes through a burn-off phase, which creates smoke and can even trigger the fire alarm. You needn’t worry if such a thing happens. Once the newness has burned off, the foul smell and smoke go away, and you can begin using the furnace regularly.

Repeat the process if you have not been using the RV furnace for a while.   

How do I Light the Pilot on My RV Furnace?

If you have an older model RV, you might not have an automatic start feature for the furnace. In such a case, you would have to light the burner yourself. Don’t worry, we will tell you how you can do that easily. 

  • Access the furnace, wherever it might be in your RV, and twist the dial to pilot. Once you do that, gas will start to flow in the chamber. When that happens, hold the dial down with one hand and use a lighter or a match stick to light the gas.
  • After it is lit, keep pressing the dial and wait for about ten seconds. Once the ten seconds are over, release the dial and turn it to the ‘on’ setting.

Note: You must ensure the propane line has gas in it and that the thermostat is on the auto setting. Otherwise, the system won’t work.  

How do I Manually Turn on My RV Furnace?

In case something goes wrong with the automatic system, you should know how to start up the furnace manually. Here is how you can do that:

  • 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.

Note: It is always a good idea to consult the RV’s user manual to learn about all the details regarding the furnace. It is your best source of information and the only way to save valuable time.

The Amount of Propane an RV Furnace Consumes

We have talked about the RV furnace requiring propane, but what is the exact amount the system consumes?

Well, the amount of gas your RV furnace uses depends on its size. It could use anywhere from 20,000 BTUs to 50,000 BTUs per hour or more. If you want to be certain, you should consult the RV’s user manual.

But there is another way to find out the magic number, and that is through some basic mathematics. We know that one gallon of propane fuels 92,000 BTUs, and the average RV has a 20 lbs. propane tank.

A 20-pound tank holds 4.6 gallons of propane, which is equal to 423,200 BTU hours. If you have a 20,000 BTU furnace, dividing 423,200 by 20,000 should get you the consumption on one propane tank.

The result comes to 21.16 hours, which is equivalent to a full day of use. Luckily, you don’t need to use the heater round the clock. You might need it for 8 hours every night, which means an average propane tank could last you two to three days.

However, RV furnaces are not very efficient. They lose heat left, right, and center, meaning even the two to three days’ cover is a bold estimate.

Where is the Propane Tank on an RV?

The propane tank can be anywhere inside or outside your RV. To be perfectly sure of its location, you should consult the user manual. However, if you are one for an adventure, try to look in various places around your RV, like the ones we are going to mention below:

Some trailers have a propane tank near the front hitch. You might have to go through a protective cover to unveil the propane tank underneath, so don’t hesitate.  

If you can’t find anything there, you should look for a small compartment door near the front of your RV. The door is quite noticeable, so not easy to miss. Here you can find a propane tank that you can access at will. You can even remove it and have it filled up at a convenient location.  

Some motorhomes have a fixed propane tank that is hidden behind a small access door near the driver/ passenger doors. If you want to fill up this bad boy, you have to drive your RV to a service center and have them refuel the tank. It is a bit inconvenient, but this fixed kind can hold more gallons of gas. That is ultimately very useful for heating applications.

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Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by travel. I inherited this passion from my parents. Since my college years and to this day, I have had a passion for traveling in a motorhome. I am here to share my experiences with you.

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