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How Does an RV Heat Pump Work?

How Does an RV Heat Pump Work?

Are you looking for different heating options for your vehicle? Regardless of your situation, an RV heat pump may be just what you need. Learn more about heat pumps, how they work, and whether they might be the right option for you.

What Is an RV Heat Pump? 

A heat pump is a system that removes heat from one location and moves it to another. Typically, you can get a geothermal or an air heat pump. A geothermal heat pump draws heat from the ground, and an air heat pump draws heat from the air outside. An RV uses an air heat pump because a geothermal heat pump doesn’t move. 

RV Heating Options: PROS & CONS

How Does a Heat Pump Work? 

Whether for an RV or residence, both heat pumps work using refrigerant and compression. A heat pump has a refrigerant and a condenser coil. When warmer air blows over the refrigerant, the coil captures the heat and converts it to a cold gas. 

The cold gas moves to a condenser which converts it from cold to hot. More air blows across the condenser coil, which transfers the heat energy from the hot gas to the moving air. Then, the heated air gets blown inside and heats the interior of the home or RV. 

Aerial image of RV parked. Heat pumps installed on the roof of the RV.
Your RV heat pump will be installed on the roof of your RV.

How Do I Know if My Heat Pump Is Working Properly? 

You can tell if your heat pump runs well by listening to it. A properly working heat pump should run quietly. You should hear the unit begin running when the fans start and the air passing through the ducts. You shouldn’t hear any groaning, creaking, or screeching from it. These are signs of serious problems.

Woman cupping ear listening for sounds of her heat pump.
The best way to know if your heat pump is running correctly is to listen to the sound it makes.

Advantages of Having an RV Heat Pump 

There are several advantages to using an RV heat pump. First, they can transfer heat from the air outside the RV, even in the colder spring and fall mornings and nights, meaning that when the temperatures are in the 40s or 50s, you can still have a warm RV inside. 

RV heat pumps run on electricity which you can easily access in hundreds of campgrounds in every state. And, most campsite prices include electric hookups in the nightly price. Therefore, it doesn’t cost more money to run your heat pump.

But, even if you go boondocking and don’t have electrical hookups, you can run your heat pump using a generator. You can also save your propane supply for other appliances. 

Product shot of an air heat pump system.
An air heat pump will move heat from the air outside into your RV.

Disadvantages of an RV Heat Pump 

Heat pumps have advantages and disadvantages. A heat pump can utilize a lot of energy, making running more than one on a 30 amp power supply difficult. Therefore, it might be difficult to run more than one heat pump simultaneously, making it difficult to heat the entire RV with a single unit.

Additionally, heat pumps cannot work in freezing temperatures. Although a heat pump can function in temperatures as low as 40 and 50 degrees, it won’t produce enough heat and may break down if you run it in temperatures lower than the 40s. Water freezes at 32 degrees which means that your water lines may freeze when using a heat pump in cold temperatures.

Pro Tip: Don’t get stuck with frozen pipes by using these 7 Tips to Keep Your RV Pipes from Freezing While Camping.

Person driving on road in lots of snow.
If the temperature drops below 40 degrees, your RV heat pump will not work.

Is an RV Heat Pump More Efficient Than an RV Furnace? 

An RV heat pump is generally more efficient than an RV furnace because most furnaces run off of propane. The average RV uses more propane for heating than for all other RV appliances combined. Additionally, a propane unit can also use a lot of electricity to run the fans used to blow the heated air throughout the RV. 

Although a heat pump is more efficient, a furnace does have some benefits. First, a heat pump doesn’t work well in cold temperatures. Additionally, RV manufacturers frequently place the furnace in the basement, which means that the heat comes from registers on the floor. 

Floor registers can work better because heat rises. And, the furnace, typically located near the water tanks and lines, may help keep the water from freezing. 

Pro Tip: Cold weather camping is fun but comes with challenges so we put together the ultimate list of How to RV in Winter.

The Best RV Winter Setup: How to RV in Winter and the Gear That Will Keep You Cozy Warm!

Should You Use an RV Heat Pump? 

RV heat pumps work more efficiently and run off of electricity. However, there are also reasons that an RV furnace may be a better option, such as consistent heat during cold weather, registers near the floor, and adjacent heat to keep water lines from freezing. 

Therefore, weigh the pros and cons of both options and determine which works right for you.

Do you have any experience with an RV heat pump? Let us know which option you prefer down below.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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