RV Catalytic Heater
A catalytic heater burns propane in an
efficient manner (almost 100% according to some manufacturers)
and uses little or no 12 volt power. It sounds great for
RV use ... but is it?
Ideal propane combustion in a catalytic heater
produces only heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide. It
also uses oxygen from the immediate environment and exhausts
the products of combustion into that environment. So,
therefore, the oxygen must be replaced and the water vapor and
other products removed from the RV in some manner.
The catalytic heater manufacturers suggest that
a window be left open or another source of fresh air is
provided. Hmmm ... what if the 5 year old gets up in the night
and closes that window?
Less than ideal combustion produces carbon
monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a killer gas ... odorless,
colorless and invisible.
RV furnaces are designed to use a vent
system - outside air is drawn in to the combustion chamber to
supply the flame with oxygen and combustion byproducts are
exhausted to the outside. Water vapor produced by the flame is
also vented outside. While RV furnaces are notoriously
inefficient in fuel and electrical power use, they do the job
Many people swear by the use of their "cat"
heater, and many others warn of the associated dangers.
Webmasters Note: A new
type of vented catalytic heater is presented by the website
listed immediately below ... this is not an endorsement of the
product and is presented for your information only.
"THE PLATINUM CAT utilizes a power vent
system which exhausts all combustion by-products to the outside
of the living area, which automatically replace oxygen used for
combustion. The vent system prevents buildup of unhealthy
indoor air pollution and eliminates any chance of accidental
RV Catalytic Heater Discussions
I must replace the heat source in my 30ft fifth-wheel. I have
heard the low pressure LP gas Catalytic heaters are much more
efficient than the forced air furnace and they don't require a
battery. Most of the advertisements say this model or that
model is designed for RV's, but the last sentence says they do
not meet the ANSI A119.2 standards for RV's. Are they safe, and
how much ventilation do they need? Any advice and experiences
would be greatly appreciated.
Some folks use 'em, some don't.
Les is admanently against the use of catalytic heaters in RVs
and, in fact, in some places in Canada they are illegal.
The bottom line is that, when using any air/fuel burning device
in an RV, sufficient ventilation must be provided to replace
that which is used up and to allow for the release of the
deadly gaseous byproducts that are produced. What is
"sufficient" ventilation? I guess that would depend on the
device and the mfgs recommendation.
Personally, I find it distasteful when a company recommends
their catalytic heater for an RV and then adds the ANSI
disclaimer to protect themselves when/if someone dies as a
result of using one.
Mike, well said.
Any combustion process has to vented outside or it will build
up CO levels in the RV. I'd never use this type of heat as the
only source in an RV.
Thanks Mike & Ken I appreciate your input. I dry camp at
wildlife management areas and I am concerned about the battery
life with a forced air furnace.
This board never ceases to amaze me, this much knowledge and
experience in one place.
Thanks Again Everyone
What about heating the RV in the winter when nobody is actually
occupying. My 36' MH is right next to my house and I like to
keep it at above 40 when not in use. I do monitor it daily. I
now use a Polonis ceramic heater but at full throttle it draws
13 amps. That drives the electric bill up
This thread was far too brief. I'd hoped for much more. I have
read posts elsewhere that Catalytic Heaters don't actually
"burn", they induce a heat-producing catalytic reaction, and
thus, don't produce Carbon Monoxide. They do, however, consume
Oxygen. I haven't done enough product research yet to know
about others, but the Olympic brand has models with O.D.S.
(Oxygen Depletion Sensor) that shuts the heater down if room
air Oxygen gets too depleted. I live in California and noticed
one product could not be shipped to Calif. Can't remember if it
was a Catalytic, Ceramic, Radiant, Blue-flame, or whatever. I'm
wondering if that applies to all Non-Vented heaters or what.
I'm preparing to begin boondock/dry-camp life and
zero-electricity appliances would make sense for me. On that
subject, what do you-all think of those Propane
Thanks, this truly is an exemplary BB/Forum.
I have looked a little at catalytic heaters. Are there any that
use "bulk" propane and not the small, expensive bottles? Like a
gas line to your propane tank? We use a 1500 watt heater and
would not think a catalytic heater less than about 5000 btu
would be worth it. ymmv.
Not too long ago a couple of kids my daughter grew up with went
hunting in the winter. As was their custom, the used a
catalytic heater in the tent and very diligently opened a
window flap to ensure adequate air exchange. Unfortunately
sometime during the night the flap became untied (possibly
because of wind) and closed. The boys never woke up.
Sometimes taking a chance just isn't worth it especially when
the heater is used only for comfort, not for survival. Even
using such a heater to warm up an unused unit can use up the
oxygen and upon entry the worst can happen if you aren't aware
of the danger.
Wow Karen, that's quite an eye-opening story.
Do you know if it was due to Oxygen Depletion vs. Carbon
Monoxide Poisoning? Also, I just noticed that I typed the name
of the company wrong. It's Olympian, not Olympic. They make
several Models in different Product Lines. The ones with ODS
Oxygen Depletion Sensor have outputs from about 5000 to 10000
BTU and are plumbed to the low-pressure LP lines in your RV.
Typically by installing a Tee fitting into a line to fridge,
stove, or water-heater. Can also be portable by attaching
optional legs and flexible hose, even a quick-disconnect
coupler to store it away when not in use. And yes, with a
regulator equipped hose can be connected to bulk tank.
Definitely lots of good and bad points, many more than have
been addressed in this thread. I could go on and on with what
I've read about them, but ...
Just last week our local newspaper (in the Beale AFB area)
reported that two soldiers had recently died in their tent one
night while on maneuvers. Although autopsies had yet to be
performed, the catalytic heater the two men had used to heat
their tent was thought to have created the conditions that
caused their deaths.
I remember using the little coleman catalytic (back in the
70's) while camping in my friends van. We used to wake up with
a terrible headache even when we didn't drink.....I'd stay away
from anything that sounds like catalytic.
For those of us that receive the C/W Prez Club magazine RV View
and might be interested in the Mr. Heater reviewed on pg 33
please take note that the portable propane heater is advertised
as CSA certified safe for indoor use. If you will go to Mr.
Heaters home page you will find that it is approved by CSA
International, (Formerly the American Gas Association),Not the
Canadian Standards Association as the ad seems to indicate.
AyJay in MA
I have used a 8,000 BTU Olympian (same one) in my last two
motorhomes. I love it, but would never leave it on when I go to
bed. The instructions say leave a window open 1". That will
generate enough fresh air. I would never use this type of
heater in a space as small as a tent. However, in my 34' MH it
is perfect, but I use a down comforter when I go to bed and
turn off the heater.
Use um if you want, but please be very cautious, I worked with
four people that died from oxygen depletion. I've read a square
inch for every 1,000 BTU. Don't know that I've enough guts to
sleep with one running. I'm gonna die in my sleep soon enough,
don't need to rush it any.
Recently, I helped with a refurb on whats called a honeywagon.
This is not to be confused with a honeybucket. A honeywagon is
a multicompartmented trailer used by showbiz types to hang out
and dress in.
Each room of the wagon had a catalytic heater in it as original
equipment. But, each heater was removed and tossed in the
junkpile as part of the upgrade. This was usually accompanied
by the new owner's murmurings of how deadly they could be. They
were replaced with small ceramic heaters that were more than
sufficient to make the room toasty warm. He thought it better
to spin the meter or load the genset than to have a very sick
or dead person on board.
A bit of the science associated with using a catalytic heater
in an enclosed area is this: Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced
by the incomplete combustion of the fuel/air mixture. A
particularly nasty action of the CO is to attach itself to the
blood's hemoglobin and surround it. Thereby, it keeps the blood
from abosorbing and moving oxygen around one's body. This isn't
an action that's immediately reversed when the CO is removed
from the ambient environment.
The other edge of this particularly nasty sword is that ANY
burning of fuel requires oxygen. This is true from a blast
furnace to a quiet little catalytic heater that just glows and
gets warm. Therefore, as it burns it uses up oxygen from the
air around it. So, not only is the catalytic heater producing
CO that can reduce your body's ability to use oxygen, but it's
in competition with you for what oxygen is available.
Catalytic heaters are fine when they are used in a truly well
ventilated area. (This means that there is some constant input
of fresh air.) They can make a lot of heat and I've warmed
myself by one on many an occasion. So, they have their place.
But, to intentionally seal one's self in a small area with a
device that can asphyxiate and suffocate seems like just asking
for some slow walkin' and sad singin' to me.
A previous writer brought up another good point. Even if you're
using a catalytic heater just to keep your unit warm while
unoccupied, the oxygen depletion goes on as well as the
formation of CO. So, if you decide to step inside for some
minor chore, (I just came in for a few things.)you could wind
up exiting boots first. Be careful!
Don't forget any pets either. A dog/cat/bird/etc. won't last
long if they're stuck inside an RV being heated with a CO
generator and little/no fresh air coming in.
I want to thank everyone for spending their time to respond to
this question. I think I'll go with the consensus and sidestep
the dangers in favor of the normal factory furnace.
Thanks again everyone.