As cold temperatures descend upon us, we’ve been working on optimizing our options for heating things up in a variety of conditions.
We’re a mostly electric coach, and have spent the past several weeks doing a lot of chilly dry camping as we’ve headed down the Eastern Sierras. With our newly installed solar panels, we’ve been trying to maximize our quality of living while not needing to run the generator.
This gear review post will focus on some of the equipment in our RV that helps heat things up – whether the interior of our coach, food or beverages.
When we bought our bus conversion, which had been converted in 1989, it had a propane oven & stovetop and a small microwave oven built into a cabinet over the refrigerator.
One of the first modifications we made was pulling most of the propane appliances when we discovered how dangerous of a condition the propane systems were. We switched to an all electric kitchen setup instead, utilizing portable appliances stored in a new cabinet built where the oven once was.
Here’s some of the cooking appliances we’ve settled on:
Microwave Convection Oven
We ultimately wanted an all in one unit to replace our microwave oven, but had trouble finding a microwave convection oven small enough to fit in the cabinet space available. For a long while we just kept the old school microwave oven, and added in a small toaster oven for baking that was stowed in the new cabinet.
This past spring while attending an RV Rally we spotted a Dometic (DCMC11B.F) unit on display at one of the vendors and priced at just $199. The vendor invited us to take the unit ‘home’ to see if it fit before purchasing, and indeed it did!
We’ve been mostly happy with the unit since – it bakes evenly (not that we bake that much) and has served its purpose of heating things up. We’re thrilled to have a unit that fits nicely in the space available too. We’re not foodie enough of folks to give it a more comprehensive evaluation than that, I’m afraid.
We do have some complaints on it however. The door tends to stick, especially if we’re not exactly level – sometimes requiring a silverware handle to pry it open.
And the internal clock seems to have no battery back-up, so when we turn off our inverter while dry camping it loses time. For a unit made especially for mobile living, these are considerations we’d appreciate being addressed.
If you’re looking for a small microwave convection oven, this unit might do the trick.
Right after we bought our bus, we were in Arizona. In the summer. It was ridiculously hot (120+ degrees on some days), so preparing a quick meal over a propane stovetop was utter misery. It just added even more heat into the bus, that we were struggling to keep below 100 degrees on a 30amp electric hook-up.
When Chris bought me an induction cooktop as my birthday gift during that heatwave – I just about snapped his head off. You just don’t buy this undomesticated chick a domestic device as a gift. He could have only done worse by buying me a vacuum cleaner.
But, we do use stovetop cooking as our primary cooking method – from curries, stir fries, eggplant parmesan, soups and more – I have become a whiz at one-pan meal prep.
Our induction hob has become one of my favorite kitchen gadgets ever, and has completely changed the way we prepare food. It uses magnetic energy to excite the metal in the pan, which creates the heat. And it does it quickly, much quicker than propane or standard electric stovetops. Water can boil in under 5 minutes flat, and the temperature is immediately responsive. And the heat loss is minimal – great for cooking when it’s already hot outside.
You do need to purchase magnetic cookware, but that’s easy enough to find. Generally avoid aluminum. When shopping for cookware, I just take my iPad’s case in the store with me – if it sticks to the bottom of the pan, it’s magnetic.
This allows us to cook all electrically even off solar and battery without blowing the power budget – especially since I find the 300-700w setting creates the perfect heat for my style of cooking.
The biggest bonus? Never before have I given more demonstrations of water boiling to folks touring our bus. And yes, I long ago forgave Chris for this thoughtful gift… 3+ years now, and this thing has performed great!
Hot Beverage Maker
I enjoy a hot beverage on a chilly night. Hot tea or maybe a cup of cocoa if I’m feeling indulgent. For us to make up a hot beverage, it involved heating a mug of water in the microwave or the induction cooktop. Not a big deal with hooked into prepaid electrical.
But when boondocking and drawing off the batteries? Not exactly the most efficient method.
Before we headed off on our first in a while boondocking adventure, I ordered in a Hot Shot Hot Water Dispenser. I had one of these before I hit the road, and loved it. While it uses a lot of power to heat up, it does it quickly – which overall is more efficient.
We took some rough measurements of how much energy it took to heat up a mug of water for brewing a cup of tea (obviously, had we taken temperature readings too this would be far more scientific).
- Heating up in the microwave: 5AH (2m 2s at 1600w)
- Heating up on the induction cooktop: 2.7AH (1m 35s at 1300w)
- Heating up in the Hot Shot: 2.4AH (1m 1s at 1500w)
While not a huge energy savings over the induction, the Hot Shot does save us pulling out the hob and using a pan.
Chilly Climate Control
Again, we have no propane furnace on board. Our eventual goal is to install a diesel hydronic boiling system that will circulate heat around the coach, heat our water and heat our engine block. But that’s way down the line. In the meantime, the top heating method we use is – DRIVE SOUTH!
Even when following that plan, we can still end up with some chilly encounters. Here’s what we use to keep warm:
Electric Space Heater
I love the Vornado line of space heaters. I had one in my home in Florida before hitting the road to take the chill off. We carried the Vornado Vortex space heater in our prior travel trailer and moved it onboard to the bus. For nearly 5 years, that little rounded box kept us nice and warm on chilly nights while plugged in.
It’s super quiet, it circulates warm air very nicely around the coach and the unit itself never is warm to the touch – so very safe for pets and small spaces. And even if we were off grid, we could use it for a couple hours without draining our lithium ion batteries. It can also run in fan-only mode if we just want air circulation.
While in Oregon, the power button on our unit started getting finicky. We contacted Vornado’s online chat customer support, and they offered to send us a new one. They didn’t require us sending the old one back or even proof of purchase, just a photo of us cutting the power cord. Now that’s customer service!
As we would only have a shipping address for another couple days and they couldn’t guarantee a delivery time – we had them ship the replacement one to parents in Florida. They seem to have appreciated the gift of a little heat on chilly nights. We ordered a new and upgraded unit on Amazon Prime to meet up with us.
So far, we’re digging our new Vornado iControl model – same great technology, but with a remote so we can adjust the temperature without getting out of bed. Vornados are more expensive than cheaper models of space heaters you can pick up – but we’re very impressed with both the quality and customer service.
Looking at the temperatures ahead on our Highway 395 adventure, we knew that running our electric space heater off of batteries was not going to be sustainable for several weeks. Earlier we reported that we ordered in a Mr. Heater Portable Buddy, which is safe to operate indoors with a little ventilation.
Overall, we were impressed with the unit, and it did keep us plenty warm enough on some very chilly nights that hovered around freezing point. Our buddies at WheelingIt carry the same unit to supplement their propane furnace which also uses electricity to run the fan.
We ended up not using the conversion kit to run the heater off our BBQ grill tank, as we found the unit doesn’t circulate the heat very well – so we had to move it around the living room and into the bedroom at night. That wouldn’t have worked with trying to plumb in a line to our larger tank, which was also keeping our hot water heater going.
The sun started disappearing behind the Eastern Sierras around 3:30pm making for extended periods of chilly time – we found we’d burn through about a 1 lb bottle a day. At about $2.75 – $3.00 a bottle, the cost wasn’t too bad. But we hate the lack of options for recycling or re-using the canisters (although there are refill kits available that require a bit of fuss).
We like having this option on board – it is super easy to use and effective. But we want to only consider this a back-up option. Until we come up with a longer term plan for heating while off-grid we’ll be continuing to follow the weather.
We hope this might give you some ideas for ways to keep warm inside and out as winter approaches… and hope wherever you are, you keep snuggly warm!