Planning for energy usage to heat and cool your RV can sometimes be a challenge. Still, a heat pump may offer you some exciting options for both, especially when you consider that one appliance may be able to do the work of both heater and air conditioner. Let’s see if you can save money with a heat pump by exploring how one operates.
How a Heat Pump Works
Simply stated, a heat pump is just an air conditioner that runs in reverse (and it runs like an air conditioner on sweltering hot days). It transfers warm air from the outside of your RV into its interior. Because it does not have to “heat” the air, it is more energy-efficient, but that process also dictates that a heat pump has some measurable limitations.
Without using a heating element, a heat pump does not increase the air temperature it is pumping. So when the ambient temperature outside is less than 40 degrees, the heat pump cannot continue to operate. In other words, the pump is not useful when you most need it…as the temperature plummets.
But when used with additional heat sources, a heat pump can lower your energy costs during cold seasons.
The cost of a new heat pump for a recreational vehicle can run anywhere from $700 to $1,500. Alternately, an RV air conditioner may cost from $300 to $800, and a forced-air furnace could run you $500 to $700.
If you plan on camping onshore power most of the time and can use an electric space heater at a campsite where electricity is not charged on your bill, a heat pump might offer you some energy savings. But suppose you will be dependent upon a generator for power. In that case, you may find that the additional upfront cost of installing a heat pump won’t be worth any operational savings you might experience. You will have to decide if your camping style could benefit from a heat pump.
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Benefits of Using a Heat Pump
- Cost – rather than purchasing a separate air conditioner and a heater, a heat pump actually combines the two into one appliance, saving you in equipment purchase costs.
- Efficiency – because a heat pump utilizes existing hot air, the heater is more efficient, as it does not heat the air. It just pumps warm air from one spot to another, using less energy.
- Safety – heat pumps work on AC electricity, so there is no worry about carbon monoxide from a faulty LP gas furnace.
- Offset other heating costs – many RVers add a heat pump to their heating options in a coach. If using a heat pump, you may not need to utilize a gas furnace, conserving propane costs.
- Reduce carbon footprint – by transferring heat rather than creating it, the carbon footprint is smaller.
When a Heat Pump Is Not an Option
Since heat pumps don’t produce heat, they only transfer it from outside the vehicle to the interior. Most RV units are not operational at temperatures below 40 degrees. A useful reference is to remember that heat pumps are great when the weather outside your RV is “chilly.” But when cold air dashes into the forecast, a heat pump will be of no use.
Because they work on AC electricity, heat pumps may not be an excellent choice for boondocking unless you plan on using your generator to run them. This may defeat the purpose of saving other forms of energy, as you will be using both the electricity made by the generator and used by the heat pump AND the gas needed to run the generator.
Also, most heat pumps are relatively noisy since they also use the loud fans of most RV air conditioners. Even when used onshore power, a heat pump is an energy hog. Like an air conditioner, they use quite a bit of power to transfer heat.
Always have an alternative source of heat if you opt for a heat pump in your motorhome or travel trailer. This might be a gas furnace or electric space heater when the temperatures dip into the frigid zone. Several options are always better than none!
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Savings Compared to Alternate Heating Methods
Typically, electricity rates across the country are more expensive than propane rates, so if you are camping in moderate locations without freezing temperatures and your campsite fees include the use of electricity without an extra charge, a heat pump may be a viable option.
Another consideration is how quickly propane can run out if used to fuel a furnace. Will you be in a spot where propane can be delivered? Or will you be required to pack up camp and travel into town to find a propane provider? In this instance, can a heat pump provide enough warmth on a chilly morning and help you save your propane for cooking breakfast? Only you will be able to decide what role, if any, a heat pump can play in your camping appliance line-up.
Last update on 2021-02-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API