RV Catalytic Heaters: Yes, They Can Be Used Safely While RVing

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rv-catalytic-heaterIf you travel in your RV during the fall and winter months, then you need to ensure that you will stay warm and comfortable throughout your journey.

Are you planning on spending more than one night stationary? If so, do you have adequate battery power to operate your on-board furnace?

If you run your forced-air furnace during the night, the battery drain from that fan will leave you with dead house batteries by day 2 of your excursion.

Running your generator all day to recharge the batteries only addresses the electrical issue.

Forced-air RV furnaces use a lot of propane. If you’re parked 25 miles from civilization, do you want to be driving to town to refill your tanks on a regular basis?

Maybe it’s time to find a different source of heat to keep you warm inside your RV.

Have you considered a catalytic heater?…

Why Catalytic Heaters Are So Great

Catalytic heaters require no electricity to operate.

This eliminates the largest drain on your RV’s electrical capacity allowing you to save your precious volts for such things as the TV and computer.

Since there is no open flame (just a heat-producing catalytic reaction instead), catalytic heaters consume propane at a much slower rate. This will greatly reduce the number of trips back to town for more propane.


Catalytic heaters differ from infrared radiant heaters in that heat is generated from a flameless catalytic reaction involving propane and oxygen.  Source

Misconceptions About Catalytic Heaters

You may have read the occasional news story about a tragic death caused by the use of a catalytic heater in a confined space.

What you may not be aware of is the fact that the cause of death is most often not due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Since there is no open flame, the catalytic reaction burns much cleaner, greatly reducing noxious fumes or deadly gasses.

Here’s an overview of the amount of toxic byproducts introduced into the RV by a properly functioning appliance:

  • Vented heaters – none
  • Catalytic heaters- some
  • Open Flame heaters – more

These tragic deaths are usually credited to a lack of oxygen in a confined space.

Catalytic heaters consume oxygen. If they are used in a small space that’s completely sealed up from the outdoor elements, the occupants inside can asphyxiate due to lack of oxygen.

The lesson here: Always provide for additional oxygen to enter the space inside your RV whenever you’re using a catalytic heater.

Fortunately, today many catalytic heaters are manufactured with low oxygen sensors — so when the oxygen level drops below a certain level, the flow of propane is shut off and the heater extinguishes itself. Make sure that your catalytic heater has this low oxygen sensor, since not all catalytic heaters are equipped with this form of protection.

The Best Catalytic Heaters For RVs

If you choose to make use of the energy-conserving catalytic heater, there are 2 styles available that are commonly used in RVs:

  1. A portable space heater can be operated using a throw-away propane canister. Or, by using an extension hose, you can run it off a standard portable refillable propane tank. Mr. Heater Buddy portable heaters are a popular brand. They are small and convenient to use inside an RV. (See video)
  2. A permanently mounted catalytic heater is plumbed directly into your onboard propane system. Olympian heaters are a popular brand that comes in 3 sizes. You can select the unit that offers the best performance for the square footage that matches your RV. (See video)

I have used the portable Buddy Heater while fulltime RVing through some very cold north Texas winters. (Yes, they do get snow and below-zero temperatures, even in Texas!)

Catalytic Heater Safety Tips

This type of space heater can be used safely, as long as you observe all the safety precautions.

If you decide to use a catalytic heater inside your RV, follow these tips very closely:

  • Only use a catalytic heater that is specifically designed for indoor use.
  • Use only catalytic heaters that have low oxygen shut down protection.
  • If your catalytic heater is a portable model, make sure that it has tip over protection, so it will shut down any time it’s not in an upright position.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly as they are stated every time you use the catalytic heater.
  • Ensure that there is adequate ventilation before you turn on the catalytic heater.
  • If you are using an extended hose and bulk tank, the tank must remain outdoors at all times.
  • Have a good, working carbon monoxide detector and propane detector on board.
  • When not in use, keep your catalytic heater covered from dust at all times; otherwise it will produce higher amounts of carbon monoxide.

There is no room for carelessness on this subject.

Taking shortcuts when using a catalytic heater can quickly lead to disaster.

A must-read: RV Alarm & Safety Equipment That You Must Have Onboard Your RV At All Times!



I’ve been involved in RVing for over 50 years — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs and motorhomes. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller... you’ve got a good idea of who I am. To date, I've shared my RV knowledge in over 300 articles here at The Fun Times Guide! Many of them have over 25K shares.

13 thoughts on “RV Catalytic Heaters: Yes, They Can Be Used Safely While RVing

  1. I’ll write this comment again.  It was deleted by someone.  Seems like someone doesn’t like what I had to say….. 
    I own a 33 feet Class A.  I have season tickets to Penn State home games.  I take my RV to Penn State on Friday morning, arriving around noon.  From then, until I leave on Sunday morning, I’m boondocking.  Penn State provides the RVer a 50×15 foot space for everyone’s camper no matter how big or small.  Basically, a patch of grass for $60 for two nights.  I have two marine batteries running my coach, and a 25 to 30 gallon propane tank.  My refrigerator, that runs on propane, has been running since Friday morning, when we left home.  I use propane to heat my water, and I use propane to run my furnace.  My refrigerator is always cold, my water is always hot and I’ve never been cold at night, even on the coldest nights in the shadow of Mt. Nittany, because I keep the thermostat around 73 degrees.  I run my generator approximately 10 hours or so over the weekend.  My batteries are always charged, and I don’t even use a quarter tank of propane in all of this.  In fact, there have been times when I would go back up to Penn State the next week, and not even top off my propane tank.  There was plenty in there for use the next week.  So, although catalytic converter heating is what the above article is all about, and the author is trying to sell you on putting one in your RV, the author either is clueless about propane tanks and their usage, has absolutely no idea how to boondock properly, or is just trying to sell you a “bill of goods” in order to sell his product.  There is not a thing wrong with boondocking with propane. 
           Now I hope that whoever deleted this the first time, doesn’t delete this post again, so that everyone who reads your article and reads my post can properly evaluate what they have and what they want to do. If you’re product is that good, and using propane is that bad, then everyone should buy your product, and you shouldn’t have any fear of leaving this article posted.  We shall see….

  2. coachpisco, You have your point of view, though it does seem to a bit one sided.  You have season tickets to Penn State home games.  That means your average stay is 3 days.  By all means most RV systems can handle 3 days of operation.  Consider snowbirds that travel to the southwest for the winter. Many will stay in the open desert because that is the most economical place to hang out.  Your forced air furnace is the single largest propane consuming appliance in your RV.  Yes, your 30 gallon or so tank will likely last most of a week, but if it’s 50 miles to the nearest refill station wouldn’t it be nice to stay put for 30 days or more?  That’s where catalytic heaters come into play.  They will stretch your propane supply considerably and don’t require any electricity to run a fan.  Furthermore I don’t see any mention by the author (me) trying to sell anything.  We only post information on this site, use it or don’t as you see fit.

  3. I would tend to agree with curtis I have an old Airtstream set up for boondocking went to solar  led lights  and 2 cat heaters works very well with minimal resource useage the idea I belive the idea is to be able to stay for quite a while and still have reserves Don

  4. I have a 32 foot RV and been using the Mr. BUDDY BIG BUDDY heater..on a 20lb tank. When an electrical fire broke out 2 days ago, right next to my only 2 winters old heater ! I will say this …ive seen the many horror stories involving Rvs and fire ect. Well I’m happy to sau any other heater would have blown us to hell and back !!! Mr.Buddy not only impressed us but saved us! I woke to flames to the roof my buddy on fire on the left side my line on fire the front on fire right along with my floor wall ect. I don’t know how but engulfed in flames he held on and was still on and working ! HE wasn’t even leaking from the line that was on fire !!!! We was able to put out the fire save our RV sadly our Buddy is no longer usable but I will be going with another! This heater was economical (on a below freezing day 20lbs at 8$ lasted 3 days ! It kept my entire 32foot RV comfortable thru out ! And one though heater!!!! We’ve tried electric, infrared none of them have the result the big buddy did !!

  5. Why are you recommending the Mr. Heater Buddy in an article about catalytic heaters? It’s not catalytic — it’s an open flame heater, and produces CO just like any flame heater. The Mr. Heaters are fine heaters, but please don’t confuse them with catalytics.

    1. Catalytic heaters can also create CO, and definitely create CO2 and moisture (water vapor). Any fuel burning appliance (catalytic or not) will consume oxygen and create CO2, whether the fuel is burned with a flame or catalyzed. A perfect combustion will not create CO, but in the real world, any fuel consuming appliance will put out a small amount of CO when working properly, and will make excessive CO in an oxygen limited environment (incomplete combustion). The two go hand in hand since as the oxygen is depleted, the heater will make more CO as it struggles to burn the fuel, which makes the environment even worse for you. You need to vent your fuel-burning heater and provide make-up air, or provide ventilation when running it un-vented, bottom line. And have a working CO + gas detector, and ideally a heater equipped with an oxygen-depletion shutoff device.

  6. “..Always provide for additional oxygen to enter the space inside your RV whenever you’re using a catalytic heater.”
    And as important: Always provide for additional oxygen to enter the space inside your RV even when NOT using a heater…It just makes sense.

  7. interesting thread… I see the timeline makes this one of the oldest running threads I have ever seen. So I don’t know if it is still active but here goes.
    My 2006 28′ camper has the standard atwood furnace and I am tired of rebuilding it every other year. The design of it is simple enough but there is no outside access and I have to completely disconnect all the electrical & LPG connections and then drag it through a hole into the camper, do repaies and re-install. Sometimes this takes 3 or 4 tries to get the right part replaced.
    I plan to replace with a catalytic and use the existing exhaust vent hole for a fresh air makeup to the heater.
    Does this sound reasonable?

    1. It sounds reasonable but I would still be concerned. I’m not an expert and personally I don’t run a catalytic heater during the night when I am sleeping. Further information learned after the article was written indicates that the Mr. Buddy heaters apparently do create carbon monoxide. I would always have a carbon monoxide detector in place when using Any kind of heater.

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