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When you first take to van life, you have a few choices when it comes to dealing with the realities of night-time and weather.
You can either:
- a) Only ever drive in hot places
- b) Get out of the van every night and go to a hotel
- c) Freeze to death, reflecting bitterly on the choices you’ve made in a poorly-thought-through life, or
- d) Get a heater of some kind
On the grounds that these options are a) Needlessly restrictive and difficult, b) ruinously expensive and not in the spirit of van life, and c) significantly sup-optimal, it’s easy to see that getting a heater for your camper van is more of a necessity than it is a luxury.
If you’re going to have a heater in your van, you can do a great deal worse than a Propex HS2000 propane heater.
Why Go For The HS2000?
Well, the fuel efficiency of the Propex HS2000 is off the chain. A standard 20 pound propane tank, of the kind you’d use on your average backyard barbecue, gives you 60 hours of run-time. That means if you ran it for 8 hours every night, you’d still get more than a full week’s worth of heat out of it.
You can also control it with a thermostat, just as efficiently as if you were in your house or apartment. Set the thermostat and then leave it to do the rest, making sure you’re warm when you want to be.
It only carries a 1.6 Amp electrical draw, which is positively meager compared to most other heaters on the market.
And hugely importantly, the HS2000 comes with an external vent, so it’s not pouring moisture and carbon monoxide into your living space.
Many people don’t hold with propane as a heating fuel in a camper van. Many people are free to find the alternative that suits them, or freeze to death. Propane has a proud history among camper van owners, it’s readily available and enormously efficient.
It can be installed safely, and with appropriate detectors fitted, is no more dangerous than any other source of fuel that warms up your camper van.
If you’re going to go with propane, again, it’s likely you’ll find yourself drawn towards the Propex. It will draw you with its relatively easy install, its comparative cheapness to pick up, and its impressive fuel efficiency once in use.
Throw in its low power draw and quiet operation, and also, if you’re honest, the fact that the Propex doesn’t need to be cleaned on any regular basis, and you have yourself a market leader.
How Do Propane Heaters Work?
Before you attempt to install anything, it makes sense to understand the basic premises on which the machine was built. That can help you spot issues and errors before you’ve screwed them into place.
To work correctly, a propane heater will need:
- Propane – sorry, but you’d be amazed how often that’s not obvious to people!
- An air intake. This is essentially a hose that runs through the floor and under the van
- A warm air output. This is the point of a heater. It’s what warms you up, an opening that pushes heated air out into the room
- An exhaust vent. When you use propane to heat air, you get waste products – moisture and carbon monoxide. The exhaust vent hose also goes through the floor and under the van – essentially away from you.
Where Do You Put Your HS2000?
A placement people immediately leap to is in the unused space under the passenger seat. This is doable, but the install is frequently more complicated than the worth of it because of the necessity of running lines through the floor and under the van. Somewhere in the main body of the van is your better – not to say, easier – bet.
A cunning and more thought-out placement would be on the passenger side, especially if you have a dead space under your stove or somesuch. That way, you get warm, dry feet from the heater’s air flow.
Why does that matter?
Because it is the beginning of wisdom to know that the world seems always better when you have warm feet. It’s a psychological trick that makes you think that however the rest of you feels, better times are just around the corner.
Warm feet in a cold climate are the epitome of hope – which is not a bad additional bonus to placing your Propex in that sort of position.
Also, not for nothing, if your stove happens to be powered by propane too, putting your Propex near it, on the same side of the van, simplifies the wiring run a lot. So, the warm feet of hope and the practicality of an easier wiring job combined.
When you’ve decided on your perfect Propex placement, it’s worth taking a look at the floorplan of your van’s undercarriage, because you’re going to be drilling wiring holes through the floor, and it really makes for a better day if you’re not also drilling through vital fuel lines or anything of the sort.
Also, determine where you want your exhaust to be, and make it somewhere close to the heater – the less distance the moisture and carbon monoxide has to travel before it escapes the van, the less likelihood of potentially dangerous leaks or cracks.
And while you’re about it, think of your future self. In the event you need to do any maintenance to the heater or the exhaust, your future self will feel smug and thank you for putting the Propex in a place that’s easy to reach and has easy access.
Imagine that moment of smugness, and then imagine its opposite as you sweat and curse and stretch, trying to reach the heater with the appropriate tool and never quite getting it.
Be smart. Invest in your future smugness. Put your Propex somewhere with easy access.
Installing Your Propex HS2000 – Things To Remember
The intake and exhaust lines both need to be routed outside through holes in the van. These metal hoses neither need nor can stand any cutting for length. Above all, don’t cut them down to a size you feel is more suitable.
Use them at the full length in which you get them. Run them along the underside of the van and keep them tucked away from the potential of any snagging, catching, or damage during the drive.
Where the exhaust line meets the heater, you need to seal it thoroughly with high-temperature RTV silicone.
Leaks and weaknesses here – or at any point in the exhaust line, to be fair – can turn your perfectly safe propane heater into a potential danger, so on no account miss this step, cut corners on sealant, or figure it’ll just be fine. It won’t be unless you make it so.
Beware of kinks in your exhaust hose. Even relatively gentle curves or bends can be too much for the system, and might give you a “Combustion Air Fault” alert.
If you get that alert, you need to work out any kinks in the hose and minimize any bending. Once it’s straight enough for the system’s tolerances, the alert should disappear.
Use a two-stage propane regulator. That will give you correct 11 water-column pressure for the Propex, and it will supply it to you constantly. Anything less than that and you could be in trouble with inconsistent delivery.
Connect your thermostat cable to the heater before you connect the power. Get this wrong and you may blow the surge fuse, which will essentially kill your heater.
You need to vent your exhaust line away from the edge of the van. If it vents at the edge, the carbon monoxide will sink, and pretty much hang about under the van, waiting for a way to make your life miserable.
Installing The HS2000 In A camper Van Conversion
Place The Heater
We’ve mentioned the importance of putting your Propex in the right place. Where that is in your van will differ from model to model.
Remember that you may not want or need to heat the whole of your van’s main living space if you have a long model. Aim to heat an area where you can get the most benefit from the heater for the greatest range of occasions.
Allow for the drilling of exhaust and combustion air hose holes. Your holes need to be around 1-⅝”, be in a safe location, and be relatively close to the heater to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide leakage inside the van.
To find safe places, try drilling smaller holes in the right places first, then going with the 1-⅝” hole saw when you’ve confirmed you’ve got a good place.
Install The Hoses
You just drilled holes in the metal floor of your van. Drilled holes in metal can have rough, rubbing edges, and can also be exposed to rust. Before you install your hoses, paint the bare metal, so you prevent both dangers.
Place the heater in the place you’ve chosen, and then we’re ready to attach the hoses.
The heater comes with a blue silicon tube that can act as a coupling, but which isn’t strictly the only way to go. You can alternatively attach the pipes directly to the heater stubs. If you go this way, use a bead of high-temperature silicone sealant around the heater stub before you install the flex pipe.
Attach the hoses directly to the heater using the hose clamps. Under no circumstances shorten the inlet or the exhaust flex pipes. If you do that, you might stop the sensing system from working.
Route your hoses to the underside of the van, and attach them to the frame of the van with self-drilling screws and galvanized hanger straps. This is to keep them out of the way of anything that could snag or damage them.
As we mentioned, limit the bends you allow in the hoses. Especially tight bends will restrict the flow to and from your heater. Again, the exhaust line needs to vent out from the edge of the vehicle, to avoid carbon monoxide build-up under the van.
If you get a “Combustion Air Fault” alert, go back and minimize bends and kinks in the lines until the alert disappears.
Connect Your Propane Line
You need a 2-stage WC 11 propane regulator and a ¼” OD flexible copper supply line to regulate the propane flow and give you all the heat you want.
Handily, the heater comes equipped with the right elbow and the compression fitting for your ¼” copper line. Use yellow Teflon tape for the threaded connection on the elbow. Yellow Teflon tape is designed for use with gases like propane.
Don’t be tempted by the seeming looseness of the sleeve to use a sealant or tape on the brass compression ferrule inside the gas fitting. The sleeve itself will compress to form the seal.
Hot tip: check for potential seal leaks by applying soap and water. Watch for any bubbles forming on the surface – they are probably signs of a leak.
Attach Your Ducting
You have both the air intake and the exhaust outlet. You don’t need a duct on the air intake, so – job done there.
You will need to add a duct to the exhaust outlet (hose clamps are supplied with the heater). Cut your duct to length based on where you’ve positioned the vent. Your vent needs a hole of some 3.75 inches.
Remember our big tip – don’t connect the power until you have your thermostat cable connected, or you’ll probably destroy your heater.
Choose a location for the thermostat. We’d recommend somewhere between waist and shoulder height, for ease of reading and access. Make sure the area has good air circulation, and ideally is out of the way of heat sources like ovens, or windows letting in strong sunlight that could overheat the area.
You need to cut a hole behind the thermostat, large enough to fit the plug through.
The Propex HS2000 comes supplied with a long DC cable and a 5 amp fuse, so fitting it and powering it up should be no problem.
Starting Up The Propex
As with most heaters and boilers, there’s a sequence to the start-up of the Propex. Your involvement is joyously minimal, but it helps to be able to identify the phases of start-up, so you don’t worry.
Your job is simple. You switch on the heater.
You’ll hear the heater’s motor start up, then go through a 20 second pre-purge. That will clear any residual gases from the heat exchanger.
Then the gas valve opens, and the spark generator kicks in. Once these steps have been reached, the motor will head on up to normal operating speed – you’ll hear the intensity of its noise rise.
When the heater reaches your thermostat’s temperature, you’ll hear the heater switch off, followed by the sound of the fan running on its own for 3 minutes – don’t panic, nothing’s wrong, it’s just a post-purge cycle.
If and when the temperature drops beneath the thermostat threshold, the cycle is repeated, all bar the part where you have to switch on the heater.
If you’re going to choose the Propex HS2000 propane heater for your van, firstly, well done – a future of warm toes awaits you. And secondly, hopefully now you’ll know what to do – and what to avoid doing – to install it and set it up safely, for years of happy, toasty travels.