How to Install a Catalytic Heater in My RV?

Hello again all you DIYers! I have had many customers in the past few months request that I install a catalytic heater into their used RV they have bought from us here at RVs of America. I thought it would be good to write a blog on how to best install your own catalytic heater in your RV. Lets get started.

First off, I think there are a couple of questions that some might liked answered, like “why would I want a catalytic heater?” or “Is a catalytic heater more efficient than the RV furnace?” or you may ask how much does a catalytic heater cost to install one myself or at the service center?” or “what tools do I need to install a catalytic heater?” I will do my best to answer some of this common questions and more in this blog.

How does a catalytic heater work? A simple catalytic heater consist of a fuel source, a metal grate and a mesh plated with a catalyst such as platinum. As the fuel passes from the tank through the mesh, it undergoes a chemical reaction and produces heat. The metal grate absorbs the heat and radiates it out into the surrounding space, often assisted by a small fan.

Catalytic heaters have several potential power sources. The most common include alcohol, propane, lighter fluid and butane. When we install on into your RV we tap it into your propane system. Catalytic heaters need fresh air to function safely. The chemical reaction between the fuel and the catalyst requires plenty of oxygen. While you are camping or living in an RV with a catalytic heater, it is important to ensure that it is getting a steady supply of fresh oxygen.

Usually the reason one would want a catalytic heater is because of how efficient they are on fuel consumption. Catalytic heaters run on low pressure propane versus the high pressure a furnace uses. They also do not have a open flame, decreasing fire hazards. Catalytic heaters are known to be 99.98% efficient where as a common RV furnace may waste up to 45% efficiency. Catalytic heaters do not need a electrical power source either. This can make a big difference when dry camping in the cold weather. You don’t want to drain your battery down in the middle of nowhere! Lastly, they do not have a big fan like an RV furnace, therefore they are near to silent.

Alright, now that you are convinced you want a catalytic heater in your RV, let’s go over the tools you will need in order to install a catalytic heater.

  1. Safety glasses. During any job you will want a pair of safety glasses, you only have two eyes!
  2. Adjustable wrenches. You always want to use a back up wrench to prevent damage to the other components you are working on.
  3. A pipe bender. This is not necessary but can make running your lines a lot easier.
  4. A flare tool.
  5. A pipe Cutter.
  6. A drill. We will be drilling a couple holes as well as taking the stove out.
  7. Tape measure.
  8. Gas leak detector.

Now that we have all our tools together we will need to get the catalytic heater and all of the connections for it.

  • Catalytic heater. I have been using the Camco Heaters of lately.
  • 10-20 feet of 3/8 copper tubing.
  •  4 3/8 copper flare fittings.
  • 3/8 copper “T” fitting.

Looks like we have all our tools and supplies. Now we can get onto the installation. Before we do anything else we should shut the propane off. We have to decide on a place to mount the catalytic heater. It all depends on your trailer and the clearances you have. A common place you can mount it and where I have mounted several is right as you enter the RV on the bottom cabinet. Keep in mind you should have some clearances to avoid catching things on fire. The recommended clearance is 4″ on the sides, 4″ from the floor, 18″ on the top, and 30″ in the front. Also, with this spot it makes it easy to tap into the gas line behind the stove. For this blog that is what I will be doing. If you have a different place the install is almost the same, you will just have to find your way to a gas line.

After you have picked your location for the catalytic heater, you will want to drill 3/8″ hole to mount it onto the cabinet. The Camco heaters come with a template. In some cases you might need to get yourself some extra backing with plywood or other wood. I had to put a piece of plywood behind the cabinet to give it some where to screw into. Once you have mounted the heater securely to the cabinet we can move on to the next step.

One of the easiest places to tie into the gas line is behind/under the stove. Remove the cover on the stove. Under the cover there are 4 to 6 screws holding it into the counter, some times more. You will want to disconnect the gas supply to the stove with your two wrenches. Now you can remove the stove completely from the counter and set it aside.

Lets run the line from the catalytic heater to the back of where the stove was. First you will need to drill a whole in the cabinet parallel with the connection to the catalytic heater. I would give yourself at least 6” so it is easier to make the turn. from where the stove was you now can fead your copper line to the whole you just drilled. Once the line is through the whole you will want to use your flare tool to make a flare on the end where your line will connect to the catalytic heater. Make sure you put your fitting on the line before your flare or you will be cutting your flare off and doing another one. Connect your fitting to the catalytic heater. When I am tightening fittings, I tighten it down until it is getting tight and then back off a quarter turn and then tighten more and repeat until it is tight. This will help the flare to seat well with the other fitting. We do not want any leaks.

Next, you will want to cut the line the leads to your stove. Some where in the middle will do. You should have 3 copper endings now. 1. from your heater, 2. from the main gas supply, and 3. from your stove. Put a flare fitting on each line and flare the ends. Take the “T” fitting and attached each flare to the “T” fitting. Tighten them all down the way we did on the first connection.

We are almost done!!! Now we need to turn on the propane to check for leaks. Use your leak detector on each flare fitting. If you are using the soap type it will bubble up from where ever you have a leak. If there is a leak, try retightening the flares down. If that does not work then you may have to re-flare your fittings. Now would be a good time to check for proper operation of your catalytic heater.

Time to put everything back together. Replace the stove and reconnect the gas fitting. Screw it back in and clean everything up. Great job!!! You just installed your own catalytic heater!!!

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