These days, just about every motorhome will have some form of central heating on board. This might be gas fired, fuelled by diesel, or dual fuel, adding an electric option to the diesel or gas.
There are only a few manufacturers in the game of providing heating systems for motorhomes – Truma, Alde, Whale/Propex, Eberspächer and Webasto are the main players – but there are also diesel systems available from Chinese firms.
As far as I’m aware, Alde is the only company to use a ‘wet’ system, while all of the others are blown-air types. By wet system, I refer to the means of distributing heat around the ’van.
The Alde system heats water (with added antifreeze), which is then circulated around the vehicle and passed through radiators, just like most home central heating systems.
It’s not usually the case that you would be able to specify which heating system you want in your motorhome – on the whole, you pretty much get what the converter chooses to fit.
Apart from fuel type, vehicle heating systems can be divided into two main categories: ‘combi’ systems, which support space and water heating in one unit, and separate systems that will carry out one of those tasks each.
Alde makes combi units, which combine gas and electric operation. Truma produces both combi and separate units, which can be gas only, gas/electric or diesel/electric in operation.
Whale/Propex makes separates, with gas only or gas/electric power sources, while Webasto makes both combi and space-only heaters, which are diesel or diesel/electric fuelled. Eberspächer focuses on diesel-fuelled space heaters.
Factor in the running costs
So which system is best? This is a question I often see being asked on forums, but it’s a tricky one to answer. ‘Best’ will depend on many variables, such as the size of your motorhome. Usage is also important. Will it be on EHU or mostly off-grid?
Running costs have rarely been considered, but the recent huge hikes in domestic fuel prices have encouraged people to look into this aspect.
Generally speaking, gas is still the cheapest fuel, so long as you are using a user-refillable system. LPG (propane) from Autogas pumps is averaging around 88p per litre, while diesel is £1.83 per litre and electricity is 20-38p per kWh.
We need to do some maths here to compare the three fuels in similar terms, so let’s convert LPG and diesel energy densities to kWh. Propane’s energy density of 7.08kWh per litre means it costs just 12.4p per kWh, while diesel gives about 10kWh per litre, equating to 18.3p per kWh. Even taking a rough average for electricity at 30p per kWh, it is very clear that gas is significantly cheaper.
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