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Radiant Trailer Heater
Saving my battery with more comfort.


If you've camped in cold weather for a few days in a trailer or RV, you know that a trailer furnace is noisy and can drain the battery very quickly. Solar panels and extra batteries can help, but it I wanted a quieter, simpler, and more ecological solution. Experienced RV'rs often light stovetop burners in the morning to help make things livable. According to Dan Cook, my trailer owning neighbor and chemist, it's not dangerous since a clean burn only produces H2O and CO2. Opening the top vent and a window a little helps remove these and keeps things safe.

On a recent trip in my tiny 16' Airstream Sport, I tried this and noticed that although it seemed to work, much of the heat ended up on the ceiling and underside of my microwave oven - where I store goobers and potato chips....

My solution was to convert some of this heat to radiant heat. If you've lived with a wood stove, you know that the air temperature can be cool, but radiant heat can make a room very comfortable - like standing in the sun on a cool winter day. I made this test model out of an Irish Oatmeal can from TJ's and it's about 4 1/4 in dia. and 5 1/4 high. It could be bigger but not much smaller. It has 8 churchkey openings top and bottom. I removed the burner grate and set it directly over the small burner although now I set it on the grate - that way I can see the burner and make sure it's burning cleanly.

It worked so well both ways that I have yet to make a pretty clean model with drilled holes. The radiant heat starts to heat everything and everyone in the vicinity as soon as the can gets hot. In a few minutes, the back of the stove and walls start to warm and radiate into the area. It's really amazing how fast this happens... much faster than the furnace unit trying to heat the air. I often put the burner on low early in the morning or on cool evenings. It's quiet, and in many ways more comfortable than using the furnace.

An added bonus is that it acts like a silent fan or heat exchanger - driving humidity and odors out the vent, and sucking in fresh air through the cracked window. Set a teapot on top and make your coffee or tea - or warm your evening chili or soup without sticking. Stored it under the sink with a cleaning bottle inside, it takes up no space and is always ready for action.

Additional changes:

I've replace all of the interior lights with new LED bulbs from They take about 1/6 the energy as the originals with the same illumination and nice white light. I've also replaced my refrigerator fan with a quieter and more efficient Noctua NF-S12-800 unit. With these changes, and the Radiant Heater, I'm able to boondock for days with a single battery. The next big batter drain is the water pump - a simple solar shower should cut that in half. My plan is to see how long I can survive with no solar and a single battery. If necessary, the best system I've found is a foldable suitcase setup at It's only 25"x21" folded, and put out 80 Watts. While you're clicking, check out this vidio on How Airstreams are Made.

Testing shows that it also provides convection heat - it warms the air:

Small burner on full - digital thermometer on dining table 4' from heater:
Starting temperature - 68.2
After 10 minutes - 69.1
After 20 minutes - 70.9 - burner was turned off and air temp. continues to rise by radiant heat from walls and fixtures.
After 30 minutes - 71.6






© 2011 mark jurey