Caravan heating systems: a quick guide to caravanning warmth
Lee Davey discovers how to keep warm when you’re away in the caravan
Caravan heating systems keep you warm regardless of when and where you tour, but what should you consider if you’re planning a winter trip or looking to buy a new caravan?
Words and photos courtesy of Lee Davey
Caravan heating options
We’ll focus on the leading caravan heating systems from Alde, Truma, and Whale. All of these air-blown and water systems can be powered by gas or mains electricity – or a combination of both – which makes it easy to enjoy pitches with or without an electric hook-up, whatever the weather.
Modern caravans shrug off sub-zero temperatures with ease thanks to a combination of efficient heating and insulation, with an increasing number of caravanners choosing to enjoy ski season or wintry destinations from the comfort of their leisure vehicle. Caravan heating, 230V or otherwise, isn’t just for use during spring or autumn trips, as modern products are regularly tested to extremes by the various design teams.
Many years ago, the skeleton of a caravan was a timber framework with relatively thin insulating matting sandwiched between the aluminium outer skin and the inner wallboard. Modern caravans, however, are a very different beast. Using Bailey’s Alu-Tech system as an example, the fully laminated bodyshell has enhanced thermal properties, which help to retain as much heat as possible when the heating system is switched on, as well as maintaining the desired temperature once reached.
Further testing is conducted in a cold chamber, with a thermal camera checking for warm air ‘leaks’ around other areas such as windows and wheel boxes. The result is a thermally efficient leisure vehicle.
In broad terms, Truma and Whale are the main producers of blown-air heating systems for caravans. They work by warming the area producing heated air, which is then distributed through circular vents near ground level.
Alde caravan heating is a hydronic system that uses antifreeze fluid to warm a series of radiators. The Alde system operates similarly to your home's central heating, circulating hot liquid through pipes to radiators, hence its nickname, the 'wet' system. It also provides hot water for bathing, washing, and heated towel rails.
Radiators discreetly placed behind furniture emit warm air, causing it to rise from behind backrests. The system draws in cool air from floor level, heats it, causing it to ascend towards the ceiling. As the air cools, it descends, gets recirculated, and is reheated, creating a consistent circulation.
The outcome is uniform and efficient heating, particularly effective in colder weather. This feature makes Alde the preferred choice for many year-round caravanners, extending beyond the traditional 'caravanning season' of March to October.
Caravan central heating
To heat your caravan, quite simply choose the caravan with your preferred method of heating. Many of the newer models of caravan featured underfloor heating, too, perfect for those chilly winter days. Some even have WiFi-controlled heating which means you can switch on with an app on your phone before you reach the caravan.
How do I keep my caravan warm at night?
Keeping warm at night is where your caravan central heating excels. Most caravan heating systems are thermostatically controlled, allowing the occupants to set the desired temperature before bed, with 15°C being comfortable for most conditions.
Many heating systems from Alde, Truma and Whale have a timer function, which allows the heating to switch from a higher evening temperature to a comfortable sleeping temperature at a pre-determined time. Should you be caravanning in chilly conditions, this timer function will also enable you to heat the inside of the caravan before getting out of bed.
How long does it take for Alde caravan heating to warm up?
Determining heat-up time for Alde’s hydronic central heating system, or any other brand of heating, depends on several factors, with the outside temperature being a significant consideration.
However, there's an industry standard test requiring the caravan to heat itself from -15°C to +20°C in under four hours. Observing this Grade III test in a cold chamber, a Bailey Unicorn Series 5 equipped with an Alde central heating system eclipsed this test with over an hour to spare.
How do I make a caravan awning warm in winter?
To minimise draughts in your awning, ensure that it’s correctly pegged out with no gaps, and use an awning skirt and wheelarch cover to help eliminate wind entering the awning from underneath the caravan. If you have a porch awning, or another awning type that doesn’t run the entire length of the awning rails, a snug fit against the body is essential.
Dedicated awning flooring will also help, with many being breathable to minimise damage to the grass. Interlocking foam tiles are popular for hardstanding pitches.
With the awning and floor sorted, popular awning heating units include fan and halogen heaters. As the awning has been erected to minimise any draughts or fresh air, it’s unwise to use gas heaters in the awning due to the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Playing devil’s advocate, with many sites struggling due to stratospheric energy costs, avoiding secondary heating in the awning until normality resumes may be beneficial long-term.
Will Alde heating work if the caravan is not level?
Yes. The Alde system used fluid-filled radiators to heat the caravan, much like a domestic heating system. This caravan heating fluid is pumped around the system and doesn’t rely on a perfectly level caravan.
How do I heat a caravan without electricity?
Most caravan heating systems can run on bottled gas, with any timing or ignition systems being powered from your 12V leisure battery. This allows your caravan heating to function without a 230V electric hook-up. It’s wise to charge your leisure battery and check gas bottle levels before going on holiday.
Should I have Truma Combi caravan heating or Alde wet central heating?
Both heating systems are incredibly popular, and choosing between the two heating brands is down to personal preference. The Truma Combi system heats air which is then passed through ducting pipes and caravan heating system vents by a blown-air caravan heating fan.
The Alde system is similar to domestic central heating, warming fluid before passing it through a network of pipes and radiators. The Truma Combi often benefits from faster heat-up times, with the Alde system providing a quiet, even heat. Premium caravans are often fitted with Alde wet central heating, although both heating types perform incredibly well in all conditions.
Will tubular heaters keep the caravan warm?
Usually found in small areas that need to be frost-free – like a greenhouse – these cylindrical electric heaters aren’t designed to heat areas to a comfortable temperature. Also, when tested to see if they will keep a caravan frost-free, they fail to heat beyond the localised area, so it’s essential to follow the correct drain-down procedure before storing the caravan over winter.
Can I use normal antifreeze for Alde caravan heating, such as Comma Xstream GC40?
Alde does approve other antifreeze products. In the UK, these are Fuchs Maintain Fricofin V 50, Comma XStream GC40, and VW Genuine Parts G13. They are ready to use, pre-mixed with deionised water, and have a five-year life. The Alde website states that ‘corrosion damage caused by substandard heating fluid is not covered by warranty’, and, with this in mind, I tried to find genuine Alde Premium G13 Antifreeze at a discounted rate.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club Shop sells a one-litre bottle for £8.99 (with a member discount), which compares favourably to similar-sized bottles of alternative products. Antifreeze for central heating in caravans needn’t cost a fortune.
Can Alde caravan heating be left on all winter?
If you’re considering leaving your Alde heating on for the winter months, it’s worth following the correct drain-down procedure instead.
It’s possible to set the thermostat to a single-digit figure, although this could be expensive during a cold snap and could also wear any moving parts prematurely. The Alde heating system is filled with a dedicated antifreeze, so correctly serviced heating systems can cope with the rigours of winter.
Can heat damage a caravan?
Many caravans are also tested at high temperatures. I’ve observed climate chamber tests at 40°C, where various components, laminates and products are checked for heat compatibility, and I’ve caravanned in temperatures of 45°C without failure of any fixtures, fittings, or finishes.
How much does it cost to fit caravan central heating?
If you’re planning to retrofit a heating system, a blown-air unit is worth looking at. Truma and Whale are popular with people looking to fit such a system, with costs varying depending on the caravan, fitting location, ducting runs, wiring, etc.
As a rough guide, a Whale caravan heating system can be purchased online for less than £1,000 (including ducting and controls), with a recent online deal offering a Truma Combi system for approximately £1,500. These costs do not include fitting.
In the modern caravans of today you can rest assured you will be warm and toasty when you need to be. With older caravans you made need to make more of an investment. There are some really good heating systems out there, so choose one that suits you the best; for me it is the more like home the better.
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