Vanlife Product Review and Recommendation: Propex HS2000

Pros and cons of heating a Ram Promaster 2500 van with a vented propane heater

As we were nearing completion for our van build, we decided it was important to try spending the night in the van. This was late Autumn and probably in the 40’s outside (Fahrenheit). I woke up several times throughout the night almost miserably cold. However, we were just using a couple of thin fleece blankets. It wasn’t quite as bad when sleeping with a comforter when it was colder (30F) outside.

However, we were seeking more comfort than that. The floor was too cold to stand on, even with our layer of insulation. Even if you plan on staying in warm places, there is still a decent chance you will be caught somewhere in some unexpectedly cool temps during the night.

Cue the Propex heater.

+ The energy efficiency of the Propex is impressive

The Propex line of heaters requires 2 main things in order to operate. First, it requires a connection to a propane tank. Second it requires a 12V power source in order to use the thermostat and kick the vent fan on. I’ll discuss the efficiency of both.

For propane usage, the Propex HS2000 uses 5 oz of fuel per hour of runtime. For a 29 LB tank, it will heat a van for about 91 hours. That isn’t to say it will run continuously. With the thermostat, the heater will shut off after pumping out 20-30 minutes of heat and usually will only need to kick on an hour or so later. All of this will vary greatly depending on location, but this has been our experience sleeping in it during 40 degree weather.

The big benefit to having propane as the heat source is how easy it is on the house battery. While the fan is on, the heater will consume 1.4 amps. To put this into perspective, an iPhone typically draws 1.6 amps while it’s charging.

– The Propex fan can be loud inside the van

If properly planned for, the loud fan can be avoided. Typically, the Propex will be built inside of a box, blocking off much of the noise from the fan. However, we wanted to install it under the passenger seat because we hadn’t really planned on adding a heater until we weren’t quite cozy enough. I would advise installing this thing around the middle of the van and running the vents to a couple of places. Install it in a box to hide it from view (and ears). The noise isn’t a huge negative, but it would be well worth it to enclose the heater to dampen the noise as much as possible.

Living in a van is a small area. Lights are brighter, smells are smellier, and noises are noisier. Just take that fact into consideration during the planning process and it won’t be a problem.

– The Propex is pricey & hard to find

I listed this as a negative aspect, but in reality it’s not so different from installing an Espar or Webasto (these alternatives tap into the vehicle’s fuel line). Just brace yourself for the price.

The United States isn’t the easiest place to find one of these heaters. The only place I could find the Propex HS2000 model for shipping was at Sure Marine Service, an apparent marine supply store. Be sure to check the Propex website for local dealers.

+ The HS2000 fits under the Ram Promaster passenger seat

I had a hard time finding out any information about this before I purchased the Propex. I checked the measurements on the website, but with the shape of the seat, it was really hard to be sure. Hopefully this information is helpful for someone looking for a heater to fit underneath the seat of their Promaster.

One huge perk is the low amount of clearance needed around the heater itself. It’s easy to tuck this into a cabinet or something and just run the vents where they are needed.

+ The propane heater requires almost no maintenance

Other heaters, such as the Espar, require cleaning 1-2 times per year. From what I understand, it produces some sort of carbon that can start to affect performance after a while. Propane is a relatively clean burning fuel, which means less maintenance involved.

+ No need for a muffler!

I don’t want to always make comparisons against other heaters, but this point has to be made. The gasoline/diesel heaters can make quite a bit of noise. This isn’t necessarily noticeable from inside the van, but it can produce some noise your neighbors may not appreciate.

The Propex HS2000 has an exhaust pipe, but it does not need a muffler. It is audible when standing within a couple of feet, but it sounds more like flowing air.

+ The vented heat means no extra humidity

This is a big positive. Moisture inside the van is the enemy. It can be a perfect environment for mold, mildew and other costly problems. Too much moisture can ruin electronics and generally cause discomfort for occupants. It’s crucial to have proper ventilation during the hot days or while cooking. It’s just as important to be able to produce some heat without creating additional humidity.

One example of a heater that will cause humidity is the Mr. Buddy portable heater. While it will help keep the van nice and toasty, one of the side-effects of burning propane is humidity.

Water isn’t the only side-effect of burning propane, either. If you do need to use a portable propane heater, please make sure you have proper ventilation.

Regardless of which heat you have installed, make sure to install appropriate sensors for carbon monoxide and explosive gas. The Propex is touted for being a safe furnace for spaces like a van with their safety-first approach. A little extra safety is always a good thing, though!

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