RV Space Heater Safety – How Not to Burn Down Your RV with a Space Heater

Space heaters are widely used by RV owners during the winter cold weather. However, space heaters and heating appliances do pose great risk of fire, serious injury or even death if proper heater safety measures aren’t taken seriously.

How Not to Burn Down Your RV with a Space Heater - Always On Liberty

If you’re cold weather camping or living in your RV during the winter months, you can appreciate the necessity of using a space heater in your RV.

Either due to high propane costs, difficulty in finding propane fill stations or relying on portable space heaters to supplement your furnace heat during cold weather, these heating appliances are a viable way to heat your RV or camper.

In fact, space heaters are the #1 portable appliance used in RVs today. However, there’s some serious regards when using a space heater in your RV.

Here’s a not-so-fun-fact that should make RV owners take urgent and cautious note:

An RV can burn completely to the ground in less than 10 minutes!

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in their 2018 report, the #1 cause (approx. 50%) of a home fires were due to space heaters.

This should be for serious cause for alarm when using any portable heaters to heat their home, including RVs. It’s of utmost importance to know when, where and how to properly use portable heaters wisely and safely.

So, let’s dive into our space heater safety tips that may help keep you, your family and your RV safe from becoming a statistic.

How to Not Burn Down Your RV with a Space Heater

Space Heater Safety Tips for RV, Boat or Home

Space Heater Safety Tips for RVs - Always On Liberty

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What to look for in a space heater?

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Get the appropriate size heater to handle the area to be heated. Each should specify square footage, how many watts and how many amps the heater draws

Make certain to select a space heater that also has an automatic shut-off feature. In case it tips over, the heater should shut off completely. And, only use space heaters that are UL certified. It should have it listed on the attached safety tag on the electric cord.

NEVER use any type of kerosene heater (K1) in your RV or motorhome! This is due to this type of heating appliance that requires using an extremely flammable liquid to operate.

But also, kerosene heaters produce carbon monoxide quickly, which can be fatal in small spaces like RVs and boats.

If you’re not able to use an electric space heater (if you’re boondocking), opt for a catalytic propane heater equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor.

As always, it’s still best to crack a window open when operating any gas powered heater (propane).

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Things you should know before using a space heater in your RV

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Photo by Always On Liberty©

The first thing you should do after buying your new space heater is to read the manufacturer’s instructions. So many people forget to reading them until they have a problem. This is one of those appliances you should not put them aside or say “I’ll read that later”.

Make certain to adhere to any warning labels to ensure safe operation of your heating appliance.

It’s also important to know what your RV’s electrical system will handle for amperage and wattage.

Remember, you will not be able to run even one space heater if you’re plugged into a 15 amp or even 20 amp power source simultaneously when using another appliance.

Should your RV be plugged into a 30 amp power source, you may be limited to operate your space heater simultaneously with your microwave oven, hair dryer, or other high wattage appliance.

Make certain that you have an ample number of fire extinguishers and they have not expired. Know how to use them in case of fire.

Always make certain your space heater is set on a large and flat, level heat-resistant surface. Electric heaters and propane heaters may cause your floor or other surface to warp from the heat.

So, it would be in your pest interest to place your heater on top of a heat resistant mat or a wood board  before placing it on your floor or counter.

Where should you plug in your space heater in your RV?

Electric Space Heater Plugged into Wall Outlet - Always On Liberty

Be sure the plug on your electric heater fits snugly into an electrical outlet. Do not overload any electrical outlets in your RV or small space.

Also, always unplug any electric portable heater when not in use.

If the cord and/or plug on your heater feels hot when it’s been plugged in or during operation, you need to unplug it immediately and discontinue use.

You should never plug your heater into any electric power strip (or power brick) or extension cord; even heavy duty outdoor power cords.

The considerable volume of electricity space heaters consume can overwhelm extension cords. As well, it’s highly possible to overload the wall outlet which will melt the insulation, cause a short circuit, and start a fire.

But also, extension cords should never be be used in RVs or small spaces anyways as they can be tripping hazards.

Now, if you are using a propane space heater, make certain to open a window slightly for ventilation.

Otherwise, you’ll be subjecting yourself and your family to carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, propane heaters are known culprits of adding to condensation issues in your RV.

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When and where you should NOT use a space heater

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You should never use an electric space heater in bathrooms or areas of moisture or water as it may cause electrocution.

Also, avoid using any space heater near combustible materials or flammable liquids. So, scan your heater area of aerosol cans like bug repellent or sunscreen. But also, because they may contain flammable chemicals like alcohol.

You should never use your portable heater inside closets, drawers or cabinets. And, always keep your space heater at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire such as curtains, clothing, furniture, bedspreads, rugs, pet beds, etc.

And again, never plug in your space heater into an electric extension cord, power strip or even surge protector.

Also, if your plug and/or electric outlet shows sings of melting, soot or feels hot, immediately discontinue use.

Never leave your space heater unattended! Whether sleeping or just stepping out for a moment, turn it off and unplug when doing so.

Lastly, keep children and pets away from space heaters, heat sources and controls at all times. All it takes is a split second for a child or pet to knock over the heater which can cause severe injury or damage to your RV.

Are old space heaters safe to use in an RV?

Old Electric Space Heater - Always On Liberty

My opinion is you should refrain from using an older space heater in your RV. Outdated technology and lack of improvements to older heaters is culprit to starting fires. It’s best to replace any heating appliances often; especially those under heavy use.

Regardless of age of your electric space heater, never use it if its’ electric cord shows signs of splitting, fraying, cracking or exposing of wires.

Pay attention to the plug; also making certain it’s fully intact within signs of melting, soot, warped metal or simply doesn’t look right. Also, make sure it fits snuggly into the electric outlet.

And, unless you’re an electrician or certified appliance service specialist familiar with repairing space heating appliances, do not try to fix a broken heater yourself.

If your electric space heater is no longer serviceable, I highly recommend cutting the electrical cord at the base of the unit and pry the knobs off before disposing of it. Doing so will render it unusable which can prevent someone, unknowing of its’ unsafe condition, from using it.

Why your RV needs a working Carbon Monoxide Detector

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Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. In small spaces like RVs and boats, carbon monoxide can build up quickly before you become aware.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have a full-operational Carbon Monoxide Detector in your RV. Ensure your CO alarm is properly working and test it at least monthly. And replace it when it either becomes outdated, shows signs of damage or exhibits malfunction.

If you do not have a carbon monoxide detector that’s hard-wired into your RV, then get a battery-operated CO alarm. Remember to replace the batteries every 6 months or when it gives a low battery alert. 

Practice fire safety in your RV

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Fire is no joke; especially in an RV when you have literally seconds from disaster. So, it’s extremely necessary to discuss fire safety with your family and how it applies to your RV.

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First and foremost, be the positive, driving force in keeping every one from panicking.

Make it a regular occurrence to practice fire drills and emergency evacuations with all who are camping or living in your RV.

Also, make sure each family member or camper knows where your fire extinguishers are located and how to properly use them.

As well, show everyone where to secure your RV’s electrical power.

And it always bears repeating that everyone who is with you knows how to dial 911 and communicate clearly with the dispatcher. 

Know your campground or marina name and location, your campsite number, dock or slip assignment. Relay how many are camping with you. 

If you practice all of these safety guidelines on a regular basis, your family chances of escaping injury or harm will decrease drastically.


Each time you move to a different campground or campsite, post the address and site number on the inside of your door or anywhere it’s easily visible. 

Wrapping up

Warming Hands Over Space Heater - Always On Liberty

Staying warm should never compromise your family’s safety. The #1 concern when using any type of heat producing appliance is knowing where, when and how to use a heater safely. These lifesaving space heater safety tips should help keep your family safe and your RV or boat from going up in flames.

Get our FREE printable Space Heater Safety Tips

✰✰ RV FIRE DAMAGE REPORT  INFO ✰✰ NFPA Fire Damage and Loss Assessment of Recreational Vehicles (2020)

More on RV safety 

Keeping Your RV Warm in Cold Weather

How to Stop Condensation in Your RV

Where to Find RV Propane Filling Stations & LP Tank Exchanges

How to Prevent MOLD from Growing on Your RV Mattress

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