Van Life

Staying Warm In Cold Weather After The Sun Goes Down

It’s mid-October in The Homeland. We’re having a stretch where the night time temperatures are below freezing and daytime temps only reach in to the 40’s.

I look forward to heading south soon but, for now, I need to deal with the frigid temps.

I’ve written about this before but I’ve made some changes and want to share more info and pictures.

How I Stay Warm In Friggin’ Cold Weather As A Van Lifer

There’s no comparison to heating the living quarters of a minimally insulated van vs heating a fully insulated house. It’s simply not possible to achieve a comparable level of climate control.

A few tidbits for anyone new to my blog…

It’s complicated. There are lots of details and variables. But, due to MCS, I minimally insulated my van on purpose. Could I insulate more? Probably. But, until then, it is what it is… because it is.

I can’t use a propane heater. Using a generator to run an electric heater is not an option either. The fumes cause great distress.

Just because I can’t live like the Normie’s doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I simply need to find another way.

Now… let’s get to the topic at hand…

The Good Ole Electric Heater

It gets friggin’ cold when the sun goes down!

My primary source of heat is a small electric heater.

I need a source of electricity to run the heater which means going to a campground, parking at someone’s house (to use their electricity), etc.

At night, I put the heater on a table so it’s level with my bed.

My bed is high enough that I need a step stool to climb in. Putting the heater on the cold floor at night has proven ineffective.

Using an electric heater. Living in a van.
I put the heater on a wooden cutting board rather than directly on the table.

The table and heater sit a safe 3 feet from my bed and takes the chill off of my sleeping area.

In a minimally insulated van, the heater can NOT keep the temperature at a balmy 70+ degrees. The inside temperature is typically 10-11 degrees warmer than the outside temperature – which is (usually) enough to take the chill out of the air.

Can You Run An Electric Heater With Solar Power?

Solar power can NOT run an electric heater for very long.

With my current solar setup, the heater would run about 20 minutes before my house battery becomes depleted. I know because I tested it!

Once depleted, there’s no electricity left to run the fridge, my CPAP or charge my phone. And, as soon as the heat shuts off, the van begins to cool off.

Even with an elaborate solar set up, an electric heater would draw too much power.

There’s not an efficient, low watt, 12 volt heater (that I know of) that runs on solar power. Most van lifer’s use propane heat (like the Mr Buddy heater).

The Simple Heating Pad

Before hopping in bed, I lay a heating pad at the foot of the bed, under the covers, to warm it up.

I set the heating pad to “warm” (not high) and, in a few minutes, I crawl in to a cozy warm bed.

After 2 hours, the heating pad automatically shuts off. This allows me to fall asleep without worry.

When I get out of bed to answer the first nightly Call of Nature, I remove the heating pad and I’m good for the rest of the night.

There are 12 volt heating pads (and electric blankets) that can be used via solar but the fellow vanner’s I’ve talked with don’t give good reviews about their efficiency.

The Layered Blanket Sandwich

I use to have a 20 degree sleeping bag. It worked well but it was heavy and I didn’t care for it.

Currently, I have a wool blanket from Amazon, a fuzzy blanket that Nikki gave me and two $15 comforters from Walmart (that’s what I paid but I’m sure the price has gone up).

  • In warm weather, I use a single comforter.
  • In cool weather, I add the wool blanket on top of the comforter.
  • In downright cold weather, I sandwich the wool blanket between both comforters.
  • Three blankets usually does the trick but, if I need more warmth, I top it off with the fuzzy blanket.
Layering blankets to stay warm. Van life.
Each of the 4 blankets are lightweight and thin but, when layered, keep me toasty warm.

The Heavenly Heated CPAP Tubing

I’ve used a CPAP for 26 years.

If the temperature in the van is 40 degrees it means 40 degree air is being drawn in by the CPAP, blown up my nose and down the back of my throat to keep my airway from collapsing while I sleep.

Forty degrees may not seem cold on the surface but blowing 40 degree air up your nostrils for 8 hours a night brings a whole new light to the term “brain freeze”!

There have been times I could not use the CPAP because it was too cold.

A few years ago…

My brother, Corey, told me about his CPAP with heated tubing.

Last week…

I got heated CPAP tubing for my own CPAP (better late than never!).

The verdict…

Heated CPAP tubing made a HUMONGOUS difference!!!

Can You Use Heated CPAP Tubing With Solar Power?

My CPAP also has a humidifier. It takes more power to humidify the air running through the tube so, when running my CPAP on solar, I turn the humidifier off to conserve power.

I haven’t tested the heated tubing on solar but common sense says it’s not a good option with my current solar set up.

A heated, humidified CPAP can definitely be run using solar power. However, when you’re off-the-grid it’s important to consider how much power is stored in your house battery(s) vs what your electrical needs are.

If you have a larger solar bank than I do, you could definitely consider using these CPAP features via solar.

In warm and somewhat cool weather…

Turning off the humidifier and heater tubing isn’t a problem.

In cold and downright frigid weather…

Heated tubing and humidification are necessities (for me). Without a larger solar bank, I need to include shore power when it comes to using these features in cold weather.

The Heat Barricade

A barricade helps contain the heat and makes the space smaller (with less space to heat).

Reflectix across the windshield…

A sheet of Reflectix spans my ginormous front window.

Van life Reflectix.
My handmade, duct-taped windshield cover adds privacy and helps with climate control. I used clear tape on the outside so onlookers only see what looks like a single piece of Reflectix.

Reflectix is like a sun visor you’d use for a car except it comes in a big sheet that’s cut to size and, if needed, tape together. It can be purchased from Home Improvement stores like Lowe’s and True Value.

Reflectix in the passenger and driver windows…

I left a small opening above the Reflectix. This allows me to keep one or both windows cracked for ventilation.

The Driver and Passenger window Reflectix also adds privacy.

Condensation is a never-ending saga for van dwellers. It seems the colder it is outside, the more condensation accumulates between the front windows and the Reflectix (and possibly elsewhere in the van). I’ve tried Damp Rid and similar products but they never seems to work as great as other’s say they work. Instead, I focus on ventilation. If needed, I take a morning drive to air out the van.

Insulated curtain across the front….

An insulated curtain (on a tension rod) between the cab and living area narrows down the area needing to be heated and can help contain the heat.

The curtain attaches to the side of the van with sewn in magnets (unprofessionally sewn in by me). I also sewed the curtains together half way down.

The front curtain also provides privacy. This is especially helpful when I’m in a public area and need to use my “facilities” without fear of mooning anyone passing by (lesson learned!).

A second insulated curtain across the back…

The back curtains are the original curtains I bought 7 years ago (which explains why they are yellowed). These curtains attach to the van with sewn in magnets.

Another curtain (on a tension rod) spans across the back, tinted window.

Parting Thoughts

I’m sure there’s more I can do to help contain the heat (such as add Reflectix to the back windows). But Van Life is always a work in progress and I’ll get there when I get there.

This past week, the outside temp got down to 27 degrees. The inside temperature (with the heater running) was 37 degrees… yet I was snug as a bug in a rug in my cozy little bed.

Once the sun comes up, the heater and the sun, warm the van up more efficiently.

I don’t enjoy the weather extremes (especially cold weather). But avoiding extreme weather 100% of the time is an unrealistic expectation.

My no-propane-no-generator-van-life-cold-weather-climate-control strategy hinges on my ability to plug in to 110 electric but I’m thankful to have a workable option!

Keep calm and enjoy the ride.

Thanks for reading!

Related Article: 5 Ideas For A Simple DIY Camper Van Bed Conversion


2 thoughts on “Staying Warm In Cold Weather After The Sun Goes Down

  1. All really good and interesting things to keep warmer or in summer cooler. I need to pick up some reflextics for the windows as it seems we will be colder this winter here.


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