Adventuring in your van is something that many of us often dream of one day doing. But there are many different factors to consider for those who are lucky enough to make that dream a reality.
And one of the most important ones to determine upfront in your adventure van journey is to get the best diesel heater you can.
There is no need to feel overwhelmed with this critical task. There are plenty of great options to choose from — with a range of selections that can fit any budget. Embracing the van life takes lots of planning; it is an investment into your future. Because at the end of the day, this van will be your new home, or weekend home base, wherever you may be.
We have put together a comprehensive guide of everything you need to know about diesel heaters and the best ones to choose.
What Is a Diesel Heater?
Before we go too far into all the options you have to choose from for your new campervan lifestyle, let us first define what a diesel heater is and which vans they work with.
Many who have already committed to the camper lifestyle will vouch that a diesel heater is undoubtedly the best for two reasons: it uses minimal power and fuel to provide maximum heat in your new home base on wheels.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Vans are commonly available in a Diesel option, but you’ll want to make sure yours is before committing to a diesel heater. Ford and Ram don’t currently offer a Diesel version of their Transit or Promaster vans for 2022.
How Diesel Heaters Enhance Your Van Life Experience
There is nothing worse than going from having the best day ever exploring your local mountain to suddenly suffering through the night because you can not get warm in your van. Having a quality diesel heater that you can rely on ensures your new home on wheels is comfortable and warm. The reviews are in: diesel heaters work and are certainly worth investing in.
How Do Diesel Heaters Work?
So how exactly does a diesel heater work so efficiently? You do not have to be a mechanic to understand and operate this essential component of your van.
Here are the top things to know about the functionality of a diesel heater:
- The diesel heater uses fuel to run.
The heater will work with your adventure van and tap into the fuel tank to draw diesel and operate the heater. Bonus - you won’t need to lug around a separate fuel source for your heater.
- The diesel burns in a separate chamber and the exhaust is safely expelled outside.
This one is essential. So do not worry; you will not be breathing in gas. The diesel and air mixture ignites under pressure in the combustion chamber, increasing the temperature of the outer combustion chamber and heating the attached heat exchanger. All the resulting gasses are expelled through an external exhaust pipe.
Safety Tip: Always make sure you have a Carbon Monoxide monitor working and functional in your van.
- The diesel heater relies heavily on the fan.
The diesel heater will rely heavily on the internal fan to circulate toasty air. A fan draws in air from inside the van, circulates it around the heat exchanger, then blows the warm air into your vans' living space.
- The air warms up — fast.
Once the diesel heater does its work, the final step is to use the resulting air to warm up your van! This is done by using the built-in fan to distribute the warm air throughout the van so you can have a warm and cozy evening.
Are Diesel Heaters Better Than Propane Heaters?
The main reason that we recommend getting a diesel heater is that they offer better value in terms of efficiency and energy density. The diesel taken from your fuel pump is very dense, meaning it goes a long way, and many calculate it to end up being much less than the price of propane per gallon of fuel. Diesel heaters are so efficient that you’ll hardly notice them using any fuel.
Diesel heaters also produce a dryer heat compared to propane heaters. Anyone that’s spent time in a van knows that condensation can become a significant problem, and propane heaters exacerbate the issue. Diesel heaters vent externally, and therefore the heat they produce is much drier in comparison.
Does Your Van Need a Diesel Heater?
If you plan to spend a lot of time in your van looking for adventure, you should always invest in life’s little comforts.
While you will likely enjoy many days full of sunshine and warmth, the evenings can get cold in that van of yours. You have probably heard the real-life stories on van life social media pages where others that live life on the road face the harsh realities of the cold evenings. The National Parks can get cold during summers, especially at higher altitudes.
So whether you are preparing for a van trip to ski country or heading to sunny beaches, a diesel heater is your best plan, whatever the weather.
The Best Diesel Heaters for Your Van
The good news is, you have many great heaters to choose from for your van. Of all the options, the top two that you should be considering are either a Webasto STC 2000 or an Espar Airtronic S2 D2.
Here is what you need to know about both:
Webasto STC 2000
When you compare most diesel heaters out there, this one is undoubtedly one of the better ones. The Webasto STC 2000 is very efficient in energy consumption and production, and they can operate at full capacity using just 2kW for a resulting 7,000 BTUs of heat output.
This is the most compact heater and works great at very high altitudes. To optimize the use of this heater, you will want to also invest in a separate controller to monitor and tweak the temperatures of your house on wheels. We recommend the Webasto Heater 7 Day-Timer.
We recommend this model because it is affordable, easy to control, and comes with many extra accessory options. This option also comes with a diagnostic kit to screen the air quality and ensure it is running correctly.
Espar Airtronic S2 D2
For those who want the absolute best option for diesel heaters, you will want to commit to getting the Espar Airtronic S2 D2. This is the top choice for many people who live in vans, or just adventure on the weekends, mainly because the ratio of gas consumption versus energy output is insanely high, with a heat output of around 7500 BTU.
This heater comes with four different options for temperature settings, ranging from low to a power boost. The setup of this heater is straightforward. Once set up, the optimal ventilation ensures that you can get circulation for cold and warm air. The choice is yours, regardless of how high in elevation you are.
We recommend this model (and use it in our vans) because it has been reviewed by many positively, is efficient, is reliable, and has been designed to function to any temperature you may need. But do note if you plan on traveling way up into the mountains, you will also want to purchase the accompanying High Altitude Kit.
Stay Warm Out There
It is super important to look after your comfort when traveling on the road. Cold weather brings sleepless nights, even in commonly toasty areas like the Southern California coast. The more user-friendly heater you can get, the fewer sheep you’ll need to count.
While both heater options are consumer-friendly and easy to install on your own during your van build, it is always recommended to consider getting a professional to do it for you. That way, your safety is looked after, and you can pretty much guarantee it’ll be set up correctly on the first go. If you have questions, head to your mechanic so that they can make any minor adjustments.
Regardless of the model you choose, make sure that a quality diesel heater is considered when designing your van build. Even if you plan on traveling to warmer locations, you will want to know that you are covered in the case of a cold snap, and you can feel truly at home in your campervan.
A campervan conversion takes time and planning. Prepare today for the adventure tomorrow.