Vandog Traveller

Heating my van (the proper way). Here’s how I installed a Propex heater

Last winter I didn’t need heating because I was in Morocco. But the winter before that was cold. I used to wake up in the night and have to turn the gas hobs on to warm up.

But that’s all about to change. This post goes over how I fitted a Propex heater in my van. Finally my van has proper heating. I’m excited.

Edit (24th Oct): NOTE – Although I’m just showing how I did this in my van, some people don’t like that I’m potentially encouraging others to install their own gas appliances. If you are not comfortable working with gas then it’s best to get someone else to do it. Please don’t blindly copy me, because I’m not a gas engineer.

Choosing a heater

I wanted something with a thermostat that would turn itself on and off automatically in the night. There are 2 main types of heater for this purpose: the Eberspacher (runs on diesel) and the Propex (runs on lpg/propane).

I chose a Propex because I already have a good amount of gas storage and I didn’t want to have to tap into the van’s fuel tank. The diesel heaters, although very efficient, can be noisier and have more things to go wrong. I chose a specific model that they no longer make: the Propex Compact 1600 because of its small size. It cost £250 secondhand off Gumtree.

Fitting goes a bit like this:

  1. decide location
  2. fit air inlet and exhaust to outside of van (through floor)
  3. route and fit gas supply
  4. wire up thermostat and power
  5. Secure, neaten and fix things down and test

Decide on location

I’d just built a box seat at the back of my van and the heater fits perfectly in there.

Mark holes for inlet and exhaust

The heater uses a closed flue system meaning it takes the combustion air in from outside the living space being heated – marked as ‘air in’ in the photo below. The combustion gasses are directed out of the living space via the ‘exhaust out’. So there will be no water vapour produced inside the van (byproduct of burning propane) and it won’t use up all my oxygen.

Check underneath and open holes to 32mm

I checked under the van’s floor that there was enough space (around the pilot holes) to make room for the exhaust and air inlet pipes from the heater.

I filed and painted the bare metal to stop it rusting

And sealed with PU adhesive

I used a ‘caravan sealer’ but any flexible adhesive/sealant is fine, preferably Polyurethane based

Secure stainless steel pipe with jubilee clip

I secured the stainless steel pipe to the air and exhaust ports of the heater with jubilee clips.

Fit the gas supply

The heater is on the other side of my van to the gas supply. I have to run a gas pipe underneath the van and back up through the floor to where the heater is

I used standard 8mm copper pipe

How to secure gas pipe under the van?

I had to make do with the bits I had. I used these plastic modesty blocks (usually used for furniture making and shelving) and butterly clips to fix the pipe to the underside of the van’s chassis.

I used the existing holes in the chassis for the fixing points

It took 4 metres of pipe

This is the van floor under the heater

The air in and exhaust face away from each other. The exhaust should point out away from the van.

I used a pipe clip to secure the end of the exhaust

I connected the heater to a spare output on my gas manifold

This is why having a gas manifold can be really useful. Each output has an isolation tap – water heater, cooker and air heater.

Wire up the thermostat

I couldn’t find any info on wiring this old thermostat but I worked it out looking underneath the PCB. It has four wires: 2 for 12V power (red and black) and 2 for control of hot air and cold air (orange and purple).

Fix thermostat to wall

I put the thermostat out the way under the bench leaving space around the vent for the air to get to the thermistor – the component that senses the temperature.

Fit hot air vent inside of van

I put the hot air vent as low as possible. Hot air rises etc.

The vent swivels in the middle to direct the heat

I have a spare one of these if anyone wants it? They cost like £10

The heater is inside here

I put the ‘air in’ hole facing the back door mainly because it looks less intrusive. Also, In the summer I can put the heater on cold air mode and it will take air from outside (with back door open) and blow it into the van.

Installation complete

I fed 63mm aluminium lined ducting (below) from the hot air output of the heater to the hot air vent on the front panel of the bench unit. The air inlet doesn’t need ducting.

Testing: the heater doesn’t work

Gutted!

Sometimes it fires up the first time but most of the time it doesn’t light at all, even after +30 on/off cycles, and automatically shuts itself off. The heater is faulty

Edit: All working. See this post: How I fixed my propex (compact 1600) campervan heater – not igniting

But when it does work it’s amazing

When the heater does decide to turn on and properly ignite it’s amazing: Instant hot dry air and really quickly heats up the van. The location is great because when I’m sat at my desk I get warm legs and feet.

Conclusion

It’s always a gamble when you buy secondhand things, especially when they are over 20 years old. If I wasn’t comfortable with fixing things I would have really regretted buying this gumtree heater.

Apart from that, these heaters are straightforward to install. What’s also very good is the support from Propex. The people there still know all about this exact model and are happy to help even though it was made in 1993. That’s a good business.

For more van problems see the next post: Van leaking oil. Parts not available. Here’s how I spent the past 5 weeks trying to get it fixed