How To Stay Warm When the Propane Runs Out

I left New England to get away from the cold weather, but cold weather found me anyway. Granted, this is nowhere near as cold as the north, but I’ve been spoiled. Naturally, one of the coldest mornings I’ve seen here in Quartzsite was also the morning my propane tank ran out. I had to employ a few backup plans to warm things up until I could get my tank refilled. Maybe you’ll find some of them handy.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

If you live in a vehicle rather than something you tow behind it, it’s equipped with an engine. Engines generate heat. So one way you can warm up your rig when the propane heater doesn’t is to start your engine, let it warm up, and crank up the heater controls on your dashboard. It’ll warm up faster if you go for a drive, making the engine do some work, but it’ll get there eventually if you just sit there idling. There’s no need to rev up the engine. When the engine is cold, this is actually bad for it, since the oil hasn’t warmed up and lubricated the engine as much as it should yet.

Since my van was a wheelchair van in its past life, it has a rear climate control system as well as the standard one in front. I didn’t bother to remove it because I didn’t want to deal with capping off or removing all the extra hoses involved. The rear air conditioning doesn’t work, but the heater still does, which helped warm up both ends of the van.

Here Comes the Sun

In my winter camp, I intentionally park facing the southeast. This way, my windshield points straight toward the sunrise. When I take my windshield cover down, the sun beams light and passive solar heating into my van. Even the winter sun is still powerful in the Arizona desert, which helps warm up the interior more quickly.

Make Some Coffee

I’m really glad to have a dual-fuel stove that runs off both propane and butane. Normally, I have it connected to my main propane tank. But I can also disconnect that hose and snap a can of butane into it instead. This way, I can still make my coffee, because life does not begin until coffee.

If you’re one of those weirdoes who doesn’t like coffee, that’s okay. Make some tea, hot chocolate, or breakfast instead. Not only will you get something warm inside your body, but the stove itself will also double as a heater and help warm up the inside of your vehicle.

It’s possible to just run the stove with nothing on the burner. I don’t recommend this, because an open flame inside a vehicle has obvious dangers. In my case, a curious cat might just light himself on fire while investigating it. If you’re boiling water, that covers the flame and makes it a lot safer. Plus, the hot water itself radiates heat into the surrounding air.

Go Back To Bed

One of the hardest parts about waking up on a cold morning is getting out of that nice warm bed. Once you do one or more of these other things, crawl back into bed and stay warm under the blankets until it warms up outside the bed as well.

Have a Backup Propane Tank

I’ve considered buying a second propane tank to carry in the trailer. That way, in a situation like this, I can just switch tanks and have all the heat I want instantly. When it’s convenient, rather than an emergency, I can get the empty tank refilled, then hold onto it until the second tank runs out.

I need refills so infrequently, though, that I’m more likely to buy an adapter that will let me run my Olympian Wave 3 heater off a small one-pound propane tank instead — the kind Coleman sells for their stoves. This would let me turn the heat on immediately since I always keep at least one or two of these around for cooking outside on my stove/grill. This is probably what I’ll end up doing so I don’t end up without my heater again.

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