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How to keep warm in winter, and stay alive.

Isnít it the same using your stove in the caravan as using a portable camping heater? 


Very different. When you are cooking on the stove you are active and watching, and even if for longer periods like up to three hours to cook a roast, you and your partner will be moving around and probably going in and out of the door. You will probably have a window or two open to avoid a steamy caravan. Not all caravans have a flued range hood.


In the cool of the evening you may be sitting relaxing with the windows and door shut to keep the warm air in. Perhaps you are sitting in front of the television or reading a book.  The gas running only for an hour will do no harm you say.  Carbon monoxide filters into the air. Now warm you feel sleepy and think nothing of it - you will turn off the gas and go to bed when the programme or chapter is finished.


The big danger with carbon monoxide is that there are no warning signs - it just makes you drowsy, so falling asleep before you intended is easy to do. Then without turning off the device as you had planned, you just won't wake up.


There are other health risks with unflued gas so even using a carbon monoxide alarm is not the full answer. The only answer is don't do it.  It is illegal and for very good reasons.  Deaths have occurred.


This review from looks at popular portable heaters, none of which are suitable for indoor use.  Some even say "Low oxygen safety shut off system".  So will that protect you?  Yes you say?  No it won't.  Carbon monoxide binds to haemoglobin in our blood in place of the needed oxygen, and does so in preference to the oxygen in the air.  There will be plenty of oxygen  These units are sold through camping stores and the illegality of using in a caravan, camper or tent is not emphasised.   This is very different to carbon dioxide poisoning, where carbon dioxide sinks and if you a in that level, you suffocate from lack of oxygen.  The low oxygen cut out may work for carbon dioxide build up, but is not the answer for carbon monoxide.


Exceeding the concentration in air of 9 parts per million for more than eight hours will have adverse health affects.  Average occupational exposures above 10 parts per million (sustained through the work day) are unacceptable if your goal is normal function and good health long term. Respiratory capacity decreases and the risk of heart attack increases at levels well below 50 parts per millionCarbon monoxide detectors, which are designed to protect against high concentration of carbon monoxide are required to sound an alarm when concentrations are greater than 100 parts per million.  From Nutramed.


By all means use a carbon monoxide detector in you home or camper, but do not use one as an excuse for running an unflued fuel heater in a small enclosed area such as a camper or caravan. 

Home > Tips and Hints > Trip planning and safety > Fire safety and Gas safety > Carbon Monoxide dangers

Why is it different using a portable gas heater in a caravan, camper or tent to using one in a house?


It is not.  Look at the links in this article where fatalities and near fatalities have occurred in Australia.


Two young boys lost their lives from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty gas heater in a rental home. The Chase and Tyler Foundation and Carbon Monoxide-The Silent Killer (The Chase and Tyler Foundation) on Facebook.    


Using an exterior type of gas heater inside caused a fatality


Another recent fatality was attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from heat beats used inside.   


There are many more cases of fatalities from carbon monoxide poisoning from Australia and around the world. 

A tent or camper trailer allows air through so is using a portable camping heater OK?


No.  Four people, including a twelve month old baby had a lucky escape when other campers found the adults unconscious (news article no longer available on the inernet).  



What other appliances are unsafe to use?


Some common products that can emit carbon monoxide when you use them are:


Barbeques that use wood, charcoal or gas

Fireplaces that use wood, charcoal or gas

Portable cookers that use gas or kerosene

Portable and/or outdoor heaters that use gas or kerosene

Flued gas heaters (under certain conditions)

Electrical generators that are diesel or petrol powered

Electrical equipment that is diesel or petrol powered (such as pumps, chainsaws, blowers and welders).

From Product Safety


Evena gas fridge run in an enclosed space has been responsible for deaths.


A gas powered floor polisher in a suburban shopping centre complex caused a woman to be found unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning and caused the temporary evacuation of adjoining stores.


Using a portable barbecue indoors can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.  

A Liverpool family suffer carbon monoxide poisoning

A Penrith family nearly died

A fatality in a tent in the United Kingdom 


A couple died using a wood fired heater in a cabin. The couple had fallen asleep with a woodchip fire burning during a long weekend camping trip and are believed to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Even a flued woodfire can result in deaths.


Deaths have also occurred from running a generator indoors  In USA, seven children and two adults died using a generator to keep warm inside their home.


In Germany, six teenagers died while celebrating the 18th birthday of one of the victims in a hut in cold weather, running a wood fire and a fuel heater that is not approved for indoor use. 


Deaths in a tank, attributed to carbon monoxide fumes from a pump used to clean the tank.  Tragically, those family members who went to help also succumbed to the carbon monoxide.  Three family members found dead.


Deaths have occurred while sitting in an idling car to keep warm.  A mother and three children were found dead in New Zealand when fumes from a car left idling in the closed garage entered the house. 


Tragedy averted by a child who noticed hisbaby sibling had gone limp, and a boat cabin while the motor was running. 


Automotive gas in a domestic situation. While some people say it is safe to use automotive gas for filling your camping gas bottles, it is not. 


The AIPís Safety and Standards Officer, Stephen Reynolds confirms that the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is very real. He says that that [Australian] appliances are approved for propane . . . but Autogas generally also contains butane. ĎAppliances run on this will not have pure combustion . . . this will affect different appliances variously . . . but some become virtual carbon monoxide generators.í From Autogas in Caravans and Motor Homes


Other gas risks. While not carbon monoxide related, domestic gas is another hazard.  Many caravan owners fit gas leak warning devices as well.  A faulty gas line in their caravan is believed to have caused the death of two elderly campers.

Camping deaths and close calls are reported every winter.


During cold spells in winter, people seek methods of keeping warm, particularly when camping away from mains electricity.  Some even say you can use portable or outdoor heater such as gas or heat beads.  This is a very dangerous idea.  Other methods such as a ceramic flowerpot over a gas stove burner are mentioned on the internet.  This is even more dangerous, as the incomplete combustion puts more harmful gases into the air.


Carbon Monoxide is the same weight as air, so unlike domestic cooking gas or carbon dioxide, it will not settle to the floor.  It mixes with the air and is not noticeable.  Carbon Monoxide warning devices may be a smart idea, but they may not give warning in sufficient time, particularly if infants and elderly people are present.  Brain damage can result even if you are found in time to save your life.  An incident in Perth leaves a young man severely brain damaged.  Carbon Monoxide is The Silent Shadow 


Worldwide,  thousands of deaths each year are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning

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A caravan or motorhome is a relatively small area to warm.  If connected to mains power, the easiest way is to run a small electric fan heater at floor level until your living space is warm.  A canvas camper or tent lacks the insulation qualities, but it is also harder to keep heat in if using any form of heating, so wearing added layers of clothes is the best way of keeping warm. 


For camping away from mains power and needing a heater, the best option is to install a diesel or gas heater which has the exhaust to the exterior of the caravan so are quite safe to use.  Diesel heaters such as Webasto, Dometic Eberspacher, or cheaper versions such as Planar or Snugger are safe, efficient, and are small so finding somewhere to install them is not difficult, and it can be self fitted.  Truma make the only gas heater of this type, which must be installed by a licensed gas fitter which adds to the cost.  These are not cheap options. 


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How to keep warm when camping


In the climates most travellers choose, heating would rarely be necessary.  If you are cold, close the door and windows, but ensure the gas vents in the door are not inhibited, and leave your roof vents open.  Get into warm clothes; tracksuits and ugg boots, and even wear a beanie if you are really cold.  Two people in a small space once the cold wind has been blocked will warm up a caravan quite quickly.


On really cold nights, snuggle in bed early, and if in a camper that does not eliminate the cold, wear thick woollen bed socks, a track suit over your pyjamas, and a beanie to keep your head warm.  A sleeping bag keeps your body warmth close around you, and provides insulation from under as well as over.  Rather than pile doonas on top of the bed, use as much insulation under it as over.  This is particularly necessary if in a tent sleeping with a thin mattress on the ground, or in a camper with beds out in the air. 


If you have sufficient battery power you can run an electric blanket before bed time to warm the bed.  You can purchase 12 volt electric blankets, but for the cost and the short while warming the bed, a 240 volt blanket run on an inverter will suffice. 


An alternative that may suit some travellers is a heater which draws on heat from the hot water system such as the Swift Ecotherm which couples with a Swift hot water system and circulates the warmth from the heated water.  However as most caravanners are like us and only heat the water to shower temperature prior to showering, it would be of little use in these circumstances.  The heat exchange heater requires some 12 volt power to run the circulating pump and the fan. 

The Ecotherm heater draws its heated water from the hot water tank and for best results you need a capacity tank of over 20 litres. Swift hot water units have been designed to heat the water to a higher temperature so that you can still have hot water available for showering at the same time as heating.

Another alternative for keeping warm when inside or even more so when out of doors, is heated clothing.  Heated jackets would also be of benefit in allaying a cough if you have a cold or bronchitis. 


Sold through tool stores, hardware stores such as Bunnings, and on eBay they are powerered by 12 volt or 18 volt rechargeable batteries as used to portable electric drills. 


Some examples are AEG, Makita, Kingchrome, Metabo and Milwaukee, with heated vests (sleeveless jackets) from All Purpose Heated Clothing. 



Camp safely in winter.  Do not take risks with your life and the lives of your family.

Heated jackets 
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