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Using a Thermostat to Control Your RV Furnace

Escaping in your recreational vehicle represents freedom to discover wide-open spaces and natural wonders. Yet enjoying idyllic locales relies on comfort within your mobile abode. Effectively controlling the interior climate tops most RVers’ lists for enhancing experiences on the road. At the heart of every motorhome heating system is the furnace, a notorious propane guzzler. Installing a compatible thermostat specially designed for RV application enables owners to rein in furnace runtimes for cozier, more efficient travels.

In short, the right RV thermostat allows fine-tuning activation setpoints while monitoring interior conditions. Programmable and smart models open up next-level optimization like remote adjustment from a smartphone. Upgrading from the basic factory-installed analog thermostat unlocks heating versatility for owners’ evolving needs. 

Read on as we explore selecting and installing the best thermostat to unlock your RV furnace’s potential for peak cold-weather performance. Discover clever tips for enhancing climate control and economizing expensive propane reliance with this small yet impactful upgrade!

Using a Thermostat to Control Your RV Furnace

Types of Thermostat Controllers for RV Furnaces

There are four main types of thermostats made specifically for controlling RV furnaces:

Analog Thermostats

The simplest option, analog thermostats have a dial to set the desired temperature. Inside the unit is a bi-metallic spring that reacts to temperature changes. This opens or closes an electrical circuit to signal the furnace. Analog models are manual, only turning the furnace fully on or completely off.

Digital Thermostats

Digital thermostats have an electronic display for setting your heat preferences digitally. Temperature sensing is still mechanical, but the circuitry allows more precision in how the furnace responds. Some digital RV thermostats include a basic programmability.

Programmable Thermostats

Going beyond manual temperature settings, programmable RV thermostats allow owners to pre-configure customized heating and cooling schedules for different times of day or days of the week. For instance, you can set warmer daytime temperatures when actively using the RV, then dial back the heat overnight when sleeping.

Programming is done through the digital interface by setting multiple temperature setpoints on a daily/weekly schedule. This convenience helps RV owners strike the right balance for comfort while avoiding unnecessary energy use when climate needs vary. Some models even support zone control for larger RVs, regulating temperatures in separate areas from the main unit.

Smart Thermostats

The latest in RV climate control, smart thermostats enable remote monitoring and control via smartphone. This allows owners to pre-heat or cool the RV from afar before arriving. Smart models also utilize learning algorithms and motion detection to analyze usage patterns, automatically optimizing heating/cooling efficiency to match recurrent daily rituals or camp routines.

Some advanced smart RV thermostats integrate multi-zone climate control for large RVs with the wiring to support different temperature sensing and regulation by area. Keypad or app interfaces display distinct zone temperature info, while the thermostat coordinates with furnace ducting dampers to customize conditioning in living spaces, bedrooms, basements, etc.

Key Functions of An RV Thermostat and How They Work

The main purpose of an RV thermostat is to sense the interior temperature and signal the furnace to turn on or off accordingly. This allows for maintaining a comfortable set temperature inside the motorhome. There are a few important functions that make this possible:

Temperature Sensing – Thermostats have a sensor, usually a bi-metallic coil or electronic component, that reacts to changes in ambient temperature. The sensor readings dictate whether heating or cooling is required.

Switching Mechanism – Inside the thermostat, a switch activates based on the sensor and alters electrical continuity to control the furnace. Analog units use a physical switch while digital models use solid-state relays.

Power Supply – Thermostats require a power source, usually 12V DC from the RV battery fed through the furnace control board. This enables the sensor and switch circuitry operation.

HVAC Interface – Wires transmit signals between the thermostat sensing/switching components and the furnace controller. This allows the temperature management input to directly govern furnace operation.

In essence, RV thermostats function as the central feedback loop mechanism between interior conditions and furnace operations. The continual measurement and automated activation provide the essential climate regulation that RVers rely on for optimal comfort regardless of external temperatures. Staying cozy is paramount to enjoying motorhome excursions even during extreme cold or heat, and that’s only possible thanks to the reliable operation of a compatible RV thermostat.

Procedure for Controlling an RV Furnace with Different Types of Thermostat Controllers

As you know by now, there are 4 different types of thermostats that can be found in an RV. Here, we have provided the controlling procedure for all of the types of thermostats which will help you to control your furnace quite easily. So, if you have found out the type of thermostat already then here are the procedures for you. Find your one and learn how to use it. 

Analog Thermostat Controller:

  • Step 1. Locate the thermostat: Analog thermostats are typically located on the wall of the RV, near the living area.
  • Step 2. Identify the thermostat components: Analog thermostats typically have a dial for setting the desired temperature, a switch for selecting the furnace or air conditioning mode, and a fan speed control.
  • Step 3. Set the desired temperature: Turn the dial to the desired temperature. The furnace will turn on when the temperature in the RV drops below the set temperature.
  • Step 4. Select the furnace mode: Set the switch to the furnace mode. This will activate the furnace and start heating the RV.
  • Step 5. Adjust the fan speed: Use the fan speed control to adjust the fan speed, which affects the circulation of heated air throughout the RV.

Digital Thermostat Controller:

  • Step 1. Locate the thermostat: Digital thermostats are typically located on the wall of the RV, near the living area.
  • Step 2. Identify the thermostat components: Digital thermostats typically have a digital display for showing the current temperature and set temperature, buttons for adjusting the temperature, and buttons for selecting different modes and options.
  • Step 3. Step 1. Press the “Mode” button: This will bring up the mode selection menu.
  • Step 4. Select the “Heat” mode: This will activate the furnace and start heating the RV.
  • Step 5. Adjust the temperature: Use the up and down buttons to adjust the set temperature. The furnace will turn on when the temperature in the RV drops below the set temperature.
  • Step 6. Optional: Adjust fan speed: Some digital thermostats have a fan speed control option. Use this option to adjust the fan speed, which affects the circulation of heated air throughout the RV.

Programmable Thermostat Controller:

  • Step 1. Locate the thermostat: Programmable thermostats are typically located on the wall of the RV, near the living area.
  • Step 2. Identify the thermostat components: Programmable thermostats typically have a digital display for showing the current temperature and time, buttons for adjusting the temperature and time, and buttons for programming different temperature settings for different times of the day or days of the week.
  • Step 3. Enter programming mode: Press the Menu or Program button to enter programming mode.
  • Step 4. Set the temperature for different periods: Use the buttons to set the desired temperature for different times of the day or days of the week. For example, you can set a lower temperature for when you are asleep and a higher temperature for when you are awake.
  • Step 5. Exit programming mode: Press the “Menu” or “Program” button again to exit programming mode. The thermostat will now follow the programmed schedule.

Smart Thermostat Controller:

  • Step 1. Locate the thermostat: Smart thermostats are typically located on the wall of the RV, near the living area.
  • Step 2. Connect the thermostat to your Wi-Fi network: This will allow you to control the thermostat remotely using your smartphone or tablet.
  • Step 3. Download the thermostat app: Download the app that is compatible with your thermostat model.
  • Step 4. Create an account and connect your thermostat: Create an account in the app and connect your thermostat to your account.
  • Step 5. Control the thermostat remotely: Use the app to control the thermostat remotely. You can adjust the temperature, change modes, and set schedules.
  • Step 6. Optional: Use smart features: Some smart thermostats have smart features, such as geofencing, which can automatically turn on the furnace when you are within a certain distance of the RV, or energy-saving features, which can help you save money on your RV’s energy consumption.

Can Any Type of Thermostat Be Used in Your RV?

While household thermostats may seem similar, unfortunately, they cannot directly replace an RV thermostat. The key reason is that household thermostats require 24-volt AC power, while RVs operate on 12-volt house batteries. Using an incompatible 120V AC thermostat in a 12V DC RV system would likely result in malfunction or damage.

Additionally, home HVAC systems utilize separate furnaces and AC units, while RVs combine both functions in one integrated, low-voltage appliance. RV furnaces thus need a thermostat designed specifically for 12V DC operation. Without proper compatibility, owners risk problems like incorrect temperature sensing, contact arcing, and inefficient cycling.

Is a Thermostat Necessary for Your RV Furnace?

While not an absolute requirement, most RV experts highly recommend installing a thermostat to control your onboard heating system. RV furnaces are designed for compatibility with standard 12V DC thermostats. Key benefits include:

  • Consistent Climate Control – Thermostats automatically regulate temperature instead of needing manual adjustments.
  • Optimized Efficiency – Programmable and smart models only run the furnace as much as necessary, saving propane.
  • Added Peace of Mind – Get notifications if interior temperatures drop unexpectedly while you are away from the RV.
  • Accessibility – Digital and smart thermostat settings are adjustable via display or app for greater motorhome climate management.

Though thermostats require some wiring expertise to install, for most RVers the functionality and convenience justify the modest effort and expense.

Tips for Efficient RV Heating

Beyond installing a compatible thermostat, consider these pointers to maximize coziness while minimizing propane usage:

  • Maintain a clear area around furnace vents so air can circulate freely.
  • In cold conditions, lightly cover windows and vents with insulation pads or Reflectix sheets at night.
  • Regularly replace the RV furnace filter to optimize airflow.
  • Have a qualified RV technician annually inspect the seals of exterior doors, hatches, and slide-outs.
  • Consider supplementing with a portable space heater when parked to reduce furnace runtimes.
  • Use a heated water hose in freezing weather to conserve the furnace’s heat demand.

Getting the most out of your RV’s heating doesn’t require complicated modifications. Small upgrades and practicing cold weather RVing habits will pay comfort dividends. Installing a modern thermostat capable of programmed or smart technology to control your furnace is one of the simplest efficiency improvements with an excellent ROI.

Bonus Tips – How to Replace Existing Thermostat with a Newer One

Replacing an existing thermostat with a new thermostat is a relatively straightforward process that can be done in a few steps.

  • Step 1. Turn off the power to the thermostat. This can usually be done by shutting off the breaker to the furnace or air conditioner.
  • Step 2. Remove the old thermostat. Most analog thermostats are simply held in place by a spring-loaded clip or a few screws. Carefully pry off the faceplate of the thermostat to access the wiring.
  • Step 3. Take a picture of the wiring. This will help you remember how to connect the wires to the new thermostat.
  • Step 4. Label the wires. Use masking tape or small pieces of paper to label the wires. The common wire is usually blue, the heat wire is usually red, and the cool wire is usually yellow.
  • Step 5. Disconnect the wires from the old thermostat. Use a screwdriver to loosen the screws on the terminals. Carefully pull the wires off the terminals.
  • Step 6. Connect the wires to the new thermostat. Match the wires to the terminals on the new thermostat. The common wire goes to the “C” terminal, the heat wire goes to the “R” terminal, and the cool wire goes to the “Y” terminal.
  • Step 7. Mount the new thermostat to the wall. Use the screws that came with the thermostat to mount it to the wall. Make sure the thermostat is level.
  • Step 8. Turn on the power to the thermostat. Flip the breaker back on to restore power to the furnace or air conditioner.

End Notes

With many affordable and user-friendly options available, upgrading from a worn-out or inadequate analog model is one upgrade every RVer should consider. Just be certain to choose a 12V DC thermostat specifically designed for compatibility with RV heating systems.

Have any other questions on selecting, installing, or utilizing thermostats in a motorhome? What features are most important for your RVing needs? Please share your experiences managing your RV furnace below!

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