Induction Cooktop for Vanlife: Pros & Cons, Power, & Electrical vs Propane Comparison

Induction Cooktop for Vanlife: Pros & Cons, Power, & Electrical vs Propane Comparison

Induction-Cooktop-Cooking-for-Vanlife-Heading
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Induction cooking is getting quite popular among the Vanlife community. An induction cooktop is more energy efficient than a traditional electric cooktop, and it opens the door for "all-electric" van conversion as propane is a source of concerns for some. That being said, induction cooking still requires a lot of energy and, therefore, has a significant impact on the cost of the electrical system and on autonomy. After reading this article you should understand the pros and cons of induction cooking VS propane, and you can make the right choice according to your needs. Keep reading!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait-FarOutRide-Isabelle-Antoine-Van

1- Induction Cooktop In A Nutshell

1.1- How induction cooking works

With induction cooking, heat is generated by the cookware; there is no heat coming from the surface of the induction cooktop itself. It means that a cooktop surface is cold to the touch, so it’s perfectly safe to touch it or to drop a cloth on it (that being said, the surface will get hot when cooking because of heat transfer from the cookware to the surface of the induction cooktop).

Induction cooking uses induction heat transfer to heat cookware, while gas or “normal” electrical element uses conduction heat transfer. The induction plate generates a magnetic field, which creates an eddy current in the ferrous cookware; the cookware provides resistance to that eddy current, and, as a result, heat is generated.

Induction Cooktop Vanlife How It Works
photo credit: Duxtop.com

It is very important to note that not all cookware is compatible with induction cooking: the cookware must be made out of ferrous material. Not sure if your cookware is compatible? Just try to stick a magnet to the bottom: if there is a strong pull, you’re in business! A soft pull might work, but not great. No pull will definitely not generate any heat.

Compatible Cookware

Cookware with uneven (not flat) bottom surface might not work properly.

Non-Compatible Cookware

But these materials will work if there is a magnetic layer at the bottom!

One of the main selling point for vanlifers is that induction cooking is more energy efficient than traditional electrical cooktop. Indeed, heat is transferred directly to cookware, and, as a result, food heats up and water boils about 50% faster than electrical or gas. This is great news, as energy is not unlimited in a van! That being said, induction cooking still requires a great deal of energy… so you’ll most likely have to upgrade your electrical system components and battery bank to make it work, and it comes at a financial and autonomy cost. Power and electrical requirements are covered in SECTION 2 below; keep reading to find out what you’ll need!

Vanlife Cooking Propane VS Induction
Vanlife cooking on propane or induction, it doesn't matter: good food, good mood!

1.2- What model to buy for Vanlife

To prevent overworking the inverter (and possibly to prevent tripping the fuse in some situations), we want an induction cooktop with variable power. That means if we set the cooktop to medium (50%), we want the induction cooktop to run continuously at 50% of its power capacity (so 900 watts for an 1800 watt cooktop). A cooktop that runs full power (1800W) for 50% of the time is not really what we’re looking for here.

We also want its max power low enough so that it works with a 2000W inverter (that being said we recommend a 3000W inverter, but that’s the topic of SECTION 2 below!).

Duxtop 1800W Induction Cooktop (Single)

Duxtop-Portable-Induction-Cooktop-1800-Watts-for-Vanlife,-Black-9610LS-BT-200DZ
POWERWATTS
0.5100
1180
1.5260
2340
2.5420
3500
3.5580
4660
 4.5 740
 5 820
POWERWATTS
 5.5 900
 6 1000
 6.5 1100
 7 1200
 7.5 1300
 8 1400
 8.5 1500
 9 1600
 9.5 1700
 10 1800

Duxtop 1800W Induction Cooktop (Double)

Magma Induction Cookware designed for RV & Boat

2- Power Requirements

2.1- Inverter Size

A van electrical system is typically 12V DC, so an inverter is required to convert the power to 120V AC. You should choose a power inverter capable of delivering 2000W continuously, at the very least. Even so, a 2000W inverter might occasionally trip when using the induction cooktop at max power because:

  1. An inverter sold as “2000W” might actually be able to handle up to 2000W surge for a very short duration but not continuously. So make sure to read the specification sheet of the inverter!
  2. Using other 120V devices simultaneously adds up the power requirement! For example, using an induction cooktop (1800W), a blender (350W), and a laptop (45W) at the same time would require over 2195W of power. Make sure to keep a buffer, because it will be irritating to trip the inverter constantly.

So even if a 2000W power inverter sounds like more than enough, it’s not really, and we’d recommend going for a 3000W inverter.

2000W Inverter

3000W Inverter

2.2- Battery Bank Capacity

Sizing the battery bank adequately has a direct impact on autonomy, that’s pretty obvious for most people. But did you know that the maximum current that a battery bank can deliver depends on its size (and type)?

Autonomy

We met several full-time Vanlifers with professionally-built vans that gave up on using their induction cooktop and are using a gas camping stove instead because their battery bank wasn’t sized properly. Induction cooking is trendy, and pro-builders want to seduce their customers with it, but don’t make the same mistake of under sizing your battery as a cost-saving measure… especially if you plan on living full time in the van. 

Maximum Current

A power inverter draws a huge amount of current, and the battery bank must be able to deliver it. For example, a single 100Ah Lithium battery cannot deliver more than 100A. It means a 100Ah battery bank (one battery) can support a 1000W inverter and no more. A 200Ah battery bank (2 batteries) can support a 2000W inverter and no more, and so on. But for a robust system, a 2000W inverter should be paired with at least 3 x 100Ah Lithium batteries, and a 3000W inverter should be paired with at least 4 x 100Ah Lithium batteries. That’s to ensure the inverter AND other 12V devices can be powered simultaneously (which is very most likely the case).

2.3- Wiring Diagram & Items List

At this point, we understand that sizing the power inverter AND the battery bank is critical to ensure the electrical system works as it should. But there’s actually more: solar, alternator charger, shore charger, fuses, breakers, and wires must all be sized properly as well… And because everyone has different needs, no one has exactly the same system. So how do we do it?  That’s a problem we solved with our unique tools: a van electrical calculator and a customizable wiring diagram. It doesn’t get any easier than this!

1- Size Your Electrical System

and generate your custom items list

2- Grab your wiring diagram & tutorial

3- Induction VS Propane

3.1- Cost Comparison

We see many people trying to avoid propane these day and go for an “all-electric” build, so it would be interesting to compare the cost of each. For this exercise, we will assume that a “Standard” electrical system (per faroutride.com/wiring-diagram) is sufficient when propane is used:

Electrical / Propane Hybrid Cost

Standard Electrical System
1000W inverter, 2 lithium batteries
$4,870
Click to enlarge
Propane System
$400
FarOutRide-Propane-Diagram-V2-rev-A-Interactive-1024px

Total: $5,270

All-Electric Cost

High-Power Electrical System
3000W inverter, 4 lithium batteries
$8,575
Induction VS Propane Cost Comparison Vanlife (with induction)
Click to enlarge
Propane System
$0
dancing banana
Nothing to see here...

Total: $8,575

The prices above exclude the appliances cost (stovetop, etc.). Yes, it’s possible to build a similar system for cheaper. But cutting down on cost usually means going for cheaper and unbranded components, which means gambling on quality and safety. Our goal here is to build a reliable, safe, and performant electrical system; so we invest in quality components.

Cutting down on cost

Shortly after publishing this article, we got a few reactions and questions about our cost comparison, which seems on the high-side: Would it be OK to go for a 2000W inverter, 200Ah Lithium battery bank, and only use the induction cooktop at lower settings?

Yes, it could work. But in our opinion, any design that requires the user to “be careful” in order to prevent failure is a poor design. You’re building a van for yourself right now, but remember that eventually all the vans end up on the used market… You have to build your van with the next owner in mind as well (for safety and re-sale value)!

As an analogy, you could design and build a floor in your van that’s not waterproof (on the edges or whatever) and “be careful” not to spill any water. Reality check: water spills WILL happen eventually. It’s not an “IF”, it’s a “WHEN”. So you’re better off making the extra efforts to build a waterproof floor…

That’s a philosophy that we applied through our entire build, and we’re proud of it. We feel good about it, and we can’t recommend it enough; it is worth the extra time, money, and effort! 🙂

3.2- Autonomy

As we mentioned in the previous section, we met several vanlifers that were let down by the autonomy of their induction cooktop. Professional builders (and amateurs) often cut back on batteries to reduce the cost only to find out later that their autonomy isn’t great. Reality check: the sun is not always shining, so size your system to get enough autonomy without solar! 

We personally went with a propane system (faroutride.com/propane-system) in our van. That’s because we live full time in our van, and autonomy is critical for us. We use the van for skiing during winter (faroutride.com/winter-vanlife) and solar input is negligible during that time. Propane is an extremely dense source of energy: we only need to refill our 20lbs tank every two months when using our Atwood Range (faroutride.com/wedgewood-vision-range-review) and our hot shower (faroutride.com/exterior-shower) regularly. One refill costs between $12-$20 USD.

Electrical

Propane

No sun, no shore power, no driving any time soon to recharge the batteries... we stay here as long as the snow is good 🙂 Autonomy is the key for a good adventure!
Winter-Vanlife-How-To-Tips-FarOutRide-Induction

3.3- Safety

For most people, propane = danger. In our opinion, there is a (manageable) risk in both propane and electrical. Indeed, keep in mind that a 3000W inverter can draw a tremendous amount of current (around 350 amps, that’s huge) and that’s a potential risk for an electrical fire if a connection gets loose over time (due to vibration). So whether you work with propane or electrical: be humble, educate yourself, use quality components, quality tools, appropriate techniques, and ask for professional help as required.

Electrical

Propane

4- Conclusion

An induction cooktop can be a great addition to a van, as long as the electrical is planned and sized accordingly. Designing and building an electrical system is not a simple task, so we really hope that the tools we have at your disposal are helping!

- That's it folks, hope that helps! -

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Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017, we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers, and moved into our self-built campervan. Every day is an opportunity for a new adventure... We’re chasing our dreams, and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

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27 thoughts on “Induction Cooktop for Vanlife: Pros & Cons, Power, & Electrical vs Propane Comparison”

  1. For those people who go with an induction cooktop to avoid propane, how do they heat water for a shower, or do they just shower cold?

    Reply
    • I’ve got a 6-gallon hot water tank that runs at 1800W on my inverter. I’ve got 420amp hours of lithium and its plenty to keep up with an all electrical buildout. That being said, I do have 400w solar panel that replenishes the whole battery bank daily (well, most days). but 80amp B2B and 30amp direct plugin as well.

      Reply
  2. I’d just throw out there that there are simple, flexible solutions.

    A portable butane or propane stove allows cooking inside with ventilation. It also allows cooking outside if the weather is nice, if cooking something smoky, if cooking something stinky, or if trying not to make noise in the van. Small green propane cylinders can be refilled from a standard tank than can be safely stored without a full propane “system.” Or just bring a couple small cylinders for a shorter trip… same with butane.

    AND also having an induction cooktop allows cooking indoors or outdoors when you have shore power … saving liquid fuel.

    So a small portable induction cooktop and small portable single burner propane or butane stove and you are set to go without worrying about running propane lines, propane leaks, expensive batteries/inverters, etc.

    Reply
  3. Wow this is by far the most thoughtful and comprehensive van build site I have seen over several years. I keep coming back. I will “donate” very soon. You deserve some monetary feedback for all of your insight and thoughtful guidance. Thank you !!!!!

    Reply
  4. Great article, thanks but there’s one thing that people should know. The Duxtop induction cooktop you recommend actually cycles like the rest of them. They show the power levels… but it’s actually average power, considering it’s cycling 1800 watts on an off. I bought it on Amazon and I’m a little disappointed as I’d hoped to use it, set at a lower power, with my 1000 watt inverter.

    Reply
  5. Why not use DC directly to power the cooktop? Seems more efficient? Like the built in battery offerings made by Copper and the like (for whole house stoves). There is a company in India making a battery powered one

    Reply
    • A 1800W induction cooktop will draw over 150 amps, that’s HUGE. You’d need big cables and components to support that. It’s possible, but it’ll definitely cost more than going for 120V. I’ll pass! 🙂

      Reply
  6. I’m wondering what you folks think of alcohol stoves for #vanlife (popular in marine applications) as a safer alternative to propane (no explosion risk)?

    Reply
    • Used inside with zero wind alcohol stoves can bring water to a mild boil (not a rolling boil) in about 5 minutes. In very light wind this spoils the flame and can take upwards of 20 minutes and uses about 1 liter of alcohol per week for one person. Basically heating your stuff up with a big candle. Propane is much more efficient and both methodologies involve some risk of fire.

      Reply
  7. I have found your site so useful in my Transit build and I enjoy just reading it now that I am done building for enjoyment. I thought I would add that you can buy induction adapters inexpensively in case you need to use a coffee percolator, a large borrowed pan, or something that isn’t magnetic. We liked our coffeemaker and an Amazon adapter made it possible to keep using it even though it wasn’t magnetic.

    Reply
  8. Okay we just purchased an older Chinook van and not sure about the batteries etc. we would like to use a double burner induction cooktop and we probably will always be on 30 amp power. Not knowing about electricity or batteries, might we be okay as long as we are plugged in at a park? Thanks

    Reply
  9. Hi,

    I was looking for information on surge current and induction. I know that the surge of a microwave is higher than a motor of the same running amperage but I haven’t seen any info on an induction cooktop.

    Thanks,

    Reply
  10. I know others have left similar comments, but after 2 weeks of obsessing on the web about what inverter to install, I could use some validation or direction.
    We have 2 6v 221ah AGM batteries, run in series (12v total, still 221ah). We want to install an inverter, to run a induction cooktop at the least, and maybe an electric kettle. I have been looking at the Giandel 2200W inverter but have been scared away by potential surge power requirements pushing the required inverter watts to 4000W. Given the current 221ah setup, do you feel we could use a single induction stove (with nothing else plugged in) on a 2200W inverter? The kettle (1100W)? Would appreciate any comments. Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Regarding the comment “A 200Ah battery bank (2 batteries) can support a 2000W inverter and no more” – would a 2200W inverter really be too much for a 200Ah battery bank? Or is 2200W close enough and you’re really are saying 200Ah won’t support a 3000W inverter? I’d also be curious to see how that math works.
    I was planning on ordering the Giandel 2200W inverter and only getting 2 x 100Ah lithium batteries to start, but am now wondering if I need a third battery to support that inverter. Thanks!

    Reply
    • You can install a 2200W inverter with two batteries, it’ll be OK as long as you don’t use it at full capacity (e.g. 2000W or less). If you use it a full capacity (more than 2000W), there’s a chance the batteries BMS shuts down temporarily.
      antoine

      Reply
  12. We use our single induction burner with our 2000W inverter. It works great and we love it.

    Yes, I can’t run another high draw appliance at the same time, but I’m ok with that. Pretty much the only time I run our induction on high is when we boil water. I made chili and cornbread. I baked the cornbread in the toaster oven and then unplugged and then while it cooled I made the chili on the cooktop.

    I like having no naked flames inside the van and none of the copious amounts of water vapor that propane gives off. I never have to refill a propane tank or worry that it isn’t venting correctly.

    Did you include the cost of propane and the cost of going to get the propane?

    Reply
  13. I own the pictured duxtop induction burner and have used it on the road for probably 1.5 months total. I absolutely love it! It runs off a cotek sp 2000 watt inverter and a 180ah Calb lithium battery bank. I have had absolutely no problems with this setup. Use falls well within the stated specs for both my battery and my inverter. I believe you overstate the cost and potential pitfalls of going down this route. Propane has advantages for sure, but the all electric route isn’t so hard to pull off.

    Reply
  14. I would think other considerations are that you have only one burner and there’s no oven. Sounds like going backpacking.

    Also, it’s not really eco-friendly as it would be hard to solar charge a big enuf battery to power that thing. So you need to use your carbon powered engine to charge the battery.

    Propane sounds better and better! (And BTU/CO2-wise, a little better than gasoline, although when you figure in the losses using an IC engine to power a generator to charge a battery, bet that gasoline looses big time.)

    -d

    Reply
    • A modest solar system of 400 watts operating at 3/4 capacity for 5 hours a day would generate 1,500 watt hours. That would power an induction burner at 1,500 watts for an hour. Quite a bit of cooking it seems to me under pretty easy to achieve solar gains.

      Reply
  15. Great article, thanks! Wrt using a solenoid for the propane system, is this primarily a convenience item or a safety item? I’m thinking I wouldn’t want a solenoid, because it mixes electrical into a box of flammable liquid/gas; it draws a bit of power; and I don’t mind lifting the lid of the propane box to turn the handle. Should I revise my thinking? Thanks.

    Reply
    • We only turn the propane ON when using it, otherwise it’s closed at all time for safety reasons. If we had to manually close the valve in the box, we wouldn’t do it; it would be too annoying to do it each time.

      In fact, we didn’t have the solenoid at first and the propane was always ON. One day, we went grocery shopping and we accidentally turned the stove ON. Fortunately we came back a second after because we forgot something in the van and we realized the stove was ON (we could smell it). Shortly after we added the solenoid…

      Reply
      • I see, thanks. I had in mind just leaving the propane on when we are parked. But that’s not how I use my BBQ at home; I switch the propane off as soon as I’m done cooking. So maybe I need to rethink!

        Reply
  16. Thanks for posting this article Antoine and Isabelle, clears up many questions I had myself about induction cooking! I was already leaning to propane and this just clarifies that decision!

    Reply

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