Summer is almost over and those cold mornings are a reminder it’s time to install a heater in your van, right? Both Webasto or Propex are solid options, but which one is the best? We installed both the Webasto Air Top 2000 and the Propex HS2000 in our van; after an entire winter spent in USA and Canada chasing the snow full time, at temperatures as low as -15F (-26C), we have a few things to say about these heaters and we think we can help you choose between the two!
We think that Webasto (and Espar) gasoline/diesel heaters and Propex propane heaters are the best heaters out there, because:
1- They produce dry heat. That means:
- No molds in the long run. Relative humidity inside the van is around 35%-45% during winter, even in the evenings after drying our gear.
- Comfortable heat. (see “what’s wet heat” just below)
- Clothes and gear dry fast, surprisingly fast. Ski gear is normally dry after 1.5 to 2.5 hours, boots are totally dry late in the evening.
So what’s “wet” heat, then? Catalytic heaters such as the Mr. Heater Buddy produce a lot of moisture; indeed, water is a by-product of propane combustion (see Wikipedia)! Try it for yourself: get in your van after a day of skiing and ignite the Mr. Heater. Condensation appears on the windows almost immediately and the heat feels damp, heavy and uncomfortable.
2- The heat is blown out of the heater via a powerful fan. That means:
- Hot air is pushed far away and mixes with cold air, so heat in the van is more uniform.
The Mr. Heater Buddy (sorry Buddy, no love for you) might produce enough heat, but the van is freezing cold just a few feet from it. Not fun.
3- They are both vented heaters. That means:
- No need to crack the windows open to stay safe. That’s a good thing because, you know, you’re trying to warm up the van after all!! (but vented heaters or not, remember that minimal ventilation is always recommended at all time)
Indeed, the combustion is external to the van: combustion air is taken from outside and rejected outside (along with carbone monoxide and moisture by-products). Hot air is transferred inside the van via a heat exchanger.
Here’s some factual information:
|Webasto Air Top 2000 ST/STC||Propex HS2000|
|Fuel||Diesel or Gasoline||Propane (or butane)|
|Dry or Wet heat?||Dry||Dry|
|Heating Capacity||7000 BTU/h||6500 BTU/h*|
|Air Flow||55 cfm||60 cfm|
|Fuel Consumption||0.03 to 0.07 gal / h
(0.12 to 0.27 L / h)
|0.33 lb / h|
|Dimensions||12.25″ long x 4.76″ high x 4.72″ wide||15.5″ long x 4.0″ high x 6.8″ wide|
* The Propex HS2000 is rated 6,500 BTU if used at 14 W.C. propane pressure. Regulator normally delivers 11 W.C. in North America so output will be reduced.
3- Real World Observations
Enough facts. Really, how does it feels to use the Webasto VS the Propex heater? Here are the differences that are noticeable:
Both heaters are controlled by a thermostat; the user select the right temperature and the heater will maintain it. The Webasto Air Top 2000 has three speeds (low/medium/high), while the Propex HS2000 only has one (ON/OFF). It means the Webasto generally produces a constant noise versus cycling noise for the Propex. It’s easy to get used to a constant noise, but cycling is what wake us up at night…
2- Noise level
– Inside = medium/high for the Webasto, medium for the Propex.
– Outside = High for the Webasto, medium for the Propex.
3- Heat Capacity
We feel the Webasto has more heating capacity (heat faster and hotter on very cold days).
4- Heat Uniformity
– The Webasto Air Top 2000 pushes the hot air further than the Propex HS2000, so heat is more uniform in the van.
– Bonus: The Webasto can be installed under the passenger seat, so the hot air is “produced” by heating the cold air at the floor in the cabin; since this is the coldest area in the van, it makes the front of the van much warmer. That’s very important for us, because with out interior layout we hangout a lot in the swivel seats (see our swivel seats review and installation). Installing the Propex towards the front of the van won’t produce the same result, because the cold air won’t be “sucked” from the floor (feet rest) area, unless you install some kind of ducting…
5- Fuel Monitoring
The Webasto uses the gasoline/diesel from the van tank. It means that, as long as you keep your tank above third full (below that, the straw on the Transit will suck air…) you will never run out of heat; that’s a huge benefit! With the Propex, the propane tank level has to be monitored and the tank filled periodically.
The Webasto can be purchased with the neat (and sexy) MultiControl* (see interactive tutorial). It’s great because there is a 7 days timer to program the heater to automatically start / stop. For example, we program the heater to start automatically at, let’s say, 6 AM in the morning before we wake up. Or we program it to start, let’s say, an hour before we finish our skiing. The MultiControl also allows you to use the fan only (no heat); that’s useful to dry the shoes in summer 🙂 By comparison, the Propex controller has that 70’s look…
*The MultiControl is available for the STC model only
We have comprehensive installation articles for both heaters:
Oh, and if you are wondering, the winner is: Propex! It’s easier to install.
5- Maintenance and Reliability
The Propex HS2000 burns clean and is not prone to get clogged with combustion by-products (soot, etc.). It will work hassle-free for years and years with virtually no maintenance!
The Webasto (and Espar) are a bit more finicky and tend to get clogged with soot (carbon buildup). We read reports of people running them for 5 to 7 years with no maintenance at all; on the other hand we also read reports of people have to clean them almost each year… What’s our personal experience with it? We actually had ours failed (carbon buildup) during our first winter. We then replaced the combustion chamber to start from fresh; we went through our second winter with no issues at all!
Here is the full version of the story. We did a lot of research, a lot of thinking, and the result is all here:
And here’s the short version. With the following changes, we think our Webasto will work as it should:
- We removed the exhaust silencer because it add restriction (if you read the “full version story”, you know by now that the gasoline models seems to be more prone to carbon buildup than the diesel models).
- We adjusted it for high-altitude (faroutride.com/webasto-espar-high-altitudes).
- They are prone to produce and accumulate carbon and soot when running at low speed, so:
- We try not to let the heater run at “low” speed for extended periods; if it does, we run the heater at max speed for 30-45 minutes or so before shutting it down.
- Before turning the heater OFF, we always run it at high speed for 15 minutes. We can actually see small particle being pushed out of the exhaust during that process!
6- And the winner is…
The Webasto Air Top 2000 wins if, like us:
- You have a love affair with snow.
- You use your van during winter (constant sub-freezing temperatures). That’s especially true if you practice winter sports and there is clothes drying involved… A heated van is an AMAZING ski cabin; ski-in, ski-out!
The Propex HS2000 wins if:
- You use your van for short/medium periods during winter, or for long periods in cool weather.
- You’re looking for something to warm up the van in the morning and to chase the humidity out.
- Don’t get us wrong; the Propex is fine for full-time winter living, but in our opinion the Webasto is better…
7- Where to Buy
- Webasto Air Top 2000 STC. We listed the links here: faroutride.com/air-heater-installation
- Propex HS2000: Dealer Locator
8- Bonus: Should you install both heaters?
Nah, it’s not necessary. We normally use only one of the two (the Webasto), even for extreme cold. But having two has some advantage:
If one fails, we won’t turn into snowmen.
– Boost Mode.
We sometime use both to warm up the van real fast. Once a comfortable temperature is reached, we turn the Propex OFF.
– Prevent the van from freezing.
If we’re not in the van for a long time, we set the Propex to minimum and that will keep the interior of the van just above freezing temperature (so our beer reserve don’t explode!!). This way the Webasto don’t run on low speed for an extended period (see “Maintenance and Reliability” above).