I have a friend who wants to run a heater in his van during the winter (MO). Heater will be on continuously. Outdoor outlet (not GFCI)...what type of electrical system should I set up? Or NOT...

  • The largest concern I can think of would be to make sure you use a heavy extension cord 16 awg absolute minimum if it is short 15' or less. If longer 14 gauge would be needed. – Ed Beal Aug 11 '17 at 15:24
  • Thanks. The heater in the van will be just to keep the temp around 40 degrees. He has carpet cleaning equipment in there....I am not sure this is a good idea at all. Older wiring in house...van probably about 15 feet from outdoor outlet. Not sheltered area. – lyn Aug 12 '17 at 14:28

The first piece of information you will want to know is the power requirements of the heater. It is common for an electric "personal" heater to be about 1500 watts, which is also a very good figure for a blowing-type hand-held hair-dryer.

Rough calculation means that 1500 watts on a 110 volt home system in the USA will draw about 15 amperes of current.

For this application, it is a good idea to have a dedicated circuit for the outlet that will provide power and use wiring and a breaker appropriate for 20 ampere current. Circuits are typically designed for eighty percent capacity. A twenty amp circuit would then provide safely sixteen amperes for the heater, but would have no reserve capacity.

No GFCI may not be a problem if you have no water contact involved (sheltered area?) but code may require otherwise.

You suggest that the heater will be on continuously, but a 1500 watt heater will generate enough heat that it is likely to cycle on and off to maintain a comfortable temperature.

Note also that many of these heaters will have low-grade power cords which may get hot and pose sufficient risk, regardless of the other portions of the circuit.

oil filled heater

Designs such as the one pictured above will also have tip-off safety switches, although contact with oil-filled heaters are not as serious as contact with exposed resistance element type heaters.

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  • What service type and ampacity of flexible cord would you propose the user select for connecting the 1500W heater to the 20A receptacle? Would it make a difference if the van were over 50 feet away from the house? Should they install permanent wiring to a point closer to the van? – Upnorth Aug 11 '17 at 18:57
  • when it comes to high current applications, closer is better. If closer is not practical, bigger conductors as referenced in Ed Beal's comment is also a wise option. – fred_dot_u Aug 11 '17 at 22:24
  • A 1500w heater draws 12.5 amps. A 15 amp circuit can handle this load with no problem. – Ed Beal Aug 12 '17 at 18:43

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