Vanagon – platinum catalyst heater mount

Yeah, I know, I know, these heaters are not the best solution for the van. I got this one back in ’93 and never did install it in my ’82 westy. But over the last couple of years I’ve dragged it out to use in the syncro for winter camping, and last week I finally cobbled together a more secure mounting system for it.

BTW, apart from the risk of oxygen depletion, and the possibility of CO production (although if the heater is working properly little CO is created, well except if the oxygen level is low then more CO is produced) the big drawback of an unvented propane heater is the production of water vapour. Here’s the logic, using a 1 lb propane bottle as fuel source:

combustion equation:

C3H8 + 5 O2 —–> 3 CO2 + 4 H2O

so for every mole of propane burned, we get 4 moles of water.
the molecular weight of propane is 44 g/mol, and therefore a 1 lb (454 g) bottle contains 10.3 moles (454/44)

So burning the entire bottle would produce 4(10.3) = 41.2 moles of water

The molecular weight of water is 18 g/mole, therefore  741.6 g of water produced.

A respectable amount, almost 3 cups, of water is liberated into the van when you burn a one lb bottle of propane.

So the lesson learned is either buy a vented heater or make sure you vent the van well. I like to have the pop top vent partially open and one window open about an inch when I use my unvented heater.

OK, enough. The point of the post was to show my quick and dirty mount. I used scrap 1/4″ aluminum (5052 if you’re asking) and instead of welding  (my skill at welding inside corners, especially on tubing is still at the crap level) I bolted it together.

The heater.


The unpainted aluminum shape is bolted to the heater to stiffen things up. The painted “wing” is the bolted to that stiffener. The bent tube is actually bolted to the wing – bolt through wing into a tapped hole drilled crosswise in a bit of steel rod which is running crosswise in the tube. Oh yeah, that’s great descriptive prose. One unexpected bonus is that the heater now can be placed on floor, if desired.



Unpainted end of tube fits into front table arm of the van. It can be adjusted to a range of positions and is high enough to mostly avoid being hit by the dogs.


I’ve been using a 20 lb propane bottle sitting in the driver’s footwell. No, not the most elegant solution.

Addendum – it just occurred to me that it might strike some as strange that I don’t simply attach the tubing directly to the stiffener piece and get rid of that black wing. The truth is I made the tube and wing first and mounted it directly to the top two bolts on the heater. But I found that not steady enough so I made a backing plate. I liked how I could coil the propane line around the wing, so I kept it, for now.

  1. #1 by famillysyncro on March 26, 2013 - 7:20 pm

    Nice work Alistair, as usual.

    You know what I am thinking about our Propex, the best think we got for the van.
    Do you think you have been nice enough (or will be) to get one under the Christmas tree?

    Joke aside, there is more involved about it if you don’t want to go our route (propane bottle inside the van) but with your skills and endless ideas, it shoudn’t be too bad.
    Even my wife is happy now that we spend the money for it (she wasn’t when we spent it).

    No danger (fire, CO….), almost no humidity, thermostat controled heat and compared to other: quiet.

    Instead to carry the 20lbs tank in spring or fall, we are planning to carry small green 1lbs cylinder instead (1 or 2 max, if we need more we could buy them on the way).
    As I did the math a 1lb tank should give us about 2h of heat non-stop, well enough for a cold and wet night. Even during winter with -20C outside and wind, the heater was working often but not all the time.

    I have a question about your painted “wing” support. Is there another purpose to have it like that? Are your dogs use it to scratch their back?


    • #2 by albell on March 26, 2013 - 8:59 pm

      Hi Jerome,

      the “wing” was an off cut (and I have lots) from a waterjet cut sheet. So there are lots of interesting and distracting shapes that I struggle to come up with a use for. I kept the top curve and made the lower curve complimentary, and left the thing wide. At that point it was for no other reason than it looked nicer. Once I had it together I found that the extended wings makes a handy shape to coil the propane hose around. I’m a genius and I don’t even know it 🙂

      Same thing with finding out after the fact that the mount allows the heater to stand upright on the floor.

      I’ll take credit for both serendipities, whether I deserve it or not.

      I helped my friend Simon install his propex (91 syncro) and we mounted it inside an aftermarket centre console unit. It works out quite well there. I think I will end up getting one for next winter.

      I can get by with the plat cat as it is not very cold out here. But I also fantasize about winter trips into the interior (BC).



      • #3 by famillysyncro on March 29, 2013 - 6:45 am

        Looks really nice anyway.
        I was looking about a heater like that before the Propex but I didn’t find anything under $400 at that time here in Calgary (used!) so it was another argument for the Propex.
        I still need to make an adapter to plug small 1lb instead of the 20lbs but I already have a support for the 1lb tank: a fire extinguisher bracket.


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