RV Propane Basics

rv-propane.jpg For years, propane has been heavily advertised as a clean, efficient, safe way to heat your home. 

  • It’s a clean fuel. 
  • It’s a lot cheaper than gasoline. 
  • It’s available almost everywhere.
  • There is no shortage of it; it will be available for many years. 
  • With normal precautions, propane is very safe to use.

Otherwise known as LP (liquid petroleum) or LPG (liquid petroleum gas), propane is the most versatile system in your RV.  Without it, today’s RVs would be rather impractical.

Its most common use onboard RVs is to provide a way to cook meals, though in most recreational vehicles it does so much more…


RV Propane Uses

Today’s fully furnished RVs, regardless of size or class, make use of propane in many ways. 

Beyond cooking, propane also provides hot water, refrigerates your food, and provides warm air heat to keep you cozy and comfortable. 

If you’re into longterm boondocking, (living off-the-grid without services), then propane can even do more for you.


Basic Info About RV Propane Systems

Most generators can be converted to operate on propane, even portable generators. 

Taking your empty propane cylinders to town for refilling is so much easier then messing with gas cans and pouring dangerous flammable liquids.  Propane is clean with less potential for fire or explosion.

The forced-air furnace in your RV can be supplemented by a propane catalytic heater which burns even cleaner, uses no electricity, and is overall more efficient than your standard furnace.  Just make sure that your catalytic heater has an automatic low oxygen shut down feature and that your space has adequate ventilation.

With an Extend-A-Flow kit coupled into your RV propane system, you can hook up to a portable gas grill and do your cooking outdoors.  I use both a grill and a 3-burner portable propane stove when I camp, so the cooking mess is seldom taken into the RV itself.  After all, we’re there to enjoy the outdoors, so why cook inside? 

A similar hose kit called Extend-A-Stay lets you hook up a portable tank to your house propane tank.  This allows you to avoid moving your motorhome to continue staying set up when you need more propane.

A few years back, the installation of overfill protection device valves became mandatory in all portable propane tanks.  The purpose of the OPD valve is to prevent too much liquid propane from being placed in your tank.  Your appliances are designed to run on gaseous propane.  Before the propane leaves the tank, there needs to be adequate room to allow it to revert back to a gas.  The OPD makes sure that’s possible by closing the fill valve at the point required to protect that space in the tank. 

If you are looking at a used RV, be sure the tanks have been converted to the new style valve.  Also, be aware that portable propane tanks must be recertified when it’s 12 years old, then every 5 years after that.  This can be done by your local propane dealer.  They inspect tanks for rust, damaged valves, dents, or anything that would indicate the tank is not safe to use.  The cost to install an updated fill valve will run you about $40, if your tanks are the old style. 

Getting your portable propane tanks (or your on-board propane tank) refilled is simple.  Even small towns will have at least 2 or 3 locations that provide this service.  The local phone book will list home heating fuel companies that fill propane tanks.  Or you could go to practically any RV dealership you pass on the road.  Many gas stations sell bulk propane.  Even your local home center will have an exchange program where you trade your empty 20-pound cylinder for a full replacement one.  You pay a bit of a premium for this, but if it’s Sunday afternoon and everyone’s waiting for hot dogs and bratwurst, then you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

Current RVs are built with protective sensors for everything.  There’s one for smoke, one for carbon monoxide, and there’s even a sensor to detect leaking propane.  It’s plumbed right into your propane system.  If it detects the presence of propane gas, it will close a valve and shut down the supply of propane to the RV. 

rv-propane-stove.jpg Many stovetops in RVs are counter-intuitive.  If you turn the valve all the way clockwise, you’re actually putting the burner on low rather than shutting it off.  I made this mistake once and almost damaged the painted stovetop cover by closing it when the burner was still burning slightly.  If you left the knob in this position without the burner lit, it would slowly pump propane into your RV until the safety valve shut down the system.

When it comes to problems with the LP system in your RV, the most common failure will be the regulator.  Located at the propane tank, it takes the high pressure gas coming from the tank and lowers the pressure to what is required by your appliances.  Inside the regulator is a rubber bellows that moves back and forth.  Over time, with continual movement and exposure to the elements, regulators do wear out.  You can expect to get about 10 years out of a regulator.  When it does fail, it can’t be rebuilt.  It must be replaced. 

Whenever you work on your RV propane system, be sure to test any connections you have disturbed by spraying soapy water on them while under pressure.  Never use a flame to test for a leak!  An explosion may be the result if there is, indeed, a leak. 




More About RV Propane

Curtis Carper

Curtis Carper

I’ve been involved in RVing for over 40 yrs -- including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking at home, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you've got a good idea of who I am.

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