Important Propane Safety Tips For RVers
It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t use propane as part of their RV experience. Propane gets used in RVs for cooking, refrigeration, and heating. Outside of the RV, propane has a host of other uses like firing up the barbecue or propane fireplace. The use of propane is so common, it’s easy for RVers to take propane safety for granted.
Propane is a colorless, odorless gas that is compressed into a liquid. Since propane is a highly noxious gas that can kill quickly if a leak goes undetected, gas companies add a rotten egg smell to it. This smell helps us detect propane leaks before they can poison us. When handled correctly, propane is a stable, safe, and convenient fuel.
1. Know what to do if you smell gas.
If you already smell the rotten egg smell of a propane leak in your RV, here’s what you should do:
- Extinguish all flames and turn off indoor valves like the one on your stove.
- Turn the propane cylinder valve off.
- Leave the area of the leak immediately.
- Be aware that propane is heavier than the air we breathe. Being closer to the ground, children and pets are more vulnerable to propane’s toxic effects than adults.
2. Always store and transport propane tanks secured in an upright position.
In its compressed liquid state, propane is stored in metal propane cylinders. All propane cylinders are designed with a safety relief valve that will cause propane to leak out if the liquid propane inside comes into contact with the valve. This leaked propane vaporizes immediately and the resulting vapors could either ignite or cause propane toxicity.
Secure your tanks for use and transport them using the harnesses that come with your rig. If you need to take portable tanks in for a fill-up, secure them in the back of your pick-up truck using a milk crate, tie-downs, or a propane stabilizer.
3. Store and transport propane outdoors.
Don’t store or transport propane tanks inside your RV or your vehicle. If you have to take them for a refill, transport your propane tanks secured in the back of a pickup truck. This is for two reasons:
- If there is a propane leak inside your vehicle, you could die or be trapped in a fiery inferno.
- If you are in an accident and firefighters attend, they will be focused on getting you and your family out of your vehicle. They’ll be using all the tools they need to do that. If they don’t suspect there is a propane tank inside your vehicle, a spark from a metal cutting tool could be disastrous.
Propane-related accidents can be catastrophic and are avoidable. Make sure you are on a safe route by planning your travels with RV LIFE Trip Wizard; you can simply select propane and RV-friendly routing options under the Routing & Driving tab to be automatically routed around tunnels that prohibit propane.
4. Keep propane valves turned off during travel.
One of the most hotly contested topics among RVers is whether you should run the fridge on propane during travel. On one side, there are RVers who passionately say they do it all the time without issue. On the other side, there are some RVers who don’t want to risk it all for keeping their food and beverages cold.
The fact is, when we are traveling on highways and gravel roads with our rigs, they are subjected to shaking that can be equivalent to that of an earthquake. The parts of the propane system that make it function can theoretically be damaged during movement. All it takes is a small spark or your RV refrigerator’s flame and you could be standing by the side of a highway, inhaling the carcinogenic fumes of your burning RV or worse.
The trick to avoiding this ugly and unexpected scene is to simply keep your propane valves turned off during travel. Your RV fridge is designed to keep its contents cold for a few hours even if it’s off. For longer trips, you can always store cold food and beverages in a cooler, and then store them in the RV fridge when you get where you are going.
5. Keep propane cylinders cool.
Keep propane cylinders in a cool place. Don’t expose them to heat above 120 degrees F. At 120 degrees, propane can start leaking or even combust.
On really hot days, it won’t hurt to use Reflectix, aluminum shade cloth, or even ice to help keep your propane tanks cool. Given the high flammability of propane, it’s a good idea to always keep propane cylinders away from flames.
6. Propane cylinders should be replaced when necessary.
Propane cylinders have a useful lifespan of 10 years in Canada or 12 years in the USA. There is a stamp on the collar of the tank that will give you the date of manufacture so you can tell how old it is.
In addition, propane cylinders should be carefully checked for excessive rust, corrosion, and wear and tear. Out of date or worn out propane cylinders can often be returned to anywhere that sells propane.
7. Inspect valves and hoses and regulators for leaks frequently.
Your entire propane system should be inspected at least once per year. It’s best to get a certified RV technician to do this, but there are a few components close to the cylinder that you can easily check yourself and swap out if necessary. You can easily check them by spraying soapy water on them and watching for bubbles.
One of the best parts about RVing is engaging with the community of traveling enthusiasts. iRV2 forums allow folks to chat with other RVers online, and get other perspectives on everything RVing, including products, destinations, RV mods, and more.
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- 4 Ways To Save On Propane While Camping
Lynne lives, travels, and works full-time in a Forest-River R-Pod 180 with her 2-pointers, Jolene and Annabelle. Lynne has been an enthusiastic RVer for over 35 years. And then one day in 2019, she began full-time RVing as a lifestyle experiment. She quickly fell in love with the convenience, freedom and minimalist lifestyle offered by full-time RV living. Lynne is a professional writer and has been a professional dog trainer since 1995. You can read about her travel adventures on her R-Pod Adventure blog, R-podyssey at: http://www.rpodaventure.com
Stephen Monteith Albers says
The open flame of propane is not an appropriate fuel for RVs. In the summer it pumps huge amounts of heat into an already hot trailer. In the winter it supplies a huge amount of water vapor that condenses on windows and other cold surfaces which promotes mold. State-of-the-art RVs are moving to electric cooking.
Naina Shulley says
Propane tanks not empty but when set to heat furnace will not kick on but just blows cold air. Why would this be
Tony almond says
I’m New to Living in our Rv trailer full time. When I have furnace on or Low , there’s a Smell inside trailer but the sensor isn’t detecting propane. If running heater it doesn’t smell? What to do ?
Propane itself is non toxic, although it displaces oxygen.
Tom G says
– Number 6 does not apply to built-in tanks in motorhomes.
– The recertification of portable tanks is required by law.
– Reputable LPG dealers will not refill a tank that is past its certification expiration. There is a date code stamped into the metal on the tank.
– Tunnels and bridges that allow propane tanks will require you to pull over and have authorities watch you close the valves.
– If any one doubts the power of a propane explosion, just Google “indianapolis coliseum explosion 1963”, 81 people killed, 400 injured. Resulted in no indoor smoking bans and banning open flame propane food heating at indoor sporting events.
Tom G says
The reason the basement compartment of a motorhome does not have a lock, so emergency responders can easily access and shut off the propane.
The tray the propane bottles sit on, on the tongue of our travel trailer got very rusty where the bottles sit on the tray. Would it be a bad idea to line the tray with a thin rubber mat, or should I maintain the steel to steel contact between the bottles and the trailer frame?
Propane cylinders are to be replaced after 10 years, not 12. That changed a number of years ago. Check with Todd at National RV Training Academy. He is propane certified.
All the other hints are great to remember.
Rob C says
What is entailed in a “re qualification” of a propane cylinder in the USA?
You can just provide a reference, i.e. NFPA XXXX
Michael Gray says
If you are supposed to keep propane cylinders cool then why do many RV manufactures use Black tank covers?
Patrick McNamar says
Propane is not toxic, but rather it is a simple asphyxiant, similar to CO2. So, breathing in propane fumes in sufficient concentrations will cause you to pass out from lack of oxygen but it will not poison you like some other gases. CO (carbon monoxide) is a toxic gas.
These are mostly guidelines for non-ASME tanks, which are those found in motor homes. Some of the article is naive – propane doesn’t leak, the tank does, and if the pressure gets too high, such as by temperature, the tank will release excess pressure. This is mitigated by tank covers on trailers, something I missed in the article. I also read nothing about maintaining detectors. Nor that tanks can be re-certified and stamped with a new date on the collar.
As for keeping the tanks, in that section the author says that parts of the propane system can be damaged – that can happen to the valve and you have the same problem. I’d have to check, but I believe the fire box of a propane fridge “contains”the combustion and the obvious vents on the side will vent leaked propane out before it reaches any spark, not to mention wind from driving blowing it away, not that these fires don’t happen. Breathing the “carcinogenic” fumes is a bit melodramatic.
Capt. R Johnson says
The pressure (safety) relief valve doesn’t leak if liquid propane contacts it. But to work properly, it must ” remain in contact with the vapor space”. Some cylinders are designed to be used on their side, like LP powered forklifts, for example.
Just had a 15 lb (30 gallon) older propane tank recertified. $50 for the hydro test and a replacement valve. As long as it can be certified, it can be filled and used.
As for cooking – having used both gas and electric for 50 years I (and most people) will take gas over electric. An electric stove/oven in a 30A smaller RV IMHO will cause power budgeting between the stove and water heater and/or AC unit.
The only issue noted with our 12v propane heater during a winter stay in NM was that the standard thermostat in most RVs sucks. You alternate between being chilly and opening the windows hoping the dang thing shuts off soon. Flame heat is exhausted out the side of the coach. The condensate inside is from the humans breathing, cooking and water use in a smaller RV.
Propane is LESS flammable than gasoline. Gas has a lower flashpoint. Your tank has a safety valve that automatically shuts off the propane in the case of a rapid leak, such as a line burst. Just sayin…
Sam Arnold says
Always have and always will run the refrigerator while traveling. You’re welcome to do differently. That is all.