Propane for RVs is safe and easy to use

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Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.

Hi Bob,
For some time now, I have followed your writings in several places because I find them helpful. I have been studying for the past year how to get myself on the road full time. Your boondocking articles have given me some of the guidance I need.


One aspect (of several) to RVing for which I lack complete knowledge is propane. Where do I buy it? Can I refill tanks without training? Can the 1-pound canisters be refilled? Do you have any information on Viking canisters? What else should I know about propane?

If you have published on this topic, could you refer me to that source(s)? If you have not covered this topic, would you consider doing so? Thanks in advance for any help you can give me. —Warren J.

Hi Warren,
The subject of propane is not mysterious – it is just another form of petroleum fuel. Officially called Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), it is explosive – as is gasoline in your RV fuel tank – and will explode if a leak meets a source of ignition. But tanks are tested for leaks and the gas has a strong, unpleasant smell like rotten eggs, a skunk’s spray or a dead animal. Propane manufacturers add the smell deliberately to help alert customers to propane leaks. Take a sniff around your tank periodically and if you detect this smell, shut it off and have a licensed propane distributor test it for leaks – but actually, leaks are very rare.

RVs use propane to cool refrigerators, to cook with, to heat water in the water heater and to warm the interior of your rig. When you need to refill your tank, remove it and take it to a refill station, or if built in (such as in motorhomes) drive to the refill station. You will not have to refill the tank yourself – all propane stations have trained employees that will do it for you.

As far as where to buy propane, there are abundant locations around the country in addition to campgrounds and RV resorts where you may be staying. And even if they don’t have their own propane service, they will be able to provide nearby propane stations. If you go online you can find a refill station near you through many sources. Here are some websites that will provide locations near you:

Find liquefied petroleum gas (propane) fueling stations near an address or ZIP code or along a route in the United States. This website from the US Department of Energy shows locations across the country.

Viking composite cylinder

U-Haul has a large network of propane refill stations across the country. Just enter your zip code.

The “nearme” website offers a variety of locations where you can buy propane just by entering your address or zip code.

I personally haven’t had any hands-on experience with Viking composite cylinders but they offer some attractive features for RV use such as a translucent tank so you can see how much gas is left in the tank, and they claim to be much lighter than steel tanks and will not explode in a fire. You can learn more on the Viking cylinder website.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .

##RVT830

 

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Fred

I tested both links for finding propane & each was sadly lacking. We are in Quartzsite, AZ for the rv show & there are at least 4 or 5 propane refill stations here, but both links for finding propane showed the closest refill station to be 100 miles or more away in Phoenix or other cities. I just google propane refills in the yellow pages & get good results.

Wayne

Hi Bob,
You forgot to answer one part of Warren’s question. He asked “Can the 1-pound canisters be refilled?” Not commercially. There is a DIY device that can fill a 1-pound canister from a 20-pounder but none of us who have tried it feel it’s worth the trouble.

Traveling Man

ALWAYS consider propane fills at a local Farm & Fleet or Tractor Supply over Propane Dealers. Here in Texas, we have been averaging $2.29 a gallon. Most of the Propane Dealers (who by the way sell to these retail outlets) charge $3.35-$3.50 a gallon. On a 40 lb tank, it will hold about 9 gallons when completely empty. At $2.29, we average about $20-$22 a fill. If we go to the Propane Dealer, it runs $33-$35. If you use a lot, this will add up.

You can use the Walmart type Rhino tanks if you choose but you will pay considerably more.

As for the Propane Tanks, they are to be inspected every 10 years now. The rule was changed from 12 years a couple of years ago…Once they reach 10 years, they have to be hydro-statically tested. It’s not expensive but they won’t fill until it has been re-certified.

A new 40# tank at our local Tractor Supply is $89. Check Amazon as they are about the same price.

You will hear different opinions about RV’s with Propane or all electric. As for us, we deliberately chose an RV WITH Propane. Propane heats faster than any electric source can. Propane is widely available. Propane can be very competitive with electric.

If you have a residential refrigerator, then you will need a lot of batteries and a source to charge them often. You’ll need to run a generator (and it might not be at a convenient time during quiet hours of the park) or expensive solar panels and extra batteries. Add an induction cooktop and the problems multiply.

If you need heat, propane is way more efficient. The furnace units in RV’s are Propane. There are some introductions to electric, but they are not efficient. And if you are boondocking, that won’t be possible. You could use a portable ceramic heater, but only for a few hours and your batteries will be dead. Using electric also requires inverters. They are expensive to replace.

Propane is a great addition to any RV. It provides flexibility in a number of situations (i.e. power outages, boondocking). We have a propane stove, we use propane for heat (sometimes in combination with the electric fireplace and a small ceramic heater in the front bedroom). We use the propane to heat water if we are boondocking or dry docking. We have a convection microwave for cooking on electric. We have a propane stove when we don’t have electricity.

We’re full-timers…In the Texas winter, we use about $300 for a season of 3-4 months. We never fill the rest of the year even though we continue to use propane. We just use very little.

Some RV’s have outside connections for larger 100 lb tanks. Some people can be stationary and connect even larger tanks. A 40 lb tank weighs about 70 lbs when full. That’s about the limit for taking to the store for a fill.

CAUTION: NEVER take a tank to the store or home on it’s side when filled. NEVER put the tank INSIDE your car. As the tank heats up, propane can expand. Even thought they are fill to only 80%, they can expand to much more and escape out. In both situations above, if the “gas” leaks out of the tank, it can explode leaving you with no transportation or even worse. I’ve heard of both situations…

Don’t be afraid of the propane. 80% of fires happen in Motorhomes and that is usually related to an engine fire as the cause. The odds of a fire from propane are extremely low. But it can happen if you don’t maintain the equipment or fail to properly make the connections. Check your system often when you first make the connections.

If you need to know how much propane you have remaining, you can by using gauges. I have found that they are not that reliable especially in temperature swings. They are also another leak source. I have found this trick to be the absolute best. You’ll learn how often to gauge your remaining balances over time. But to check your level, grab a cup of hot water and allow it to run over the outside of the tank. Then feel the tank looking for the cold spot. As you run your fingers down from the top, you’ll feel the temperature change as a result of propane contained inside. This method is fool proof once you master it.

Happy Glamping!