By Dave Helgeson
Is it safe to bring a propane tank inside of an RV? The answer is a resounding NO!
“Never use, store, or transport propane cylinders or liquid fuels in the passenger space or living area of your RV.” So says RVer James Callow.
The issue of whether it is safe, or not, to bring and use a propane tank inside your RV seems to have become as controversial as “Is it safe to travel with my propane turned on” lately. I was involved in several online social media “discussions” on the subject during the recent cold snap across the country. One social media post became so heated the moderator shut it down.
I became quite concerned with the number of RVers that feel it is okay to bring a 5– to 10-gallon propane tank into their RV. Some were using a tank and a length of hose to supply gas to their approved indoor space heaters. Others brought a propane tank inside to warm up so the gas could vaporize better.
While I understand both camps of the “traveling with the propane turned on” debate, there should be no question regarding the safety of bringing a DOT propane tank (technically a cylinder) inside an RV as it is ILLEGAL!
“Using a cylinder indoors is not only illegal, it is terribly unsafe. Keep in mind that a full propane barbeque cylinder contains enough liquid to produce over 300 cubic feet of vapor. A fuel source such as that should not only be stored outdoors, it should never be used indoors.” [Emphasis added.] Per Propane 101.com
Here are the reasons to consider
Unlike a small unvented disposable propane canister many RVers use on their outdoor grills, DOT cylinders are vented. The vent is designed to release propane vapor into the air when the propane in the bottle expands beyond a safe point. If the tank is located outdoors vented vapor falls harmlessly to the ground and quickly dissipates into the air. If the tank is located indoors vented vapor has nowhere to go and will accumulate.
Since propane is a very flammable vapor, any ignition source can ignite it. That could lead to an explosion within the RV. If the tank continues to vent propane once ignited, the vent will act as a blowtorch spewing flames. Note: A less-than-full tank is unlikely to vent from excess pressure. However, the vent still has the potential to release gas due to debris in the valve seat and/or a weak spring.
RVers using a Little Buddy or other approved indoor propane heater point out that it is okay to operate them indoors via the small disposable canisters. They wonder why you shouldn’t bring a larger propane tank inside. In addition to DOT tanks being vented, a 5-gallon tank contains 20 times more fuel than a disposable canister. The design and limited amount of fuel in a canister are approved for indoor use – a DOT tank is not.
RVers using a low-pressure portable catalytic heater, like shown in the above screenshot from this video from “West Coast Roller,” face a secondary risk via the regulator. Propane regulators also have a vent. While they’re not designed to vent propane, the potential is there if the diaphragm in the regulator fails.
DOT tanks can fall over
If not properly secured, DOT tanks can fall over during use or in transit. This could allow liquid propane to enter the valve and potentially flow through the connecting hose to an appliance resulting in a fire. Per the folks at Parker Gas: Always store propane tanks securely in an upright position in a well-ventilated area; never store a propane container inside your RV.
It is considered illegal to use or store a propane tank inside an enclosed space. Therefore, your insurance company may very well deny a claim if you have an accident involving the tank.
What can happen during an RV fire with a propane tank inside?
The propane system in your RV is a low pressure system operating at 11 inches of water column. That is equivalent to a mere 0.5 PSI. On the other hand, the pressure in a propane tank can be 200 PSI or more! We are all familiar with RV tire pressure. So ask yourself, which is more likely to develop a leak and how quickly will the contents escape?
Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE) – If your RV were to catch fire with a propane tank inside, a BLEVE could occur. This would be catastrophic to the occupants, the RV and the firefighters attempting to extinguish the flames. Yes, exterior-mounted DOT propane tanks on the front of RVs could do the same thing. However, firefighters expect tanks to be in those locations, not inside the RV. Please do them a favor. Save them a potential deadly surprise by keeping DOT propane tanks outside where they legally belong. Click here to view a BLEVE posted on YouTube by “multipleshotsfired.”
I will end by sharing this statement from an RVTravel.com article:
“As an RVer, the last thing you want is propane leaking into your RV’s living space. It can be deadly. Every year such leaks result in RV fires, and, sadly, the death of RVers who breathe the deadly gas, sometimes while sleeping.”