Propane Tank Safety for RVs

By Samantha Lemna  | 
10/3/19 10:29 AM
    

A small Class C motorhome parked in a field surrounded by a forest at golden hour.

Propane is often used to power your RV’s appliances like the oven, stove, fridge, water heater, and furnace. There are two types of propane tanks found in an RV - an ASME tank and DOT cylinders. The first one is a fixed tank, usually accessed through a compartment on the side of the RV, while the second is usually one or two cylinders mounted on the tongue of the trailer. A third type of propane tank, the small green cylinders used for camp stoves and other small appliances, are also commonly found at a campsite. 

 

We’re going to review how to use these different propane tanks safely, including:

  • What to look for on your propane tank
  • Propane tank maintenance
  • How to refill a propane tank
  • Driving with propane tanks
  • How to check for propane leaks
  • Propane appliances 
  • And general safety tips

 

What to Look for on Your Propane Tank

Whether you’re buying a new or used RV or have had one for a while now, you should take a close look at your propane tanks. 

 

Every tank should be certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Intertek Testing Service (ITS) or Underwriter’s Laboratories (ULC). It should also be stamped with a Transport Canada symbol or Canadian Registration Number. Every tank should be inspected yearly by a professional and be re-certified every 5 years. 

 

While the ASME tanks are usually equipped with a gauge to tell you how much propane is left, some tanks and most DOT tanks won’t have this indicator and you’ll need to purchase an aftermarket gauge. Your tank should also have a pressure relief valve to prevent excessive internal pressure and overfill protection devices. Most new tanks will have these features but older models may not. 

 

RV Propane Tank Maintenance

Propane tanks don’t require too much maintenance but what they do need is very important. Damaged propane tanks can leak which can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or they can be more susceptible to explosion or fire. 

 

Here’s what you need to do for regular RV propane tank maintenance:

  • Get your propane tanks checked by a professional at least once a year, particularly if your RV has been in storage.
  • Clean out the furnace if your RV has been in storage - be sure to wear protective goggles, a face mask, and old clothes.
  • At least once every six months, use an air hose to blow out all propane lines.
  • Before you turn on the propane, check vents, lines, and spaces around them for any evidence of vermin, insects, or animal nesting or interference.
  • Check to ensure your gauges and overfill protection devices are working.
  • If your propane tanks are stored outside, you can use a protective cover.
  • Scratches and dings to your tank can lead to rust and corrosion - increasing the chance of leaks.

 

How to Refill an RV Propane Tank

If you have an ASME tank, you’ll need to refill at a propane dealer or gas station with propane with your RV. DOT tanks can be removed and can be taken to a propane dealer or gas station as well. The small camping propane cylinders can are not usually refillable.

 

For ASME or DOT tanks, you will often need to go to a propane dealer or gas station with a propane tank. Normally, an employee will fill your tank for you. You may want to ask what the propane/butane mix of the fuel is, especially if you’re camping when it’s below zero (butane won’t burn so you could be short on fuel if there is a high percentage of butane in the fuel mixture).

 

When your tanks are being refilled:

  • Your ignition should be off. 
  • There should be no passengers in the RV.
  • There should be no other sources of ignition nearby, including other RVs (who can leave their propane running for their fridge while they drive), or someone smoking. 
  • Ensure all valves are closed and caps are replaced when you’re finished refueling. 

 

You should only refill propane tanks to 80% capacity. This is because heat makes propane expand, so you need a “cushion” so to avoid raising the pressure of the tank. Your tank should have an overfill protection device, but not all tanks have this feature.

 

The smaller green, 1lb propane cylinders for camping appliances are usually not refillable. In fact, refilling is illegal in Alberta and can be very dangerous, increasing the risk of fires, explosion, and burns. Refill adaptors are also illegal in this province. You can dispose of these cylinders in specific places and should buy them new.

 

Driving an RV with Propane Tanks

You should never drive with your propane fuel system turned on - that means your fridge, furnace and the rest of your appliances should be shut off with valves closed. 

 

If you’re transporting the smaller cylinders or additional DOT tanks, you should not transport them inside an RV or vehicle with passengers. They should be put in a well ventilated, well-protected place. They should be secured in an upright position. Never mount them on the back of a vehicle or on the roof. 

 

Checking for Propane Leaks in your RV

An odourant is added to propane to make detecting leaks easier - it usually smells like rotten eggs or boiling cabbage. If you smell the gas or your gas detector goes off, get out of your RV. Do not turn on a flashlight or lights or activate your phone until you are outside and a safe distance away. Close your propane valves (if it’s safe to do so) and call the fire department.

 

You can check for leaks by mixing 50% liquid soap and 50% water solution and applying the solution to connections when the appliance is turned off and the valve is open. If there is a leak, it will bubble - turn off the valve and take it to a certified gas fitter to repair it. You’ll want to retest after repairs. 

 

You should take your propane tanks and system for inspection at least once a year. You should do a visual inspection regularly, looking out for interference from bugs, rodents, and animals. This solution test should be done every few months.

 

RV Propane Appliances

Propane appliances should also be certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Intertek Testing Service (ITS) or Underwriter’s Laboratories (ULC). Always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. 

 

Never use a propane appliance in your RV (unless it is an RV appliance) or anywhere else indoors and unventilated, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use cooking appliances for heating purposes, either. These appliances should be also serviced or checked once a year or so.

 

When using a propane appliance, the flame should be blue with some occasional yellow flickers. A more yellow flame is a warning of incomplete combustion and the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning. 

 

General RV Propane Tank Safety Tips

Here are a few tips for propane tank safety around RVs:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector inside your RV
  • Never smoke or have open flame near the propane tank or appliance
  • Don’t paint your tanks (it can cause a temperature increase and cover important information)
  • Never drive with your refrigerator, furnace or other appliances on
  • Don’t try to warm up your RV with the stove or oven
  • If you buy a used RV, have the propane tanks tested and re-certified
  • Don’t use flammable liquids in your RV while the propane is turned on

 

If you have any other tips for propane tank safety, leave them below!

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