Tips, Trips & Advice

Recreational Vehicle Propane Safety
by SDC Staff Writer


Recreational vehicles are fun and have been tested to be safe.  However there are things you must do as an owner to ensure everyone’s safety.


The recreational vehicle industry, propane gas industry, NFPA and the federal government, for the safe transportation and handling of this flammable product.


First what is propane?  Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C3H8, normally a gas, but compressible to a transportable liquid. It is a by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel for stoves, refrigerators, grills, water heating and central air heating for recreational vehicles.


Propane is usually a mixture of propane and butane, and is used mainly as a fuel, and is commonly known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas). The gas does not smell, an odorant is added so that you can easily smell the gas in case of a leak.


Propane is heavier than air, so if there is a leak, it will concentrate around the lowest levels.  It expands from a liquid to a gas readily.  The expansion ratio is 270:1.  You can think of any propane tank as 270 tanks of flammable gas when it is full.


You should have your motor home, travel trailer or fifth-wheel propane system inspected each year by an RV dealer or by a Railroad Commission-licensed propane gas supplier. A technician will check the system for leaks and for proper regulator settings, inspect the valves and fittings and certify that tanks are free from rust and dents. Any damaged equipment should be replaced immediately.


You should inspect the various propane-operated appliances in your RV, including your refrigerator, stove, furnace, lanterns and other devices. Be sure that the supply lines connecting these appliances to propane tanks are the correct length and properly installed, with no supply lines rubbing against sharp edges or corners.


Properly install a Propane Leak Detector based on manufacturer instructions and check it each time you use of your RV. If you suspect your RV's propane detector isn't working properly, replace it with a new one immediately.


The 80% Rule

Propane cylinders are designed to only be filled to 80% of liquid capacity.  This gives the liquid room to change into a gas inside the tank.  Increased external temperature will also increase the pressure inside the tank.


One of the most common hazards with propane is overfilled tanks. Fortunately, all small propane cylinders (up to 40-lb. capacity) manufactured after September 1998 are equipped with an overfilling protection device (OPD).


Propane tanks equipped with an OPD are designed to be filled to the 80% level. Tanks filled beyond this level may leak excess pressure through the tank's relief valve and into the surrounding air. Or, propane liquid could enter the piping system, resulting in higher than normal pressure to appliances. Both scenarios present a possible explosion hazard.


If you have an old cylinder, an OPD must be installed. Cylinders without OPDs can no longer be refilled.


When refilling on-board propane cylinders, turn off the RV engine, all appliances, and electronic re-igniters. Make sure no one is in the RV during refueling.


What to Do If You Suspect A Leak


If you smell gas, exit your RV immediately. Don't use electric switches or appliances. Leave the door open to air out the rig. Close the supply valve on the propane tank, and call a propane gas supplier or the fire department.


Proper Identification and Installation


Propane tanks installed in hard-to-see places must be identified by the letters "LPG" in one-inch high or larger letters. The letters must be placed in a visible spot as near the tank as possible.


Propane used with RVs is stored in one of two types of containers: DOT cylinders or ASME tanks. DOT cylinders are typically used on trailers and truck campers and must be installed vertically, while ASME tanks are used on motor homes and must be installed horizontally.


Always have your tanks refilled instead of trading in empty tanks. This ensures you know where your tank has been and how it's been treated.


Propane is a great product when handled safely.  Take the extra steps to make sure your RV experience is always safe and fun.

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