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LP Gas is a Camper's Best Friend

Mark Polk

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Well the cold winter months are here and I thought this would be a good time to talk about your RV's LP gas system, since it is the primary source for heating your RV.

LP gas is a camper's best friend. It provides us with warmth on a chilly day, hot water to shower with, cold food in the refrigerator and the capability to cook on the road the same way you do when you're at home. When we need it it's there, instantly providing us with all of the amenities and creature comforts we are accustomed to. We don't even think about it; it's taken for granted that when you push that button, like magic it responds to your demands.

But what is LP gas? Should we be afraid of it, or just continue to take it for granted? Liquid propane, more commonly known as LP gas gets its name because it is stored in a liquid state. When LP gas is manufactured it is stored under pressure, which causes it to liquefy. When the pressure is released, the liquid turns back into a vapor. LP gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. To assist you in detecting a leak an odorant is added to the gas when it is manufactured. If you are not familiar with the odor of LP gas, the next time you go to a qualified fill station ask the attendant to let you smell it. Most people describe the smell as being similar to rotten eggs, or as having a garlic odor.

We'll get back to more characteristics of LP gas in a minute, but first let's address the second question. Should you be afraid of it? You should respect LP gas, because all gases have dangerous characteristics. If you check for gas leaks using an open flame you are certain to be in danger. I guess what I am trying to say is that LP gas is one of the safest of petroleum products, if it is handled properly. More times than not, when there is an accident involving LP gas it is due to negligence or improper handling.

LP gas is portable, safe when handled properly and it's very efficient, so it only makes sense that it is used in RVs. I mentioned a moment ago that LP gas is stored in a liquid state in containers. Because of the amount of pressure involved, the containers are manufactured under very stringent codes. There are two basic types of containers, Department of Transportation (DOT), and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The DOT containers, more commonly called cylinders, are the upright type that you see on pop-ups, travel trailers, fifth wheels or your BBQ grill. The ASME cylinders are referred to as tanks and are mounted horizontally like the type you would see on a motorhome.

Regardless of the type, all LP gas containers are only filled to 80% of their capacity to allow for expansion when the temperature around the container rises. LP gas cylinders are equipped with Overfill Protection Devices or OPD valves to prevent them from being overfilled. LP gas can be measured in weight or in gallons. You may have heard somebody say that the gas cylinders on their travel trailer are 30 lb. cylinders, or they may say their cylinders hold 7 gallons of gas apiece. One gallon of LP gas weighs 4.26 pounds.

The best source for heat in your RV is to use the forced air furnace. There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when you use the RV furnace. First of all it will consume more LP gas than any of the other LP gas fired appliances. The LP tank or cylinders should be full before leaving on your trip, and you will need to monitor the LP gas supply carefully during your stay. Second, if you are not plugged into an electrical supply the furnace fan can quickly drain the auxiliary battery(s). Batteries that are not fully charged in cold temperatures can freeze, resulting in not being able to use the RV furnace. I recommend that you plan your stay where you have access to an electrical supply when camping in cold weather. When we travel in cold weather, and are plugged into electricity, we set the forced air furnace on a low setting, around 55 or 60 degrees, and supplement the heat with a thermostatically controlled ceramic heater. These heaters work extremely well and you don't need to be concerned about a fire or carbon monoxide.

Caution: Carbon monoxide is deadly. You cannot see it, taste it or smell it. NEVER use your range burners or oven as a source of heat. If your RV is not equipped with a carbon monoxide detector you should purchase a battery operated model designed for use in RV's. Always test the carbon monoxide detector for proper operation before each trip.

Camping in your RV in the wintertime can be lots of fun. I hope this gives you a better understanding of using your LP gas system in winter weather. When handled properly, it can after all, be your best friend!

Happy Camping,


Copyright 2006 by Mark J. Polk owner of RV Education 101

RV Expert Mark Polk, seen on TV, is the producer & host of America's most highly regarded series of DVD's, videos, books, and e-books.

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