Propane is an integral part of RV ownership, especially if you camp during the colder months. You can use your propane for many necessary tasks, such as:
Cooking with the stovetop or oven
Heating water before showering or washing your hands
Generating power for the refrigerator and other appliances
Heating your RV
Nearly one-quarter of camping Americans stay in an RV when they go camping, and one million Americans have made the leap to full-time RV living. If you belong to either of these groups, you may have a few questions about propane and your RV. Read on to learn more about RV propane tanks, including some money-saving tips for monitoring your propane usage.
What Are the Typical RV Tank Propane Tank Sizes?
Propane tanks are not one-size-fits-all. The two primary types of propane tanks include American Society of Mechanical Engineers-approved (ASME) tanks and Department of Transportation-approved (DOT) tanks. Once mounted, you cannot move an ASME tank, which makes them ideal for stationary motorhomes that you do not plan to travel with frequently. For standard travel trailers, fifth wheels and other RVs, DOT propane tanks are easy to move and transport.
The larger the propane cylinder, the more fuel it can hold. However, many RVs are not equipped to handle heavy propane tanks, and there are always specific weight restrictions you must operate within when traveling with your RV. When you compare propane tank sizes, you will see them listed in either pound or gallon measurements. Pounds refers to the total weight of the cylinder once it is filled, while gallons refers to the amount of propane actually inside the tank.
20 pounds: 20-pound propane tanks are one of the smallest options available, making it easy to transport and refill. Because there is not as much propane in these tanks as others, they are a good fit for campers who do not plan to use propane often. These tanks can hold around five gallons of propane.
30 pounds: 30-pound tanks offer more propane than 20-pound cylinders do, and are still easy for one person to handle and transport. 30-pound cylinders hold approximately seven gallons of fuel.
If necessary, an RV mechanic and propane expert can help you alter your RV to accommodate more than one propane tank. If you’re trying to determine which size propane tank is right for your RV, contacting a professional is the best way to make sure you’re choosing the safest and most cost-efficient option.
How Long Does Propane Last?
Although much of your RV uses electricity, some appliances may require propane to operate. Either way, it’s a good idea to have a back-up propane tank around. How long your tank of propane lasts depends on several factors, including:
The size of your propane tank
How many appliances rely on propane usage
How often you use those appliances
How much energy your RV appliances consume while operating
One gallon of propane is equivalent to 91,452 Btus, or British thermal units. Btus are a standard way of measuring and comparing energy consumption and fuels in the United States. To calculate an estimate of how much propane you will need for your journey, you must understand the energy rating and Btu of your onboard appliances.
Propane Tank Gauges
The best way to avoid running out of propane and staying on top of refills is to use a propane tank gauge. Propane tank gauges measure what percentage of fuel is left inside the cylinder. Some propane tanks have a built-in gauge system, but you can also buy and install an external gauge. Look for one that has additional features, such as leak monitoring. Keeping an eye on your propane tank gauge is also a great way to check for inconsistencies or possible malfunctions, such as a fluctuating fuel level, so you can have your tank serviced before it becomes a more significant concern.
Make it a part of your daily or weekly routine to check the level of your propane tank gauge, and try to plan your itinerary around places where you can refill or exchange your tank when it’s running low.
Over the past several years, the cost of propane has stayed relatively the same — around $2 to $4 per gallon — with a few fluctuations. It’s important to note that propane is priced according to seasonal demand, meaning it is often more expensive during the winter months.
Tips for Cutting Costs and Conserving Propane
Propane is a necessity for most campers and RV owners, so it’s important to keep your costs low. To conserve propane, try some of these tips:
Refill instead of exchange: When you’re out of propane, you have the choice to either refill your tank or exchange it for a new one. Refilling is a great way to save money, as it’s typically the more affordable option. However, keep in mind that all propane tanks have an expiration date, so always exchange them whenever they reach that point. You should also exchange your propane tank for a new one if you notice any sign of damage or malfunction.
Schedule preventive maintenance: A damaged propane tank can be costly. The best way to prevent possible damage is to perform regular visual inspections of your tank, both while in operation and when refilling it. Supplement this by scheduling regular preventive maintenance inspections with a professional. Should concerns arise, address them immediately.
Insulate your RV: If you use propane to heat your RV, take the time to insulate your rig properly. Pay extra attention to areas where cold air might sneak in, like around the doors and windows of your RV. The more insulated your rig is, the less fuel it will need to stay warm.