RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (2023)

In today’s post, we’re addressing questions related to RV propane tanks.

With cooler temperatures heralding the coming of winter the season after fall, we’ve been focusing on various related topics, while at the same time trying to avoid being too blunt about the upcoming colder weather.

Today we’re addressing some additional common questions about propane, propane tanks, and propane safety in general.

Let’s do this before too much white stuff falls from the sky.

Table of Contents hide

  1. 1)Important Propane-Related Topics
  2. 2)Is There a Difference Between a BBQ Propane Tank and an RV Propane Tank?
    1. 2.1)DOT Propane Cylinder
    2. 2.2)ASME Tank
  3. 3)What Size Propane Tank Do I Need for an RV?
  4. 4)How Long Does 20 Gallons of Propane Last in an RV?
  5. 5)Can You Leave the Propane Tank On in an RV?
  6. 6)Can I Use a 100-Pound Propane Tank On My RV?
  7. 7)Why Are Propane Tanks Only Filled to 80%?
  8. 8)Important Final Note Regarding RV Propane Safety

Important Propane-Related Topics

You may have noticed our series of recent propane-related posts. If you missed them, you may be interested in visiting them ahead of… well, you know.

  • Does Propane Go Bad In an RV?
  • How Long Does a Propane Tank Last When RVing?
  • Can You Use a Propane Heater Indoors to Heat Your RV?
  • How Long Are Propane Tanks Good For on an RV?

You may also want to go back and take a look at these two posts:

  • How Much Propane Does an RV Furnace Use?
  • RV Furnace Not Working? Let’s Troubleshoot!

With these specific propane-related posts laid out for your convenience, let’s get to the general questions that inspired today’s post.

Is There a Difference Between a BBQ Propane Tank and an RV Propane Tank?

Yes and no.

Some RVs use the same exact type of propane tank that a traditional barbeque grill uses, but some use a different type of tank.

You’ll recall from previous posts that there are a couple of different types of propane tanks used on RVs. One is a DOT propane cylinder (commonly associated with the BBQ grill) and the other is an ASME tank.

DOT Propane Cylinder

Some RVs, (especially smaller campers, travel trailers, truck campers, and 5th wheels), carry either one or two DOT propane cylinders.

This is the type of portable tank that you frequently see connected to a home BBQ grill.

RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (1)

DOT propane cylinders are carried on certain types of RVs like this travel trailer. Generally, you’ll see one or two cylinders under a tank cover as shown here.

DOT tanks are designed and governed by the standards of the Department of Transportation.

They’re made for portable applications and need to be replaced or recertified every 12 years (10 years in Canada).


ASME tanks are made of somewhat thicker, heavier steel and are designed for more permanent applications. They may be permanently installed on an RV or outside a home or business.

The design and standards of ASME tanks are governed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and while they don’t require periodic recertification, they should be inspected for rust, damage, and leaks on a regular basis.

RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (3)

This type of ASME propane tank is semi-permanently installed by a propane supplier at a stationary location such as a home or business (in this case, an RV park). Some RVers who are stationary for long periods may have access to ASME propane tanks like these which are both very large, and refilled as needed by a local propane retailer.

What Size Propane Tank Do I Need for an RV?

This really depends on how many propane appliances your RV has and how many units of heat each uses. It also depends on how you RV (snowbirding anyone?).

A BTU (British Thermal Unit) is a measurement of units of heat. By definition, a BTU is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

The approximate energy provided by one gallon of propane is 90,000-100,000 BTUs.

So, if you have a 30,000 BTU furnace, it will burn about ⅓ of a gallon of propane running continuously for one hour, which equals about a gallon of propane every three hours.

A larger furnace will burn more, and a smaller furnace will burn less.

But you also need to consider what else you’re using propane for. The most common propane appliances in an RV are:

  • Furnace
  • Water heater
  • Refrigerator
  • Stove/cooktop
  • Oven
  • Portable propane heater
  • Generator

But again, some RVs have larger water heaters, refrigerators, and furnaces than others. Some RVs have only a stove while others have a stove and an oven.

So, the question of how large a propane tank (or how many DOT cylinders) you need for your RV is very much dependent on what appliances are run by propane and how much you use them.

How Long Does 20 Gallons of Propane Last in an RV?

Again, this depends on a number of variables including the BTUs of your appliances, the size of your RV, and the ambient temperature.

To generalize, though, you can gauge how long your 20-gallon propane tank will last by calculating your usage based on the fact that one gallon of propane generally lasts about 95 hours when used at a rate of 1,000 BTUs per hour.

So, if your RV has a furnace rated at 30,000 BTUs, then one gallon of propane should last about 3.17 hours.

If you have a 5-gallon cylinder of propane, you’ll be able to run your 30,000 BTU furnace for 15.85 hours. So, if you have a full 20-gallon propane tank, you can theoretically run it for at least 63.4 hours. Keep in mind that tanks can usually only be filled to 80% capacity, so take that into account when calculating.

We say “at least” because, in reality, your furnace would run longer than that simply because it won’t be on constantly. It cycles on and off as the space is heated and cooled.

However, (and this is a big “however”), you need to remember that it’s unlikely that the only propane-fueled appliance you’re using is your furnace. Your fridge may be sipping some propane, your water heater and stove may be used daily, etc.

RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (4)

When attempting to calculate your general propane usage, remember to include all of your propane-fueled appliances.

For further information on propane use, refer to our posts “How Much Propane Does an RV Furnace Use?“ and “How Much Propane Does an RV Fridge Use?

We also direct you to this “Propane Burn Time Calculator” which may be helpful in estimating how long your RV propane tank will last. The calculator allows you to enter the BTU rating of each propane appliance and the size of your tank to obtain the calculations.

Just remember to consider all of the variables as you estimate your propane needs.

If you’re wondering how much propane is left in your tank and you don’t have a gauge, check out our post and video on how to check the tank level without a gauge.

Can You Leave the Propane Tank On in an RV?

You can certainly leave the propane tank on/open when you’re parked and camping, using your propane appliances.

However, there are a couple of times when it’s best to turn your propane tank off.

The first is when your rig is stored. If you return home from a trip and don’t intend to use the RV for some time, you can turn your propane tank off since you won’t be using it. And you should definitely turn off your propane tank when your rig is in storage.

The reason for turning off your propane tanks when you’re not using the RV is that if you should develop a leak somewhere in the system, or if an appliance gets turned on accidentally, you wouldn’t know that there’s propane gas leaking. And this could create a serious explosion risk.

Another time youmust turn off the propane is when the propane tank itself is being refilled. Although the person filling your tank for you will do that automatically.

All propane appliances should also be turned off during the filling of the propane tank so that no spark, flame, or other source of ignition is present. That’s also the reason that all propane appliances should also be turned off during the re-fueling of the RV itself.

The other time when it’s recommended to turn off your propane tank is when you’re driving.

We understand that people feel differently about this and there are many people who travel with their propane tanks on all the time.

However, in some states, there are laws regarding driving with your onboard propane tank on. Generally, these types of laws are related to tunnels.

For example, in Virginia, you need to stop to confirm that your tanks are off prior to driving your rig through a tunnel. In New York and New Jersey, you can’t drive through a tunnel or over some bridges with a propane tank open.

Can I Use a 100-Pound Propane Tank On My RV?

You absolutely can use a 100-pound propane tank on your RV. In fact, it’s done all the time.

Depending on the RV, of course, you could carry a 100-pound tank or a couple of 50-pound propane tanks connected by a pigtail.

However, you can also connect your RV to an external propane tank.

The following video shows how we connected to a large external propane tank when we were spending some time in a cold area in winter.

Why Are Propane Tanks Only Filled to 80%?

Like water, propane expands when it’s hot. However, its volume increases nearly 17 times more than water over the same temperature increase.

20% of the capacity of a propane container must be left empty to allow for this expansion.

This is why a propane tank can only be filled to 80%.

This is sometimes referred to as “the 80/20 fill rule” and it applies to all types of propane tanks, regardless of tank size.

Important Final Note Regarding RV Propane Safety

Every RV that uses propane or carries any type of propane tank must have a working propane detector. This is absolutely essential from a safety perspective.

Most RV propane detectors last from 5-7 years before they require replacement. However, it’s a good idea to replace your propane detector on a strict schedule so that you don’t forget and find yourself in a situation where it’s been 10 years since you’ve tended to yours.

Some propane detectors will beep in a regular pattern when they’re coming near the end of their effective lifetime. Never ignore this warning. It can be tempting to just disable the detector in an attempt to stop the beeping. But if you must do this to get through a night’s sleep, be sure to replace it at the soonest possible opportunity.

If your RV has a propane detector that’s hard-wired into the RV’s 12-volt electrical system, they’re very easy to replace on your own. We encourage you to check the date on yours today, and if it’s time to replace it, don’t wait.

Check your old propane detector for a similar replacement. It may look something like these:

RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (5)

Safe-T-Alert by MTI Industries 35-742-BL Dual LP/CO Battery Powered Alarm - 12V, 35 Series Flush Mount, Black

  • Double-Duty Alarm Detects Both Gas Leaks And Co Gas Simultaneously
  • Reliable 12V Power Means No Missing Or Dead Batteries To Replace. Operating Temperature: minus 40° F To plus 158° F

$76.11RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (6)

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RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (7)

Safe-T-Alert 20-441-P-BL Mini Hard-Wired Propane/LP Gas Alarm - 12V, 20 Series, Black

  • Includes mounting bracket
  • Power Supply and Current Draw: 12 vDC 75mA @ 12 vDC

−$11.26$51.99RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (8)

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Another excellent piece of safety equipment to have onboard the RV is a combustible gas detector or “gas sniffer”. These are very helpful in quickly detecting gas leaks:

RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (9)

Combustible Gas Detector,Gas Detector Alarm, Portable Natural Gas Tester Detector/Propane Methane Gas Sensor, Combustible Gas Sniffer with Sound Warning, Adjustable Sensitivity and Flex Probe

  • 1.High Senstivity Quick Respon: Highly sensitive (adjustable) with a quick reaction time, you will be able to detect gas leaks within 10 seconds and...
  • 2.Small Detector Super Sensor:A 14-inch flexible probe allows location and detection of leaks in hard-to-reach and confined spacesSix red LED's...

$26.99RV Propane Tanks: What to Know for Safety & Comfort (10)

Buy on AmazonPrice & availability info updated 2023-08-04 at 10:38.

Remember – ignoring your propane detector can be an explosive mistake! Here’s a video showing how easy it can be to replace an RV propane detector:

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What is the safety checklist for propane tanks? ›

Tank Checklist
  • How much propane remains in your tank. ...
  • Check for leaks. ...
  • Make sure propane is on level ground. ...
  • Damaged or missing valves, indicators, dials or controls. ...
  • Kinks in gas line.
  • Corroded equipment.
  • Soot accumulation. ...
  • Proper ventilation.
Jan 5, 2019

How safe are RV propane tanks? ›

Don't store or transport propane tanks inside your RV or your vehicle. If you have to take them for a refill, transport your propane tanks secured in the back of a pickup truck. This is for two reasons: If there is a propane leak inside your vehicle, you could die or be trapped in a fiery inferno.

Should you turn off propane on RV when not in use? ›

And you should definitely turn off your propane tank when your rig is in storage. The reason for turning off your propane tanks when you're not using the RV is that if you should develop a leak somewhere in the system, or if an appliance gets turned on accidentally, you wouldn't know that there's propane gas leaking.

What should RV propane pressure be? ›

The operating pressure should be 11 inches of water column. If the reading is not correct, the technician can attempt to adjust the pressure regulator. If the regulator can't be adjusted to the proper pressure, it must be replaced. A second test is performed to determine operating pressure with no propane flow.

What is the primary hazard when dealing with propane? ›

The hazard statements are: Extremely flammable gas. Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated.

What are the hazard statements for propane? ›

Signal word : Danger Hazard statements (CLP) : H220 - Extremely flammable gas. H280 - Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated. Precautionary statements (CLP) : P210 - Keep away from heat, hot surfaces, sparks, open flames and other ignition sources. No smoking.

What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 propane tanks? ›

Type 1 cylinders may be suitable where limited portability is required, but Type 2 gas cylinders often provide the best balance between cost and portability.

Should RV propane tanks be stored full or empty? ›

Only completely empty propane tanks should be stored inside. Inside storage can cause the temperature inside the propane tank to rise quickly which is dangerous. It is best to put your tank on a flat surface in an open, well-ventilated area at least 10 feet away from anything flammable.

Do you open both propane tanks on RV? ›

Helpful Expert Reply: The Camco Vertical 2-Stage Propane Regulator part # CAM59313 will not require that both tanks be opened in order to function but you can if you choose to do so. You will however, need to close off both tanks before either of them are removed.

Is it OK to leave propane tank on overnight? ›

Regardless of the fuel source, for safety reasons, it's very important to turn off the supply of gas to the grill when it's not in use. If someone or something were to turn on one the control knobs on the grill, it would fill with gas, creating the potential for a very dangerous situation.

How can I make my RV propane last longer? ›

Reflective foil is a very easy and inexpensive way to insulate your windows, keeping warm air in and cold air out. Less heat will escape through your windows, your RV then stays warmer, and your propane furnace will turn on less, reducing the frequency with which you need to find propane service to refill.

How long can you run an RV on propane? ›

The average-sized RV furnace will burn about 1/3 gallon of propane when running continuously for an hour. This means that a 20-pound RV propane tank, holding 4.5 gallons of propane, should last about a week.

What should RV propane regulator set at? ›

The first stage lowers the pressure to around 10 to 15 psi from its much higher number, sometimes 250 or more. Then, the second stage takes it down to around 11 water column inches, which is the right flow for your RV's appliances.

What is the typical pressure in a 20 lb propane tank? ›

For example, a standard 20-pound propane tank at 70 degrees will have 145 psi internal pressure. That same tank on a 100-degree day will have 172 psi of pressure.

What is the OSHA standard for propane tank storage? ›

They should be placed off the ground, on top of a surface that will not burn. Any not-in-use cylinders should be stored outside and in an open-air storage unit at least 20 feet from other buildings.

What are the safety checklist for gas cylinders? ›

All cylinders should be properly marked to identify the contents. Make sure valve protection caps are in place. If cylinders are leaking, take them outdoors away from sparks or heat and slowly empty them. Make sure to mark all empty cylinders (some companies use "MT").

What is the key to understanding OSHA propane regulations? ›

OSHA Requirements for Propane Storage Cages

Propane cylinders may be kept indoors our outdoors, but either way, they must not be stored near exits, stairways, entryways or close to high-traffic areas. Propane cylinders cannot be stored close to or with other flammable or combustible materials.

What are the minimum PPE items required when refueling a propane tank? ›

Common types of PPE used when working with compressed gas cylinders like propane tanks include eye protection (such as safety glasses or goggles) and foot protection, and may also include face shields, gloves, protective clothing, or respirators.

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