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How to Safely Identify and Respond to an RV Propane Leak

A common concern we hear from new RVers goes something like: How do I know if I have a propane leak in my RV?

Due to the highly flammable nature of propane, an RV propane leak can be extremely dangerous if not promptly diagnosed and fixed. While RV propane leaks can be scary, the good news is that with a quality propane leak detector and common sense propane leak can be fairly easy to identify.  

Today we’ll help you with two important RVing skills:

  1. How to quickly identify a RV propane leak; and 
  2. How to properly handle a propane leak situation on the road. 

First, let’s get a quick understanding of the dangers of a propane leak in your RV. 

Just How Dangerous Is an RV Propane Leak? 

In one word: VERY. 

Propane is a wonderful, clean burning energy source that is cheaper and more eco-friendly than gas, however, due to its chemical makeup it is EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE. Propane is naturally colorless and odorless, but an odorant is often added to make the smell identifiable when there is a leak. 

Propane Tank

The thing that makes an RV propane leak particularly dangerous is the CONFINED SPACE of an RV. A leak can cause propane to accumulate in hazardous amounts inside confined spaces [1]Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Some of the health and safety concerns of an RV propane leak are: [2]see above

Explosion: An accumulation of propane that is exposed to a flame or spark can lead to an explosion. In a confined space such as an RV, an explosion can cause a blowback or fire that can lead to severe injury or even death.

Suffocation and/or Breathing Issues: High concentrations of propane in an RV can displace oxygen in air and cause suffocation. If less oxygen is available to breathe, symptoms such as rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, clumsiness and fatigue can result. In very high concentrations, propane exposure can lead to nausea and vomiting, convulsions, coma or even death.

Now that we know why RV propane leaks can be dangerous, let’s find out how we can quickly diagnose a leak. 

How to Quickly Diagnose an RV Propane Leak

An RV propane leak can originate from a cracked propane line or a cracked or loose fitting on your refrigerator, stove, water heater or any other appliance that connects to the propane line. The most important part of propane safety on the road is being able to quickly diagnose any leaks in your propane system.  

What are quickest ways to diagnose if you have an RV propane leak? Here are the telltale signs:

  • Propane leak detector goes off;
  • “Eggy” or gassy propane smell or odor; 
  • Consuming unusual amounts of propane; and 
  • DSI or other error codes from propane-fueled water tank or refrigerator

Let’s take a closer look at these warning signs: 

RV Propane Leak Sign #1: Propane Leak Detector Goes Off

If you are traveling with propane tanks in your RV or trailer, you must have a RV propane leak detector placed inside the vehicle. An electronic RV propane leak detector will have audio and/or visual alarms that will alert you in the instance of a propane leak. 

A good propane leak detector will be able to identify leaks of combustible gases (propane, methane, etc.) at concentrations as low as 50 ppm (parts per million). As you may not always be able to pick up on a smell, the propane leak detector should be your first line of defense against propane leaks. 

If you are looking for a top of the line combustible gas detector to keep you and your family safe, we recommend the battery-powered Klein Tools ET120 Gas Leak Detector. It is one of the most sensitive gas detecting tools on the market and comes with an 18-inch flexible sensor for extended reach. It is important to note that is a static sensor (meaning you must turn it on for it to work) and will not continuously monitor for leaks. 

If you in the market for a more affordable option that is continuously monitoring for leaks, the GasKnight AC-powered natural gas and propane leak detector is a great option for your RV.  The sleek and stylish sensor will monitor 323 sq ft of space for propane leaks and comes with a no-questions-asked money back guarantee.   

[BeginRV may earn a small commission if you purchase from one of the links above].

RV Propane Leak Sign #2: Propane Smell

The second telltale sign of a leak is an “eggy”, rotten cabbage” or gas-like propane smell in your RV. The interesting thing is that propane is a naturally odorless gas – so smell is added to propane for safety purposes. 

Sometimes referred to as ethanethiol, the smell of this foul-smelling additive in your RV should alert you that something may be wrong [3]Ferrell Gas

While smell is an effective method of catching a propane leak, sometimes RV propane leaks occur in places where you can’t smell them. This can be outside or underneath your RV, or inside a closed compartment. To further complicate matters, some leaks are so small you might not be able to smell them at all.

This is why its critical to have a propane leak detector!

RV Propane Leak Sign #3: Unusually High Consumption of Propane

If you notice that you are running out of propane more quickly than usual, you may have a propane leak. This may be difficult for new or inexperienced RVers to decipher, but a warning sign of a leak can be if your hot water, stove or other propane-heated appliances are low or not working. 

Pink Propane Tanks
Keep a close eye on your propane consumption. 

It is important to keep mental (or written) note of how much propane you go through each week. If one week you go through half a tank and the next week you are going through 2 tanks with the same usage – there is a good chance you are experiencing a leak. 

RV Propane Leak Sign #4: DSI or Error Code on Water Heater or Refrigerator

If you get a DSI (direct spark ignition) error code on your water heater or refrigerator control board, this might be a sign of a propane leak. To be clear, the main cause of this error code is an empty propane gas tank – which in turn may be a sign of a propane leak. If you feel that your water heater or refrigerator is out after you recently filled up the tank, you want to check for a leak. 

Steps to Take When Discovering RV Propane Leak

If you think you’ve discovered a propane leak in your RV or camper immediate action needs to be taken. The first priority is always the safety of yourself, your family and the people surrounding you.

If you believe you identified a propane leak by one of the methods outlined above, all occupants should evacuate the RV immediately (but safely). Once at a safe distance from your RV, you should call a propane service professional and alert any neighbors whose RVs may be at risk should a fire break out.

If you feel you can quickly and safely mitigate the situation while waiting for a professional, you should: 

  1. Immediately extinguish any open flames including pilot light for water heater, stovetop burners or refrigerator cooling system – anything that can cause a spark; 
  2. Shut off the LP valve on the propane tank; and 
  3. Open all windows and doors to fully ventilate the RV and disperse the fumes; 

The key is safety. As most of us are not gas professionals, you never want to take action that can make the situation worse or put yourself or others at risk. 

RV Propane Safety Precautions

While being able to detect a RV propane leak is important, the best way to keep you and your family safe is by taking the proper safety measures before a leak occurs. 

Here are some tips to follow when traveling with propane in your vehicle: 

  • Have an annual RV propane leak test performed by a professional; 
  • Always make sure the batteries in your RV propane leak detector are working OR that your AC powered propane leak detector is plugged in; 
  • Replace old propane leak detectors (typically a 7-year limit); 
  • Always turn shut the LP valves on your propane tanks to OFF when driving! If you get in an accident a severed propane line can be deadly; 
  • Check valves with the “soapy water” propane leak test
  • Ensure adequate ventilation in your vehicle by periodically opening windows; and
  • Be mindful of unusual odors or smells emanating from your vehicle. 

Conclusion

Propane is a wonderful eco-friendly resource that is a great alternative to gas. If used and maintained properly, propane is safe and versatile enough to power most large-scale amenities in your RV. 

The key to propane safety is knowledge. Tragic accidents occur when people are under-informed and do not respect the simple, but critical, safety measures that must be followed when traveling with propane. 

We hope today that we imparted just a little bit of our knowledge to you. We love to hear from our readers and encourage you to share any questions or comments with us. 

Stay safe. Stay strong. And, as always … 

 

     Easy Travels, 

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