In any caravan, motorhome and camper trailer, there are a variety of energy sources that can be used: electricity (240V mains and 12V battery), liquid propane gas (LPG), diesel, and even methylated spirits. With the exception of methylated spirits (which can only be used for cooking), all can be used for water heating, heating, cooking and also powering the fridge.
BENEFITS OF GAS
For most functions, the winner in term of calorific value and speed of use is LPG. It is the time-honoured energy supply used for the cooktop, griller, oven, barbecue, water heater, air heater and three-way fridge.
But if treated carelessly, LPG can be a very dangerous fuel indeed. It is colourless and doesn’t have a smell, at least not in its original form. The smell is actually an additive, put in principally so that leaks can be detected.
LPG is heavier than air and if a leak occurs, then it sinks to the lowest point, which is why vent holes are at the lowest point in an RV.
Because of these reasons, all LPG installation work must be done by a licensed person and does require a certified installation of pipework, fittings and appliances. All LPG work is covered by Australian/New Zealand standard 5601 and although the interpretation sometimes differs between the states, the essentials remain the same.
With all caravan, motorhome and camper trailer LPG systems, the gas cylinders are an essential component. In most RVs, LPG is stored in either 4kg, 4.5kg or 9kg cylinders.
All gas cylinders are required to be tested by an authorised LPG test station once every 10 years and the last inspection date should be stamped on the cylinder in an obvious place. Sometimes the cost of the inspection is actually greater than buying a new cylinder. Many service stations and large hardware stores simply exchange the cylinder, rather than re-filling. But if time is not an issue, getting a cylinder refilled is often cheaper but swapping the cylinders is more convenient, and you can be sure of not ending up with an expired one.
When replacing a gas cylinder on your RV, all appliance valves should be closed. Additionally, any gas lines left open for an extended time should be covered to prevent dirt and dust getting in.
It is not mandatory but it’s widely recommended (and downright sensible) that all gas cylinders are closed when travelling. In the event of an accident, it is possible that gas lines will break and leak gas, increasing the risk of a fire, if the cylinders are open.
LPG gas appliances and pipework don’t require a great deal of maintenance, apart from general cleaning. Potential leaks should, of course, be investigated immediately, either by the soapy water (or equivalent test) but preferably by a licensed person and then rectified immediately.
Any ventilators that are used to dispel leaked gas require cleaning (though they are often forgotten about) – they should always be kept clear.
GAS CYLINDER STORAGE
Although it is not mandatory for a gas cylinder bin to be unlocked or open when the gas cylinder is in use, for safety and quick access reasons, it’s better to leave it easily accessible.
Although a gas cylinder bin or compartment (such as a caravan’s front boot) can make a tempting extra bit of storage, these storage compartments are designed with drains and vents that must always be kept clear. Therefore, the bin should just be used for the gas cylinders.
In many ways the thinking behind the gas cylinder bins is the same rationale for the entire RV. Turn off when not needed, ensure there are adequate provisions for good ventilation and, in the event of a leak, close off the main valve and appliance valves, and open everything else – doors, hatches and windows!
LPG accidents, especially those involved in recreational vehicles in Australia, are few and far between. A few simple precautions can make sure this stays that way.