Propane 101

Helpful hints and facts about propane.

April 08,2008 -- by Johno97007

Propane, Liquified Petroleum Gas, LP-Gas, or LPG

All these terms mean essentially the same thing. Propane is the most usual usage so that''s what I''ll use.

There are several appliances in your popup that use propane. They are, in no particular order of importance: The hot water heater, the refrigerator, the stove, and the furnace. Of these, the furnace is the biggest consumer of propane. Your portable barbeque also uses propane.

The usual tank size found on popups is the 20# size. It''s the same size tank as found on your barbeque and they are interchangeable. They are sometimes advertized as 5 gallon tanks, but they only hold 4.73 gallons to allow for expansion of the liquid into a gas.

There are also two kinds of tanks, old and new. My ''95 Colt had an old style tank so I carried a full new style tank everywhere we went. The old style hose and regulator setup will fit on the new style tank using the original fittings.

The new style has what the industry calls OPD (see below). That stands for Overfill Protection Device. It''s a safety device that does what it says; it prevents you from overfilling the tank.

If your popup is a later model with two propane tanks, the chances are that it has an automatic changeover regulator. This feature comes in handy at 2am when your first tank runs out of gas. The regulator will then switch to the full tank automatically. Obviously you have to have both tank valves turned on for this to happen. Your empty tank will show a little red band in the gauge window of the regulator. The full tank will show green. When the green band goes to yellow, you are about out of gas. Time to refill. It''s o.k. to move the selector lever to point to the full tank, and you should probably do this if you remove the empty tank to get it filled, but it is not necessary. Check with your dealer.

What You Need to Know about OPD Cylinders (Thank you, Pioneer Rentals, Chatham, NJ)

Effective April 1, 2002 by law, all tanks must be equipped with an OPD device

As of April 1, 2002, OPDs are required on all propane cylinders between 4 and 40 pounds propane capacity, per the 1998 edition of NFPA 58, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code. Cylinders of this size manufactured after September 30, 1998, were required to have an OPD. A typical gas grill cylinder holds about 20 pounds of propane.

Propane cylinders with OPDs can be identified by a triangular hand-wheel (pictured right). Some earlier model cylinders were produced with a round hand-wheel but "OPD" is stamped on the brass valve body.

After April 1, 2002, propane cylinders not equipped with an OPD must be retrofitted with the device before refilling can occur or properly disposed of and replaced with an OPD-equipped cylinder.

Many propane dealers will retrofit older cylinders with an OPD. As there is a charge for this, it may be more economical to replace the entire cylinder, especially if it is rusty. In many parts of the U.S., exchange cylinder racks can be used to swap an empty cylinder without an OPD for a full cylinder equipped with an OPD, for a nominal fee, eliminating the need to dispose of the cylinder or to have it retrofitted.

Dispose of propane cylinders safely. Questions about safe disposal should be answered by local fire departments, hazardous waste collection sites, or propane refillers.

The 2001 edition of NFPA 58 modified requirements to exempt horizontal cylinders manufactured before October 1, 1998, from requiring OPDs. Also exempt are cylinders used for industrial trucks, industrial welding and cutting gases (these cylinders must be labeled with their use).

Some handy information:

Propane contains approximately 91,600 BTU''s per gallon. Cool! So what good is that bit of information? If you have a furnace, it can be really important. For example most popups and travel trailers that have heaters have heaters rated at about 15,000 BTU''s. So if you do the math, you''ll see that a full tank of propane is good for about 28.9 hours of heating. (91,600 divided by 15,000 times 4.73 gallons). This is where you don''t want to be fooled into thinking that your tank holds 5 gallons. If it did, you''d be good for 30.5 hours of heat, so 28.9 is a much more realistic number.

Don''t forget that in addition, you will also be using propane for all the other appliances as well, and that will reduce the amount of propane you can use for heating.

With all that being said, a 20 gallon tank should last a weekend if you are running everything. Remember above when I said I carried a new style tank every where we went? Well, we camped in the Colt for about 6 months and never did change it out. But then the Colt only had the stove that required propane. No water heater, refrigerator, or furnace. It still had propane in the tank when I sold it.

Another handy bit of info is that when you are activly using propane from your tank, a frost line will develop on the tank at the level of propane. You can "force" the frost line by pouring a little bit of water over the tank and noting where it freezes.

Probably more than your wanted to know.

Happy camping.

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