Escaping crowded cities and nine-to-five jobs for the freedom of the open road is a dream shared by many. As more people question the costs, time commitments, and environmental impacts of conventional housing, full-time RV living has grown enormously popular. Recent innovations in RV technologies and off-grid systems have enabled sustainable, low-cost mobile living like never before. For those wanting to detach from reliance on municipal electrical grids, propane offers the most reliable and cost-effective solution for powering RVs indefinitely through all weather conditions over solar, wind, or generators. Converting an RV to utilize propane across all systems grants true off-grid independence.
The off-grid RV movement symbolizes sustainable freedom – exploring beautiful locations month after month, without utility bills, rent payments, or mortgages weighing you down. Propane-converted vehicles allow following warm seasons perpetually too. But transitioning fully off-grid using an RV does require effort in rethinking and reworking living necessities around optimized space. Propane addresses heating, refrigeration, cooking, hot water, and more. Solar struggles to match propane’s consistent output when overcast or cold. By installing a customized propane distribution system powering core appliances, you gain self-reliant transportation encapsulating comfortable living amenities always available when away from urban resources for weeks on end.
Let’s explore the pros and cons of propane-powered RV living, steps for installing new propane appliances and distribution lines feeding them, effective usage planning for off-grid adventures, plus best practices around propane system maintenance and safety. Going all-in on propane equips an RV for successfully managing off-grid journeys during any season while saving substantially over-relying on gas generators or solar.
Propane Appliances and Equipment For Off-Grid RV Living
Switching an RV to run fully on propane means installing propane-powered replacements for all the essential systems – from the stove and refrigerator to lights and water heaters.
Evaluating Appliance and Fixture Propane-Compatibility
Before installing appliances, confirm which systems already installed are configured for propane. Many RVs come equipped with duel fuel options that only need a propane hookup. If appliances are incompatible, replace them with dedicated propane alternatives. Consult manuals to identify compatibility with unfamiliar appliances.
Essential Propane Appliances
The core appliances necessary for comfortable off-grid living include:
Designed for RVs, these units offer ample fresh and frozen storage without taxing electrical. Models from brands like Paradise, SMEV, and Dometic offer quality and reliability. Choose an appropriately sized unit for your needs.
Propane-fueled ranges provide complete cooking capability. From portable single burners to multi-burner ranges with ovens, quality stoves like those made by Atwood, Suburban, and Camp Chef last for years.
Propane On-Demand Water Heaters
Enjoy endless hot showers with an on-demand propane water heater. Lightweight tankless models like those from Girard and Excel heat water directly without a reservoir.
Stay warm even in freezing temperatures with a specialized RV propane furnace. Suburban, Lenny’s, and Propex make reliable heaters combining fans and propane combustion optimized for small spaces.
Light the interior and exterior spaces with propane fixtures, portable lanterns, and propane-powered lighting systems. Brands like Baja Designs, LEON, and Luminoodle make propane lighting that lasts.
NOTE: Beyond the essentials, consider upgrading appliances like –
Laundry Centers – Wash and dry off-grid with combination propane-fueled washer/dryer units from Splendide or Girard.
Generators – Use propane to generate supplementary electrical power with generators from Onan, Champion, or Generac. Help offset refrigeration and lighting electrical demands.
Fireplace – Take the chill off and set the mood with propane-powered fireplaces designed for RV installation. Brands like Valor and Napoleon make quality propane fireplaces.
Considering HVAC Needs
A critical decision is how to address HVAC – either with standalone propane heaters and AC units running on propane generators, or installing a central propane furnace handling both heating and AC. Carefully evaluate options based on climate, budget, and boondocking durations.
Accounting for Ventilation and Safety Systems
With additional propane appliances, ensure adequate roof ventilation exists using MaxxAir fans to avoid the buildup of carbon dioxide. Also, install propane detectors like MTI Industries SAFE-T-ALERT to identify leaks plus fire suppression canisters such as Firesafe’s Auto Fire Extinguisher as safety precautions.
Installing The Propane Tank and Regulator
Choosing the right propane tank and regulator are vital steps in shifting to off-grid reliance.
Selecting the Optimal Tank Size
One or more DOT-approved ASME tanks are required rated for at least 200 psi. Common capacity ratings between 5 and 100 gallons suit most RVs. Select tank size based on estimated weekly propane usage for all appliances, boondocking durations between refilling, available storage space, and weight considerations. Bigger is better for full-time living off-grid. Also, install quality propane hoses like those from Camco rated for maximum flow rates.
Onboard vs External Tanks
RVs come set for one or more onboard propane tanks, but limits exist around storage capacity so additional external tanks may be necessary for sustainable off-grid durations. External tanks can be mounted on bumpers and hitches using aftermarket carriers. Alternatively, free-standing tanks can connect via hoses. Using multiple tanks provides redundancy too. Include valves to switch between tanks as needed.
Installing Tanks and Regulators
Proper tank installation requires securing tanks firmly to the RV frame using specialty mounting hardware anchored at the bottom and top to reduce vibration and slipping. Alternatively, securely fasten external tanks on carriers rated for highway travel. Ensure required clearance from rear vehicle lights and bumpers too if externally mounted.
Next, install an RV-rated high-capacity regulator like Marshall Excelsior’s Model M-30 providing consistent gas cylinder withdrawal rates. Use reinforced pigtail hoses between the regulator and propane tank rated for the adjustable pressure. Mount regulators at the tank supply valve for faster access, while also testing for leaks using a soapy water solution.
Installing the Propane Distribution System
Getting propane to appliances involves installing copper, brass, or approved flexible polymer lines.
Running Propane Supply Lines
Design supply lines beginning at regulator(s). Determine the optimal mounting location for new appliances when routing lines to enable clean 90-degree feeds, avoiding kinks. Run lines underneath RVs using protective sheathing. Use flared fittings only between line segments using pipe sealant tape to prevent leaks. Label all lines, including noting line pressure maximums.
Incorporating Safety Features
Take safety precautions by installing an emergency propane shutoff switch easily accessible near the main door, allowing all lines to be closed quickly if needed. Also install CO/propane detectors like MTI Industries Safe-T-Alert 50NE at regular intervals throughout the RV interior to identify leaks, plus a propane alarm for external leaks like the EZ System Leak Detector.
Lastly, provide fire safety with small suppression canisters mounted within proximity of propane appliances in case of flare-ups. Firesafe Auto Fire Extinguishers deploy automatically when temperatures rise above 150F. With the right safety equipment in place, propane systems are safe and reliable.
The Benefits of Propane for Off-Grid RV Living
Propane is a liquefied petroleum gas that has many advantages over other fuel sources when living off the grid –
- Propane is typically 50-70% cheaper than gasoline or diesel, saving hundreds per year in fuel costs. The upfront investment in a propane system also costs less than solar power.
- With an onboard propane tank and the ability to refill almost anywhere, you don’t have to rely on external electrical sources.
- While not renewable, propane burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, making it a greener choice.
- Propane appliances operate independently of electrical systems, continuing to work during power failures.
- Propane performs better than solar in cold or cloudy weather when electricity generation drops.
For nomadic freedom, sustainable living, and managing costs off the grid, propane checks all the boxes. Let’s look at what’s needed to convert an RV.
Managing Propane Usage on an RV
Careful usage habits and planning can stretch dollars and boondocking durations.
Estimating Propane Needs
A rule of thumb is to estimate typical propane consumption around 2.5-3 gallons per week for smaller travel trailers, and 4-6 gallons weekly for large motorhomes depending on appliance usage. Calculate needs more precisely by identifying BTU ratings for each appliance and converting BTUs to expected gallons used monthly. Planning usage ahead of time helps identify the right tank capacities, fill intervals, etc.
Refilling when tanks reach 30% capacity ensures adequate supply remains across remote regions. Propane stations are available in most towns and fueling centers, but scout locations in advance when boondocking. Carry an adapter allowing tanks to be refilled from external supply pumps when standard fittings are unavailable. Refill only up to 80% limit for safety reasons and to allow room for gas expansion.
Practice conservation habits like turning down thermostats while sleeping, relying more on warmer bedding and only running water for cleaning dishes or showering versus continuous tap use. Maintain appliances annually too for maximum efficiency. Planning usage carefully provides freedom to live off-the-grid for months on end.
The Pros and Cons of Off-Grid RV Living Using Propane
Reliance on propane for off-grid adventures has both advantages to factor in, as well as disadvantages to acknowledge.
On the plus side, propane enables living anywhere year-round without compromising using reliably powered appliances. You enjoy freedom limited only by the locations you can physically drive and park. Propane is inexpensive to use, has widespread availability for easy refueling, and enables RV independence with solar panel hassles.
But potential downsides exist too if improperly installed or managed. Ventilation is essential and leaks pose risks requiring detectors plus understanding of handling procedures. Tanks eventually rust or fail with age needing replacement. And you remain dependent on non-renewable fuel sources less sustainable than solar long-term for those wanting zero environmental footprints living off the grid.
Careful selection of quality components, professional installation, inland usage planning, plus following safety, maintenance, and leak check procedures minimizes risks allowing worry-free propane usage for off-grid RV living.
Maintaining a Propane System for Maximum Safety
RVs rely on propane across almost every system, so proper maintenance ensures appliances function efficiently and safely during remote travels.
As the only owner responsible for servicing appliances, take the time to inspect fittings and lines periodically for wear using a soapy bubble test searching for leaks. Confirm drainage valves at appliance connections work properly to bleed moisture which can freeze and block flow. Lubricate valves annually with approved lubricants to maintain a smooth turning mechanism.
Watch regulator gauges to ensure steady pressure-feeding appliances. If pressure drops or spikes, service or replace regulators to avoid damage. Detectors also expire every 5-7 years from the manufacture date so swap out occasionally per specifications.
By following the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines for each appliance and propane component, you remain confident in the safety and reliable operation of your RV.
How much does it cost to convert an RV to run fully on propane?
- Budget $3,000-$5,000 for a basic DIY propane conversion including new appliances plus tank, lines, switches, etc. Hiring an RV technician raises costs closer to $7,000-$10,000.
Should I hire a professional to convert my RV to propane?
- If tackling new copper line routing, electrical mods, or appliance swaps makes you wary, hire certified propane systems or RV technicians to ensure code-compliant, leak-free installation for safety.
Converting an RV to rely 100% on propane requires research, planning, and quality components worthy of permanent life off-grid, but pays dividends through self-reliant mobile living only bound by the number of locations you can explore. Propane saves money over solar power or generators without their capacity challenges. Following appropriate usage and safety precautions, while learning propane RV maintenance basics, allows worry-free travel and sustainable off-grid living for years of adventure ahead.