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Old 01-07-2013, 05:24 PM   #1
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Default LP Tank Safety

Ok, so every single thing I have read, both printed and online all state the same... LP tanks should not be stored inside.

But there are many small conversions that just dont have that as an option. And I have seen office trailers on contruction sites that OSHA visits regularly using propane tanks with heaters attached to the top.

If you check your connections regularly, is it really the end of the world to have a tank inside?
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Old 01-07-2013, 08:15 PM   #2
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I think you may find the issue is not a loose connection that causes concern, but if a full tank gets too warm it may vent out the relief valve. While the inside of a insulated RV may not typically get hot enough when closed up on a hot day to cause the tank to vent, it is not a chance I would take. It does not take much propane to leak out to make an air/fuel mix perfect for an explosion. With propane being heavier than air it can settle in all kinds of low spots waiting for an ignition source. During my time as a Firefighter I have seen a couple of rv's fall victim to a propane leak, not much left.

If it were me, I would keep the tank in a vented outside compartment.

Dave
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Old 01-07-2013, 08:28 PM   #3
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I worked in the propane business for about 14 years, and it was my family business since birth, so hopefully I know a little on the subject.

Construction sites and the likes fall under an entirely different set of rules from homes or rvs etc., and can get away with quite a bit of things you would not normally be able to under the regulations as "temporary heating" situations. That tank with the heater mounted to it is perfectly acceptable in a situation like you describe, but you would not want that in a living area, and definitely not where you are going to sleep. First off, even a tiny leak in an enclosed area can build up to the point where the whole thing can blow up when it finds a source of ignition. And second, that type of portable infrared heater can get knocked over, or something can brush up against it, and create a fire hazard. Plus you've got 5 gallons of very flammable liquid under pressure inside the camper with you.

You definitely need to have the tank(s) mounted outside the living area. Either entirely outside, or in a vented compartment with an airtight seal to the interior. So if you are building an enclosed area for the tanks, it would need to be accessed from the outside only and not the inside, and have adequate ventilation (like a screened area, or louvered vent) in the floor or bottom of a sidewall as propane is heavier than air and will sink down if you have a leak. That way if a small leak were to develop on the tank itself, or a connection, or a regulator were to fail, the gas would safely vent to the outside instead of building up inside the rv where you are sleeping. Also be sure to seal any openings or joints into the interior of the unit so gas cannot seep from the compartment to the interior in case of a leak. Ran D. St. Clair has some good pics of the vented compartment he built in his stealth camper build thread. Also be sure the tanks are mounted away from any heat source, the hotter the tank, the higher the pressure. And there is a safety pressure relief which will vent gas if the tank gets too high a pressure, which you don't want to happen. So keep them away from exhaust from the engine, generator, or appliances.

The regulations for camper on tank size depend on the type of tank. The permanently frame mounted ASME tanks have no max size limit at all, but those are fairly expensive. The portable DOT cylinder (like bbq tanks) are limited to a maximum size or 35# per cylinder, a maximum of 3 cylinders, and a maximum of 90# total capacity. In the real world there are 20#, 30# and 40# cylinders, so you could use 3 30# tanks to get to the max. I cheated a little on mine and mounted 2 40# tanks outside under the gooseneck area. I only had room for 2 tanks, but had plenty of height clearance so I opted for the taller tanks. Not quite the correct size, but hey I'm a professional right? lol. I really don't think the size or number of tanks is real important issue safety wise, as long as they are securely mounted, and vented.

A few other things to keep in mind: All gas lines other than the connection from the tank to the regulator need to be metallic. The lines from the regulator to the appliances can be threaded schedule 40 black pipe, or single flared soft copper refrigeration tubing. No rubber hoses (can rub and rupture), no aluminum tubing (susceptible to cracking under vibration), no compression fittings (can crack and leak), no solder joints. If you use soft copper, you can run that directly to each appliance with a shut off valve for each appliance. If you use schedule 40, you will need either a stainless flex connector, or a soft copper connector to the appliance for vibration. Be sure to pressure test the system for leaks before use.

Be sure to use a propane detector installed inside the unit, as well as a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. These are fairly inexpensive and available at most of the rv surplus outlets and on ebay. The gas detector will sound if you have a leak, and the CO detector if you have a carbon monoxide buildup, which can kill you. CO buildup is fairly easy to do in an small enclosed area in you aren't using the proper type of appliances or venting.

Any heater you use should preferably designed specifically for rv use, and if not it at least needs to be designed and approved for residential use in sleeping areas. That sleeping area designation is very important as you have to remember that any gas burning appliance is burning up the same oxygen that you are breathing. A heater designed for sleeping areas has an oxygen depletion sensor built in which will shut the unit down if it uses up too much air. That way you will wake up in the morning. Some wall type heaters are designed for areas like garages or recreation rooms and do not have that feature. The portable tank mounted heaters definitely do not.

I used an Oylmpian Wave Catalytic wall heater in mine: Olympian Wave Catalytic Safety Heaters - Product - Camping World They are a little pricey, but a nice self contained easy to install unit with all the correct safety features. My living quarters are the front 20' of a gooseneck race car trailer with no significant insulation at all. I used the Wave 6 only because I did not have the room for the Wave 8 on the wall where I wanted to put it. It has 3 settings up to a max 6000btu on high, which does not sound like much, but it really does the job. The only time it is ever on high is to warm up and take the chill off, after that it stays on low (about 3000btu). On a night in the 40's or 50's I leave the roof vent open to let a little heat out or it actually gets to hot inside. We've never used it below the 40's, but I think it would keep up just fine into the 30's. The nice thing for a home built camper, is the unit is completely self contained, just bolt it to the wall and hook up the gas, and operates entirely on propane alone. No 110v, no 12v, so if you are dry camping it will run without having to worry about a thermostat, or a fan to run down the batteries. We are in situations often where we can't plug in, and there are "quiet hours" where we can't run the generator at night, so that unit has worked out very nicely.

Sizing your tanks: Propane has 21600 btu per pound. So for example my 6000 btu heater will burn up a pound of propane in 3.6 hours, so a 20# tank will last 72 hours on high. On low it will burn a pound in 7.2 hours, for 144 hours on a 20# tank. You can figure that usage out for any given heater and make sure you do the math and that you will have enough propane on board or last as long as you will need to. It is far cheaper in the long run to have more capacity on hand so you can fill your tanks at a reputable propane dealer at your convenience, instead of those ridiculously expensive exchange tanks (which they only put 15# in these days) when you run out at inconvenient times and need it in a hurry.

Just remember that propane is very very safe in if installed and used correctly, and very very dangerous if you do not do it correctly.

Well, that is probably way more than you wanted to know, but I figured I'd cover the whole subject in one shot. Good luck!
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:05 PM   #4
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Dragonslayer- I used to do training at our company for local fire departments on propane and fighting propane fires. Sorry you had to deal with the aftermath, but I am glad to hear you were paying attention to the training. I'll bet you are a volunteer, those guys were always paying attention and asking questions, and the full timers were usually in the back of the room not paying a bit of attention during their "required" training. Thanks for what you do.

Your comment reminded me of the relief valve in a little more detail- the relief valve should never open up and vent gas under normal circumstances including a closed up hot vehicle. A DOT cylinder (bbq tank) has a 375 psi relief valve which means the tank would have to be over 160 degrees to vent, which would require some outside heat source like a vehicle/appliance exhaust, too close to a heater, or obviously involved in an unrelated vehicle fire that heats it up. A frame mounted ASME tank has a 250 psi relief valve which would have to be over 127 degrees, which sounds low but again will never open under normal circumstance. The exception to that rule would be the case of a tank which is over filled. If the tank is over filled past the 80% mark, then there is not enough room in the tank for expansion, and it can vent gas out of the relief valve even at room temperature. That would be a pretty rare situation these days as most portable cylinders have auto stop filler valves, but it can happen and not worth taking the chance with a tank indoors.
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:20 PM   #5
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it will be interesting to find out what happened on Lake of the Woods, % guys spending their very first night in a brand new portable ice house when she went BOOM.

5 remain hospitalized after ice house explosion | kare11.com

5 guys whom life will never be the same..

-blizz
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:37 PM   #6
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I looked at the Olympian. Nice looking unit. I liked the fact that it was a true catalytic heater, and produced essentially no CO2. In the end I went with a Big Buddy from Mr Heater for a couple reasons. Primary reason, portable. Can use it in my house when the power fails. Which happens monthly lately here in Atlanta. Price did factor into it, but not much. The other reason I picked Big Buddy was size of heater (my unit on low puts out almost as much as yours on high.. 4500 on low, 9000 on medium and an insane 18000 on high.) On low it burns about 2 lbs every 10 hours. And it is rated for indoor use, has the safety features you mentioned. Shut off for low oxygen, tip over shut off, etc. So a 20 lbs tank would need to be replaced every 10-12 days. Plan on putting two underneath the truck in a box specifically for them. But that is down the road. If at all. I was planning on running electric for everything. But thats a discussion for another thread...This rig is headed to Texas and heating season is almost over there. I have a small supply of the portable 1 lb bottles that will get me there till I can plug in and run my electric space heater.
Will be installing a CO2/Propane alarm before I head back on the road in 9 days to be safe.

Edit: The reason I bothered at all with the propane heater, it's a 3 day trip to where I am headed, and I dont feel like freezing my nose off while getting there. I plan on taking my time getting there, ie, leaving after rush hour, getting my butt off the road and at a truck stop before rush hour again (and it gets crowded). I figure 6 hours a day, with a lunch break in the middle. About 300 miles a day
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Old 01-08-2013, 02:13 AM   #7
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Sad news on the ice house. No mystery though, small gas leak built up overnight, somebody got up in the morning, turned on the heater or flipped a switch and boom. I wonder if it was a factory built deal, or homebuilt.
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Old 01-08-2013, 03:33 AM   #8
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interesting and timely subject -

my coach, frame mounted (ASME? 50gal?) uses a rubber hose from the regulator
threaded black pipe (under the coach)....the black pipe then has copper lines that feed into the coach/appliances.

i was fed up w/ 1 lb green bottles (for my grill), and temporarily was using 20lb grill bottles (i carried the grill bottle in the basement storage with out issue)...always making certain the tank was blocked in & the valve was off/tight during transport or non-use.

i recently ran a copper line (single flared) from the black pipe (under the coach) to the back of the coach, where i terminated the copper pipe w/ a QD connector (ive converted my outdoor grill to accept the QD connector).

securing the copper line under the coach presented some issues but i was certain to protect & insulate the copper line w/ wire loom & foam pipe insulation...which i then secured to frame points w/ zip ties or rubber insulated pipe clamps.

im wondering, do i need a separate shut off valve on the copper grill line ?
i dont know where id put the shut off valve...and still be able to get to it.
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Old 01-08-2013, 08:54 PM   #9
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It was a brand new factory built Ice Castle. First time out, they bought it as a family Christmas present.
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Old 01-08-2013, 08:56 PM   #10
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^ someone is gonna get sued !
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