As modest people, we have modest needs for propane. Here are the appliances we own that runs on propane:

Propane-Appliances-that-we-use-in-the-van-(annotated)

 

We learnt a few things in the installation process:

1- High Pressure VS Low Pressure

Some stuff requires high pressure while some other stuff requires low pressure of propane… now, how do we know which ones? Everything that requires a 1 pound disposable propane tank (the small green ones) is high pressure; there is no regulator between the propane tank and the inlet. Other stuff is low pressure; a regulator is required between the propane tank and the inlet. To make things more complicated, there are different low pressure regulators: the most commons seems to be 11 inches of water column (this is what our Atwood Range requires. And, yes, “inches of water column” is a pressure unit! Here is an article about that). This means that we need at least two outlet on our propane tank: one with high pressure (no regulator), one other for low pressure (with regulator).
 




 

 

2- Disposable Propane Tank

The small green camping disposable propane tank. They run out of propane just by looking at them (slight exaggeration). It’s not very environmental friendly and it’s expensive in the long run. The good news is: they can be replace by a bigger tank with the proper adapter! Sweet! Let’s do that then!

 

3- Flared VS Not-Flared Fittings

We used two types of fittings: flared or not. The flared fittings have a 45 degree chamfer (male or female) that seal the deal. The flared fittings are meant to be removable and they do not requires thread sealant. The non-flared fittings are meant to be permanent and they requires thread sealant. In the end, we’re glad we went to our local propane shop and had all our hose/fittings/regulator/etc assembled by them (except for the flared ones, since they are removable).

Flare-vs-Non-Flare-Fittings

 

4- Copper Tubing VS Flexible Hose

Boat uses flexible hose (more resistant to corrosion and vibration) while RV uses copper tubing (more resistant to critters & impacts?). Since we only have a short run from our tank to our Atwood range, we used flexible hose for simplicity sake. Near the range, we used copper tubing for obvious reasons (heat).
 




 

 

5- Propane Tank Storage

First of all, why did we choose to use a BBQ style propane tank? For convenience, that’s why! Many people will install a propane tank under the vehicle: that’s fine as it save some space inside the vehicle, but these tanks need to be refilled at propane filling station specially equipped. We wanted to have the convenience of refilling our tank at Costco (or whatever) or be able to swap it at a convenience store.

At Faroutride we play hard, but we play by the rules! The transportation of propane tanks (except the small green ones) inside vehicles is heavily regulated. Laws will vary by country/states/provinces; in addition, there are additional restrictions for tunnels/ferries/bridges!  As we are writing these lines, we have not found a single source online for all the regulations by country/states/etc. Google is your friend here! Let’s just say that, to make things right, a propane tank should be located either outside the vehicle or inside the vehicle; if it’s inside, it should be stored in a vented propane locker. Why is that? You see, every propane tank (except the green ones) has a safety relief valve. Excessive pressure (created either by overfill, rise in temperature or rise in elevation) inside the tank will be evacuated through this valve. Really? Just watch the following video. According to the narrator and to the description, the rise in temperature and overfilling created too much pressure on MARCH 14th:

March 14th or not, temperatures (greenhouse effect) and pressure (change in elevation while driving) varies a LOT in the van; we need to store our tank in a vented propane locker. (if you’re still not convinced, we heard that under California laws, the authorities can tow the vehicle if the propane is not stored properly. To be confirmed.).

 

 

TIME SPENT ON THE JOB: 40 hours (approximately)

 

TOTAL COST : ~1000$ USD (that price includes the 600$ Atwood Range, but excludes all other portable appliances)

 

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APPLIANCES:

 

MATERIAL:

//DISCLOSURE: The material is listed below, however we strongly advise to buy from your local propane shop and have everything assembled by them. This is what we did and once installed in the van, we checked all the connection for leaks using soapy water. Explosion are for kittens, not for your van. Also, we did our best but there might be some mistakes… double check that everything make sense! //

 

TOOLS:

  • Nothing funky

 

RESOURCES:

 

PRE-REQUISITE:

 

PROPANE LOCKER

We mentioned earlier that propane might escape from the propane tank from the safety relief valve. This propane has to go somewhere: outside the van sounds about right. To achieve that, we built a sealed box that is vented through the floor with the lid on top (propane is heavier than air). We did not come up with this, this is what marine regulation asks for (some info here). Here is how it goes:

First of all, here are the dimensions of a 20 pounds propane tank (think BBQ):

Steel Vertical Propane Cylinders
Size
20#
Capacity
5 gal
Diameter
12.25
Height
17.75
Source: http://www.missiongas.com/lpgbottledimensions.htm

We designed our propane locker to allow for ¼” of clearance around the tank:

Propane-3D

These are the INTERIOR dimensions..!

 

We won’t go into the box fabrication details, but let’s just say that the cuts should be perfectly straight to have a good seal! All the edges of the box are glued together; this should seal the deal, but just to make sure, we also applied silicone on all edge inside the box.

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(19)

 

We first checked that the propane locker would fit. To clear the aluminum nose stair, we raised the locker with 1/8″ thick MLV leftover we had handy:

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(3)

 

We now have to make a hole in the floor. We want that hole to be sealed; if we ever have a water spill we don’t want water to ingress in between the layers of our floor.

We drilled using a 1″-5/8 diameter hole saw (http://amzn.to/2svpoQk):

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (8)

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (9)

It’s a hole.

 
 




 
 

As usual, we must now sand the metal rough edges and apply primer + paint + clearcoat; this is to prevent rust. (we went to an auto parts shop and they prepared paint that matches the color of our van). No pictures here 🙁

 

We then inserted a 1″ (inside diameter) PVC pipe in the hole:

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(13)

The 1″ PVC pipe fits tightly into the hole

 

And we applied Silicone II (http://amzn.to/2tz1YP5) onto the floor and under the van, to ensure that no water can ingress in between the floor layers (do not use Silicone I on metal! See http://faroutride.com/van-conversion-resources/#Silicone_Sealant):

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (14)

It’s there! You can’t see it because it’s clear…

 

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(20)

Under the van…

 

The marine regulations ask for a minimum of ¾” (inside diameter) pipe to ensure a proper venting, so we will use that. The ¾” PVC pipe fit very tightly into the locker; we had to use a hammer to put it in place so it’s not moving from there.

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (18)

¾” PVC pipe protruding from the bottom of the box

 

Inside the locker, the ¾” PVC pipe protrude from above the surface (about ¼”) and Silicone was applied to ensure a proper sealing:

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(Inside-PVC-Pipe)

 

Here is the oddly satisfying part: the ¾” PVC Pipe (fixed to the locker) fit nicely inside the 1″ PVC pipe (fixed to the floor), so the propane locker can be removed / re-installed as needed!

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(pipes)

 

We added a ¾” PVC elbow to prevent crap from entering the locker:

Elbow

PVC Elbow

The elbow is press-fitted onto the ¾” PVC pipe. It can be removed by hand, but it should not fall by itself… (mosquito net not shown on this picture)

 

We’re not done with that box yet. We now have to add the bulkhead union fitting. As extra safety, the fitting should be installed near the TOP of the locker! Propane is heavier than air and will “sink” at the bottom…

Bulkhead Union Fitting (3/8″ male flare x 3/8″ male flare)

 

Bulkhead Union Fitting Installed.

 

Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(16)

Note that a rubber seal was installed outside & inside to ensure a good seal

 

A self-adhesive neoprene seal (http://amzn.to/2spTk5z) was added on the cover to ensure sealing:

Vented-Propane-Locker-DIY-Cover

We used 1/4″ thick seal, but we will use 1/8″ next time…

 

And finally, we added latches (http://amzn.to/2sqBVJN) so the cover can be easily taken off:

DIY-Propane-Locker-Campervan-Vented-Sealed

Be aware that screwing parallel into the cover plywood layers is not ideal (the layers could separate under tension); but with the adjustable latches, we can fine-tune the tension to the minimum required. We also pre-drilled the screw holes to minimize the tension in the hole.

 

 

It’s now time to make all the connections!

Before we start, remember that most of the connections should be located INSIDE the propane locker! Because leaks happens. This means that we need to open the locker to use the high-pressure hose (for the Mr Heater shower, the Mr Heater Buddy or the Primus stove).

DIY-Propane-Locker-Campervan

 

From the propane locker, the low pressure hose runs all the way to the copper tubing near the Atwood range. We installed a valve between the flexible and copper tubing, for easy access in case of emergency.

Low-Pressure-Hose-Run

 

The copper tubing runs in the back of the Atwood and it’s connected here:

Atwood-Propane-Connection

 

Any appliance that normally requires a small green camping 1# propane tank can be fed using our high pressure hose; it’s much cheaper, eco friendly and convenient!

High-Pressure-Propane-Hose

The high pressure hose is long enough to reach the kitchen…

 

 

Remember to check all the connections for leaks using soapy water!

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (22)

 

 

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT

So far so good!

 

 

 

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine, a couple dreaming of being on the move and we’re seeking for the ride of our life. We bought a Ford Transit van, converted it to a campervan, sold our house, quit our jobs and hit the road full-time to make our dream a reality. We are sharing this in hope of inspiring and helping others to follow their dreams too!

 

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14 comments

  1. Comment by Ryan

    Ryan Reply June 11, 2017 at 4:45 am

    Do you guys have a strategy for refilling the propane on the road?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply June 11, 2017 at 7:35 am

      That’s why we went with a regular BBQ propane tank: it should be easy to fill/replace at Costco/Gas Station/etc…

      cheers!

  2. Comment by Brent

    Brent Reply August 14, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    I think the PVC you used for the van-side was actually 1 1/4″… I recently used a similar method with the 3/4″ tube and a 1-5/8″ saw, and the 1″ tubing mentioned didn’t work as shown. I’m sure it was just a notes error, but thought it’d be helpful to correct!

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply August 15, 2017 at 9:20 pm

      Oh damn, we just gave away all our build material leftover; I wish I could double-check that! Anyway thanks for the catch!

  3. Comment by Brad Huffman

    Brad Huffman Reply October 10, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    So now that you are on the road, how often do you have to refill the tank?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply October 10, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      It’s funny you ask, we just check the level this afternoon! I think there is still 1/4 or 1/3 left in the tank (that’s after 40 days full-time on the road). We’re using it everyday for cooking, but we managed to find free/paid showers most of the time so far (because it’s pretty cold right now!); so we expect to use more propane in summer for showering.

  4. Comment by Brad

    Brad Reply October 12, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Thanks! Looks like only around 0.35 lbs/day…Good to know. It looks like our propane use will be very similar to yours and have been debating on a 5 lb vs. 20 lb tank. Not sure that I have room to install a 20 lb tank locker (wish I would have considered this earlier in the build), but looks like we can expect to get around 2 weeks from a 5lb tank. I considered an 11 lb tank, but the dimensions (at least width) are the same as the 20 lb tank. Cheers!

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply October 12, 2017 at 10:23 am

      We considered the 11 lb, but like you, we found the dimensions are almost the same as a 20lb tank…

  5. Comment by Greg

    Greg Reply October 21, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Just curious, why put the water tank up on stilts?

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply October 21, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Because of the wheel well just under! The floor is not flat here… That’s why 🙂

  6. Comment by Jacynthe

    Jacynthe Reply November 21, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Bonjour à vous deux,
    Vraiment intéressant votre site! Nous nous préparons à convertir notre Promaster cet hiver. Ma première idée était de faire comme vous et certains autres et installer la bonbonne dans un compartiment scellé et ventilé au plancher. Mais là je suis en train d’hésiter car plusieurs me mettent en garde sur la sécurité et que les assurances pourraient ne pas nous couvrir…
    Est-ce que vous avez pu faire certifier votre installation sans problème finalement? On me dit aussi que le Mr Heater ne peut pas être utilisé à l’intérieur. Avez-vous eu ce genre de problématique aussi?
    Merci beaucoup et bonne continuation!
    Jacynthe

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply November 21, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Mettre la bombonne dehors n’est pas plus sécuritaire; c’est simplement plus courant et mieux connu. La méthode que nous avons utilisé (propane locker) vient des normes marines qui sont TRÈS STRICTES (beaucoup plus que pour les voitures). Donc à notre avis c’est aussi sécuritaire et autant valable. Le problème c’est que ce n’est pas commun alors ca surprend les gens (incluant les assureurs j’imagine).

      La conversion n’a pas à être certifiée, mais elle doit être cepandant être évaluée pour les coûts (dans le cas où le véhicule serait volé).

      Non, un Mr Heater n’est pas fait pour l’intérieur (ni les Eccotemp d’ailleurs). Il vous revient de bien ventiler lorsqu’il est en fonction (pour évacuer le monoxide de carbone) ET d’avoir un détecteur de monoxide de carbone.

      Bonne chance avec votre conversion 🙂

  7. Comment by Bez

    Bez Reply December 15, 2017 at 3:21 am

    Thanks for posting about your build. I’m beginning my conversion project and have learned a lot from your website. If I understand right you’re high pressure line is not fed through the locker, meaning you have to open the top to use your heater? Would that defeat the purpose of the sealed locker? I’m looking at running everything on LP so I won’t need high pressure in the van, but have to make sure all equipment are compatible. Also want to install a electrical valve to only turn on gas at the tank when cooking for using the heater. Not sure if it add more safety issue running a live solenoid inside the locker though. Have you looked into this? Would appreciate hearing your thought. Thanks again.

    • Comment by Antoine

      Antoine Reply December 15, 2017 at 8:29 am

      Hi!
      Yes, we need to open the top to use the high pressure line, but we use it only for shower. (the Buddy heater is a backup in case our Webasto fails, we will probably never use it). So it’s fine to open the top just for the duration of a shower as the tank safety valve might open during elevation change or large temperature change.

      We seriously considered a solenoid valve for safety sake, but then we realized it has to be install on the LP side (after the regulator): in case of major accident, that won’t save our ass. So we opted to close the tank manually (we never do that…). Also, the solenoid valve needs constant power to stay ON (that’s by design: so if anything happen and electrical shutdown, propane shutdown too); so if you run a Propex Heater, the solenoid valve will constantly draw current (it’s small current though, it’s probably fine). At last, we read many reviews where people have experience overheat problem with their valve: we went to a propane shop and the guy there told us the same. It’s probably wise to invest in a high-quality valve.
      About the solenoid being inside the locker: that’s what the marine regulation ask for, so I guess that’s how it should be done.

      That being said, it’s an additional safety feature, you can’t go wrong!
      Cheers!

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