Propane Build Guide for DIY Van Conversion

Propane-System-DIY-Van-Conversion-Heading-1920

Propane Build Guide for DIY Van Conversion

Here’s our guide on how to build a DIY propane system and a vented propane tank locker in a camper van conversion. We normally like to start with the fun stuff, but we’ll make an exception this time and start with a disclosure:

Propane is dangerous. Have your installation checked by a professional to ensure it follows the laws & regulations of your area. We’re no propane experts; we can’t guarantee the information presented on this page is accurate and up to date.

 

Still with us? Alright then. Here is how it goes:

  • PART A (THEORY)
  • PART B (OUR SYSTEM)

 

 


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Propane System Build Guide for DIY Van Conversion

 

PART A: THEORY

1- Propane Tank

1.1- What Size?

It totally depends on what appliances you run and what autonomy you want (days/months with no refill). As a rough guideline and to help you make your calculations, here is our usage living full-time in the van:

  • We don’t know the exact consumption of each appliance, but we know that using our Atwood Range every day (oven & stove) and our Eccotemp shower every other day or so, our 20 pound propane tank last roughly 2 months.
  • We don’t use our Propex heater much (we prefer to use our Webasto Air Top 2000), but the consumption is 1 pound of propane every 3 hours (remember it cycles though, it’s not running full-time). Our autonomy definitely shrink when we use the Propex.

 

1.2- Tank Types
1.2.1- 1 Pound Disposable Bottle

It’s fine for short camping trips, but expensive and not environmentally friendly in the long run… we don’t recommend this as a permanent setup.

Coleman Propane Bottle
Coleman 1 Pound Propane Bottles. Buy on Amazon.

 

Here’s a tip: instead of using your camping stove (Buy on Amazon) or your Mr Heater Buddy (Buy on Amazon) with small 1 pound propane bottles, use a larger refillable tank (5 pounds or more) with the following adapter. One side connects directly to the propane tank, the other side connects directly to the stove or Mr Heater buddy. No regulator needed. In fact, this adapter can be used for ANY appliance that normally use a 1 pound propane tank!

High Pressure Propane Adaptor Mr Heater
High Pressure Propane Adaptor. Buy on Amazon.

 

1.2.2- Steel Propane Tank

Also known as “BBQ Tank”… no explanation needed! OK, here’s a picture just in case…

Propane Cylinder 20 Pound Steel
Steel Propane tank, a.k.a BBQ Tank!

 

They’re easy to find in 5, 11 or 20 pound (or more); here are some common specifications:

Description Capacity (lb) Capacity (gal) Diameter (in) Height (in) Empty Weight (lb) Full Weight (lb) Buy Link
5 Pound Vertical** 5* 1.2 9 12 10 15 Amazon
11 Pound Vertical 11* 2.6 12.2 12.4 14 25 Amazon
11 Pound Vertical 11* 2.6 9.25 17 14 25 Amazon
20 Pound Vertical 20* 4.6 12.25 17.75 18 38 Amazon

* Note that tanks are not filled to their max capacity; this is to leave room for vapor expansion. For example, a 20 pound tank will generally be filled to approx 18 pound.

** Vertical tanks must not be installed horizontally. If the orientation is not correct liquid propane will be collected instead of vapor (LP gas).

 

1.2.2- Aluminum Propane Tank (Vertical)

“BBQ Tanks” are also available in aluminum with the following characteristics:

  • Lighter than steel (approximately 3 pounds lighter for 2.6 gallons capacity, 5 pounds lighter for 4.6 gallons capacity)
  • Does not rust
  • Does not sparks if ruptured
  • Does not have to be painted
  • More expensive
Aluminum Propane Tank
Aluminum Propane Tank

 

Description Capacity (lb) Capacity (gal) Diameter (in) Height (in) Empty Weight (lb) Full Weight (lb) Buy Link
10 Pound Vertical 10 2.3 10.5 16.4 9.5 19 Amazon
20 Pound Vertical 20 4.6 12.3 20.7 13 32 eBay

 

1.2.3- Composite (Fiberglass) Propane Tank

Here’s a fancy option to impress your neighbors:

  • Lighter than steel and aluminum
  • See-through (no guesswork to know when to refill)
  • Does not rust
  • DOT approved for US and Canada
  • Must be re-certified every 5 years (from the date of manufacture, not from the purchase date)
  • Because it’s not common, we expect people to be hesitant to re-fill or re-certify…
Composite Propane Tank
Composite Propane Tank

 

Description Capacity (lb) Capacity (gal) Diameter (in) Height (in) Empty Weight (lb) Full Weight (lb) Buy Link
11 Pound Vertical 11 12.6 12 15.1 8.6 19 eBay
17 Pound Vertical 17 4 12 18.3 10.2 27 Amazon
22 Pound Vertical 22 5.24 12 22.5 12 33 Amazon

 

1.2.4- Underbody Propane Tank
  • Underbody tanks are either built to ASME or DOT standard. Tanks built to ASME specification don’t required to be re-certified, as opposed to DOT that must be re-certified after 10 years initially then every 5 years. Therefore, we would choose a tank built to ASME standard…
  • On a side note: portable tanks (such as BBQ tanks) are all built to DOT standard, because the ASME tanks are designed to be stationary and cannot be transported when full.
  • Make sure to choose a size that will fit into an under body cavity. Sorry we can’t help with that because we haven’t installed one ourselves, but here is a legit installation write-up on a Ford Transit:  www.fordtransitusaforum.com/170338-post42.html

This tank was used for the installation above:

Manchester ASME Propane Tank
Manchester ASME Propane Tank.
Description Capacity (lb) Capacity (gal) Diameter (in) Length (in) Empty Weight (lb) Full Weight (lb) Buy Link
33 Pound ASME 33 7.9 10 32 52 85 Amazon

 

2- Vented Propane Locker

If keeping the propane tank inside the vehicle, we highly recommend to store it inside a vented locker. You see, every propane tanks have 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. That’s true even if the tank flow valve is closed. 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:

What about the laws? When transporting a propane tank inside a vehicle, Canadian laws mention that it must be vented (cracked windows or partially opened trunk). We couldn’t find such mention in the USA laws, but there are rumors California laws mention it too (please tell us if you know where to find such a mention!).

MARCH 14th or not, laws or not, temperatures (greenhouse effect) and pressure (change in elevation while driving) varies a LOT in the van. For us it was common sense to go with a vented propane locker… We detailed our locker fabrication in the “Propane Locke Build” section further down this page.

 

3- Tubing

3.1- Material

Don’t use flexible (rubber) hoses as they are not approved for interior permanent installation (they are approved for marine applications, but that’s a different story). Don’t use them outside too as critters like to chew on them!

Use flexible copper tubing with flared fittings. It’s resistant to vibration, sharp edges and don’t deteriorate with time (as opposed to rubber hose).

Flexible Copper tubing
3/8″ O.D. Flexible Copper Tubing. Buy on Amazon.

 

3.2- Size

It’s important to select the correct tubing diameter to prevent pressure drop. The correct diameter depends on:

  • Max Pressure Drop Acceptable (1/2 W.C. drop is the norm)
  • System Pressure (hint: it’s 11 W.C. for most RV appliances such as the Atwood Range, Propex Heater, Eccotemp Hot Shower, etc)
  • Length of tubing (varies according to your installation)
  • Capacity (BTU/hours)

 

Capacity (BTU/hrs) in function of Tubing Length and Outside Diameter for Flexible Copper Tubing at a pressure of 11 W.C:

Copper Tubing O.D. (in) Length of tubing between the regulator and the appliance (feet)
10 20 30
3/8 49,000 BTU/hrs 34,000 BTU/hrs 27,000 BTU/hrs
1/2 110,000 BTU/hrs 76,000 BTU/hrs 61,000 BTU/hrs

 

  • The Atwood Range is max 32,000 BTU/hrs (all 3 burners and over working simultaneously), so we’re allowed 20 feet of 3/8″ O.D. copper tubing.
  • The Eccotemp shower is rated 37,000 BTU/hrs, so we’re allowed about 15 feet of 3/8″ O.D. copper tubing.
  • Bottom word: we will use 3/8″ O.D. copper tubing all over!

 

4- Leak-Free Connections

4.1- Flared Connection

This is the preferred connection type and it’s standard in North-America. Flared fittings have a 45 degrees chamfer (male or female) that seal the deal. They do not requires thread sealant or tape.

Flare-vs-Non-Flare-Fittings

 

To make a flared connection with copper tubing:

1- Cut the copper tubing with a Tubing Cutter:

Tubing Cutter
Tubing Cutter 1/4″ to 1-1/8. Buy on Amazon.

 

2- Insert the Flare Nut into the tubing:

Note: Select the appropriate flare nut according to the tubing O.D.; for example use 3/8″ O.D. flare nut with 3/8″ O.D. copper tubing.

Flared Nut
Flare Nut. Buy on Amazon.

 

3- Form the flange using a Flaring Tool:

Note: First make sure the cut it deburred; any burrs that become compressed will leak.

Flaring Tool
Flaring Tool 3/16″ to 3/4″. Buy on Amazon.

 

4- Voilà!

Flared Copper Tubing.
It should look like this!

 

4.2- Pipe (NPT) Connections

Some appliances or regulator comes with NPT connection. NPT fittings don’t have a 45 degrees chamfer (see “Not Flared” picture above). They require thread sealant (a.k.a. “DOPE”, Buy on Amazon) or yellow tape (Buy on Amazon). Do NOT use white teflon tape! It’s made for water system, so it will leak gas as it’s not thick enough.

 

4.3- Compression Fittings with Olive

These are NOT common in North-America and should be avoided! They’re mostly designed for liquid or compressed air (not gas). Note that the Propex HS2000 comes with this type of connection; that’s the only place we have one in our system…

1920px-Compression_fitting_isolating_valve_15mm_screwdriver_turn
Compression fitting with olive

 

 

5- Regulators

The tank delivers the propane at high pressure (from 100 up to 315 psi depending on temperature and elevation). However most appliances require low pressure (a.k.a “lp”): 11 Water Column (or 11 W.C.) pressure is the norm in RV systems (11 W.C. = 0.4 PSI). The role of the regulator is to deliver a stable 11 W.C. pressure to the appliances.

5.1- Single Stage Regulators

Single Stage Regulator reduces the pressure to 11 W.C. in one step. They’re more compact than two stage regulator.

Single Stage Regulator
Single Stage Regulator. Buy on Amazon.

 

5.2- Two Stage Regulators

Two Stage Regulators reduces the pressure in two steps. Compared to one stage regulators, they are better at delivering constant 11 W.C. pressure with temperature changes and as the tank pressure declines. A single stage regulator is probably fine in most case, except our Propex HS2000 heater requires a two stage regulator so this is what we went with. Two stage regulators are not significantly more expensive than one stage, so it’s not a bad idea to choose a two stage regulator…

Two Stage Regulator
Two Stage Regulator. Buy on Amazon.

 

5.3- No Regulator

Appliances that use small 1 pound bottles have their own built-in regulator. Camping stove, Mr Buddy heater, Mr Buddy BOSS shower, among others work with high pressure. They can be hooked to a propane tank with an adapter (see section 1.2.1).

 

6- Valves

For safety sake, it is recommended to install a valve (easily accessible) every time a propane line split to connect to an appliance.

Brass Gas Valve Flare
Gas Ball Valve. Buy on Amazon.

 

7- Solenoid Shut Off Valve

A solenoid shut off valve can be integrated in the propane system, near the tank, to easily shut the propane OFF when not using it. It’s a safety feature.

 

How does the Solenoid works?

The valve is OFF at all times (“normally closed”), but turns on (open) when it’s energized with 12V. As soon as the 12V is removed, the valve shuts OFF. When energized (ON), a solenoid draw a current of about 1 amp (depending on brand/model). It’s the main inconvenience of the solenoid valve: you need electrical power to get propane. But it’s actually meant to be like that; in case of an accident the electrical power would probably go OFF, so would the propane system.

 

After a few months on the road, we finally decided to add a Solenoid to our propane system

Here’s why:

  1. We had an “incident” where we turned a burner ON, by accident, just when leaving the van. Fortunately, we came back to the van shortly after.
  2. Because our tank is located inside a propane locker and it’s kind of hard to reach, we never closed the tank when driving. If we had an accident, a hose could be sectioned and propane would leak big time!
  3. If any of our appliance went bad and cough fire, we had no means of shutting the propane OFF in an instant…

 

Low Pressure Side / High Pressure Side

Most solenoid valve are meant to be installed on the low pressure side of the propane system; that is after the regulator. We like the Century Fuel’s AFC-151R solenoid shut off valve because it can be installed on the high pressure side (before the regulator) as well and its 1/4 MPT port fits directly into the inlet of our propane regulator:

afc-151 solenoid shut off valve propane
Advanced Fuel Component AFC-151R Solenoid Shut Off Valve 12V. Buy on eBay.

 

Warning: Solenoid AFC-151 relies on propane flow to cool down, therefore leaving the solenoid ON without using the propane will overheat it. Model AFC-151R is a lower current version of the solenoid and can stays ON without overheating (but will still get hot to the touch), so pick that one! To confirm you have the AFC-151R model, there should be a blue line under the coil where the leads come out.

 

8- Inline Pressure Gauge

It’s not mandatory by any means, but a pressure gauge installed in the low pressure side of the system can be a useful thing: you can quickly tell if your regulator is delivering the correct pressure. Indeed, we had a regulator that failed one day and we spent hours and hours troubleshooting our Propex heater thinking it was faulty… we installed that gauge since then:

Low Pressure Inline Propane Gauge
Kodiak Controls KC25-15″H2O Low Pressure Gauge 15″ WC. Buy on Amazon.

 

Note: Always take a reading when at least one appliance is working! (the pressure in the system is higher when it’s on “standby”)

 

 

PART B: OUR SYSTEM

9- Identifying Our Needs

Before designing or building anything, we always take the time to identify our needs. Here is what we want:

By making the list above, we know where we are heading. (we are heading to section 8- below, keep reading!)

 

10- Propane Diagram

10.1- Interactive Propane Diagram

This is an interactive diagram: click/hover on any product for more info!

FarOutRide Propane Diagram

 

10.2- High-Resolution Propane Diagram

Download a high-resolution, printable, pdf file of our propane diagram. Alright, it’s actually the same thing as the interactive diagram above, but buying this diagram and using the product links throughout this website is the best way to say thanks if we were of any help to you 🙂

 

What’s in it for you:

  • Save hundreds of hours of research;
  • Skip the “please review my diagram” on discussion forums;
  • With over 150 downloads, it’s safe to say it’s a tried-and-true design! Build your system with confidence.

What’s in it for us:

  • Buying this diagram and using the product links throughout this website is the best way to say thanks if we were of any help to you 🙂

 

WE GIVE BACK 10% OF THE STORE PROCEEDS TO THE TRAILS AND TO POW!

(Click here to learn more)

10-percent-back,-FarOutRide-Logo

 

11- Material

Propane System
Component Description Quantity Buy Link
MAIN
Propane Tank See Section 1 above 1 Amazon
Hose: Acme x 1/4″ Male NPT (1 feet) Propane tank to regulator 1 Amazon
Regulator: Two Stage, 11 W.C. It’s an horizontal regulator, so it should be horizontal! 1 Amazon
Elbow: 3/8″ Flare Male x 3/8″ MPT We used an elbow so the regulator fits into the vented locker. 1 Amazon
Hose: 3/8″ Flare Female (both sides) Regulator to Bulkhead Union 1 Amazon
Bulkhead Union Fitting: 3/8″ Flare Male (both sides) This is to go through the vented locker while keeping a tight seal. 1 eBay
Swivel: 3/8″ Female Flare (both sides) This is to connect the bulkhead fitting to a cross (or a tee). 1 Amazon
Cross: 3/8″ Male Flare (all sides) Use this if you have 3 appliances to connect. As Required Amazon
Tee: 3/8″ Male Flare (all sides) Use this if you have 2 appliances to connect. Amazon
None Use none if you only have 1 appliance to connect. (and delete the Swivel 3/8″ Female Flare as well). N/A
Solenoid Shut Off Valve 12V
Solenoid, 12V To open/close the propane remotely 1 eBay
Push-Button Switch To energize the solenoid 1 Amazon
Pigtail To wire the push-button switch 1 Amazon
90 Degrees Fitting So the regulator / solenoid assembly fit in the locker 1 Amazon
MISC: wire, terminal rings, closed end terminals, quick disconnects, silicone…
Low Pressure Gauge
Low Pressure Gauge 15″ WC Our system nominal pressure is 11″ WC, so we chose a gauge that goes up to 15″ WC. 1 Amazon
Tee, 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ NPT Female To add a new port for the gauge… 1 Amazon
3/8″ Flare Female to 1/4″ MPT To connect to the 3/8″ flared cross and bulkhead fitting 2 Amazon
1 lb Bottle Adapter (High-Pressure) -Optional-
Tee: 1/4″ FPT x 1/4″ FPT x 1/4″ MPT This is to split the line coming from the tank into two lines: one going to the regulator (low pressure), one going to the 1 lb bottle adapter (high-pressure). 1 Amazon
Adapter: 1/4 MPT x 1″-20 Male 1 Amazon
Extension Hose: 1″-20 Female to 1″-20 Male 1 Amazon
Eccotemp Hot shower (Buy on Amazon)
Gas Valve: 1/2 NPT to 3/8 Flare Male This valve connects directly to the Eccotemp. 1 Amazon
Flexible Copper Tubing: 3/8″ O.D. Length As Required Amazon
Flare Nut: 3/8″ O.D. 1 side connected to the gas valve, 1 side to the cross. 2 Amazon
Propex HS2000 Heater (dealer locator)
Flexible Copper Tubing: 1/4″ O.D. The Propex requires 1/4″ O.D. per manual! Length As Required Amazon
Flare Nut: 1/4″ O.D. 1 Amazon
Reducer: 3/8″ Female Flare to 1/4″ Male Flare This is to connect the 1/4″ copper tubing the to cross. 1 Amazon
Note that the Propex HS2000 includes a compression nut to connect the 1/4″ line to it.
Atwood Range (Buy on Amazon)
Flexible Copper Tubing: 3/8″ O.D. Length As Required Amazon
Flare Nut: 3/8″ O.D. 4 Amazon
Gas Valve: 3/8″ Flare Male (both sides) 1 Amazon

 

12- Propane Locker Build

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 tanks
Size
20 lb
Capacity
5 gal
Diameter
12.25 in
Height
17.75 in
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 (Buy on Amazon):

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 (Buy on Amazon) 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 https://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 (Buy on Amazon) 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 (Buy on Amazon) 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.

 

Below is the assembly that’s inside the propane locker:

Camper-Van-Propane-System-Regulator-Solenoid

 

It fits!

Propane Locker Regulator Solenoid Campervan

 

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

(we found a leaky connection when checking with soap; we re-applied tape and re-torqued the fitting and it solved it!)

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (22)

 

13- Solenoid Shut Off Valve Installation

There’s some propane and electrical work to do. It’s quite simple, let’s do it!

Solenoid Valve Installation Propane Van

 

Component Description Quantity Buy Link
Solenoid, 12V To open/close the propane remotely 1 eBay
Push-Button Switch To energize the solenoid 1 Amazon
Pigtail To wire the push-button switch 1 Amazon
90 Degrees Fitting So the regulator / solenoid assembly fit in the locker 1 Amazon
MISC: wire, terminal rings, closed end terminals, quick disconnects, silicone…

 

Propane

Super straightforward. The solenoid is installed directly into the regulator outlet; we installed a 90 fitting so our assembly fits into the propane locker.

Camper-Van-Propane-System-Regulator-Solenoid
Propane Locker Regulator Solenoid Campervan

 

Electrical

We went for a push-button that illuminate when ON; this way, we can’t forget to turn the propane OFF when we’re not using it:

Push-Button-Switch-On-OFF

 

We located the push-button switch at a visible place and where it’s easy to turn it ON:

 

This is how to wire the switch in a way that the LED illuminate only when it’s ON:

(We normally use butt connectors, but since there are multiple cables to connect together, we twisted the wire and used Closed Terminal End Cap)

 

We wish we could find a nice bulkhead fitting to go through the 1/2″ plywood, but we couldn’t so we just routed the wire and added silicone…

Propane Solenoid Wiring Installation

 

We used quick-disconnects (Buy on Amazon) for when we need to refill the tank:

Solenoid-Propane-Quick-Disconnects

 

When the propane is OPEN, it draws 1.2 A (solenoid and switch’s LED combined). For cooking or showering, the electrical power consumption is pretty negligible (around 1-2 Ah per day we’re guessing). When using the Propex heater, it’s a different story: if one would run the Propex all day, it would draw 29Ah daily (1.2A x 24h). That’s not negligible anymore, especially in winter when power is more scarce. In our case, we don’t use the Propex much as it is our backup plan (we prefer to use the gasoline Webasto).

-1.2A according to our Victron Monitor.

 

 

14- Monitoring the Propane Level

Our propane tank being located into the locker, it’s not exactly convenient to check the propane level. Fortunately we stumble upon the Mopeka TankCheck Sensor (Buy on Amazon): this neat device allows to monitor the level of propane from our smartphone. Nice!

 

15- Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths each year. It is invisible and odorless, so be sure to install an alarm:

AcuRite 01094M Temperature & Humidity Station (2)
Carbon monoxide alarm (top): Buy on Amazon. Temperature & Humidity station (bottom): Buy on Amazon.

 

 

ON SECOND THOUGHT


Solenoid Shut Off Valve

Our propane tank being enclosed in the propane locker, it’s not really practical to turn the valve OFF when we don’t need propane; as a result the valve is ON most of the time (OK all the time actually, except when we take a ferry). We had an occasion after getting out of the van (all doors and vents shut) we told ourselves “wait, what’s that funny smell?”; we accidentally turned a stove knob to “high” when getting out! Close call…

For extra safety, we’re thinking of adding a solenoid valve; it could be turn ON/OFF very easily by the push of a button. So each time we’re not using propane, we turn it off. We went through several online marine forum and this specific model was the most recommended:

AFC-151-Solenoid-Valve
AFC-151R High Pressure 12 Volt Solenoid Shut-Off Valve 1/4″ NPT. Buy on eBay.

UPDATE DECEMBER 2018: We finally added a solenoid and we updated our article accordingly 🙂


 

 

 

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ABOUT US

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

 

 

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79 thoughts on “Propane Build Guide for DIY Van Conversion”

  1. Greetings! Thanks for the extensive write-up. I’m buying the propane diagram for sure?

    I’m heavily modifying a Sprinter based motorhome (2006 Itaska Navion 23J) for international travel. Since I’ve eliminated some propane hogs (refrigerator, generator & furnace), I want to remove the existing LP system and install a simple, 20# bottle and system like you did. This mod will save weight and greatly facilitate LP procurement, since my current ACME 1 3/4″ fill valve isn’t common abroad. I still have a water heater, cooktop and outside grill quick connect hookup. I also have an LP conversion dual fuel kit on my Honda 2000 gas generator, but won’t be using that much.

    Question: After being on the road 2 years, what would you do differently on propane design? Or, have you incorporated these thoughts into the diagram currently on the site? Thanks so much.

    John

    • Hi John,
      The solenoid is something we added later on and, as you know, we incorporated it to our diagram. So yeah, the diagram is how we would build our propane system if we had to start over.

      The downside with our system is that the propane tank uses a considerable amount of space inside the van… there’s no perfect solution, it’s all about finding the best compromise 🙂

      Hope that helps,
      Antoine

      • Thanks Antoine,

        Your comment does help. I’m a cold weather traveler. Locating the gas bottle/regulator inside the heated envelope is a benefit that partially offsets the downside of reduced storage. More and more and especially in South America, propane comes mixed with butane. Butane is no friend of cold temperatures, so I like the bottle and regulator inside.

        Thanks and good luck.

        John

  2. Hi there! Just want to say thanks for all the awesome tutorials, I have learned so much from your posts! Quick question about the hose adapter. I am going to use a “bbq” propane tank for my camp stove and tankless water heater (similar to your water heater). Is it as simple as tank > hose > valve > water heater? Do I need a regulator? Thanks so much!

    Robyn

    • You most likely need a regulator. Check the owner manual to find out what’s the pressure required for your water heater; if it’s 11WC, you need a regulator.
      So it should look like: tank > regulator > hose > valve > water heater.

      Good luck!

  3. Wow. Awesome website and I visit it often. I’m currently working on my propane systems so, here I am tonight reading it for ideas. I also read some of the comments and wanted to share an article from the marine application regarding the solenoid placed inside the propane locker, https://www.westmarine.com/WestAdvisor/Safe-Propane-Installations. I hope this helps others too who have valid concerns of where to place the solenoid and the issue of an electrical item inside the propane locker. Thanks for sharing your amazing website and content.

  4. Hey guys,

    I was wondering how you are liking your Atwood stovetop/oven combo. The amazon reviews are kind of spotty when it comes to build quality so I wanted to hear first hand. Also did you build a heat insulated box for it or no?

  5. Hi. This may be a really stupid question but please could u explain to me the advantage of having the solenoid and regulator inside the box? If the propane vents from the tank itself and so can make that box a gas rich environment is adding a 12v appliance to that box not a potential igniter?

    • A good quality solenoid + proper connections won’t spark. Putting the regulator inside the propane locker is mandatory per ABYC regulations (marine).

      Cheers!

  6. I came across your site looking for reviews on the Propex HS2000 heater and was instantly intrigued being that your build components are exactly like what I am building (propane tank, air heater, water heater, stove, etc). That said I am debating on the Propex HS2000 or the higher output HS2800 and was wondering if your 2000 was your only source of forced air heat would it provide sufficient heat or would you step it up to the 2800? Also, if you were to build your propane system again would you consider an “underbody” tank setup instead or has your tank locker system proven to be a safe & convenient solution? Thanks for your time and your insightful efforts!

  7. I am getting ready to install propane in my van and your website has been instrumental in my learning. I bought my products through your links–thanks. I have a question. It appears that you used copper tubing from your locker to the front of the van where your appliances are. Why would you not just use a long length of propane hose from the locker to the cabinet and split there? Seems much easier. Thanks in advance for your response.

    • I’m pretty sure rubber hose is illegal inside a RV (as oppose to marine regulation); copper must be used per regulations. Because of vibrations, sharp edges and because critters like to chew on them.

      cheers!

  8. Hi Antoine,

    As always thank you for the detailed write up. If it werent for your information im not sure I would be only a few days away from finishing our build!

    Have a question however. So we have opted to go with the echo temp hot water heater out back and a camp stove in the kitchen. So where I have my question is how to you properly get the 12ft “Throwaway Threaded Hose” out of the box? If you are using a bulkhead fitting to get the LP gas line out of the box for the water heater, is there a similar idea for the “Throwaway Threaded Hose”?

    • Hi Peter,
      Our initial intention was to use the high-pressure hose occasionally only: during showers (Mr Heater BOSS), heater backup, outside cooking. Therefore we just removed the cover when we needed the hose. We didn’t have any bulkhead fitting for that, but you could probably install one.

      Good luck!

  9. Hi Isabelle & Antoine, nice job on the web site. I am using so much of your info. The “High Pressure Hose” has a 1″ connector that is connected to the system inside the box while the hose itself is substantially smaller. I cannot see on any of your picture how you ran it through the 1/2″ plywood. You must have drilled a 1+” hole and then filled the slack in the hole with something. How did you do it?

    • Our use of the high pressure hose was only occasional, so we didn’t drill any hole; when needed, we simply removed the cover of the propane locker.

      cheers!

    • I have the same thought. I’m going to use the extra hose to connect to a heater, which means I’d be running it while we slept. I’m not sure what the best way to run the hose through the wall of the box is. I certainly don’t want to leave the lid off the box all night and I can’t find any sort of bulkhead union for fittings of that size. I hope that if the hole is close enough to the top of the box and I fill the extra space with silicone, the hose will be able to move back and forth and there will be enough of a seal to hold back any potential leaks.

  10. I’m using this guide as my bible and I’ve got more questions. The two appliances I need to connect are a Mr. Heater Buddy and a fridge. Can I split the line coming from the tank, but before the regulator, and then install two bulkhead unions on the box? If so, would I need to keep the Mr. Heater connected at all times, or could I just install a valve on the outside (I don’t anticipate using the heater all that much).

    Thanks for the info!

  11. This might be the dumbest of all comments, but how did you attach the propane box to the van? I don’t see any obvious anchors or straps. Also, is there any fear of sparks into the solenoid? Any point in putting that connection from the DC wire to the solenoid on the outside of that box?

  12. You have the wrong adapter in your optional 1lb tank replacement line. As described, you end up with the 1″-20 female end of the hose at your stove which also has a female fitting! Should be using [Mr. Heater 1″-20 Male Throwaway Cylinder thread x 1/4″ Female Pipe Thread Fitting] and this tee [1/4″ FPT x 1/4″ MPT x 1/4″ MPT].

    Overall this page was extremely useful. Thank you!

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