Propane System Design Guide for DIY Van Conversion

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

Propane System Design Guide for DIY Van Conversion

Welcome to our Propane System Design Guide! We personally decided to go with propane in our van because propane packs WAY more energy than a battery: for example, our BBQ tank gives us two months of cooking and hot showers before we have to refill it, while a battery would have to be recharged after only a few hours and would require costly upgrades just to make it work… For full time vanlife like we’re doing, it’s a no brainer. In the following guide, we will build our knowledge so we can design and build a safe propane system. Keep reading!

LAST UPDATE: APRIL 2020

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a product link and buy anything from the merchant (Amazon, eBay, etc.) we will receive a commission fee. The price you pay remains the same, affiliate link or not.

Portrait

1- Campervan Propane System In A Nutshell

The Atwood range, hot shower and Propex heater are appliances that run on propane in our van:

1.1- Propane System Diagram

Hover your mouse on components to learn more and click to follow the link!
Tap on components to learn more!

1.2- Items List

ComponentDescriptionQuantityBuy Link
MAIN
Propane TankSee “Propane Tank” section1Amazon
Hose: Acme x 1/4″ Male NPT (1 feet)Propane tank to regulator1Amazon
Regulator: Two Stage, 11 W.C.It’s an horizontal regulator, so it should be horizontal!1Amazon
Elbow: 3/8″ Flare Male x 3/8″ MPTWe used an elbow so the regulator fits into the vented locker.1Amazon
Hose: 3/8″ Flare Female (both sides)Regulator to Bulkhead Union1Amazon
Bulkhead Union Fitting: 3/8″ Flare Male (both sides)This is to go through the vented locker while keeping a tight seal.1Amazon
Swivel: 3/8″ Female Flare (both sides)This is to connect the bulkhead fitting to a cross (or a tee).1Amazon
Cross: 3/8″ Male Flare (all sides)Use this if you have 3 appliances to connect.As RequiredAmazon
Tee: 3/8″ Male Flare (all sides)Use this if you have 2 appliances to connect.Amazon
NoneUse 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, 12VTo open/close the propane remotely1eBay
Push-Button SwitchTo energize the solenoid1Amazon
PigtailTo wire the push-button switch1Amazon
90 Degrees FittingSo the regulator / solenoid assembly fit in the locker1Amazon
MISC: wire, terminal rings, closed end terminals, quick disconnects, silicone…
Low Pressure Gauge
Low Pressure Gauge 15″ WCOur system nominal pressure is 11″ WC, so we chose a gauge that goes up to 15″ WC.1Amazon
Tee, 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ NPT FemaleTo add a new port for the gauge…1Amazon
3/8″ Flare Female to 1/4″ MPTTo connect to the 3/8″ flared cross and bulkhead fitting2Amazon
1 lb Bottle Adapter (High-Pressure) -Optional-
Tee: 1/4″ FPT x 1/4″ FPT x 1/4″ MPTThis 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).1Amazon
Adapter: 1/4 MPT x 1″-20 Male 1Amazon
Extension Hose: 1″-20 Female to 1″-20 Male 1Amazon
Eccotemp Hot shower (Buy on Amazon)
Gas Valve: 1/2 NPT to 3/8 Flare MaleThis valve connects directly to the Eccotemp.1Amazon
Flexible Copper Tubing: 3/8″ O.D. Length As RequiredAmazon
Flare Nut: 3/8″ O.D.1 side connected to the gas valve, 1 side to the cross.2Amazon
Propex HS2000 Heater (dealer locator)
Flexible Copper Tubing: 1/4″ O.D.The Propex requires 1/4″ O.D. per manual!Length As RequiredAmazon
Flare Nut: 1/4″ O.D. 1Amazon
Reducer: 3/8″ Female Flare to 1/4″ Male FlareThis is to connect the 1/4″ copper tubing the to cross.1Amazon
 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 RequiredAmazon
Flare Nut: 3/8″ O.D. 4Amazon
Gas Valve: 3/8″ Flare Male (both sides) 1Amazon

2- The cost of going all electric (no propane)

2.1- Propane Pros & Cons

Working on it. Coming soon!
Sketchy Clock

2.2- All electric VS propane cost comparison

Working on it. Coming soon!
Sketchy Clock

3.1- What size?

Choosing the right propane tank size 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 a decision, 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 using 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 a lot if we use the Propex.

3.2- Tank Types

3.2.1- Disposable bottle

The 1 pound disposable bottles are OK for occasional camping trips, but expensive and not environmentally friendly in the long run…

Here’s a tip: Any appliance that normally requires small camping propane bottle (camp stove, Mr Heater Buddy, etc.) can be used with a larger tank (5, 11, 20 pound), thanks to the following adapter. One side connects directly to the propane tank, the other side connects directly to the appliance. No regulator needed. It’s much more economical!

3.2.2- Steel Propane Tank

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

Propane Tank 20 Pound Steel

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

* 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).

DescriptionCapacity (lb)Capacity (gal)Diameter (in)Height (in)Empty Weight (lb)Full Weight (lb)Buy Link
5 Pound Vertical**5*1.29121015Amazon
11 Pound Vertical11*2.612.212.41425Amazon
11 Pound Vertical11*2.69.25171425Amazon
20 Pound Vertical20*4.612.2517.751838Amazon
DescriptionDiameter (in)Height (in)Buy Link
5 Pound Vertical**912Amazon
11 Pound Vertical12.212.4Amazon
11 Pound Vertical9.2517Amazon
20 Pound Vertical12.2517.75Amazon

3.2.3- Aluminum Propane Tank

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

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

They’re easy to find in 10 or 20 pound. Here are some common specifications:

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

DescriptionCapacity (lb)Capacity (gal)Diameter (in)Height (in)Empty Weight (lb)Full Weight (lb)Buy Link
10 Pound Vertical102.310.516.49.519Amazon
20 Pound Vertical204.612.320.71332eBay
DescriptionDiameter (in)Height (in)Buy Link
10 Pound Vertical10.516.4Amazon
20 Pound Vertical12.320.7eBay

3.2.4- 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, some people reported that it makes it harder to re-fill or re-certify.

They’re easy to find in 11, 17 or 22 pound. Here are some common specifications:

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

DescriptionCapacity (lb)Capacity (gal)Diameter (in)Height (in)Empty Weight (lb)Full Weight (lb)Buy Link
11 Pound Vertical1112.61215.18.619eBay
17 Pound Vertical1741218.310.227eBay
22 Pound Vertical225.241222.51233Amazon
DescriptionDiameter (in)Height (in)Buy Link
11 Pound Vertical1215.1eBay
17 Pound Vertical1218.3eBay
22 Pound Vertical1222.5Amazon

3.2.5- 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, if we were to install an underbody tank, 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 underbody 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

* ASME tanks don’t require to be re-certified (permanent).

DescriptionCapacity (gal)Diameter (in)Length (in)Empty Weight (lb)Buy Link
7.9 gallon ASME7.9103252Amazon
11.2 gallon ASME11.28123272Amazon
16.3 gallon ASME16.36144081Amazon
DescriptionDiameter (in)Length (in)Buy Link
7.9 gallon ASME1032Amazon
11.2 gallon ASME1232Amazon
16.3 gallon ASME1440Amazon

4- Vented Tank Locker

The pressure inside a tank increases with higher temperature and/or elevation. Too much pressure can also be the result of overfilling the tank. If the pressure becomes too high for the tank’s capacity, excessive pressure will be released through the pressure relief valve. Note that even if the tank’s main valve is completely shut, the pressure relief valve can still release pressure.

Because of the greenhouse effect and because of the change in elevation (when driving), a tank located inside a van is subject to large pressure variation. That’s why we built a vented propane locker to store our propane tank in our van. If the tank was to release pressure, it would be evacuated outside the van!

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). Law or not, for us it just made sense to build a vented propane locker!

5- Regulator

A 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 Regulator

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

5.2- Two Stage Regulator

A two stage regulator 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…

5.3- High Pressure (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 full-size propane tank (5#, 11#, 20#, etc.) with an adapter:

6.1- Tubing Material

It is not recommended to 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).

6.2- Tubing 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)
102030
3/849,000 BTU/hrs34,000 BTU/hrs27,000 BTU/hrs
1/2110,000 BTU/hrs76,000 BTU/hrs61,000 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! It should be alright for most van installation…

6.3- Tubing Bending

Bending the tubing by hand is “OK” (but not ideal) for light bends, but it will most likely create “kinks” for anything more than 45 degrees (kinks are bad because it restricts the flow of gas). It can be prevented, you guessed it, by using the proper tool for the job:

7.1- Flared connections

Flared connection is the preferred 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
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.

3- Form the flange using a Flaring Tool:
Flaring Tool

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

4- Voilà!
Flared Tubing

It should look like this!

7.2- Pipe (NPT) connetions

Some appliances or regulators comes with NPT connection. NPT fittings don’t have a 45 degrees chamfer (see “Not Flared” picture). 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.

Flare-vs-Non-Flare-Fittings

7.3- 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

8.1- Manual valve

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

8.2- Solenoid valve

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

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 take up to 312 PSI, so 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:

READ THIS: Solenoids needs constant power to remain ON (open) and therefore they get really hot to the touch. They relie on propane flow to cool down, so leaving it ON without using propane will make them even hotter. We get a lot of emails about that… So yeah, it is normal for the solenoid to get very hot!

9- Pressure Gauge

It’s not mandatory by any means, but a pressure gauge installed in the low pressure side (after the regulator) 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 (Camco brand) and we spent hours and hours troubleshooting our Propex heater thinking it was faulty… we installed that gauge since then:

Note: Always take a reading when at least one appliance is running (dynamic pressure)! Static pressure (no appliance running) will always reads higher than 11 WC…

 

10.1- Checking for leaks

Propane manufacturers add a distinctive skunk or rotten egg smell to propane so you are able to detect right away if there is a major leak. That being said, after installing your propane system, you MUST validate that there are no leaks. To do so, pressurize your system (turn all the valves / solenoid ON) and apply soapy water to each fitting; in other words, on every connections in your system. If there is a leak, you will see bubbles forming.

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (22)

10.2- Gas Detector

Because we turn ON propane only temporarily for short period of time (using our solenoid), we personally don’t have a gas detector. However here’s an option if it makes you feel better:

  • This is to detect un-burned gas/propane; in other words, to detect leaks in your system.
  • Mount it near the floor (because gas/propane is lighter than air, it will collect near the floor).

10.3- Carbon monoxide alarm

We initially had a carbon monoxide alarm without digital reading, so nothing was telling us that it actually worked… We upgraded for this one for peace of mind:

  • This is to detect carbon monoxide (CO), resulting from propane combustion. 
  • Mount it near the ceiling or floor (because carbon monoxide is almost the same density as air, it will disperse evenly throughout the air in a room.)

10.4- Smoke Detector

The first Alert P1010 smoke detector is tiny and blend perfectly with the decor in our van:

  • Mount it near the ceiling.

11.1- Wireless sensor for smartphone

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!

11.2- Tank monitoring for Simarine Pico

We personally use the Simarine Pico to monitor the battery bank (%, solar input, etc), tank level (fresh, grey, Nature’s Head) & temperatures (in, out, fridge, battery, etc). It is possible to add propane tank level with the appropriate sensors.

Sensor for vertical tank

Vertical tanks don't have provision to add a sensor, but this sensor attaches magnetically to the bottom of a steel tank and makes it possible to read the level of the tank. Note that you must purchase the sensor AND the pre-processor:

Sensor for underbody tank

The ASME Manchester tanks that we recommend have provision for a level sensor. The sensor output is resistance (not voltage), which can be read by a Simarine module:

12.1- Vented 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 for a few common propane tanks:

Propane Tank Dimensions

DESCRIPTIONSIZEDIAMETERHEIGHT
WORTHINGTON TANK
Steel, Vertical20 lbs12.25in17.75in
Aluminum, Vertical20 lbs12.25in20.6in
MANCHESTER TANK
Steel, Vertical20 lbs12.16in17.56in
Aluminum, Vertical20 lbs12.28in20.7in

And here are the interior dimensions of our propane locker:

Propane-locker-3D-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 edges 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 it using a 1″-5/8 diameter hole saw (Buy on Amazon):

Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (8)
It's a drill.
Propane System Installation Camper Van Conversion (9)
It's a hole.

As usual, we must now sand the bare metal 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 picture sorry, so here is a dancing banana instead:

dancing banana

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

locker-build-van-conversion

And we applied Silicone II (Buy on Amazon) around the pipe inside and outside the van to ensure that no water can ingress in between the floor layers (do not use Silicone I on metal because it’s acidic and might promote rust, while Silicone II on the other hand is neutral and safe for metal)!

Propane locker build van conversion
Inside.
Propane-System-Installation-Camper-Van-Conversion-(20)
Outside.

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)

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. It is simply press-fitted into the ¾” PVC pipe:

Elbow
PVC Elbow

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…

propane locker bulkhead fitting

Oups… we installed the fitting towards the center and it’s in the way when we remove the tank! We relocated the bulkhead fitting towards the outside shortly after (not shown on the picture).

vented propane locker van build conversion

A rubber washer was installed outside & inside to ensure a good seal:

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

A self-adhesive neoprene seal (Buy on Amazon) was added on the cover to ensure sealing:

Vented-Propane-Locker-DIY-Cover

And finally, we added latches (Buy on Amazon) so the cover can be easily taken off:

Be aware that screwing parallel through the plywood’s 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.

DIY-Propane-Locker-Campervan-Vented-Sealed

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

Camper-Van-Propane-System-Regulator-Solenoid (300px)
Propane Locker Regulator Solenoid Campervan

12.2- Solenoid Valve Installation

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

Solenoid Valve Installation Propane Van

Propane.

The solenoid is installed directly into the regulator outlet; we installed a 90° fitting so our assembly fits into the propane locker. (Don’t forget to use yellow tape on the threads!)

Camper-Van-Propane-System-Regulator-Solenoid (300px)
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:

propane solenoid switch location

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

Solenoid Propane Switch Wiring

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 to seal it…

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 1.2A (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).

propane solenoid and switch current consumption

13- On Second Thought...

  • Overall: The design we came up with works as intended, awesome!
  • Tank size: Our 20lb tank last 2 months on average (without using the Propex), that’s plenty! 
  • Regulator: We went through 2 Camco regulators and after some research, others are having the same issue. This thing doesn’t last more than a year… So we switched to the Marshall regulator and it’s all good now 🙂
  • That’s it for now.

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about us

Nice To Meet You.

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!

110 thoughts on “Propane System Design Guide for DIY Van Conversion”

  1. Did you consider a solenoid switch with some sort of auto shut-off after a delay? I am sure I’d forget to turn the propane switch off at some point and aside from being less safe it would put extra load on the battery. I think it might be a good idea but can’t find any products that seem to do just this. A mechanical knob switch like some people have for bathroom fans might work but I like the rocker switch and light, and am also thinking there might be a reason this is not done.

    Reply
  2. Hi

    I am building out a 2019 Ford Transit just like your unit. I have used your electrical diagram extensively as well as the propane diagram. I paid for both and have bought everything through the Amazon links. Thanks so much. You are a great resource. Did you use a 120 volt fuse block to distribute your power from the inverter to your receptacles/loads? If so can you give me a link? I have a 2200 watt inverter that powers a 1800 watt induction cooktop and a couple receptacles for the laptop and misc. small appliances? Thanks so much Tim

    Reply
    • We only installed one 120V outlet, so we didn’t use a distribution panel; we kept things simple:

      We bought an heavy-duty extension cord (such as https://amzn.to/2T86Bgf) and plugged it into the inverter outlet. Then we cut the other end of the extension cord and connected it to a 120V outlet (https://amzn.to/2XpFgoe). We didn’t add a fuse/breaker, as we rely on the one built-in inside the inverter. That’s it! If you do this, just make sure to choose an extension cable and an outlet that are rated for higher current than your inverter max current (10A vs 15A vs 20A, etc).

      Have a good day!

      Reply
  3. Hey! Thanks again!..Wondering how you lined up the PVC pipe from the locker to the PVC pipe thru the floor? Dont want to wing it when cutting thru the floor haha

    Reply
  4. Ive followed your guide pretty much to the tee, other then some elbows.. ive bought the recommended solonoid, I bought the recommended 2 stage regulator, and I bought the recommended pressure gauge. I then cross branch off to an oven, a Girard water heater and a suburban furnace. I completed all of my connections and was in the stage of leak testing the system and noticed my pressure gauge was reading 15+” so I’m wondering how to test if my regulator is supplying too much propane, or if my gauge is mis reading. What do you suggest my next move is?

    Reply
    • Is your ready static? It is normal to read 15+ when you’re not using any appliance. So make sure to run at least run something (like the furnace) and THEN take your reading.

      Let me know,
      antoine

      Reply
      • I tried running my stove because it has an additional little regulator in it and I left like that would combat against too much pressure. The pressure gauge went from 1/4inch from the pin (past 15″) and when I opened up a burner and lit it, there was only a second of dropped pressure (still over 15″) but then went right back up to well over 15″. I tried this with one, then two, then all three burners and the same thing happened. I don’t want to test it on the furnace because it says on it 10WC and on my water heater it says 14WC MAX. Is there any potential that these appliances could be damaged but having this amount of pressure? Any suggestions? Is it the regulator? I bought the one you suggest in your blog post but other then it stating it’s “ideally suited for high demand RV, outdoor appliances, cabins, seasonal homes, gas fire places, water heaters, ranges or other moderate to low demand domestic home installations.” I don’t see it stating the WCs anywhere. What do you think?

        Reply
  5. have you heard of using a new gas flex connection kit for connect to propane tanks? I wondered if this was just as quality of an option as doing copper tubing.

    Reply
  6. Antoine,
    Thanks for your diagrams of which I have purchased three. I purchased a Propex HS 2211 and am studying your diagram as I prepare to install it. The HS 2211 (like the HS 2000) specifies a 5/16″ pipe but allows you to use 1/4″ “with an adaptor”. I am having troubling finding a 3/8″ to 5/16″ reducer so I will use a 1/4″ pipe as you did. Can you tell me what adaptor you had to use to connect the 1/4″ pipe into the Propex heater?

    Reply
  7. Hi Antoine,
    As always, I love your detailed post! I have a question…

    I’m using a Camp Chef camping stove rated at max 40,000 BTU/hr. But it normally runs off of 1lb cylinders. I see you have an adapter hose that goes straight to the propane box, but that wouldn’t work in my setup because the propane is going to be stored too far away (I have a bus conversion, not a van conversion). Am I able to run high pressure propane through copper tubing to add a connection closer to my stove that I can connect to? And if so, does the formula for calculating what size tubing change if I’m using high pressure? If I can’t run high pressure through copper tubing, is there a safe way to get the propane to my stove, or do I need to rework my entire plan to get the propane locker closer to the stove? Also, why is a rubber tube acceptable when using an adapter, but not for everything else?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  8. Hi Guys,

    I am a little curious why you do not include or have a propane alarm. It’s pretty standard on RV insulations, and I don’t think it uses too much power, less than 100 mA or something like that. Would have warned you of your propane incident, where the knob was bumped.

    Or is it in some other category and I just missed it!

    You have power to that side one the van, you could just use the live lead for the propane solenoid. Actually, you could even control it with that switch, as the propane is unlikely to alarm when the tank is shut off.

    The other thing, did you mention how you did your copper tubing bends? I am filling mine with salt…

    Cheers,

    Don

    Reply
  9. Addendum to previous post: If you are using the cool Ulincos switch that Antoine suggested, you need a larger amp bulb, like an old incandescent brake light or rear light bulb, which draw about 2 amps at a full 12V I think. The small amp bulbs won’t allow enuf current to activate the blue light in the Ulincos switch. (but if you wish to save your battery…)

    The voltage drop over the brake light (in series with the solenoid) is about 2.5 V, so the real amps in this case is less than 0.5 A. And the voltage across the solenoid is about 9 or 10 volts, which is why it doesnt heat up.

    Reply
  10. For all who worry about the solenoid getting warm or hot: put a 12 V incandescent light in series (not parallel!) with the solenoid, a little dash light is best. Incandescent lights have almost no resistance when cool, so when you flip on the solenoid, you have full voltage to pull the solenoid switch open. Then, when the light gets hot, the light becomes a resistor and the voltage to the solenoid is dropped; that’s okay, it doesn’t need full voltage to remain open. And your solenoid will stay cool as a cucumber.

    In terms of power use, I think the light/solenoid uses less power than running the solenoid by itself. (Based on first principles; I haven’t actually checked.)

    I put my light outside the locker at the back of the van so when I want to play with the propane, I can see if the switch is on or off.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  11. To respond to Richard….
    I found a really nice bulkhead fitting on Amazon that allows you to pass a hose through it: Trident Marine 1438-8439 L.P. Gas Straight Thru Fitting, 1/2″

    Also, a question: I am routing my Propex heater duct through the kitchen cabinet, right alongside of my 10 gal plastic fresh water tank. Form your experience, does the duct get hot enough to warm up that cabinet enough to prevent my water from freezing? If not, what are you guys using to keep water from freezing?

    Thanks again for all you’ve shared with everyone!

    Reply
  12. Hi A,

    I haven’t checked through the comments carefully, but I am pretty sure you used a 1 1/4″ pipe (ID) in the floor not a 1″. You haf to hammer a 3/4″ pipe into a 1″ and the 1″ pipe sometimes split. In any case, it does not go in easily. Furthermore, a 1″ pipe would fall right out of a 1 5/8″ hole, but you said you had to force it a little. A 1 1/4″ pipe has an OD of 1.66″, and that would sort of fit. You should measure it if it’s not too wet.

    -d

    PS, liked your new van drawings!

    Reply

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