Propane System Design Guide for DIY Van Conversion

Propane System Design Guide for DIY Van Conversion

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

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!

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-FarOutRide-Isabelle-Antoine-Van

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 remotely1Amazon
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 lasts 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 shrinks 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 bottles (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 a “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).

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
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 spark 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).

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
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).

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 eBay
22 Pound Vertical 22 5.24 12 22.5 12 33 Amazon
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 require re-certification, as opposed to DOT specs that requires re-certification after 10 years initially and then every 5 years. Therefore, if we were to install an underbody tank, we would choose a tank built to the ASME standard…
  • On a side note: portable tanks (such as BBQ tanks) are all built to the 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).

Description Capacity (gal) Diameter (in) Length (in) Empty Weight (lb) Buy Link
7.9 gallon ASME 7.9 10 32 52 Campervan-HQ
11.2 gallon ASME 11.28 12 32 72 Campervan-HQ
16.3 gallon ASME 16.36 14 40 81 Campervan-HQ
DescriptionDiameter (in)Length (in)Buy Link
7.9 gallon ASME1032Campervan-HQ
11.2 gallon ASME1232Campervan-HQ
16.3 gallon ASME1440Campervan-HQ

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!

A quick word about the locker access door:

  1. Propane is heavier than air and will “pool” (sink) to the bottom of the locker.
  2. It is REALLY HARD to make an access door that’s 100% sealed.

Because of A+B, the propane locker should be top loading. It’s an extra safety measure to minimize the risk. Indeed, if the access door leaks, propane will leak through the door instead of being evacuated through the vent! We see more and more side-loading propane lockers on YouTube and social networks, and that makes us a bit nervous. Even if it is more convenient, a side-loading propane locker is not ABYC compliant. Vans don’t actually need to comply with ABYC, but we see them as having THE highest safety standards; therefore, we like to stick to them.

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 (aka “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 regulators.

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 cases, but our Propex HS2000 heater requires a two stage regulator, so that is what we used. 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 stoves, Mr. Buddy heaters, Mr Buddy BOSS showers, 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

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

Use flexible copper tubing with flared fittings. It’s resistant to vibration and sharp edges, and it doesn’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/hrs)

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 has a max of 32,000 BTU/hrs (all 3 burners and oven 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 line: we will use 3/8″ O.D. copper tubing all over! It should be alright for most van installation…

6.3- Bending Tubing

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 they restrict the flow of gas). It can be prevented, you guessed it, by using the proper tool for the job:

7.1- Flared connections

Flared connections are the preferred type, and they are standard in North-America. Flared fittings have a 45 degree chamfer (male or female) that seal the deal. They do not require 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 is deburred; any burrs that become compressed will leak.

4- Voilà!
Flared Tubing

It should look like this!

7.2- Pipe (NPT) conneCtions

Some appliances or regulators come with NPT connections. NPT fittings don’t have a 45 degree chamfer (see “Not Flared” picture). They require thread sealant (aka “DOPE”, Buy on Amazon) or yellow tape (Buy on Amazon). Do NOT use white Teflon tape! It’s made for water systems, 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, we recommended installing a valve (easily accessible) every place the propane line splits to connect to an appliance.

8.2- Solenoid valve

A solenoid shut off valve can be added to the propane system, near the tank, to easily shut the propane OFF when not in use. 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 draws 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 valves 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 need constant power to remain ON (open), and, therefore, they get really hot to the touch. They rely 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!
  • Wiring: there is no polarity. In other words, you can connect the positive (+) and negative (-) to any wire of the solenoid.

9- Pressure Gauge

It’s not mandatory by any means, but a pressure gauge installed on 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 have 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 read 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 connection 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 our propane only temporarily for short periods 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 heavier than air, it will collect near the floor).

10.3- Carbon monoxide alarm

We initially had a carbon monoxide alarm without a 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 blends perfectly with the decor in our van:

  • Mount it near the ceiling.

11.1- Wireless sensor for smartphone

Our propane tank is located inside the locker, so it’s not exactly convenient to check the propane level. Fortunately, we stumbled upon the Mopeka TankCheck Sensor (Buy on Amazon): this neat device allows us 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 the propane tank level with the appropriate sensors.

Sensor for vertical tank

Vertical tanks don't have a 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 a 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 calls for (some info here).

A quick word about the locker access door:

  1. Propane is heavier than air and will “pool” (sink) at the bottom of the locker.
  2. It is REALLY HARD to make an access door that’s 100% sealed.

Because of A+B, the propane locker should be top loading. It’s an extra safety measure to minimize the risk. Indeed, if the access door leaks, propane will leak through the door instead of being evacuated through the vent! We see more and more side-loading propane lockers on YouTube and social networks, and that makes us a bit nervous. Even if it is more convenient, a side-loading propane locker is not ABYC compliant. Vans don’t actually need to comply with ABYC, but we see them as having THE highest safety standards; therefore, we like to stick to them.

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 call for a minimum of ¾” (inside diameter) pipe to ensure proper venting, so we will use that. The ¾” PVC pipe fits 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 seal:

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” to the bottom…

propane locker bulkhead fitting

Oops… 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 in 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 is 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 illuminates 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 illuminates only when it’s ON:

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 we 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 lasts 2 months on average (without using the Propex), that’s plenty! 
  • Regulator: We went through 2 Camco regulators, and after some research, we discovered others are having the same issue. This thing doesn’t last more than a year… So we switched to the Marshall regulator (amzn.to/2U2btBK), and it’s all good now 🙂
  • That’s it for now.

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About-Us-Narrow

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!

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

Heads up! As of summer 2021, we are currently travelling to Yukon (and hopefully Alaska) and have very limited access to Internet. As a result, we might not be able to answer all comments. Thanks for understanding and see you on the road! -Isabelle and Antoine

  1. Hi there,

    I’m curious about the MLV layer placed underneath the propane locker. Can you explain why that’s necessary?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. I’m building my propane locker same as yours and mounting it in the same place. Any chance of getting the dimensions of where you drilled the holes in both the van floor and the locker? It’s hard to judge from the pics. Love your website, constantly referring to it for ideas and info. thanks

    Reply
  3. Need to run lines from my undermount tank to a Truma heater and Dometic cook top. Dometic already has a regulator, Truma does not. What are my options?

    A: Run two lines from the tank under the van, one with regulator right after tank to Truma, one without to Dometic.
    B: Run one line from the tank under the van and install a regulator right after a T going to Truma and the other side of the T without regulator going to Dometic.

    The tank is mounted in the back of the van (Transit LWB) and I would have app a 5ft run underneath the van and then penetrate through the flooring into my cabinetry where I would install a T.
    Any other suggestions?
    Your LPG section is an amazing resource, as is your whole website! 😉

    Reply
  4. Hello. Great info here, thank you. Question: If I plan to always turn my propane tank on and off by the knob on the tank will I still need a solenoid? Or is that mainly a convenience thing? Hope to hear from you.

    Reply
    • The solenoid is useful to turn the propane ON/OFF remotely. If you can easily access your tank, you probably don’t need the solenoid!

      Cheers,
      antoine

      Reply
  5. Hi Antoine,
    Great site – thank you!
    Re: hot water, could the Eccotemp supply hot water for both the kitchen sink and rear shower by:

    freshwater tank through pump/accumulator to Eccotemp then out to split:
    zone 1 = shower
    zone 2 = sink
    Do you think any other modifications would be necessary (additional pump, etc.)? Thanks for your thoughts on this!

    Reply
  6. First of all, thank you for the detail of your build! You have really changed the game of DIY camper vans. On the solenoid, since it has no polarity are your wires tied into one disconnect (combine pos/neg at the terminal)? And that is the case on each side?

    Reply
    • Not sure what you are meaning by “wires tied into one disconnect” but you should never combine pos/neg at any point in your circuitry… that is a short circuit.

      “No polarity” just means that it doesn’t matter which wire of the solenoid connects to + and -. You can connect either wire to either terminal, just as long as they are appropriately separated wired like all your other electronics 🙂

      Reply
  7. Hello happy couple:
    I was looking at your LPG connections; very nice! Could it be possible to go from the LPG tank, through the bulkhead connection, at full LPG tank pressure and place the regulator attached to the wall or other structure? I am planning in using an outdoor stove which needs unregulated supply, and would be better to have the possibility of placing a Tee in a place more accessible.

    Thanks for any input.

    Reply
    • I just read the National Fire Prevention Assoc code for RVs: bad idea. All propane inside an RV is to be LOW PRESSURE.

      Post a reply to myself in case someone has the same “brilliant” idea.

      Reply
  8. I built a wicked cool camper in 2017, but just stumbled across your site when researching heaters. I’m blown away on how much work and detail you guys have put into this website. Amazing!!! Having been on a couple of open ended, multi-year travel adventures myself, I know how addictive that kind of freedom is. To my questions…I almost ordered the Webasto heater (size, quality, already given fuel supply from the huge gas tank) but then decided on the Propex since the Webasto seems more high maintenance and especially because it seems to struggle with elevation. Even if “adjusted for elevation” it is only good for a few thousand feet. Have you guys used it much above 6000 feet?
    Also, the low gas pressure in the US (11″ water column) seems to be lower than what the Propex specifications say (30 mbar = 12+” water column). Wondering if you know if there is a modification for the Propex heaters sold in the US or if the lower pressure causes reduced heating performance? Thanks. Happy travels!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      I believe the Propex sold IN the US are adjusted for 11 WC, so there is nothing to do.

      The new Espar heaters have built-in altitude sensor, I think we would go with that if we had to start over!

      Reply
  9. This was a well-presented article, and it addresses a similar problem we are trying to solve on our van. After looking at the propane water heater, as best as I can tell the 20# propane tank connects directly to the heater. You have this running through the regulator, and then to the water heater. Did you remove an internal regulator on the water heater? Thank you.

    Reply
  10. What a great collection of details!

    I am in the process of rebuilding a gooseneck toy hauler (originally a horse trailer). I will be using manhy of your good ideas.

    Reply
  11. Hi,

    I was wondering why there wasn’t a shut-off valve on the Propex, as you have them on the lines to the range and H2O heater?

    Thank you for all the helpful information and very thorough write-up!

    Reply
  12. I followed your diagram to a tee, with the exception of using rubber propane hoses with 3/8 female flare ends. I felt better about its flexibility than the danger of bending copper lines accidentally over time… I’m a little (a lot) heavy handed. Otherwise, your directions are killer. I built the locker with the vent the same way and it works perfectly!

    Reply
  13. Bonjour
    Votre site est vraiment bien fait, une belle source d’inspiration. Pour le propane, mon assureur exige que ce soit fait par un professionnel certifié. Vous n’avez pas eu ce genre d’exigence pour assurer votre véhicule?

    Reply
      • Après vérification avec mon assureur, le système au propane devait être vérifié par un professionnel s’il était permanent. Donc, si je deconnectais la bonbonne lorsque je conduisais, mon assureur considère que je transporte une bonbonne ce qui est légal. Un peu contraignant pout un fulltime, mais pas si pire quelques semaines/fin de semaines par année !

        Reply
  14. Thanks so much for making all of this content! It’s so helpful! I started to build out my propane system, but I can’t find a flare cross anywhere. Would it work to use 2 Ts instead? I’m connecting a propex, a water heater, and a wedgwood oven/stove. I wasn’t sure if using Ts would impact flow or something?

    Thanks so much!

    Reply

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