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Old 09-13-2021, 01:19 PM   #1
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Default Propane vs No Propane

Hi Everyone. Please let me know your first hand experience and opinions.

We are between two manufacturers: American Coach (MAD) and Coachmen both would have the lithium upgrade. I won't ask about Diesel vs Gas since that is a whole other topic and my wife and I are still trying to figure that part out. My question right now is whether or not you would opt for no propane for heat and hot water. This would lead us in the direction of one manufacturer or the other. There is already talk that Coachmen will offer a no propane unit in the future but I doubt we will see it in the next 2 years.

1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?

2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.

3. On the other hand, we have heard diesel and gas furnaces are sometime finicky.

Any help is appreciated
Nic
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Old 09-13-2021, 02:57 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Potvinsux View Post
Hi Everyone. Please let me know your first hand experience and opinions.

We are between two manufacturers: American Coach (MAD) and Coachmen both would have the lithium upgrade. I won't ask about Diesel vs Gas since that is a whole other topic and my wife and I are still trying to figure that part out. My question right now is whether or not you would opt for no propane for heat and hot water. This would lead us in the direction of one manufacturer or the other. There is already talk that Coachmen will offer a no propane unit in the future but I doubt we will see it in the next 2 years.

1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?
Depends on how cold it is out and how well your rig is insulated. Certainly not very many weeks. You can easily compute running hours (making certain assumptions) by looking up the fuel consumption specs for the specific furnace and comparing it to the size of the specific propane tank (remembering that you can only fill a propane tank 80%)
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2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.
These days, Tractor Supply is often the best solution to this problem. They are everywhere. I don't know if ALL of them have propane, but most of them do.
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3. On the other hand, we have heard diesel and gas furnaces are sometime finicky.
I would say that they are finicky to install properly. There are very specific specs for fuel line and pump configuration (length, rise, mounting angle of pump, and notably diameter of tubing and standpipe. (The standpipe that MB installs at the factory is not optimal.) My upfitter installed improperly-sized fuel line (too big) and it caused problems until I had it diagnosed and fixed by a professional. Properly set up, though, they are quite robust. Learning to do DIY periodic maintenance is not very difficult.

P.S. -- not that you asked, but I wouldn't buy another diesel rig if my life depended on it.
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Old 09-13-2021, 03:43 PM   #3
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Expect two weeks between propane fill ups. In many cases heating an RV is like heating a sieve. I reduce propane use by turning the furnace off at night and using a heated mattress pad, using the stove burner to help heat in the morning.

I find the electrical drain of a heated mattress pad equals the electrical drain of the furnace blower with no propane use. A catalytic heater is a good replacement for the furnace during the day but a hassle. Do not get a catalytic heater with an oxygen sensor for high altitude use.

The problem with the propane furnace is it throws half the heat outside. The plus is they are generally problem free and work very well. Electrical cabin heat requires a generator and a location where you can use it.

There is a good argument for using the main fuel tank for the furnace. The downside is they sometimes carbon up and then where are you? Proper maintenance required.

I use propane and constantly deal with the procurement problem. I don’t have the room to carry a portable bottle.

Every location seems to have a hassle. Sometimes it is propane, sometimes water, sometimes dump, sometimes it is trash, sometimes the two week limit. You learn to live with it. I don’t stay in paid campgrounds out west but if you do the hassle is reservations.
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Old 09-13-2021, 04:53 PM   #4
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Default finding propane

I am relatively new to a (used) class b that has a propane furnace, hot water tank and stove. I had to do some research too to find a fill station locally. Find yourself on Google Map and search for propane suppliers in your area. Call around. I found in NE Ohio that the local Ace Hardware that fills portable tanks also would fill my ASME tank in camper ($2.99/gal currently). also nearby was a U-Haul rental that could fill. Seems like many newer truck stops have fill stations too.

We will never use the hot water tank for heating water. But I removed the anode rod and installed a valve and can now fill the tank so have an extra 5 gal of water on board. Just sayin'...

Furnace is a 16K btu unit with a #56 orifice. Tank is 5.9 gal that holds 4.7 actual gal of propane. I calculate it could burn for 27 hours solid (5.86 hours per gal). Thermostat cycles it on/off. That's a lot of chiily morning use. I did change the orifice to a #60 and it worked well at 10,500 ft elevation (& 34 deg) if that's of any concern. I figure the stove will use about a gal of propane in 15 days.

I have no experience with the liquid gas heaters. How do you cook? Will they work at high elevation if you have that in mind?
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Old 09-13-2021, 05:10 PM   #5
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Propane is the standard and for good reason. Readily available in most areas, check Google before you decide not available in your area.
Burns cleaner than diesel or gasoline.
Electricity is a poor choice for heating, a huge energy hog.

If your afraid of propane, then I understand but you still gave a large liquid fuel tank to fear too.
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Old 09-13-2021, 05:17 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Potvinsux View Post
My question right now is whether or not you would opt for no propane for heat and hot water. This would lead us in the direction of one manufacturer or the other.

[...]

1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?
The Truma Combi hot water/furnace in the Coachmen is very efficient (somewhere around 95%), so it'll be very stingy in it's use of propane. It's far more efficient and quiet than the conventional Suburban & Atwood furnaces and water heaters in conventional campers.

How long it lasts depends on how warm you heat in winter, and how cold the climate though. If you are camping in above freezing weather and only heating at night to a moderate temperature (62F, for example) I'd expect the onboard propane to last for at least a few weeks.

U-haul rentals and many RV dealers also fill propane.

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Old 09-13-2021, 05:45 PM   #7
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we rarely use the propane for furnace, but do use for cooker, hotwater and fridge


for our typical use boondocking, I'd estimate 2 months on a tank, maybe more




propane sold at fred meyer markets in PNW, Uhaul dealers, Flying J truck stops and rv dealers


propane is a cheap portable energy source for rv's




gas vs diesel ?


our gas chev can be fixed anywhere by anyone with parts from napa


a diesel, especially an import, may have supply lines stretching across oceans and a level of complexity ( emissions computer controls) which can "brick" your van mid-trip


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Old 09-13-2021, 07:16 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Potvinsux View Post
Hi Everyone. Please let me know your first hand experience and opinions.

We are between two manufacturers: American Coach (MAD) and Coachmen both would have the lithium upgrade. I won't ask about Diesel vs Gas since that is a whole other topic and my wife and I are still trying to figure that part out. My question right now is whether or not you would opt for no propane for heat and hot water. This would lead us in the direction of one manufacturer or the other. There is already talk that Coachmen will offer a no propane unit in the future but I doubt we will see it in the next 2 years.

1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?

2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.

3. On the other hand, we have heard diesel and gas furnaces are sometime finicky.

Any help is appreciated
Nic
Back in 2013 we built our own camper van. My decision was to go with diesel space and water heating, compressor fridge and marine alcohol stove. Today, after a few years of using our camper van I would:
Stove: I have Origo, common marine stove, purchased and killed by Dometic, no longer an option. LPG is the an easy and very common option; LPG would be a winner for us.
Fridge: Compressor based by Isotherm, absolute repeat. With 230 Ah AGM batteries and 300W of good solar panels it is not a time limiter for boondocking. Using compressor fridge eliminated need for levelling, key attribute for us. I would repeat it without any changes, including AGMs.
Space heater: Espar Airtronics diesel D2, really like the heater, very efficient, reliable, and superbly quiet. Potential repeat if I go with gasoline or diesel heating. But I would look again to Webasto Dual Top which heats water and space with one device. If I would go with LPG I would most likely go with Truma or Propex.

Water heating: I have 4 gal. Isotemp marine water heater heated by either 120VAC or by hot coolant. I generate hot coolant with diesel Espar Hydronic D5 furnace. Again, Webasto Dual Top would be an option with diesel fuel, with gasoline I would repeat the same. With LPG Truma would be a clear winner.

For me it would be a 50/50 decision:
LPG Ė stove, space and water heating - Truma, perhaps Propex/Malaga, compressor fridge.

Diesel Ė LPG or Butane stove, Webasto Dual Top, compressor fridge.

With gas powered van I would likely choose LPG, with diesel powered van either diesel or LPG.
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Old 09-13-2021, 07:33 PM   #9
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I'm very new to the camper vans, curious if anyone's ever built or converted a gasoline engine to LP. I see them growing in popularity in fleet vehicles.
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Old 09-13-2021, 10:19 PM   #10
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I'm very new to the camper vans, curious if anyone's ever built or converted a gasoline engine to LP. I see them growing in popularity in fleet vehicles.
FWIW, 20 years ago the government fleet of patrol trucks where I worked was converted to natural gas. This was a duel system allowing change over to gasoline when NG ran empty. The tank was as long as the truck bed was wide and approximately 18" in diameter. Very large considering the reduced range compared to gasoline. Using NG resulted in less power, lower MPG and longer fill time. Cold weather made everything worse. We ended up just using gasoline. That ended the experiment.
As for refueling on a trip, good luck.
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Old 09-13-2021, 10:44 PM   #11
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I'm very new to the camper vans, curious if anyone's ever built or converted a gasoline engine to LP. I see them growing in popularity in fleet vehicles.
LP conversions are/were popular in some countries in EU and Australia when LPG was costing about Ĺ of gas or diesel. Some models are factory produced with dual systems-built in. https://gazeo.com/automotive/vehicle...icle,8809.html

LP in liquid phase injection have comparable performance to gasoline.
Will LPG ever become popular in NA, more than doubtful. LPG is expensive, not much benefits and not factory produce LPG powered engines are prone to valves failures.

We travelled in France and Spain in gas/LPG powered Toyota years ago, savings were considerable. Fueling was easy in self-service automatic fill stations (no venting).
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Old 09-13-2021, 11:05 PM   #12
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We like propane and our 07 Roadtrek had propane frig, stove, water heater, and furnace plus a quick connect for the grille or camp stove. We did change to a compressor frig but that isn't propane's fault. We don't remember the last time we cooked indoors on the stovetop and rarely run the water heater. Propane is used for heat when not on shore power (electric space heater then) and for outdoor cooking. IMO, the easiest to do and works well.
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Old 09-14-2021, 01:27 AM   #13
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I recommend propane. It is very safe. We had a big tank on our old van (2001 Roadtrek) and it was easy to find places to fill, but we rarely had to fill. True, staff at some places weren't properly trained, but they usually got some propane into the tank. I would says "weeks, not days" for frequency, but we didn't use the furnace very often and the water heater never, and the Roadtrek had a larger propane tank than I've seen on some new vans. For the fridge and cooking it seemed like it would last forever. On the other hand, the fridge was finicky on propane and sometimes refused to work at all if the van wasn't perfectly level (not easy to accomplish at some camp sites).

Our current van does not have propane except for little 4 pound tanks for cooking. The gasoline furnace is finicky and noisy and sometimes smelly. It has to be exercised (run for 20 minutes) monthly, like a gasoline generator. The electric fridge is wonderful, but with my current battery situation, I have to watch the battery level more than I would like.

Why did we switch? The reason is that I had a propane leak on the Roadtrek. It is almost impossible to get something like that fixed on the road, so we had to drive for a couple of weeks with no fridge or cooking fuel. I do almost all my own maintenance but I don't do propane and it took weeks to get the leak fixed when we got home. In the meantime I developed a bit of a phobia for the big propane tank. Irrational, yes, but still there it was. Plus I wanted a van that I could work on all the systems.

There is no perfect solution (at least in our price range), but I would still recommend you get propane for at least the furnace if you figure on using it a lot. Some of the class B's I've looked at have much smaller propane tanks than our Roadtrek, to you have to figure that in as far as how long you can go before re-filling. Electric is the way to go for the fridge, unless they have improved the propane fridge as far as how level a campsite you need, but you need to evaluate the electrical system for how long the fridge can run before you need to charge the batteries. Due to all the variables (how hot it is, how much solar you can get), that's not always easy.
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Old 09-14-2021, 01:38 AM   #14
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2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.
We live in the DC area, and there are definitely places to fill. My hardware store fills tanks and U-Haul places do (at least around me). I'm not sure what your concern is about temperature, but it was never a factor when we had the Roadtrek. But then again, you can't camp in most class B vans in extremely cold weather because the water piping and tanks are exposed to the weather.
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Old 09-14-2021, 04:11 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Potvinsux View Post
Hi Everyone. Please let me know your first hand experience and opinions.

We are between two manufacturers: American Coach (MAD) and Coachmen both would have the lithium upgrade. I won't ask about Diesel vs Gas since that is a whole other topic and my wife and I are still trying to figure that part out. My question right now is whether or not you would opt for no propane for heat and hot water. This would lead us in the direction of one manufacturer or the other. There is already talk that Coachmen will offer a no propane unit in the future but I doubt we will see it in the next 2 years.

1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?

2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.

3. On the other hand, we have heard diesel and gas furnaces are sometime finicky.

Any help is appreciated
Nic
1) see: https://www.classbforum.com/forums/f...html#post88247

2) Never had a problem in the Northeast, and don't recall much in the rest of the US.

3) No personal data points, but have heard similar.
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Old 09-19-2021, 05:07 PM   #16
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The retail stores around here mostly offer trade out of portable tanks for grills. Two places that would refill a tank no longer do it. I am sure someone in town still does, but I will have to look for one the next time I need to fill mine.

I am glad it is not an issue with our RV. Finding a place in small towns out west might be a challenge. We have diesel webasto duotop furnace/hot water heater, compression fridge and electric induction cooktop (and convection/microwave oven). We can just get in the RV and go. We do a lot of traveling in cold weather, I would not want to have to worry about not having heat.
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Old 09-19-2021, 05:57 PM   #17
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Propane is readily available almost everywhere. Farm Supply, U Haul, Flying J, Propane Fill Stations. We never had an issue anywhere in The US or Canada and have had built in propane tanks in every RV we owned until now.

We currently have Webasto gasoline space heater, gasoline van, induction stove and Isotemp water heater that is heated from engine coolant and 120 v off lithium batteries. One fuel source is easier to deal with and we are happy with our current setup but I wouldn’t shy away from having propane if everything else worked in a van choice.
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Old 09-19-2021, 06:32 PM   #18
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I realize I’m not answering your specific questions... I want to weigh in on propane. It would be difficult to find something comparable to propane. It’s versatile, economical, Easily stored, doesn’t rot, burns clean, has a variety of uses, can keep your frig cool, keep you warm, heat water, run your gen, run your bbq and cook your food. Boondocking would be expensive upfront in an all electric platform. Most will never get the upfront cost back on solar/ batteries/chargers/controllers in real world use. My 2 cents worth.
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Old 09-19-2021, 07:08 PM   #19
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The truma heater/hot water system is very efficient and should give you a couple of weeks. Propane is easily filled anywhere in the country from my experience. In addition to Tractor Supply and a regional propane/heating service, truck stops like Love's and T/A refill your onboard as well. In CA, many gas stations have a dedicated pump.

Yes, it is another fuel source, but I can also use a portable camp stove from it, and run the generator, so I like having an alternative for power, heat, hot water, and cooking. YMMV
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Old 09-19-2021, 07:23 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Potvinsux View Post
1. Does anyone know how long the propane will last (approximate) in a Coachmen if boondocking in cooler weather? Are we talking days or weeks?

2. How difficult is it to refill propane in the North East? Around me in the DC metro area, I never see propane fill stations. Only stores that sell portable tanks. This is most concerning in my opinion plus the fact in colder temperatures propane will lose pressure.

3. On the other hand, we have heard diesel and gas furnaces are sometime finicky.
1) As someone pointed out, if itís the Truma Combi, which Coachmen uses a lot, itís very efficient. And quiet; nearly silent, in fact, on low fan speed. The one unit heats water and the space inside the van. You donít have to have water in it to heat the air, either, but if there is water in it (not winterized), that water is heated as the air is heated. I only fill my tank about once per year, and I use it for heat when traveling south in cold weather to visit family. It also has selectable electric/LPG, so when hooked to shore power, I use the electric elements for heat at night, after the cooking is done, to save gas. Or both electric and gas together if I need a lot of heat in a hurry.

2) Do a google search for LPG dealers. U-Haul, Tractor Supply, garden supply centers, virtually all truck stops, and many RV parks will refill your tank. Refill locations arenít usually obvious, but youíd be surprised how many there are, at least on the east coast, if you look for them.

3) LPG is stored as a liquid in a pressure vessel, with vapor above the liquid. At equilibrium, the pressure in the tank only depends on the temperature of the contents. At 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure is about 25 psi, while at 110F, itís a little over 200 psi. The regulator cuts it down to about 11Ē water column, or about 0.4 psi, for use in cooktops and furnaces and such.

As you vent the gas off the top, the pressure in the tank drops, and the liquid evaporates to take its place, absorbing heat from the outside, which is why the tanks and regulators get cold. In extreme cold, and especially if the liquid level gets very low, the resulting pressure may get low enough that the flow slows, so in real cold weather, itís best to keep it close to full (more surface area of tank in contact with the liquid). But itís got to be pretty darn cold for a fuel sipper like the Truma to not get enough gas.

Lastly, Truma says to not put antifreeze in the unit, probably because it heats the water whenever itís heating air and I guess youíre not supposed to heat RV antifreeze. My van didnít have bypass valves for the Combi, so I added them myself. I drain it and the fresh water tank down, set the bypass valves, then flush RV antifreeze through the whole system except for the Truma. We travel in freezing weather by flushing the toilet with antifreeze, until weíre far enough south to use water. Then I flush the remaining antifreeze out of the lines and fill the fresh tank with water.

I do the reverse on the road easily using a clear suction hose on the city water connection and a couple of gallons of antifreeze, pulled in by the pump.
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