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Caravanning Now - Which type of Gas should I be using?
by David Thornber
What is LPG and how does it work?
Liquefied Petroleum Gas (or LPG) is commonly used in caravanning for cooking, heating, and where no other power source is available, running the fridge. Petroleum gas is created as part of the process of refining crude oil - it is collected and compressed into a liquid before being bottled. The LPG will remain in its liquid form for as long as it is held under sufficient pressure. If that pressure is lowered (i.e. some gas is drawn off) an amount of the liquid will boil into gas until the pressure is restored. In some applications, the LPG is drawn from the bottle and used in its liquid state, however for most (including caravan gas appliances) it is allowed to boil and then used in its gaseous state.
What are the safety considerations?
As with any flammable gas, there is a serious risk of explosion in
the event of an LPG leak. As the gas itself is colourless and odourless,
a small amount of 'stenching agent' is added so that the leak is likely
to be detected by smell.
While it is not actually illegal to tow a caravan with gas appliances lit, it is illegal to enter certain areas (such as tunnels or petrol station forecourts) with any kind of naked flame. In any case, towing with gas appliances lit can only increase the risk of a serious fire or explosion in the event of an accident. The caravan fridge should be capable of running from 12 volts when attached to the car - if your car does not have this facility, it would be better to have it fitted than to run the fridge on gas while towing. The gas installation should be serviced annually by a qualified engineer, and any compartments containing gas bottles, pipes or appliances must have their bottom vents kept clear. LPG is heavier than air, and a leak will result in a dangerous build-up of gas if there is not adequate floor-level ventilation.
What types of gas are available.
For the caravanner, two types of LPG are generally available - Propane and Butane. Propane canisters are invariably red, and use a universal type of connector. Butane canisters vary in colour from supplier to supplier, but are most commonly blue. The connector for Butane also varies between manufacturers, with some (for example, Calor) using different types of connector on different sizes of bottle. In each case, the gas pressure inside the bottle is much too high for the pipes and appliances inside a caravan, and so a regulator must be fitted to the bottle. Regulators are available both as 'high pressure' and 'low pressure' models - for a caravan application, it is vital that you select a 'low pressure' model (28 mbar for Butane and 37 mbar for Propane.)
Which gas should I use, Propane or Butane?
The physical properties of the two gases are very similar, and when regulated to the correct pressure, they will perform almost identically. However there are some important differences.
Of the two gases, Butane has the most advantages.
Conversely, Propane has only one advantage over Butane - but it's a big one!
How do I tell how much gas is in the bottle.
Due to the need for strength, gas bottles can easily weigh as much as the gas that they contain. This makes it very difficult to judge how much gas is left by handling simply by feeling the weight of the container. There are, however, several ways that you can find out.
Also worth a mention: