22nd February 2016
Bottled gas transforms caravan living, whether you're in a static or touring caravan. Heating, hot water and cooking are possible without it, but very much easier with it. Gas has to be respected and treated carefully though, to avoid having to put in insurance claims, or even, heaven forbid, calling the emergency services.
Liquefied propane gas (LPG) is stored under pressure in metal canisters and specialist valves and equipment are needed to make sure it's delivered to appliances safely - exactly where and when you want it.
Understanding how to use all the equipment associated with LPG and keeping it in good condition is essential to avoiding damage and injury.
Different types of gas
Propane and butane are the two types of LPG in common use - usually propane is in red cylinders and butane in blue, but it's worth checking just in case.
Butane is the most popular in the UK as it can be stored indoors and is about 10% more efficient than propane, so canisters last slightly longer. But it isn't as easy to use at colder temperatures and can refuse to light or even freeze when it's very cold. So more adventurous campers or those using static homes or park homes all year round will be better off with propane.
The connectors for butane are also clip-on, rather than screw-on, so they're marginally easier to use too.
It's also worth mentioning that Calor Gas, one of the most popular makes in the UK for both butane and propane, isn't widely available throughout the rest of Europe. So if you're going to be touring on the Continent, get Campingaz instead.
Regulators control the pressure used to supply your barbecue, heater or cooker at the correct pressure - a lot lower than the pressure in the bottle! Colour-coding is used to distinguish between propane and butane regulators but again this can't necessarily be relied on - check to be sure.
There'll be two hoses, a high-pressure one on the bottle side of the regulator and a low pressure one on the appliance side. Hoses become brittle over time with LPG so MUST be replaced every five years (high-pressure) and two years (low) and the date of manufacture is stamped on the hoses.
Some sources claim one or three years lifetime for low pressure hoses so check with the manufacturer if possible. Examine both hoses every now and then to make sure they're still flexible and have no cracks.
You might not need a changeover valve for barbecues or camping but they're very useful in a caravan for cooking, heating or hot water. They allow you to have two cylinders connected up and you can switch to the second when the first empties. You can then carry on and remove the empty cylinder to be exchanged for a full one when it's convenient.
Both automatic and manual valves are available. Automatic ones are more convenient but need to be checked regularly to see if they've switched over - there's usually some visual indication. If you don't know it's switched over then both cylinders could run out and leave you high and dry!
Caravans usually have built-in storage lockers accessible from the outside for bottles but because the gas is heavier than air it's vital to keep the lower ventilation holes clear. Keep cylinders upright - there'll be some sort of securing system in the locker. If some gas escapes, perhaps when switching hoses etc., close the valves immediately and keep your distance until the gas has dissipated.
Valves must be closed when on the move, even if equipment is connected.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
The other danger is from CO poisoning and new caravans have to have detectors fitted by law. Leaking appliances, incorrectly fitted or damaged flues and poor ventilation can all contribute to the danger, so get everything checked regularly and keep vents clear.
We strongly recommend fitting detectors to older caravans - combined smoke and CO detectors are cheap to buy and easy to fit.
Bottled gas is convenient and safe as long as it's looked after properly, and it's worth taking the time to do so. Not only are you avoiding damage and injury but you'll spend less time filling in insurance claims forms!