Propane is the fuel used widely to help power RV’s. It is used to fuel the heating system, cook with on the stove, fuel the hot water heater, and grill.
It is a refined gas which is taken from natural gas after extraction from the earth. This gas is very popular because it can be easily liquefied and stored/transported in tanks.
For those reasons it is very popular for RVers. A propane system of some sort can be found on most RV’s, so make sure to check out the propane system when you go to buy an RV.
Since propane is a commodity that must be replaced, many new RVers ask “How much propane does an RV use?” Under normal usage: refrigerator, cooking, limited heating system use, a 20lb tank should last better than a week.
RV Propane Tank Types and Sizes
There are generally 2 types of propane tanks: ASME tanks and DOT cylinders.
ASME tanks are typically mounted permanently in the rig, whereas DOT cylinders are removable to exchange or refill.
DOT cylinders are the type you would see in a typical backyard bar-b-que. According to E-Trailer, “RV propane systems all work in similar ways, but there are a number of differences between propane systems on motor homes and those used on camper trailers.
The biggest difference in these systems is the style propane tank used in each setup.”
There are 3 sizes of tanks normally used in RV’s:
- 20 lb Propane tanks hold about 4.7 gallons of propane.
- 30 lb propane tanks hold about 7 gallons of propane
- 40 lb propane tanks hold about 9.4 gallons of propane
How Much Does Propane Gas Cost?
Propane costs vary around the nation. Prices per gallon can run between $2.70 and upwards of $5 depending on the location, and place of purchase.
The method that you use to obtain the propane is also a factor. If you are refilling portable tanks or onboard tanks, the price can be quite a bit cheaper than doing a tank exchange.
For those with an onboard (mounted) tank, you will be driving the rig to the propane depot to get filled. If you are refilling portable tanks, you will also take them to the refill location. There are many places to do this. Propane stores, and truck stops are the most common. Propane at these places will run $3 to $5 per gallon.
Many campgrounds also have propane refill which is the most convenient, but can come at a cost.
Our Favorite Propane Supplier
Tractor Supply Company is the place we use the most often. They can be found all over the nation and their propane prices for refill cannot be beaten. TSC typically charge around $2.75 a gallon.
So for a typical 20 lb cylinder (which can only be filled to 80% by law) the cost will be around $10. Since the tank is NEVER quite empty, it will be a little less.
Propane Exchanges can be found at Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes, gas stations, even some dollar stores and grocery stores have exchanges for 20lb tanks.
They are typically very convenient, but are much more costly. The typical exchange for a 20lb DOT Cylinder is $20-$25, which is $4-$5 per gallon.
The problem with exchanges, other than cost, is that you do not get to keep your own tanks.
Our tanks came new with our rig. They have gauges on them so we have never exchanged them. We refill. The other problem is that they only stock 20lb canisters normally. If you have larger tanks, you would need to refill.
How Much Propane Does An RV Furnace Use?
The amount of propane that an RV furnace will use depends on the size (BTU rating) of the unit. Furnaces are categorized by the amount of BTU’s (British Thermal Units) that they produce.
A typical propane furnace would use between 20,000 and 40,000.
A 20lb tank of propane will provide @ 432000 BTU hours. So running constantly, a 20000 BTU furnace would go through a 20lb tank of propane in about 22 hours.
Of course furnaces do not run constantly, they come on and off, are used more during the night than during the day, etc. So that time would likely be much longer. And the rv furnace efficiency will make a difference as well.
In cold weather you could probably expect closer to a week.
How To Calculate Furnace Propane Use?
To calculate your own usage, just add up the total amount of propane BTU’s that you have in your tanks using 91500 BTU’s per gallon of propane.
Then divide that number by the input BTU’s listed on the side of your furnace. This will give you the approximate number of hours you have given CONSTANT use.
Obviously you can then judge your ACTUAL usage by the hour to see how many hours a day the furnace runs.
How Much Propane Does an RV Refrigerator Use?
RV refrigerators are designed for efficient running and low emissions. Therefore it does not take a lot of propane to run them when in LP (propane) mode.
Depending on the size of your refrigerator, you should be able to get between 2 to 3 weeks from a standard 20lb tank of propane.
Is it OK to Drive RV With Propane On?
Technically no, you should not drive with the propane on.
That being said, a LOT of people do it. The only real issue is that a gas line break while on the road could be catastrophic quickly.
The other danger is that absorption refrigerators (propane) are not designed to be run unless they are quite level. So damage can easily occur if the fridge is running while on steep grades, or heavily jostling around.
It is generally not a good idea to have your RV refrigerator running during travel.
We have an inverter to run our fridge while traveling, so we always turn off the gas when going over our rv departure.
How Much Propane Does an RV Water Heater Use?
Most modern RV water heaters have either electric or propane heating. It is much more economical to use electric power if you are hooked up.
When running, an RV water heater will gulp propane when heating. However it only takes about 10 minutes to heat up a tank, and then you can turn it off and use electricity to keep the hot water tank hot.
How Much Propane Does an RV Stove Use?
The answer to this question is in how much you use the stove?. Are you cooking on a burner, or are you using the oven. The oven will use much more.
In our typical full time living, we go through a tank of propane about every month. We use the stove or oven pretty much every day to cook breakfast, lunch, or dinner
Where to Get Propane?
Propane refills are available at propane retailers, many truck stops, and places like Tractor Supply Company. Many campgrounds also provide propane refills for a fee.
Propane exchanges are available at most Walmarts, Home Depot and Lowes, and many gas stations. Some grocery stores even have an exchange.
We always recommend having at least dual propane tanks so that you will never run out. It is no fun to have an empty propane tank during winter, or while cooking.
Tips For Increasing RV Efficiency (And Saving On Propane!)
- Purchase battery operated freezer fans – these fans will help to circulate air inside both the refrigerator and freezer, keeping the food frozen longer and the refrigerator running less.
- Operate refrigerator on electricity when possible – When you have electricity available, it is much more efficient to use it to run your refrigerator. Most campgrounds include electricity in the cost of camping anyway, so why pay for propane?
- Use electric heaters when possible – same is true of the heating. If you have electricity, plug in a small electric space heater when it is cold to warm the place. Our 38ft fifth wheel is kept comfortable by just one 1500 watt space heater, 2 if it’s really cold overnight.
- Electric Blankets– Another thing many people do is use an electric blanket. It is an easy way to stay warm in bed.
- Many electric fireplaces will include a space heater that can be used to heat the space as well.
I hope these RV propane tips will help you to save some money on your RV travels. Do you have any suggestions we didn’t talk about here?