Even when one considers legitimate appliance options such as the microwave oven, portable space heaters, the electric portion of the refrigerator and the electric element in some water heaters, being without propane is indeed a handicap. Try starting your LP generator without it. Still, you ask, if I’m held up on my trip because of a slipping transmission or an engine problem, I’m still held up. True, but consider this also – the worst case scenario of a transmission or engine-caused delay results in loss of time and certainly money. One shudders as you ponder the worst case scenario of a failed propane system.
But wait a minute. Didn’t the dealer check everything out? I’ve had this coach five years now and everything is still working fine. True, everything may be fine and yes, more than likely, your dealer did do all he could do to prep your coach before you took delivery, but remember, all propane-burning appliances need periodic maintenance, as does the gas system in general. Whether attributed to use, abuse, or non-use, the fact remains that some propane components simply need attention from time to time. We can choose, however, to spend our money paying for far costlier crisis repairs by waiting until a component fails, or we can opt for putting into practice a little preventive maintenance.
The propane pressure regulator is considered by many to be the heart of the propane system. The propane container(s), the appliances and the connecting piping and tubing and hoses, plus perhaps a method of switching between two cylinders make up the rest of the system. You may even have an LP-fired generator on-board. Positioned directly at that allegorical center, however, is the pressure regulator.
In order to appreciate the importance of propane system maintenance, one must truly understand the inner workings of the pressure regulator. Probably the hardest working single component found on the RV, the task of the regulator is appropriately self-descriptive. It must keep up with fluctuating internal propane container pressures, then regulate and deliver a nice smooth, even flow of gas to each of the appliances. And it must do this continually whenever the main service valve is open. If it stumbles or skips a beat, internal damage to delicate components found on some appliances could result. Truly the heart of the system; and a relatively inexpensive component as well. Being affordable, it is highly suggested that all RVers carry a spare regulator whenever and wherever they travel. In the event of regulator failure, in most cases, replacement is mandatory.
For years the four LP burning appliances found on typical RVs have been designed and manufactured to operate with a delivery pressure of between 10 and 14 water column inches. For optimum appliance operation, therefore, the operating line pressure is set at 11.0 inches of water column, which falls about in the middle when lock-up pressure is factored in. From this stage on, think of pressure in terms of water column inches instead of pounds per square inch. A water column inch is a much smaller unit of measurement used to measure the rather slight propane operating line pressure. I always use the analogy that it would be like measuring distance in either miles or inches. Each would be true and accurate, but the inch measurement would be more finite. For vapor pressure measurements, eleven inches of water column, (11” W.C.), is the equivalent of only four-tenths of one PSI, (.4 PSI)!
Okay, but if that’s major rule number two, what’s number one? Never compromise the safety factor. Like electricity, propane must be respected. In order to be respected, it must be understood. In order to be understood it must be studied. But here’s what you can do in the meantime to ensure you avoid any propane system pitfalls. First and foremost, have the regulator tested and adjusted at least once each year. This means take your RV to a qualified RV repair facility; one that employs certified RV service technicians.