Sounding the Alarm on RV Propane Safety

With many of us huddling in our RV’s keeping warm through the winter I thought I would take a moment to touch on the important topic of Propane and carbon monoxide safety.

The Propane/LP alarm in your RV will be mounted near the floor – I usually find them in the kitchen/galley area.  Some have a combined LP and Carbon Monoxide (CO) functionality in one unit – these are the ones I recommend.

The LP safety alarm units have a ‘useful life’ of 5-years regardless of the manufacture.  These alarm units are powered by the coach 12 VDC power.  There is a manufacture date stamped on the back of these alarm units – usually in red ink.

The ‘useful life’ time is counted only when power is applied to alarm so if you store your RV for 6-months and remove the house batteries during the storage – and therefore no power to the alarm – you can extend the ‘install life’ up to 10-years, but the ‘useful life’ will still be 5 years (6-months of connected power and 6-months not connected for each year).

I am in a lot of RVs as you can imagine (over 1,100 in 2020) and I see a lot of these LP alarms that are beyond their ‘useful life’ and I make a point of checking the date as a courtesy to our customers.  I inform them of the importance of keeping these safety alarms effective.

As we age, we lose our sense of smell.  As these alarms age they lose their effectiveness and actually become more sensitive.  If they start to alert on nuisance triggers, they can be muted once for 30 days but that is a onetime pause, after that they will need to be replaced.  Sadly, I find too many of these older alarms that have been disconnected.

In a 2002 Journal of American Medical Association study of those aged 60 to 69 they found that over 17% had problems with the smell test like detecting the odorant added to LP gas? For those aged 70-79 over 29% had problems smells and odors.  Gas detectors were recommended for their homes and should be installed in their RV’s if they do not have one.

LP is not the only deadly gas that can work its way into your RV.  The odorant Ethyl Mercaptan (the rotten egg/skunk smell we get from LP) is added to the otherwise odorless LP at the refinery to help us detect it.  LP is a heavier than air gas and will settle into the low spaces but carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless and readily mixes with the air so it can fill an entire enclosed space and you may never know it is there.

There are many potential sources of Carbon Monoxide Gas on RV’s. Engine exhaust, generator exhaust, gas stoves, grills, gas appliances, heaters, gas lanterns and even RV’s parked nearby.  A cracked burn chamber in a furnace can allow CO gas into the living space of an RV which is why it is important to have your furnace burn chamber inspected each season.

Symptom of low to moderate CO poisoning include: Headache, Fatigue, Shortness of breath, Nausea, and Dizziness. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are like the flu (but without the fever). Source CPSC Document #466

CO Alarms sold at the big box stores like Home Depot or Lowes are only listed to residential standards. Residential alarms are not listed to work at extreme temperatures like RV listed units are. Only alarms marked approved for “Use in Recreational Vehicles – UL 2034” should be installed in RV’s.

So, everyone please take a moment, grab a screwdriver and check the back side of these very important alarm units.  If they are older than 5 years, it is time to replace them!  If you do replace them make sure they are rated for RVs.  Many RV stores stock these units.  We also have an Amazon affiliate site on our website where you can get them too:  https://myrvworks.com/resources/darrens-tool-list/#parts

Wishing you a safe and warm holiday season and always!

 

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