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Goodbye RV Propane, Hello 12V Electric RV Appliances

Goodbye RV Propane, Hello 12V Electric RV Appliances

Oh, the times, they are changing! Propane has been a long-time go-to for RV engineers and travelers. However, it seems there has been a recent shift toward 12V electric RV appliances. Though both power sources have their ups and downs, electric is rising.

If you’re hunting for a new RV, we’re giving you an inside look at why RVers prefer 12V RV appliances over propane. Let’s get started!

More and More RVers Are Turning Away From Propane

Though propane may have its perks in isolated situations, today’s technology makes for a much safer alternative. RV appliances have long been a consistent trouble spot for those who enjoy extended outdoor adventures. 

RV propane tanks
Many RV appliances rely on propane for power.
RV lithium battery bank
Other appliances can run off battery power.

Choosing which power source best fits your needs can be a long battle of trial and error. Electric power is a less complicated solution, and RV appliance manufacturers are on the trend. 

If you don’t want to worry about the hassle of swapping and maintaining two power sources on your RV, then you’ll want to find a vehicle that has one or the other. Today’s manufacturers have chosen electric power as their focus, and for a good reason. 

What Are 12V DC Electric Appliances?

There are two types of electric circuits; AC and DC. You may have heard of the band, but that’s not where we’re going. AC stands for alternating current, and DC stands for direct current. 

➡ New to RVing? Learn the basics of RV electrical systems here: How Are RVs Wired? Helpful RV Electrical Basics for Beginners

When running an appliance off AC power, it needs an alternating current to keep everything functioning without trouble. This would be the current you receive from a shore power connection. Of course, if you’re trying to run a 12V DC RV appliance off of AC power, you’ll need an inverter.

DC appliances require a direct current for power, which comes from your RV batteries. DC power presents more opportunities to utilize electric appliances without hooking them into shore power. It gives you the ability to use electric devices even when you want to step away from the populated parts of the world. 

12V RV air conditioner
We installed a 12V air conditioner in our overland truck camper.

Which Is Better, Propane or 12V Electric RV Appliances?

The honest answer to the question lies in your personal preference. There are pros and cons to either side and understanding what you’re facing might help you avoid a little of the “trial and error” process. 

For starters, propane heat takes fuel. Burning propane for power produces harmful chemicals in the air. You have to be careful not to put yourself in a bad situation when using propane indoors. Electric power doesn’t come with an inhalant danger. 

Pro Tip: If you choose propane, make sure you Avoid Disaster With an RV Propane Detector.

Some would state that one of the significant downfalls of electric power on an RV is that due to a reliance on shore power, you can’t effectively and comfortably camp if you’re away from a mainstream camping site. However, solar battery charging has stifled that argument. If you have 12V electric RV appliances and a good solar setup, you can camp anywhere. 

Ultimate RV Off-Grid Solar System Build - 2760 Watts of Solar ☀️ 11Kwh Battery, on a 32' Fifth wheel

You must dig into the pros and cons of each power source before purchasing an RV. Your camping style will quickly reveal which energy source best suits your needs. 

What Propane RV Appliances Can Be Replaced With Electric Versions?

It’s a clean sweep when you consider which appliances are capable of the transition to 12V electric power. Typically, propane would power your refrigerator, stovetop, oven, water heater, and furnace. However, you can now find these appliances in 12V electric versions.

Ok not quite all of them, are 12V but 120V instead. This includes the stovetop, electric water heaters and furnace or heat pumps. With today’s inverters and lithium batteries, however, even these can be run off 12V as well. ‘

If you hear the term “All Electric RV” it means that it uses electricity for all of its appliance needs. In this past, this would only be possible when connected to shore power but today we can have power anywhere.

Our personal RV is all-electric with the exception of a diesel backup heater. We have had all types of RVs’ and the all-electric version is by far our favorite.

Some devices, like 3-way fridges, can run on propane, 12V battery power, or shore power.

What Is the Benefit of Ditching Propane?

Ditching propane means you don’t have to be constantly conscious of producing fumes when warming your RV in the winter. You also don’t have to worry about purchasing, storing, and maintaining a highly flammable fuel aboard your vehicle. You escape certain dangers when you work with electric power versus propane. 

Some devices like the refrigerator are also much more efficient in operating on electricity vs propane. Absorption fridges use a lot of electric power to stay cool, but running a 12V DC fridge is efficient and economical plus it gets colder and cools quicker.

Pro Tip: Don’t make these mistakes when storing your RV propane tanks: The Dos and Don’ts of Propane Tank Storage

What Are the Disadvantages of 12V RV Appliances?

Though electric power is arguably safer than propane, that doesn’t mean it comes without flaws. 12V DC-powered appliances tend to have trouble keeping up in extreme outdoor temperatures. Whether cold or hot, electric power for an air conditioner or heating unit might not be as proficient at maintaining the indoor temperature you desire. 

While heat pumps are getting better and better, the best technology still hasn’t made it to RV appliances. This means that heating on electric is not very efficient in an RV.

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Also, running your DC electric appliances apart from shore power means you need a reliable battery system and generator. If you don’t pay attention, you could kill your batteries. If your batteries die, you’re in a pretty tough spot. 

The Exception: On-Demand RV Water Heaters

The exception to the rule lies in water heating. If you want a fast and reliable method of producing hot water for your RV, an on-demand RV water heater is preferable. 

Regarding heating water quickly and evenly, propane always prevails over electricity. Taking a hot shower when electric power runs your water heater could mean waiting close to an hour for hot water. 

Propane is much more efficient at heating water with its open flame. If you’re looking for an excellent on-demand water heater, start your research with the Truma Aqua-Go system. Truma is a company that makes many necessities for your RV, including the Truma Combi, a combination on-demand hot water heater and furnace.  

Truma Aqua-Go On-Demand Water Heater

➡ Find out Why We Love Our Truma AquaGo On-Demand Tankless RV Water Heater.

How Do RVs Power 12V Appliances?

Running more electric appliances will create a more significant need for a power source. In some cases, the power a fully electric RV needs is too much for essential campground hookups. Soon, the electric trend may push campgrounds to upgrade their shore power provisions. 

However, there is plenty you can do now to work around the speed bumps you may encounter. Setting up for solar is the number one way to combat the issue. When you have a battery bank that you can recharge daily with the sun, you don’t have to camp at a designated campground to have accessible power. You may also want to invest in high-quality lithium batteries, so you can store and regulate your energy more efficiently. 

Are Fully Electric RVs the Future? 

Maybe. The way it looks now, fully electric RVs will be a more prevalent option in the future, but it will take a while to make a complete transition. You won’t see a solely electric-powered RV take over the industry anytime soon. However, a change toward cleaner energy production is welcome.

Electric RV Comic
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Have you noticed more and more RVers are ditching their RV ovens in favor of storage, dishwashers, or induction cooktops? Find out why: End of the RV Oven: Why RVers Are Ditching Propane Baking.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Brett Rushing

Thursday 26th of May 2022

Tom & Cait, It doesn't look like you converted your propane fridge to a 12v compressor in your truck camper. I'm curious to know why you chose not to, considering your large battery bank.

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