Using a propane generator for RV power is a popular way to get power while camping off-grid. But if propane-powered RV generators intimidate you, you’re not alone. It can be confusing to find the right generator, amount of propane to operate it, and hookups.
In this article, we take a closer look at propane RV generators, their benefits, and how to use them. Let’s get into it.
Table of contents
- What Is an RV Propane Generator?
- How Do You Use an RV Propane Generator?
- What Are RV Propane Generators Used For?
- Are Propane Generators as Powerful as Gas or Diesel?
- The Benefits of Using a Propane-Powered RV Generator
- Should You Use a Built-in or Portable Propane Generator?
- How to Maintain Your RV Propane Generator
- How Long Can a Propane RV Generator Run on a 20lb Tank?
- Do You Have to Use Your RV Generator to Have Power?
- Are RV Propane Generators Worth It?
What Is an RV Propane Generator?
A propane generator for an RV is like a gas or diesel-powered generator, except the fuel is liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), more commonly called propane.
Some RVs come with an onboard propane generator plumbed into the LPG system instead of the fuel system. Others purchase propane generators or convert their gasoline-powered generators to propane-powered models.
Propane is one of the most popular fuels for RV generators, and for good reason. It burns cleaner, the generator requires less maintenance, and it has a much longer shelf-life.
How Do You Use an RV Propane Generator?
Using a propane generator is pretty simple. You’ll start by hooking it up to a propane source and double-checking the connection is secure. Then, turn on the tank, check for leaks, and follow your generator’s instructions to start it.
Once your generator is running, you can use it just like you would any generator for RV power–charging your batteries, running high-powered equipment, and more.
What Are RV Propane Generators Used For?
You can use a propane generator just like you would a gas generator. Most RVers use propane generators to power their RV amenities when they’re boondocking. They can be used to recharge house batteries, run appliances, watch TV, etc.
Propane generators for RV power are helpful for summertime dry camping when you want to run your air conditioner, too, as long as you have a big enough generator to do so. Or, you can also use a generator for increased power demand when running multiple power-draining items.
The options of using your propane generator in your RV are only limited to the size of your generator.
Pro Tip: A generator acts as a safety net for your RV’s power sources, but only if you have the right size. Read more to learn: What Size Generator Do I Need for My RV?
Are Propane Generators as Powerful as Gas or Diesel?
Yes and No. Propane has 25% less energy per gallon than gasoline and hence produces about 25% less power. This can sometimes be compensated for by burning more fuel or using a larger generator.
Even with this lower power output, propane generators emit 12% less Co2 and 20% fewer Nox emissions than gasoline for the same power output. This makes them a more environmentally friendly choice. Because the fumes are less harmful running a propane-powered generator at your campsite can also be safer for you.
The Benefits of Using a Propane-Powered RV Generator
There are many benefits to using a propane generator for your RV. In fact, you might want to get one yourself after reading these reasons other RVers have made the switch!
First of all, they tend run a tad quieter than gasoline or diesel options. Usually, this has more do with the design of the generator than the fuel, however.
Propane also has a much longer shelf-life than other types of fuels. This means that your generator can sit for months without running, and you don’t have to worry about it not working the next time you need it. Conversely, gas and diesel tend to gum up and break down when they sit for long periods. This is one of the best features of a propane generator in an RV, because many get stored for long periods of time.
In fact, our propane generator sat for many years without running but fired up fine when we went to use it. This would not have been the case with gasoline.
RV propane generators also require less maintenance than their gasoline or diesel counterparts, which accumulate carbon build-up. It can affect the operation, and you’ll need to clean them regularly. Propane generators don’t have this problem, so they’ll start up more reliably.
Finally, propane is a cleaner-burning fuel. You won’t have the icky exhaust smell that you find with gas or diesel-powered generators when you’re running on propane.
Should You Use a Built-in or Portable Propane Generator?
Many RVs come with built-in generators, which is highly convenient. But a portable model could be beneficial too. So, should you use a built-in or portable propane generator for your situation?
If you don’t already have a generator, purchasing a portable one from the get-go could be a great idea. While you’ll need to find a way to transport it, at least storing it won’t be a big issue.
Unlike portable gas-powered generators, a propane model won’t stink up the area that you store it in. Gas generators leach gas fumes, and after you use them, you end up with a stinky storage bay. Propane generators have little to no smell after you use them.
A portable generator is also easy to refill the fuel. All you have to do is get a propane tank, and you can easily remove it to fill it at any propane station. Portable propane generators make an excellent choice for RVers.
Best of all, having a portable generator gives you more options outside of your RV. If you want to take a camping trip without your RV or want to power something outside of your rig, your portable power unit makes it easy.
Some portable generators can be converted to run on propane like this kit for the popular honda 2200i series generators.
The benefits of having a built-in generator include the convenience of operating your RV’s amenities, the lack of storage needs, and easy transport.
But if you have a gas or diesel built-in generator, should you make the switch to propane?
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of using propane vs. your current fuel type. If you feel that the expense of gas or diesel, the maintenance, the smell, or any other disadvantages are becoming too much to handle, switching to a propane generator might be worth the expense.
One key consideration is that gas or diesel generators often tap into your rig’s main fuel tank. So, if you have significant power needs, you might use more fuel than you intended and could risk running out of fuel and becoming stranded. A built-in propane generator connects to your onboard propane system, so you’ll never have to worry about using your fuel.
Keep in Mind: There are many different types of RV generators to choose from, so how do you pick what’s best? We made The Complete Guide To RV Generators for you.
How to Maintain Your RV Propane Generator
Propane generators require less maintenance than gas or diesel ones, but you should still care for them. Here’s how to handle the upkeep of your RV propane generator.
Test It Regularly
Although propane doesn’t break down as gasoline or diesel fuels will, it’s still wise to exercise your generator at least monthly. If a problem has arisen while it’s been sitting, you’ll be able to spot it before you need to use it.
Do Regular Oil Checks and Changes
Propane generators still use oil. Follow the manufacturer’s schedule for oil changes and other routine maintenance. Make sure you use the correct type of oil as listed in your generator’s manual.
More Gear for Your RV Articles You’ll Enjoy:
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- 8 Best Portable Generators for RV Camping
How Long Can a Propane RV Generator Run on a 20lb Tank?
The length of time you can run a propane RV generator on a 20lb tank depends on the generator capacity and the amount of load running off of it. You can figure it out with some simple calculations, but if you use these charts from the generator retailer U.S. Carburetion, it’ll make things easier.
According to their charts, you can expect to get just over 6 hours of run-time on a full load with a 20lb propane tank using a 3500W propane generator.
In general a propane generator will burn more fuel for the same power than a gasoline generator. This could be a drawback since propane can be a bit harder to find sometimes and usually an attendant is required to fill it.
Do You Have to Use Your RV Generator to Have Power?
While you can plug your RV into your generator and use it to run various amenities, you don’t have to. If you have access to shore power, you can use that to operate your rig, mainly your 120V or larger RV appliances.
Most RVs also have a battery system that keeps 12V appliances and features running as long as the batteries are charged. You can also run your 120V+ devices with an inverter that plugs into the house battery.
Most of the time, you’ll use a generator when you don’t have access to shore power. You can either recharge low RV batteries or run large appliances and your 120V system directly from the generator.
If you don’t have shore power or a generator, another alternative is solar power. Whether you have a couple of portable solar panels or an entire solar system on your roof, you could get enough power to operate your RV in the right conditions.
Are RV Propane Generators Worth It?
Propane generators for RVs have a lot of benefits over gasoline and diesel-powered generators. It’s all about weighing the pros and cons of your situation.
Propane RV generators can definitely be worth it for anyone who wants a generator for power but doesn’t want to deal with the hassle, smell, or cost of gasoline or diesel. It could also be the perfect option for those just starting out in their RV.
Do you use a propane generator in your RV? Drop a comment below.
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SOS Survival Products
Wednesday 6th of April 2022
This is an amazing article that guides the audience into using a propane generator in RVs. Propane generators can be a very useful option for many RV users but the process of setting up and making sure everything is alright can still be very tricky and tedious. You even explained various external factors as well like if propane generators are as strong as diesel or gas which is very useful information, especially for those who don't know any better. With that, what circumstances would you say that diesel or gas generators are better to use? Also, would you say that solar generators might also be a good option for certain situations?
Mortons on the Move
Saturday 23rd of April 2022
A coach or RV that has gas or diesel onboard usually it makes sense to use it instead of propane so it doesn't need to carry so much. thats when gas or diesel is smarter. As for a solar generator, if your needs are not massive, solar is way more pleasent. We have a jackery that we use for portable power mainly.
Wednesday 25th of August 2021
You two are the BEST! really like your presentation. My 2002 Bigfoot 10.6E truck camper came with an Onan 2500 generator built in. It was always noisy and a source of vibration so we rarely used it but kept it maintained. One day I walked into my storage building and smelled burned electrical material. Couldn't find a source until later when we were heading out on a trip. While checking the camper out I found the top shell of the generator was charred on the top. What happened was that at some point in time either the remote switch or the generator switch shorted out and called for the starter to run. The propane was shut off so it ran until the starter failed , almost starting a fire. There was no shut off on the 12V line from the generator to the battery on my rig. I strongly recommend one to anyone with a built in generator for use when the rig is not in use. We removed the generator and now carry either a Honda 1000 or a 2200 depending on AC needs. Much quieter and I don't have to worry about running out of propane. Other than AC or hair dryer our solar and battery system take care of all of our needs. Your solar install is really appreciated as there will be upgrades in the future. Thank you, Bigfoot Dave
Wednesday 25th of August 2021
Another great article, Tom! I converted my Predator 3500 gas generator to propane/gas earlier this year. There are at least three sources for conversion kits, which can cost in the $150 to $200 range. Since converting, I have not used gas in the generator as the propane is way more convenient, burns better, and not having to bring gasoline containers is very nice. I just throw another 20 lb propane tank in my truck and it's there for multiple uses on an extended trip.
Wednesday 25th of August 2021
Great article. Have you ever considered an article about trying to make your generator "quieter" by using insulation or extended mufflers? Just a thought.
Mortons on the Move
Wednesday 25th of August 2021
Not yet, but thanks for the idea! :)