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Old 02-14-2017, 11:20 AM   #1
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A whiff of propane

We've had our used 2001 E350 RB50 with propane heat since October. We used it outside in temps down to about 10F and been comfortable with the Suburban furnace. We live in Salt Lake City and it's been pretty cold this winter.

We started noticing we'd smell just a whiff of propane walking past the van now and then but could never tell where it was coming from, including sniffing around the exterior furnace vents. We thought we could smell it slightly inside on occasion but that might have just been paranoia since the propane detector never has gone off. I made sure the thermostat switch was off and the main on-off valve outside was fully off.

Someone suggested that maybe these things just vent sometimes but that did not make much sense to me, especially given the cold and that the tank was only about 1/3 full.

I was nervous enough about it to take it to our local fixit place (Clay's RV and Powersports) to have them see what they could do. Kind of vexing for us since it only seems to smell at random times. I was also going to have them put in a new thermostat since the old switch is kind of funky. I hope I'm not throwing my money away on a non-issue.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

Many thanks! -Scott
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Old 02-14-2017, 12:24 PM   #2
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I know the gas company uses a sniffer that can pinpoint leaks. Typically it's just a fitting that needs to be re tightened or sealed. But by all means don't take it too lightly.
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Old 02-14-2017, 12:33 PM   #3
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Get a spray bottle, and fill it with soapy water, like with dish soap. Spray all the fittings and look for bubbles. Tighten 1/4 turn or until bubbles subside. That's how ya do it.
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Old 02-14-2017, 08:28 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wadewaydo View Post
Get a spray bottle, and fill it with soapy water, like with dish soap. Spray all the fittings and look for bubbles. Tighten 1/4 turn or until bubbles subside. That's how ya do it.

EXACTLY

glad you saved me all the typing
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Old 02-14-2017, 11:24 PM   #5
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I find the colder weather regularly allows less than perfect gas joints to rear their ugly head.

Soap and tighten. When it's as cold as possible.


"Talk is cheap. Whiskey costs money."
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Old 02-15-2017, 12:12 AM   #6
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I wondered about the effects of cold on the system, Pntyrmvr. We first noticed the propane smell after a 14F night camping in Lave Hot Springs, Idaho, which was followed by a few weeks of snow storms and temps in the teens back in Salt Lake when we started smelling it when we walked by the rig in the driveway. The van had spent it's previous 15 years in Texas and Tennessee and I don't think it saw too many really cold times. It's going to have to get used to it now, though!
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Old 02-15-2017, 05:56 AM   #7
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I am wondering if temperature related effects of expansion and contraction might be having effects on something in the hardware. The standard test of spraying soapy water on fittings would be a problem if the mix iced right up when hitting cold metal. How about testing a mix of soap and winter mix windshield washer fluid? As long as that solution is still as prone to bubbling, you should be better able to test when the leaking seems to be occurring.
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Old 02-15-2017, 03:26 PM   #8
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I think the preponderance of brass in the propane fittings has something to do with it. I swear I've cranked every connection and then come winter that faint wiff shows up.


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Old 02-16-2017, 09:54 AM   #9
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Well as it turns out it sounds like the guy ran some sort of pressure test and after some fairly long period of time nothing happened so he says they can't find/detect a leak. So we're going to take it home and fill the LP tank full again and see what happens now that the temps are just getting into the 20s at night and warming to the 40s or more in the day, then see if we still get that random whiff. And if we do I'll see if I can't find the problem myself with soap and water or whatever.

He's also going to put in a new thermostat. My wife wanted digital and he said they couldn't do that for some reason I don't quite get, but he is putting in one with push button input and an LCD screen. Has anyone had any bad experiences with such things?

Also, am I missing any rules of thumb with regards to propane, like is it okay to let the tank run very low for any reason?
Thanks for all the help and suggestions! -Scott
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Old 02-16-2017, 05:44 PM   #10
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I see no issue even running out of propane. Just fill it when it's low, or out. Now if you're smelling propane out side the vent you might be smelling a little gas when the valve opens just before the igniter inginites the burner. Its a direct vent and circulates outside air to fuel the flame.
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