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There are many ongoing debates and discussions in various RV forums and groups as to whether or not it is legal to travel in Canada with your RV’s Propane Valve in the Open position. A lot of people admit they do this to keep their refrigerator running.

Common Sense and Opinions set aside, when it comes down to the actual rules, things aren’t quite as clear.

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) develops national codes for the propane industry, which are then adopted by each of the provinces and territories. To make things even more confusing, municipalities may also have local regulations regarding the use, storage and handling of propane.

As it turns out, even after contacting Provincial Regulatory Authorities, the responses are not always very specific, or there is no response altogether. Sometimes the answer is to check with Transport Canada, and Transport Canada then points back to province specific regulations.

Despite that not all Provincial Regulatory Authorities responded to my questions, some of them did reply, and were, in fact, very helpful and provided some useful insights.

There is one scenario where it is clearly stated that the propane tank valve MUST be turned off, and that is BEFORE you turn into a gas station for refueling (relevant sections in regulations can be found further down). The reason for this is that when your RV fridge is running or if your water heater is heating, there is an igniter as well as an open flame right behind the corresponding cover of your trailer. This, along with volatile gasoline vapours at gas stations, is a combination that no one should be near to.

Other scenarios that you should be aware of:

  • Federal regulations require RV propane valves to be turned off on certain ferries. If you have ever taken your RV on the BC Ferries, you will know.
  • Some bridges and tunnels do not allow propane valves to be open.

Some of the responses I received also came with additional details that I thought were quite interesting, and it all comes down to a better understanding of propane. Anyone who is willing to educate themselves on the basic properties of propane and its behaviour under various conditions, will be able to make better decisions when handling propane.

Some basic properties of propane are:

  • It is stored as a liquid, but used as a vapor.
  • Expands 270 times from liquid to vapor.

While propane tanks themselves are relatively safe; the points of failure are most likely to happen outside of it, such as the connections to your RV, hoses, adapters, regulators, or the appliances themselves, such as a refrigerator malfunction. The chances of propane leaking from a cracked hose or defective regulator are more realistic and likely to happen than a malfunction with the propane tank itself. Any statements on how safe these tanks are is a moot point, because once you open the valve and the gas starts flowing through your RV’s system, it becomes a different scenario. Now you also need to rely on the state and quality of all your RV parts where the gas is flowing through. If you own an RV, you probably know how much can go wrong, break, or needs fixing.

RV Tire blowouts are, quite unfortunately, more common than it should be. Anyone who experienced this firsthand will know that these blowouts can cause a lot of damage to anything that is around it. This includes the wheel well, walls, flooring, plywood, water lines, electrical wires, gas lines, refrigerator, furniture, etc. The last thing that you need on top of a tire blowout is propane leaking from a ruptured gas line.

Another scenario that was explained to me is the following: if liquid propane were to make it past the valve it could freeze up the regulator (frosting of rubber diaphragm, frosting of the orifice) or even worse if it passed the regulator and then expanded. This would cause the regulator to assume an over-pressure situation and start venting. It could also damage downstream gas valves as they are not rated for high pressures. While the chances are low, they still exist.

And, of course, collisions can happen to anyone. Even if somehow you are the best driver and tower in the world, you can still get hit by someone else. Would you rather be hit while your propane tank was opened or closed?

By the way, the reason why propane tanks must be transported in an upright position (in addition to being secured and located in well ventilated area) is due to the fact that the tank’s safety relief valve would otherwise leak liquid instead of vapour.

Here are some of the references that were quoted to me:


Manitoba:

There are no specific references in the following codes/regulations that prohibit operating the recreational vehicle with the propane supply turned on:

  • B149.2-10 Propane storage and handling Code
  • Transportation of Dangerous Good Regulations
  • Manitoba Fire Code

However, clause 11.1.10 of B149.2-10 Propane Storage and Handling Code provides direction that all ignition sources be turned off during refueling. Most appliances today incorporate electric spark ignition in their operation; so it is imperative this is taken into consideration at refueling stops.

Yukon:

No mention in the B149 series of codes that instruct to close valves when traveling.

Nova Scotia:

Operation of the propane appliances in an RV while traveling would fall under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada.

Alberta:

A propane cylinder is able to be opened while traveling on an RV as long as all the regulators are protected.

Part 1.27 (d) Operation of a Means of Transport or a Means of Containment Exemption within the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.

The B149.2-15 Propane Storage and Handling Code has the following:

5.12.5
The engine, appliance, appliance pilot lights, and other equipment on the vehicle that provide a source of ignition shall be turned off before and during any refueling of the vehicle.

5.12.6
Vehicles equipped with propane appliances shall not be parked or stored indoors except when
(a) propane storage cylinders have been removed;
(b) propane storage tanks have
(i) the propane contents reduced to not more than 50% of their maximum permitted filling density; and
(ii) all shut-off valves in the closed position; or
(c) the parking facility is approved for this use.


My general take away is that while, at least in some provinces, it appears to be not illegal to drive with an open propane valve – with exceptions such as refueling – the recommendation is to not do it. Considering the things I learned about propane characteristics and RV parts being the weakest link in this, I can see why.

I found that my RV fridge and freezer were able to keep the contents cold and frozen on all our trips so far. That is with the propane tank turned off and with the aid of Ice Packs. The longest trip so far was 7 hours and everything in the fridge was just fine.

More tips on keeping your refrigerator contents cool while traveling can be found here.

More details on propane can also be found at the Canadian Propane Association.

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