One of the challenges motorhomer’s face is making sure we always have a good supply of gas. For our van Elton, we always need gas for cooking, and when we’re not plugged into 240v mains (“off-grid”), we need gas for heating and hot water. In the van we have a large gas locker that holds two 11Kg gas bottles – the same bottles as we all use for our BBQ’s. However, there’s a few things about using normal gas bottles that sometimes make life a bit difficult for motorhomers. You know the bottle is almost empty, but how much does it really have left? Should I change it today while I can get a new bottle easily, or shall I chance it and try and get a couple of extra days from what’s left in the bottle? A second bottle helps overcome the risk of running out, but you’re very often going to be handing back gas when you exchange an almost empty gas bottle. A bigger problem for Continental travellers, is that many countries across Europe use different gas fittings on their bottles, so if you go to France and your gas runs out, you need to buy a whole new bottle and connect that up to your supply, rather than a simple exchange of your empty one.
Seeing as we’re going to be spending so much time in our van, we decided we wanted to make life as easy as we could with our gas supply, so decided to fit dual 11Kg bottles, with an exterior fill point on the side of the van (you can get internal fill points that sit in the gas locker). This means we can stop at any garage that supplies normal car LPG, and fill up our gas bottles. There’s a few big benefits of doing this ;
- we can fill up any time we like, the bottles don’t have to be empty, we can just top them up even if they’re only a third used.
- with the purchase of a couple of adapters, we can fill up all across Europe at any petrol station that supplies LPG gas
- it’s cheaper!! we can fill up an 11kg Gas tank for about £12. To Exchange the same bottle costs about £27.
There’s a few suppliers of refillable gas systems in the UK, the ones I hear mentioned all the time are Gas-It and Gaslow, though there are others. We already had a single 11Kg Gas-It refillable bottle from our old van so we decided to get our new stuff from Gas-It as well.
The guys at Gas-It were incredibly helpful working through our order and parts list. We gulped a bit at the overall price, but we know with enough refills, the extra we have to spend today will end up saving us a lot in the long run. We ordered our stuff on the Wednesday afternoon, it was delivered on the Thursday, great service. The whole system was actually pretty straightforward to install.
What did we install?
We went for
- 2 x top of the range 11Kg Gas-it refillable bottles – these provide additional safety features which we thought were worth paying for
- Filters fitted to the supply valve at the top of each bottle – we were advised that if we’re planning on re-filling in Europe, there’s often oil and rubbish in the gas supply that could eventually clog up the gas regulator – filters would eliminate this
- A simple dual supply, both bottles connected at the same time, without any switchovers between bottles – this means that in effect we have one big tank of gas. We manage just fine with that principle for our diesel tank, so no reason why not with our gas bottles. Saved us c.£50 on a changeover valve.
- An external fill point on the side of the van. We could have used an internal fill-point in the gas locker, but there are stories of continental garages not allowing gas bottles to be filled this way, so we decided the external option would eliminate any problems with this.
- A remote meter fitted inside the van so we would always have a simple view on our gas levels.
Installing the re-fillable system.
Step 1 - Installing the filler point – The hardest, and very scariest part of the whole job was drilling a 70mm hole in the vehicle valance
Step 2 - Bring the fill pipe into the gas locker – I then drilled a 30mm hole into the gas locker to bring my fill pipe from the fill point, onto the gas bottles.
Step 3 - Arranging the layout in the gas locker -I arranged the bottles and loose fitted all the pipes to see how everything was going to connect, this took me ages twisting the bottles around to get the best pipe layout, but it was worth the effort as I was pleased with the final layout and none of the pipes or fittings were strained.
Step 4 - Connecting the fill system – I connected up the fill system first. (I noticed all the fill pipes had steel fittings, and the tank output pipes were all brass). The pipe from the fill point comes to an equal-T connecter, which then connects to the fill point on each bottle. When you’re filling up with gas, both bottles fill up together. When one bottle is full, it stops filling, and the other bottle continues to fill until that’s full as well.
Step 5 - Connecting the supply side – I connected a filter to the output of each bottle, and from each filter to an equal-T connected to the regulator. The equal-T has non return valves on both inputs, preventing the flow of gas from one bottle, back into the other.
Step 6 - Checking all the fittings – once connected, I re-checked every single joint to make sure it was correctly tightened. Unfortunately the gas bottles are supplied empty so I couldn’t do a proper check for leaks until I’d filled both bottles.
A trip to the local LPG garage was the next job – I took all my tools with me just in case I had any problems or obvious leaks while I was filling up. Before I filled up, I made sure both gas bottles were turned off, so if there were any leaks on the supply side I could deal with them back at home.
When I returned to the garage and reconnected, the leak was gone. Filling was simple after that.As soon as I connected the Petrol station LPG pump to my van, it pressurised the fill system and I noticed a very slight drip of liquid LPG coming from the back of the fill point. I disconnected and drove the van off to the service area and tightened the leaking joint – it only needed about an 8th of a turn to seal it. I checked all of the other joints and they were all good, no leaks. Lucky I’d taken my spanners and gloves for the freezing pipes.
Final job when I got home was to check for leaks on the supply side, I turned the bottles on one by one and brushed soapy water across all joints.
I found one very minor weep that was easily fixed by a small tighten on the joint.
Job done. It was actually a fairly simple job to do overall, and well within the capability of anybody with reasonable DIY skills.
We’d highly recommend installing refillable bottles or tank, to anybody spending a lot of time in their van, or intending to travel a lot on the continent.
A meter to see how much gas we have left
Reading gas levels is always a bit of a nightmare; there really isn't any way to accurately measure (other than weighing) how much gas you have left. However, something is better than nothing. We did have gauges on the gas bottles when we bought them, but to get to the gauges to read them, we have to get the bikes out to open the gas cupboard, which is a bit of a pain.
To make life easier, we installed this remote meter inside our living area, so we could keep an eye on our gas levels from inside the van. It's a simple wiring job from the gas bottle to the meter location. We have two gas bottles, and only one of the bottles has a meter. As both bottles are both connected together the meter effectively gives us a measurement across both bottles.
The way the meter works for us, is that we get no change in LED readings until the gas is down to about 50%, and then the LEDs gradually go out as the level drops down from there. It's not perfect, but it gives us great indication of when we need to fill up.