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propane leak?


GlennWest

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We had the propane detector alarm go off tonight. It is raining and air is heavy. One of the tanks had just ran out and propane smell was high outside. DW was washing our pets and using warm water so water heater was burning propane. Propane smell was from tanks though. I have always heard tanks will smell when they run out. Don't really see why unless leak though. I turned off tanks and open vents. Cleared the air. Alarm off now. I feel there is a leak or is it just a combination of tank running out and it raining?

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On the issue of more propane odor as the tank nears empty, that is true because some of the odorant that is added to propane will tend to settle out in the bottom of the tanks over time. Propane has no smell of it's own and the makers are required to add a specific one to the gas in order to be sure that leaks are noticeable to users. That collection of odorant is one of the reasons that when tanks are re-certified the service company will turn them upside down with the valve open in the process as it makes sure that they are empty once more. Many propane service people suggest that it is a good idea to run the tanks completely empty from time to time just to prevent this buildup. I don't believe that it is as common a problem as it once was but it is still a noticeable change in smell at the exhaust.

 

On the leak side of things, it is important to understand that a propane alarm is not actually a device to detect propane but one that detects any hydrocarbon as all combustible gasses are made of. That means that there are several other things which can trigger one, such as methane which is found in may things besides propane. Methane used to be quite common in propellants of spray cans, though not so much today. It is also the primary ingredient of flatulence and more than one RV owner has been awakened by the alarm if the dog sleeps next to it and has eaten the wrong thing. :huh: There are several other things that can cause the problem. In addition, dust that can collect inside of the detection chamber can cause it to be over sensitive and set it off. It is good to run a vacuum cleaner over one on a fairly regular basis. It is also important to note that most propane detectors only have a rated lifespan of about 5 years so it may be that it has become over sensitive and needs to be replaced.

 

The difficult thing it knowing for sure if you have a real alarm, or a false one without the use of explosive gas detectors such as all fire departments have. You need to be very careful of this when you choose to ignore an alarm. Most propane alarms will also alarm if the voltage supply to them should get low, so check that as a possible cause of your problem. I wish that I had a good answer for spurious alarms with these things as right now I am fighting one in our RV. I am thinking of adding a second one or something as the one that we have now is only 3 years old, yet it has alarmed when no propane bottle was on the RV! Yet it does test as good by using and unlit butane lighter. What I've not figured out is a way to know if it somehow gets a low voltage at some point that may be causing the alarm. What drives me crazy is the fact that it seems to work fine most of the time and I am unable to predict when it is going to alarm.

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Mine has a green/red light alarm when replacement time comes. We just had red light and alarm. There is less than 2 feet between water heater and detector. I feel the heater tried to lite while the change over took place. With all the rain fumes didn't escape like normal. Rain is subsiding now. Will check out. We do have auto change over.

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Glenn - In one of the trailers we bought over the years, one was used as a full time rig (in Michigan) while they were building their house. Michigan is cold in the winter. They had several 100 pounders that they rotated and then went with a 50 gallon. When we bought it, the fridge would NOT work on propane. -- gas on stove works furnace works just the fridge. No gas at the valve, so I started opening pipes to find gas.

 

There was enough metrcaptan (the smelly agent) of the carry over in the propane to liquid block the propane to the fridge. When it all came out, yech, I got it all over and by the way, it soaks into the skin. It took 2 weeks before I quit smelling of propane.

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If there is a question about propane leaking , you should do a leak down test on the system. Or have one performed.

I you do one your self I would recommed a mechanical gauge as the electronic one that I had was not as accurate at times.

You may find one at a local RV dealer.

If there is a leak then a propane sniffer would make that chore go much faster. It will locate a leak area fairly quick. Then use a soap solution to find the specific problem.

 

Safe Travels, Vern

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If there is a question about propane leaking , you should do a leak down test on the system. Or have one performed.

I you do one your self I would recommed a mechanical gauge as the electronic one that I had was not as accurate at times.

Just wondering if you have had any experience in dealing with spurious alarms on the propane detectors? I know that it is a pretty common complaint and if so, any suggestions you may have?

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Glenn - In one of the trailers we bought over the years, one was used as a full time rig (in Michigan) while they were building their house. Michigan is cold in the winter. They had several 100 pounders that they rotated and then went with a 50 gallon. When we bought it, the fridge would NOT work on propane. -- gas on stove works furnace works just the fridge. No gas at the valve, so I started opening pipes to find gas.

 

There was enough metrcaptan (the smelly agent) of the carry over in the propane to liquid block the propane to the fridge. When it all came out, yech, I got it all over and by the way, it soaks into the skin. It took 2 weeks before I quit smelling of propane.

Some low quality propane (Mexican) will also have a lot of oil and other undesirable byproducts. Dumping the tanks will get rid of it. A spigot on a dead end line after the main tank will catch this as it leaves the tank and can be purged periodically.

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When you examine the propane tank to refill it, look to see if you completely opened the valve all the way until it stops when you placed the bottle in service. If you didn't the propane will leak thru the stem.

So either keep the valve all the way open or shut to prevent leakage from that location.

 

Some rv manufacturers also place the Lp detectors below ovens. What I have found is a lot of people think they turned the oven to the off position, but they only turned it back to the first setting. When they do this the pilot is still lite and they don't realize it. If they then travel the pilot can blow out and the gas ( heavier than air) falls down toward the detectors and an alarm sounds.

 

I also agree with the other poster on these Lp detectors usually have a 5-7 year life span. The manufacturers stamp a manufactured date on their units .

 

Hope this helps.........

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As for false alarms on lp detectors or what you think is a false alarm. I have seen hair spray, food that has gone bad and even an expired critter in a wall or storage bay that has caused a false alarm. Or a live critter also.

I have found on occasion that the pilot flame in the oven was left on, the propane run out and then after they refilled the propane the pilot is on and gas still flowing out. There are a few older ovens that I have seen with a pilot setting but no thermocouple to shut the gas flow off when there is no flame.

But the LP detector may be bad also.

With a LP electronic sniffer you can find the general area of a problem. Even a dog that needs a bath. But if your are testing a animal be ready for the response when the beeping starts on the detector as they may not like it.

If you think at all there is a LP problem a drop down pressure test on the system will show if there is a LP leak or not.

 

Safe Travels, Vern

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All of the comments about making sure that a propane alarm is not genuine are great, but that still does not address the problem of spurious alarms, which seems to persist in some RVs. I experienced one in our RV while sitting in the RV port, no propane bottle installed on the trailer, nobody (nor pets) inside of it and it even had two windows open. There are problems with these things being too sensitive to things other than propane. As a test, I took one from our house that uses 120V-ac power with a battery backup and put it into the RV and it works just fine, no alarms even when the RV one from MTI is alarming. The MTI is now approaching 3 years old and I don't want another like it placed into the same location.

 

Has anyone tried moving the alarm, or some other means of solving this problem. Our RV does not have an oven so it isn't that. When you have done the things suggested in the posts here, what next? Buy another of the same brand and hope that it will work reliably?

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All of the comments about making sure that a propane alarm is not genuine are great, but that still does not address the problem of spurious alarms, which seems to persist in some RVs. I experienced one in our RV while sitting in the RV port, no propane bottle installed on the trailer, nobody (nor pets) inside of it and it even had two windows open. There are problems with these things being too sensitive to things other than propane. As a test, I took one from our house that uses 120V-ac power with a battery backup and put it into the RV and it works just fine, no alarms even when the RV one from MTI is alarming. The MTI is now approaching 3 years old and I don't want another like it placed into the same location.

 

Has anyone tried moving the alarm, or some other means of solving this problem. Our RV does not have an over so it isn't that. When you have done the things suggested in the posts here, what next? Buy another of the same brand and hope that it will work reliably?

I would suggest that the MTI you have is defective as evidenced by your experiment. Since there are thousands of those units out there and only a handful of spurious alarm complaints that cannot be explained, it seems reasonable to give the brand another chance particularly since we don't have many choices in brands. I suppose its possible that the location of the unit could be a problem, did you put the house unit in the same location? In any case it seems that if you want to continue having propane leak detection you haven't much choice.

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I use a UEI hand held detector for my business. The description of this unit says it will detect any combustioable gas.

With a Google search for a leak detector there is one availed at Home Depot for 25 bucks or so.

Does anyone happen to have one that is on the forum. If so does it work.

 

 

Safe Travels, Vern

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In any case it seems that if you want to continue having propane leak detection you haven't much choice.

First, this isn't the first case of a spurious propane alarm that I have ever experienced, in fact I believe that most RVs experience them at least occasionally. It is very difficult to prove what actually happened if you don't have a portable monitor, which is an item that I am seriously considering. In terms of 120V models there are several manufacturers around and a wide range of models, but for the RV world, there seems to be only two manufacturers, MTI and Atwood, which is a question that I asked about in another thread. I think that I'll also do some checking with marine suppliers since boats also use explosive gas detectors.

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First, this isn't the first case of a spurious propane alarm that I have ever experienced, in fact I believe that most RVs experience them at least occasionally. It is very difficult to prove what actually happened if you don't have a portable monitor, which is an item that I am seriously considering. In terms of 120V models there are several manufacturers around and a wide range of models, but for the RV world, there seems to be only two manufacturers, MTI and Atwood, which is a question that I asked about in another thread. I think that I'll also do some checking with marine suppliers since boats also use explosive gas detectors.

Maybe, but in over 13 yrs and two different RVs I have never experienced an alarm that couldn't be explained. Neither has the subject come up in any of the conversations I have had with other RVers. So, from my experience it seems rare. Why not just replace it and see what happens?

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One factor that complicates things greatly is the fact that these sensors alarm at very low levels(as they should for safety reasons) but give no hint of the levels causing the alarm, or even of what it is detecting. I suspect also that the effort to make them inexpensive probably means less accurate as well. It is rather like a tornado warning in that you may think that it is another false alarm, but the risk of ignoring it is just too great.

Maybe, but in over 13 yrs and two different RVs I have never experienced an alarm that couldn't be explained. Neither has the subject come up in any of the conversations I have had with other RVers. So, from my experience it seems rare. Why not just replace it and see what happens?

I'm not exactly new to RVs & I have seen the subject on these forums before. I'd happily replace the one that I have if I could get my money back in the event that the problem doesn't go away. Do you know who will refund if that happens?

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I'd happily replace the one that I have if I could get my money back in the event that the problem doesn't go away. Do you know who will refund if that happens?

Well most places have a return policy, 30 days or so? Save the packaging and send it back if it false alarms in that time.

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Mine went off again tonight. Mama at home alone. I at work. I might should check gap on water heater ignitor. It may be failing to light on first try and getting gas inside. Sensor and it very close.

 

The best solutions to find this problem were a lp leak drop test & using an electronic Lp tester that was mentioned by Wrknrv . In just a few minutes you would find out if you do have an LP leak or its something else.

 

If none of the above tests were done , Have you used a soap solution to check for leaks ?

 

I would start checking on any your stovetop fittings that might be directly above your Lp alarm ?

The small stove Lp regulators ( under the stove top ) are known to have leakage problems. Another problem area for Lp leaks is the Lp shut off valve located on the rear of the refrigerator. If the back of the refrigerator is not sealed tight (make sure the lp line that goes through the baseboard does not have a gap ) , Lp can leak downward ( heavier than air ) to the inside floor of the rv setting the alarm off.

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No propane to fridge. Will check stove top. Never looked under there

 

Do you mean no leaks to the refrigerator supply line or no propane to the refrigerator ?

 

If no propane to the refrigerator, check for a bent copper or rubber supply line restricting supply. Also I mentioned earlier about a gas shut off valve behind the refrigerator. Check to see if it is in the shut off position.

Have you used the refer on gas lately ? If you have not , the supply line must likely have air in the line. That can be normal over time when a rv sets and is not in use. A very,very small amount of Lp can escape over time from the seals on each burner valve on the stovetop.

After checking for leaks ( electronically, leak drop test, soap solution ) , you can start a burner on the stovetop and let it burn a few moments and then try the refrigerator on gas . That should purge the air out of the line to the refer enabling the refrigerator to light up on propane.

 

Is the LP detector still alarming ?

 

If so, did you check the oven to see if the oven's thermostat might be in the pilot position and not all the way shut off. This can cause a LP leak if the pilot blows out. Gas is still supplied to that pilot.

 

You previously said that the water heater is not far from the LP detector.

Check to see if there is any gaps in the seal on the outside perimeter ( frame ) of the water heater.

Another common problem with water heaters is they allow fumes into the rv is when the black rubber grommet that protects and seals the LP supply line is either missing or is not firmly attached , causing a gap which allows gasses to enter the rv ,

That will cause a lp detector to alarm.

 

Hope this helps and be sure to let us all know what you find. It can help others....................tim

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