Your RV’s propane appliances allow you to cook, shower, clean dishes, and stay warm on cooler nights. Here’s a basic overview of the main components of the propane system that supports those appliances:
- Propane container(s) to store the propane (LP gas)
- A two-stage RV propane regulator to ensure proper operating pressure for appliances
- A piping system to deliver LP gas from the container through the regulator to your gas-burning appliances.
The regulator is one of the most important components of this system. So, let’s start by explaining what it is and what happens when it fails. Then, we’ll highlight common faulty gas regulator symptoms and recommend how to reset your regulator if you’re having issues.
What is an RV Propane Regulator?
An RV propane regulator is a two-stage device that reduces and regulates the pressure of propane gas to the proper operating pressure for your propane-burning appliances. This is sometimes called a “system regulator” because some appliances (cooktops, furnaces, etc.) include individual regulators to control propane pressure before it enters the appliances.
You’ll find an RV’s propane system regulator installed downstream of the propane storage container(s). The working pressure for an RV propane system is measured in inches of water column (WC). Here are the two important working pressures to know:
- Working Pressure: 11 inches WC
- Lockup Pressure: Not to exceed 14 inches WC
The first-stage system regulator reduces the container pressure to roughly 10 pounds per square inch (PSI). The second stage system regulator further reduces the pressure from 10 PSI to 11 inches WC, which is approximately equivalent to 6.3 ounces per square inch or ½ PSI. Individual appliance regulators are typically set to a range between 10 and 10.5 inches WC.
What Happens When a Propane Regulator Fails
When assessing or analyzing your RV’s propane systems, safety is always the most important factor. As you might imagine, a failing propane regulator can be a major safety risk to your RV’s inhabitants and the RV itself.
When a propane regulator fails, you might experience a variety of factors, such as:
- Incomplete combustion
- That “rotten egg” smell
- Reduced gas flow
- Lack of appliance ignition
- Unexpected appliance shutdowns
- Increased propane consumption
- Frost or icing on the regulator
- Noticeable whistling sound when operating appliances
Symptoms of a Bad Propane Regulator
Here are some of the most common symptoms that tell you it may be time to replace the regulator in your RV’s propane system:
Technician Tip: While propane regulators can be inspected and adjusted by licensed service professionals, they can’t be repaired. They must be replaced, so if you’ve noticed one or more of these symptoms, shut the propane off at the containers and contact a licensed professional.
You Notice That “Propane” Smell
Propane, as extracted, is odorless and colorless. However, propane companies add a chemical called mercaptan that gives it that noticeable, sulfur-like smell. A noticeable “rotten egg” smell in or around your RV indicates that you should investigate a possible propane leak.
How do you identify the leak?
Applying soapy water – not containing ammonia or chlorine – can help you identify propane leaks. Use a spray bottle to apply the leak detector solution at the regulator’s connection points and check for bubbles. A lighter or other open flame should never be used to find propane leaks. It does work, but only once!
If the leak comes from your regulator, the diaphragm is the most likely culprit. The regulator’s diaphragm is a flexible disc that works with the regulator’s vent to adjust gas flow as pressure changes. A noticeable smell coming from the regulator’s vent is a tell-tale sign of a diaphragm issue that requires replacing the entire regulator.
Technician Tip: If you discover a leak (via the application of soapy water or a smell test), DO NOT attempt to locate the exact source. Immediately shut off the valves on your propane container(s) and contact your nearest Camping World Service Center to schedule a propane system service appointment.
RV propane regulators are stamped with a date code. They should be changed according to the manufacturer’s specifications when that date code has been surpassed.
Appliances Have a Small Flame or Poor Heat Output
An unusually small flame on a cooktop burner or reduced heat output from your furnace might indicate a malfunctioning regulator. Ensure that your container(s) still hold ample supply before re-testing individual appliances for flame size and/or heat output.
The Flame Color is Yellow or Orange
With your regulator functioning properly and your appliances properly adjusted, the flame should be blue and evenly dispersed. A yellow or orange flame is a sign of incomplete combustion, likely due to a regulator issue (either at the system regulator or the regulator for the individual appliance). Other signs of incomplete combustion include popping noises when the appliance is turned on and off and soot deposits on the burner or the exhaust outlet.
You Run Out of Propane Quicker Than Normal
If your usage patterns have remained fairly consistent, but you must refill propane more frequently than usual, a faulty RV propane regulator could be the culprit. After all, if it doesn’t do its intended job of regulating LP pressure, this can lead to wasted gas due to excessive consumption.
You Hear a Whistling Sound When Operating Appliances
Many propane RV appliances emit some noise or whistling while operating. If you’re a new RV owner, take note of this sound so you have a reference for what’s normal and what you might consider excessive. When your regulator malfunctions, excessive noises may occur, such as loud hissing, persistent whistling, and popping or rumbling sounds.
Frost or Ice Accumulates on the Regulator
If you notice frost or ice building up on the body of the regulator, it’s a sign of a sudden or rapid drop in pressure. This typically causes a corresponding temperature drop and the formation of condensation. While the regulator is designed to reduce pressure, it does so gradually through those two stages, which should not result in excessive pressure drops when functioning properly.
Propane Appliances Unexpected Shut Down
If, after cooking for five minutes, a burner unexpectedly turns off, you might be out of propane. But if you can confirm adequate LP gas supply, you may also have an issue with your regulator.
Appliance shutdowns can occur from a lack of propane but also from inconsistent gas flow, an issue that tracks back to an ineffective regulator.
It Got Submerged in Water
There’s a reason motorhome propane tanks are located in a protected compartment, and towable RVs with the container(s) on the tongue should be equipped with a propane container cover.
A regulator has a cover that protects it from debris, but that cover must remain in place to provide the designed protection. This is why the regulator vent should be aimed within 45 degrees of straight down to shed moisture. Water can allow chemicals and debris into the spring area, which can result in corrosion and, eventually, regulator failure.
Technician Tip: You should never submerge a regulator in water, but you should not attempt to waterproof one either. Using your container cover as designed is the best way to protect your RV propane regulator from water damage.
The Regulator is Visibly Damaged or Deformed
Visible damage to the regulator is a clear and obvious sign that it should be replaced. This damage could be caused by road debris when towing, improper use, or the weight of snow if you don’t store your RV properly for winter. Those aren’t the only potential causes, but the takeaway is clear: If you notice cracks, dents, or significant corrosion, it’s time to replace your RV propane regulator.
How To Reset The Propane Regulator For Your RV
Fortunately, resetting your RV’s propane regulator is easy. Here are the basic steps for a regulator reset:
- Turn off all propane-burning appliances in your RV.
- Turn off propane flow by closing valves on propane container(s).
- Wait several minutes.
- Return propane flow to appliances by opening container valve(s) and re-pressurizing the piping system.
Technician Tip: RV LP systems are equipped with excess flow check valves. If a sudden, large volume of propane is detected, this system will shut the flow from the containers down to about 1 -2% of the normal capacity. This is in case you ruptured an LP line. The amount that continues to flow is very low and will help the technician locate the leak later.
It is possible to accidentally activate this system by opening the containers too quickly. Many people aren’t aware of this system and will interpret the lack of propane flow as a bad regulator when the regulator is actually fine. To avoid accidentally causing this issue, the user should first observe which container the automatic change-over valve is pointing to. This is the container to open first.
Next, just crack the valve open far enough that you hear the propane begin to flow through it. This may sound like “pffft”. It is now okay to fully open the valve. Repeat this on the other container. In the event you do activate this system and there are no actual leaks, the 1-2% flow should fully pressurize the LP lines in 20-30 minutes, which will reset the system. It is possible to force the reset by closing the containers, removing the LP high-pressure pigtail hoses from the containers, and waiting for 1-2 minutes before reconnecting the hoses and trying again.
We hope these tips for troubleshooting your RV’s propane regulator have been useful. Here are a few more propane-related articles you can add to your collection of RV resources:
- How To Connect Propane to Your RV and Safely Turn It On
- 5 Tips for Conserving Propane
- How To Estimate How Much Propane You Need in Your RV
Any questions about your propane regulator or propane system in general? Let us know in the comments below!