Running a small caravan site I get to discuss with our guests their new purchases for their caravans and motorhomes. Something which I’ve seen recently is guests choosing to go with refillable LPG propane gas bottles. These gas cylinders are available for both caravans and motorhomes, in both permanent and portable forms. So with this post, I thought I would create a guide on the different options available for refillable LPG bottles for caravans and motorhomes. I’ll discuss the different sizes of refillable gas bottles, the pros and cons of different makes etc. I’ll also discuss the payback period, as refillable gas bottles as an investment do depend on how frequently you use your caravan or motorhome and obviously how much gas you use each trip.
There are various refillable gas bottle kits you can purchase such as this 6kg kit from GAS IT: Image – Amazon.co.uk
To start things off you can watch the quick video introduction below from Practical Motorhome. Towards the end of the video, the discussion moves on to permanent installations for motorhomes. The introduction to the video discusses refillable propane bottles which are also applicable for caravans. However, the cylinders shown in the video are not that portable, I discuss better a portable refillable gas bottle option below.
The Benefits of Refillable LPG Bottles
Today, while heating facilities in caravans and motorhomes are often powered on-site by the mains hookup, you still need gas for cooking. In some cases, the electrical heating systems when its really cold just won’t keep you warm enough if your van is not well insulated. Furthermore, if you want to go wild off-grid camping, a good supply of gas is essential.
If you’re new to caravanning or the motorhome life you may not be aware of the gas bottle dilemma. With a traditional Calor or Flogas bottle, you only swap it when it’s empty. Typically a caravan or motorhome will have a dual bottle setup, so when one bottle is running low on gas you have the ability to swap over. However, there are downsides to this setup.
Keeping the Caravans Weight to a Minimum
Today, tow vehicles are getting lighter to improve fuel efficiency. Typically, the recommended safe weight relationship between a car and caravan is 85%. The 85% rule is to help the car dictate where the caravan goes in a sway situation, with the car being heavier than the caravan.
Well to keep the 85% rule, caravan weights are also going have to keep getting lighter and lighter. With a standard non-refillable dual gas bottle setup you are having to carry around two cylinders, with one as a backup. And standard gas bottles made from steel are not lightweight!
Take a pretty standard 6kg Calor gas bottle, 6kg represents the weight of the gas. Empty that bottle actually weighs 7.3-10.9kg. So for two bottles, that’s around 20kg in total you’re having to carry around just in the weight of the bottles!
With a refillable LPG gas bottle setup, most people will do fine with only a single bottle as they can fill it up to the top before their trip. With a standard bottle, that’s say got around a quarter left that wouldn’t be enough, so you need the second bottle as a backup. Therefore, you can save weight in your caravan or motorhome by going with a single refillable LPG propane bottle. However, some refillable gas cylinders are lighter than others.
Who Makes Refillable Gas Cylinders?
There is a growing range of refillable LPG bottles of various sizes. The list below is just a sample of the most common brands on the market. New products will enter the market and I’ll try and update this page as and when.
Safefill offers a range of small and also importantly lightweight refillable LPG bottles. Based not too far from us in Stoke-on-Trent, Safefill have been in the gas industry for over 15 years. Their cylinders are lightweight, portable, tamperproof and of course refillable.
The Safefill bottles have gone through a considerable range to tests as you would expect, which include the effects of temperature, ageing and static loads. The bottles appear to be constructed from fibreglass. This not only makes the bottle very strong but also light. Furthermore, Safefill bottles are translucent, so you can see how much gas is in the bottle.
Safefill Bottle Sizes
The smallest bottle offered by Safefill is 5kg (8.5 litres), then the 7.5kg (14.5 litres) and finally their largest bottle the 10kg (19.5 litres).
Safefill Price and Payback
Currently (July 2019) the LPG Shop are selling the 5kg,7.5kg and 10kg Safefill bottles. Starting at £157 up to £167, that’s right, only £10 difference between small to large. Therefore if you can fit the large, that’s the one to go for.
In terms or the economics and payback on the Safefill refillable cylinders, I would encourage you to check out the Caravan Chronicles post on Safefill. The playback data is from 2012, but you can use the same principles and update the figures to conduct your own payback calcs. Payback is obviously very dependant on how close you are to a suitable LPG refill station and their cost per kg of gas.
Safefill Pros and Cons
- + 10 Year Warranty
- + Visibility to see how much gas is in the bottle
- + Strong and Lightweight Construction
- + Easily Portable for refilling and other uses
- – Higher upfront price compared to rented bottles
- – Not every Petrol Station accepts LPG refill bottles
GAS IT claims to be the UK’s and Europe’s best-selling brand for refillable LPG setups for caravans and motorhomes. They have also established themselves as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) working with the likes of Swift, AutoTrail, Elddis and Auto-Sleepers. Based in North Wales (near Caernarfon ) GAS IT have been providing refillable LPG products since the mid-1990s. GAS IT only supply their products directly or through approved dealers. They even distribute their products to the US and Australia.
GAS IT Bottle Sizes
The smallest GAS IT bottle is their 6kg and they offer a range of cylinders up to 21kg. Unlike the Safefill bottles the GAS IT bottles are made from steel, so you cannot visibly see how much gas in the cylinder. Therefore, GAS IT offers two options, either their mechanical/analogue level gauge bottles or their Bluetooth bottles. That’s right, with the Bluetooth cylinders you can use your phone to view the level of LPG in 1% increments. If you don’t actually own a suitable smartphone GAS IT also provides a monitor with five LED lights which indicate the level of gas.
GAS IT Bottle Weights
As the GAT IT bottles are made from steel they do weigh more than the Safefill bottles. For comparison, the smallest 5kg Safefill bottle weighs just 3.4kg empty, where the smallest GAS IT 6kg bottle weighs 7kg empty. On the larger bottles, this difference can become even more significant. Therefore when it comes to caravans, in particular, you need to consider the weight of the bottles and portability.
GAS IT Prices and Payback
So the price will obviously depend on the size but also if you opt for either the analogue level gauge or the Bluetooth bottles. For instance currently (July 2019) the 6kg analogue bottle is £129, where the Bluetooth bottle is £167. The analogue 11kg bottle is £141 and the 11kg Bluetooth bottle is £183. You can use the information referenced in the Safefill bottle payback to calculate payback for a GAS IT setup. Though obviously, you need to factor in additional fitting and installation costs where applicable.
GAS IT Pros and Cons
- + Long established reputation producing refillable LPG cylinders
- + OEM refillable bottle supplier for major vehicle brands
- + Offers a wider range of products compared to Safefill
- – Only a 2 Year Product Warranty
- – Heavier than Safefill bottles, less Portable
- – You cannot visibly see the gas level
- – Comparable products more expensive than Safefill
GASLOW has been working in the gas industry for over 35 years. In 2004 they introduced their first refillable LPG bottles which have since been fitted to thousands of caravans and motorhomes.
As you can see from the GASLOW advert above, they like to emphasize the safety rating of their refillable bottles. Whether you need R67 rated bottles for your caravan or motorhome is debatable. According to GAS IT to reach the R67 standard it’s more to do with how the bottles are installed than just the bottles themselves.
“you have to fix you R67 gas cylinder into your vehicle in a location that is capable of taking a 20G force in the direction of travel and 8G side direction ( from experience gas bottle lockers are not built to able to withstand this force in our opinion and having carried out testing on 3 gas lockers ).” – GAS IT
I’m no expert on this subject so I can’t advise effectively on the pros and cons of R67 rated bottles and installations. Therefore I would advise that you discuss the R67 pros and cons with GASLOW and GAS IT to determine for your self.
GASLOW Bottle Sizes
GASLOW actually offer the smallest refillable LPG bottle of the brands mentioned in this post at 2.7kg. However, it should be noted that this size is recommended by GASLOW more for campers than caravans and motorhomes. For caravans and motorhomes, GASLOW recommend either their 6kg or 11kg refillable LPG bottles.
Bizarrely while the GASLOW website provides lots of information on fixtures and fittings I can’t seem to find any information on gas level gauges? Obviously, as these are steel bottles you cannot visibly see the level of gas as with a Safefill bottle. And unlike the GAS IT website there is no mention of analogue/mechanical level gauges or Bluetooth sensors. Presumably, a mechanical/analogue level gauge can be fitted in the setup.
GASLOW Prices and Payback
Their 2.7kg bottle is currently (July, 2019) £143, the 6kg and 11kg bottles are £159 and £179 respectively. However, as we previously disussed the 2.7 bottle is too small for a caravan or motorhome to be effective. Therefore, the most common choice would be the 6kg bottle. GASLOW sell a single bottle installation kit (with no level gauge) for £361.
GASLOW Pros and Cons
- + All GASLOW refillable LPG bottles are rated to the R67 standard
- + Long established reputation with LPG bottles
- – Heavy steel construction, not very Portable
- – Cannot visibly see the level of gas
Can you use Portable Refillable LPG cylinders at every Petrol Station with an LPG pump?
In theory yes, if you have the right adapter. However, some garages don’t have specific policies to allow customers to use portable refillable LPG bottles. Apparently, Safefill has a deal with Morrison’s petrol stations to allow fill-ups. Safefill also has a map on their website of approved re-fill stations, and I’ve also put that map on the homepage of our website.
The various fittings for Refillable LPG Cylinders
If you watched the video above on refillable LPG bottles you will have noted that if you go travelling, you will need a range of fittings to top up with LPG. The image below is from the LPG shop who do also sell their own range of refillable cylinders. They have also produced this handy diagram to show what the different fittings look like depending on the country. You can purchase the different fitting adapters separately. However, you may be able to get a better deal purchasing them as a set.
Permanent Refillable Installations for Caravana and Motorhomes
For caravans, you can get permanent refillable setups. However, you really need to consider if it makes sense for you. While you are getting cheaper gas, there is a significant upfront cost, so need to consider payback. Furthermore, you will have to take the caravan to the petrol station each time you want to fill up with gas. This shouldn’t be a problem in most cases but let’s discuss a scenario. You forget to refill the LPG tank and you have already set up at site, awning and all. Obviously at this point when you realise your permanent refillable gas tank is low your going to get pretty frustrated.
Also, one of the benefits of refillable LPG cylinders is saving weight in your caravan. Well with a permanent setup its unlikely your actually going to be saving any weight at all. So in most cases, portable refillable propane bottles for caravans makes the most sense.
For motorhomes, a permanent LPG set up is more enticing. With a motorhome, the additional weight is less of a concern. As shown in the video above a permanent tank can be fitted under the chassis and a connection point located discretely on the motorhome. There is still the issue of payback to consider. However, if you take your motorhome off-grid frequently and for long periods of time, the convenience of a permanent refillable setup makes a lot of sense.
Conclusions on Refillable LPG Propane Cylinders
After spending time researching this topic my opinions (this is not a sponsored post) are the following. If you own a caravan and you are considering changing your gas bottle for a refillable, a lightweight and easily portable cylinder is the way to go. Therefore, of the three options above Safefill appears the best options for caravans. Now, whether the Safefill refillable bottles make economic sense for you obviously depends on how often and how much time you spend in your caravan. For, instance do you have an electric or gas stove caravan kettle? If you don’t use that much gas swapping from using standard steel Calor gas bottles over to lightweight Flogas Gaslight bottles may be a better option.
For motorhomes where a permanent installation potentially makes more sense and weigh isn’t as much of an issue, you have more options. Again, you really have to weigh up how much gas you are going to use to work out payback etc. Then again, for some people, it’s not just about economics. Being able to have a large refillable supply of gas under the chassis of a motorhome will have a lot of appeal for some people.
Ok, I don’t think you’re interested in a science lesson, so I’ll keep this quick and to the point. When you buy standard/rented LPG bottles for caravan and motorhomes you can opt for butane (blue bottles) or propane (red bottles).
Butane is commonly cheaper than propane, and during the warmer months of the year actually burns more efficiently than propane. However, during the colder months of the year butane performs poorly. This is why propane is more commonly used for all year round applications.
When you choose to go with a refillable LPG bottle you will be filling up with what’s branded as Autogas. Autogas is predominantly propane with a small percentage of butane.
No, it is illegal to refill a standard rented LPG gas bottle. It is also extremely dangerous to attempt to refill standard LPG bottles, potentially leading to injury or even death. If you are caught attempting to refill a standard LPG cylinder your efforts could land you in court.
DO NOT be tempted by the refill adapters which you may have seen on eBay. A standard LPG cylinder is not fitted with overfill protection shut off. This is an essential feature of approved refillable LPG bottles.
Even if you are considering doing the install your self it’s always advisable to get a Gas Safe registered engineer to check it over and test your installation for leaks. Better to be safe than sorry. You should also get them to check your caravan gas regulator for problems.
Autogas is just the way that LPG has been branded on petrol station forecourts.
In the UK Autogas is (almost) 100% propane. However, in Europe, some countries have a higher percentage of butane in the mix.