RV Appliance Fuel Options – LPG alternatives

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See also: LPG vs Diesel Air Heaters

LPG is King?

LPG BottleBack in the day, an LPG bottle (Liquified Petroleum Gas) was an essential item on the camp trip packing list, used to power cooking and lighting appliances at the campsite. When I first moved into the Campervan world, the refrigerator was added to the list of appliances also requiring an LPG supply. Heating was taken care of by a campfire, powered by timber collected in the local forest!

Fast forward to today and 12V electricity has taken over as our primary power source for lighting and refrigeration, LPG is still our go-to fuel source for cooking and hot water, while the living area of our van is warmed by a heater powered by Diesel drawn from the vehicle’s fuel tank.

So now we need to carry supplies for three separate fuel sources!

Fortunately it isn’t really as bad as it sounds….

    • Our 12V power is supplied by deep-cycle batteries, automatically topped up by our solar panels (and the vehicle alternator);
    • Our ducted air heating is fuelled by Diesel which we carry anyway to power the vehicle;
    • We still have our LPG bottle/s to power our 3 burner cooktop and Weber BabyQ oven, and heat our hot water (which can also be powered by 230V when available).

So, could we rationalise our fuel supplies by replacing our LPG appliances with those powered by an alternative fuel?

LPG Alternatives

LPG has always been a reliable and efficient energy source for Campervans and Motorhomes, albeit with some safety caveats. New technologies have enabled new appliances, with Diesel-fuelled appliances leading the way as alternatives to LPG appliances, boosted by the number of Campervans and Motorhomes already carrying a Diesel fuel supply to power the vehicle engine.

LPG has pros and cons….

    • On the upside, LPG has a high calorific value compared to other fuels.  (Calorific value is a measurement of the amount of energy/heat released for a given amount of fuel). LPG heat is instant.
    • On the downside, LPG bottles consume storage space and payload capacity. LPG poses a potential safety risk from both plumbing leaks and exhaust fumes, and so requires certified installation and (in some states) regular inspection. And it is another on-board fuel supply that has to be regularly topped up.

Diesel too has pros and cons….

    • On the upside, if your vehicle is Diesel-powered you already have a fuel supply that is topped up every time you fill your tank;
    • On the downside, Diesel-powered appliances take longer to reach the same level of heat as LPG appliances. Some Diesel-fuelled  appliances are noisier than their LPG equivalents.

Trakka produce ‘remote pack’ Campervans where all appliances, other than the 12V/230V fridge, are powered by fuel drawn from the vehicle’s main Diesel tank – cooking, heating and hot water. This certainly is an attractive proposition for those travelling in remote areas, where Diesel fuel is more readily available than LPG.

Note: Lithium batteries and high-power inverters are also making inroads here, with induction cooktops becoming an option, and 12V hot water systems also available. But you do need a robust battery and charging system for this to be a realistic option. For the average two-battery  Campervan or Motorhome, we are not quite there yet! 

Methylated spirits (denatured alcohol) has been a popular option for cooktops in the boating community for many years – it is difficult to install a floor vent for LPG in below-deck galleys! Metho is an attractive cooktop option for DIY Campervan owners because no plumbing or certification is required to install. And they are portable.

The biggest drawback with both Diesel and Metho is that their calorific value is less than LPG….

    • Propane: calorific value = 50 MJ/kg
    • Diesel: calorific value = 45 MJ/kg 
    • Methylated spirits:  calorific value = 30 MJ/kg

But maybe their advantages outweigh this disadvantage? Maybe waiting a little longer to boil water is OK when weighed against the space and payload capacity taken by LPG bottles, or the inconvenience of finding an LPG filling station.

And let’s not forget that new appliances powered by 12V electricity are becoming an increasingly viable option as battery and solar recharging technologies advance.

Below is a list of services provided by Motorhome appliances and the fuel options available to run them. Despite the availability of alternatives, LPG remains a reliable and efficient option for most heating appliances…

Refrigeration LPG   12V 230V  
Hot water LPG Diesel 12V 230V  
Cooking LPG Diesel 12V 230V Metho
Air Heating LPG Diesel   230V  
Lighting LPG   12V    


Fuel options….

LPG 12V 230V    

FridgeBy far the most popular fridges for Campervans and Motorhomes are ‘compressor’ fridges, (also known as 2-way fridges) running on either 12V or 230V.

    • Compressor fridges operate in a similar fashion to domestic refrigerators;
    • Compressor fridges and freezers perform well at high ambient temperatures;
    • Compressor fridges operate efficiently at angles up to 30º;
    • 12V power is a continuously renewable energy source, providing you have an adequate battery and solar panel charging setup;
    • 230V operation is available when staying in camp grounds.

‘Absorption’ fridges (also known as 3-way fridges) run on either 12V, 230V or LPG. 

    • Absorption fridges are a good option for long term off-grid camping, running on LPG rather than using 12V reserves;
    • Must be run on 12V, not LPG, when travelling;
    • Absorption fridges must be exactly level when operating;
    • Heavy on battery consumption when running on 12V;
    • 230V operation is available when staying in camp grounds.

Hot water

Fuel options…

LPG Diesel 12V 230V  

Truma Ultrarapid hot waterThe most popular hot water heaters in Campervans and Motorhomes are those that are dual-powered by LPG and 230V.

    • Powered by LPG when free-camping;
    • Powered by 230V when staying on a powered site. 
    • Water heats quickly: 20 – 30 mins

Truma Combi heaterDiesel-powered hot water heaters are also readily available.

    • In a small Campervan the water heater can be a combined unit with an air heater;
    • Diesel heaters aren’t silent;
    • In a combined HW/Air heater unit the water tank can take 90 minutes to reach a usable temperature if the air heater is also running.
12V water heater12V

12V electric hot water heaters are a more recent option. (Eg – AusJ produce water heaters powered by 12V,)

    • Likely to be a heavy drain on battery reserves;
    • These units have relatively small tanks (6-10 litres);
    • Require a robust renewable electricity supply.


Fuel options…

LPG Diesel 12V 230V Metho

LPG is by far the most popular fuel for cooking in Campervans and Motorhomes.

    • Dometic cooktopLPG cooking appliances provide Instant heat;
    • A wide range of cooktops, ovens and grills are available;
    • A portable LPG bottle can be used to fuel external portable ovens – eg Weber BabyQ.

A more recent cooking option is a Diesel-powered cooktop (eg- Webasto X100).

    • Diesel CooktopThese cooktops don’t have a flame, but two ceramic hot plates – a cooking plate and a warming/simmer plate – similar in appearance to modern domestic electric hot plates;
    • No grill or oven facilities;
    • No toasting (no open flame);
    • I haven’t used one of these cooktops, but those who have advise that it can take 10 minutes for the hot plates to reach a usable cooking temperature.

Induction cooktopIf you are staying mostly in campgrounds with mains power available, or you have a serious rechargeable battery setup, with an equally serious inverter, then an induction cooktop is becoming an increasingly popular option.

    • Portable – can be used indoors/outdoors;
    • Heats more quickly than LPG;
    • Ideal for campsites with mains power;
    • Requires a high-power inverter for off grid camping;
    • Single plate models more suitable for 12V inverter operation;
    • Requires compatible cookware;
    • RV suitable: Check out the EcoHeat Smarttouch cooktop.

Sphere microwaveMany motorhomes have a microwave oven fitted, running from 230V mains power, or a high-output inverter when free-camping.

    • Ideal for campsites with mains power available;
    • Can be used with an inverter for 12V operation with suitable battery capacity and solar recharging facilities.
Methylated Spirits

Cooktops powered by Methylated Sprits (eg Bonnetti Dual Burner Cooktop) have been around for a while, made popular in the boating community due to their safer operation than LPG below deck. They are popular for DIY Campervan fit-outs for similar reasons.

    • Metho StoveMetho cooktops are easily installed – no plumbing or certification required;
    • Portable – a metho stove is not plumbed in, and can be easily removed from the van and used to cook outside;
    • Metho stoves produce carbon dioxide, rather than carbon monoxide, so are (marginally) safer for indoors use;
    • Methylated spirits is widely available and a 2 litre bottle will provide cooking for a month (one meal per day).

Air Heating

Fuel options…

LPG Diesel 230V    

Ducted air heaters are one of those more recent ‘glamping’ appliances that have become popular in modern Campervans and Motorhomes.

    • LPG heaterLPG-fuelled ducted air heaters are efficient heaters for use in vehicles that already have an LPG installation and don’t have access to a Diesel fuel supply;
    • Installation must be certified to meet regulatory requirements regarding location and plumbing integrity;
    • Completely silent in operation.
    • Diesel heaterDiesel-fuelled ducted air heaters are the go-to option in Diesel-powered vehicles, drawing their fuel supply from the vehicle’s main fuel tank;
    • Every time you fill your fuel tank you top up your heater fuel supply;
    • Can be heard outside the van when starting up, but very quiet once up to temperature;
    • Consume around a litre of fuel if left running all night.

Fan HeaterWhen staying in a campground and paying for a 230V power connection, a portable fan heater is an excellent heating option for the living area of a van;

    • Available in a variety of sizes;
    • Cost is between $20 and $50;
    • Doesn’t consume any of your on-board fuel supplies;
    • Roof-top air-con is another option, but is noisy and less efficient (drawing warm air from the roof of the van).

More info about heating >>>>


Power options…

LPG? 12V      

OK – LPG lanterns are still available for purchase at camping stores. No doubt these lights have a place in camp sites that don’t have access to rechargeable batteries. But any camping setup associated with a vehicle should have access to a renewable 12V power supply.

LED LightsThe advent of powerful and efficient LED lighting has seen the demise of LPG as a lighting fuel source. Combined with solar panels, lights of all shapes and sizes (and shades of all colours!) are now available to suit the most basic tent site all the way through to the most extravagant motorhome. (Yes, I recall the days of fitting an LPG lantern to a gas bottle – tying on the new mantle, ‘burning in’ the mantle while shielding the light from wind, and regularly replacing the lantern glass broken in transport!)

Dolphin TorchRemember the old Dolphin torches we lugged around with the massive 6V batteries? Modern torches blow away the old Dolphins in both light output and battery life – and they are a fraction of the size and weight.

Motorhome parts suppliers stock a wide range of LED lights – strip lights, dome lights, touch lights, insect repelling lights, remote control lights, etc, etc. It is unlikely that any modern Campervan or Motorhome will have any lighting powered by LPG, or older incandescent lights powered by 230V.

The Bottom Line

ThinkinWhich is the best fuel source for your appliances? (How long is a piece of string?)

Horses for courses. Much depends on your travel style, your destinations and your needs.

    • LPG remains a great all-rounder, and is especially good for cooking;
    • Diesel is excellent for air heating, and is slowly finding its way into hot water and cooking appliances;
    • Metho fills a niche slot for cooking in smaller Campervans, DIY installations and certainly in the boating community.

It is possible to run a Motorhome on only Diesel and 12V electricity, as per the Trakka Remote Pack option. As 12V electrical systems become more powerful and affordable, a full electrical setup is another option on the horizon – an example is the Spinifex Nomadix caravan, with 800Ah of battery capacity (48V), 1600W of solar panels, and a 5000W inverter. This sort of all-electric setup is something that is likely to be explored in the longer term as diesel and petrol-powered vehicles are replaced by electric vehicles.

However, LPG is still a great option, especially for cooking. Instant heat, ovens, grills, and general affordability make it hard to go past if you don’t mind carrying the storage bottles.

A combination of fuels is likely to continue powering Motorhome appliances for the next few years at least, unless you have very specific needs. The next big rethink on the horizon for powering Motorhome appliances will most likely be associated with the introduction of EV powered Motorhomes.

The all-electric Motorhome? Watch this space!


See also:


Fit-out: Layout | Appliances | Accessories | Suppliers