skoolie propane system

Skoolie Conversion: Propane Diagram and Installation

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When I started planning my skoolie propane diagram and setup in the bus, I had absolutely no idea where to start. The idea of working with propane scared me. One, because I didn’t have any experience with it, and two, because the rumours (myths?) of spontaneous combustion and getting poisoned in my sleep due to carbon monoxide leaks put ideas in my head that it just wasn’t safe for me to do.

I was wrong! I did it (with help)! And I tested it as well to make sure that it is, in fact, safe. 

After a TON of reading blog posts and drawing out diagrams and ordering/returning things on Amazon, I’m going to show you what I did in the hopes that it can help you out in your build. 

I also included some lessons learned which might be worth the read so that you can learn from my mistakes before getting started or spending your money. 

Note: The links and equipment in this blog post make the most sense for folks shipping items to Canada. They are not sponsored. 

Let’s start with… My Appliances

I have 3 appliances that run on propane, and 2 propane tanks that are mounted at the back of my bus.

Yes, this fridge was more expensive than what I wanted to spend, but it has been worth it. This fridge can operate 3 different ways – 12v, 120v, and propane. I have found that running it on propane has been most efficient. I’ll write a blog post that gets into the details of this fridge and why I chose it, but the propane installation was easy. The igniter uses a battery. The fridge has a green bar that shows up based on temperature to tell you that the fridge is “on”.

I love this stovetop so far and think it was a good call to choose a smaller stove in order to save on counter space. I really only use 1 burner, except for when I cook dinner and 2 is required. The installation for this was relatively painless. The most painful part about it was probably cutting a giant hole in my countertop with a jigsaw from the 60s’, but that is not propane related. I read a ton of reviews about using a propane stove vs. an electric one, and decided that using propane would be more efficient and reliable (since my electrical setup is 100% solar powered).

This water heater doesn’t use a lot of propane since it’s only on for a few minutes at a time (depending on how long your showers are). It gets to a comfortable showering temperature in cold weather, and really hot in hot weather. I read the reviews before I purchased it, and people (campers) like it because it has a “great flame” that heats water quickly and efficiently. I’m a fan of it so far. It is meant for indoor usage and requires good ventilation so if your bus is well insulated, you’ll have to figure out how to vent it.

Propane Diagram

On to arguably the most important thing – the propane diagram. Running from left to right, this diagram includes every single piece of equipment I purchased to make things work. The propane tanks hang on the back of my bus, and everything up to piece 8 is located on the outside of the bus. Only pieces 8 and on are actually inside the bus, through a hole in the frame.

skoolie propane diagram
back of bus

Here’s the back of the bus. My other propane tank is usually mounted on the right side below the lights. 

Don’t let this overwhelm you! The first time I saw a similar one on Far Out Ride, I did let it overwhelm me. I thought that installing this propane setup would be a complicated process that I would have to hire someone to do. However, after planning out my setup and getting my appliances, tools, piping and fittings ordered, it wasn’t too bad and was totally doable (with no propane experience).

skoolie propane setup

Here’s the setup on the outside of the bus, just above the propane tank. 

A note on items 8 and 9!

I had to order (2) flare Ts and (1) adapter simply because I could not find a flare cross, like this: 

flare cross

If I could find a flare cross, I would have ordered it and would not have bought the flare Ts or the adapter to connect them.

What does each piece do?

  1. Propane Tanks – supplies the system with propane.
  2. Regulator and hose – regulates the pressure of propane going into the system. 
  3. ¼” Nipple – connects the end of the hose to the solenoid, and the solenoid to the flare T on the other side. 
  4. Solenoid – This is wired into the electrical system of the build. It has a switch that turns the propane on and off. 
  5. ¼” Female Flare T – connects to the pressure gauge and the rest of the system.
  6. Pressure Gauge – tells you what pressure the system is at. This comes in handy when you test your system and fix leaks (see below). 
  7. ¼” male to ⅜” female flare adaptor – converts the ¼” size to ⅜” to connect to the flare T.
  8. ⅜” flare T – separates the system so that all appliances are on their own “circuit”. This is important – see below. 
  9. ⅜” female flare adaptor – connects the two flare Ts together. You don’t need this piece if you can find a flare cross – read more here. 
  10. ⅜” flare nut – flare nuts connect copper piping to other fittings by “flaring” the copper pipe to create a seal. You’ll need a special flaring tool for this – see here. You can also avoid flare nuts and copper piping altogether by using propane hoses like this instead. 
  11. ⅜” flare ball valve – this is the valve that disconnects appliances from the propane source separately – effectively turning them off and on. 
  12. Copper Piping – propane flows through this piping to the appliances. 
  13. 3ft ⅜” female flare propane hose – this connects the bulk of the propane system to each individual appliance. We decided to use hoses here instead of copper piping since hoses are more flexible and allow the appliances to be moved in and out by a few feet if needed. 
  14. Propane mounts – these mount the propane tanks on the back of the bus. Only one propane tank is connected to the system at any given time. I decided to get 2 propane tanks so that when I run out of propane in one, I simply switch the tanks and connect the full one to the system. And start thinking about getting more!

Extras

I purchased a similar 1lb to 20lb converter propane hose so that I can use a few other propane appliances on my spare 20lb propane tank (instead of having to buy 1000 of the small camping propane tanks). It connects to my propane tank on the back of the bus, and mine is 18ft long so that I can use my heater or camping stove around the bus. 

Propane Heater – I purchased this portable propane heater to stay warm inside and outside of the bus on cold nights. It works really well and warms the bus right up! It lasts about 7 hours, so during the cold weeks I was using about 1lb of propane each night. This heater does have to be well vented so if your camper is really well insulated and you’re planning on using this heater inside, it may not be the best option for you. 

Camping Stove – This isn’t the exact stove I have, but it’s fairly similar. I got mine on Facebook Marketplace. I keep my camping stove in my outdoor kitchen (I’ll do another blog post on it at some point) which allows me to cook outside on warm nights. It’s separate from my indoor kitchen setup.

Putting it all together

1. Each appliance has to be on a separate “circuit”

This means that each appliance has to have its own separate copper pipe or hose coming from the propane tank. You shouldn’t have more than one appliance back to back, connected to the same pipe or hose. It’s a safety thing. 

2. Flaring your copper piping 

If you are working with copper piping and flare nuts, you’ll need to flare the piping so that it creates a good seal. Here’s a good tutorial for this. You’ll need a flare kit like this one.

3. Mounting copper piping

We used pipe straps to mount the copper tubing to the wall of the bus. I bought a bag of something that looked like this

4. Mounting the Propane Tanks

I bought 2 of these propane tank mounts and we mounted them on the back of the bus. I thought that the metal looked a little weak, but decided to go for it anyway. So far, they have been great. The propane tanks are solid when they’re locked in and don’t rattle around or wiggle much when I drive. 

Testing Your System

The most obvious sign of a propane leak is that you’ll be able to smell it. But how do you find out where it’s coming from? 

  1. Put a little bit of warm water in a bowl and put some dish soap in it. Use a whisk to create as many bubbles as you can. 
  2. Grab some bubbles and drip them all over the connections in your system. If there is a leak, you’ll be able to see the bubbles moving around and disappearing as the propane from the leak pushes them away. 
  3. Once you notice a leak, get a wrench and tighten the connection until the bubbles don’t move at all. 
  4. This is where your pressure gauge can come in handy. If you have a leak, your pressure gauge will drop down because the system is losing pressure through the leak. Once your pressure gauge stays in the same spot with the propane system on, you’ll know that you have successfully stopped all leaks. 
  5. Once you’re confident that the leaks are fixed, try to turn on your appliances.

What’s my propane consumption like?

So far, I would say that I use about 1 tank of propane each month. Here is my average usage:

  • Fridge running on propane about 12 hours/day (every day). 
  • Showering every other day for 5-10 minutes at a time. 
  • Doing dishes every night. 
  • Cooking dinner on the stove every night and making coffee every morning.

Lessons Learned

1. Make sure you read about the pipe sizing that your appliances have, before you buy the fittings you need. 

Different appliances may require different size fittings. The standard size (at least for my appliances) is ⅜”. This meant that the connectors and adaptors needed for my appliances had to be ⅜” in size in order to fit together with no major propane leaks. 

2. To take that one step further: make sure you buy the right size fittings for the location that you live in. 

This was a plumbing problem that I had with my water heater. Originally, I had a different hot water heater that said it needed a ½” fitting (for water). We tried to install it but it kept leaking. I decided to check out the Amazon reviews and it turns out that the water heater *was* ½”, but in UK size. Apparently that’s different from US/Canadian fitting sizes, so I returned the water heater and got a new one. Again, this was a plumbing issue (not propane), but probably good to be aware of. 

3. Order more pieces than you think you need if it’s within your budget. 

I ended up using more connectors and adaptors than I thought I needed due to missing a piece here and there in my count. I also have some leftover pieces now that I take with me in the bus to use for spare parts when the time comes. You can always return things if you’re an Amazon Prime member (which I did a lot of). 

4. Don’t rely on blog posts for your propane build!

This is an interesting one since I’m literally telling you this in a blog post. But, when I started planning my propane system I relied heavily on other people’s diagrams and ideas. I didn’t really take into account the reasons *why* they did what they did. It wasn’t until I got a better understanding of working with propane and associated equipment that I understood their reasoning. And consequently, I decided to alter my plan to better fit my own goals for the system. 

Interested in seeing what my actual bus build looks like? Check out my skoolie conversion bus tour

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I’m Sydney. Obsessed with travel, food, dogs and adventure, I spend my days finding new ways to appreciate life.

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