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Van Life: Why I Use Gas

When it comes to motorhomes, you typically have a few options of how to power equipment such as kettles, ovens and fridges.

As standard, motorhomes will run lighting off 12 volts — not the 230 volts AC you’ll be accustomed to at home. The same is true for pumps and the electrics in something like a fridge — the control circuits, sensors, and so on.

Many motorhomes come kitted out with a “three-way fridge”, so-called because there are three different ways it can be powered. It can be powered by 12 volts directly, but only when you’re driving. Even then, it’s not great and just about manages to maintain its temperature.

You can also run a fridge off 230 / 240 volts AC, which is what you would do if you were on a campsite with hook-up for a week or so. However, that does use about 20 amps an hour at 12 volts. If you were trying to run it on an inverter — which we do whilst driving — it means the 110 amps coming from our battery-to-battery charge equates to only 90 amps going to the batteries with the remaining 20 amps going to the fridge. Even with our 900-amp battery pack, we’d only manage to power the fridge for 45 hours.

The third option is LPG gas, and it’s the most flexible one in terms of the amount of energy you can store. The idea of running a fridge off gas may sound strange, but it’s remarkably effective. When we’re off grid, we don’t run the fridge off 12 volts or the mains — we run it off gas, and it’s incredibly efficient.

A cartoon image of a person holding a frying pan above a flame from a gas hob. Fire is emanating from the pan.

Another vital piece of equipment in most motorhomes is an oven. At home, many ovens are electric, running off a 32-amp supply. There is no way that would be feasible in a motorhome. Even on hook-up, you’re not going to be able to draw that kind of power at most campsites. The limit is usually 16 amps for the whole van. In Europe, you’d typically be looking at six amps or less. Gas ovens, therefore, are a no-brainer.

Then there’s the hob. We have four hob rings in our motorhome: three are gas and one is electric, as back-up in case we ever run of out of gas. We favour a traditional stove-top kettle whilst on holiday to reduce the amount of power required, although we do use an electric toaster running off the batteries.

Whilst we use gas most of the time, the electric ring does come in handy in some scenarios. For instance, during journeys on the Eurostar where switching off the gas supply is a condition of travel. It’s a relief to be able to enjoy a cuppa whilst 115 metres below sea level.

Our hot water boiler and heating also use LPG gas. You can get versions of boiler heaters — made by a company called Truma — that run off electric as well. We have one in our caravan, but our motorhome boiler relies solely on gas.

When you picture gas, you might envisage the little 6kg Calor Gas bottles — the type folk have been struggling to get hold of all summer. They’re the default option, but they can be a real pain. You’re never entirely sure when they’re going to run out, meaning you carry a couple of spares at all times. If you’re lucky enough to get hold of any in the first place, that is!

One workaround it to install a refillable LPG system, which is what we have. It involves little yellow bottles that look like Minions, which you can fill at any fuel station where you’d put LPG in your car. For us, that’s a trip to the local petrol station where we drive up to the pump and simply plug in. None of this getting the spanner out malarkey, or dragging empty Calor bottles around in search of refills. Before a big trip, we’ll fill it up completely and will have enough gas to last us multiple weeks.

A monochrome image of the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by cartoon depiction of Mike wearing a beret, sat outside a cafe with a coffee and a croissant.

For trips to Europe, it’s possible to buy an adapter for LPG vehicles, allowing you to fill up your LPG bottle in different locations. And I’m not talking about the extremely sketchy adapters you can buy from eBay to fill up a regular Calor Gas bottle at an LPG station — you’re likely to blow yourself up if you do that! I’m talking about a legitimate set-up that you can use to refill LPG, allowing you to utilise your fridge, cooker, hot water and heater whilst on holiday without needing to worry.

Many people who undertake van conversions will put in what’s called a diesel heater. We have one of those too, and you can buy one off Amazon for around £100. The output air vent in our motorhome is in the bathroom and runs off a very small amount of diesel directly from the tank. I put ours in the bathroom because we use it as a drying room. We stick all our coats in there when it’s been chucking it down with rain. Simply switch the diesel heater on and the sopping wet coats become nice and warm in no time… Magic! I also trimmed down the connector that taps the diesel from the tank, meaning we won’t run out if we were to ever leave it on by accident.

As you might be able to tell, I find the topic of power fascinating… Consider for one moment, a £100 gas bottle can technically store more energy than £10,000 worth of batteries! That’s mind-blowing! And it’s precisely what has led to the current gas crisis in the UK, because we generate electricity from gas rather than storing it in batteries. Curious to learn more? Check out my video on this very topic, and find out what eco-friendly alternatives could be available in the future: Beyond Batteries: The Evolution of Energy Storage.


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