Safety Dance

There is nothing in this world as wonderful as an RV road trip but nothing so terrible as having it ruined due to a safety issue

Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, so it’s best to prevent tragedy before it has the opportunity to occur. RV owners need to be aware of this and other potential issues as they travel.

The recent tragic carbon-monoxide-related death of three friends vacationing in Mexico is a somber reminder for everyone to pay attention to safety. While this certainly applies to all of us in our daily lives, this article will address RV safety. RV owners must be constantly aware of several safety-related issues to help protect their units and their families on the road. Let’s start with combustible gas.

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas often formed by incomplete combustion in propane and natural gas appliances. Since most RVs have several propane appliances on board, they are prime candidates for carbon monoxide to be present—thus the importance of annual propane system maintenance by an RV service professional.

During a yearly inspection, an RV technician will thoroughly examine the propane system and appliances for proper operation. This includes checking for leaks, proper pressure, and appliance condition.

At the very least, the RV’s furnace, water heater, and fridge (unless it’s a residential unit) all utilize combustion. If these appliances are not regularly checked and maintained, the burners may become damaged or drift out of adjustment and potentially result in incomplete combustion and CO emission.

Electric heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For instance, a furnace burner operates inside a sealed combustion chamber that vents outside the RV. Heat inside the RV is generated by blowing air across the combustion chamber and into the living space. If the combustion chamber becomes damaged or is not completely sealed and the burner does not have the correct fuel or air mixture, carbon monoxide can result and leak into the RV. So, if the appliances are not regularly maintained, there is a risk of CO entering the living space. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer that is difficult to detect before it’s too late.

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

The best way to protect your family from the dangers of CO, both in your home and your RV, is to have working carbon monoxide alarms installed. If your CO alarms are battery operated, be sure to replace the batteries twice per year. If you live or travel in an area where daylight savings time is observed, I recommend replacing the batteries in your propane and CO alarms when you change your clocks. Otherwise, set yourself a reminder to replace the batteries.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your detectors are wired into your RV’s 12-volt system, monitor the power LED on the alarm to make sure it is green. Test these devices regularly for proper operation; your CO alarm will have a button that should be pressed once a month or so for this purpose. Carbon monoxide mixes with air; therefore, CO alarms may be placed at any height from floor to ceiling.

Finally, be sure to replace your CO alarm every 10 to 15 years as indicated in the manufacturer’s documentation. The device should have a manufacture date stamped on the back.

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke alarm after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives. Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time. 

Like carbon monoxide, propane gas is odorless and colorless; however, ethyl mercaptan, an odorant that smells like rotten eggs, is added to propane and natural gas for safety reasons. A propane detector will sense the presence of propane in the air long before the ethyl mercaptan is smelled by humans.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Treat the propane detector the same as the CO alarm including regular testing. Propane gas is heavier than air; therefore, detectors must be placed near the floor in an RV. While propane is generally an extremely safe energy source, it is important to respect it to eliminate risk wherever possible. To this end, always make sure to turn your propane containers off during travel. It is illegal in some places to travel with open propane containers, but even if it’s legal, it doesn’t make it safe.

>> Related article: 30 RV Hacks and Tips for a Successful Road Trip

Make sure you have at least one working fire extinguisher in your RV, although I recommend owning at least two. Most RVs are sold with one 2-pound fire extinguisher. This is not large enough to handle a significant fire. I recommend installing at least one extra extinguisher (type A, B, C). One should be near the main entry door (likely the place where the factory-installed extinguisher will be located) and one in the rear especially if the bedroom is in the back.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may opt to install additional extinguishers and/or a fire-suppression system in the engine bay and behind the fridge. The extinguishers should be at least 5 pounds in capacity. Have the extinguishers professionally inspected yearly and make sure you know how to use them. This is something RV dealerships don’t show you when they perform the walk-through on your new RV.

In other safety considerations, ensure all your exterior lights are in proper operating condition. This includes clearance lights and running, tail, brake, fog, and signal lights. Lights should be checked prior to each trip.

Regularly inspect tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you have a trailer or a motorhome, have the chassis serviced regularly and inspect the brakes and tires. RV tires tend to age out before they wear out. They often will not show signs of wear, even as they begin to reach the end of their life. It is important to have your tires regularly inspected by a professional tire technician. Tires last an average of five to seven years from date of manufacture. However, this varies widely and tire manufacturers recommend visual inspections by experts on a regular basis.

>> Related article: How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

It is also important to run the correct tire pressures for your RV. This is not usually the tire pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire but based on the weight of your RV and each wheel position.

Be safety aware at all times © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer owners should ensure the towing systems are well maintained and operated properly, specifically the coupler, equalizer, safety chains, wiring harness, and breakaway cable. Motorhome owners who tow another vehicle also must be vigilant about inspecting their towing equipment on a regular basis.

>> Related article: On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

It is fundamentally important to properly maintain all RV systems to help avoid damage, injury, or death to yourself or others. Resist the temptation to take these systems for granted.

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.

9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

In this article, I cover the most common reasons that RVs catch fire and what you can do to prevent it

When you head out on the road with your RV, regardless of the type, you are probably thinking about rest stops and your eventual camping spot. Fire safety probably doesn’t cross your mind. However, fire risk is a real concern with RVs, so you need to be prepared. 

According to data published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are nearly 2,000 devastating RV fires every year. An RV fire can start anywhere whether you are on the road or parked.

Being aware of potential fire hazards in your RV and taking steps to mitigate your risk of a fire can go a long way to keeping your RV safe.  

Older models are more at risk of fire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which RVs are most at risk of a fire?

According to a NFPA report on fire hazards associated with RVs, older models of RVs have fewer and less advanced fire safety measures. They also have older engines and equipment that is more likely to fail which is a common cause of RV fires. Most fatal RV fires occur in older models of RVs.  

If you own an RV that is more than 10 years old, you should upgrade your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Also ensure your fire extinguishers are adequate for the size of your rig and handy in the kitchen, bedroom, and living areas of the RV. Every year, it’s wise to get a full inspection of your rig to find out about potential problems before they become fire hazards.   

While there are a number of things that cause RV fires, doing a few things will help reduce your risk of a disaster. Here are nine fire hazards and what you can do to mitigate them.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Malfunctions of the RV electrical system

Many RV fires originate from malfunctions in the RV electrical system. Here is what you can do to lessen the risk of an electrical fire in your RV:

  • Make sure any electric space heaters run at their lower wattage setting. Usually, space heaters are set at 1,500/750 watts or 1,200/600 watts. You should only run a space heater at 750 or 600 watts in your RV. 
  • Always plug your space heater into a wall outlet; never use an extension cord.
  • Don’t overload your electrical outlets by plugging too many things in at once. For example, if you plug a space heater into an outlet, you shouldn’t have anythng else plugged in.
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mice, rats, and squirrels love to chew through cable and wire housing in vehicle engine compartments and the RV’s living compartment. If any of these critters have invaded your rig, inspect your wiring for any signs of nibbling and do the necessary repairs immediately. 

>> Related article: On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Don’t leave small electrial appliances plugged in when you aren’t home.

Inspect your rig’s 12-volt connections before each trip. Loose connections can cause shorts that ignite combustible materials in the RV.

Carbon monoxide detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Propane system leaks

Propane system leaks are one of the top causes of fire ignition in RVs. It’s important to have your propane system inspected regularly.

In addition to detecting propane gas leaks in your RV, there are a few more ways you can prevent your RV’s propane system from causing a fire. 

Never drive your RV with propane on. Everything in your RV is jostled around while you drive. If there is a leak when the propane valve is open, it just takes a spark from a flat tire or the little flame in your RV’s propane fridge to ignite it. 

Make sure your RV propane/carbon monoxide detector is working and up-to-date. RV propane/carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years.

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your RV refrigerator

Your RV refrigerator can be a fire hazard due to manufacturing defects. Dometic and Norcold have both recalled certain models of their RV refrigerators over the years because they could catch on fire. The boiler in absorption RV refrigerators can also overheat and become a fire hazard when the fridge is not kept level.  

4. Wheels and brake system

When your RV’s wheels and/or brakes get too hot, they can ignite materials around them. Be sure to check your tire pressure when your tires are cold. Get your wheels and brakes inspected regularly and before long trips.

5. Stuff near your RV cooktop

Having combustible items anywhere near your RV cooktop can lead to disaster. Because RVs are made with far more combustible materials than a traditional home, a fire in the galley can rapidly get out of control.  

>> Related article: The Safety Checklist for When Your RV is Parked

Keep combustible items like paper towels, plastic, and wood well away from your cooktop when you are cooking.

Don’t store cooking oils or fats close to your cooktop.

Always stay in the kitchen/galley area when you are cooking and keep an eye on things.

Smoke detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Not having a working smoke detector

I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke detector after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives. 

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time. 

Be aware of fire hazards near the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Portable grills and campfires too close to the RV

Portable grills should be at least 12 feet from the RV and campfires should be at least 25 feet away from your RV and any fuel source. This makes setting up a gas or charcoal grill underneath your RV awning a really bad idea.

Electric system and surge protection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Not having adequate fire extinguishers in your RV

You should have a 2.5 lb fire extinguisher in each area of the RV. A fire extinguisher is required near the doorway of the RV, so manufacturers meet the minimum standard for this. But if there is a fire in the galley of the RV, the extinguisher can either be out of reach or precious seconds are wasted accessing it. 

>> Related article: Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

Fire extinguishers are classed according to the type of burning fuel that is being extinguished. A Class ABC fire extinguisher will put out the types of fires common in RVs. Here are the types of fires that each class extinguishes.

Class A – Ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, rubber, fabric, or plastics.

Class B – Flammable liquids and gasses, including gasoline, oils, paint, lacquer, and tar.

Class C – Fires involving live electrical equipment.

9. Gasoline and propane   

Gasoline and propane present an immediate fire hazard when stored incorrectly or when there are leaks or spills. Storing gasoline out of the sun and well away from the RV or tow vehicle is a good idea. Generators should be set up a safe distance from the RV.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In conclusion

Although we hope it never happens, we should always be prepared for the worst. By being diligent, properly maintaining our RVs, and practicing cooking safety, we can reduce the risk. Since we can’t completely eliminate it, planning ahead and practicing evacuation can ensure the whole family stays safe.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

CO poisoning is entirely preventable. Protect yourself and your family by learning the symptoms of CO poisoning and how to prevent it.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that you don’t expect to encounter when traveling the great outdoors. However, some of your RV appliances emit carbon monoxide which can be dangerous to your health. It’s important to be aware of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to reduce your exposure while enjoying your RV.

Motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially at an RV rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carbon monoxide is created when any fuel is burned such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, wood, and coal. It is extremely serious when combustion by-products are not vented outside. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States each year in homes and RVs. It is important to identify the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and to know how you can prevent it from leaking in your RV.

Some of these risks are located inside your RV but many surround your RV at camp. Be mindful of things that emit carbon monoxide not only in your RV but around it. Including your neighbors’ equipment! The first rule in how to detect carbon monoxide in your RV is to be aware of the sources of carbon dioxide.

Motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In RVs, carbon monoxide gas usually results from:

  • Exhaust leaks from either a vehicle engine or a generator
  • Improper use of portable gas-powered heaters
  • Someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters
Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to detect carbon monoxide in your RV? You can’t. Humans cannot detect carbon monoxide. It is odorless and colorless, which is why it’s called the quiet killer. We must rely on sensors to detect carbon monoxide.

If your RV is not already outfitted with a carbon monoxide detector, you must install one right away. It can save your life. These are as essential as smoke detectors. You can purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector designed for use in RVs.

Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially when boondocking © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make sure you test the detector every time you use the RV and replace the carbon monoxide detector batteries at least once a year. A good time to do this is when you change clocks for daylight savings time or at the beginning of a new camping season.

Related: The Ultimate Guide for Winter Camping

If the detector senses an unsafe amount of carbon monoxide, it will sound the alarm. The alarm is much louder than the beep that warns of a low battery.

Don’t forget about your pets © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though humans can’t detect carbon monoxide, we certainly show symptoms of it. If you are aware of these symptoms, you can realize there’s a serious problem more quickly.  Besides the detector, the symptoms are another way to detect carbon monoxide in your RV. These symptoms progress fast—Do not try to “shake them off”!

Motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscular twitching
  • Intense headache
  • Throbbing in the temples
  • Weakness and sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
Be aware of your neighbor’s exhaust especially at an RV rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget about your pets! Despite their superior sense of smell, dogs and other pets cannot detect carbon monoxide either. They will be affected much more quickly than humans due to their smaller size.

Related: The 10 Essentials Every RV Owner Should Buy Before Their First Road Trip

If you or anyone else experiences any of these, get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist you need to seek medical attention. Shut off the vehicle or power the generator down and do not operate it until it has been inspected and repaired by a professional.

Motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exposure to carbon monoxide is a huge health hazard and can cause death. It is important to stay vigilant and to be aware of the risk at all times. Take precautions and follow these prevention tips to reduce exposure and keep you and your family safe:

  • Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly
  • Yellow flames in propane-burning appliances usually indicate a lack of oxygen and should be checked by a qualified technician
  • Park your RV so that the exhaust may easily dissipate away from the vehicle
  • Never sleep with a generator running
  • Always have a window open when operating a gas-burning appliance or generator
  • Keep any windows and vents closed if in close proximity to a running vehicle or generator
  • Never use range burners or ovens to heat your RV
  • When cooking with the range, use the range fan and keep a nearby window cracked open
  • Be aware of your neighbor’s setup and make sure they are not directing any exhaust your way
Motorhome interior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow all directions and warnings if using gas-powered heaters.

Related: 12 Simple RV Maintenance Tips

Don’t take safety for granted while RVing.

Since we’re talking safety…

Read Next: RV Emergency Kit Essentials

Worth Pondering…

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

Five RV Tips BEFORE Your First Road Trip

The sun is shining, the RV is washed, and its tank is full

If you have an RV or camper, the open road and possibility of adventure is tempting.

What may not be as enticing is carbon monoxide exposure, usually from improper use of portable gas equipment, operation of someone else’s vehicle or generator when camping in close quarters, or inadequate maintenance.

Palm Campground in Anza-Borrego State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas known as the “silent killer.” It’s produced when a fuel like gasoline, oil, kerosene, natural gas, wood, or propane burns incompletely. Carbon monoxide incidents occur all too often, even though they can be prevented with proper preparation and attention.

Review the following five tips to ensure your RV season is a safe one.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Resort, Williams, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Test Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Newer models of RV are usually hardwired with a carbon monoxide detector. Test, and replace the carbon monoxide detector as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s a good practice to replace the batteries when you change the clocks for daylight savings time or on a specific date you will remember, such as your first camping trip of the season.

Harvest Moon RV Park, Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Watch Your Generators

Exhaust leaks from a generator are a common cause of carbon monoxide incidents. Inspect the generator exhaust system each time before using it. Do not operate your generator if the exhaust system is damaged in any way or making an unusual noise.

If you are camping in close quarters with other RVs that are running their generators, keep your windows and roof vents closed to prevent exhaust from entering your vehicle.

On-Ur-Wa RV Park, Onawa, Iowa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you use a portable generator, place the generator downwind of the RV with the exhaust pointed away from the camping area. Don’t sleep while the generator is operating and leave a roof vent open while it is running, even during the winter.

Not feeling well? Shut off the generator and step outside for some fresh air just to be sure you aren’t being exposed to carbon monoxide.

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Stay Warm, Safely

Fuel-burning appliances such as portable heaters, portable stoves, barbeques, or kerosene lamps should remain outside when in use—NEVER bring them into your RV. Inside, DO NOT use range burners or the oven to heat an RV. When using the stove, keep the range fan on and always leave a window cracked open for fresh air and ventilation.

Cajun Palms RV Park, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning while using appliances attached to your RV, immediately turn them off and open the doors and windows so the gas can escape and leave the RV. While the area is being ventilated, seek medical assistance.

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Have your RV serviced by a Certified RV technician

Inspect your RV’s chassis and generator exhaust system regularly, at least before each outing and after bottoming out or any other incident that could cause damage. Inspect your RV for openings in the floor or sidewalls. If you locate a hole, seal it with a silicone adhesive or have it repaired before using your generator again. Inspect windows, door seals, and weather strips to ensure that they are sealing properly.

Do you see yellow flames in propane-burning appliances such as coach heaters, stoves, ovens, and water heaters? This usually indicates incomplete combustion which may indicate servicing is required.

New Green Acres RV Park, Walterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Keep Exhaust Away

Park your RV so that exhaust dissipates away from the vehicle. Parking next to tall grasses, fences, walls, or buildings can keep exhaust gases from dissipating as they normally would. To avoid this, be sure there is ample clear space around you when you park. When stopping for long periods of time, be aware of other vehicles around you, such as semis at rest areas, that may have their engines and refrigerators running, and take the necessary precautions. 

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

These simple tips can go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe on the road. Always be sure to have work on your RV and any related gas-fired appliances performed by an individual with the appropriate qualifications.

Much of the above information is courtesy of Technical Safety BC.

Gulf Coast RV Resort, Beaumont, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Remember, safety is no accident.