Most of us living in our cars and vans are on a tight budget and in the winter we have to be careful that our budget doesn’t go up in smoke buying propane to stay warm, in today’s post I’ll show you a way to prevent that. Last week I recommended both the Mr. Heater Buddy series of heaters or the Olympian Wave series of heaters for your car, van or RV. While the Olympian is designed to only work with bulk refillable bottles, the Mr. Heater Buddy heaters are designed to work with green, 1 pound bottles that are not refillable (technically, they can be refilled but that’s a post for another day).
There are advantages to the green bottles: they’re small and easy to store and they’re easy to take on and off. But they have one really huge disadvantage and that’s they are very expensive. You might be thinking, “I can buy them at Walmart for about $6 for a two pack and $3 each isn’t so bad.” And that’s true if all you are doing with them is cooking on your propane stove. If you don’t cook involved meals a green bottle can easily last two weeks or a month. That’s only $3 to $6 a month and most of don’t mind that at all. However, if you are using them for heat it’s a very different story!
It’s easy to burn through a bottle a day if you’re using them for heat and that’s going to cost you $21 a week or $90 a month, and that’s if it’s not very cold. If it’s really cold you could almost double the cost. But it gets worse, if you travel much or are a boondocker you’ll often be far away from a Walmart and you’ll pay much more than $3 per bottle. The minimum is $4 and $5 or even $6 per bottle is common in small, tourist towns. In that case, if you use a bottle a day you’ll be paying $150-$180 a month—or more!—for heat. That’s still less than most people who live in houses but we live in vans because we want to live simpler, cheaper and have less impact on the earth. Throwing all those green bottles into the landfill has a very negative impact on the earth!
Fortunately there’s an easy solution. All you have to do is buy an adapter hose for about $20 from Amazon or Walmart and a 20 pound refillable propane tank (the kind that comes with barbecue grills) and your cost for propane will go down a huge amount—and no more green bottles in the land fill!
Because there are roughly 4 pounds in a gallon of propane, a 20 pound, 5 gallon tank holds the same amount of propane as 20 of the 1 pound green bottles. Buying 20 of the green bottles at Walmart will cost $60, but taking the 20 pound tank to a gas station and getting it refilled will only cost $3 a gallon so it will be $15 to full the bottle. For the cost of 5 of the green bottles at Walmart, I can get the equivalent of 20 of them by filling a refillable bottle at a gas station. At the gas station it works out to 75 cents a pound. I’d much rather pay 75 cents for a pound of propane to refill my bottle at a gas station than $3 a pound at Walmart—wouldn’t you!!? Even worse, I might have to pay $4-$6 per pound at stores other than Walmart. Another huge advantage is that I don’t have to carry all those green bottles around or throw them into the landfill when they’re empty.
Let’s look again at the example of using propane to heat your car or van with a Mr. Buddy Heater and you are burning a pound a day. If you use green bottles it will cost you from $90 to $180 a month, depending on where you buy the bottles. But by refilling the 20 pound bottle it’ll only cost $23 a month, a much more affordable amount for most of us.
So economically and environmentally it’s an excellent idea to switch to a refillable bulk bottle! In the rest of the post I’ll answer questions you may have about it:
Where will I carry it and is it safe?
For over 14 years now I’ve carried a propane bottle with me inside a van and it has never been a problem for me, in fact the few times I’ve had a problem with propane, having the bottle inside was an advantage because I could very easily and quickly turn off the gas at the valve and solve the problem. Had the bottle been outside and I had to find a flashlight and run outside and get to the tank before closing the valve, it could have meant a disaster.
In the ten years I’ve had my website and been encouraging others to do likewise, I’m unaware of anyone else having a problem either. However, it is a violation of standard safety rules to have the bottle inside and you do it at your own risk. I’ve decided the risk is so low I’m willing to take the chance and suffer any consequences for my actions. If you put it inside, you do so knowing it is a risk and you are violating safety rules and if there is a problem, you alone are responsible for the consequences.
Where will I put the bottle inside the van or car?
There are two main risks from having a bottle inside your car, van or RV:
- The bottle will get too hot and overflow through the pressure relief valve.
- In the event of an accident it will go flying and break the valve.
Fortunately it’s easy to solve both of those problems by being careful of your placement of the refillable tank inside the vehicle. If you put it in front of the heater or in front of a window, you could cause it to off-gas. I put mine inside a plastic tub and then put the tub where it can never be reached by heat from the sun or from the heater and where it can’t be thrown around in an accident. Another very good choice is to build a cabinet to secure it. But generally I put it in a Rubbermaid tote and push that to the far back of my bed. That’s the coolest place in the van, and since I’m a snowbird the van never gets terribly hot anyway. It’s also in the far back near the back door so all the stuff in front of it keeps it from moving in an accident and it’s easy to open the back door to take it out and refill it. I have a 12 foot hose that lets me put the heater anywhere I want it.
How will I carry it inside my car or minivan, it’s just too big?
You’re right, it is too big for smaller vehicles, fortunately, you can buy smaller bottles that will fit much better. They make bottles as small as 1 gallon which are still a little big for a car but just right for a mini-van or van. They’re mall enough you can probably find room for them even in a car. Another common size is 11 pounds which is roughly 2 ½ gallons. They’re the same outside dimensions as a 5 gallon bottle, but half as tall. That may allow you to fit it in a tight space that the 5 gallon bottle wouldn’t fit into. Get a 1 gallon tank from Amazon here Manchester Tank 5 pound, 1 gallon LP Tank, and a 2 1/2 gallon tank from Amazon here: Manchester 11 pound, 2 1/2 gallon, LP Tank
Where can I get it filled?
In my 14 years of vandwelling I’ve never had a problem finding a place to get a bottle filled. You can almost always find a gas station with a really big tank outside that will fill them and most small to medium sized cities have a propane dealer that will refill your bottle for you—they are almost always the best price—just look in the yellow pages under “propane.” While you’re looking in the yellow pages, look for full-service U-Haul dealers, they almost always sell propane.
You may wonder if you can always get the little 1 gallon bottle filled—I’ve never been refused! First they all laugh at it, “Look at that cute little bottle!” but then they refill it, which is all I care about.
I’ve heard the Buddy heaters need a filter, what’s that all about?
Yes, you need a filter for the Buddy heater (4000-9000 btu) and the Little Buddy heater (3800 btu), but not the Big Buddy when you use the quick connect or the Olympian Wave heaters. Basically, the only time you ever need one is if you are connecting it to a bulk bottle with an adapter hose, you don’t ever need it if you are using the green bottles. That’s because the hose has an oil in it to make it flexible, and the high pressure from the propane bottle pulls the oil out of the hose and it plugs up the small orifices of the heaters.
- The first propane input is where the green bottles screw in and it’s high pressure. You can connect an adapter hose here and if you do you MUST use a filter.
- The other is at the quick connect on the side and it’s low pressure. That means it needs to have a regulator at the bottle. It does NOT need a filter.
If you use the quick connect on the Big Buddy it doesn’t need a filter, but if you use an adapter hose instead of a green bottle it does need a filter.
The Olympian Heaters use a regulator so the hose is not under high pressure and the oil stays in the hose, so they do NOT need a filter.
What do I need to connect my Mr. Heater Buddy heater to the bulk bottle?
Fortunately, it’s very simple, first you just buy a filter and screw it into the heater, then buy an adapter hose screw and one end into the filter and the other end into the bottle, and that’s it, you’re done. You can get the hose at Walmart or at Amazon in different lengths depending on your needs. Mr. Heater does make a special hose that they claim will solve the plasticizer problem so I recommend it instead of other brands. However, just as an added precaution, I’d still use the filter. It’s only $10 and could save you from being forced to buy a new heater. Get a filter from Amazon here: Mr. Heater Fuel Filter
So there you have it, a simple but effective way to save yourself a lot of money while you are staying warm and also do a very good thing for the planet we depend on.
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- 1 gallon Propane Tank: Worthington 1-Gallon Propane Cylinder
- 2 1/2 Gallon propane tank: Manchester 11 pound, 2 1/2 gallon, LP Tank
- Mr. Heater 10 foot adapter hose, no filter needed, but use one anyway: Mr. Heater Buddy Series Adapter Hose – 10-ft. No-Filter needed
- Mr. Heater Fuel Filter: Mr. Heater Fuel Filter