How to Connect Your Buddy Heater to a 20 Pound Bottle

There are many sizes of propane tanks, chances are one will work for you.
There are many sizes of bulk, refillable propane tanks, chances are one will work for you.

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:

  1. The bottle will get too hot and overflow through the pressure relief valve.
  2. 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.

The three main sizes that will work for car and van dwellers. I’m holding an adapter hose that’s crewed into a propane bottle. Now all I need to do is screw it into a Buddy Heater (with a filter)  and I’m done.

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.

A Mr Heater Buddy heater with the filter and adapter hose.
A Mr Heater Buddy heater with the filter and adapter hose.

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 Big Buddy is unusual in that it has two separate propane inputs and two separate systems, that’s why there is confusion with it and filters.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:

I have a video on propane bottles, see it here

If you don’t see the video, click or cut and paste this into your browser search bar:

Thanks for supporting this site by using these links to Amazon. I’ll make a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different.



I've been a full-time VanDweller since 1995 and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again! Check out Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA), our nonprofit that I co-founded. HOWA is dedicated to helping nomads in need.

36 Comments on “How to Connect Your Buddy Heater to a 20 Pound Bottle

  1. I don’t know about using one of these heaters in a car type vehicle. Maybe in a larger van would be ok, or tent, and trailer. If I were to use one of these in a car, or CSUV like I have, I would only use it while I was awake sitting up. It would never be left on while I was sleeping. Too many things can go wrong in a small sitting like a car with a heater like this.
    When I think of the past times I have slept in my car, while camping or traveling, I shutter to imagine what might have happened if I would have went to sleep with one of these left on during the time I was sleeping. It is just too small of an area and things get knocked over and the volume of air is always changing from too much to way too little.

    I would say, really in a car it would be safer for me to just start the engine and run the heater to get things warmed up then shut off the engine and get into my sleeping bag with a couple hand warmers thrown into the bottom of the bag. Then in the morning start the engine again with the heater on to get dressed and cleaned up. Sorry I’m a wimp when it comes to my safety.

    • Steve, I wouldn’t leave it on at night either. I’m not sure how the volume of air changes in your car though. If you open your windows as much as the manual says you should, you will be safe.

      • hey Bob i have a mr buddy portable not the tiny one but the bigger one that uses one green bottle question,,, do i have to buy the specific mr buddy brand 5 ft hose or can i buy a generic one?//

  2. I love the video demonstration Bob. And the Cody photobombs! The outtakes at the end were great too. Well done K & J 🙂

  3. Fantastic article Bob!

    I have been wondering about and looking at those heaters for years. Never bought one, though.

    With two people and two cats in my van it never really gets cold. When we sleep we just cover up with our quilt and if it gets too chilly the cats will crawl under the blankets. Keeps them warm and us, too. When we wake up I always put water on the stove for coffee and that heats up the van just right.

    I have come so close to buying one, but never did. I just could never justify the room or safety measures needed. I always figured if it got that cold we would just move. Let’s put it this way… We do not even own a pair of pants between us. It’s all shorts and T’s for us. A heater puts you into a different psychological thought process that differs from shorts. Heater equals environmental stress and shorts equals endless vacation! If you have to heat the place up it is time to move!

    • Having a “cuddle partner” makes a big difference. The first night I ever spent in a minivan, my wife and I had a catalytic heater along, but neither of us felt cold enough to get up and light it. We woke up to a couple of inches of snow! My wife is now my ex, so I might get a 12-volt blanket.

  4. Bob — I really appreciate the time and effort it takes to research and present this information. Thanks!

    I’ve been interested in this topic for a while. I travel in a Class C motorhome, and I typically go out for trips lasting 2-4 weeks, returning to my Tucson home. So I’m not a van guy and I’m not a full timer. I use the little green canisters for my Mr Heater Buddy and for a propane grill. I use the heater to take the chill off the RV on cold mornings, and as it turns out I don’t use the grill as much as I thought I would when I got it.

    I looked at the cost of the setup you describe: tank, hose, and filter. That’d be, in round numbers, about $100. At $5 per canister, that’s 20 of them. I don’t think I went through 20 canisters in all my travels last year, so the economics of this move is problematic for my particular situation. BUT — throwing those things in a landfill is really offensive. I’ve tried the adapters to refill the canisters, and none has worked really well.

    So I dunno. To coin a phrase. For full-timers in a smaller vehicle, I see it. And that’s your situation, and your audience. For me, maybe not so much. Thanks again for the information which makes it possible for me to make a good decision here.

    I hope our paths cross again — I’m considering a Quartzite trip sometime before Christmas.
    Richard Muller recently posted…Quick trip to see the familyMy Profile

    • Come by anytime Richard! No, it’s not worth it for everyone, it only really pays off if you are using it for heat and are in the rig quite a bit, then it will pay for itself.

      The whole set-up should be less than that. You can get the bottle for $30, the filter for $10 and the hose for $20.

  5. A disadvantage of the 2.5 and 1 gallon tanks is that you’ll always need to find a refilling station. With the 5 gallon tanks, you can do a tank swap at a grocery store, convenience store or whatever when you can’t find a place to refill. You’ll probably get under-filled tanks, but it’s better than nothing.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Wednesday morning, Balboa PierMy Profile

  6. I came across a 1lb refillable tank on the web from Manchester and thought it could be handy for schlepping to and from picnic tables with the little backpacking stove. Unfortunately, I can’t get them in Canada, same with refiller nozzles for the green 1lb tanks.

    Has anyone heard of/ used them? They can be refilled from the bigger tanks, might be useful if your space is tight.

    • Ming, there is an adaptor sold that allows you to refill the small green tanks from a twenty lbs. tank. I’ve watched videos on how to do it. Is it safe, does it work? I don’t know maybe Bob can advise us on this.
      What do you say Bob?

      • Rcb, I’ve never done it but I know some people who do and think it’s a good thing. I don’t really see the point so I don’t do it.

      • thanks Rcb, I’ve seen lots of posts from people who do it all the time, and one or 2 stories on the web about someone who killed themselves and set their garage on fire doing it wrong.

        I often take my supper makings a ways down the trail to a beach, so small bottles would come in handy. I hate the idea of putting the green things in a landfill, hence the interest in refilling.

        My stove is multifuel so I will likely keep using Coleman fuel for trips down the trail, but I find it annoying to light as it fireballs for a bit before settling down.

  7. Bob do you sleep with your buddy heater on overnight I have with mine you just need to not burn down your van like the flame can heat the roof material above use alum foil on the roof can help just above the heater can help I also own a olypian wave six Ilike it much better safty wise iI bought it used out of a parted rv

    • Joe, I rarely use any heater here in the Lower 48, and never overnight. I use my Coleman 1-burner stove for heat, but only while I’m awake and rarely for more than an hour or two a night.

      When I lived in Alaska I used my Olympians 24/7 all winter. I agree, they are safer.

      • What is the difference between the buddy heater and Olympian as far as heat output? I’ve used a little buddy heater in my tiny house and my mini van for 8 yrs now and am on my second one.

  8. Bob have you ever hooked up a distribution post to a one gallon tank . I just ordered a one gal. tank, I use my dist. post on my five gal. tank for my lantern and stove and it would be nice to use it on the smaller tank . I’m planing on using my Little Buddy to warm my van nights before I go to bed . I’m a cold night sleeper if its warm when I go to bed I sleep well when its cold . I would not refill the green bottles as its against the law to travel with refilled disposable in in your vehicle in some states . I had one I filled get a slow leak I was lucky I smelled fuel a couple of days later and was able to attach it to a torch and burn it off .

    • Scrambler Paul, I can’t think of any reason you couldn’t use a distribution post. The tanks are exactly the same just smaller. The only concern I’d have is the weight. As the tank emptied it might get too light and the lantern that high could tip it over.

      I agree about the bottles, refilling them wouldn’t be worth the risk to me either.

  9. Hello Bob,
    I just watched a video about very small woodstoves that are suitable for tiny houses or RVs. There is also a You Tube video about a man in Alaska who weatherized his Toyota Mini Cruiser to withstand the Alaskan winters. I believe he used a tiny military size woodstove. I would like to buy a used
    Airstream, and thought one would be very cozy. I noticed the lady from Denmark you interviewed wants to install one in her Class C. Do they tend to make the RV dirty/dusty, or do you think they provide a good heating solution? I would imagine the added weight would also be a consideration, depending upon how often it was used.

    • Shirley, the small ones are not very heavy, so weight isn’t a real big concern. I think if a quality stove is properly installed it won’t be dirty, although you have to carry wood and that could be.

  10. Bob (or anyone), what do you know about energy consumption of propane vs. electric? I’m planning a camper mini-van conversion, and I’ve considered some of the small ceramic heaters because of the limited space that I will need to heat. Running off a battery pack/inverter, will it be comparable to a propane heater?

  11. I have been running a 2.5 gal tank to a Mr Buddy heater for 10 years in my semi truck. I don’t sleep with it on but use it when sitting in the evening, or get stuck somewhere for a few days between loads. Crack a widow 2 inches, never had a problem. Just recently replaced old one, starting to rust in places I didn’t like and didn’t feel like rebuilding it.

  12. Waking up in the morning is when this is most apparent. Your room is freezing cold, and then you get out of bed just to step on those cold floors which carry all the way into to the kitchen.

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