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Power For Pleasure

A short masterclass on gas and mains electricity on campsites at home and abroad. It’s a timely refresher, or a useful introduction for newbies, so listen up at the back!

Let’s start with basics: caravans and motorhomes are fitted with equipment that runs on either gas or 230V mains electricity. Some appliances even operate on both supplies so let’s take a look at these two types of fuel.

Which gas should you use?

Most caravan and motorhome owners use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to run their heating and cooking appliances. This fuel is supplied in portable cylinders and there are two versions of LPG: butane and propane. Throughout Europe, butane is readily available in portable cylinders and when air temperatures are above freezing, liquefied butane readily converts into a gas.

However, liquefied propane is more versatile because it converts into a gas at temperatures as low as -400C (minus 440F). That’s why owners who use their ‘vans in winter often prefer to use propane and this type of LPG is readily available in the UK.

Unfortunately, propane cylinders are less easy to find in many parts of mainland Europe (though it is often claimed that some continental gas suppliers add a small amount of propane to their butane leisure cylinders in order to extend their function in cold conditions).

Tip: Suppliers like Calor Gas normally put butane in a BLUE cylinder whereas propane is in a RED cylinder. The coupling valves on these cylinders are different, too. However, this colour coding is not adopted by other suppliers; for instance, BP Gas Light propane cylinders are GREEN and WHITE.

Trips Abroad

For short visits abroad, many UK owners take Calor or BP Gas Light supplies and if these run out they then switch to Campingaz 907 butane cylinders which are sold in many European countries. Others have one or two Gaslow’s refillable propane cylinders installed as an alternative strategy and these are permanently linked to an externally mounted refill coupling point.

Replenishment is carried out on forecourts that dispense propane for vehicles converted to run on LPG.

Probably the most readily available butane cylinders sold abroad are from Campingaz - though the largest 907 size holds considerably less gas (2.72 kg) than anything from Calor Gas, whose smallest cylinder contains 4.5 kg.

Also, note that Campingaz is seldom available in Finland, Norway and Sweden. In other words, if you visit Scandinavia for longer than the normal output life of your Calor cylinders, you may have to switch to those countries’ own products. That would entail purchasing the appropriate couplings – Gaslow International can supply adaptors before you leave the UK.

Product guidance and availability

Calor Gas Tel: 0800 626626
Campingaz Tel: 01275 845024 (Coleman UK)
Gaslow International Tel: 0845 4000 600

Electrical hook-ups

Most UK caravanning sites are normally equipped with 230V hook-ups. Even a growing number of the 5-van Certificated venues listed by UK national caravanning clubs are equipped with hook-ups as well. Similar situations have evolved abroad and some informal parking places designed for overnight motorcaravan halts now have coin or token-activated coupling points.

It has helped, of course, that mains voltages throughout Europe are presently set at 230V, albeit with small plus/minus permitted variations. Modern caravan and motorhome sites also have a universal coupling socket which adopts the pattern of UK industrial components. However, older sites abroad usually retain their original coupling sockets and visitors would then need an adaptor in order to make a connection. Many accessory specialists sell adaptors to suit the countries you intend visiting.

Tip: If you come across a hook-up installation which looks electrically uncertain, together with an untidy collection of couplings, it is better not to use it.

A further matter which occurs throughout Europe concerns the amount of 230V electricity that an individual coupling point is able to provide. This is measured in Amps and a site’s supply capability is something to check at the Reception office.

For example, a supply point offering a maximum of only 3 Amps might only be sufficient to run a small, flat screen TV and a few mains lights. The largest output from a campsite is 16A and this is able to operate a microwave oven, a low wattage camping kettle, a refrigerator (set for mains operation) and the electric element on a water heater.

On the other hand, it’s advisable not to operate several ‘greedy’ high wattage appliances simultaneously in case you over-load the site system. Over-loading a hook-up point activates a safety trip switch that will automatically cut off the supply serving your pitch.

Moreover, on some continental sites, it is not unusual to find that the live and neutral supply cables are reversed. This situation, referred to as reverse polarity, is revealed when you check a supply using a mains testing device like the one shown here. For safety’s sake, it is advisable not to use a hook-up that has been wired in reverse although there are ways to remedy this situation. Check the advice on reverse polarity that appears in the books listed below.

Safety First

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual and follow all safety advice regarding gas and electrical appliances, supply systems, servicing and the coupling/uncoupling procedures. Always use purpose-made coupling-up cable and do NOT join a second cable to increase its overall length. The approved coupling sockets (though damp-resistant) are not water-tight and connections must never become submerged during heavy rain.

Additional reading:  The Caravan Manual