CO can be deadly, but where does carbon monoxide come from in an RV? And how do you recognize its symptoms? Read this article to learn more and keep safe on your next RV trip.
We all know that common risks are associated with small enclosed spaces like RVs.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a real risk for RVers – but do you know why it can be so dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can have serious consequences if you don’t understand its potential risks.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- exactly what can cause carbon monoxide in an RV,
- why it is so dangerous for RVers,
- how to recognize the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and
- how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your camper.
So let’s dive in and learn more about this important subject – something that could potentially save your life!
What Is Carbon Monoxide & How Does it Get Into an RV?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, poisonous gas.
It occurs naturally in the environment due to fires and the natural breakdown of organic matter.
However, it can also be produced by combustion engines and burning fuels like propane and gasoline.
So how does carbon monoxide get into an RV?
Several sources could contribute to dangerous levels of CO inside your camper.
- Gas-powered appliances such as stoves and furnaces can produce carbon monoxide when burning gasoline or propane.
- Generators are another common source of CO in an RV.
- Barbecues & outdoor grills can also produce carbon monoxide and if they’re not used correctly, could raise CO levels inside the camper.
- Even something as simple as a lantern can produce carbon monoxide while burning kerosene or propane.
- A nearby car exhaust can also contribute to carbon monoxide levels inside an RV camper!
By understanding all potential sources of CO in your RV and following the proper safety precautions while using them, you can help protect yourself and your family.
Why Is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous For RVers?
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious hazard, and it happens when carbon monoxide builds up in your blood.
When breathed in, it replaces oxygen in red blood cells with CO instead.
This can harm organs and tissues and even cause death if not addressed quickly.
RVs are especially prone to these risks since they don’t have good air circulation between the inside and outside environments.
So, when CO builds up inside the RV it can quickly reach lethal levels.
It’s important to be aware of all sources of CO in your RV and make sure they’re properly ventilated when in use.
Doing this can help you and your family stay safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide while travelling.
How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning In An RV Camper
If you’re camping in an RV, there are several steps you can take to reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning and keep yourself and your family safe.
Here are some tips and strategies to consider:
Eliminate The Sources Of Carbon Monoxide In Your RV
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious health risk, and one of the best ways to prevent it is to eliminate sources of carbon monoxide in your RV.
A few simple steps can help reduce your chances of carbon monoxide exposure while out on the road.
One way to do this is to check gas-powered appliances like stoves, ranges, water heaters and furnaces, as they are all potential sources of carbon monoxide.
Make sure they’re properly vented and sealed when in use so that CO fumes aren’t allowed inside your RV.
If you have a generator running inside or outside your camper, make sure it’s placed at least 15 feet away from your living space.
Avoid using kerosene lanterns for extended periods of time without proper ventilation, and always keep them away from enclosed areas where CO could accumulate.
When choosing a campsite, park upwind from any cars that may be nearby—the exhaust from their engines can contain dangerous levels of CO.
Also take into consideration any other types of fuel-burning devices that may be present in the vicinity.
Finally, install a functioning digital display carbon monoxide detector on each level of your RV for extra peace of mind.
Checking it regularly can help detect any signs of CO buildup before things get too dangerous.
Following these tips and strategies will help ensure that you and your family stay safe while camping in an RV by reducing the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Install & Use All Carbon Monoxide Producing Appliances Properly
When it comes to RV safety, proper installation and use of all potential carbon monoxide-producing appliances are essential.
Read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow them precisely to ensure your safety while operating appliances.
Carbon monoxide is deadly in high concentrations, so using appliances as directed can help reduce your chances of CO exposure.
Here’s a list of common RV appliances that produce carbon monoxide, as well as some tips for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning from them.
Don’t forget, though, ALWAYS follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Propane appliances are a popular option in RVs and include:
- range burners, stoves & ovens,
- water heaters,
- propane RV refrigerators, and
Proper installation and use of propane appliances are critical for RV safety.
Burning propane produces CO as a byproduct of combustion.
The amount of CO produced can be affected by factors such as the type and condition of the appliance, the length of time it is running, the size of the burners, and the presence of any airflow blockages.
For this reason, ensure all in-built propane appliances are properly installed and vented.
This means ensuring that:
- all joints, screws, and flanges are sealed tightly,
- pipes are connected securely without any gaps or kinks, and
- vents are designed to direct the exhaust away from the RV.
It’s also important to ensure no obstructions block the vent or exhaust, which can significantly reduce airflow.
Additionally, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using these devices – paying special attention to minimum distances from sleeping areas, ventilation requirements, etc.
It’s also important to regularly inspect your propane appliances for proper operation.
We highly recommend servicing yoru propane appliances at least once a year by a gas certified engineer. Aim to time the service for the beginning of Spring when you dewinterize your RV.
Getting an annual inspection from a qualified engineer will also give you peace of mind.
Taking these precautions can ensure your safety and reduce your chances of carbon monoxide exposure.
Portable propane appliances can also pose a risk.
Portable camp stoves, portable generators, and even the emissions from other camper’s vehicles or generators all produce carbon monoxide.
Always use portable propane appliances downwind and well away from your RV. That way, any fumes will be carried away from your camper and help prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Barbecues & Outdoor Grills
Barbecues and outdoor grills are a great way to enjoy a meal outdoors. But it’s important to be aware of the potential risks they pose.
Different types of fuels will produce varying levels of CO. Generally speaking, propane is the most efficient fuel and produces significantly lower levels of CO than natural gas or wood.
The grill will generate carbon monoxide gas regardless of fuel you burn.
So, it’s important to maintain an adequate distance between your RV and the appliance.
Again, pay attention to the wind direction to avoid toxic fumes blowing back into your camper.
Whatever you do, never use a barbecue inside your RV.
Improve RV Ventilation
Proper ventilation is essential to preventing carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning within an RV camper.
By allowing fresh air to circulate throughout the interior space, you can reduce the risk of CO buildup within your RV.
Also, proper ventilation will help exhaust gases from any fuel-burning appliances used inside the RV, reducing their impact on the levels of CO present.
Keep windows open while running appliances to maximize safety so fresh air can circulate more efficiently.
Poorly ventilated spaces can less efficiently eradicate any carbon monoxide in the air.
Here are some tips on how to improve ventilation and airflow in an RV:
- Install an air filter in the RV to reduce pollutants and increase ventilation.
- Ensure windows are open often to allow for better air circulation in the RV.
- Keep roof vents open as much as possible.
- Get ducted air conditioning.
- Install a ceiling fan in the RV to improve airflow, particularly when temperatures rise.
- Add vents near the floor so cool air can circulate effectively throughout the vehicle’s cabin.
- Check all vents and seal any cracks or holes to avoid outside humidity entering the RV.
- Ensure all exhaust fans work properly and efficiently, directing stale air out of the RV.
- Check and clean vents and air filters often.
By following these steps, you can greatly reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning within your RV camper – so take them seriously!
Install An RV Carbon Monoxide Detector (Or 2)
RVers can take the above preventive measures to help reduce or eliminate any carbon monoxide build-up in their vehicle’s cabin.
However these methods will help decrease CO exposure risk, but they are not foolproof.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can still occur if an appliance malfunctions or ventilation systems become blocked.
Carbon monoxide detector alarms are crucial safety measures, as it provides early detection of potentially dangerous levels of CO.
The alarm will alert you if the level of CO in your vehicle’s cabin rises too high, allowing you to escape to safety before any serious harm can be done.
Regularly testing your alarm system and replacing batteries when necessary will help ensure it functions properly.
How To Recognize The Early Symptoms Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a potentially deadly problem many RVers are unaware of.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can be produced by burning fuels such as wood, charcoal, gasoline, propane, and kerosene.
This gas can quickly and quietly build up in a confined space such as the cabin of an RV, leading to serious health problems like carbon monoxide poisoning.
RVers must recognize the early carbon monoxide symptoms to take quick action and avoid more serious consequences. Signs and symptoms usually start mild but may become more severe if exposure continues:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
The risk of permanent damage from carbon monoxide increases with each minute you’re exposed to high levels of CO.
Long-term effects can include brain damage, organ failure, memory issues, and death.
What To Do If You Think You Have Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Taking action immediately is important if you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
Open all windows and doors, turn off any suspect appliances, and get everyone outside, including your pets.
Once you are in a safe environment, call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room.
Your doctor will be able to provide further instructions on how to treat your symptoms and minimize the risk of long-term health effects caused by CO poisoning.
Carbon monoxide gas is a silent killer.
RVs are more susceptible to higher levels of CO because they’re relatively spaces, and we tend to use several propane-powered appliances.
CO poisoning among RVers isn’t unheard of, so you must protect yourself and your family.
Maximizing RV ventilation, regularly checking and cleaning vents and air filters, installign and using your appliances correctly, and recognizing early poisoning symptoms are all essential to keep your family safe.
If any of these steps are neglected or ignored, the consequences can be deadly. Take them seriously!
An RV carbon monoxide detector is the final defense against prolonged exposure to this odorless gas.
We’ve listed our top picks above, so you can decide which is right for your RV.
Remember to test and maintain your detector regularly, and don’t ignore any alarms! If a CO alarm sounds, evacuate the area immediately and take action to treat the symptoms.
Stay safe out there!
Share your RV safety tips in the comments! How do you protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide while travelling?
Angela Devaney, a former IT project management professional, embarked on an adventurous journey of full-time travel, which included touring West Africa in a converted overland truck and converting an ex-military 4×4 Sprinter van into a camper for a five-year South American expedition. She now utilizes her hands-on experience to create practical RV living and van life advice as a full-time digital media producer, reaching over a million users annually through her YouTube channel, blog, and newsletter. Angela also lends her expertise as the editor-in-chief of the Campervan Electrics Handbook.