The furnace is one of the most critical appliances in your RV, especially if you are in a climate that gets chillier in the winter. A properly running furnace certainly helps you not completely wrap yourself in blankets or snuggle your dog for warmth. A proper running furnace also feels safer to use.
Furnaces can have problems, and they do produce some smells. The question of how serious a smell is depends on when you smell it and what else is happening in your appliance room.
A furnace that smells like the very gas it’s trying to combust could be normal, but it’s best to check a few things to ensure that the gas is going where it’s supposed to. Let’s discuss potential issues in more detail.
When does it smell like propane?
One of the most important factors in knowing if your furnace has a serious problem is when you first notice the propane smell.
The first heat of the season
Having a bit of a stinky furnace when you first turn the heater on is actually pretty common. The same problem happens for natural gas powered furnaces in many homes when the owners first decide it’s getting too cold outside.
The smell could be leftover dust and particles being burned as the flame begins, in addition to dust and debris in your vents behind heated up.
You can do a couple of things to prevent this somewhat gross smell. First, ensure that your exhaust and intake vents are clear so you don’t suck in especially gross air. Animals could potentially live in your exhaust vent as they seek warm places. Kids can also put weird things in there. The exhaust vent is usually located directly outside your RV on the wall your furnace is on.
Second, clean out your furnace every year. Get compressed air and blow the dust out. This won’t completely remove the smell of burning particles, but it can certainly help make the furnace last longer and let it breathe.
The smell of dust and debris burning can least for over an hour. The smell can be annoying, but it’s not really propane.
Check the exhaust
The exhaust from your propane furnaces smells like none other than propane. Check to make sure the exhaust vent is completely connected and not leaking exhaust into the RV. You should be able to feel air flowing through the exhaust, but not outside of it.
If there is an issue with the exhaust connection or hose, turn the furnace off. You might be able to replace the exhaust or use duct or other tape to mend it together.
If it doesn’t go away or you smell strong propane
Propane is normally colorless and odorless. Like natural gas, most manufacturers add the smell of rotten eggs to your propane tank to give it a distinct, unpleasant smell. Also note, you should have a liquid propane gas detector in your RV and would expect it to go off during a leak.
If you do smell strong propane and it doesn’t go away quickly, shut your furnace off immediately. You should also go outside and turn off your propane tanks.
Disconnect the hose that supplies propane to your furnace and smell it. Does it smell the same as the propane you were smelling a moment ago? If it does, you might have a leak.
You do have a couple of choices here: If you are comfortable finding and fixing a leak, you can turn the propane back on and see if you can find the leak. Otherwise, call a professional right away and keep the propane off.
Get an LP detector
We mentioned this before, but it should be emphasized even more. Get a liquid propane and carbon monoxide detector for your RV. A beeping detector will remove much doubt about whether or not the scent you smell is propane or not.
This is especially helpful when you are sleeping. Carbon monoxide and propane are both sneaky gases. Carbon monoxide can make you feel tired and dizzy while propane is heavier than air and can displace the oxygen in your lungs. Both gasses are potentially deadly when breathed in excessively.
If your furnace starts while you are sleeping, you might not smell a recently developed propane leak. In addition to not wanting to breath propane, the invisible gas is also very volatile and could cause an explosion with a simple spark.
If your LP detector is not going off and you just fired up your furnace, you are probably fine though you should check on the status of the detector too.
When in doubt, get help with your rv furnace
A consistent propane smell isn’t a good thing. The propane should be well contained in your furnace and only come out as exhaust. Your furnace could have other problems that cleaning can’t fix, like a broken heat exchanger that lets the propane and air mix out before it’s done combusting.
This doesn’t amount to a leak, but it makes your furnace less efficient and will smell up your RV. While we suggest getting help with your RV furnace, a do it yourself can also repair their furnace with their hands, tools, and a few minutes if they wish.
Smelling anything weird in a smaller space like an RV can be unnerving. Thankfully, propane is also scented in a way to make it distinct, unless of course, you happen to have an affinity for rotten eggs. Follow our suggestions and get a gas detector for propane and for carbon monoxide – they could save your life.
In addition, clean out the furnace to lower the chances of getting that annoying burnt smell when you first fire up your furnace for the cold season. Furnaces that are well maintained will breathe better and last years longer when they aren’t built up with dust and debris.