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There is a significant proportion of individuals who enjoy the Great Outdoors that also travel to the wilderness in vehicles converted for camping (RV, Vans, some boats etc).

For those living an outdoor/van/boat life experience what are the risks of sleeping and cooking in a confined, insulated vehicle, and, crucially, how can that be managed?

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The three risks that are relevant here are the risk of fire, suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning

I'll take suffocation first. A gas leak can exclude oxygen to the point that you can no longer breathe, but there are standard mitigations:

  • the gas canister is usually mounted external to the passenger cabin, in a compartment vented downwards, so that gas escaping a badly fitted connector will not enter the cabin.
  • cookers typically have a safety cutoff that is heat operated, so if a flame blows out, the gas flow will stop.
  • propane has a distinctive smell added, so it may wake you.
  • while the main leak risk is from the connection to the canister, there is obviously a risk of leaks anywhere, so gas leak alarms are used

Carbon monoxide poisoning is unfortunately a bit more likely. Carbon monoxide is typically a byproduct of burning a flame without enough oxygen, so the usual mitigation is to have a window open. Simple but effective. Like the propane detectors, carbon monoxide detectors will loudly warn you of a leak

Fire (and explosion) is mitigated in the main by the cutoff and venting. When lighting a gas cooker, there is usually a requirement to hold the ignition until the flame has caught - and if the flame goes out, the cutoff will stop gas flow shortly afterwards. So the main fire risk when asleep is from leaving flames on - so checking all fire is out before going to bed is essential. No using the cooker as a heater when cold! Just wrap up warm.

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    A couple of additions not worth making my own answer for: if you need and you only have a stove, boil water for a hot water bottle, even improvised - but of course ventilate while burning; if possible have a high vent to let CO (and steam) out and a low vent for fresh air to come in. Shut them as soon as you've turned the gas off; watch out for curtains vs flames - thick curtains keep the heat in but can hang awkwardly. – Chris H Jan 27 '17 at 22:40
  • It's perhaps worth noting that if you heat or cook with propane (or LPG), then you have the same sorts of problems in a house as in an RV. For instance, the local authorities (California/Nevada Sierras) are warning people to clear the current 10-20 ft (3-6 m) accumulation of snow off their propane tanks because it can cause leaks, and consequent fires/explosions. – jamesqf Jan 28 '17 at 4:03
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    I believe the OP is in the UK where butane is more common for the smaller cylinders. And while it has a smell it's not the mercaptan smell of domestic gas. – Chris H Jan 28 '17 at 19:46
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    Yes, regulations are not enforced for portable cookers, it does not change the fact that meeting them (or at least the intent of the standards) ensures a degree of safety. – user5330 Jan 30 '17 at 20:38
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    Additionally only ever use low pressure appliances inside and RV/Car/Van. Have the bottle and regulator installed in a vented compartment sealed from the interior. If a high pressure setup develops a leak, large amounts of gas are released very quickly. Low pressure regulators restrict the gas at a maximum flow rate and some even cut off the supply if the flow rate is exceeded. – user5330 Jan 30 '17 at 20:44

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