Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.
Showing posts sorted by date for query camp stores. Sort by relevance Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by date for query camp stores. Sort by relevance Show all posts

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Camping Equipment Maintenance

Tent campers may not have to deal with the mechanical maintenance tasks that those who choose mechanized or motorized modes of travel and recreation, but there are still some things we need to do routinely to keep our gear and equipment in top shape.  Failure to maintain gear and equipment is a sure recipe for premature failure.  A couple of good times to do routine maintenance are when you are preparing for an outing and when you return and put you stuff back in storage.

Tent maintenance.  Maintaining tents mostly consists of cleaning them and inspecting them for leaks or tears and making necessary repairs.  Small tears can  usually be sewed up and sealed with seam sealer.  If caught in time making repairs will avoid catastrophic failure that would force you to buy a new tent.  Temporary repairs for small cuts and tears can be made in the field using duct tape or some kind of waterproof sealing tape.  These should be properly sewed and sealed when you get home and before your next outing.  Another important part of tent maintenance is cleaning.  You should always sweep out your tent before taking it down and brush away debris from the fabric as you roll or fold it up for transport and storage.  If it is wet or damp from rain or dew, be sure to unpack it and let it dry out before you put it back in storage.  Inspect the roof and sides for soiling from birds or tree sap and remove such deposits as soon as practical.  Avoid putting your tent into storage with soiled spots.  Bird crap can usually be removed satisfactorily with soap and water.  Sap may require a stronger solvent such as Goo Gone.  Some folks use turpentine to remove tree sap but it may damage tent fabrics so it would be wise to test it on something non-essential (like the tent peg bag) before using it on your tent.

Sleeping bag maintenance.  Unless your sleeping bag is badly soiled or smells bad all you normally need to do is hang it out for a few hours to let it air out and dry before putting it away.  It would be a good thing if you have room to store it hanging.  It avoids compressing the fill.  Tightly rolling your sleeping bag may let you store it in a smaller space, but it will destroy the loft and it will no longer keep you warm.  If you can't or don't want to hang your sleeping bag, fold it carefully and store it in a tub or box that lets it remain loose.  If you detect a light odor you might try spraying the bag lightly with a fabric freshener such as Fabreze.  Be sure to let it dry before rolling or folding it for storage.  Badly stained or awful smelling sleeping bags should be taken to our local dry cleaners for cleaning.  It isn't cheap, but its way less than a new sleeping bag!

Gas stove maintenance.  Gas stoves, whether white gas or propane, are usually quite reliable, even without a lot of preventive maintenance.  But that doesn't mean you can or should ignore them.  Be sure to clean up any cooking spills after each use.  Clean the burners and the bottom of the stove.  Be sure to clean the openings in the burners.  If there are places where a spill has clogged some of the openings, there won't be any flame there, creating a cold spot in your cooking surface.  Gas stoves have a pump built into the fuel tank to create the pressure needed to feed gas to the burners.  These pumps usually use a leather washer which can dry out and become inaffective.  A drop or two of oil will usually restore flexibility.  If that doesn't work you may have to rebuild the pump.   Rebuild kits are available at most sporting goods stores where the stoves are sold.  If the pump is working fine and there is fuel in the tank but the stove still doesn't work, it probably has a bad generator.  This is a little brass tube through which the liquid gasoline travels and is converted to a gas before entering the burners.  Generators are fairly easy to replace and only cost around $10.

Gas lanterns.  Gas lanterns may use gasoline or propane.  Propane cylinders are pressurized.  You have to pressurize the fuel tank on gasoline lanterns using the pump built into the tank.  If the pump stops working, a drop or two of oil may soften the leather gasket and restore enough flexibility to get it working again.  If it is too badly worn it may have to be replaced.  Just as with gas stoves, there are rebuild kits.  The kits for any given brand can usually be used on both stoves and lanterns so you shouldn't have to carry multiple rebuild kits.  The most frequent maintenance chore for gas lanterns is replacing the mantles.  Th mantles are little sock-like mesh bags.  You have to remove or lift the globe of the lantern to replace the mantles.  There may be one or more mantles in each lantern depending on its size.  The mantles have a string threaded through the open end.  Slip the open end over the end of the flared tube inside the globe and tie it tightly in place with the string.  Then take a match or lighter and burn the silk mesh sock.  The ash that remains is heated white-hot when the lantern is lit.  Because the mantles are made of ash, they are quite fragile.  Bumping the lantern may cause them to crack or break and then they will no longer confine the gas and burn properly.  Always carry several replacement mantles with you when you're using a gas lantern.  Another routine task is cleaning the globe.  Always do this when the globe is cool.  Cleaning a hot globe may result it burning your fingers.  If the hot globe comes in contact with cold water or a cold cloth, it may crack or even shatter.  Carefully clean both the inside and outside of the glass globe before each trip and s often as needed when using the lantern.  Cracked or broken globes should be replaced.  Most gas lanterns are  held together by a knurled nut at the top.  Make sure this nut is always snug but don't over tighten it.  Regularly check to see if the bail or handle is properly attached.  If it is loose and you try to pick it up, the lantern my slip off and fall.

Battery lanterns.  Battery lanterns are far easier to care and less fragile than gas lanterns.  But that doesn't mean they don't need some attention.  You will want to check the condition of the batteries before each trip and either recharge the lantern or replace the batteries if the voltage is low.  Check the battery compartment for signs of leakages or contamination.  Carefully clean any yucky stuff out of the battery compartment paying special attention to the contacts the battery connects to.  They should always be clean and shiny.  You may need to clean the globe periodically too.  Since there is no soot or smoke inside, normally all you have to do is clean the outside.  Window cleaner, like Windex, usually works well but just to safe, check your owners' manual.  Some plastics may have special cleaning instructions.  Ordinary soap and water is usually safe for all surfaces.   Be sure not to rub too hard or too long in one place as it may scratch or burnish the surface.

Camp chairs.  Camp chairs mostly just need to be cleaned once in awhile.  Some of the old style aluminum folding chairs used screws to hold the mesh to the frame.  If you have one of these you'll want to make sure all the screws are tight before each trip.  Cloth chairs like the popular "quad" chairs can be cleaned with soap and water, rinsed with water, and let dry.  The mesh on folding aluminum chairs can also be cleaned with soap and water if badly soiled but if they're only dusty you might just blow them off with compressed air.  If you find your folding chairs are getting hard to open and close or they make squeaking sounds when you open and close them, you might want to put a little bit of lubricant on the pivot points.  Don't use a lot of oil because it will just collect dust and get on the fabric when the chair is closed up for storage.  A dry Teflon lubricant would be a good choice.  If you use a wet lubricant like WD-40, be sure to avoid spraying on too much.  You might even want to spray some in the cap and apply it with a little water color brush or Q-tip so you don't get goo much in one place.  The legs on some chairs have caps or feet on the end.  These often get lost or damaged.  You may be able to purchase rubber cane tips to replace missing feet on round legs. 

Knives and axes.  Inspect  your knives and axes.  Test the blades and makes sure they are clean and sharp.  Gently sand away any rust.  Coat the metal surfaces with a light oil.  Make sure handles are secure in axe heads and that the handles are smooth and in good condition.  You may sand rough wooden handles.  Rub wooden handles with linseed oil to protect them against moisture, make the comfortable to handled, and give the handle a nice "glow".  Dull tools are more dangerous and more difficult to use than sharp ones.  Sharpen blades as needed and use some kind of blade protector while the tools are in storage.

Other equipment.  Depending on what kind of recreational activities you normally participate in you may have other pieces of equipment that need your attention.  If you have an owners manual or instruction sheet, be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations.  Lacking specific guidelines, be sure to regularly clean and inspect each item and make repairs as needed.  Check the functionality of each item to make sure it is working right.  If it doesn't work right, examine it for damage.  A frequent cause of problems in anything with moving parts is contamination or lack of lubrication.  A little dry Teflon or even a modest application of WD-40 may work wonders.  Metal components of equipment may have gotten bent and you might be able to restore proper movement by straightening the bent part.  Slight bends can usually be successfully straightened but anything that has been kinked will probably have to be replaced.  Check for and tighten any loose fasteners but take care not to over tighten them.  Over tightening can damage parts and interfere with proper movement.

Keep it working!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Camping Stores

 In a previous post we addressed "Camp Stores".  They are the little stores in a campground that usually offer some staples and camping supplies as opposed to camping stores, that focus on selling camping supplies and equipment.

Camping stores might be appropriately applied to any store that regularly sells camping supplies and equipment.  We usually think of places Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI.  Department stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Target, and Sears usually have a large camping section.  Sporting goods stores like Big 5, Dicks, and Sportsmans Warehouse are also good place to find camping supplies and equipment.  Many RV retailers have in house stores that sell mostly RV oriented supplies and accessories.  You may also find camping supplies at your local grocery store and large pharmacy chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.  Some auto parts stores stock a limited amount of RV supplies too.

When I'm in the market for camping supplies and equipment, whether for tent camping or RVing, the first place I usually look is ebay.com.  That is, if I can afford to wait a few days for the items to be delivered.  For more immediate needs, I'll head to a local store like Big 5 or Walmart.  I've kept track of my ebay purchases over several years and have found that by judicious choice of purchase I've saved an average of over 50% over retail.  But whenever you use an Internet auction site, be sure you know what things will cost through regular local or online retail outlets so  you don't over bid.  Remember, to some extent, to win an auction on ebay you must be willing to pay more than anyone else in the world!  Don't let yourself get drawn into a bidding war over something you can get elsewhere.

Thrift stores are not normally thought of as camping stores, but they can often be an excellent source of inexpensive equipment for camping.  You won't always find equipment like tents, lanterns, stoves, or sleeping bags, but when  you do you will probably be able to get them for a fraction of their original retail cost and very often they will be gently used and still in good condition.  You can almost always count on finding plenty of kitchen items -- pots, pans, utensils, dinnerware etc.  They usually have a large selection of clothing from which you can build up your camp wardrobe.  Good winter jackets, like ski parkas, can be VERY expensive when new but you can often find excellent used ones at thrift stores that are more than suitable for camping.  Other good sources for used items include garage sales and local classified ads.

My advice to you is to look for camping and RV supplies and accessories where ever  you go.  Even hardware stores and home centers sometimes have items you may find useful, even if they aren't specifically designed for camping.  I've even found unique items at truck stops and travel centers during road trips.

A couple of tips for keeping cost down:  1) check to see if you already have some excess or duplicate items you can repurpose for camping before you spend good money on new ones and 2) keep your eyes open for sales -- watch for clearance and manger special signs whenever you go shopping.  One other thought:  stock up on bargains when  you have a chance.  That applies mostly to durable goods and supplies.  Buying large quantities of perishable items only makes sense when you have an immediate need and will use them up before they go bad, such as for a large family or group outing.

Some items you might find it useful to watch for and stock up on might include spare parts for stoves and lanterns, tent pegs, personal grooming items (such a camping mirrors, biodegradable soap, pocket first aid kits, etc), LED flashlights and batteries, fire starters, parts for back packs, sunglasses, and bandages and other durable medical supplies.  RVers or tent campers with a porta-potti will want to stock up on toilet/holding tank chemicals.  If you use a gasoline camp stove or lantern, a couple extra cans of camping fuel would be handy.  If your have propane stove or lantern, you can save money by buying multi-packs of propane canisters when they're on sale.

Shop 'til you drop!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Your RV

RVs often represent a significant investment.  Even a small tent trailer can run you around $5000 NEW.  Unfortunately, many people only use them for occasional camping trips (average about 12 trips a year according to some reports) so they spend a lot of time sitting unused.  That makes pre-owned (used) RVs especially good values for subsquent purchasers, but wouldn't it make sense to get as much  use out of your investment as possible?  With a little creativity you may find many ways to use your RV.

Our primary use for our motorhomes has been to support our dirt bike outings.  With a family of 6 kids (4 boys and 2 girls with a 14 year difference in age between the oldest and youngest) is served as our base camp for our OHV rides.  We spent just about every 3-day holiday weekend on one of these trips when the kids were growing up.

A second major use was summer vacations to visit the kids' grandparents in another state.  Even though motorhomes don't get great mileage, the savings in motel and restaurant costs plus the added convenience during travel and at our destination, more than offsets the fuel costs.  When you measure the fuel in "passenger miles per gallon" like is often used for mass transit, transporting a family of 8 in a motorhome delivers a respectable 56 passenger miles per gallon!  That sounds a whole lot better than the raw fuel economy of 7 miles per gallon.

With six active children, we often had several soccer games to attend each weekend.  We soon discovered our motorhome was perfect for transporting our small army and all their gear and provided us with a  shelter and other useful facilities for resting, eating, and cleaning up between games.  Our on board first aid kit let us lend  help dealing with many small injuries among their teammates as well as our own kids.  Some of the soccer fields were located at schools that were locked on weekends so having our own sanitary facilities was also a boon.

On one occasion the limousine our kids ordered for a school dance failed to show up and we transported about half dozen kids to the dance in our motorhome.  It was definitely an unusual mode of transportation for such an event, but it provided at least as much room for the kids as the limo would have and even better facilities for the more than 1 hour drive downtown to the venue for their dance. 

Disaster Recovery Vehicle (DRV).  I have touted the value in using your RV as a DRV in several places in this blog.  Having a well-stocked RV available during any kind of interruption of normal household services makes dealing with them a lot more convenient and can even literally be life-saving.  Your RV can give a you a safe and comfortable place to stay should your home be damaged or if you should experience an extended power outage.  If properly setup you are prepared to weather just about anything.  That means having sufficient fuel in the tanks, proper clothing, food, and medical supplies.  Your RV will provide shelter plus cooking and sanitation facilities and can serve as a temporary ER for you and your family when access to normal medical services are restricted or non-existent.

A motorhome or other RV makes an excellent guest house for visitors.  You can keep your visiting relatives close by but still give them a lot of privacy by setting them up in your RV.

Another popular use for motorhomes is tailgate parties at sporting events.  Be sure to check with the venue to make sure they will admit rigs the size of yours before you show up and get turned away.  RVs provide perfect facilities for your pre-game festivities.

Shopping trips? You probably wouldn't think of taking your motorhome on a shopping trip.  Too many issues with traffic snarls and limited parking.  But sometimes it might be just right.  Not only does it have lots of space to put your purchases, it can provide you a comfortable place to recuperate between stores -- get a snack, catch a few Z's, freshen up.

New Years Eve celebrations.   I read of an enterprising owner who used  his motorhome to transport his wife and some friends to New Years Eve outing at a nightclub about 90 minutes from their home.  Knowing it would be a late night and drinking would be involved, he obtained permission to park on a vacant lot near the club so they had a safe and comfortable place within walking distance when the night's festivities ended.

Taking a group out.  Whenever you have more people than will fit in your family car or minivan, you might consider using your RV.  However, not all the seating in an RV is rated for occupancy on the highway. Any approved seating should be equipped with seat belts.  Passengers in other locations might present a safety hazzard and, in case of an accident, you may face liability issues.

Think outside the box.   You'll probably come up with even more fun, interesting, and innovative ways to use your RV.

Be creative!
 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Camping Supplies from Dollar Tree

I am a strong proponent of looking for camping and RV/OHV supplies everywhere I go.  I have found bargains at drug stores, farm and ranch stores, and grocery stores as well as at RV, OHV, camping, and outdoor outlets.  You can often find things you can use for camping in your own basement, attic, or garage.  One kind of surprising place I've found is my local dollar store.  The solvent resistance foam tiles on the work bench in my enclosed motorcycle trailer are kids animal puzzle tiles from the 99 Cents Store in California.  I was teased a lot when my riding buddies first saw them (pastel colors with cute animal cutouts), but they sure changed their tune when they saw how well they worked!  Not only do they provide a cushioned, non-slip working surface, they are surprisingly easy to clean.  I was delighted to discover that brake cleaner would remove oil and grease stains completely without harming the tiles.   We get most of our cleaning supplies, toiletries, sundries and OTC medication from Dollar Tree along with flashlights, batteries, and many kitchen utensils.  Paper goods, plastic utensils, etc are also readily available.  The cheap single ply toilet paper is a pretty good substitute for the more expensive RV tissue and a lot more compatible with holding tanks than the fancy quilted brands favored for residential use.

I've mentioned Dollar Tree and other dollar stores in several places in this blog.  Not long ago I found a camping article on Pinterest that also entreated readers to shop Dollar Tree for camping supplies and things to keep kids occupied in camp and on the road.  There were some negative comments in response to her presentation that I thought were unwarranted.  As with anything you buy, you should make your own decisions and buy what works for you.  Like me, the original writer touted the advantages of dollar store flashlights and batteries.  At least one reader rejected her advice.  He preferred to buy sturdier flashlights that lasted longer.  I stand by my original recommendation of using dollar store flashlights and batteries, especially for kids and loaners.  Like the critical reader, I like to have a couple of high quality Maglites for my own use, but have found it particularly advantageous to use inexpensive and easily replaceable flashlights for kids and as loaners.   Those light weight plastic flashlights may not be as durable as nicer ones but, hey, I'm not out serious $ if they are damaged or don't come back.  I was really ticked when one of my kids "borrowed" my brand new blue anodized Maglite for cave exploring and brought it back looking like it had been through a rock avalanche.  The good news?  It still worked just fine.  It just wasn't very pretty any more.  No doubt a cheap plastic flashlight would have been left in pieces in the cave. But at least I wouldn't have been out much!


Many of the cleaning products at dollar stores are brand names so often there is no question about quality.  However, don't reject their own house brands or off brands.  My wife and I have found than many of the "Awesome" branded products at Dollar Tree are excellent and match or even sometimes exceed the performance of similar brand names.  In addition to liquid and aerosol cleaners you can often find a variety of wet wipes.  I've found leather wipes, tire wipes, stainless steel wipes, furniture wipes, glass wipes, and mechanics' degreaser wipes in addition to traditional baby wipes and general purpose wipes.  They seem to come and go so I advise stocking up on what you want/need when you see them. They will last a fairly long time as long as the oroginal package isn't opened.  By the way, aerosols are less likely to spill than liquid cleaners but if you're deeply concerned about their affect on the atmosphere, use manual spray products, or where feasible, wet wipes.

OTC medications are another category I find Dollar Tree to be a good source for.  It enables me to easily and inexpensively stock my medicine cabinet with a variety of choices so all member of my family or group can chose their favorite pain relievers, etc.  Aspirin doesn't work for every one so I carry acetaminophen and Ibuprofen too. Nice not to have to shell out big bucks for each bottle.  Since stuff in our RVs and camp kits often sit around a long time before being used it is also nice not have a large investment in disposable items that may have to be replaced periodically without being used up.  Fortunately, most medicines are good long after their official expiration dates, but if you have any concerns, it is inexpensive to replace them at Dollar Tree and maintain peace of mind.  I have found surprising number of different types and sizes of bandages and medical tape.  And I keep a tube or two of Superglue in every one of my first aid kits.  Superglue is almost the same thing as pharmaceutical grade "Dermabond", but a lot cheaper, especially when you get it at Dollar Tree.  In use it may sting a bit more than real Dermabond, but it will essentially work just as well at holding small wounds together.  And it bonds instantly to skin.  I've heard it will sting a bit more than Dermabond, but since I've never used Dermabond I can only attest to the very satisfactory performance of Superglue.  You will often find pocket sized first aid kits at your dollar store.  I like to stock up on these so that everyone in my family always has a basic first aid kit in their pack or pocket and I can share them with guests.  You aren't going to handle major injuries with a little pocket first aid kit but they are perfect for the many smaller tasks that often pop up during outdoor activities.  Things like slivers, little cuts, blisters, insect bites and small burns are all too common when camping.

Kitchen utensils are another group of things that I have found frequently suffer from abuse or loss during camping trips.  Items from a dollar store may not be restaurant quality but I find they usually at least match things I buy at grocery and department stores and, once again, the low cost makes them cheap and easy to replace when they get ruined or go missing while camping.  The low cost also means it is economical to bring along duplicates if you have room.  We've found it is often very nice to have extra spatula or serving spoon.  I've even found sturdy all stainless steel items that are perfect for camping.  My wife liked my camping ladle so well she commandeered it for the kitchen at home and I had to look for another one.  The kitchen section  is also a good source for dish towels and hot pads.  BTW, I've found the concentrated version of dish soap to be perfect for camping.  The smaller size takes up less room in camping tubs or RV cabinets and the concentrated from seems to work more quickly.

There are usually a good selection of toiletries and sundries, which allows me to stock up for camping and have enough for my whole group and to share with fellow campers should the opportunity arise.  The only downside is that with the cost so low it is easy to OVER buy for my family, but at least everyone has the products they like to use.  I encourage using things like combination shampoo/conditioner or even shampoo/conditioner/body wash to minimize RV bathroom clutter.

Dollar stores usually have a fairly large selection of beauty products -- combs, brushes, nail clippers, nail files, chapstick, etc. making it very inexpensive to stock up on what you and your family might need in your RV or camp kit.

The "Soft Lines" section often includes socks, knit gloves, knit caps, and other expendable items  you might use on camping trips.   Once again, these are especially handy to have for kids and as loaners.  I  found the little, stretchy knit gloves worked well for glove liners for my dirt bike gloves on cold days. 

The hardware selection usually includes a few small hand tools and car care products.  The tools may not be professional quality, but are often adequate for the light use they will get when camping and the low price makes them very affordable.  And, should they break or get lost, you're not out a lot of money.  Low price also lets you get as may as you need to have them at all the places you will need them.  Convenience is paramount when camping.

Inexpensive toys for camping can be a real boon to young families.  It is also gives grandparents a way to stock up on things to entertain their grandkids during an outing or a visit.  Things like sidewalk chalk and squirt guns appeal to kids of all ages.  Same with glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets, which are fun for after dark activities.  Even adults enjoy cooling down on a summer afternoon with a "Supersoaker" squirt gun fight.  And the dollar store lets you arm your whole army without a big price tag and the low cost pretty much eliminates worry over them getting lost or damaged, which are both frequent occurrences with any group of active youngsters.  The variety of crayons, colored pencils, and colored markers along with coloring books and pads of various sizes can provide hours of entertainment for the budding artists in your group.  You can usually find a variety of simple games as well as other basic toys to keep the little ones busy.

Flashlights and batteries are always good to have in camp.  While I do enjoy using my sturdy aircraft aluminum Maglite, inexpensive plastic flashlights and LED lights from the Dollar Tree are really nice to have on hand for children and as loaners.  The low cost batteries may not last as long as higher priced brand names but since they spend so much time in storage it is good not to tie up a lot of money and yet have an adequate supply of replacements for every application.  I've used small Dollar Tree LED flashlights in my tool kit on my dirt bike we great success.  They are sturdy aluminum construction, are light weight, and have endured 100s of miles of bumpy trails.  The low cost allows me to stash little flashlights wherever they might be needed for added convenience in my RV, camper, tool box, and motorcycle trailer.

Some people (inlcuding you) might be kind of choosy about tools and hardware, but low cost might allow you to supplement your tool box and spare parts with little investment and you don't have to worry about losing your good stuff.  I frequently find little items, like razor knives, that are handy to have in my camp kit.  I would not be likely to pay normal retail for them for such occasional use, but being able to have them at a reasonable price often makes many tasks around camp easier and more fun.  It also allows me to duplicate some hand tools so I can them where I frequently use them instead of having to always go back to my tool box when I need something.    An extra screwdriver and/or pair of pliers tucked into a pocket or pack can be very handy.  And they don't have to be heavy duty, professional quality, precision items for occasional light use around camp or on the trail.  I've even picked up rolls of wire that is perfect for wiring hand grips on OHVs, sometimes getting 3 rolls of different colored wire for $1.00!   Nice to have options if you're sensitive to color coordinating things on your ride.   BTW, you'll find that a pair of specialized wire-tie or "safety wire" pliers will make that task pretty easy and kind of fun, but you probably won't find them at your dollar store.  Try your favorite OHV or auto supply store.  They can be a bit pricey.  I've seen them from $30 to $385!  One of the best deals I found was two pair (6" and 9") plus some wire on ebay for $31.99.  Wire tie pliers have a locking mechanism to hold the wire secure while twisting it with a special built in spinner as you pull on the pliers.   It will pull the wires nice and tight and lock them securely in place with a very tight, neat twist.  But go easy.  It is way to easy too twist the wires off and then you have to start over.

Solar walkway lights from Dollar Tree can often be adapted for use as tent and campground lights.  Remove the ground stake and add a hanger to use it as a tent light or stick the ground stake into a can or jar partially filled with rice, beans, or pebbles or into an inverted flower pot to use it on your picnic table. Solar lights are also useful for illuminating tent pegs and poles so you can avoid tripping over them at night.  A solar walkway light on either side of your RV step makes it easy to find in the dark.  LED "tap" lights are an easy way to add lights to cabinets and closets or under the hood for checking your oil.  I've also seen them installed on/in the lids of mason jars to turn them into little table-top lanterns.  Sometimes you can get some that were designed for kids that are very colorful and shaped like various animals.  They make good individual tent lights or bunk lights in an RV.  They provide sufficient illumination for individual needs without impinging too much on fellow campers and being battery powered they won't run down your RV or vehicle batteries,  especially useful around kids who often "forget" to turn off lights.

Having access to inexpensive products provides an opportunity to experiment with different things to find out what works best for you and what you like best.  If you get something you don't like, you've only wasted a dollar!  I've found that particularly useful for kitchen utensils.  You can try out a variety of sizes and shapes.  Keep what you like working with and put the others in your next garage sale or donate them to your favorite charity.  If all else fails, you can throw them away without feeling guilty about having wasted money on them.


Happy Shopping!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dump Valve Maintenance and Repair

Dump valves are pretty reliable unless they freeze or get damaged by impact with something.   However, they will sometimes need repair or replacement in normal use due to ordinary wear and tear on the seals or getting debris trapped as they are closed.  You can also break the internal slide or bend the shaft if you don't pull and push the valve straight in and out.  If you discover sewage accumulated inside the dump cap between dumps, you probably have one or more leaking valves.  The color and smell of the accumulated fluid will tell you which valve is leaking.  Foul smelling stuff that is blue, brown, or green is coming from the black water tank.  Grayish, soapy water that is nearly odorless is from the gray water tank. The black water valve will  be large, 3" valve.  The gray water valve may also be a 3" valve but on some rigs it is a smaller, 1 1/2" valve.  Having a clear plastic dump cap instead of a black on will let you see if there is anything behind the cap before you open it.  Always make sure both valves are fully pushed in before deciding you have a problem with the seals.  Sometimes a bit of debris may get caught in the valve when it closes causes it to leak until it is opened and flushed again.  A persistent leak is a strong indicator that the seals need to be replaced  Having a clear plastic dump cap will let you see if there is leakage before you open the camp and get doused with nasty stuff.  Having a dump cap with a hose fitting allows you to slowly and easily drain the accumulated sewage safely into the dump hose or a container before you open the cap and get a big "whoosh" of nasty stuff all over you and the ground.  The space between the valves and the cap can usually hold a quart or two of nasty leakage.   Dump your tanks before attempting to work on the valves.  After you get home and parked where you're going to be working on them, put a container under the valves and remove the outer cap and leave the valves open for a while to let everything drain out and stop dripping.  This will help avoid getting sewage up your sleeve or dripping in your face while working on the valves.

To avoid problems with your dump valves, always pull and push the handles straight.   Any angle on the handle could bend the shaft, damage the seals, or crack the slide.  Once any of these things has happened you will have to replace the valve.  Fortunately they aren't very expensive (around $20 each at even high priced RV parts stores and even less at discount outlets) and they are usually pretty easy to change.

Always wear protective rubber, nitrile, or vinyl gloves when working with sewer hoses and dump valves  to avoid exposure to chemicals and nasty waste products.  Then thoroughly wash your hands after you have removed and discarded the gloves.  Coveralls are a good idea too, and be sure to wash and disinfect your work clothing when you're done, especially if there was any spillage.

Sometimes the problem is due to worn seals, which can be replaced without replacing the entire valve.  However the effort is pretty much the same whether you're replacing just the seals or the entire valve.   Seal kits will be a little less expensive than complete valves but since the valves are fairly inexpensive, I prefer to replace them rather than just change the seals to avoid any extra labor if just changing the seals doesn't solve the problem.  Some valves can only use their own branded seals and if you get the wrong ones, they will leak.  That is one reason I prefer to replace the whole valve so I don't have to worry about matching old seals.  You'll need to dump and flush the holding tanks before beginning any repair.  The valves are blade valves that are fastened between flanges on either side --one on the outlet from the tank and one on the pipe that leads to where you attach the dump hose.  They are secured by 4 bolts -- one in each corner of the square part of the flange on the valve.  Remove the 4 bolts, then carefully pull out the valve.  Remove the old seals and clean the flanges.  Install the new seals on the flanges.  Make sure to put the large end of the seal over the lip on the flange.  Then very carefully slip the valve (new or old) into place, taking care not to dislodge or distort the seals.  This can be tricky.  Replace and tighten all 4 bolts and you should be good to go.  New valves should come with new bolts, another benefit of replacing the valve and not just the seals.  Always hold the nut and tighten or loosen the bolt head because the nut is knurled to prevent it from slipping.  Turning the nut will grind the surface of the valve.  Tighten the bolts until the heads begin to bite into the plastic flange.  Once the bolts are tightened, close the valve to make sure it operates smoothly.  If there is any resistance or it won't close completely the seals have probably slipped and you'll need to take it out and reinstall them properly.   At least partially fill the tank with clean water to test the installation.  Sometimes the old bolts will be so badly rusted you can't unscrew them to disassemble the valve.  If there is room you may be able to cut the bolts using a hacksaw or a die grinder with a metal cutoff blade.  Since you will be replacing the old valve you can cut right through the valve itself.  Cut the the center of the bolt and be careful not to damage the flanges on either side of the old valve.  The flange on the valve itself should provide enough buffer to prevent you from damaging the flanges on the tank and pipe.  If you damage those flanges you'll have a lot more to repair!

Some small leaks might be temporarily repaired using a wet patch roofing tar.  This is not a suitable permanent repair.  The underlying cause must be diagnosed and repaired, but if there is a small drip around the junction of the valve body and the flanges it mounts to, sealing it with tar might let you finish a trip and then make appropriate permanent repairs when you get home.  Using wet patch sealant avoids having to wait until the tanks are drained and dried.  Wet patch roofing tar is intended to be used in rainy conditions and may not be resistant to the chemicals and other contaminants in sewage.  While it may stick to wet surfaces, it may not stick to greasy, soapy surfaces or those contaminated with human waste and holding tank chemicals.  Clean the surface as well as you can before attempting to apply wet patch.  I  like Henry's wet patch cement, available in 10 oz tubes to fit a caulking gun at most home centers.

Maintaining dump valves mostly consists of keeping them lubricated so they operate smoothly without any tearing or excessive wear.  Lubricate the shaft of the valve with a silicone spray.  DO NOT use WD40 as it will disolve the grease that helps seal around the shaft and will make the valve harder to open and close.  The plastic "paddle" that actually opens and closes usually doesn't require any direct lubrication but some holding tank treatments contain valve lubricants or you can buy special valve lubricant to put into your holding tanks.  Valve lubricant is usually dumped down the toilet when the tank is empty so it goes directly to the valve.  You will have to put lubricant down a sink or shower drain to lubricate gray water valves.  Choose the drain closest to the gray water tank and put it in when the tank is empty.

Dump valves may have metal or plastic handles.  These handles sometimes get bent or broken, especially the plastic ones.  If the valve is otherwise in good shape, the handles are easily replaceable.  Open the valve, then grip the shaft with cloth protected pliers to avoid damaging the shaft, while twisting the handle to remove it.  Then screw on the new handle and tighten it and close the valve.

Some dump valves are located away from the outside edge of the RV and are operated via extension cables.  If you have valves that are difficult to reach you may be able to replace them with cable operated valves for added convenience.  When replacing existing valves with cable operated valves, use new Bladex/Valterra valves.  They are specially designed to operate easily with cables.  Follow the installation instructions carefully to ensure proper operation. Some ultra-luxury units even have electrically operated dump valves.  To me that is overkill and unless you have physical problems that prevent you bending over to reach the dump valves, I don't think it is worth the expense and it introduces extra electro-mechanical parts that can be additional points of failure.

Dump it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Camp Chairs

There was a time when about the only option for a comfortable portable seat in camp was a folding camp stool.   They were made of wood and canvas.  Viewed from each end they looked like an "X" when open, with canvas stretched between the bars at the top of the "X" to sit on.  They're still around too.  See Folding Camp Stool  and below for a modern example.
                                                              



                                                           Teak Canvas Stool

Camp chairs have come a long way since then.  Aluminum camp chairs with fiberglass webbing were among the first improvements:  light weight and fold flat for easy transport and a back rest so you could really relax.  In addition to the flat arms shown on the example they often had plastic arms that included a convenient cup holder to keep your favorite beverage out of your lap.                    


                                          Image result for Vintage SUNBEAM ALUMINUM LAWN CHAIRS.

They were quite comfortable and easy to use.  You may still be able to find some around if you like this style.  Try ebay.  I hung on to a couple of these because they fit nicely in the "rafters" of my motorcycle trailer for transport.  They are light weight and make a great place to sit while putting on my riding gear.

Quad chairs or bag chairs have pretty much taken over the camping scene in recent years.  They can be purchased at many stores that carry camping equipment, such as Walmart, often at very reasonable prices.
                                             .
They typically fold up into about a 4" square form that fits in a bag.  The bags usually have a shoulder strap and/or handle that makes them easy to carry.  These chairs may come with and without arms and can include built in snack tables.  Many of those with arms, like the one in the picture, have a cup holder built into the arm rest.  You can even get recliners,  rocking chairs,and cots of similar fold up construction.  The canvas material is form-fitting, breathable, and very comfortable.

Both the aluminum folding chairs and "quad" style bag chairs are available in children's sizes too, providing portable, affordable, comfortable seating for the whole family.  Some even have built in foldable tables for added convenience.

Camp chairs usually fit easily in the "basement" compartments on motorhomes and travel trailers.  You can also get racks that attach to RV ladders that will carry the folding aluminum style chairs.  Quad or bag chairs can usually be tucked under a sofa or dinette or carried in a roof pod or the trunk of  car.  For tent campers, quad chairs will usually fit right alongside tents and sleeping bags in your car, truck, or SUV.  I have a couple of the vintage folding aluminum camp chairs that fold flat enough to fit into the shallow (1") rafters of my enclosed motorcycle trailer.

Camp chairs are a very good way to enjoy a campfire.  They make a good platform to sit on for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows or just relaxing and enjoying the fire.  Just make sure you put them away or at least fold them down and lay them flat when you leave the campfire for the night.  I've seen several chairs reduced to twisted and melted frames after getting blown into the fire pit after everyone went to bed.  Sometimes there's enough heat left in the ground even after the fire is out to damage errant chairs and it only takes a light breeze to blow empty chairs into the fire pit.  When they are collapsed and lying on the ground they're a lot less likely to get blown around.

Maintenance and repairs.  Routine maintenance mostly means keeping them clean and making sure they are properly stored when not in use.  The hinge points of folding aluminum chairs might benefit from a bit of lubrication now and then.  I would use a Teflon or another dry lube rather than an oily spray that would attract dirt and dust and may soil your clothes.  The webbing on some aluminum chairs is attached with screws that might need to be tightened from time to time.  Folding aluminum web chairs can be fairly easily re-webbed, if you can still find the webbing kits.  That is a good way to repair or refresh vintage chairs, or even change the color to match a "new" RV or tent.   Tears in quad chairs can be patched as you would just about any fabric, but they are not designed to be rebuildable; however anyone who can operate a sewing machine could sew new fabric for these chairs pretty easily.  You can probably use the old fabric for a pattern if it isn't too badly worn out.  They generally come in a variety of basic colors (red, blue, green, orange, yellow, and black) and sometimes camouflage.  If you choose to sew your own colors you could make them any color or pattern you like as long as you use an appropriately strong fabric. The factory chairs are usually made of a light weight canvas material.  A good quality nylon or polyester might be more stain resistant.  Speaking of stains, you might want to consider spraying quad chairs with Scotchguard stain repellant when they're new to help keep them looking good.

Survival camp chairs.  You aren't likely to have any camp chairs if you find yourself in wilderness survival mode, but that doesn't mean you have to sit on the ground.  You can sometimes find a rock or a stump to sit on or make yourself a rustic stool from just two pieces of wood.  It is easiest to make using flat lumber, but that too will probably not be an option in survival mode.  The basic design is a "T".  You sit on the cross bar of the "T" and the leg supports your weight.  If you have to make a stool from limbs you'll probably want to notch the cross bar so it doesn't roll off.  Since you have to balance this one-legged stool it may take a little practice, but it sure beats sitting on cold, wet, muddy, or snowy ground.

Camp chair accessories.   One of the most popular accessories are umbrellas that clamp to the chair frame to provide shade and protection from light rain.  Another rather esoteric option is called "Backglo".  It is a reflective shield that attaches to the back of the chair and extends all the way to the ground below to reflect heat from the campfire onto your back.  There are also little folding tables available in the quad chair style that can be used as tables or as foot stools.

Sittin' pretty!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

RV Mattresses

RV Mattresses.  RVs are intended to provide us most of the creature comforts we enjoy at home, including a comfortable bed.  I'm sure we all agree that getting a good night's rest is essential for safe, enjoyable, successful travel and outdoor activities.  Most RV beds are pretty comfortable, or at least start out that way.  But not all RV mattresses are created equal nor hold up as well.  Cheap mattresses will break down faster than better quality products and no one sleeps well on a thin or broken down, lumpy mattress.  Mattresses in used RVs can be a mystery.  Some may be OEM, some replacements.   Replacements may be upgrades or even downgrades so you don't know what you're getting.  In addition to original quality, use and care will also affect performance and longevity.  If the previous owner was very large or for some reason carried heavy cargo on the bed, the mattress may not last long.  Are RV mattresses really that different from the residential mattresses you use at home?  Sometimes they are.  For one thing, you can save weight using a thinner or lighter mattress so many RVs come with sleep systems that are often considered inferior to the one on your bed at home to reduce weight and cost.  If you're used to an extra thick and comfy mattress at home, you might find the thin pad in some RVs disappointing.  For another thing, they are sometimes different sizes than the standard sizes used at home.  For example, what you might take for an ordinary double bed in some motorhomes is actually a 3/4 size mattress at 48" wide, compared to 54" for a standard double mattress.  If you don't think 6" makes much difference, try sleeping two people on  a 3/4 size mattress!   RV King and Queen mattresses are usually not the same size as their residential namesakes.  Some RVs use a corner bed to save space and they'll often have the exposed corner cut off to provide more aisle space.  The cut corner usually doesn't affect sleeping unless someone quite tall sleeps on that side of the bed and their feet hang over, but if you replace it with a mattress that doesn't have the cut corner it can both droop and can get in the way of getting past the bed, which is usually the path to the corner bathroom in the other rear corner of the RV.  Sometimes you can add support under the extended corner, but it might mean banging your shins when you go by.  RV Queen and RV King mattresses are usually a little shorter than standard residential models.  If there is room and you can sacrifice a few inches of walking space you can usually upgrade to residential size mattresses, but you might need to extend the platform so the mattress doesn't sag where it hangs over the edge.

There are many reasons why you might want to replace an RV mattress.   As mattresses age, the cover fabric may deteriorate and tear, padding may get compressed or shift, springs may collapse or break, or they mattress may become stained or soiled so that it is unpleasant and perhaps unhealthy to sleep on.

You can buy replacement mattresses from RV stores like Camping World or you can have them custom made.  Any good upholstery shop should be able to order and cut foam to fit your RV and make a suitable cover if you don't have a local mattress maker.  Having a custom made foam mattress may be less expensive than you might think, especially if you can use an off-the-shelf mattress cover instead of having one custom made. If the cover is slightly smaller it still might work but it could make the mattress bow in the middle.  If it is too big you can usually fold it over and tuck it under to make it work -- or, if you're handy in the sewing department, you can alter it to make it fit to your satisfaction.

You can even buy famous brand name mattresses, including Serta and Sleep Number beds, to fit most RVs.  Be sure to measure your mattress to be sure you're getting one that will fit right.  The "Queen" and "King" beds in some RVs are NOT the same size as standard Queen and King beds at home, although sometimes standard mattress can be made to work.  When measuring for a new mattress, measure the platform, not the old mattress.  The shape and dimensions of the old mattress may have been distorted by use and by temperature and humidity.

If your old mattress is breaking down and is no longer comfortable to sleep on, you can either replace it with a new mattress or consider adding a mattress topper.  A mattress topper will usually be a lot less expensive and often gives very satisfactory results.  A mattress topper is not the same thing as a mattress pad.  Toppers are usually much thicker and made of foam.  Pads are mostly made of cotton.  You can buy memory foam mattress toppers and it is pretty easy to cut the foam down if it is larger than your mattress.  An electric knife is very good for cutting foam.   You may have to alter the cover for the mattress topper to fit the reduced size -- or just tuck it under.  We added a 4" memory foam topper to the rather skimpy RV mattress in one of our motorhomes and it made for a very comfortable bed.  With a good topper over an older mattress that is breaking down you probably won't notice the diminished performance of the original mattress.  Your sleeping comfort will be mostly determined by the topper, with the original mattress simply providing a cushioned foundation.  Given that a topper sells for under $100 and new mattress can cost more than $400, a mattress topper is a very attractive option. A 4" topper changes a skimpy 4"mattress into a comfortable 8" thick sleep system.

Some people find foam mattresses too hot to sleep on since they are not good conductors of heat and often don't allow the kind of air circulation that is possible in an innerspring mattress.   If you're one of those people, use a cotton mattress pad over your foam mattress or topper.  Feather beds are an attractive alternative for some people (unless you're allergic to feathers!).

A simple mattress pad may solve issues with sensitivity to foam.  Pads made of cotton usually provide the most neutral solution, insulating you from the temperature attributes of the foam.  Some people like the luxurious softness of a "feather bed".  If you find yourself already out on a trip when you discover your mattress seems to hot or too cold, you can probably make do with an extra blanket between the bottom sheet and the mattress.  Even an itchy wool blanket would be OK since it would be under the sheet -- unless you are particularly sensitive or allergic to wool, in which case I would wonder why you'd have a wool blanket in the first place.

Air mattresses can be a lightweight alternative if you can find one to fit.  In addition to being very light weight you can adjust the firmness to fit your personal needs.  But, some people find the plastic surface hot or cold to sleep on.  This can usually be overcome with a mattress pad and still enjoy the benefits of an air mattress -- low cost, light weight, infinitely adjustable firmness.  If you opt for an air mattress, be sure to carry a repair kit so you can fix any leaks that might crop up in camp. It really isn't fun waking up on flattened mattress!  Quality air mattresses are generally pretty sturdy if they aren't punctured or otherwise abused.

Sleep well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Camping Weather

What is camping weather?  That depends on who you are and what kind of camping you want to do.  A few hardy souls go camping in the winter and brave the snow and cold on purpose, but most people prefer milder weather for their outings.  Most folks think of camping as a summer activity, perhaps spilling over into warm days of spring and fall.  Daytime temperatures in the 70s and low 80s Fahrenheit are quite pleasant.  If it gets warmer or colder than that, human beings begin to get pretty uncomfortable.  Lower temperatures are sometimes acceptable if you're going to be involved in strenuous physical activity that will keep you warm.  Temperatures in the 60s are often ideal for OHV or horseback riding or even strenuous hiking if you;re dressed for it.  Higher temperatures are enjoyed by people involved in water sports where they can frequently cool down in the water.  But sitting around camp when its over 100°F or below 60°F isn't anyone's idea of fun.  A good rain storm can be fun -- if you're prepared and can watch it from a comfortable place (in your tent or RV or under some kind of awning or canopy or other protected spot).  Most of us wouldn't choose rain as ideal camping weather.  But sometimes it does catch up with us even when we try to avoid it.  Some folks go out in winter, setting up a base camp for other activities, such as skiing, ice skating,  ice fishing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or snowshoeing.  But most of us don't think of snow and freezing temperatures as ideal camping weather.  And you need an RV that is specially equipped to handle freezing temperatures if you're going to be camping in winter.  That means heated plumbing and holding tanks as well as a well insulated coach and a large enough furnace (or auxiliary heat) to keep you warm.  Staying warm when tent camping in winter mostly means dressing right and having a warm enough sleeping bag.  Tent heaters may help, but exercise caution to prevent them from damaging and/or igniting your tent and maintain sufficient ventilation to prevent suffocation.  Because tents don't have a lot of insulation, it is difficult to keep them warm.  Tent heaters will consume large amounts of fuel and a significant amount of heat will simply be lost through the tent fabric.

Modern weather forecasting takes advantage of many tools not available to our ancestors.  Radar, satellite images, and computer prediction models help create ever more accurate forecasts.  I've heard that there are already computer models than can predict the weather with 100% accuracy, but it takes about 48 hours to run a 24 hour forecast so until efficiency improves they are of little use.  I have been pleasantly surprised by how accurate the 7-day forecast is usually is on weatherbug.com.  By the way, the further out the forecast, the less accurate it will be.  The U.S. Weather Service used to publish a 30 day forecast, but dropped it because the accuracy wasn't as good as they had hoped.  It would be a good idea to check the 7-day or 10-day forecast for your route and destination before you take off on each trip.  That way you can plan better for clothing, appropriate meals and refreshments, and activities.

No matter what the forecast when you leave home, it is probably going to change before you get back unless you're going to be gone only a very short time.  With that in mind it is a good idea to keep an eye on the weather while your away.  Local radio stations and NOAA weather radio broadcasts can provide useful information but knowing how to interpret signs in the immediate area may be a more direct and more accurate measure of what to expect.  Many locations have their own micro environments that can create their own weather that probably won't show up on the weather service forecast.  Clouds and their behavior are one of the best predictors of weather.  High, thin, cirrus clouds almost always mean good weather.  Low, dark, roiling clouds often mean rain or storms.  Uniform gray clouds might deliver showers but most often don't.  Find our from which direction your weather normally comes and monitor the skies in that direction.  Barometers display changes in air pressure.  High pressure usually accompanies fair weather, low pressure is identified with stormy weather. If the barometer is rising, it is normally a predictor of good weather where as dropping barometeric pressures may mean an approaching storm.  Strong winds and other violent weather often occur along a "front" where two masses of air of different pressure and temperatures collide.

Old weather sayings, often accredited to sailors, shepherds, or farmers, often have some basis in meteorlogical fact.  One of the most popular is the old rhyme:

     "Red at night, sailor's delight
      Red at morning, sailor take warning."

This apparently originated in England where most of the weather comes from the west.  "Red at night" is often caused by dust particles in the air, indicating dry air and probably high pressure is approaching from the west and, therefore, good weather on the way.  "Red at morning" on the other hand means the dry air has already passed and wetter, cooler weather may be on the way,.  A morning sky that is a deep, fiery red can indicate that there is high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain could be on its way.

Another with some merit is "No weather is ill if the wind is still."   Calm winds, especially with clear skies, are normally associated with areas of high pressure, indicating good weather.  However, remember too, "the calm before the storm".  Thunderstorms often develop even though surface winds are low.  In addition, there is the "eye of the storm" where winds and clouds are clear smack in the middle of a large storm like a hurricane or typhoon. In that case you may just have time to catch your breath before the next round of nasty weather descends on you.

Some people believe their own joints can predict the weather.  There may actually be a sliver of truth behind this one.  Changes in barometer pressure can affect body fluids,  A drop in barometric pressure may trigger pain due to swelling in joints as the internal fluids slowly react to the change in pressure.

My grandmother used to say "Sunshiny showers won't last half an hour."   If the sun is shining while it is raining, there is a very good chance the rain clouds will indeed pass by quickly.  Of course the timing may be affected by whether the sun is peeking through ahead or behind the storm but either way rain from scattered clouds isn't likely to continue for very long.

Another folk tale is that you can tell the temperature by crickets' chirps.   Apparently this actually works.  Count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to get Fahrenheit temperature.

These days you can buy your own weather stations to have in your home or take with you camping.  They can measure local conditions and give you an instant forecast.   I've tried a couple of them and while I found the measurements of temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction fairly accurate and useful, I didn't find the forecast particularly accurate.  If  you install your own weather station, be aware that it may take some time -- perhaps even a few weeks -- for it to calibrate itself to your local conditions so it can give an accurate forecast.  That being said, portable weather stations may not have time to acclimate themselves as you travel but is is always good to have instruments to at least measure temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure.  You may find knowing wind speed and direction helpful too, if only to know whether or not to light a campfire and on which side to sit if you do.  One of my favorite weather station anecdotes is that of the "Weather String".  If you can see it, the sun is out.  If it is wet it is raining. If it is moving the wind is blowing.  If it is frozen stiff it is cold.  If you can't see it it is either dark (night time) or foggy.  As silly as that may sound, there is some value in simple weather tools.  Many rural airports still rely on the old fashioned wind sock to give pilots an indication of wind speed and direction so the weather string as a wind measuring device just might not be too bad an idea.  Those cute little colorful windsocks designed to hang on your awning may actually be of some use in measuring wind direction and velocity.  Very often, an RV's monitor panel will include a barometer and thermometer.  The thermometer usually only displays inside temperature so you may want to invest in an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  RV stores sometimes have clear thermometers that mount on the outside of a window so you an easily read outside temperature from inside your RV.  Some even include a humidity gauge.  Those placed on dual pane windows will be more accurate than ones stuck on single pane glass, because both temperatures may be more affected by the heat coming through the glass.  Knowing the outside temperature will help you plan outdoor activities, dress appropriately, and give you some indication of whether you need to take measures to deal with freezing temperatures.  If you buy an electronic indoor/outdoor thermometer you will need to find an appropriate place to mount the outside sensor.  You want it where it will not be in direct sunlight or affected by vehicle systems (furnace, fridge, hot water heater, generator, vehicle engine or exhaust).  One good place on newer RVs with slide outs is in the channel surrounding the slide out.  If that doesn't work for you or you don't have slide outs, look for a spot that is protected from the sun but gets adequate exposure to outside air.  Some possibilities might include the side of the RV right under the rolled up awning or anyplace it will not be in direct sunlight, like on the back side of a bumper.  Avoid wheel wells because water, snow, and other debris kicked up by the tires will affect the reading and probably damage the sensor or knock it off.

Smart phones often have weather apps or you can get weather apps for them.    Of course you must be within range of a cell tower for it to work, but it is sometimes surprising how far coverage reaches out into camping territory

In several areas where I've lived, the weather by-word is "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute".  That is certainly more true some places than others, but weather can and often does change frequently just about everywhere.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to be prepared when you're camping.  Keep rain gear handy and be prepared to wait out occasional bouts of stormy weather with appropriate refreshments and indoor activities.  Since things usually cool down when it rains, hot beverages and related snacks are a comfortable treat during stormy weather.  Given the large variety of micro-environments that we can encounter in our travels, expect the unexpected.  Campers often like to go to the forests and the mountains.  Mountains often make their own local weather which might not conform to regional weather forecasts.  In that case, electronic forecasts aren't going to be as much use as being able to recognize what is likely to happen based on local conditions.  For that you need experience -- or access to someone with experience.

Be weather wise.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

RV Cabinets

RV designers face a difficult task of balancing available space, cost, and usability.  You can't usually do much about the overall floor plan, but you can sometimes make smaller improvements to existing closets and cabinets to improve convenience and usability.  Interior storage areas include closets, drawers, and cabinets.  Exterior storage areas are usually called compartments.

Tent campers don't usually have cabinets to deal with, but some of the suggestions given in this article might  be applied to a "chuck box", that is sometimes useful to tent campers as a portable kitchen.

How you organize your stuff in your RV cabinets and compartments will make a big difference in usability.   Adding a permanent or temporary extra shelf inside can make retrieving items more convenient.  Plastic bins to corral small items are quite helpful.  Without them small items tend to shift during travel and may come tumbling out in an avalanche when you open the door when you get to camp or simply get lost in a jumble of stuff in the bottom.

Adding lights to dark closets or cabinets is a fairly easy and inexpensive upgrade.  Automatic lights in closets are particularly useful.  They can be hard wired into the vehicle's 12-volt electrical system or battery powered.  They are usually controlled by a plunger type switch that turns the light on when the door is opened and turns it off again when the door is closed.  Closet light kits are sometimes available from RV stores.

Battery powered LED lights are really easy to install in just about any closet or cabinet and do not require any wiring.  They can usually be attached using double-sticky tape so you don't even need a screwdriver.  My preferred choice are "tap lights", which are turned on or off by simply tapping the lens but  versions with normal switches are also available.  The only down side to tap lights is that shifting contents inside the cabinet could turn them on during travel and run down the batteries.  Fortunately, LEDs don't draw a lot of power so if they do get accidentally turned on occasionally it probably won't be much of a problem.  Mounting the lights high in the cabinet minimizes the chances of contents striking them and turning them on accidentally and gives you the best illumnination.  You usually get best coverage inside the cabinet by mounting them inside the front of the cabinet.

Deep cabinets can benefit from the addition of sliding drawers, bins, or shelves.  Some luxury RVs come with sliding shelves or drawers in outside cabinets.  This is especially useful since these large spaces tend to accumulate a lot of stuff and it can be difficult, frustrating, and time consuming to have to dig through multiple layers of stuff to find what you're looking for.  Another good candidate for sliding shelves are the deep, narrow "pantries" in some units.  Having the space to store canned goods etc is a real boon -- until you have to try to grab that can of chili from the very back of the top shelf!  Adding sliding shelves to these cabinets is fairly easy and not too expensive, unless you opt for fancy self-closing slides and expensive hardwood shelves.  Simply cut a shelf just wide enough to fit through the open door and slightly shorter than the depth of the cabinet.  You will sacrifice about 1" of height for each shelf, but the gain in access and convenience is well worth it.  To make it easy to pull the shelves out, drill 3/4" or 1" hole in the middle at the front of the shelf or cut the shelf short enough to add a handle.  You may be able to find pre-finished shelves that closely match existing wood or stain common pine shelving to match.  You might want to add a not-slip shelf covering to help keep contents from shifting and rattling.  You could also add plastic bins to further contain small items or group like items for convenience and containment to prevent shifting during travel so cans don't fall out the back when you slide the shelf open.

Speaking of plastic bins, they can be used to good advantage in just about any cabinet to group and contain items.  Translucent bins or baskets with holes you can see through will let you glimpse the contents without having to remove them from the cabinets.  Bins can sometimes be stacked which gives you more options for organizing and accessing items.  Instead of having to move a half dozen bottles to get to what is behind them you can just move one bin, get what you need, then put the bin back in place.  Another benefit of using plastic bins is they will often capture spills to they don't spread throughout the cabinet or drip out the door.  I wish I had been using plastic bins when a bottle of green food coloring tipped over and spilled in one of my galley cabinets.  It leaked out and left permanent streaks down the face of  the otherwise pristine and beautiful oak cabinet.  It is also a lot easier to clean sticky spills from a plastic bin than it is to scrub them from a cabinet shelf.  Being able to take the bin out and thoroughly wash it with hot water is much nicer than scraping and scrubbing in the confined space of the cabinet.  In the worst case scenario you can always throw the contaminated bin away and replace it with a sparkling clean new one.  Plastic bins are almost essential for storing extra motor oil and other automotive chemicals in your outside compartments.  The bins make getting things out much easier and they are much easier to clean when something spills.  Confining spills will help prevent contamination of other contents.  It can be really nasty if your fresh water hose gets soaked in spilled motor oil or antifreeze, but storing potential offending liquids in plastic bins can prevent this from happening.  Of course, it is better to keep your water hose in a different place than oil and antifreeze -- if you have enough room to do that.

Cabinet hardware (hinges, latches, and pulls) do eventually wear out or break down or may be damaged by accidents or abuse.  This is especially true of the light weight plastic catches often used in RVs.  They are pretty easy to replace, if you can find an exact replacement.  Finding and exact match for cabinet hardware on older units may be a problem and you may have to adapt new hardware to solve the problem.  Avoid damage in the first place by NOT slamming doors or otherwise abusing the hardware.  Store heavy items only on bottom shelves where they can only slide against the door and not catapult into it.  Using non-slip shelf lining will reduce sliding too.  Take a second or two to make sure there is nothing in the way before closing the door.  Anything that interferes with the door closing completely and smoothly could damage the hinges, latch, or the structure of the door itself.  That includes things that protrude past the shelves or get caught between the door and the frame.  As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  You can probably get replacement hardware for newer units at your local RV store or through the dealer or manufacturer, but you'd have to be really lucky to get an exact match for older units.  For them you may have to scour junkyards for units of near the same vintage. Sometimes you can find matching hardware even in different brand vehicles than yours if they're about the same vintage.  You might even find suitable replacements at your local hardware store or home center.  If you can't match hardware exactly, one option is to replace all the hardware so everything still matches.  Fortunately, hardware isn't terribly expensive.

Normal wear and tear will affect hinges and latches and many problems can be resolved by tightening hinges and adjusting latches. If the screws have pulled out you may be able get them to hold again by inserting a wooden match or toothpick into the hole and reinstalling the screw.  If that doesn't work, sometimes a large size screw will solve the problem.  You can also get kits to repair screw holes.  They consist of a cone-shaped tool for enlarging the hole and several wooden cones.  You ream out the hole and glue a cone into it, then drill a small pilot hole in the cone and resinstall the screw.  This works pretty well  in solid materials like cabinet and door frames but not so well in paneling.  One way to solve stripped screw problems in paneling is to use molly bolts, that have components containing a threaded nut that expand behind the paneling.  Some have spring-loaded "wings", others are slotted cylinders that collapse and spread out as the bolt is tightened, gripping the paneling from behind.
 
Some extra large cabinets may benefit from adding more shelves.  Make sure you don't create small spaces that will be difficult to get things in and out of.  Shelves may be added permanently or installed so they rest on rails and can be easily removed if you need a taller space.  Wire racks can often be found in houseware departments that can be used for temporary shelves.  I've even seen folks make shelving from styrofoam insulation slabs to hold light weight items like clothing.  Adding a shelf to a very tall cabinet can often double the usable space.

Non-slip shelf lining can help keep items from moving around during travel and reduce rattles.  Keeping things from sliding around as the vehicle moves will help prevent damage to the contents and the cabinets and minimize unwelcome noise.  Be creative in protecting and securing your items.  One woman used colorful socks around glassware to prevent them from constantly banging into each other during travel.  Another cut holes in styrofoam blocks to anchor her fancy glasses.  Non-slip shelf lining can also be cut into smaller pieces to pad cookware to reduce rattles and prevent damage to the Teflon coating on pots and pans.

Some catches and latches aren't up to the task of resisting the forces of contents shifting during travel and pounding the door.   Weak latches will allow stuff to fall out during turns.  You may be able to upgrade the latches to something more substantial.  You can also limit movement of contents inside cabinets using spring-loaded braces like those designed for refrigerators.  Sometimes you can tie adjacent door handles together with mini-bungee cords to keep both cabinets closed.  Another option are the "baby-safe" devices used to prevent little children from opening cabinet doors at home.  Of course proper loading of cabinets to minimize weight and possible shifting is always a good idea.

Top-hinged outside cabinets are more convenient to use if there is a latch to hold the door open while you are accessing the cabinet.  If your RV doesn't have these convenient latches they are fairly cheap and easy to install.  Often they can be screwed to the side of the RV but the preferred way to attach them is using pop rivets.  Take care to properly align the latch before you being drilling.  Some latches may simply catch the edge of cabinet; others are designed to reach over the lip and catch inside the frame of the door.

Some cabinets have gas assisted struts to hold them open.  If these become worn, bent, or damaged they may have to be replaced.  If your RV doesn't have them and you would like to add them, they are usually fairly inexpensive to buy and not too difficult to install.  Sometimes the screws attaching them to the cabinet and/or the door may get loose.  If the hole is stripped so the screw won't tighten, try sticking wooden matchstick or toothpick in the hole with the screw to take up the slack.  Badly stripped holes might be repaired using  special plug kits, available at home centers and hardware stores. They consist of wooden cones and an auger to shape the holes to fit the cone.  Glue the cone into the hole and let it dry completely, then drill a pilot hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw and reinstall the screw.

Make it better!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Winterhoming

Most camping is done in the summer time, or at least spring or fall, but there are sometimes good reasons to use your RV in the winter too.  An RV makes an excellent chalet or base camp for skiing, snowboarding, and other snow based activities -- if is is properly equipped.  Most RVs made and used in the U.S. are not designed for winter use and most owners who live in cold country have to winterize their rigs and retire them until warm weather returns.  However, it is possible to upgrade many RVs for winter use.

While the comfort of the occupants is, of course, the major function of an RV in winter, the biggest problem is usually protecting the plumbing against freezing.  Sometimes an RV furnace may not be adequate to maintain a comfortable temperature inside.  If that is the case you either need to reduce heat loss or increase BTUs.  It usually isn't very practical to increase the insulation factor in an RV, but a lot of heat may be lost through drafts and through insufficiently protected windows.  I once had a Class B van conversion that, I found, had NO insulation at all and it was fairly easy to remove wall and ceiling panels and cut styrofoam panels to fit each space, significantly improving insulation.  But it is usually too intrusive and too expensive to increase the insulation in standard RVs. What you can improve fairly easily and cheaply is the insulation value for the windows.  First of all, make sure you take advantage of whatever window coverings you have -- close the curtains, drapes, or shades.  You can add reflective foam insulation similar to windshield sun screens between the window coverings and the windows.  Also install a cover or foam pillow to block the loss of heat through the roof vents.  Even when they are closed, the thin cover allows a lot of heat to escape.  Search for and seal off any drafts where cold air enters through the firewall of a motorhome or around plumbing and power cords or around doors and windows of any RV.  If after doing all of this your furnace still doesn't keep things warm enough, you may need auxiliary heat.  Options include electric heaters if you stay in campgrounds with electric service, a catalytic heater, adding another furnace, or upgrading the existing furnace to one with a higher BTU output.  Upgrading or adding a furnace can be an expensive proposition and is likely to require significant modifications for installation.  Catalytic heaters don't use any battery power since they have no fans and portable versions attach to 1-lb propane cylinders to they don't require any gas line attachments.  Keep in mind even heaters rated for indoor use will consume oxygen even if they don't release any toxic fumes, so proper ventilation is critical.

Electric heaters are an easy way to get extra interior heat -- if you have shore power or when you can run your generator.  A popular option among many RVers is an "electric fireplace" that not only provides heat but adds a kind of cabin-like ambiance.  I even have a small, 300 watt heater that runs on 12 volt DC I can use in my motorhome in a pinch, but I'm sure it would drain the batteries pretty quickly.  Auto parts stores sometimes offer 12-volt powered heater/defroster units that plug into the 12-volt receptacle (i.e., cigarette lighter) and can help clear fog or frost off the windshield.  These units will provide a small amount of auxilliary heat but would not be very effective in as room heaters.  If you have 120 volt power available you can also protect your holding tanks with specially designed heating pads and protect plumbing in exterior cabinets with a 100 watt incandescant bulb (if you can find one!).

Protecting exposed plumbing from freezing can be an onerous task.  Keeping the inside of your RV at 40° or better will normally protect all the inside plumbing, but exposed holding tanks, valves, and pipes are still vulnerable.  You will need electric heating pads and or heat tape to protect these components if you are camping in sub-freezing weather.  Heating pads for holding tanks are available in both 12 volt and 120 volt versions and some include dual power sources.  With dual power you can use your 12-volt system while traveling and power is available from the vehicle alternator.  120-volt operation requires shore or generator power.  You might run your generator while traveling to operate 120-volt heating pads.  It wouldn't consume any more energy than running your A/C on hot days.  If you have 12-volt heating pads you will want to carefully monitor your battery status.  They could easily run batteries down if they kick in at night when you turn off the generator.  One way to protect holding tanks for occasional winter use is to add enough antifreeze (marine/RV grade for potable water systems) to at least protect the dump valves and lower the freeze point within the tank contents.  If you rely on warm blankets or sleeping bags instead of your furnace to keep you warm at night, dump a cup or two of antifreeze into each drain to prevent the P-traps from freezing.  You don't need antifreeze in the P-traps if your furnace keeps the interior above freezing.  If your RV has enclosed holding tanks and the dump valves are in a cabinet instead of hanging exposed beneath the vehicle you may be able to keep the valves from freezing by placing a 100-watt incandescent light bulb in he compartment.  Finding a 100-watt bulb these days might be difficult as they've been phased out for environmental reasons.  Using a 60-watt bulb might be sufficient, but using two 60-watt bulbs would be more than equivalent to a 100-watt bulb.  Or you might use special reptile heat lamp available at pet stores.  In any case, if the compartment isn't insulated, insulate it.  Outside compartments often have bare aluminum doors that allow a great deal of heat to escape.  Glue some styrofoam panels inside or even use reflective foam insulation like Reflectix.  Check for drafts around electrical and plumbing connections or around the door.  Random openings can be filled with spray foam insulation or stuff with fiberglass batting.  Poorly fitting doors may benefit from the addition of weatherstripping.

RV skirts that surround the bottom of your RV can help keep the floors warmer and conserve heat.   They usually need to be custom made.  Vinyl skirts, made in several sections, can be carried on trips and installed when needed, but they can be pretty expensive.  Some people make skirts of plywood or styrofoam panels when the unit is parked in a fixed location for a while. 

Resource conservation will be more difficult when it is cold.   You ARE going to use more propane and use it quicker than in warmer months.  You might reduce how much you use for heating by dressing warmer so you can be comfortable at a lower temperature.  Sweaters and thermal underwear can increase you comfort level in a cooler environment without being too cumbersome.   But your furnace isn't the only appliance that will use more propane in colder times.  Your hot water heater will need to work harder to maintain normal temperatures when it is cold outside and you are likely to use more gas for cooking simply because you will want more warm foods and drinks in cold weather.  The one appliance that might actually use less propane in cold weather is the refrigerator, but probably not significantly less if you are keeping the interior around a comfortable 72°.  Always make sure your propane tank is full when you leave on a trip.  For extended cold weather outings you may want to invest in and "Extend-a-stay" system that allows you to connect to an external propane tank to supplement your on board supply.  For trailers with removable propane tanks you can just bring a long a couple of extras.

Winterhoming is cool!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

RV Batteries

RV batteries are an essential part of making RVs convenient and comfortable.   On motorhomes there are two separate battery systems:  a starting battery, and deep cycle coach batteries.  The starting battery functions just like the battery in any other motor vehicle, providing power to start the engine and operate lights and other 12-volt vehicle features, like radios and power windows.  The battery is charged by an alternator driven by the engine.  Deep cycle coach batteries are used to supply power for lights, fans, furnaces, and some electronic devices in the RV.  There may be one or more 12-volt batteries or two or more 6-volt golf cart batteries .  12-volt batteries are connected in parallel to supply higher amperage.  6-volt batteries are connected in series to create 12 volts.  Golf cart batteries are usually stronger, more durable, and can be recharged more times than 12-volt deep cycle batteries.  The house batteries should also be charged by the vehicle alternator whenever the engine is running and the should be separated from the starting battery by a battery isolator.  A battery isolator allows the alternator to charge multiple banks of batteries by prevents them from drawing down each other so you don't drain your starting battery while running your RV lights.

Other batteries.  The main focus of this article are the large (and expensive) 12-volt batteries that power your RV systems.  In addition to the 12-volt systems for your engine and your coach there are often other battery powered devices in your RV.  Smoke detectors usually use a 9-volt battery.  Remote controls for TVs, power awnings, etc usually use AA or AAA batteries.  You may have battery powered lights in cabinets or closets.  You may have battery powered lanterns and flashlights.  You will need to test the batteries in these devices regularly, especially before each trip, to be sure they will be functional when you need them.  For convenience, keep a battery tester in your RV or camp kit.  Carry spare batteries with you for all your devices.

Batteries are a critical component of the 12-volt electrical system that powers most RV lights and fixtures.  Not only do they provide power for the lights, but they also power control boards for furnaces, refrigerators, and hot water heaters.  Most modern furnaces also have a 12-volt fan.  Some older furnaces worked by convection only.  A convection furnace doesn't have a fan but it doesn't distribute the heat as well as a forced air model.  An anomaly of 12-volt furnaces is that when the batteries get low, the fan keeps running after the burner has shut off.  If you wake up in the middle of the night and your furnace is busily blowing cold air, your batteries may be low or you might be out of propane.  If that happens occasionally, (and you're not out of propane) you probably aren't charging your batteries enough during the day.  If it happens frequently, you probably need new batteries or a larger battery bank -- or don't run the furnace so much.

Pretty much all of these batteries are some form of lead-acid batteries.  Lead acid automotive batteries have been around since Cadillac introduced the first electric starters way back in 1912.  The basic design has not changed much in over a hundred years, but there have been some improvements.  Basic batteries use lead plates submerged in a solution containing sulfuric acid and are known as "flooded cell" batteries.   They have removable caps so you can check and replenish the water level as needed.  So-called "maintenance free" batteries are sealed and don't require the frequent addition of water in normal use.  Absorbed Gas Mat (AGM) batteries use saturated mats between the cells instead of liquid, reducing the chance of spillage.   Another option are gel cell batteries, in which the electrolyte, instead of being liquid sulfuric acid is a gel.  Gel cells are usually lighter than other batteries and very unlikely to spill.  By the way, it is best to only add distilled water when batteries need more liquid, but, in an emergency, ordinary tap water can be used.  The damage caused by contaminates in the tap water will be less than allowing the plates to be exposed.  Distilled water isn't very expensive.  It would be a good idea to carry a gallon jug of distilled water in your RV to top off your batteries as needed.  You can buy it at just about any grocery store for a dollar or so a gallon.

As the push for hybrid vehicles drives battery technology, new types of batteries are coming on the market.  Some are much lighter than lead-acid batteries and deliver longer life and much better performance, but as of now they are significantly more expensive.  Direct replacement deep cycle lithium ion 12 bolt batteries are currently nearly $700 each, making them about 4 times the cost of a pair of 6-bolt golf cart batteries.  Their longer life might make them pay off in the long run but they are certainly a lot more expensive up front.  I high performance, 80 amp lithium ion battery is over $1000 and will give 3,000-5,000 charging cycles.  I've even seen 300 amp batteries but they're big and heavy and expensive :  about $3500 each!  Lithium ion batteries allow you to use close to 100% of the capacitiy before needing to be recharged.  Lead-acid batteries only deliver about 50% of capacity before the voltage drops below workable levels.

If your lead-acid batteries need water frequently, they are probably being overcharged or charged at too high a voltage.  I once had the charging circuit in a converter go bad and found it was blasting the batteries with 18+ volts, which boiled out the electrolyte every few days!  Normal charging is usually about 13.5 volts and shouldn't exceed about 14.4 volts.  When the electrolyte gets low it allows the plates to become coated and clogged with sulfate, seriously reducing performance, capacity, and battery life.  I have read that you can treat lightly sulfated plates by adding distilled water saturated with magnesium sulfate (epsom salts) which supposedly disolves the deposits.  Add about 2 tablespoons of epsom salts to 8 oz of warm water and let it disolve completely before adding it to your battery.  Don't over fill the battery.  If the cells are really low (plates are showing), add about 1/4 cup of the solution per cell, then top it off with distilled water.  I have tried this with really badly damaged batteries without much success.  It may work better if applied sooner.

Many RVs, (motorhome, trailers, and campers) have a single 12-volt deep cycle battery to provide power for all coach needs.  If you do a lot of boondocking you may find a single battery doesn't have enough reserve capacity to meet your needs.  When that happens you may be able to find a location where you can install a second battery.  Replacing a single 12-volt deep cycle battery with a pair of matching 12-volt batteries in parallel will just about double your reserve capacity.  Replacing a single 12-vole deep cycle battery with a pair of 6-volt golf cart batteries in series will usually result in greater reserve capacity and longer battery life.  When installing 6-volt batteries they must be connected in series in order to produce 12 volts to run RV fixtures.  6-volt golf cart batteries are usually larger so you may have to enlarge the battery tray or find extra room someplace else if you want to convert to golf cart batteries. Make sure all connections between batteries are heavy gauge battery cables and that the 6-volt batteries are wired in series to create 12 volts. 6 volt golf cart batteries are usually larger than most 12 volt deep cycle batteries so you may have to modify the battery box and/or hold downs to accommodate them.  Motorhomes will have a separate automotive starting battery.  This should not be a deep cycle battery but in an emergency you may be able to borrow one of your coach batteries to replace a dead starting battery or use it to jump start your engine.  Some motorhomes have a switch on the dashboard that activates relays to connect the coach batteries with the starting batteries when you need extra starting power, precluding the need for jumper cables.  If you install extra batteries it is best to install it as close to the existing battery as possible and run heavy gauge battery cables between the batteries.  Batteries give off volatile gases (hydrogen) when they are being charged so they must be installed in a well ventilated space and should NOT be installed within the living area of an RV.  Suitable locations include outside cabinets and in the engine compartment.

There is a growing trend to large battery banks and inverters in large luxury rigs in order to handle a demand for quiet, portable 120-volt power anywhere.  An inverter is a device that changes 12-volt DC power into 120-volt AC power.    This is convenient for running entertainment systems and microwave ovens.  Some large luxury motorhomes even have large enough battery banks to run residential style 120-volt refrigerators full time, but that takes a lot of batteries and frequent recharging.  Keeping the batteries charged becomes a primary concern.  They can be charged from shore power, an on board generator, or from solar panels.  Solar systems can be expensive but once they are installed you get free power from the sun.  Some RVs have inverters built it.  If yours does not, they can usually be added (if you have sufficient battery reserves).  For small 120-volt devices you can often use a fairly inexpensive inverter that plugs into a cigarette lighter style 12-volt outlet.  Large inverters, say 1500-2000 watts, need to be hardwired with large gauge wire and the output can be routed directly to dedicated outlets.  Some RVs have an option to switch selected outlets from shore/generator power to inverter for added convenience.  But unless you know for sure you have plenty of reserve battery power, running 120-volt appliances on the inverter can draw you batteries down rather quickly.  120-volt appliances will consume power at 10 times the rate of 12-volt appliances of the same watts rating.  It is unlikely that units not designed for large battery banks will have anyplace they can be installed because they batteries take up a lot of room and add a lot of weight.  If you plan to install a large battery bank be sure the compartment floor is adequately supported to support the weight and that it is properly ventilated.  Never install lead acid batteries near any kind of device that may provide a source of ignition for the off-gassing that occurs during charging.

Proper maintenance is essential for good performance and long life for all batteries.  Some components of proper maintenance include avoiding excessive discharge, correct charging, maintaining tight, clean connections, and maintaining proper electrolyte levels as necessary.  Try not to let your batteries be drawn down until they are "dead" before recharging them, then use the right charging system to restore them to full charge as soon as possible.  Frequently check all battery connections to make sure they are tight and are not becoming corroded.  The terminals that connect the large battery cables to the battery posts are especially susceptible to corrosion and when they get corroded should be removed and cleaned.   The electrolyte levels in all but maintenance free batteries should be checked frequently and kept at about 1/2" above the plates.  A battery filler comes in handy for topping off your batteries.  You can buy them at auto  parts stores.  Always try to use distilled water to fill batteries so you don't introduce mineral or chemical contaminants that often occur in normal tap water.  However, if you're boondocking when you discover your batteries are low using ordinary tap water would be better than leaving them low.  Filtered water would be preferable to unfiltered water.  You want it to be as contaminant-free as possible.

One sure sign that your battery capacity is insufficient, is when the furnace fan continues to run after the burner has shut off.   That can also happen if you run out or propane, so be sure to check both battery and propane gauges before deciding what to do.  You may wake up cold in the middle of the night and find the furnace blowing cold air.  It is ironic that when the batteries get too low, the circuitry that shuts off the fan fails and the fan continues to run, further depleting the batteries.  If this happens with an old battery it may just mean it is time to replace it.  But if it happens with fairly new batteries or happens often, you probably need to increase your reserve capacity by installing a larger battery, multiple batteries, or converting to 6-volt golf cart batteries.  Of course, make sure you have been keeping your batteries properly charged before running off and blowing a lot of money on new batteries.  If you try to run your furnace for several days and nights without charging your batteries, you can pretty much count on it blowing cold air sooner or later.  If you don't run your generator enough each day or your solar system doesn't get enough exposure (shade or clouds for instance), your batteries are going to suffer.  You can check the state of charge using a voltmeter if your RV doesn't have a battery meter.   A fully charged 12-volt battery should normally read about 12.7 volts.  Be sure to test it without any charging voltage.  Charging voltage is often around 14.2 volts; "float" or maintenance charge should be about 13.8 volts.  Higher voltages will overheat the battery.  I once had a charger board in a converter that went bad and was putting out 18 volts.  It "fried" batteries like crazy!  I had to add water to my coach batteries a couple of times a week until I found out what was causing the electrolyte to boil away.

Here is a table of voltages and what they mean:

     12.7 = fully charged
     12.5 = 85% charged
     12.4 = 65%
     12.3 = 50%
     12.2 = 35%
     12.1 = drained


Battery indicators on the monitor panel don't usually give actual volts, but are calibrated to reflect approximate percentages, usually indicating 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and full.  Checking the actual voltage at the batteries will give you a more accurate reading.  For best performance and longer battery life, avoid letting batteries get below 50% charge before recharging.  Note that even "dead" batteries should still show about 12 volts.  While that isn't enough to run lights, motors, or appliances, it may be enough to make a big enough spark or heating 0000 steel wool for lighting a fire.

Charging your batteries.   The alternator on motorhomes is usually wired to both the starting and coach batteries so it charges them all whenever the engine is running.  It should be connected through a battery isolator that prevents drawing down the starting battery while using lights and appliances in the coach.  A charging circuit can be wired from the alternator through the trailer connector to charge trailer batteries.  If your vehicle and/or trailer doesn't have this circuit it can usually be added at a nominal cost.  Be sure to include a battery isolator so using power in your trailer in camp doesn't run down your starting battery and leave you stranded.  There are two types of battery isolators:  solenoids and diode-based models.  Soleniods are usually less expensive and may have a shorter lifespan than diode models.  In either case they allow current to flow to charge both battery banks but keep a draw on the coach battery from running down the starting battery.  There is often much discussion among RVers about whether charging batteries with the vehicle alternator or the on board generator is better.  If you need a quick charge, using the vehicle alternator is probably your best bet and the engine at idle will most likely not consume much more fuel than the generator.  In camp, coach batteries are usually charged by the the converter whenever you run the generator.   If you use the generator enough, like to run the A/C for several hours on hot days, it will usually be enough, but in cooler weather you may have to schedule some generator time just to keep your batteries charged.   But be aware that the battery charging capabilities of most converters is limited.  Newer "smart" multi-stage converters like Progressive Dynamics "Intelli-power",  have more efficient battery charging systems.  Multi-stage chargers usually sense the battery condition and select one of four modes as necessary to maintain batteries in optimal condition.  The four modes are and their functions are:

     Boost Mode - (14.4 volts) to rapidly bring the battery up to 90% of full Charge.
     Normal Mode - (13.6 volts) to safely complete or maintain the charge.
     Storage Mode
- (13.2 volts) to maintain charge with minimal gassing or water loss during                                    periods of  non-use.
     Desulfation Mode - (13.2 volts with 15 minute 14.4 volt burst every 21 hours)


Compare that with the charging circuits on older converters that typically supply a constant voltage of 13.6 volts.  Some may sense when the battery is fully charged and reduce the amperage to maintain a "trickle charge".  The different voltages are required to provide proper charging and maintenance.  Boost mode helps recharge batteries quickly; Normal Mode tops off  and maintains the charge; Storage mode provides a "trickle charge" to compensate for normal voltage drop of batteries that are not in use; Desulfation mode provides a high boost during storage to "burn off" sulfation of the lead plates to maintain electro-chemical efficiency.


An easy and fairly inexpensive alternative to smart converters is to install an automatic automotive battery charger connected to the coach batteries and plugged in so that it charges them whenever there is 120-volt power -- from shore power or from the generator.  When using an external battery charger it is best to disconnect or disable the charger in the converter.  Another way to "quick charge" your RV batteries is to run the vehicle engine.  Estimates show it will use only slightly more gas than running the generator since the alternator is far more efficient at charging the batteries than converters and auxiliary battery chargers.  Of course, solar panels are also a good way to keep your batteries charged -- if you have a large enough array and sufficient sunlight.  You can buy little inexpensive panels that are plug into your cigarette lighter socket and are intended to be placed on the dashboard to provide a small "trickle charge" for helping keep batteries charged in storage.  These will not recharge batteries enough when they are being used when off grid.  Large solar panels are mounted on the RV roof and require a controller to provide proper voltage.  Of course solar panels work best in direct sunlight, so don't expect them to quick charge your batteries if you're parked in the shade.

Maintenance chargers can be used to maintain batteries while in storage.   Often referred to as "trickle chargers" because of the low (1-2 amp) charging current, they are pretty good for keeping batteries charged but not for recharging depleted batteries. If you have a good multi-stage charger connected to your house batteries, you shouldn't need a maintenance charger there, but you may still need one to maintain your starting battery.  The default charging voltage from the converter will usually override charging from automatic or maintenance converters so you may have to disable the converter in order to get the most from your chargers.  Those little solar battery charges that plug into the cigarette lighter are "trickle chargers".  By the way, make sure the lighter is live when the key is off or they won't do anything!

Batteries in storage will lose about 1% of their charge per month, even if they are disconnected.  Because of the parasitic draw of some RV appliances and accessories,  they be be drawn down a lot faster if not disconnected.  Some RVs come with battery disconnects.  They can be fairly easily and inexpensively added if necessary.  If you don't have a battery tender connected to maintain your batteries while your RV is in storage it is a good idea to disconnect them to avoid any parasitic draw down.

Charge!