Thursday, April 26, 2012

Water is Evil. How to Find and Fix RV Vent Leaks - Part.1

This week I am going to be taking a look at how to fix 14" x 14" vent leaks. Not that I wanted to look at that, mind you, but it appears that Murphy (who was, as we know, an optimist) decided it was the thing to do. Yay!

Here's the situation:
Vanity Sink Fluorescent Light Removed
I was going about my regular de-winterization routine when we decided it would be a good idea to clean the vent fans and inside of the domes. Seemed like a great idea! Especially after the Stinkbug Invasion of last year. There was some NASTY bug bits left over from the fight. Well, after they were all cleaned up we did a few more housekeeping tasks and called it quits for the day. That night we had a heavy rain. The next day I went down to continue the work inside (it was still raining) and found a VERY wet trail leading to a saturated headliner area. In my RV the whole inner ceiling is carpeted. It's quite nice, Velcro sticks to it like crazy! Well the roof is slightly curved so water will drain off the top. That's a good thing. Although it will also drain from a leak in the vent in between the fiberglass roof and the wood and foam sandwich below all the way to the edge. In this case it was pooling near the vanity sink overhead fluorescent light.

Roof Curvature
 I dried everything as best I could and scrambled up on the roof with some trash bags and painter's blue tape. After taping the bag over the vents and seams I realized tape doesn't stick so well to wet fiberglass. Back down for a towel and back up to fix the problem. Not knowing whether the leak was patched (or something much worse was going on...the mind tends to go to the worst scenarios!) I went back inside and stayed for a while to keep an eye on it. After an hour I went back up to the house and called it a day.

Temporary Leak Fix
Here we are 5 days later and it looks as if there has been no additional water seeping in. The ceiling seems dry and what I can see of the inner roof structure is dry. The temporary fix worked!

Now we have to fix it correctly.

Since I have no idea where the leak is actually coming from, it could be the screws in the vent flanges, the caulk around and under the flange, the edge of the roof, the right thing to do would be removing the entire vent, cleaning everything and re-installing the vent properly. That's a much bigger job than I want to tackle at the beginning of the season! Who knows what evil lurks underneath! Better to start that job AFTER the end of the season. I know, you should always do it the right way to avoid problems down the road. I say it enough myself. I guess I'm just a bit antsy to get RV'ing!

Here's what I will try:

I purchased some bonding tape a 4" x 50-foot roll that has had great reviews as a seam sealer and leak fixer. I will take out all the screws and clean the top of the vent flanges of all the lumpy caulk and previous repairs. Once it's mostly flat I will put some NON-Silicone sealer in the screw holes and re-install the screws. Once finished I will carefully place four pieces of the tape (one on each edge) to cover the flanges all the way up to the vent itself. I will press down the tape until I get the air bubbles out and it is uniformly adhered to everything. Then I will cross my fingers and hope it works!

Shower Skylight
I'm thinking about filling any air gaps (from the inside) with expanding foam. Not sure that's wise...but I will look into it. I've also discovered a small crack in my bathroom shower skylight. Of course it is a non-standard shape and size. So far I haven't been able to find a replacement and I am not sure a regular dome will clear the luggage rack on the roof.

Next Week, you'll see the job being done and the results. Stay Tuned!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "Wanderman"

See Part 2: Click Here!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hitch Mounted Carriers...Getting It Up...And Safely!

Since my RV isn't very large, I really didn't want to go the towed vehicle route (toad). I figured I could mount a small motorcycle on a carrier to the class IV hitch in back. I started researching hitch mounted carriers in general. From the small and inexpensive to the massive, hydraulic lift, expensive versions.

Since an average, small, dual purpose (on and off road) motorcycle would weigh around 300 pounds I went looking for a carrier that could carry at least 400 pounds, figuring the extra capacity would act as a "safety net" in case of problems. Seemed pretty logical to me. I have a 1999 Lectra VR-24 electric motorcycle that would eventually live on the back of the RV and charge from the excess power generated by my solar charging system after the batteries were fully replenished. It weighs about 258lbs. So far so good. Kind of.

Tongue weight. That conjures up some pretty bizarre images! Actually, it's the weight supported by your hitch in the vertical direction. This is NOT how much you can tow! Hitches can have tongue capacities ranging from 200 pounds for class 1 all the way up to 1800 pounds for a class 5 hitch. I have a class 4 installed by the factory so that gave me around 600 pounds to play with.

Choosing your carrier. Motorcycles are HEAVY! While a small bike is easy to push around on the ground, pushing one up a steep incline isn't nearly as easy. Most of the less expensive hitch mounted carriers have a ramp that either drops down or is removed from the hitch and affixed to another part of the carrier to act as a ramp. There is also the type that tilts the entire carrier to form a ramp, but this looks more difficult to me as it will "flatten out" when the weight of the cycle gets past the center of gravity. That might happen pretty fast! This can be a bit scary to do alone. If you have a LIGHT motorcycle or even a scooter it might not be all THAT bad, but would require caution to be safe. Either of these can be had for under $300. If you look around, you'll see MANY models both steel and aluminum versions and a variety of weight capacities.

The next style is a bit different. It has a winch that acts as a lifting mechanism for the the entire carrier. The carrier descends to the ground flat, then you roll the motorcycle onto it. then operate the winch to raise it up. Very cool. of course, cool comes with a price tag. In this case a bit less than $3000! I like the concept, but seems a bit pricey to me.

The last version uses hydraulics to lift the bike and is well suited to carrying larger motorcycles. Ones that you wouldn't be likely to push up a steep ramp in the first place. Of course, you need a very high weight rated hitch to carry this tongue loading. I've seen them on large bus style class A's.

There are other styles available, like this one with a dolly wheel to take some of the load off the hitch. There are also ones that use a trailer style tongue jack (electric or manual) to lift the carrier. 

Once you get the motorcycle on the hitch, how does it stay there while you are driving? 

Tie Downs! These are available at almost any big box home store or auto specialty shop. Maybe even Wally World! Most of them are nylon straps that have a hook on either side and some type of ratchet system to tighten the strap down over the load. Depending on your bike, there are various ways to hold it down. The front wheel is usually locked to the carrier to prevent it from rolling/turning. I use a strap on each handlebar end and one over the rear frame. I snug them down so the suspension is a bit compressed and then add another strap through the center of the frame. My carrier (like most of them) has points to attach the tie down strap hooks.

It is important that the motorcycle doesn't shift too much (or at all) during travel. aside from wearing through your nice paint, it could loosen more and more and eventually create a dangerous situation! Imagine a 300-pound+ motorcycle dropping off your carrier while en-route!

As one reader pointed out (Thanks, Dick!) I forgot to mention I cover my bike when travelling. Keeps dirt, road grime and stones from doing any damage. I suggest you folks do the same. Use some heavy duty bungees to secure the cover to both the carrier and itself. Just to be safe!

Since I will eventually be carrying my electric motorcycle I figured I would mount a socket near or under the back of the RV for charging. Stay tuned!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Go From Winter's Slumber to Spring's Re-Awakening!

Through The Screen Slumbering Aero Cruiser
Despite the teaser of nice weather for a few weeks in the North East, we're back in a short cold snap. It's a good thing I DIDN'T de-winterize the RV or it would have been a disaster of "biblical" proportions. Think floods not locusts!

The planning has begun to wake the sleeping beast (ok, "beast" is a bit of a misnomer...more like a housecat) that is my RV. If you plan ahead and prepare, it should go smoothly and easily. Yes, I know NOTHING I do ever goes, smoothly and easily. Let's hope this Spring's the charmed season and we get everything done without incident.

Start with a list of basic tasks. This can be changed to suit your particular coach, but is a good guideline. Mine reads as follows:

Remove Cover Straps
Remove Cover (guess who forgot to undo the straps last year!)
Roll and Fold Cover and Store.
Inspect Outside
Inspect Underneath For Leaks, Puddles, etc.
Inspect Tires and Inflate to proper pressure (Check Dates)
Wash RV and Inspect for cracks, chips, glass breaks, etc.
Repair if needed.
Open Outside Engine Compartment, Check for Leaks and Nests.
Open Storage Compartments and Inspect (leaks, bugs, critters, etc.)
Clean Outside Refrigerator Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Outside Furnace Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Battery and Terminals if Needed. (Chassis, House and Generator)
Check Coach and Chassis Battery Water Level, Refill if needed.

Open Door(s) Test Operation
Turn On Lights, Replace Any Bad Bulbs
Open Vents, Test Seal and Operation
Open Windows, Test Seals and Operation
Open Cabinets (Upper and Lower)
Check for Leaks
Check for Critters
Clean Interior (Carpets, Walls, Floors, Cabinets, Fridge, etc.)
Check LP/Propane/CO Detector Operation
Check Smoke Detector Battery and Operation
Check Monitor Panel, Tanks and Propane
Check Converter/Charger For 12 Volt Output
Check All Fuses and Breakers (12V and 120V)
Confirm Solar Charging System Voltage and Amperage
Check Bathroom Skylight for leaks and cracks.
Check and Tighten ALL screws and fasteners Everywhere!

Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Check Coolant Level, Fill if Needed
Check Brake Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Power Steering Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Windshield Fluid Level
Check All Hoses and Tighten Clamps
Check Air Bag System Pressure
Check Air bag System for Leaks

Check Fuel Level
Check Battery Volts
Start Engine
Check for Oil Pressure Rise
Listen to Idle (Sound OK?)
Check Idle Speed RPM
Check for Battery Charging (Volts/Amps)
Check Temperature Gauge for Rise
Listen for "strange" noises.
Shift Into Each Gear (Foot on Brake!!)
Switch On Air Conditioner (Got Cold Air?)
Shutdown After Everything Warms Up to Operating Temperature
Re-Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Re-Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed

Check Generator Compartment for Oil Leaks
Check generator and Wiring for Obvious Problems
Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed (Coolant too! If you have it)
Start Generator
Check for leaks
Check for Transfer Switch Operation
Run for 30 minutes (or so)
Check Voltage at Sockets without Load
Check Voltage at Sockets with Load
Shutdown Generator
Turn On Inverter
Check AC Power From Inverter

Turn On Gas at Main Tank Valve
Listen and Check for Leaks (Use handheld detector)
Check for leaks in Refrigerator, Furnace and Water heater Compartments
Check for leaks Inside (Stove, Water Heater, Furnace, Refrigerator)
Light 1 Burner, Check for Blue Flame and Even Burn
Turn Off
Check Other Burners.
Turn Off Stove Valves
Set Thermostat to Heat
Confirm Furnace Ignition
Confirm Heater Vent Airflow and Temperature
Shut Off Thermostat
Confirm No Leaks from Valves in the OFF Position

Attach Shore Power (or use Generator)
Turn on Air Conditioner, Wait for it to engage
Check for Cool Air
Check for Heat Strip Operation (if installed)
Shutdown Air Conditioner
Inspect Microwave
Set Clock
Run for 1 Minute (or heat something up!)
Check Coffee Maker Operation (VERY Important!)
Turn On Refrigerator Power (on AC Power)
Confirm Refrigerator Heating Element is Warming Boiler Outside)
Switch Refrigerator to Propane (LP Gas)
Confirm Flame Ignition (By Sound or Visually Outside)
Switch Back to Electric (or AUTO)
Turn On Entertainment System
Check Inputs (Antenna/VCR/DVD/Satellite/VGA)
Check Sound
Raise/Lower TV/Satellite Antenna
Turn Everything Off.

WATER SYSTEM (without Sanitize) 
Re-Connect Water Pump to Tank
Set Valves to Tank Fill
Re-Insert Water Heater Drain Plug
Close Low Point Hot and Cold Water Drains
Check All Fittings
Close Faucets
Partially Fill Water Tank (Hose or Connect City Water)
Set Valves To Operating Position
Pressurize System (Pump and City Water, One at a time)
Check For Leaks
Open Each Faucet Until It Runs Clear (to Remove Antifreeze and Air)
Check Toilet Main Drain. (Holding Antifreeze?)
Check Flush Fill and Drain
Fill Fresh Water Tank (and/or Use City Water)
Check For Leaks (Under Coach as Well!)
Open Faucets and Run Water until Clear
Check For Leaks
Turn On Water Heater (Propane)
Check for Ignition
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Check For Leaks
Switch Water Heater to Electric
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Shut Everything Down

Close All Windows
Shut Off All Appliances
Shut Down Propane Gas Flow
Turn Off Lights
Close and lock Doors.

While this list is geared toward my coach, most of it will likely apply to yours. Hopefully, it will start you off  safely and with some peace of mind this season.

Feel free to add items or ask questions!

Be Seeing You....Down The Road

Rich "The Wanderman"