Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Don't Forget To Turn Off Your RV Propane Main Valve AND Empty Your Lines!!!

    OK, I admit it....I forgot to turn off the main valve and bleed the remaining gas out of my propane system. To be fair, I was working inside up until very recently and the heat was nice to have (Especially now since the thermostat is working!) Makes me wonder if my memory is beginning to go. I have that item on my Winterizing Checklist. It's a CHECKLIST! With actual check boxes next to each item. How did I forget/miss it? No idea. I DO know that it's very bad to have propane in your lines over the winter and leaving your main valve on can cause problems next season.

Typical Propane(LP) Main Gas Shutoff Valve
What problems? Well, if you had a small leak, you'd be filling your interior with flammable gas....what happens if there is an electrical malfunction? All it takes is one spark. Or at the very least you will begin the season with an empty propane tank(s). That stuff is not so cheap anymore! The main valve could become stuck in the open position. So...what do you do in an emergency to shut off the main flow? Imagine standing (a good distance away!) with a propane main valve knob in your hand as your RV burns to the ground. All you have to do is turn off the main valve at your tank(s) and then purge what's left. I do that by lighting a single burner on my stove top and waiting until it goes out. That uses up most of the propane left in the lines. Simple and quick.

Will any of this happen? Probably not. But it's possible. Why take the chance when it's so easy to shut off? 20 years ago, when you could fully fill a propane tank, keeping it full over the winter stopped any moisture from condensing inside, preventing rust and extending the life of the tanks. Today's systems really only fill to around it's not as important as it once was. Still, I fill them up at the end of the season so they are ready to go in the spring. Not to mention emergencies like power outages and hurricanes during the "off season." Nice to have heat/hot water and electricity when its out everywhere else!

For something that will take about 5 minutes to do, it's not much of a chore. It may never become a problem. But it could. That's it. Simple peace of mind is worth a lot on its own. Of course, you should ALWAYS have an Propane(LP) gas detector and a Smoke Alarm (with fresh batteries!) just in case. Better safe than dead. You know?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Clean Your Stove Vent Grease Screens!

    At the end of every season I make it a habit to clean as much as I can in the RV. I hate cleaning, but some of it is more important than regular cleaning though. One prime example is the Stove Vent Mesh Grease trap. This is the contraption that filters the grease out of the vapors sucked up from the stove while you are cooking. It traps grease and oil before it coats your chimney and gets to be a big mess and fire safety hazard. The more you cook, the more often it should be cleaned. It's pretty easy to do and not all that disgusting! Besides, it will increase safety and make the vent and fan more efficient. What's to lose?

First, find your screen. Look underneath your stove vent and find the mesh that covers a good portion of the area underneath. Normally it is held in place by a slot at the back and a small plastic lever or knob in front. On mine a simple quarter turn releases the front and a simple tug pulls it out of the slot at the back. I try and handle it by the edges since it's going to be covered in grease to some extent. You could wear rubber gloves if it's really nasty. Put some paper toweling on your work-space and lay it down on it. It could be quite dirty and you don't want to have to clean grease off any other surface.

Once out, you'll be able to see how much crud it has accumulated on both sides. I've found that if you fill up a basin or just the sink with a couple of inches of nice hot water and a good grease cutting dish soap you can soak most of the crud away without resorting to scrubbing. After it's soaked for a while, I usually use a long bristle brush to do a "once over" to make sure everything is loosened and then a rinse with hot water will clean the rest. Make sure the water runs clean before you put it aside to dry. It may need more soak time and a bit of additional brushing.

***A word of warning! Do NOT do this in your RV sink, remember that sink feeds into your grey water tank so all the grease and other stuff will end up coating your tank. This is in no way a good thing. It could smell REALLY bad, or begin growing some flora you really don't want to have to clean out!! At the very least it will coat your sink drain pipes and make a mess in there. If you do gunk up your pipes, do NOT use a harsh chemical drain cleaner in PVC pipes. It will not end well. OK Back to the regular scheduled cleaning. There could also be "chunks on the screen. Make sure all of them are off!

Once done, air dry the screen on a dish towel (wipe it a bit if you wish.) While it's drying, I usually wipe down the fan blades with a paper towel sprayed with a household cleaner. Wipe GENTLY and don't bend the blades. Most of them are just plastic and can be brittle if they are getting up there in age. (Don't I know that feeling!)  I also wipe down the underside of the vent, as best I can, to get any remaining grease or splatters clean. I'm always surprised how far cooking splatters will fly. I mean it's at least three feet from the pan and I've found chunks of past meals up there. Yuck!

This should take about ten minutes or so, less if you do it regularly. You'll also notice an increased efficiency in airflow when you use the stove vent. In the spring (Maybe sooner) I am going to retrofit the old, noisy and power hungry fan with a 12 V "computer type" muffin fan. I'll get more flow with MUCH less noise and less power draw. Always a good thing! Of course, I'll write it all up!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How To Cheaply Add XM/Sirius Satellite Radio To Your RV and MORE!

The "Cockpit"
    A while back, I bought a new car that came with an XM/Sirius Radio trial subscription. basically, they give you three free months to try it out. I've always been a radio fan. Lately tuning into stations while traveling has been getting more and more difficult. I use my mini laptop or cell phone, connected via Bluetooth to my RV stereo to playback my collection of music. That's all well and good, but what about news? Music I DON'T have? Comedy? You see (or rather hear) the picture. I liked XM/Sirius...lots of choices not so many commercials. My RV Stereo doesn't have a satellite radio compatible receiver built in. How could I get the programming then?

I know it's a subscription service, but if you already have a subscription for another vehicle, adding on an extra receiver is pretty reasonable. On a monthly basis (I usually pay for the year to get the discount.) it worked out to less than $9.00 per month) I didn't like the idea of having a permanently mounted receiver in the RV...what if I wanted to take it inside the sticks and bricks house? Or Hiking? Or even another vehicle. I have a great system on my Motorcycle to listen to music through my helmet comm system and frequently use a portable music device as a source. Now I can have Satellite radio as well.

Pioneer Inno
After doing quite a bit of research, I found a (now out of production) XM radio made by Samsung and marketed under both the Samsung and Pioneer brands,. It's called the "Inno" and was marketed as a completely portable solution for satellite radio. If you look online, you can find LOTS of them on auction sites for VERY little money. I found one, with the home docking kit and extra antenna for under $50.00 shipped. The rechargeable battery is replaceable and it uses the same one as MANY digital cameras. I found them for about 1.00 dollar plus shipping! There are others, but I liked the color screen and the home docking system would work great in the RV.

Samsung Helix
The only real difference between the Samsung and Pioneer versions was an FM TRANSMITTER. You know the kind that lets you transmit to your Stereo on an unused FM frequency/channel. Since I had already used my extra input for my Digital media system, I wanted the FM Transmitter to work. After a bit of searching, it appeared that the Pioneer and Samsung versions were exactly the same hardware and the FM transmitting ability was left out on the Pioneer firmware. I found (online, where else) that you could "flash" (reprogram the device) from your PC with the Samsung firmware and it would activate the feature! Sure enough, I downloaded the Samsung firmware and the maintenance/update application, clicked a few times and Voila! I had FM capabilities. It came with a remote control as well...I can operate the system from anywhere in the RV or my passengers can tune in what they like without being in the driver's seat. (Which is very difficult if I'm driving!)

After that, it was a simple matter to attach the cradle/dock to the dash with velcro and run a 12V cable for power. I put the antenna on the dash, near the windshield and have great signal. Now I have cheap (Relatively) satellite radio in the RV when I want it and elsewhere when that comes up. Win/Win!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Even The Simple Repairs: Replace Your Tired Wireless Backup Camera

    A while ago (years, actually!) I added a wireless back-up camera and 7" screen to my RV. It lasted a long time, but recently I noticed some additional static creeping into the picture and sometimes it wouldn't come on at all. The screen was working fine, but the camera wasn't. On closer inspection, the camera was filled (almost) with water. Guess the "waterproofing" didn't last. Hmmm...What to do. I had gotten a really good deal on the system and the screen was beautiful and mounted in the perfect place. Surely, I could simply get a replacement camera from the company. Nope. Now what?

The Transmitter
My system was made as a set, so the camera frequency and the monitor frequency match. Was it even possible to get a new camera with the same frequency and just replace it? Luckily, I had a couple of extra cameras lying around(!) to test. Nope. None of them worked with the screen. Back to the drawing board. Fortunately, the original, now not working, system had a separate transmitter that was not attached to the camera. It had proprietary connectors leading to the camera but I believed I could wire a NON-wireless backup camera into the existing transmitter. It SHOULD work. So, I carefully cut the wires leading from the old camera to the existing transmitter and wired in the new one. Success!! I had a picture.

Now I had to remove the old camera and figure out how to wire in the new one. I remembered that it was REALLY difficult to fish the wires through the first time, so I tried to keep as many old wires as possible. That didn't work. I ended up putting the new camera on the back of the RV and running its wires through the existing hole. Of course, the camera isn't as wide of an angle, so it had to be placed differently to give me a reasonable view of the back bumper. I mostly use it to see if I am going to hit something when backing up! That would be bad.

Leave The Tape On Until The Adhesive Cures!!
On my RV, there was no easy way to power the camera from the inside. I wanted to have it powered by the chassis battery rather than the house batteries, so power had to come from someplace on the rear of the RV. After a lot of searching I ultimately tapped into the wiring for one of the clearance lights in the center. Not a perfect solution as they tend to get a bit low in voltage. Later on I found that they are all wired in a "daisy-chain" fashion that reduces the voltage across all the lights (and now the camera as well.) Replacing them with LEDs will likely solve that issue as they are much lower in power consumption. (But that's for another article!)

See The Double Lines
So now I have a newer camera working with my older display. Everything is fine, but the new camera puts its own backup lines on the screen and the screen does its own. A little bit confusing...but workable for now. I had to remove the old camera and sealant from where it was installed and find a spot for the new one. Helpful Hint: Use TAPE to position the camera BEFORE drilling holes or using adhesive!!! I was lucky, I could see my 7" display through the back window of the RV, so positioning the camera was MUCH easier. After I figured out where it was to be placed, I affixed it with a silicone adhesive. Letting it fully cure before removing the tape.

I am so glad I managed to get this done before my last trip. I was towing a trailer. It's REALLY nice to be able to see how the trailer is doing in the rear view display. Both when backing up and while underway. Not to mention how much easier it is to hitch it up when you can SEE the distance to the hitch! I highly recommend having some kind of a backup camera system.

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"