Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Even The Simple Repairs - When Water Drain Valves Go Bad

Tight Fit!
    This past weekend, while boondocking in a Cabela's parking area, I noticed a significant puddle forming under my RV. When I looked closer I saw that it was coming from the cold water low side drain outlet. You know, the one that you use to drain out the cold water side of your RV's water system. Nothing looked broken, but the valve was obviously not closing completely, so a dribble kept flowing. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to make me uncomfortable. It was fresh water, so no biohazard here...but with a limited supply of fresh water, watching ANY of it wasted would be a very bad thing indeed! Thankfully, a temporary fix was a 10 minute job.

Bad Positioning!
In my largest (by a big margin!) external storage compartment I have three valves. Two open/close the low point drains for hot/cold water and one switches between city/external pressurized water and the on-board pump. Since they are mounted low and to the side they often got hit by stored items. I did my best to block them from harm, but it obviously wasn't enough. At some point, the valve handles (which point the wrong way when closed) get "nudged" by objects in the storage bay. After a lot of hits, one of the valves stopped closing completely. I removed the screw holding the handle on the plastic valve and rotated the shaft manually...couldn't get it to close any better. And I was losing water! The only quick solution was to cut the pipe after the valve, which was the only place I could really do that, and replace it with a capped end.

With SharkBite And Cap
I needed the cap for the pipe, a small hacksaw and a way to attach the cap to the cut pipe. I decided to do this AFTER the valve, because while it WAS leaking, it did slow the flow a lot. If I did this on the other side of the valve, I would have to deal with massive amounts of water pouring out of the freshwater tank into the storage bay, while trying to cap the flow. Not a great way to spend time inside a tight compartment. The main issue was how to attach the new capped end to the cut pipe. As everyone knows, I keep lots of miscellaneous spares on-board. I had a 1/2" SharkBite connector with a 3/4" threaded end. The cap I had was 3/4"...Aha! That would work. I screwed the cap tightly onto the fitting and then made the cut. I inserted the 1/2" pipe into the SharkBite end and seated it firmly. While some water escaped onto the floor of the compartment, it wasn't a big deal and the leak was stopped.

The problem I have now is I've lost the ability to use the low point drain, so the valve has to be replaced. This time I will be using different valves, but since I am NOT replacing all the CPVC (Grey) original plumbing, I'll use more SharkBite style push fit connectors to make the job quick and easy. I also ordered an extra valve, just in case! And a few 1/2" to 1/2" straight unions to make sure everything will fit together. All together this should be a permanent repair, better than the original.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When To Pure Sine Wave And When Not To - Is It Really Needed?

Ready To Travel!
    The 12 Volt system in any RV takes care of most of our camping electrical needs. Lights, Fridge controller, Furnace fan (and sometimes ignition), water pump, etc. That being said, having 120 Volt house style electrical power is very useful. I've written all about having a big, Heavy Duty inverter for supplying electrical power to outlets in the coach, but mine is a "modified sine wave" model. It works fine and dandy. There are a few gotchas that could happen, but haven't to me...yet. For instance, I have heard that microwave ovens work at much less efficiency and harder when fed with modified sine wave 120V AC. Maybe. I know some laser printers just won't work at all. The same with some old style chargers for drills and the like. And inductive loads like motors. As with everything, your mileage may vary (YMMV.) So what to do if you are nervous something could get damaged? Read on!

Modified Sine Wave Example
First, the main concern. The power we have coming into our homes is 115-120 Volts (mostly) and 60Hz. It looks like an ocean wave in shape. Very old school analog. Newer, Pure Sine Wave inverters replicate this wave so it's indistinguishable from house electricity from the grid. Older (and cheaper) inverters take 12 Volt Battery power and change it to be 120 Volt (or so) and kind of a 60Hz wave. Kind of? Well, since they are a digital device, they can't really perfectly replicate an analog waveform. So they simulate it by producing one that has jagged edges (multiple on/off cycles). It usually works fine as is. In fact, higher quality inverters have so many steps that unless you look at the waveform closely, they look purely analog. Just like your new-fangled TV is made up of tiny squares or dots, the closer you get the more "jaggedness" you can see. The trouble happens when sensitive electronic items cannot cope with the stair-step quality and begin to malfunction and/or overheat.

My Inverter (Right) & Solar Charge Controller (Left)
I have tested everything I can think of on my regular modified sine wave inverter. I have a Xantrex 1800 Watt (continuous) one. It has run everything I've thrown at it. When I installed my new digital media players and the experimental OTA Satellite system (Stay tuned for an article on that thing!) I figured it couldn't hurt to have that stuff powered by its own Pure Sine Wave inverter. I mean, it's not consuming a large amount of power, and pure sine wave inverters have dropped dramatically in price, so...why not?

I picked up a quality 300 Watt Pure Sine wave inverter and wired it directly to the main 12 Volt fuse panel in the RV. Since 300 (350 Max) Watts / 12 Volts = about 30 Amps maximum, I made sure the wiring was heavy enough and the fuse was at least a 30 Amp to protect everything. It was still wired through the energy monitor, so I could keep track of energy usage as well. Yes, it's made in China, but tested on the workbench it puts out very clean power. For just over $100 USD online, it was economical to purchase.

I really don't see any difference and my "big" inverter doesn't really use that much power when in standby, so I'm not sure I've gained anything. At least now I have an option. Who knows, I may come across something that requires pure sine wave power...I did want to put an old Okidata LED "Laser" printer on board and I KNOW that hates modified sine wave power...Where can I find THAT antique!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Relaxing "Low Impact" Short Vacation

    Sometimes you just want to go somewhere in your RV that doesn't require a lot of setup or finagling to be enjoyable. This past week I was in the mood for just such a trip. Of course, because of the limited amount of time, I wanted a short travel distance with someplace interesting to stay at the destination. It should have the option to participate in some activities available, but only if you want to. I had heard rumors of a web site that has a directory of farms, wineries, museums and the like, that will let RVers park and camp for a day or two at their locations. Seemed like a good idea, so I paid my $44 to access the directory for one year, read through the contact information and found something that fit the bill. Here's additional info and a trip report on a short excursion. In a nutshell, it worked...kind of.

The website, Harvest Hosts, has a large directory of farms, wineries, museums and like places that will allow you to camp there for short periods of time. There are photos of the locations, contact information and data relating to the stay. Most have no RV specific facilities and are more closely related to a traditional boondocking experience, but you can take advantage of the facilities and activities available at the Host location. At the one I went to, Love Apple Farm, they had U-pick apples and vegetables, a cafe (with great coffee and baked goods) and a full-on farm store with prepackaged and fresh goods. There were prepackaged organic meats (the Italian sausage was delicious!), lots of organic home goods (cleaning products, cosmetics, skin treatments and the like), as well as a homemade ice cream section both at the cafe and in quarts in a freezer. They even had an Art Museum. The cafe offered a great menu that included actual, authentic homemade Mexican food (Tamales, etc.) that were amazing! If you know...Real Mexican is very hard to find on the East coast. And at a Rural Farm Stand, unheard of!

The View From The Other Side, Not So Great!
There were some glitches. Nothing all that major. When we arrived it wasn't clear where we were to park. I had spoken with someone on the phone a few days before and while the directions once on the property seemed clear, they weren't specific enough. So I simply parked out of the way and walked in to ask. I was directed to park down by the tractor trailers and the dumpsters on the grass or gravel. Everyone on the staff was incredibly friendly. Since we were the only RVers present, there was plenty of room, but we were adjacent to the main road and their main parking lot. Not a problem for a couple of nights. I just situated the RV so the bedroom windows were facing the fields and a lovely tree-lined dirt road. No worries. I would hope that most of the Hosts would have photos of the actual parking locations so it's easier to find once you arrive.

Nicely Situated
There is no cost to stay other than your yearly membership fee to the website. If you Auto renew you get a $4 per year discount. The idea is you'll spend some money at the Host's location and that would offset their expenses. Well, that part of it is right on the money, so to speak. I spent about $90 on food, and assorted goods. All worth it. In fact, two meals were cooked in the RV with their fresh produce and meats and the homemade ice cream for desert was amazing! Remember this is NOT a traditional campground so don't expect it to be like one. You are mostly left to your own devices. That's NOT a bad thing!

All in all, I believe it's a great idea. You get a place to stay in a friendly atmosphere and have access to things to do, if you want. The Art Museum was nifty to walk to and tour when it was a bit rainy on the second day. And since the distance traveled was so short we got to maximize our "decompression" time. It would be very easy to plot a long (or even cross-country) trip hop-scotching from Host to Host. Sounds like fun...wish I had the time!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Even The Simple Repairs - Leaky RV Faucet? It's Really An Easy Fix.

    When I came back from my last trip recently, I found a small amount of water was dripping from underneath my lavatory sink faucet. It was collected under (and on) the cold water pipe connection, right where the threads on the faucet assembly screw onto the cold water pipe connection. It's usually just screwed on by hand, so it shouldn't be too tight. Mine appears to have been over-tightened at some point and a tiny crack had developed in the threads. At first I believed it was the nut on the pipe itself, but it wasn't. Kind of odd, but that's what it was (the threads I mean). This was causing a small drip-type leak when the faucet was on and cold water was being used. It's always disheartening to find something like this, but with a tiny bit of knowledge it's easy to replace the faucet and move on. Never fear, this sounds like it could be a daunting task, but it really won't be... I promise. Here's how.

First, make sure you can actually GET to the fixture itself. Mine is in an under-sink cabinet that is very small and hand access is tight. But do-able. Since it's so dark inside, an aim-able light or a general utility light will help a great deal. You may not be able to use it when you are actually reaching your hands in to loosen or tighten, but it helps to look at everything and figure it out BEFORE you start! First, make sure your water pump is OFF and there is no residual pressure at the faucet. It's easy to check, just open the hot/cold taps until no water runs out. Next, the two water lines have to be disconnected. Try to just unscrew them by hand first. (Remember, Lefty Loosy, Righty Tighty) If they come off, Great! If not, you can use channel lock, or other pliers to gently try and twist them off. If you apply too much force, there is a good chance something will break. Be careful!

See The Black Retaining Nut At The Top?
Once off, you have to reach all the way at the top of the threads just below the fixture itself. There are two retaining nuts up there. Again they should be hand tight. Rotate these off and the entire fixture should come right out. There may be some sealant under and/or around the fixture to stop errant dribbles, but it should pull free easily. Once out, check the pipes, their threaded connections and the surrounding area. This is a good time to check around since you can see through the gap where the faucet used to be! Clean off any Teflon or other sealing tape that may have been used. You will have to decide if you want to use Teflon tape on the threads or not. There are two schools of thought on this -- some do, some don't. I installed mine without tape and it ISN'T leaking. If yours does, try a couple of wraps of Teflon tape before giving up.

**Of course, I couldn't find an exact replacement for my existing single handle faucet, I had to buy a regular old/cheap Walmart two handle bathroom faucet with 4" spread between the hot/cold inlets. It's the right size, but I prefer the single handle. On the up side, the price was right at $9.97! Since I needed it not to leak for the trip the next got installed. I did order the correct (and much more expensive one) but it wouldn't arrive until after I was already gone. I will swap them out when I get back. (See, that's a good reason to forgo the Teflon tape.) **

Clean And Dry!
It may be you bought one with a different base shape or size, so now is the time to add some plumber's putty, or sealant underneath. Not much, just enough to prevent splashed water from going into the cabinet once the pipes are reconnected. Place the new fixture in the hole and screw on the retaining nuts. Make sure the faucet is exactly where you want it, then tighten the retaining nuts. Next, put the hot/cold water pipes onto the appropriate inlets on the faucet and tighten. Then, turn on the water pump to pressurize the system and look at the pipes...any leaks? No? Good! Now slowly open the taps, first cold, then hot and make sure you get water flow and no leaks from underneath. If all is are done!

As always, the descriptions of these tasks sound MUCH longer than the actual actions. Take my word for it, this is a pretty easy job. The hardest part, for me, was getting my hands on the retaining nuts to take it off...the very small and confined spaces under my sink to work on anything. I have no idea what an RV service place would charge for this job, but with just my labor and the cost of the faucet, I'll wager my way is cheaper.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"