Monday, September 28, 2015

Power to the RV people

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:

My husband wants to spend a couple grand on a solar panel system for our fifth-wheel. He complains every time our lights go dim while dry camping. We had to leave Big Bend National Park early because we were out of battery power. It was cold and we had to run the furnace every morning. The furnace fan seems to suck a lot of juice from our batteries.

I argue that we can buy a lot of full hookups for two grand. He is not listening. He is too busy studying the solar system. I tell him he has stars in his eyes.

Do you think I am being unreasonable, frugal or cheap?

--Powerless in El Paso

Dear Powerless:

It really depends on how often you dry camp. You can easily pay for a system in a year if you dry camp the majority of the time. Because so many RVs now have solar, many parks will have a reduced rate if you do not want to plug in. Some Arizona State Parks will reduce the rate and lock the electrical box if you opt out of the electric.

Yes, the furnace fan is a power hog. Another option would be to install a catalytic heater such as an Olympian Wave. They put out a very nice radiant heat without the need for a fan. You can recess mount it or use a long hose with a disconnect to enable you to move it around.

I am solar biased, but it really depends on how you use your RV. If you seldom dry camp, solar is probably a waste of money.

You will start to see more manufacturers offering a solar option. They need little maintenance, give you quiet, continuous power, and as Elon Musk recently said, "We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the Sun."

Another point to be made is the fact that many RVs now come standard with a generator that people put few hours on. For the same money you can put on a very efficient solar system. If you can live with the 12v power that is generated, it will not be necessary to spend another thousand or so for an expensive inverter. You can buy small inverters (400 watt) that are capable of running a coffee grinder, recharge computers or power an electric razor.

You can easily add up your energy needs and see if it is a good investment, a fun project or a worthwhile convenience. You are not going to run an electric heater or refrigerator from a small RV solar array. They have their limitations.

I can tell you from experience that once you can live within the means of a 300 watt system it will set you free.

LED lights can also be a good, long-term investment that will extend your Big Bend, out of the way stay.

And don’t forget CONSERVATION, it gives “power to the people.”

--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wishy Washy RVer

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
One of the drudgeries of RVing is finding a decent place to do laundry. They are often expensive, poorly managed, dirty and/or busy. I think we should have a washer/dryer in our motorhome, but my husband thinks it’s a bad idea.

We share the laundry duty, but he thinks a machine will take up too much space and add too much weight for the convenience it will afford us. It just sounds so sensible to me.

Don’t you think the full-time lifestyle deserves a guaranteed, clean and personal machine to wash our clothing?  --Wishy Washy in Wilmington

Dear Wishy Washy:
I will agree that finding a clean, affordable laundromat on the road is a constant challenge. Most often you are better served using a commercial campground laundry that is used only by paying guests. If the park is highly rated, you will usually find the laundry facilities reasonable, clean and much less busy.

I have nothing against a washer/dryer combination installed in an RV. Many of them have a very small load capacity, and take a lot of time to cycle. It does allow you to work on the chore at your convenience and not let it all pile up for a trip to the mat.

These units will also suck your water tank dry, so if you are not hooked up to utilities you will find yourself needing fresh water and a dump much more often.

If you decide against an onboard unit, another thought is Googling the laundromat you plan to use. You will often find sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor rating such businesses. The problems with using machines that you find in public parks, such as state and local, can be frustrating. If it rains you will find wet campers throwing their dirty bags and tents into dryers. At fishing sites you may find your clothes come out smelling like the day's catch. 

If you come to an onboard agreement you should weigh the difference between a separate washer/dryer or a combination machine. They can usually be installed in a closet and your unit might even be plumbed for it if you check.

Another alternative is “The John Steinbeck Method.” If you read “Travels with Charley” you will discover that Steinbeck, one of our more prolific literary laundrymen, used a plastic garbage can hanging from bungies to do his wash. He would let the road do his agitating as he meandered across America. Wash all morning, add the rinse water at noon and hang and dry when he stopped. 

Not a bad idea and you save yourself about a grand in machine costs. 
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I'm going to Disney World--NOT!

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We are in the mouse house and I am not talking about Disney World. We just spent a week parked at Many Glacier campground near Babb, Montana. It is starting to feel like fall here and the mice decided they would like to go to Arizona with us. We trapped five last night. The cat caught two, and we still hear gnawing in the underbelly of our trailer.

I want to use d-Con but my wife hates poison and says it is cruel. That sounds Dopey to me. She thinks a quick broken neck is much more humane. Isn’t dead, dead? How can I convince her that we need to take decisive, defensive action before we are overrun with vermin?I’m not getting much sleep lately. In the middle of the night the cat catches a mouse, my wife catches the cat, and they both run outside until the cat drops the mouse. I think at that point the mouse beats them both back to the trailer.

This is our full-time home. Help me.
--Grumpy and in Babb

Dear Babb:
As tight as an RV seems to be, mice can wiggle their way in. It is a problem that must be dealt with quickly before wiring is chewed, material is collected for nesting, food stores are cached, and plumbing tubing is damaged. They can do a tremendous amount of damage in a very short time. I agree with your wife, poison is not your best solution. d-Con is designed to drive the mice out to water after it starts its deadly process. These poison carcasses will move their way up the food chain very quickly as other predators find them, harming things that do not want to travel with you. You will often find the mice have stored it all over the RV and never eaten it.

You need to continue running your trapline and know you have eliminated the last one. At this point you don’t know how “Minnie” Mickeys you have. You will most likely be able to tell you have solved the problem when the cat stops acting Goofy.

Don’t forget to tie a string to every trap and secure it to something. Even after the trap does it’s deadly deed, the mouse will dance a distance. If it ends up in a place you cannot reach it will decay and begin to smell.

Once you get the situation under control you can try home remedies like peppermint tea bags (they hate the smell). For now I would stick to playing cat and mouse and using cheese and traps. Remember, the pioneers got the arrows and the settlers got the land. Same applies here. The second mouse gets the cheese, so use several traps.

The only positive thing you can take from this experience is the fact that this is the most excitement your cat has had in a long time. Living in a small RV is not easy for a cat, even if it sleeps eighteen hours a day. It has most likely raised your cat’s spirits, given your cat much needed exercise, and made your cat feel like the Lion King.

Seriously, set traps everywhere and deal with this problem immediately, before it gets real expensive.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink