Wednesday, July 29, 2015

RV forecasting

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I need scheduling help. My wife is refusing to camp in certain areas. With all the drought in the West the news is full of fires and floods. I told her the TV broke because one more night of news and we will have to start camping at fire stations across America for her to feel safe and know help is close by. Just when I thought I had her convinced she was overreacting, our Glacier National Park campground reservation was canceled for Lake St. Mary Campground. Fire was threatening the area and we were not allowed in.

I tried to explain to her that we live on wheels and can move at the drop of a hat if things looked sketchy wherever we camp. Now my every suggestion is suspect. It is driving me nuts. Should I buy a fire truck and convert it into an RV? It would already have a large fresh water holding tank. Do you think that would make her feel safer?
--Disaster Dave in Deer Lodge

Dear Dave in Deer Lodge:
There is nothing wrong with preparedness. Worry and stress are another issue. I heard that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Traveling to avoid everything you see on the news will limit you to a padded cell.

I can see how your wife works herself into a frenzy. I was watching Nightly News last week when I saw a 5th wheel float down a road in Wickenburg, Arizona.

Keeping your head in the sand will not solve any problems. Information is key to safety. I would suggest you camp where you want but have a backup plan. Know your escape routes, incoming weather events, fire conditions and terrain.

Words from a sage much wiser than myself fit here perfectly. Forrest Gump sums it up with two of his famous quotes: “Stupid is as stupid does.” (This would be good advice for people who put themselves in harm's way, ignoring the conditions.) Also, “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'" (This would be to emphasize the fact that you have to be prepared for anything.)

There are five other campgrounds in Glacier still open. One is a reservation campground and the others are first come, first serve. Think of a change in plans as an adventure. You may discover something new and enjoyable because your original plans were altered by conditions out of your control.
When you think about it, you only have a few conditions to worry about -- wind, heavy rain, hail, tornado, fire, flood, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, blizzard, sand storm and maybe a dust devil or two.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

RV Looney Tunes

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I don’t mean to be an annoyance, but I need more help. I wrote a few weeks ago about my husband not fixing the hot water heater that was singing to me. Since I last wrote, my husband spent several hours and dollars trying to fix our hot water heater as you suggested. He couldn’t get the element to unscrew and finally sought professional help which was not cheap.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but the hot water heater is still singing to me. This time it’s a different tune and a whole lot worse. The sound comes from the tank every time I turn on the hot water. I hesitated to bring this issue up with my husband. He is still agitated by the last episode. To my surprise, he brought it up. The noise seems to be bugging him also.

We are five hundred miles away from where we had the element changed. My husband called them and they said it was not the element. They suggested we now need new “check valves.” Is our hot water heater possessed? Are we getting scammed? Should we just play loud music all the time to drown out the water heater noise? Please send more advice our way.
--Sounding Board, no longer in Bozeman

Dear Boze, again:
You are not getting scammed. It is also a common occurrence to have check valves start making noise. Perhaps something was flushed into one when the element work was done. Regardless, it is another simple fix. If your husband doesn’t feel confident doing plumbing work, you might want to have another repair shop handle it.

Depending on the model hot water heater and RV floor plan, it can be quick and easy or a real pain. It is usually all about access.

I am imagining your husband trying to get the element out. It can be challenging. The last time I tackled mine, it was a task. It is on the inside, backside of the heater, which meant taking part of the under cabinet apart to reach. Most people find the element very hard to budge. The element nut is very thin and hard to grip. The often sold, thin-walled element socket is not really the best tool for the job. I use a regular inch and a half, six point socket that fits my half-inch ratchet. It allows me much more leverage. Even with that, I had to use my torch to heat the tank wall before it would budge.

You will find one or two check valves on the backside of your tank. They should loosen a bit easier than the element. The valves that often come with your unit have plastic inserts. I would recommend you switch them out with brass. 

The biggest problem in doing the job yourself is finding the valves. They look like a fitting that would come from any hardware, but I found they are not. Because they just made noise and everything worked, I took my time looking for the parts. I tried every home improvement store we passed. I tried every hardware I passed. I tried every plumbing business I passed. Every place had female thread check valves, but it would cost an arm and both legs to buy enough fittings to make them work in this application. I finally went online and found several places that offered them. The going price seemed to be north of twenty bucks apiece.

If I had it to do over, I would not have invested my retirement in the stock market. I would have invested it all in brass fittings. I would be a billionaire.

Some people would say I’m cheap, but I like to think of myself as frugal. Just because I refill my expensive wine bottles with boxed wine, does not necessarily make me cheap.

My point is, you don’t have to take the first bid. I surfed around online and found two places that sold the exact check valves for less than ten bucks apiece. One wanted $35 dollars to ship them to me and the other wanted $4. Guess which one I bought from!

So here is the bottomline. Your husband can go to another professional and spend one hundred plus dollars to silence the hot water heater, or take a crack at it himself. It means taking one or two water lines loose, extracting the valve(s), replacing them, and hooking up the water lines again. I like to think of these little annoyances as an adventure. You also get more acquainted with your rig and have a better understanding of how it all works.

Don’t be afraid to tackle these jobs. There will always be something that needs tweaking, so don’t turn them all into mountains, they are just mole hills.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RV Chairman of the Road

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I don’t know who engineers motorhomes, but they need to work on TV placement. When we were shopping for our rig we finally gave up finding one with a TV located in a comfortable place for viewing.

The problem is my husband solved the problem by purchasing one of those outdoor, reclining La-Z-Boy-type chairs to put in the hallway facing the TV. Even though we have a slide-out, it still leaves no room for moving around. Once we get in our positions (me on the couch, he in his chair) to watch a movie, there is no getting up for popcorn without a major shift in furniture.

I think we should get him a chair that takes up less real estate, but he likes his new recliner. The motorhome is small enough already. I don’t think I am asking too much to have the walkway clear.
Your opinion would be much appreciated.
--Hall Monitor in Manchester

Dear Hall Monitor:
I do agree that many RVs are engineered with the TV taking up whatever space might be left after all other appliances have been placed. Some models have two to four televisions and they all seem to be in an awkward location.

Besides the space that your husband’s chair takes up, it sounds like a great idea. Perhaps he could find a similar model in a smaller frame. I don’t think that is asking too much.

Another idea would be to relocate the TV, or invest in a portable that could be placed in a position that would make viewing comfortable for your particular floor plan. Depending on the amount of time you spend watching TV programming, you might want to consider using a laptop computer to watch movies or news.

Another thought would be to shop TV mount options. Some allow swivel positioning side to side and up and down.

If you can wait a bit longer, LG is coming out with a TV that is only 0.97mm thick. It will stick to the wall like a fridge magnet. Maybe Google Glass will allow you to watch in the side frame of your glasses, sitting anywhere you please.

What will they think of next to entertain couch potatoes.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Down in the RV dumps

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
In our relationship, my husband is the RV technician and I am the cook. If I were the RV technician nothing would work, and if he were the cook we would starve. In our respective specialties we get to make certain decisions that affect our daily lives. This has always worked out fine.

Since recently moving into a small motorhome things have changed in both departments. I cook simpler meals, and he hauls fewer tools. Everything seemed to flow smoothly in our new lifestyle until I was advised we could no longer deposit any solids into our new RV holding tank. My husband told me it would mound up in the tank and clog the outlet. We are now inconvenienced with running to the campground public restrooms. I find some of them rather disgusting.

I don’t want him telling me how to cook, but I question his decision on the toilet. Why would millions of RVs have toilets and holding tanks designed into them if they were not usable?

How should I approach this question without stepping on his turf?
--Down in the dumps in Dawson

Dear Dawson:
As odd as it sounds each time I hear it, this practice is not uncommon. Many people seem to have a hangup with using the toilet in their RV the same way they would anywhere else. In some cases perhaps they watched Robin Williams dump his “RV” in the movie with the same name and developed a phobia.

Some I have asked feel RV toilets are not engineered well enough to flush out solids and therefore create constant blockages. Others simply find it disgusting to have to deal with the doo.

You will have to figure out which category your husband falls into before you can solve your problem permanently. If it is a simple phobia issue, you can help solve that by volunteering to take on this simple and sanitary chore yourself. If it’s an engineering question you will only have to give him a few lines of instruction to solve all doubt.

Your husband is right. If not managed properly, solids can mound in the tank and clog outlets. There are certain precautions that must be taken from dump to dump. You must start with a few bowls of water in the tank. Do not flush solids into a dry tank. Adding some septic safe chemicals can help break down solids, suppress odors and lubricate slide valves.

Another important point is tissue type. You want it to dissolve quickly. Buy tissue designed for RV holding tanks or test the brand you choose by sloshing it around in a jar of water. It should quickly disintegrate into small specks of thin tissue. Whatever it does in that jar of water is exactly what it will do in your holding tank.

The tank emptying procedure is also very important. Having a tank near full when you empty is ideal. If it is not and you have access to water, fill it. It’s simple physics, or math if you prefer. An abundance of No. 1 (liquid) will help eliminate No. 2 (solids). Pressure and gravity equal a forceful flush.

One common mistake people make is leaving the blackwater valve open when hooked to a campground sewer. This immediately empties the tank of liquids and leaves the solids to accumulate and harden in the tank. Precautionary maintenance in the form of knowledgable fill and emptying procedure should give you trouble-free use of the RV toilet facilities. Having the right equipment (rubber gloves, hoses, connectors, hand sanitizer and assorted fittings) should make dumping the holding tanks quick, sanitary, and efficient.

It should not be a gender specific job. Like everything else when dealing with RV living, everyone should be prepared to handle all duties. Perhaps your husband should attempt a quiche, while you practice sanitary engineering. The old dirty-swirly is not as difficult as it’s cracked up to be.

If your problem is actually a foul odor in a small confined space, consider Frasier Fir spray by a company named Thymes. A short burst and it smells like you are sitting in the woods.
--Keep Smilin’. Dr. R.V. Shrink

Editor: Here are some items mentioned in the post which are available at Amazon:
Septic-safe toilet paper
Citrus-smell air freshener
Holding tank deodorant
Sewer hose rinser
Liquefy solids in holding tanks
Disposable dump gloves
Thymes Frasier fir spray