Skip to content

What’s It Like? ~ Part 3

July 27, 2014

 The Dirty Stuff

When you live in a sticks-and-bricks house, you really don’t think about the water and sewer system much.  Unless something clogs up or overflows, there’s really not much that needs to be done.  An RV’s systems require attention on a regular basis.


An RV’s sewer system isn’t like a house.  In a house, you can flush and walk away.  With an RV, there are holding tanks that need to be emptied and maintained.  Those monitors, like the one above, that tell you how much is in your propane tank and your black tank (toilet) and gray water (everything else) holding tanks?  They don’t work.  We’ve lived in two motorhomes now, and the monitors haven’t worked properly in either of them.  An RV tech told me not to bother replacing them.  He said they go bad even in the brand new rigs fairly quickly.  With experience, you will learn how often you need to dump the holding tanks.  Just be sure to do it on schedule.  (There’s that discipline thing again.)  We have established that the tanks get dumped once a week.  And after dumping, we add a couple gallons of water back in with fresh chemicals, because you should never let the black water tank go dry.  Once I had it down, it became a simple process that only takes a few minutes.  We write it on the calendar when we do it.


And if the mention of “chemicals” makes you nervous, you can relax.  We’ve used two kinds.  One is a “drop-in” similar to the little dissolvable packets you use in the washing machine.  The other, which we use, is a powder that comes in a little packet.  Tear the top off the packet, pour out the powder into the toilet bowl and flush.  We use the Travel Jon powder because it was recommended by the first RV tech we met in our first month of fulltime RV living.  He had been in the business for a lot of years, and seemed to know what he was doing.  Most major stores that have an RV section will have one or two brands.  Some deal primarily with odor, but I would recommend the kind that digests the waste with some form of enzymes.  The Travel Jon brand seems to be mostly found at RV dealers and Camping World, so when we find it, we stock up with several boxes.


The sewer valves, incoming water, etc. are located in an outside compartment.  You can see the valve handles in the photo above.  It’s those two horizontal black things.  Before taking delivery of an RV, make sure the valves actually work.  We mistakenly assumed they did on the Bounder.  After a week of using the bathroom, it was time to dump the black water tank.  The valve didn’t budge when I pulled on it.  I made phone calls.  A tech told me nobody was going to touch that valve as long as the holding tank was full.  I was on my own.  After part of a frustrating afternoon, another guy told me that if I was going to have to replace the valve anyway, I had nothing to lose if I gave it a really hard yank.  Fully prepared to jump back to avoid some smelly disaster, I did exactly that.  After a couple of times, the valve opened and, yes, it did run downhill but it ran inside the hose and everything worked properly.  The good news is that, because it’s a gravity system, the toilet is not ever likely to overflow.  It can get stopped up, but it can’t really overflow unless you’re holding the flush valve down for a very, very long time.

Typically, the lowest gray water point is the bottom of the shower.  If the gray water overflows,  it will show up in the bottom of the shower first.  If it’s discovered quick enough, it’s a simple matter of hurrying outside and opening the gray water valve.  It’s pretty unpleasant, but if it’s caught quickly enough, it’s better than having it overflow onto the floor.   Have I mentioned that we know all of this by experience?


Most RVers install a filter in the water line between the park water spigot and the RV system.  RV folks recommend a filter simply because you never know about the quality of the water where you park.   We started using one fairly early on when Nell was having some stomach problems.  After we installed the filter, it didn’t take long for her stomach issues to go away.  A simple in-line filter sold at Walmart and other stores (the blue cylinder in the photo above) costs about $20 and is good for 3 months.  The photo above shows the power pedestal at each site where we are.  This one is top of the line.  Some parks are a bit more basic, and some are almost primitive.  This one has two water spigots, electrical outlets for 20, 30 and 50 amp service, and a cable TV coax connection.  One water hose supplies water in the RV.  We use the other one to water plants.

The large dark hose you see on the other side is the sewer hose.  It runs from piping in an outdoor compartment to a sewer connection in the ground.  The entire sewer system is based on gravity flow.  All parks require a good tight connection at the ground.


As in a house, there is a water heater.  On the motorhome, it is located behind an access panel on the outside.  Some water heaters work on propane gas and some are electric.  The Bounder has both, and we can switch from one to the other.  It only takes about 15 minutes for the heater to get the water hot.  As a cost saving measure, we turn the water heater on before we need really hot water, as in washing dishes, shaving or taking a shower.  Once we get hot water from the tap, we turn the water heater off.  Unlike a house, the water heater only holds 6 to 10 gallons, but there is plenty of hot to take a couple of adequate showers.  And we aren’t wasting propane or electricity by having the water heater cycle on and off continually all day and all night.  RV showers aren’t very big, but a good RV park will have showers that are usually big enough to turn around in more than once.  The good ones are fully tiled and kept clean daily.  When we want a long shower with lots and lots of hot water, we use the park shower.  Campground showers are not the same.  I find myself checking all four corners, the ceiling and the drain before I step into a campground shower.


The motorhome has an onboard LPG (propane) tank.   In the Holiday Rambler, we were using propane for the furnace, for hot water, and for cooking.  In the Bounder, we only use it for the furnace and cooking, and we run the water heater on electric.  The 24 gallon tank is good for about 3 to 4 weeks in a normal Texas winter.  As for summer, we had the tank filled when we arrived here 6 weeks ago. and using propane only for cooking, the gauge on the tank has barely moved.  Again, we learned not to trust the monitors.  This past winter, one of the coldest, even on the Gulf Coast, I kept watching the monitor and since it wasn’t dropping much, felt we had a good, really economical furnace.  I eventually got suspicious and checked the gauge on the tank itself.  The tank was sitting on Empty, and a call for an emergency delivery of propane kept us from freezing.

rambler generator

Most RVs have a generator in a compartment outside that can provide electricity if you’re not connected to park power.  It runs on gas from the RV’s gas tank, and it’s intended to be used when you’re parked out in the boonies with no hookups.  We don’t camp in the boonies, so we’ve rarely used the generator in either motorhome.  But we run it once a month religiously.  If it doesn’t get run on a regular basis, the gas in the generator’s carburetor will turn to varnish and destroy the carburetor.  I know this from experience.

I learned that the older the carburetor, the more expensive it is.  We know a fellow artist who is living and travelling the country in his motorhome, living the real adventure.  He boondocks or dry camps out on BLM land and in Corps of Engineers campgrounds with limited or no hookups.  His fresh water tank and generator are part of his everyday life.   On the plus side for us:  if a storm ever knocks out the power where we are, we can at least have basic electricity with the generator as long as we have gas in the gas tank.

There are all kinds of online forums and books available about RV systems, their operation and maintenance.  All I’m doing here is describing our own personal experience.

Coming up:  Keeping cool (or warm)





2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2014 9:16 pm

    This is an invaluable series of entries Ralph, thanks for passing on your experience in such a clear way.

    • July 28, 2014 1:07 pm

      Thanks, Yorky. I’ve gotten a couple of comments like this on this particular series. Makes me feel like it’s worth the effort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: