RV Water Heater Basics

The Water Heater installed in your RV is primarily a propane gas appliance. The water heater installed in most RVs typically has a 6-gallon tank but larger RVs may have 10-gallon units.

Dependent upon the model installed, your RV water heater may operate only on gas or on gas and/or 120 Volt AC.

Your RV water heater may have a gas pilot light which will have to be lit each time you set up camp. Or it may have an automatic, direct spark ignition (DSI) system which allows the water heater to be operated by an electric switch inside the RV.

RV water heater by-pass valve kit

Your RV water may have a by-pass valve kit installed. The by-pass kit is a popular option that allows for easier drainage of the hot water heater tank and winterization of the unit saving time and reducing the amount of anti-freeze needed. The by-pass kit is installed near the cold water inlet of the water heater and allows for blockage of water flow into the water heater.

All water heaters in recreational vehicles are equipped with a pressure relief valve that is designed to open if the temperature of the water within reaches 210 degrees F or if excessive pressure builds up.

When the water supply pressure reaches 50 pounds per square inch (PSI), the relief valve will open and water will drip from the valve. The valve will close automatically once the pressure falls below 50 PSI. This dripping is normal and does not indicate a malfunctioning or defective valve.

Also, when water is heated it expands and pressure can become greater than 50 PSI within the closed water system of the recreational vehicle and this will also cause weeping at the pressure relief valve.

One way to minimize relief valve weeping is by maintaining an air pocket at the top of the water heater tank. The air pocket forms naturally by design but will reduce overtime through normal use. See RV Water Heater Care & Maintenance for instruction on how to restore the air pocket.

Prior to operating the RV water heater for the first time, be sure there is water in the heating tank. Do so by first checking to see that the water heater by-pass valve, if installed, is open to let water flow into the tank. Next, connect the RV to a water source or turn on the onboard water pump. Open a hot-water tap and wait till water is flowing with no air in the line. Once water is flowing from the tap the heating tank is full and it is safe to operate the water heater.

The information above is provided as general information. Please carefully read the manufacturers users manual for complete operational and safety instructions.

You may also want to read: RV Water Heater Care & Maintenance

What You Should Know About RV Holding Tank Chemical Additives

by Steven Fletcher
For a long time I’d use any chemical that was on sale… I have a thing about putting money down a black hole… so I’ve tried a lot of them.

There are many brands and kinds of holding tank additives all claiming to control odor and dissolve solids. Each one has it’s proponents who will tell you it is the best. For me, all I can tell you is take your pick.

Many RVers recommend enzyme-based chemicals which use live bacteria to breakdown and digest the odor causing waste. I’ve had fair results with some of them but so far I have not found a standout favorite and none of these enzyme based additives does a really good job of controling odor.

I don’t think there is any difference between the liquid and dry as far as how they work. We like the dry packets because they store better, but they also create dust when poured which we don’t like to breathe. So we generally go with the liquids.

I’ve tried a lot of home brew chemicals with varied success. None proved to work as well or were too much hassle. I’ve also tried some non-RV odor control chemicals.

For a while I was using OdoBan that I got at Sam’s Club. It’s a potent liquid that does eliminate the holding tank odor provided you start with a clean tank. But it’s odor wasn’t much better.

After all the different chemicals I’ve used I’ve gone back to the tried and true formaldehyde. Now before you get too excited, I know there is a lot of controversy on this subject. I’m not evangelizing but I don’t care if you feel differently.

I’ve done my own research and I’m convinced that the whole formaldehyde scare is way too much hype with very little substance.

The following quote is from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Commercially available RV additives when used as recommended by the manufacturer will have no adverse effect on biological sewage treatment systems. “Home-made” mixtures of household cleaners and disinfectants should be discouraged as the proportion of each ingredient has not been established and the minimum quantity to control odors and biological activity are unknown. These “home-made” mixtures cause a temporary shock to biological sewage treatment units under certain conditions.”

This quote isn’t my only source but I thought I’d put one in just so you’d know that I did, in fact, have some credible information to support my opinion.

Please also note the part about using home-made additives.

Caring for your holding tanks.

Generally, you need to add chemicals to the black-water tank after each dump. Same for the gray-water tank although I don’t feel it is as important.

After you have drained and rinsed the black-water tank, close the valve and add enough fresh water to cover the bottom about an inch deep. Then add the chemicals. I like to add the chemicals a little at a time as I ‘flush’ the toilet. I think it helps disburse the chemicals.

When we’re hooked up to park services, we leave our gray water tank valve open. When we’re ‘hooked up’, for and extended time… several weeks… I like to close the gray water valve, add some chemical to the tank, and let it fill up. I do this about once a week. I seems to keep the tank from getting sour… which can be almost as bad a smell as the black tank!

You may also want to read:
RV Gray Water and Black Water Holding Tank Basics
RV Waste Water System Care & Maintenance

RV Water Pump Basics for Motorhomes, Fifth Wheels & Travel Trailers

by Steven Fletcher
When not hooked up to an external supply, fresh water must be pumped from the on-board RV water tank using an RV water pump. When the power is switched on, the pump works automatically whenever a faucet is turned on. It’s normal for the pump to pulsate. The water pump is preset to keep a more-or-less constant water pressure. When the pump senses a drop in pressure, because you’re using water, it runs long enough to restore the pressure and then shuts off. Depending on the demand for water that pressure can be restored rapidly causing the pulsing.

You can install a device called an accumulator tank that will minimize the pulsating. Also new model RV water pumps are available that claim to eliminate the pulsation and noise.

If your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer water pump is excessively noisy check to see how it’s mounted. The pump’s mounting screws should go through rubber grommets and the screws should NOT be tightened down on the mounting grommets thus allowing the pump to ‘float’ on it’s mounting. This floating helps insulate the vibration of the water pump from the RV’s frame making operate more quietly.

It’s a good idea to switch off the pump when not in use… especially when leaving the RV unattended but it is OK to leave it on if you want.

IMPORTANT: If the water pump runs periodically when all faucets are off you have a leak in the water system. The leak may be in the plumbing or it could be in the pump itself. If you are sure that your plumbing is not leaking then the leak is most likely in the pump’s internal check valve. This check value is needed to keep water from flowing back through the pump into the freshwater holding tank when your motorhome, fifth whee or travel trailer is connected to an external water system. In fact, if you notice that the water level in the freshwater tank is rising it’s good sign that the pump is at fault. There are rebuild kits for most water pumps or, depending on how old the pump is, you may want to replace it.

We’ve been in parks where the water pressure has been very low so we had to use our water pump to boost the park’s water pressure to take showers. It works because the pump draws additional water from the fresh water tank to supplement that coming from the park.

If the pressure of the water coming from the hook-up is less than the pre-set low pressure of your fresh water pump then water will be pumped from your fresh water tank to increase the pressure to that of the pre-set high pressure of the pump. If you do not want to pump water from your freshwater tank turn the water pump off.

The two most common fresh water plumbing systems are:

1: A hose connection which bypasses the fresh water tank and RV water pump and a separate fill spout used to fill the fresh water tank directly.

2: A hose connection with a valve somewhere near the connection or in a utility area… turn it one way to fill the fresh water tank the other way for direct use.

There is a check valve in the plumbing system that permits the outside water supply to charge the system without going into the freshwater tank. This could be a check valve inside the water pump and it may be the only one or there may also be an external check valve on the discharge side of the water pump.

RV Power Inverter Basics

Converter? Inverter? Confused?

A converter is standard equipment on most RVs. Connected to a campground power pedistal or your RV generator is running the converter it changes 120 Volt AC power to 12 Volt DC and supplies power to the RV’s 12v circuits and charges the RV batteries. An inverter does the inverse.

Inverters take 12VDC from the batteries and change it to 120VAC. Depending on the wattage rating of the inverter most 120 Volt AC electric items may be operated without plugging in to shore power or running a generator. Although many RVs now come equipted with inverters they are not standard equipment so, if you want one, be sure you specifiy that if you are ordering an RV from the factory. Of course you can always have one installed.

Do you need an RV Power Inverter?

Now that you know what an RV power inverter is and what it does the basic question remains: Do you need one? Or, alternately, Can you make use of an inverter? Enough to justify the cost? More than anything else, the answer is a matter of your “RV lifestyle.”

People who use full hook-ups every night might not need an inverter at all. People who don’t mind the expense, noise and vibration of a running generator might not need a power inverter. People who have adequate 12VDC equipment (TV, radio, etc.,) and don’t feel the need to run micro-wave ovens and similar AC items might not.

But there are many RVers who need, or can make use of an inverter. Mostly those who like being self contained.

For RVers who either occasionally or mostly find themselves visiting places which don’t provide electrical hookups, a power inverter is definitely worth considering — particularly in conjunction with one or more solar panels.

It’s nice to be able to run Microwaves, DVD players, TVs, computers and other small appliances without the need to be ‘plugged in’ or running a generator. Inverters large enough to power large appliance are relativily expensive and need to be installed properly.

RVers with Computers Benifit from a RV Power Inverter

RVs are subject to easy power outages (pulled plugs, unreliable campground hookups, stalling generators) that can damage a computer. Some RVers buy uninterruptible power supply (UPS) without realizing they simply contain a small, rechargeable battery and, a miniature inverter. The much larger RV battery system is far superior and only requires adding an inverter.

There are smaller inverters… 100 to 350 watts… available that do not need to be installed. You plug them in to a 12 volt power port (cigarette lighter). These are perfect for powering small TVs and laptop computers etc.

Lastly, consider the RVers who must rely on a breathing machine or other medical device. Their travel is limited and they are locked into commercial campgrounds. So much so that they often stop RVing. An inverter can return their freedom.

You may also want to read:
How to Choose the Right RV Power Invertert for Your RV

RV Fresh Water System Care and Maintenance for Fifth Wheels, Travel Trailers & Motorhomes

by Steven Fletcher
Your motorhhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer’s on-board fresh water supply is important to your health. Proper care and maintenance is a must.

Use a separate, dedicated drinking water approved hose for your fresh water. Use a different color hose for your utility hose so you will never mix them up. Remember, you will be using your utility hose for lots of things including cleaning the black water tank and sewer hose!

When not in use, connect the ends of your fresh water hose together to keep the dirt and creepy crawlers out.

Know your water source. In our travels around the US we generally assume that water is safe to drink. However, RVers have reported filling their water tank with rusty or muddy water from campground taps. And some water, while safe, tastes really bad. Run some water from the faucet into a glass and check for clarity and odor. If the RV park water is not clear or it has an odor you may want to wait until you get to the next place to fill your fresh water tank. When we started RVing we used a water filter on the incoming water supply but now we just filter our drinking water. If the park water has an especially bad taste or is hard we may buy bottled water for drinking.

Keep in mind that filters will remove contaminates such as sand and rust and will improve taste and odor but a filter is not a purifier and will not kill bacteria and other microorganisms.

Before you connect you RV to a curbside faucet check the pressure. Your motorhome, travel trailer or fifth wheel’s fresh water system is designed to operate at pressures of 40 to 70 pounds per square inch. Water pressures at the supply may be much higher… over 100 psi is possible. To protect your plumbing and your water hose you can use a pressure regulator at the faucet end of the hose.

I sometimes do not use our regulator if the park pressure is low in order to get greatest water volume. The problem with not using a regulator is that the park’s water pressure can very. Even if it is safe when tested it may not stay that way.

You may also want to read: Sanitizing Your RV Fresh Water System and RV Fresh Water System Accessories

How to clean black streaks on your RV

The roof of your motor home travel trailer or fifth wheel, by itself, doesn’t cause the black streaks. It’s the dirt, bird droppings, and other stuff that runs off the roof during light rains and heavy dew that causes the black streaks down the side of your RV.

Washing the RV roof just before the rainy season starts will go a long way toward eliminating the cause of black streaks.

RVs with rubber roofs may get white streaks caused by the natural oxidation of the rubber roofing material. You can minimize white streaks by washing the roof twice a year. Keep in mind when you are washing a rubber roof that the oxidation on the surface acts as a barrier to further oxidation of the rubber below so your goal is not to eliminate all the oxidized material but only to remove the chalk or powder buildup that will cause the white streaks during a rain storm. To maximize the life of your roof use a soft brush (the same one you use to wash the rest of the RV should do) and avoid excessive scrubbing.

Washing the sides of your RV with a good wash & wax product regularly will do a lot to keep black streak causing stuff from the roof building up on the sides of the rig.

If you already have a black streak problem here are a couple of products you can try on your RV.

If you have some, try WD-40 before you go out and buy something special. You’ll have to wash with regular soap and water after using WD-40.

Beware of some black streak products.. they may permanently remove the gloss from fiberglass RVs. Always test a small, out-of-the-way place first. Gel Gloss will clean black streaks from most fiberglass.

Some people use common bug and tar remover. Turtle Wax makes one as do lots of other companies. Again try it on a small out-of-the-way place first.

WD-40 solvent also works well cleaning exterior and interior vinyl. Remember to wash with regular soap and water after using WD-40.

You may also want to read: RV Roof Care and Maintenance and Quick Tips for the Exterior Care of your Motorhome Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer

RV Manufacturers Directory – Motorhomes, Fifth Wheels ans Travel Trailers

RV Air Deflectors for Travel Trailer and Fifth Wheel RV Tow Vehicles that Work

by Guest Author Bob Thompson, Seattle, WA USA

I Used to work at Boeing and know a bit about aerodynamics. Yes the little sizes will not work for a 11 ft. high or bigger RV fifth wheel trailer. To work well and for a good payback of money and time we needed to find Something BIG like on a semi truck day cab.

Like I said, I now a little about aerodynamics and a deflector has to with the size; height and width of the truck be equal to about 75% of the trailers. If the deflector or combination of them is not this high and wide then it just won’t work well enough to bother. In physics terms the deflector needs to create a air flow pattern at highway speeds that with the lowest drag coefficient or it’s own lowest possible air resistance; direct the oncoming air up and around the front of the RV 5th wheel trailer. The wind deflector has to be as aerodynamic shaped and be set at a LOW angle of about 30 degrees. That means that a RV cab over deflector for a RV 5th wheel trailer needs to be about 6 ft. wide and stand at least 3 ft. high above the cab of the RV pickup cab. Also like you said the deflectors have to be wider to get the air movement around the sides of the trailer. Just tell people a good deflector shape should look like the top nose of a cargo or transport air plane and be 6 ft. wide x 3 ft. high, that they’ll understand.

After searching the Web for a bit I found a BIG RV fifth wheel trailer wind deflector that comes with a pair of side wings. We have been traveling around all summer and the truck has picked up a good 20%.of MPG. Me and a buddy put the cab over wind deflector and the side wings on in about a hour. Hey after driving south about 1000 miles there was only a few bugs on the trailer to clean in a few minutes; for me that’s time fishing or golfing rather than cleaning. Well for me the No or a little trailer bug and debris time that is saved cleaning on the trailer after every trip is worth the deflector alone. Heck spending a hour or two cleaning the trailer is not pleasant. The wife likes it because I am a Happier person and she gets to figure on what else to spend the money we saved on.

The mounting brackets that came with it lets the cab over deflector lay down in a couple of minutes with the air going through it. They have another hinge bracket I might try that lets it lay down behind and below the cab, a nice gismo feature. I park the truck under a high car port so there is not a problem with clearance most of the time.

It is too bad that the education at the schools don’t teach basic science or physics more effectively so people would learn how to apply it/them for their benefit.

We got the cab over deflector and the side wings at wind-tunnel-designs.com. So some things out there do really work. Read more about how Bob installed and uses RV Air Deflector.


Note from Steven & Fran: We offer web space for guest author articles because we believe there is always room for another viewpoint and because we surely don’t know everything there is to know about RVs and the RVing lifestyle. in that spirit we invite you to submit your own articles. We’re happy to give you credit and provide a link to your website.

You may also want to read: RV Air Deflectors for Travel Trailer and Fifth Wheel Tow Vehicles do They Work?RV Air Deflectors, Do They Work?

Exterior Care of your Motorhome Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer

  • Bugs and bird droppings on your paint, grillwork and windshield? Saturate the area with spray cooking oil, let it sit for 10 minutes then wash the windshield as usual.To remove salt deposits from a painted metal RV exterior, wash with a solution of baking soda and warm water. For extra heavy stains, make a baking soda paste and rub on with a damp sponge. Rinse well.Wash your RV on a cloudy day or in the shade. Use warm but not hot water, as hot water can bleach paint.
  • Clean your RV from the top down so that you’re following the direction of gravity. If you can, clean the roof too so that dirt doesn’t run down the sides during rain and heavy dew.
  • WD-40 serves as an alternative to commercial bug & tar remover on the oily road buildup that accumulates on the lower panels of your RV. Wash the RV as usual after application.
  • To make your tires look like new, scrub them clean with soap and water using a hard bristle brush, then apply self-polishing floor wax.
  • To clean tough spots on your windows, wipe down with rubbing alcohol, allow to dry, then clean as usual.
  • Renew your windshield wiper blades by cleaning with a low-abrasion scouring powder then wiping them with rubbing alcohol. Makes the wipers last longer and stops them from streaking.
  • A child’s wax crayon, close to the same color, makes an effective repair to tiny scratches on your paint. Rub the crayon over the scratch, then buff smooth with a clean cloth.

You may also want to read: RV Black Streaks – How to Clean them from your Motorhome, Fifth Wheel or Travel Trailer

My RV’s Systems Monitor Panel is not reading properly

by Steven Fletcher
From time to time the black water holding tank gauge lights on my RV monitor panel stop reading properly.When this happens it is almost always caused by contaminated contacts inside the tank.

Usually an extra good tank rinsing with the toilet wand is all that’s needed. If that doesn’t work I wash the tank by filling it with hot water and liquid laundry detergent and letting it stay for about and hour and then rinsing with the toilet want.

When traveling

After dumping and rinsing the tank I fill it 1/3 full and add laundry detergent. The agitation while driving usually does the job. About half the amount of liquid detergent called for in a normal washing machine load is enough.

If it is cold or at least cool outside, bag or two of cracked ice dumped in the tank through the toilet just before hitting the road will scour the inside of the tank while you drive. This doesn’t work as well in the summer time since the ice melts too fast to have enough time to scower the tank.

When Not traveling

Again, after dumping and rinsing the tank, I use a little more detergent and completely fill the tank using the toilet wand. Using the wand helps dilute the detergent and also creates some suds. Let the tank stand full and soak for at least an hour.

Then drain the tank and rinse with the wand. Let the tank stand empty for a while to allow the contacts to dry and then check the gauge. If the system monitor still doesn’t read right it’s probably time to call a service technician.

Except for using the wand and ice, you can use the same procedures to clean the gray water tank.

You may also want to read: RV Holding Tank Basics and RV Holding Tank Chemicals