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Laundry day in the RV can be especially trying: Lug all your clothes and hoarded quarters to a coin-op laundry. Wait for an available washer. Load the machine. Wait. Hope another customer doesn’t scoop up the lone unclaimed dryer before your rinse and spin cycles end. Transfer clothes to the dryer. Wait. Fold. Carry everything to your car or tow vehicle. Drive back to your RV.
Wouldn’t it be nice to wash and dry right in your RV, without using the sink?
You can install a washer and dryer in your RV if you have the room, and with a portable you can at least wash an emergency load or two inside or outside your rig even if you don’t have the space for a laundry.
If your trailer or motorhome offered a washer/dryer option, then your RV—even if it lacks the appliances—has a place to build them in. Some cabinet modifications are probably needed. Look online for detailed plans for your RV or call the manufacturer’s customer service line to find out if your RV model can easily accommodate a washer and dryer.
If your RV was not designed for a washer and dryer, you still might be able to install the appliances in a closet or pantry. Some units, including washer-dryer combos, may fit under countertops if you remove a base cabinet.
You’ll have to make sure hookups can be accomplished. The location of your washer and dryer should be:
You’ll need two 110-volt outlets for two separate appliances, or one for a washer/dryer combination, 240 volts for some models. You may have to relocate electrical outlets to make sure the plug will fit between the appliances and outlet.
You’ll have to tap into the grey tank with the washing machine’s outlet hose.
The space must accommodate the height of the appliances, the recommended minimum side clearance and the recommended front and back clearance. Some units require zero side clearance.
Dryers come vented and unvented, but unvented dryers dump excess moisture into your RV interior. Venting through an exterior wall is preferable.
Options abound, making it possible to add a washer/dryer to just about any RV bigger than a teardrop or popup. And thanks to small portables, you can even do laundry in or outside one of those smaller campers.
Here’s what’s available to build in:
Washer/dryer combo. About the size of a washer alone, these front-loading units turn into a dryer after the wash, rinse and spin cycles. That saves space. Some, such as the Splendide 2100XC, automatically start drying when the washing is done. The capacity of the washer is 15 pounds, and the dryer, 11 pounds. Cost: $1,100 to $1,350.
Stackable. An RV-size front-load washer and dryer stacked, such as the Equator EW 824 and ED 850, require only the footprint of the washer, about 23 inches wide and 22 inches deep, but need about 5 feet in height. The washer is on the bottom and the dryer on top. The washer and dryer each hold 13 pounds. Cost: $1,250-$1,500.
Stacked integrated unit. Often found in apartments, these compact units have a washer on the bottom and a dryer on top. They are made as one tall unit, each about 28 inches wide. The GE Spacemaker Laundry Center needs about 6½ feet of height. It can handle 3.8 cubic feet for washing and 5.9 for drying. Some models may require a 240-volt line and breaker. Cost: $1,250-$1,500.
Tiny alternatives—portable units that wash a small load and spin the items quite dry in a separate drum—help out in small campers. An example is the Best Choice Model SKY5406 twin-tub washer. It can wash a small load, about 8 pounds, with a separate spinning drum that can dry up to 5 pounds. With a power demand of 140 watts or less, it’s possible to run on solar power. Cost: $95-150.
Portables have hoses or hookups for hoses, or you can just fill from a bucket or large bottle. These units aren’t always automatic. You may have to add water for the rinse, and the dryer drum uses the low-tech method of sensing if clothes are dry: Stop and feel them. Drain into your shower or use natural, biodegradable soap and drain outside where permitted.
If you go without a dryer, or if you use a portable, you’ll need to hang your laundry to dry.
Look for something that has convenient setup and teardown. The Smart Drier clamps onto the ladder of your camper and opens to reveal several lines for hanging clothes and linens. With the sun reflecting off your RV, clothes dry quickly, especially if hung after being spun thoroughly. Cost: $100 or less.
The Australian-made Versaline Traveller Compact RV Clothesline hangs on two wall brackets that you screwed into a side or back exterior wall of an RV or to vehicle. It removes easily and folds into a carrying case when you’re done. Cost: $150 or less.
Image Credits: campingworld.com
Don’t undersell the importance of the trailer tires you choose. It all rides on those tires—quite literally.
A blowout not only causes a handling hazard, it can damage a trailer as the shredded tire carcass whips against bodywork.
Never use passenger tires on a trailer. They are usually rated Load Range B, a 4-ply equivalent, because their sidewalls are flexible for a smooth ride—far too flexible for trailer duty. They are not engineered to stabilize heavy loads or to handle the temperatures that build with them.
ST, or Special Trailer, tires are intended only for trailers. ST tires must never go on drive or steer wheels. Their stiffer sidewalls are engineered to handle the tall loads of a travel trailer or fifth wheel on straights and in turns but not the stresses generated by steering and acceleration. They are at least Load Range C, which means the sidewall is rated 6 plies.
Lately some trailer owners—and even manufacturers—are equipping trailers with LT, or Light Truck, tires.
American RV manufacturers, except some making compacts and popups with wheels smaller than 13 inches, equip each new trailer with radials. You can run bias ply tires on your camper and radials on your tow vehicle, but you cannot mix bias and radial tires on the trailer itself. Bias plies are cheaper but have a shorter life and get lower fuel mileage.
Don’t expect top-of-the-line tires on any but upscale models of travel trailers and fifth wheels. Some builders offer better tires as an option. Economy trailers and the increasingly popular light travel trailers usually have basic ST tires. They will have load capacities suitable for the loaded trailer, but they probably are rated 65 mph. Better ST tires are speed rated M, to 81 mph.
You can replace the standard tires with STs that have a greater load range, such as D or E. That would at least improve your trailer tires’ resistance to heat, a major cause of tire failure from the inside out.
Most trailer tires, especially the more affordable, are made in China. Shop carefully. If you’ve heard the expression “China bombs,” it’s a reference to cheap Chinese trailer tires that tend to blow out. For a while, Chinese-made LT tires and high-performance passenger tires had the same problem. Although some Chinese tires are poorly constructed, others are better built—and cost more. Many U.S. brands also are made in China.
Read the tire reviews, not just the publicity write-ups. Owners who’ve experienced product failure typically don’t shy from writing about it.
LT tires are intended for vehicles that generate stress with heavy loads—pickups, commercial vans, and heavier SUVs. Their stability makes them ideal for mounting on a tow vehicle. Over the last couple of years, some camper trailer makers, including high-end manufacturer Airstream, have offered LT tires as an option. Some trailer builders have even made LTs standard.
ST tires and LTs differ. The truck tires have a higher top speed, typically to 100 (speed rating Q) or 106 (R). You may or may not want to haul a trailer at 75 mph, but the higher top-speed rating usually means a tire better resists heat buildup. Remember, heat is a tire’s enemy.
Another difference is maximum inflation pressure. An LT tire likely has a lower maximum pressure than a similarly sized ST. Any tire pressure sticker on your trailer wouldn’t apply to LTs. If you go with LTs, inflate to the maximum pressure embossed on the sidewall. Avoid over or under inflating, and don’t overload your trailer.
Buying a higher load range stiffens a sidewall, so an LT tire with Load Range D, E or F is advisable on heavier trailers.
The farther into the alphabet the letter designation goes, the stronger the sidewall. Most passenger tires are Load Range B, but trailer and truck tires go higher.
Most tires have two-ply polyester cord sidewalls, and some are three-ply. Not all plies are the same. Plies are sheets of rubber encasing fabric threads that are twisted into strong strands, or cords. Depending on weight and thickness, those plies may be intended for lighter duty, as on a car, or for handling heavier loads, as on a truck.
Decades ago, the number of plies would increase on truck tires, sometimes to 10 or even 12. The letters used for load range today are intended to represent stiffness equal to multiple plies, not the actual number of plies:
Make sure an LT’s load capacity—for example, the number 125 in the tire size 275/70R18, 125R, E—is equal to or greater than what the trailer manufacturer specifies. LT tires typically have a significantly higher load capacity than passenger tires but a lower load capacity than ST tires. The 125 indicates a load capacity of 3,640 pounds per tire. Consult a load capacity chart. Also check to see that the trailer wheels can handle the maximum pressure.
Don’t forget to add an LT spare. You shouldn’t mix LTs and STs on the same trailer. Also check your warranty and insurance policies to make sure the change would not negate coverage. As always, check tires before every trip and keep them properly inflated.
If you live largely on solar when you’re off grid, and even if you rely on generators, portable lithium “generators” are a great addition to your RV energy arsenal.
But let’s get something straight: No matter what they’re called, these lithium-ion units are not generators. They are high-capacity portable storage batteries with built-in inverters and convenient ports for tapping the energy they store. To charge this battery, you still need a gasoline- or propane-powered generator, a campground power supply, a solar array, or in some cases, your car’s alternator and a 12v DC port, possibly with a separate inverter.
Still, once charged, they can store and deliver hours of power for electronic devices, lighting, fans and mall appliances.
Similar to lithium house batteries, the portable power supplies:
There are big differences, too. The lithium portable power stations:
Power ports in each unit typically include:
So you can keep tabs on how much power you’re using and have in reserve, some power stations have digital readouts and/or meters. If not, you can attach a meter such as a Kill A Watt, $20-25.
Inputs typically include a grounded (three-prong) AC receptacle, which you can plug into an RV outlet for recharging from your generator, and a solar input from your panels, whether mounted on your RV or portable.
Sometimes you just can’t run even a quiet generator—at night, for instance, when neighbors are close, or park if rules forbid it. And you can’t run a generator if you’re out of fuel for it.
A lithium portable battery is likely to have a cooling fan, but it is about as quiet as a laptop’s. Outdoors, it won’t disturb wildlife.
On cheaper lithium power stations, a hairdryer or blender may work on a low or medium setting, but not on high. A microwave or air conditioner is almost surely too much to handle except on high-end batteries with a 1,000w AC output. And although a smaller portable battery can power, say, a computer or a blender, it may not handle both at once.
Breakers shut the units off if they’re overtaxed, keeping them from overheating.
Price of Power
The more capabilities and capacity you want, the higher the price, but the price range is wide.
Here are examples:
Rockpals 240Wh Portable Generator Rechargeable Lithium Battery Pack Solar Generator, $185-200. This Rockpals portable lithium battery can power computers, tablets, cell phones, CPAP machines, small fans, drones and lamps but is not suitable for small appliances, such as hairdryers, coffee machines or toasters. At 5.5 pounds, it’s light enough to take on the trail. Outputs: USB-A (2), 110v AC (2), 12v DC car-type port. Inputs: Wall outlet, car port or solar panel.
Suaoki G500 Portable Power Station Portable Lithium 500Wh Rechargeable Solar Generator, $500-526. The Suaoki G500 is a versatile all-around unit that can power some small appliances as well as recharge electronic devices. A digital display monitors charging input, draw and reserve. At 22 pounds, it’s not light enough for trail use but it’s quite manageable around the campsite. Outputs: USB–A (2); USB-C (1); 12v car-type port (1); 110v AC 300w (2). Inputs: wall outlet, car port or solar panel.
Maxoak Portable Power Station Bluetti EB150 1500Wh, about $1,400. The Bluetti EB150 is powerful and versatile. With 1,000w maximum sine-wave 110v output through its inverter, the Bluetti can power even wattage-hungry hairdryers and blenders, and tools, such as drill-drivers. With 1,500wh on tap, it can power a laptop for a full day, a fan overnight, and probably even a small air conditioner (not a rooftop unit) for six or more hours. At 38 pounds, it’s portable around the campsite or inside your RV. Digital readouts monitor input, output and reserve. Outputs: USB-A (4); USB-C (1); car-type 12v DC (1); 110v AC (2). Input: Solar panels; wall outlet; car 12v port, but only with an inverter.
Some RVers think of rubber roofs as inferior to aluminum or fiberglass roofs, but the simple fact is that most RVs hve one, and a rubber roof can last for 20 years or longer—if it is properly maintained. Of course, maintenance is up to you, the owner.
Periodic maintenance performed on the rubber roof membrane helps to protect the wood roof panels beneath it and the interior of your RV from leaks. Spring is a good time to check your rubber roof for damage, clean it and seal leaks.
If the roof is beyond repair, spring also is a good time to replace one. That’s a labor-intensive job that you may want to leave to a pro, but be warned: Rubber roof replacement, including the membrane and damaged wood panels underneath, can cost $4,000 to $10,000, depending on where you have the work done and the size of your rig. Get competing, detailed estimates before agreeing to have the work done.
Repairs are affordable, especially if you handle them yourself. Whether you do may depend on how capable you are of working on the roof and a ladder, and how comfortable you are with doing that. You can repair spots that have been torn or gouged, or you can replace sections.
Types of Rubber Roofs
Two types of rubber roofing are used on RVs:
Your RV owner’s manual should tell you which kind your RV has, and how to care for it. If the manual is missing, call the customer service number for the RV manufacturer and give the service rep your serial number. The manufacturer should be able to tell you what is covering your roof.
Cleaning a Rubber Roof
Sweep the debris from your roof.
Now inspect. Look for cracks, tears and gouges. Inspect not just the roof membrane, but also the sealant around anything that juts through the roof membrane, including fans, vents, skylights, air-conditioning units and electronics.
Before you wash the roof, use vinyl tape to temporarily seal leaks you uncover.
There’ one other important step before you wash the roof: Wash, or at least rinse with a hose or pressure washer, the vertical areas of the RV first, including the front, back and sides. That prevents hard-to-remove streaks on the vertical areas that runoff from the dirty roof might create.
Use a mild soap, such as Murphy’s Oil Soap, or a dedicated RV rubber roof cleane, mixed with water. Do not use a cleaner containing petroleum distillates, citrus or abrasives, all of which can damage rubber membranes. Scrub using a sponge mop or medium-bristle brush on a long handle. If your roof is not meant to be walked on, walk or stand on pieces of plywood that you lay atop the roof.
Rinse with a garden hose, or better, a pressure washer, set to no more than 1,200 pounds per square inch. Higher pressure could damage the roof membrane.
Patching Rubber Membranes
For gouges, tears and cracks, often caused by tree limbs scraping or striking the surface, cut away any loose rubber from the clean, damaged area of the rubber membrane using a utility knife and a scraper. Be careful not to cause more damage to the plywood beneath the membrane. The membrane is glued to the plywood, so a flat-blade scraper may be needed to carefully remove damaged sections of the rubber.
If the plywood is gouged, fill the damaged area with Dicor self-leveling sealant and allow it to cure. Do not use a silicone sealant because roof coatings and patches will not stick to it.
The wounded area, now enlarged, will need to be covered and sealed. Use Eternabond tapes or patches, or a similar product, and cut to size with scissors, generously but not excessively overlapping sound parts of the membrane around the wound. Eternabond and similar products have a sticky side that goes against the old membrane and plywood. They come in various widths and lengths. Keep leftovers for on-the-road repairs after mishaps with trees. Warning: Patching tapes won’t budge once in place, so align patches carefully and roll them out as flat as possible. If the tape has a protective layer on the outer surface, pull it back and discard it.
Smooth the patch by hand, then roll air pockets and loose areas flat, using a small roller, such as a wallpaper roller. Start in the center of the patch and work your way out.
Apply Dicor self-leveling sealant to the edges of the patch a maximum-strength seal against water. While you have your Dicor in hand, patch any cracked or leaky beads around roof-mounted accessories, such as fan and vent openings.
Sealing the Roof
Finish off your roof repairs and maintenance by coating the entire roof with a rubber roof-compatible sealant, such as Heng’s Rubber Roof Coating or 303 Protectant. Apply according to directions, typically with a paint-type roller and long handle. The sealant will make the roof even more waterproof. Just as importantly, the sealcoat will protect the membrane from the sunlight’s ultraviolet rays, which can dry and crack a membrane over time.
Check your roof periodically and do spot repairs as needed. A roof gets dirty nd dusty, so wash it at least one additional time during the season and before storing your rig.
Enough winter, already.
Let’s start planning for spring and some things you can do in March with an easy drive from Crossing Creeks RV Resort and Spa in Blairsville, Georgia, where you can stay in comfort.
Here’s a look at some nearby fun North Georgia Mountains events early in the season:
A series of 2020 festivals in Dahlonega, a picturesque town that’s not even an hour’s drive down U.S. 19 from Crossing Creeks, begins with the Dahlonega Literary Festival on March 6 and 7, and the Dahlonega Science Festival, March 6-8. More festivals are scheduled through the year, including the Bear on the Square Festival, April 17-19, and the Dahlonega Arts and Wine Festival, May 15 and 16.
Dahlonega boomed in the early 1800s as the site of the first U.S. gold rush, two decades before San Francisco opened its Golden Gate. You can still pan for gold. For a while in the 19th century Dahlonega had a U.S. mint that produced gold coins. Today the town of about 5,500 people, surrounded by the North Georgia Mountains ad man of Georgia’s finest vineyards, is better known for its festivals featuring the arts, live music, and wine tastings.
The literary gathering inside the Dahlonega Baptist Church, 234 Hawkins St., features nationally known and regional authors, readings and book signings. The list of this year’s authors is online. Admission to the event is free. Money raised through donations and sponsorships benefits literacy projects in Lumpkin County. An eclectic mix of live music will play throughout the two days.
Event: Dahlonega Literary Festival
Location: Dahlonega Baptist Church, 234 Hawkins St., Dahlonega, GA
Time/date: Saturday, March 16, 2020, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, March 17, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Free, all ages
Directions: an hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks
The third annual Dahlonega Science Festival, “Vision 20/20,” will be held on the Dahlonega campus of North Georgia University and in downtown businesses March 6-8. Events at the festival, a project of the Dahlonega Science Council, will examine all sorts of scientific topics with an eye toward the future. Planned are talks by scientists, engineers and futurists, planetarium shows, a children’s stage show and hands-on activities, including crime scene investigation.
Events are free to all ages. You can watch for a list of speakers and schedule online. Past speakers have included NASA engineers and scientists, and professors from several universities.
Event: Dahlonega Science Festival
Location: University of North Georgia Dahlonega Campus; Dahlonega downtown businesses
Dates, times: March 6-8, 2020; event times to be announced
Admission: Free to all ages
Hippie Fest 2020
Here’s a happening that’s far out, but not far away. Hippie Fest is a 1960s déjà vu at Uncle Shucks Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch in Dawsonville, Georgia, just a 1¼ hour’s drive from Blairsville. It will happen rain (just like the 1960s Woodstock festival) or shine on Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15.
Stroll through the scores of vendor tents in search of that perfect tie-dye shirt. If you can’t find it, just mellow out, because you can tie-dye a tee at the show. If it’s been years since you’ve seen a rear-engine VW bus or an early air-cooled Beetle, you’ll see quite a few at Hippie Fest’s car show, which runs both days. There are prizes for car show participants, including Most Shagadelic and Most Psychedelic vehicles, and Grooviest Bug.
Family-friendly music and entertainment will be presented live each day. You’re welcome to bring your own lawn chair. You can even bring your dog and let him groove (but clean up after him, please). Food and drink are for sale.
Hippie Fest may not attract the multitudes that flocked to Yasgur’s Farm, but maybe that’s because tickets are limited. You must reserve tickets online.
Event: Hippie Fest 2020
Location: Uncle Shucks Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, 125 Bannister Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Time/Dates: Noon-7 p.m., Saturday, March 14-Sunday, March 15, 2020
Admission: Single day, $11.30 (including fees); two days, $16.45; children 10 and under, free.
Tickets: Limited availability. Reservations required online.
Camping spaces: Boondock only. Sold out.
Directions: 1¼ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks
Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest
This will be the 10th year for the Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest in Town Center Park in Suwanee, about a 1¾ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks. The festival, on Saturday, March 14, 2020, bills itself as Georgia’s largest craft beer festival. Only three days before St. Patrick’s Day, the festival doubles as a day for wearin’ the green.
Admission entitles ticket holders, who must be 21 or older and have a photo ID, to sample any of more than 300 craft beers, including some new releases. Food is for sale, as are nonalcoholic beverages. Reduced-price designated driver tickets, available with general admission tickets, do not include tasting. VIP tickets include noon admission, a goody bag, souvenir tee shirt, guided tours and use of private rest rooms. Designated driver tickets are not available with VIP tickets.
Event: Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest 2020
Location: Suwanee Town Center Park
Time/Dates: Saturday, March 14, noon-5 p.m. (VIP); 1-5 p.m. (general admission).
Admission: General admission, $50 online (rising to $55 on Feb. 23); $60 at gate. Designated driver ticket (must be purchased by buyer of general admission ticket), $15. VIP, $110.
Pets: Certified service dogs only.
Smoking: In open areas only, not near tents.
Directions: 1¾ hour’s drive from Crossing Creeks
If you really hate emptying the black tank on your RV, consider switching to a composting toilet. Yes, you have to empty it, too, but it’s not as messy or as smelly.
The big difference between the composting toilet and a system that uses water is that urine and solid waste are collected separately in the composting toilet. That means the results are not as offensive.
You won’t have to use your black tank at all.
Composting toilets are safe—so safe that they are installed in many national parks. Solid waste in small quantities is treated much the same as disposable diapers, and urine, if disposed of properly, is not considered hazardous.
A good composting toilet costs about $950 and up.
Installing a Composting Toilet
No water hookup is needed for the toilet itself because it doesn’t use water. A composting toiler just sits on the floor, without the need to connect to water, waste outlets or even the floor. You will need an electrical outlet to run the toilet’s small fan, and you will need to drill through a surface of your camper for a small ventilation line.
The biggest question may be what to do with your old water-operated toilet. You can just leave it in place, but that may limit the space for the composting toilet. If you remove the old water-operated toilet, you’ll have to disconnect and properly seal off the plumbing—one line only, since a toilet uses only cold water—and you’ll have to cover and seal the opening to the black tank.
An RV center can supply the parts you’d need, or it can do the whole job for you. Store your water-operated toilet so you can reinstall it if you ever sell your RV.
The composting typically requires partial assembly—unwrapping it from packing material, putting the tanks in place and possibly attaching a handle for the composting bin.
You must set up the toilet for use by adding coconut fiber (sometimes called coco coir) or peat moss in the solid waste bin, hydrating the material before spreading it out at the bottom of the bin. This must be repeated after each dumping.
Using a composting toilet requires sitting. Men and boys will not be able to stand and urinate because doing so would mix liquid and solid waste, which would affect the neatness and purpose of composting. Mixing would create a stench, so children must be trained to use the composter properly.
A plastic bottle collects urine at the front of the toilet.
A larger composting bin collects solid waste beneath the bowl. Organic material, such as coconut fiber or peat moss, is placed in the composting bin to collect an mix with solid waste. For two people, a block of peat moss will probably last a year, or close to it.
Each time solid waste is put into the bin, you must turn the handle to mix it with the organic matter. That’s how odors remain in check.
To be absolutely safe, you may want to contact the environmental agency in any state where you think you may have to dispose of waste. The federal EPA lists state agencies online. Regulations also may vary by park, and by municipality, so check with them.
Here are some places you should be able to empty the urine bottle from your composting toilet:
Dumping Solid Waste:
Solid waste as it comes from a composting toilet is not yet truly compost. That takes time. But it is not considered hazardous by the EPA. Your bag of waste and fiber is the same classification as solid waste or municipal waste. It’s actually not as bad as a disposable diaper, which mixes solid waste with urine and contains more non-biodegradable plastic.
If you buy a vented, extra base (about $300), you can set it aside an allow it to completely compost before dumping. That’s the ideal method.
Here are places for dumping solid waste:
Always read the instructions that come with your toilet. Not all models are the same. And check with EPA regulations before you dispose of waste.
Photo Credits: natureshead.net
If you’re putting your RV away for the winter—or already have—make sure your house batteries are stored properly.
Proper storage ensures that batteries won’t freeze and that they’ll be ready to take a full charge come spring to serve you for another camping season. With lead acid and AGM batteries, you don’t want freezing to occur because battery cases can expand and crack if frozen, ruining the battery. Leaking battery acid can damage concrete underneath and other materials nearby.
Don’t leave your house batteries in place, exposed to freezing temperatures and unattended all winter. That’s a sure recipe for battery failure.
Store batteries in a cool, dry place—in freezing climes, a basement is great. With acid-containing batteries, your storage spot should have an available electrical outlet for a charger.
Befitting batteries with the oldest technology, lead acid batteries also require the most work for safe storage. But, hey, they’re cheap and if well maintained, reliable.
First, clean dirt and buildup from the terminals and battery casing. The buildup is highly corrosive, so wear gloves and eye protection. Ignoring the buildup can accelerate discharge.
Pull off each cap and check the water level. If tops of the metal plates are exposed, fill the battery with distilled water until the metal is submerged. (This is why they are sometimes called “wet batteries.”) Distilled water prevents mineral buildup.
Use a multimeter to check the charge level. It should be close to 100 percent before storage. If it’s low, apply a charge until the battery comes up to 90 percent. This may take eight or more hours. Then apply a 2 amp charge to top it off.
Place the battery on cardboard or wood. Concrete won’t drain modern batteries, but it is cold, and cold is a lead acid battery’s enemy during storage.
Here’s where the high-maintenance part comes in: A lead acid battery loses 5 percent or more of its power per week, so check your battery every month. It should not fall below 50 percent. Allowing the charge to fall below 50 percent can lead to sulfate buildup inside the case, and to freezing and cracking. If that happens, you’ll need to buy a replacement.
One way to slow power dissipation is by attaching a battery minder, also called a battery tender or maintenance charger. It’s a small charger—or an adjustable charger—that delivers a 2 amp charge. A battery that’s close to 50 percent discharged can be hooked to a higher-amp charger—say, 10 amps—for a few hours to restore full charge. A battery maintenance charge can then be applied. Some chargers will switch automatically from full charge to a maintenance charge.
An Absorbent Glass Mat battery is a more advanced lead acid battery, so preparation for storage is similar—but simpler. Clean off residue and mineral buildup as you would on a traditional lead acid battery.
AGM batteries are sealed, so there’s no need to check the water level. They can be mounted or stored in any position.
Use a multimeter to determine the charge level. Bring it up to full charge before storing. Power loss on an AGM battery is slower than with a wet battery, but so is recharging. AGM batteries sometimes can take more than a day to recharge. Read the manual for your battery.
Check every four or six weeks to see that the power level has not fallen below 50 percent. Apply a 2-amp battery maintenance charge to keep the power reserve from falling below 50 percent.
Since a Lithium Iron Phosphate deep-cycle battery costs more than double what an AGM battery does, you don’t want to store one incorrectly. Storage is the easiest of all RV battery types.
Lithium batteries don’t require maintenance—they’re sealed. There’s no checking fluid level. You don’t have to worry about sulfation inside these premium batteries. And you can store them in any position.
A proper charge level for a lithium battery before storage is 40 percent—much lower than for a lead acid battery. A higher charge could result in damage to the lithium during storage. If it’s too high, disconnect the battery from charging equipment, then attach a light or two to bring the charge down.
Like other batteries, they can be kept in a cool, dry place. Unlike the others, they can remain in your RV and won’t freeze. They do not require monitoring or a maintenance charge. Return them to your RV after storage and recharge them then, or recharge them in the spring when temperatures rise and remain above freezing.
Lithium batteries can be discharged at temperatures as low as 4 degrees below zero, but never recharge lithium batteries during freezing temperatures. Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries lose a much smaller amount of stored energy than lead acid batteries do, so storing one at 40 percent should keep it safe all winter without a maintenance charge.
If You Did It Wrong
If you stored your batteries improperly or, worse, left acid batteries unattended in or outside your RV, go back and do it the safe way. If not, you’ll have to apply a recharge intermittently to prevent freezing and self-destruction. It’s much easier to remove house batteries and store them properly, intermittently monitoring their power level.
Windows are a major source of cold air in a heated travel trailer or motorhome, but there are ways to reduce drafts and incoming moisture. At Crossing Creeks RV Resort, Eeven the Georgia mountains can get pretty chilly in late fall and winter for a Southern state.
One problem with RV windows is that build quality isn’t the greatest on many RVs, and the stress from frequent travel just make that worse. Try this: Buy canned smoke or light a match and blow it out, then hold it near a closed RV window, making sure not to get too near curtains. If the smoke seemingly disappears into the wall, it’s really making its way into cracks that let in winter’s cold and allow heat to escape.
Some RV window solutions are more expensive, but most are downright cheap. All will take some degree of work to make or install, but several aren’t particularly hard.
Most RV windows have a single pane—not the best at keeping out the cold. If you like a lot of light, bigger windows are a great idea—until winter hits. A single-pane window typically has an R value of 1, where R signifies resistance to thermal transfer, with higher numbers indicating more resistance. R-1 is perhaps 1/20 of the insulating value of a ceiling and a tenth or less of wall insulation. The bigger the window, the bigger the gap in your wall insulation.
Add to that the air leaks inherent in many RV window frames and you have a chilly RV.
Many RVers who have double-pane windows say they make a difference, but others warn that they damage easily. If shaking from travel breaks a seal, the windows can fog. Although they are typically rated only R-2, they have a space between them that is a vacuum or filled with an inert gas to reduce thermal transfer.
Double panes can be purchased and installed as replacements for your original single panes, but they are an easier solution when you buy an RV new because there’s no extra work to do. No, you’re not likely to buy a new RV just to get better windows, but they’re worth considering if you trade up.
If you install new windows, use adequate urethane caulking, which flexes, around the frame and under the trim to eliminate air leaks.
The big bonus of double-pane windows is that your RV interior will feel warmer but remain bright.
Many RVers use bubble-type reflective sheeting, perhaps the best-known of which is Reflectix, over windows inside their RVs. Like a single pane of glass, bubble-type reflective covers probably have only an R-1 insulation value. But if installed properly, their effective performance, like that of double-pane windows, is higher.
The key is the material’s reflective value, not its insulating value. It will reflect heat away from its shiny side, so installing the shiny side toward the interior of your RV will reflect some of the heat back into the living space. Proper installation calls for an air pocket on each side of the cover. The air pocket is critical. The higher R-values claimed by manufacturers are based on the wrap not touching the window glass.
Methods of attaching Reflectix range from duct tape to Velcro and attaching a heavy cardboard frame, then hanging the assembly, sometimes with hooks and wires. You can find plenty of how-to videos online. The tighter the seal, the better reflective wrap works as a moisture barrier.
Some RVers use the reflective bubble wrap with extruded polystyrene foam sheathing to add insulation value. Mounting the foam against the reflective wrap does not lower its reflective property.
The most obvious negative in using reflective bubble sheeting or foam is that the interior of your RV will be dark.
Often used by owners of sticks-and-bricks homes, shrink window plastic also has little insulating value. Properly installed, however, it seals at least partly against air leaks and the resultant drafts, and it forms an air gap between the plastic film and the window pane to reduce temperature transfer. It’s a good seal against moisture.
Cut the plastic cover to the approximate size of the window frame and mount it as tightly as possible using double-sided tape. Then heat the plastic with a hair dryer to shrink it and draw it taught to the point that it is wrinkle-free. It’s intended to remain in place for the season—not good if you like to open your windows occasionally. You can always use a roof vent for some fresh air.
The plastic is clear, so it keeps your RV interior bright, although the view through the windows may be slightly cloudy.
Providing some protection against temperature transfer are insulated curtains.
An online search yields an assortment of sticks-and-bricks window products, but a handy RVer could modify insulated curtains for camper use. Don’t think that blackout curtains are insulated; they’re not unless they are so labeled.
You can get some good tips on making insulated RV window covers here.
If you don’t want to insulate your windows, insulate yourself. Dress in layers inside your RV when temperatures are colder. Woolens breathe better than acrylics, which can make some people sweat—not good when it’s cold.
At night, if you’re at a powered campsite, try an electric blanket. It’s pretty cozy under there. If you don’t want to go electric or can’t, at least get a heavily insulated, conventional blanket.
Photo Credits: alibaba.com
Furnaces keep you warm inside your RV on cool nights—and cold ones—but they’re not much to look at. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a fellow RVer to say, “Hey, you really need to see our heat vents. They’re just beautiful.”
Not gonna happen. Now, a fireplace—that’s a different story. A fireplace can be attractive on its own, offer a lovely view of flames, and throw a lot of heat.
A heat source that’s nice to look at is always welcome, and that’s what an electric or propane fireplace is. (If you want a rundown on woodstoves, see our earlier blog.)
When done right, a retrofitted RV propane or electric fireplace installation is just as safe as an original equipment, built-in fireplace. It may be safer than a freestanding propane space heater because it won’t accidentally tip over.
It’s imperative that the installation follows manufacturer’s specifications for clearance and ventilation. Recommended gaps between the fireplace and surfaces must be maintained, and in the case of a propane fireplace, a nonflammable wall barrier may have to be installed.
On electric fireplaces, look for a proximity detector. If it senses an object too close, it shuts down the fireplace to prevent fire.
With a propane fireplace, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector and alarm low on a wall, plus a propane leak detector. Mount a smoke detector high on a wall or on the ceiling for either type of fireplace.
When looking for a space for an electric fireplace, try to find out from the RV manufacturer where the optional fireplace would have been installed had it been ordered with the RV. Usually the space is covered by a shallow cabinet. Remove the doors and maybe some material at the back of the cabinet and there’s probably a space for an electric fireplace. There also may be an electrical outlet already installed where the fireplace can be plugged in.
Fuel choice is largely personal, but it may be influenced by your RV lifestyle and whether you boondock often. It also can be influenced by the location you have for a fireplace, clearance around that space, and the size of your RV.
Electric and propane can be used under different circumstances (see below). The real flames that come with a propane unit may be enticing, or they may scare you. The simulated flames of an electric fireplace may satisfy your aesthetic sense or turn you off.
Both fuels are clean, but health issues are associated with unvented propane fireplaces. A vented fireplace, which burns outside air and exhausts gases through a vent or chimney, leaves indoor air healthier.
Both gas fireplaces and electric models come in wall-mount or recessed styles. What you buy may depend on the space you have, clearance, and venting requirements, but as long as you follow the fireplace manufacturer’s recommendations, your choice should be a matter of preference.
Clearance requirements differ by manufacturer, model, BTU rating and fuel choice. In general terms, electric fireplaces need a half-inch to one inch clearance from combustible surfaces, but don’t assume: Follow the specs. Propane fireplaces are likely to need more clearance and a noncombustible lining between the fireplace and wall surfaces, and the flue pipe and surfaces.
A propane fireplace, even with wall liners, can look attractive. A good example is the 22-pound Dickinson Marine P9000. This 8.5x14x5.5-inch vented unit, designed for boats, is used frequently in RVs. It requires a stainless chimney, but the fireplace can be mounted at floor level if needed for proper draw. It also needs metal shielding on the wall adjacent to the firebox and flue pipe. The P9000 is stainless steel for a brighter look. Make sure you get the propane version, not the wood-burning solid fuel model. It’s rated up to 4,500 BTUs and can burn up to seven hours on a pound of propane. With liners and chimney, the whole setup probably costs $1,200 or less.
Electric fireplaces abound for RVs. Electric is what most RV manufacturers install. With no chimney or wall liner needed, you’re looking at $250-$500 in most cases. Figure on another $100 or so if you’re framing around it and trimming the enclosure out. You also may have electrical costs for wiring in and outlet. Still, it’s cheaper than a propane installation.
Photo Credits: rvupgradestore.com
It’s not unusual when driving in mountainous areas during winter to see a sign warning that chains are required. That’s a sign you don’t want to ignore—first, because it’s dangerous to proceed without them, and second, because you’ll get fined if you’re caught without the chains. The fines can be a lot deeper than the snow.
What exactly do you need to meet these requirements? Chains are proven effective on packed snow and ice, but these days other products also can effectively increase traction and satisfy authorities as chain alternatives. Check online for the rules of the highway department in the state you intend to visit, or of national and state parks that often post chain requirements.
Whichever you choose, you’ll be limited to 30 miles per hour, or maybe just 20 or 25, depending on the device. Given the conditions of snow- and ice-bound roads, it’s not likely you’ll need to go faster.
Let’s take a look at what traction devices will keep you and your RV safe and out of a legal quagmire.
Link-type chains are, without question, a safe and legitimate traction multiplier in deep snow and on packed snow and ice for tow vehicles, trailers and motorhomes. They do have some negative aspects. Link chains are:
Watch a video on installing link chains or cable chains.
Vehicles with minimum clearance between the tire tread and wheel well—just under 1.5 inches— should use Class S chains. Chains that meet Class S requirements are Z-Chain, Super Z LT, Radial Chain, and Quik Grip PL.
Chains, like all traction devices for tires, must be placed on the drive wheels but can be placed on other wheels as well—on trailer tires, for instance, or on non-drive front tires. On motorhomes and tow vehicles with dualies, chains go on the outermost drive tires. On 4- and all-wheel-drive vehicles, chains should be installed at all four corners.
Before installation, most link tire chains look like a tiny ladder, with long sidewall chains running parallel to each other and cross chains linking them, sometimes on a diagonal. Once chains are draped over a tire, the cross chains run from one edge of the tread to the other. The sidewall chains align with each sidewall to form a roughly circular shape and help pull the chains tight.
Install chains on level ground. Once chains are draped on the tires, drive forward or back about 18 inches so the ends of the sidewall chains can be hooked together on the inner and outer sides of the tire. If the chains have tightening hardware, use a tool to tighten them. On chains without tightening hardware, use a bungee cord in a circular shape, with hooks that intermittently attach to the sidewall chains to tighten everything, or a ready-made tensioner that does the same thing. Premade tensioners are available even in sizes to fit a large Class A RVs.
Don’t fail to tighten chains. Loose chains are not only ineffective, but also a threat to the bodywork of your RV or tow vehicle, and to the wheels.
Easier to use but sill quite effective are cable chains. They are lighter, tangle less easily, tighten with less effort and sometimes install without having to move the vehicle. Cable chains with a diagonal pattern are actually recommended for trailers because the diagonals provide much more sway control than ladder types, which are better for accelerating and stopping.
For similar performance without the hassle of chains, consider tire traction straps. Each strap performs like a cross piece on chains, running across the tire tread to bite snow and ice.
Usually made of a textured, solid nylon, the traction part of the device has nylon straps on each end and a buckle or fastener. The straps run around the tread and sidewall, passing through holes in the wheels. This design often allows installation without moving the RV or tow vehicle.
Some traction straps have link chains that lie against the tread, with tightening straps that go through holes in the wheels to hook together and tighten.
Traction straps come in different shapes and sizes, so you can find a size to fit your tires. Bigger traction straps will do better in mud and deep snow. Keep in mind that the bigger the device, the rougher the ride and the more clearance will be needed between the device and wheel well.
If you’ve ever spent time in the snow wearing a knit cap or mittens, you’ve seen how snow sticks to the cloth. Snow socks, developed in Scandanavia, work the same way once they’re wrapped around a tire. These textile donuts, open only on the inner side of the tire to allow installation, use that adhesive property to grab the surface of snow and ice to generate traction.
That may sound like fairytale logic, but snow socks really do work. And the more they soak up water, the better the traction. Some also get “hairier” with use, which in turn increases grip. In addition to being lightweight, snow socks install without tools. They do, however, require moving the vehicle a few inches the same as chains do to complete installation, and stretching the socks over a cold tire takes some work.
What is not required is mechanical tightening. Snow socks are purchased in a size to fit your tires. The socks center themselves on the tire as the tire rolls.
In addition to weighing little and requiring light effort to install, snow socks result in a better ride quality than chains or straps.
Adventurous souls may scoff at the notion that snow should slow them down, but if roads are so hazardous that chains are required, you may want to think twice about proceeding. That goes double if you’re inexperienced driving your RV in snow.
Consider rescheduling your drive—a week, a few days or even a few hours—if conditions require or suggest the use of traction devices.