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Tuesday, November 2, 2004

The Era of the Slideout Room


Innovative, revolutionary, transformational, neological and metamorphic are just a few phrases that come to mind when contemplating the popularity of the latest trend in recreation vehicle D&D, (demand and design) - the slideout room. Conceptually not a brand new thought, today's technology though, has fully exploited the very idea of creating extra living space simply by moving exterior walls outward.

While yesterday's cumbersome and not-so-convenient "tip-out" got its impetus by borrowing from the mobile home industry's innovation, the "Expando-Room," the current proliferation of slideout units is the culminating point where technology and customer demand have met. Coach manufacturers have scrambled to provide their customer base with a multitude of slideout choices. Virtually all makers offer some style of a slideout room feature.

Accordingly, aftermarket dealers and service centers have had to ramp up their efforts to keep current with the technology as well. Mike Eidsmoe of Eidsmoe's RV Service Center, a California-based facility that deals primarily with high-line coaches proffers, "The slideout room, along with the popularity of the diesel powered coach, has been the biggest innovation to come along since the introduction of the basement model RV." His technicians have been trained in adjustments and troubleshooting for most of the slide mechanisms found today, including those proprietary systems offered by a few makers.

The popularity of the slideout has even surpassed that of the basement model. The number of models available with the basement feature is simply dwarfed by the number of models available with a slideout. And remember most RVs have more than one slideout! In fact multiple slides have become the rule rather than the exception. Need four slide outs, or more? They're out there. Extra dining space, larger living room, even an expanded galley, with flexible water and drain lines is now possible. This quest for extra space has spurred manufacturers and their design engineers quickly back to their CAD programs and drawing boards. Even folding tent camper manufacturers have gotten in on the act with slideout appurtenances on a few models. The same for pick-up campers.

Of course, not all is 100% rosy when it comes to slideout applications. There is usually a trade-off of sorts. You gain extra living space, but you may loose some under-the-coach storage for instance. You may have a larger kitchen and dining area, but structural integrity, sidewall reinforcement and leak proofing can become a challenge. Sure, you net more square footage, but will your favorite campground be able to handle the extra width? This last point is a high concern for those older parks that do not have the luxury of offering such spacious campsite locations. Additionally, dealers are finding it increasingly difficult to move those older coaches not equipped with a slideout. Your trade-in may not be worth as much as you thought. Be that as it may, it is generally felt that slideout rooms are here to stay, at least for the time being.

What should you look for in a slideout room? Let's explore a few generic areas. An informal survey among RVers revealed that a leak proof environment is the number one consideration. Air and water leaks must be avoided for obvious reasons. Many RV manufacturers pride themselves on the design and integrity of their slideout room seals. Look under and on top of the room for gaps in the seal. To ward off pooling water on top of the room, many employ a small awning as an integral portion of the assembly, thereby eliminating the chance of a water leak from above. This is a desirable addition, even if your present rig is not so equipped. Slide out awnings are readily available in the aftermarket.

Have someone activate the room while you observe the relationship between the moving room and the sidewall of the RV. Does it move smoothly? Be sure to observe the movement from above and below as well as from the sides of the room. Are there any annoying sounds or grinding noises that are audible? Verify that the room does not "walk" out as it extends. Does each side of the slideout move in unison or does it tend to "crab walk" its way to the outer position. Smoothness of operation is the second-most desirable facet of slideout rooms.

Okay, so what is the driving force that powers these magical multipliers of interior cubic space? You will find an assortment of rack and pinion gears, pulleys, cables, rollers, chains, hydraulic cylinders, air cylinders, screw jack mechanisms and even garage door openers on some homemade applications just to name a few. Predominantly the two most popular methods of actuation at the root level are the electric motor and accompanying gearing and the hydraulic cylinders.

Electric motors with rack and pinion gearboxes are far less complicated than the hydraulic slide mechanisms available, but can indeed add a strain on the 12-volt battery system. It is vital that the 12-volt auxiliary system be optimized fully. That is, the batteries should be correctly and fully charged whenever possible in order to retain their maximum potential. Electrically driven assemblies are inherently less expensive, but according to the aforementioned survey, cost is seldom a factor to the typical RVer. Another advantage of the electric motor and gears - most electric room extension systems can be user maintained. The typical RV handyman can handle most tasks.

However, hydraulic systems, such as HWH Corporation's line of systems require less maintenance overall. Where rack and pinion gears require lubrication and periodic maintenance, the sealed hydraulic cylinders are equipped with state-of-the-art polymer bearings that eliminate the need for periodic lubrication. Another advantage of the hydraulic system is a smoother, quieter, more refined movement of the slideout room.

HWH has been at the forefront of slideout technology since Newmar Corporation offered the first slideout in a motorhome in 1989. One popular innovation is the Vertical Room Extension; a hydraulic slideout mechanism hidden above the floor in a cabinet or sofa arm assembly. This above the floor design preserves the under floor storage area. Another advantage of the hydraulic systems offered by HWH is the melding of their hydraulic leveling system with the room extension. Only one pump and one reservoir are needed for most applications.

In the event of hydraulic system failure or a dead battery, all slideout room extensions, (electric and hydraulic), can be manually retracted and locked guaranteeing an extended room will not hold you captive or stationary.

So according to most sources, you, the typical RVer, have been the motivating factor in this latest quest for more "space." And the industry thanks you! Your demands have triggered the genius among RV design engineers everywhere. Only imagination can conjure up what the future has yet to unfold under the heading of "The Latest and Greatest Innovation for RVs." It's for sure, it will have to boast of uniqueness and inventiveness in order to "one-up" the current popularity of the slideout room. Got any new ideas?

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