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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RV Chalet: The Best of Two Worlds

Dawn breaks crisply as a new day awakens to the genteel warbling of a few playful morning birds. Two squirrels clamber after one another around the trunk of a nearby shade tree. You stir in the coziness of your bed as your nostrils begin to take in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee gurgling in your RV galley. Ah! The RV lifestyle! It just doesn't get any better than this.

A serene setting from your favorite RV campsite? Could be. Perhaps the remnants of a dream sequence during the night? Maybe. But in this case, once your eyes and remaining senses have fully recovered from their night of respite, you realize you are still at home! Home? And still in your RV? Are we referring to full-time RVing here? Maybe in a sense, but certainly not in the traditional view.

You have just experienced the typical response by those who are living the dream of having the best of two worlds each and every day, even when they are not traveling in their RV. They live in what's called the RV Chalet. A unique home that fully integrates your RV into a low cost, practical home base for those who love and cherish the RV lifestyle. And they do so, free from the unnecessary expense and overhead of maintaining a conventional home as well.

Full-time RVing is indeed a spectacular way of life. Extremely popular, but not fully attainable to the multitudes of us who still must work for a living and travel when we can. The RV Chalet is a means to accommodate RVing and still have a home base to return to when it's time to punch that time clock. Or for those who are retired or traveling full-time, when it's time to hole up for the winter. In truth, flexibility is the key word, for actually any scenario fits the RV Chalet. Sound appealing? Read on.

The RV Chalet is a singular design of living room, large full-size bath, walk-in closets and a surplus of additional storage facilities, (what's your biggest gripe about RVs?), all within the walls of a fully heated and air conditioned house. An inviting wrap-around sundeck graces two sides of the house. The RV, which is positioned inside the house, is used for sleeping and galley duties. With the inclusion of the full-size bathroom in the house, your RV lavatory becomes a private bath and the RV bedroom area, your master bedroom.

Think, for a moment, of the benefits. The possibilities are endless! No need for duplicate sets of dishes or other kitchenry items. Your bedding, towels and other soft goods are already in place for traveling. Need room for guests or relatives? (Not that relatives can't be guests!), but the simple addition of a sofa bed or hide-a-bed in the living area of the house will more than satisfy over-nighters. One owner we know even incorporated the ever-popular Murphy bed into a corner den of the RV Chalet to conciliate the need for multiple sleeping accommodations.

Whether you have a motorhome, travel trailer or fifth-wheel trailer, all types can utilize the significant features of the RV Chalet. This is not a simple carport for your RV, stuck to the side of the house, as are many copycat designs that have materialized over the years. Your RV is not exposed to the elements or the extremes of weather conditions. Winterizing for cold climates is a thing of the past. The RV Chalet was the first and the most integrating. Here's how it works.

Built into the RV section of the house are the typical hookups you'd expect at any full service campground site. Sewer, fresh water and either 30-amp or 50-amp electrical service is plumbed in through the concrete floor. Hot water is also furnished from a permanent, stand-alone 40-gallon water heater in the house. (A simple alteration inside your RV connects the hot water to the coach). There's no need to operate your RV water heater at all. Same thing concerning the RV heating and air conditioning system. Since the house itself has central heating and cooling, and the coach is totally inside the house, you simply open all the windows! In fact, there's no need to even use your on-board propane gas. A large DOT cylinder is retained in its own storage closet and the propane, like water, sewer and electricity is provided. A simple valve assembly is added to your coach's gas system to accommodate the new gas line. The range is the only propane appliance used in the RV when parked inside the house. The on-board propane containers can remain full and ready to go. Your refrigerator will be operating on 120-volts AC, just like in the campground.

Sewer and other vents are extended through the roof of the house in the exact location that coincides with the roof vents on the RV. Special venting is also considered for diesel or gasoline powered motorhomes. The center partition wall, which divides the RV side from the raised living room, has openings that align perfectly with the windows and entry door on the curbside of your RV. Likewise, the windows on the exterior wall of the RV section line up with the window locations on the roadside of your coach. Such simplicity adds to the flavor of actually being in a campground setting while sitting at your dinette having morning coffee and planning your next excursion. You'll have perfect viewing from inside the RV all the time! Additionally, the raised floor of the living area is built to the actual floor height of the RV for an effortless interchange when walking from coach to house.
When the building site permits, a pull through design featuring the unique invisible doors at each end can be constructed. The invisible door design adds an element of security while travelling too; no one knows for sure if your RV is in there or not. But when it is time to hit the road, you simply unhook as you would from the campground, disconnect the vents, open the large invisible doors, crank the motor or connect the tow vehicle and go!

A small village of RV Chalets was originally developed in a beautiful mountain setting in western North Carolina and many independent homes have been built all over North America. Building plans have been purchased by interested RVers all over the U.S., and in many foreign countries. The copyrighted plans are available today by sending a check or money order, (U.S. Funds only), to:

Bunzer Consulting
PO Box 19562
Seattle, WA 98109

One set of plans - $50.00
Four sets - $80.00 (four sets of the same plans)
Complete materials list - $10.00
Invisible door details - $10.00

Are you tired of maintaining a costly home that you frequent less and less now that you're on the road more and more? Or are you a young couple looking for an inexpensive way to get started with a home of your own? Or are you secure and simply having the time of your life enjoying the RV lifestyle, but still wish you had a place to roost on your property near that favorite mountain trout stream? Perhaps it is time to indeed begin enjoying the best of two worlds. You deserve the benefits of the RV Chalet simply because RVing is more than a hobby, it's a lifestyle!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

RV Spring Shakedown Primer


By Gary Bunzer

As memories of a cold, long winter begin to wane, many of us get antsy for that first RV excursion of the season. Holed up all winter, we’ve been making travel plans, waiting for the trees to blossom, the birds to chirp and the campgrounds to open.

The majority of us readied our coaches last fall for storage; some fully winterized for colder temperatures. After each period of non-use, regardless if the RV was winterized for sub-freezing temperatures or simply stored in the driveway, every coach must be properly prepped for use prior to simply taking off down the highway. Many call this preparation process the “spring shakedown.” It involves a few detailed tasks, best addressed in a systematic manner, so nothing falls through the cracks. So block out a few days, gather a few maintenance supplies and get ready for another season of fun RV travel!

The following procedures are presented in a priority order that best assures nothing will be forgotten. They are also presented in bulleted format for a quick reference each season. Always have a pad and pencil on hand to note any item that needs attention. During comprehensive procedures like the spring shakedown, don’t rely solely on your memory.

RV Exterior
·       A clean RV will better reveal discrepancies than a dirty one so begin by washing the coach. Wax and polish the exterior if necessary and open all the windows to air the coach out.

·       Check the weather-stripping and the weep holes on all windows, ensuring they are not clogged. Lube the slider tracks on any window or screen that opens.

·       Closely inspect all roof components, seams, and edges. Now is the time to seal any areas that need attention.

·       Check the roof air conditioner(s) for damage. Clean or replace the return air filters.

·       Inspect and operate all bay doors, entry door, etc. Lube all mechanical latches and keyed locks with a dry lube.

·       Check the sealants around each window and all components attached to the exterior sides of the RV. Reseal if necessary.

·       Lubricate the moving parts of all awnings. Remove any mold or mildew on the canopies.

·       Look for anything out of the ordinary underneath the RV.

·       Lubricate all slideout mechanisms using a dry lubricant.

Electrical Systems

    12-volt DC Systems

·       Check the electrolyte level in all flooded, 12-volt batteries and fully charge each battery system. Always provide batteries the advantage of having a complete charge at the start of any camping season.

·       Verify that all electrical connections are clean, dry and tight. Confirm all 12-volt DC devices are ready by operating each one. Turn on all lamps and fans, etc.

·       Cycle each slideout through a full extension and retraction a couple of times while listening and watching for binding or abnormal noises. Leave all rooms in the extended position.

    120-volt AC System

·       Clean and brighten the blades on the shoreline cord. Note: always measure the source voltage and check the polarity of incoming AC power before plugging in. The voltage must stay steady between 103 and 125-volts AC.

·       Plug the coach in and turn on all circuit breakers at the panelboard inside the RV.

·       Plug in any ancillary AC device that was unplugged during the winterizing process. Note: to guard against rogue lightning damage or voltage spikes during downtimes, it is advised to unplug any AC device that isn’t hardwired such as the refrigerator, microwave, televisions, entertainment centers, etc. 

·       Operate 120-volt AC appliances through their respective cycles. Note: be sure the absorption refrigerator is properly leveled prior to operating it on electric.

·       Test and reset the GFCI, (ground fault circuit interrupter).

·       After the filters have been cleaned or replaced, run each air conditioner, checking for unusual noises or vibrations.

Plumbing Systems

    Fresh Water

·       If employed last fall, drain the RV anti-freeze from the fresh water system.

·       Fill the fresh water tank about half full.

·       Remove the water heater from by-pass. If the water heater is a Suburban model, remove and inspect the anode rod. Replace it if it is 75% depleted.

·       Turn the water pump on and begin flushing out all water lines. Open each faucet to eliminate any residual RV anti-freeze. Don’t forget the exterior showerhead, the icemaker or the clothes washer, if so equipped.

·       At the water heater, open the pressure and temperature relief valve. Once water begins gushing from the P&T valve, close the lever.

·       Once water is flowing smoothly from each faucet, shut them all off.

·       Flush the toilet a couple of times to fill its internal tubing.

·       Turn off the water pump, then open the water heater P&T relief valve once more and leave it open until water stops dripping from the outlet, then close it. This establishes the necessary expansion space on top of the water inside the heater tank.

·       Attach the fresh water hose to the city connection and verify all fresh water components still operate properly. Inspect for water dripping or seeping anywhere, inside and outside the RV.

·       Finally, chlorinate the entire fresh water system.


    Waste Systems

·       Flush and drain each holding tank completely.

·       Disassemble and lubricate all termination valves. Ensure each one operates smoothly and fully closes. Note: use Dow 111 grease for lubrication.

·       Treat each holding tank for odor control if necessary. Use a non-formaldehyde additive.

·       Inspect the sewer hose for pinholes or damaged seals.


Propane System and Appliances

·       Contact a Certified or Master Certified RV service tech and schedule a timed pressure drop test and pressure regulator test on the propane system. Ensure the system is 100% leak-free prior to continuing prepping the propane system.

·       Activate and test the propane leak detector. Also check the CO monitor, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers for proper readiness.

·       Open the service valve fully at the propane container(s).

·       Vacuum in and around all furnace ducts.

·       Operate each appliance through their sequences of operation. Note: be sure the refrigerator is appropriately leveled prior to testing its operation on gas and that the water heater is full of water before initiating the propane sequence on it.


Generator
·       Check the oil level. Change the oil and filter if necessary.

·       Check and replace the air filter element and any fuel filters in the system, if so equipped.

·       Check the condition of the rubber fuel line to the generator. If small cracks are evident or the hoses lack suppleness, replace them.

·       Start the generator and allow it to stabilize. Once it is running smoothly, allow the generator to power the coach.

·       With on generator power, again cycle the air conditioner(s) and allow the generator to carry this load for at least thirty minutes.

Tires and Wheels

·       Closely inspect all tires. Remove rocks or pebbles lodged in the tread. Note: it will be necessary to roll the rig forward or backward to fully inspect all the way around each tire.

·       Examine all sidewalls. Never drive on tires showing any evidence of sidewall weather-checking.

·       Examine the DOT date code. Tires approaching 5 to 7 years of age may need replacing. Have a tire expert break down and inspect the inside of older tires. Note: the last four digits of the DOT code indicate the week and year of manufacture. Example: 4010 indicates that tire was manufactured during the 40th week of 2010.

·       Clean and treat all tires with a non-petroleum based treatment.

·       Be sure all tires are pressurized to the correct inflation as determined by the weight each tire is supporting. Note: this can only be determined by weighing each tire position using certified scales.

·       Torque all lug nuts to the specified requirement. 




Chassis Considerations
    
     Motorhomes

·       Check all fluid levels. Those typical to most gasoline-powered motorhomes include:
            • Engine oil
            • Transmission fluid
            • Rear axle gear oil
            • Power steering fluid
            • Brake fluid
            • Radiator coolant
            • Windshield washer fluid
            • Fuel tanks           
            • Hydraulic leveling system/slideout reservoir

·       For diesel coaches, refer to the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations for that chassis.

·       Check the odometer; it may be time for a tune-up or brake inspection.

·       Verify the integrity of engine drive belts and coolant hoses.

·       Test all running lamps, turn signals, headlamps, etc., as well as antennas, entry steps and all accessories not mentioned specifically here.

·       Take the motorhome on a short road test. Be aware of strange noises, vibrations and abnormalities with steering and handling.

    Towables

·       Every two years, clean and pack the wheel bearings and replace the seals.

·       Adjust all electric brakes if necessary.

·       Inspect all spring shackles, u-bolts and hitch components.

·       Test the breakaway switch for proper operation.

·       Test all running lamps, turn signals, stop lamps, etc., as well as antennas, entry steps and all accessories.

·       Road test for proper brake modulation and handling. Take note of strange noises, vibrations and abnormalities with steering and handling while towing.

Final Thought

Review the owner’s manual to verify nothing was left out of the spring shakedown procedures. Only when thoroughly satisfied nothing is amiss, load that refer, pack that gear and get that rig on the road! And remember, RVing is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle!

##RVT786



RV Tow Wiring

I own a 2005 Newmar Dutch Star. On a recent trip I noted that the left turn signal and brake light on my towed auto was not working when connected to the motorhome. The turn signal on both the motorhome and the car work fine independently. A check of the electrical connection between the motorhome and the auto indicates no power to the left turn/brake light pin on the motorhome connector. I am searching for the cause but there are huge bundles of wires and I am trying to avoid unwrapping them all. My questions: Do motorhomes have in-line fuses for the towing electrical connector? Are the towing electrical connections paralleled with the motorhome stop and turn signals? Are crimp connectors usually used? I did find a connector or fuse holder that looked like it had reset switches but I did not reconnect the connector nor do I know how to reset or replace the fuses if there are any.
Henry, (Pensacola, FL)


Henry, I suspect the problem is likely to found at the multi-pin connector itself. I’m assuming you have a typical six or 7-pin connector on the motorhome. All the wires from the connector are spliced directly into the coach circuits. Typically there are no fuses or breakers involved in the harness itself, but certainly each of those circuits in the motorhome are protected somewhere.

Perhaps the left turn pin on the connector is dirty, corroded or otherwise not making a good contact. Looking at the connector on the motorhome equipped with a standard 7-pin connector, the left turn pin is the one at the 9 o’clock position. Probe this pin for power while the left turn signal is activated. I would probably measure the actual voltage at that connection in case there is some voltage drop to consider. If the connection or contact is dirty or corroded it may be necessary to clean or burnish the contact before obtaining a reliable measurement. You can use a small screwdriver or dental pick to carefully scrape any debris off the contacts. Also make sure all the pins make solid contact with the towed vehicle plug. Make sure that all the internal plug connectors are not bent thereby minimizing the actual metal-to-metal contact. If they are bent too far, carefully move them back into position with a small screwdriver. Do the same with the towed vehicle end of the 7-pin connector.

Remember, when looking at the car end of the harness, the pin locations will be reversed so the left turn pin will be at the 3 o’clock position. In case the problem does lie elsewhere, you will need to trace the wire going from the coach wiring harness to the 7-pin connector. Tow harness are usually tapped into existing circuits (paralleled) using some type of solderless connection. These connections can sometimes become faulty, especially when they are exposed to the elements under the motorhome. In some cases it’s actually easier running a new wire than trying to locate a fault. Especially if it involves unwrapping some thick harnesses! I’d spend a few minutes diagnosing where the problem might be, and then simply run a new wire by tapping into the left turn circuit at the rear of the lamp assembly.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Broken 5th Wheel Springs

I had to replace the two front springs on my fifth-wheel travel trailer. They both broke and bent and now it appears the entire load is on the front axle and tires. Is there a way to adjust the springs to equalize the load? Any tips on what to check out? Walter, (Calgary, ONT)

Walter, since I discerned your problem may be a weight issue, I presented your question to the Executive Director of the RV Safety and Education Foundation, (www.rvsafety.com), Walter Cannon. They specialize in weight and safety education with all types of recreation vehicles. Here's what he had to say:

"There is no definitive way to adjust the equalization on the front or rear springs on your towable Walter, other than by hitch or pin adjustments,I.E., raise the nose and weight will transfer rearward. Take care not to get too far out of level! Another option is to move the load in the trailer to a more equitable positioning. My first suggestion would be to check the installation very carefully; I have often seen the rockers (mounted between the springs), get stuck in position. Or perhaps they were just not installed properly to begin with. Another possibility is the new springs are physically different than the existing rear springs. All said, if both front springs broke there is indeed a weight safety issue. Perhaps the addition of an aftermarket air suspension system may help, but until each specific wheel position weight measurement can be obtained, I cannot ascertain the severity of the problem or recommend a definitive course of action."

By the way, the RVSEF is sponsoring a RV Lifestyle, Education & Safety Conference to be held in Bowling Green, KY in June. I've mentioned it here before, but for details, go to:

http://www.rvsafety.com/LESClinic.html


I hope to see many RV Doc readers at the conference!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

RV Slideout Pump Oil

What kind of hydraulic oil do you use in the slide-out pump?
Joe, (Fostoria, OH)


Hey Joe, I do like those quick, to-the-point questions! Always use Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF) in your slide-out pump. Most slideout and leveling jack pumps use ATF. Any other fluid, including hydraulic jack fluid, is not recommended by those manufacturers I've contacted. Anything other than ATF could even damage the seals.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Motorhome Hydraulic Levelers

I'm fairly new to RVing and I bought a 31-foot Class A motorhome that has the HWH hydraulic leveling system. My question is: I live in Upstate, NY and the winters are pretty fierce here. I store my motorhome in a 35-foot carport (RV port) and would like to know if when storing my rig in the winter, should I have the jacks down to take the weight off from the tires or is this not good for the leveling system? It’s just not possible to move the rig in the winter to change the tire position.
Michael, (Fulton, NY)


Michael, it is indeed permissible to extend the HWH hydraulic levelers during any period of non-use. Another reason why I’m a fan of HWH. Just be sure to wipe down each leveler before retraction in case moisture, dirt or debris has gathered during the time it was under the carport. It’s always commendable to remove the weight on the tires during a storage period if possible, just don’t extend the levelers enough to raise the tires completely off the ground. Just take a little weight off them and you’ll be fine. And be sure to check the level of the fluid in the reservoir too!

Disclaimer:

In all instances, every effort is made to ensure the correctness of all content on the RV Doctor Website. It is imperative that if you choose to follow any instructions or procedures outlined on any page of this website, you must first satisfy yourself thoroughly that neither personal nor product safety will be compromised or jeopardized.

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If you are in doubt or do not feel comfortable about a procedure, do not continue. Simply call your local RV service facility and make an appointment with them. The advice, recommendations and procedures offered by the RV Doctor are solely those of Gary. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions, procedures and recommendations of our sponsors or advertisers.