5-minute modification: Replacing 12V Power Outlet with USB Ports

Every once in a while, you have a nagging project that you put off because it’s easy.  This is one of those.  I’d had a problem with the mount for the factory 12V power outlet on the dashboard of the Grey Ghost–the mounting tabs had worn to where it didn’t stay put.  Since there’s a second 12V outlet right next to it, and this one always had a USB charger in it, I decided to make that more permanent and fix the sloppiness at the same time.

The replacement part was this round power port with 2 2.1A USB ports.  It’s just slightly larger than the power port it replaced, and with a locking nut from behind, won’t have the same problem with falling out:

[amazon_link asins=’B01HPSY596′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’rvne-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b14b4da6-a60c-11e7-9aef-2d6c8e631ead’]

To install it, I used a sanding drum on my Dremel tool to just slightly enlarge the opening, put the power port through and locked it in place. For the wiring, I simply took the two female spade conectors out of the factory plug and fit them over the male spade terminals on the power port–they were conveniently the same size.  So no cutting or splicing, and now there’s one less thing flopping around in the cab.

Garbage Disposal Macerator Update

As I close in on 2 years using this macerator setup, built around a garbage disposal and first outlined back here, I can say I’m still pretty happy with it.  I recently even pulled it out at a dump station, when the RV at the station decided to have lunch, clean house, and walk the dog or something–after waiting a while, I simply dragged my hose up to the sewer connection, and pumped right on by them.

The main reason for this quick update though is that I happened to notice [amazon_textlink asin=’B0014X96YS’ text=’one of the best-rated garbage disposals’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’rvne-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’accd7689-a537-11e7-a56d-a15591594df7′] show up in a list of sales items.  Just for the day, it’s only $41.24 (with Prime delivery too).  With 4.4/5 stars on over 1,000 reviews, it’s pretty popular.

Make the Water Pump Run Less Frequently

More than likely, you’re used to the water pump cycling on as soon as you turn on a faucet.  Even if you just need enough to swallow a pill, or that tablespoon for your cookie mix, you’re worried about waking up the poor soul whose pillow is right above the water pump.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  With the addition of a small accumulator tank, you can run as much as a couple of gallons of water without the pump needing to run.  When it does run, it’ll cycle on and run long enough to rebuild that same volume.  It’ll also go a step further than last time in reducing the amount of noise the pump makes, as it will absorb some of the pulsating inherent with a diaphragm pump.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Accumulator tank.  The 1 or 2-gallon size is probably what you’ll be looking at in most RVs.
  • 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 3/8″ Add-A-Tee fitting
  • 1/2″ FIP x 3/8″ compression flexible hose
  • 3/4″ FIP to 1/2″ MIP adapter and pipe thread sealant

[amazon_link asins=’B003OEPQOO,B01M7SWXMT,B00068UUZG,B013RXKH9A’ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’rvne-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d95d0e02-a343-11e7-bcd8-a799d3ee48ec’]

Like last time, once you see the parts list, it’s pretty straightforward.

  1. Turn off the water supply, drain the lines as before.
  2. Install the Add-A-Tee on the water pump outlet, between the hose added last time and the pump.
  3. Connect the new flexible line to the 3/8″ outlet on the tee.
  4. Attach the adapter to the accumulator using pipe thread sealant
  5. Connect the other end of the new flexible line to the accumulator.
  6. Check for leaks, and mount accumulator in place.

Making Your Water Pump Quieter with Flexible Hoses

This is perhaps the simplest of the modifications, and perhaps the best bang for the buck.  This simply involves replacing the rigid pipe connections to your water pump with flexible hoses, so that the pump’s vibrations don’t rattle your pipes as much.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 hoses with 1/2″ NPT ends.
  • 2 1/2″ NPT hex nipples
  • Pipe clamps to secure rigid pipe
  • Open-ended wrenches to fit the hose ends and nipples.

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At this point, it should be pretty self-explanatory, but here goes:

  1. Turn off the pump, and the city water supply.  Close off the freshwater tank, or if there’s no valve, empty it. (If there’s no valve, add one while you have things apart.)  Open a faucet, toilet, and/or low-point drain to minimize spilled water.
  2. Prepare for a little bit of spilled water.  A couple of towels and/or shallow pan should work.
  3. Disconnect female pipe fittings from both sides of pump.  Leave the pump strainer in place.  You shouldn’t need any tools to do this, though a wrench can help.
  4. Install one hex nipple on each of the flexible hoses, using wrenches to make sure you have a snug fit.  The hoses seal with an O-ring, so you don’t need any pipe thread sealant, and don’t need to get carried away tightening.
  5. Hand-tighten one of the flexible hoses onto each side of pump.
  6. Connect the original pipe fittings to the ends of the hoses with the nipples.
  7. Tighten everything up, and with the valve still open from step 1, turn on the pump.  Make sure the tank valve is open and there’s water in the tank.  If there are no leaks at this point, close the faucet/drain valve, and let pressure build while watching for leaks.
  8. If everything checks out, secure the rigid pipe so that it doesn’t contact the pump or rattle against anything around it.

 

Making your Water Pump Work Better

Every time I visit someone else’s RV and hear the water pump kick on right when a faucet opens, the rattling of pipes, and the pulsating trickle of water from the faucet, I can’t help but think about how much better I have it in my rig.  Given that I’ve never seen a few of the things I use in other rigs, I thought I’d explain what they are and how to put them to use in the next few posts.  Here’s the list…

Continue reading Making your Water Pump Work Better

Fixing My Portable Icemaker and Making Clear Ice

This post will take me longer to write up than it did to actually do the project.  I have a portable icemaker that’s several years old sitting right behind the passenger seat.  It keeps a fresh batch of ice ready all the time, but it recently started showing the “add water” light even when the reservoir was filled. A new one can be had for [amazon_link asins=’B00INXG9MY’ template=’PriceLink’ store=’rvne-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’22778b15-7000-11e7-bfb0-ad828dfb73a6′] on Amazon, and would have been here in a couple of days.

I couldn’t see getting rid of an appliance that likely just had a bad microswitch.  When I listened to it pumping, it sounded like there was a little backflow from the switch/check-valve assembly–a small plastic part that I wasn’t going to be able to track down for a buck or two.  Instead of replacing it, I decided to look at the control board and see if I could bypass it.  Fortunately, the board is relatively simple, labeled in English, and there’s a wiring diagram on the back of the enclosure.

Wiring diagram on back of icemaker.
Front side of control board showing water switch location (empty plug)

Sure enough, you can.  If it runs out of water, I might ruin the pump, but then I’m just back to where I am now.  When you look at the board, the water switch plugs in on the right side.  The switch should be normally open, closing when water is present–but it isn’t.  I temporarily closed the contacts myself, and lo-and-behold, it works!

Now we just need to make it permanent.  Here’s what the back side of the board looks like:

Back of icemaker control board

The red circle shows the water switch connector.  It’s easy enough to bridge the two contacts with solder–here’s what it looks like afterwards:

Back of icemaker control board, with water switch contacts shorted

Here’s what it looks like making it’s first batch of ice after being dormant for a while:

Newly repaired icemaker making its first batch of ice.

Cleaning while it’s Apart

If you look closely in that last picture, you can see some crud in the water tray where the ice cubes are made.  It’s some sort of mold, and it’s not very noticeable when the icemaker is closed up and running.  But I don’t want it in my ice cubes, so now is the time to clean it up.

A little bit of bleach wiped around the inside goes a long ways, but also make sure to catch the underside of that tray–it was similarly ugly:

Bottom of water tray, showing mold/dirt accumulation.

But we can’t just return to a normal Icemaker…what about Clear Ice?

First of all, what am I talking about?  Clear ice is ice that’s clear like glass instead of frosty looking.  When water freezes in a normal ice cube tray, it expands all at once and creates a pattern of voids that appear white in color.  When you look at ice from a commercial ice machine though, it’s clear.  How’s that?

A commercial ice machine, making clear ice, continuously flows water over the mold while the ice is being made.  This allows the ice to freeze in layers, similar to the way a nice clear icicle is formed.

Normally, the icemaker runs the water pump until the tray overflows, then it shuts off while the compressor runs.  If we make the pump run while the compressor is on, we’ll get clear ice too–the same kind of stuff you’d normally spend big bucks to get.

A little more examination of the board shows that the compressor is controlled by a relay with a 12V coil.  The ground side is switched, just like the pump which also operates at 12V.  So we can jumper between the two and both pump and compressor will run together:

Pump and compressor coil terminals
Control board modified to make clear ice!

How well does it work?  Well, since we’re still working with a horizontal geometry, water doesn’t circulate uniformly.  So the ice isn’t perfectly clear–just mostly clear.  The first batch of ice takes a little longer, as it’s cooling the entire reservoir’s water content, instead of just what’s in the cube tray.

Overall though, for basically zero cost and a few minutes with the soldering iron, I’m pleased.

Health Care Sharing Ministries Comparison Part 2: Medical Qualifications

Ok, you’ve survived the ethical and religious qualifications test.  Next up is an overview of what medical qualifications you’ll have to meet, or what might be excluded from coverage based on your medical history.

Will you qualify?

Unlike traditional health insurance under the ACA, health sharing organizations can (and do) ask a series of medical questions when you apply for membership.  Legally, they can deny membership for just about any reason; in practice, it’s quite different.

In this post, I’ll go through what each of the organizations publishes as far as medical qualifications for membership, and how they treat pre-existing conditions.  In general, you can expect to be accepted for membership, but with limitations placed on sharing expenses for treatment of stuff you already have.

Christian Healthcare Ministries

CHM addresses the medical qualifications very simply in their list of Frequently Asked Questions:

 

 

In other words, provided you meet/agree to the religious and ethical requirements discussed before, you’ll be accepted.  They point out that ineligible expenses, which include certain forms of pre-existing conditions, still aren’t shared–but you can join, satisfy the ACA’s individual mandate, and get coverage per the terms of the sharing guidelines just like anyone else.

As far as pre-existing conditions, CHM distinguishes between “active” and “maintenance” treatment.  If it’s something being treated with more than routine medication, it’s not eligible for sharing.  In other words, you can’t break your leg, sign up on the way to the ER, and have CHM foot the bill.  That would be an active pre-existing condition.

If the incident is over and you’re getting maintenance treatment–high blood pressure comes to mind–there’s a schedule for new Gold-level members.  The condition is eligible for sharing up to $15,000 the first year, $10,000 in the second year, $25,000 in the third year, and after that it’s no longer pre-existing.

Of course, other conditions that are not pre-existing are eligible despite any limitations on pre-existing conditions.  In other words, if you join in the middle of treatment, whether active or maintenance, for something like cancer, it’ll be subject to limitations.  But if you have cancer and break your leg, it would be treated just like anyone who didn’t join while battling cancer.

For expenses subject to the limitations on pre-existing conditions, there is a “Prayer Page” where members contribute above the monthly membership amount.  These contributions are used to help share in other members’ medical expenses associated with pre-existing conditions.

CHM’s application is available online, in a single-page format so you can see exactly what they’ll ask before giving them any personal information.

Liberty HealthShare

Like others here, Liberty will accept anyone for membership.2  The application process can be done electronically, but they also publish a printable application form here, which lets you see just what kinds of things they ask about.

If you happen to be a tobacco user, overweight, or other similar conditions that result from modifiable behavior, Liberty may assign you to a program called HealthTrac.  While participating in HealthTrac, you pay an extra $80 per month, and meet by phone regularly with a coach to help you kick the bad habit–whether quitting smoking or losing a few pounds.  So long as you’re making progress and meeting as required, you remain a member.  If you fail to progress or don’t meet with your coach, they can show you the door:

Some individuals who qualify for our medical cost sharing program but have certain pre-existing health conditions that can be improved through lifestyle changes will be enrolled in HealthTrac℠. This required program is in place for Sharing Members to improve their health while reducing the risk of developing or exacerbating serious diseases.3

My dad fell into this category, and his goal is to lose 15 lbs over the course of a year.  The sooner he loses it, the sooner he graduates from HealthTrac.  For someone who’s wanted to lose a few pounds for a long time, the savings over traditional insurance, the $80 a month more he can save by graduating, and his coach combine for a lot better motivation than he’s had in the past.  He’s well on his way to meting his goal.

Before that scares you off, they’re not asking you to become a professional athlete, bodybuilder, or anything along those lines.  There’s a simple chart that lists weights that you need to be below based on height and gender to avoid the HealthTrac program.

As far as other pre-existing conditions, Liberty looks at a 3-year period prior to enrollment.  If a condition is identified as pre-existing, it’s excluded from sharing in the first year, subject to a $50,00 maximum in years 2 and 3, and is no longer considered pre-existing after that.

One new thing that Liberty added during 2017 is a limitation on certain types of sharing during the first 2 months of membership.  During that time, “medical expenses for any reason, other than accidents, acute illness or injury, are not eligible” for sharing.  In other words, you can’t join and immediately get coverage for preventive care–like a physical or colonoscopy.

Medi-Share

Unlike most of the other sharing organizations, Medi-Share’s guidelines indicate that they may not accept members with certain conditions:

Applicants provide medical and lifestyle information during
the application process. This helps determine qualification
for Medi-Share membership.4
They go on to indicate that medical records may be required before acceptance,   Medi-Share also looks back further, limiting coverage for pre-existing conditions for up to 5 years.  During the first 3 years, a pre-existing condition is excluded from coverage.  After that, coverage is limited to $100,000/year; for years 4 and 5 coverage is limited to $500,000/year.  Only after 5 years of membership, or 5 years after symptoms/treatment, is a condition no longer treated as pre-existing.

Like Liberty, Medi-Share has a program for addressing medical conditions treatable with lifestyle modifications, in this case called Health Partners.  It sounds very similar in its structure and operation.

Altrua HealthShare

Altrua says anyone who meets the religious/ethical guidelines is eligible for membership, but those who exceed their weight criteria will have an additional monthly share amount.  It appears that weight is the only criteria with additional cost, and it is not obvious what the terms are for that.  Unlike Liberty, it doesn’t appear that there is any coaching to help you meet the weight targets.

Altrua indicates that they may define “membership limitations”, as in conditions for which coverage will not be extended based on your health history.  They will notify you of any limitations when you apply.

As far as pre-existing conditions, Altrua looks at a 24-month period prior to enrollment.  Within the first 90 days, any of the coverages requiring pre-authorization, surgery (unless delay would cause certain harms), or resulting from recreational activities are ineligible for sharing.  They also exclude any cancer diagnosis within 12 months of joining.

Altrua’s only application process requires creating an account and logging in before you can find out what kinds of questions they ask as part of the enrollment process.

AlieraCare/Unity

AlieraCare is somewhat silent on the application process and who might qualify.  They look back 24 months for pre-existing conditions, and after 2 years of membership, no longer regard a condition as pre-existing.  For cancer, however, there are additional limitations, and any occurrence within 5 years prior to enrollment is considered pre-existing.

 

 

Samaritan Ministries

Samaritan has a blanket guarantee of acceptance for membership as far as medical qualifications.  Their rules for pre-existing conditions are somewhat more complex than some of the others, depending on the specific condition.  It would be imperative that you look at the details here if you’re considering this path, but it basically breaks down into a couple of categories:

  • Conditions cured and symptom free more than 12 months are covered
  • Conditions that have been symptom free, not needed treatment, and not deteriorated for 5 years prior to enrollment can be covered
  • Pre-existing type 1 diabetes is not covered at all
  • High blood pressure, even if not symptom free, is not considered pre-existing as long as it’s controlled and you haven’t required treatment at a hospital in the past 5 years.
  • Elevated cholesterol (including taking a statin drug) is not considered pre-existing, but if it’s prescribed for arteriosclerosis for a particular location, it would be pre-existing for that location.

Summary

It looks like with the exception of possibly AlieraCare and Medi-Share, you can enroll regardless of your medical history, and none of the organizations base your monthly share amount on your health history.  Liberty and Medi-Share charge a flat fee for their health coaching programs, but only until you meet your goal.

All of the sharing organizations have some form of waiting period for pre-existing conditions, ranging from 12 months to indefinitely, most generally falling in the 2-3 year timeframe.

 

 

 

Hosting Pictures on your own Domain with DreamHost

This is intended to be a step-by-step tutorial for getting your own website up and going for the primary purpose of hosting pictures that you can link to from other sites (including forms such as rvnetwork.com).

The intent is to get you in control of your own information, and get unlimited storage and bandwidth for a relatively low cost.  Should rates change, service degrade, or anything else where you’re not happy, you’re empowered to move elsewhere without breaking all of your old content.

To do this, I’ll walk through setting up a hosting account with your own domain name, and get WordPress installed so that you can use its media library as a web-based upload tool.

The last part of the tutorial will show how to use a free synchronization tool so that you can upload files en masse, or update them if you’ve edited local copies on your computer.

Continue reading Hosting Pictures on your own Domain with DreamHost