Category Archives: Projects and How-Tos

This series will share our latest projects and give some insight on how you can perform your own maintenance and upgrades to your rig.

Camera for Hood-Mounted Mirror

NOTE: This post is something I wrote back in May 2015, and was published on the Escapees HDT Forum.  Here it is with a few minor updates.  Still my most-used electronic driving aid!

After adding a Volvo hood-mounted mirror, I still wasn’t quite happy with how well I could see my front right corner. I feel like I have really good coverage down the side with the normal and wide angle mirrors, the over-the-window mirror, and now the hood mirror.

This afternoon, I added a camera to the mirror, facing down, so I can finally see how close I really am. Total project cost was about $35–slightly more for the Voyager connector I needed ($18) than for the camera ($17). Here’s how I went about it (with a few pictures).

Continue reading Camera for Hood-Mounted Mirror

Step Covers from a Door Mat

This short write-up about making custom step covers goes back to something I did years ago on my first RV, and quickly duplicated after getting my current one.

The Problem

Inevitably, dirt gets tracked in.  In a campsite with grass, a paved site or patio, or good gravel, it’s not too bad.  But sandy and/or muddy areas become a problem.  I can take off my shoes, Milo wears his “shoes” all the time.

Off-the-shelf RV step rugs aren’t often the exact side you need, and tape/velcro doesn’t work too well to keep them in place, especially if you have carpeted steps.

Making your own Step Covers

Here’s what you need (everything can be purchased at Wal-Mart, Menard’s, etc.):

  • Hammer
  • Snap kit
  • Rug
  • Wood screws (#8 x 1/2″) and screwdriver

The Rug

There are lots of rugs that would work for this, but at the very least it needs to be one that you can cut to size with a knife or scissors, preferably with nothing around the edges.  Here’s an example:

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The first order of business is cutting the rug into pieces to fit the steps.  That should be pretty self-explanatory.

Next, anchor two of the male half of the snaps with a screw near the front outside edges of the stair tread:

Step with snaps installed

Lay the rug on the stair tread, and mark the location of the snaps.  Cut a small hole for the female side of the snap, and use a hammer and the rivet tool included with the snaps to set it in place.  That’s it!

Step cover snapped into place

 

Lithium Batteries and Upgrading the 12V DC Power System

Last fall, I wrote about installing a PC power supply to power the remaining 12V DC loads in my RV, but that’s getting replaced with a DC-DC converter.  The power supply did the job it was supposed to, without fail.  But there are a few drawbacks with it:

  • The power supply converts AC power from the inverter to 12V DC.  That means the inverter is on, and there’s an extra conversion that wastes energy.
  • Under load, the 12V output from the power supply is lower than I’d like.  At the source, it drops to about 11V, and my rig’s 12V wiring is mediocre at best.  Vent fans, water pumps, etc. all run a little slow.
  • The power supply doesn’t respond well to sudden load increases.  This is most evident with the stereo system.

Continue reading Lithium Batteries and Upgrading the 12V DC Power System

Power Adapters 101: What power adapter is safe to use?

Just about every RVer has a few power adapters, often referred to as “dogbones,” to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them–this post will go over which power adapter types are safe to use, and which ones you might want to carry.

Circuit Protection

The job of a circuit breaker or fuse is to protect the downstream wiring from overloading and short circuits.  Any wire configuration has a current rating, and a circuit breaker typically protects that wire.

Keeping that in mind, when we adapt an RV with a 50-amp plug (NEMA 14-50P) to either a 30-amp or 15-amp receptacle, the circuit breaker at the source will shut off power the wire’s limit is reached.  At worst, under one of these configurations, we experience a nuisance pedestal breaker trip:

  • 50-amp RV cord plugged into 30-amp, 20-amp, or 15-amp receptacle
  • 30-amp RV cord plugged into 20-amp or 15-amp receptacle

For any of these configurations, you can find a UL-listed power adapter, and operate your RV safely.

But the other way doesn’t work.  Let’s say you have something you want to power with a normal 15-amp plug.  That includes a patio light, a heated hose, space heater or a string of flamingo awning lights.  Now suppose you don’t have a 15-amp receptacle on the pedestal, or that you have something else plugged in.

Can you adapt down from a 50-amp or 30-amp receptacle on the pedestal to one for your 15-amp appliance? NO.  If there was a problem with the appliance, or its cord, you could easily melt it before the breaker is overloaded enough to trip.

Note that in any of these situations, and even when plugging your RV directly into a pedestal, a receptacle in poor condition is still a hazard.  A loose connection can easily generate enough heat to melt your plug or start a fire without tripping a breaker.  If a plug goes in with little resistance, the receptacle probably needs replaced.

Power Adapters that are Safe to Use

All of these power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end, and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals).  Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters, preferably with rigid grab handles.

50-amp RV plugged into 30-amp source

Power adapter has 50-amp female receptacle (NEMA 14-50R) and 30-amp male plug (NEMA TT-30P)


50-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

Power adapter has 50-amp female receptacle (NEMA 14-50R) and 15-amp male plug (NEMA 5-15P)


30-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

Power adapter has 30-amp female receptacle (NEMA TT-30R) and 15-amp male plug (NEMA 5-15P)

I’d advise avoiding this last type, just because of the mechanical strain it will create in most situations:


Don’t use these Adapters

These adapters allow for the connection of a smaller cord to a larger source.  The cord in this situation could be overloaded without a breaker tripping, which is a safety hazard. These devices cannot be UL-listed.

30-amp RV plugged into 50-amp source

Power adapter has 30-amp female receptacle (NEMA TT-30R) and 50-amp male plug (NEMA 14-50R)  DO NOT USE!


15-amp RV/device plugged into 30-amp source

Power adapter has 15-amp female receptacle (NEMA 5-15R) and 30-amp male plug (NEMA TT-30R)  DO NOT USE!


Any combination of 15-amp and 30-amp receptacles plugged into 50-amp source

Power adapter shown has 15-amp female receptacle (NEMA 5-15R) and 30-amp female receptacle (NEMA TT-30R) that are split from a 50-amp (NEMA 14-50P) plug.  If you look closely, the handle for unplugging is a thin rubber strap that hooks on to the sides–that style isn’t very easy to unplug, and they’ll break, usually long before the plug itself needs retired.  DO NOT USE!


Differences between RV Plugs and Common Household Plugs

Perhaps the most confused RV plug is the 30-amp TT-30, which looks very similar to the common 3-wire clothes dryer plug (10-30) which was installed in homes built prior to 1994.  The two plugs are physically different in the center pin, but more importantly, they’re wired differently.  The dryer plug supplies 240V, with a ground-neutral bond.  This bonding means that the ground–which is designed to be a safety feature–is also current-carrying, which negates that function under certain conditions.  The National Electric Code prohibited that practice in new home construction beginning in 1994, and a 4-wire plug has been used since then.

If having an electrician install a 30-amp service for an RV, make sure that it’s a TT-30 configuration, and that it’s properly wired to supply 120V with separate ground and neutral.

Which brings us to another plug, the RV 50-amp plug, which is a NEMA 14-50.  This plug is commonly found on electric ranges, and is similar to–but different from–the typical dryer, which uses a NEMA 14-30.  The 30-amp dryer plug has an L-shaped neutral, whereas the 50-amp RV plug has a straight blade.  While not common, it would be safe to plug a 50-amp RV into a 30-amp 4-wire dryer receptacle, but not a 30-amp RV into a 50-amp range receptacle.

Is there a way to plug a 30-amp RV into a 50-amp pedestal?

Yes, but it’s not a product that you can just go out and buy.  Do do it safely, you’d need a short cord sized for 50-amp service into a subpanel with a 30-amp breaker.  If enough of you are interested, we might build one up to show the process.

Ok.  Enough already!  I’m a new RVer–what power adapter should I carry with me?

Each of these adapters have a rigid, molded grab handle, and have the plug at the proper orientation so that the cord and plug aren’t strained when hanging.  Identify which type of RV you have based on the plug images below.

If you have a 50-amp RV, it should have a plug like this:

NEMA 14-50 RV Plug

In that case, you can plug in anywhere (50-amp, 30-amp, and 15-amp receptacles) with these two adapters:


If you have a 30-amp RV, your plug will look like this:

NEMA TT-30 RV Plug

And you’d just need this one power adapter:

Cleaning 240,000 miles and 13 years of dirt off the ceiling

It didn’t look that dirty for the most part when I got it, but I knew it wasn’t the cleanest.  The ceiling just had a slight grey hue, and if you took something down (like I did with the kitchen remodel), you could see a definite difference in color.

Some of that was yellowing, which I couldn’t do much about.   But the dirt had to come down. It’s a padded vinyl of some sort, so it shouldn’t be that hard to clean, right?  Well, as far as I can tell, the film is a mix of oily particulates, possibly from diesel combustion, dirt, road grime, and who knows what else.  But the oily particulate bit is what makes it an interesting animal–it’s not a typical dusting or kitchen cleaning operation.

I’ve had several “false starts” trying to clean it–I’d do one small section, only to get frustrated by how slow it wast going and stop.  It was also tough to see when you’d gotten it all removed–the difference wasn’t so stark as to be obvious when you’re up on a step stool.

But finally, last week, I got to a routine that seems to work pretty well…

Continue reading Cleaning 240,000 miles and 13 years of dirt off the ceiling

Putting things back together

Since there was so much stuff out of the way, it seemed like a good time to get rid of some nasty looking wallpaper in the bedroom.  Every attempt at cleaning got a little dirt off, but it just never looked clean.  A few coats of primer and paint can’t hurt.

Here’s what it looked like before:

Before paint.

Before paint.And after a couple of coats of primer:

Looking cleaner already.

By this point, the floor wasn’t too wet any more, but it still had a ways to go.  Somewhere along the way, I worked my way around the plumbing, trying to cut the carpet as close to the wall as I could.

Lots less moisture than before, but still wet.

In the middle of this, I also decided to finally put up the backsplash in the kitchen, but I’ll do a separate post on that later.  Here’s a teaser:

Now back to plumbing.  I’ve grown to like PEX tubing, and the steel crimp rings that have overlapping bands.  It’s easy to see at a glance that you have a good crimp, and the tool isn’t too expensive. Here’s what I have:

Apollo Crimper

I bought mine at Lowe’s some time ago, and if memory serves me correctly, I paid closer to $50.  I just went to look for a picture and link for the crimp rings, and I’m cringing at how much more I paid locally–$15 for a 25-pack at Lowe’s, $35 for 100 on Amazon.  I lost count, but I used most of two 25-packs of crimp rings, which should give you a feel for the amount of re-plumbing that occurred.

Most of the brass fittings and all of the valves from the old configuration were reused.  The nice thing about the crimp rings I linked is that a side cutter can get them free.  The copper rings take more work, and the tool has to wrap around the pipe, which would have been difficult in the space I had.

In the picture above, you can see the plumbing starting to come together. The drain line from the tank on the right will continue to the tee over towards the left, stopping along the way to supply the pump.  The three valves connected to blue pipe control flow to the pump from each tank, and you can see the first of 2 drain valves installed toward the left.  Note that I’ve started to label the lines–it’s too easy, and will make it easy in the future to figure out what’s going on.

Now it’s more or less all finished up, except for a few loose ends tying all of the pipe.  The round black thing on the overflow line at the front of the tank is a vacuum breaker, to prevent siphoning when the tank is overfilled.  This was a problem previously, as it would sometimes siphon nearly half of the water out before drawing in air.

The way everything is set up now, with the drain and pump supply sharing the same tank outlet, I’m able to connect the pressure sensor directly to the tank (lower front corner), in a position a little less vulnerable than before.  After a check for leaks, it was time to fill the tank and get back to normal.

But I have plans for reconfiguring the side wall of the bed platform.  There’s going to be a little more open space, and a shelf for boots/shoes in a previously inaccessible space.  More on that next time!

 

Getting things dried out…

So I left off last time with a little bit of carpet pulled up, and an idea of what I was dealing with.  I needed to remove the side wall of the bed platform, which was a quick task of just removing a few screws.  After (mostly) finishing draining the tank next to all of the plumbing connections, it was light enough to pull out away from the wall.

View of the edge of the carpet with the bed platform’s fascia removed. I hate when flooring is run under walls and other permanent stuff.  All of that carpet is damp, so the tank has to come out.
It’s wet. But it’s definitely still solid, and there aren’t any signs of mold.

The carpet under the tank wasn’t too damp, but the wood under it was.  Some of that was surely the mess I made getting everything disconnected, and moving the tank with probably about 10 gallons of water still sloshing around in it.  While it was a mess, the wood was still solid, and there weren’t any signs of mold.  It was pretty clear this was a recent thing.

Slowly starting to get dried out.

It did take quite a while to get it all dried out.  There was still carpet around the pipes against the wall, and under the wall itself.  So as the floor dried, more moisture weeped out.  Ultimately, I let it go for about a week before all the signs of water were gone.

Plumbing manifold feeding water pump.

The goal of the plumbing modifications was to get things consolidated along the back wall, and get all of the valving within easy reach.  Here’s the start of that. The three valves connected to the blue piping are the supplies from each of the three fresh water tanks.  Also notice that I replaced hard (well, PEX) pipe with flexible lines.  For whatever reason I hadn’t gotten around to that on this RV–it makes a huge difference in the amount of noise the pump makes.  If you ever want to do the same thing, here’s what’s needed:

And while on the subject of other modifications that are pretty easy for anyone to do, I should probably mention the expansion tank you can see in that picture.  It’s a 2-gallon tank with a rubber bladder, with air pressure on one side and water on the other.  It also reduces pump noise, but more importantly reduces the pulsing water flow typical from RV water pumps (by absorbing pressure spikes that occur with each diaphragm cycle in the pump), and it allows the water to flow for a little bit before the pump cycles on.  A quick flush of the toilet, or even filling a glass of water can often be done without the pump needing to run, and it’ll reduce the number of times the pressure switch has to operate.  For about $40 (link here), it’s an easy and cheap upgrade.

Next time will cover a little bit of painting and starting to put things back together.

Drip, Drip, Drip…

You never want to hear the water pump cycle on when no one is using water.  There’s only one thing it could be…a leak.  Now we aren’t talking about something every few minutes, or even every few hours.  It was more like once every few days, but I knew I had a leak.

Looking down at the maze of plumbing and wiring (the carpet is on the floor) after the mattress platform was removed.

Continue reading Drip, Drip, Drip…

More Electrical Changes

Last time I talked about this project, I left you hanging with the lead acid batteries from the old house power system gone, and the generator connected to the chassis batteries.  But I didn’t have anything hooked up to power the remaining 12V house loads–things like the furnace, water heater, water pump, slide out motor, and a few lights.

There are lots of ways to approach this, but first it’s worth knowing how much 12V power I really need:

  • Water heater: just control logic here, no actual heating.  It isn’t enough to worry about.
  • Furnace: about 8 amps running at 12V.
  • Water Pump: 4 amps just before reaching the high-pressure cut-out (in other words, when it’s under the heaviest load)
  • Slide out motor: 30 amps while in motion, more at the beginning when it’s sort of stuck in place.
  • Lights: since they’re all LED, not more than 10 amps.
  • Awnings: Just control logic here, and from what I can tell the only reason they use 12V at all is to power the on/off switch.  I may be able to eliminate the need for 12V at some point in the future.
  • A couple of power outlets (10A max each), an antenna amplifier, and a small sound system.

Other RVs may have other considerations:

  • Leveling jacks: I have them, but they’re driven by the chassis/starting batteries.
  • 2-way (LP, 110VAC) refrigerator: The control board runs on 12V on these.  Very little power needed, but the refrigerator doesn’t run without it.  If you have a 3-way (LP, 110VAC, 12VDC) refrigerator, you’re using 12V power not just to control the other two, but also to provide cooling–which is a significant demand.
  • Generator: Most RVs are configured to start the generator from the house batteries.  I talked about why I don’t like that setup here.

When you look at the list of things that need 12V DC power to run, almost all of it is stuff that only needs to run for short periods of time. So while it might work, I really don’t want a big DC power supply running all of the time.

I’ll admit I didn’t have it all settled when I pulled the old batteries, but I had enough of a plan to get by.  The slide-out was the biggest thing to deal with, and while I could in theory have wired it to run off of the chassis batteries like the generator and jacks, power for its motor and all of the lights in the slide out were fed in together–I didn’t want to try getting another set of wires into the slide out.

So the short term solution was pretty crude, but it’s still working just fine.  I picked up a cheap 12V lithium jump starter, that’s able to be charged while the main leads are energized.  It’s also not one of the ones with the smarts to limit current until the car’s battery is charged to a certain point, so it’ll work with no other battery in the system.

To test it out, I clipped the leads and connected them directly to the slide-out’s controller:

Battery jumper pack connected to slide out wiring.

This configuration has no trouble running the slide out through its full travel multiple times.  It’s micro USB charging port is more than enough to charge it and run the few 12V LED fixtures in the slide out.

For the rest of the 12V stuff, I’m using a 300W adjustable power supply.  I’m not quite happy with it, as it’s not nearly as efficient as I’d like, so there’s not much point in dwelling on it at this point.  It works fine, but I’ll post back when I have something better in its place.

With an extra set of leads, I now no longer carry the bulky SLA battery pack as insurance against a dead toad battery.  It just isn’t necessary any more–the lithium jump starter does a better job.