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2019 – Project: Roof Vents Repair and Upgrade

One of the few things we don’t like about RV Fulltiming is dealing with severe weather and the other night we had a big thunderstorm come through. For a few minutes we had nickle sized hail. Tell you what, having hail beating down on the RV is attention-getting! Our motorhome has three roof vents/exhaust fans. One is covered. The other two, one in a hallway and the other in the bathroom, have no cover over the lid.

We were already aware that one of those lids had a small corner crack so replacing it was on the agenda. The hail storm, though, moved that project to the front burner. The hail broke through that lid, knocking holes in it. The other lid cracked but held. As the storm continued, I grabbed some gaffer tape and taped the broken lid from the inside the best I could. The next morning I got on the roof to survey the damage. Happily, the only damage was to the two lids. I taped them both up some more and ordered replacements as well as new vent covers.

The project was easy enough and in an hour or so I had the new lids plus new covers installed. The covers will not only protect the lids in rough weather and against sun damage but will keep the rain out if the vents are left open. They can also be cracked open when we are traveling to create airflow through the camper.

This is an easy upgrade and I recommend it to anyone who has a RV that doesn’t have the covers.

2018 – Project: Wide Angle Lens for hitching the 5th Wheel

I know that there are nifty bed mount cameras for this, but I was looking for a low tech solution and found one that I am sharing with you.

The challenge is backing the pickup up to hitch the 5th wheel. In our setup, the only way to see out to back window down to the hitch is to prop yourself up at a strange angle in the seat, twisting around while keeping your foot on the fuel peddle, ready to switch to the brake. My neck and back don’t work very well for that kind of Jujutsu move anymore so I looked around for a cheap alternative.

My solution was a wide angle lens that sticks to the back window of the truck. The lens “bends the light” letting me look through the rear-view mirror and see the hitch. To help things out, I put some fluorescent tape on both the edge of the hitch and the front of the hitch.

Once I put the wide angle lens on the window and tried it out, I took scissors and cut it in half, using only the bottom half on the window. That kept the lens low enough that I can look through the rear view mirror when driving without the camper and not see much of the lens at all.

This setup has been surprisingly helpful. I line things up without turning around at all, just looking in the mirror as I back up to the 5th wheel. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but this set up works well, especially when you consider the low cost.

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See individual photos with captions.

2017 Project: Bigfoot Leveling System

20170614_150431.jpg We really like our Hitchhiker II LS 5th wheel. However, we’re missing a few extras that the newer rigs have. A couple of months ago we decided that for the foreseeable future we’d like to make a few upgrades and keep our current 5th wheel. The biggest upgrade for us was adding a power leveling system. We found that the Bigfoot Leveling System by Quadra was highly regarded by most everyone. This is a powerful hydraulic system. They make a fully automatic system – just push the button and it figures out what is level by itself. We opted to save nearly $900 and install a single pump, manual, four jack system. With this system you have a remote control and using the bubble levels already mounted on the camper you level the camper. The guys at the factory told me our 5th wheel was a bigger project than many and it took a day and a half to do the install. The good folks at Quadra were nothing but helpful and professional. They even let us sleep in the camper while it was parked overnight inside their facility. This is a new system for us, but we found ourselves on a rather un-level site our first night out with it. It took just a minute or so to bring the camper perfectly level. Jackie and I were both all smiles watching it work!

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2017 – Water Alarms

IMG_0030.JPG Here’s an inexpensive add on that might save some money by detecting water leaks early. We put one of these alarms in the bay of the 5th wheel. The other is under the kitchen sink. Hopefully, they are unnecessary and will never be used. However, just one event in which we are given early warning will make these water alarms worth every penny. We got them at Lowes.

Project: Lasko 755320 Ceramic Tower

We have three options for heating our camper:

  1. The furnace – which is very inefficient but produces a lot of heat; runs on propane which we always pay for
  2. The heat pump – part of the air conditioning system but of limited use when the outside air is colder; runs on electricity which we may or may not pay for
  3. A space heater – amount of heat depends on the unit; and, again, we may or may not pay for the electricity

100_4707.JPG The past winters we have used a combination of the three.  However, in our case we generally spend the winter months in places where the electric service is part of the campsite, so using electric heat makes a lot of sense for us.  We’ve had  “cube” heaters that help a lot but still leave the 5th wheel feeling a bit drafty and with uneven heat.

On the RV forums I kept reading about the Lasko 755320 Ceramic Tower and how happy people are with it so we decided to give one a try.  You can find them at several retailers or online.  The tower has a digital readout, can be programmed, has a timer, and rotates.  It also comes with a remote control.  When we got ours it was 68 degrees in the camper – that running our little space heater and with the heat pump set on 72 and cycling on and off.  Within a half hour the Lasko had raised the temperature to 75.

I’m thinking we’ll remove the space heaters from service all together; although we may keep one as a backup and to supplement the heat on especially cold mornings.  At this point, I recommend this unit to RVers who are looking for alternative heating solutions.

Project: Sewer hose security

PHOTO_20150920_153101.jpg We’re in a site in which the sewer hook up lacks the screw in fitting – its just an open pipe. I’ve seen other solutions – some commercial – and others like filling a sock with sand. However, that gives you one more thing to carry around. Here’s my solution – two tent stakes and an old bungee cord. I’m thinking of patenting it and selling the kit….”this deluxe sewer hose security system can be yours for just $19.95 – but wait! We’ll send you two of these systems for the price of one, just add shipping and handling.” Think I’ll make any money?

(Serious note: don’t drive the tent stakes in too deep – you might hit the sewer pipe)

Project: New Camper Step

It isn’t unusual at all for us to end up in a camp site where an extra step would be nice. We looked at different products in RV supply stores and also searched on line to see what was available. Finally, we settled on this exercise “step deck” from Walmart. The cost was less than the RV specific ones we found and it is almost exactly the same size as the RV steps. It can also be adjusted to two heights, 4″ or 6″, and is light weight. If you would like to carry an extra step “just in case” you might want to check out one of these.

PHOTO_20150415_144839.jpg PHOTO_20150415_144858.jpg

Project: Installing laminate flooring in living room

RVing and carpet don’t go well together.  We’ve found keeping the carpet clean to be a constant battle.  After considerable research we decided to go with Allure Trafficmaster laminate from Home Depot.  I’m not especially talented with it comes to stuff like this and from the Youtubes I watched and the reviews I read this project sounded like it was within my range of capabilities.

100_3695.JPG Removing the old carpet was easy enough.  Digging out the thousand staples used to nail it down was the hardest part.  After some research we decided to leave the carpet on the slides.  The “lip” of the carpet is necessary to cover the slide rollers and to cover openings to the outside air.  We also decided to leave the kitchen laminate in place.  It runs up under cabinets and walls and I was afraid I could easily get into trouble if I started messing with it.

We aren’t fans of dark floors because they show dirt so easily.  After looking at several samples of laminate we decided to go with one that matched the kitchen floor and woodwork  Obviously, color is a matter of taste, but we are satisfied with the results.

100_3699.JPG The laminate goes down on the existing sub-floor.  The tools I used were knee pads (I wouldn’t have made it without them), a rubber mallet for tightening down the glue strip after attaching a plank, a combination square to keep me cutting straight, a carpet knife, and some tin sheers which I used for more challenging cuts.   The planks come in a box and are separated by parchment paper.  I used the paper to make templates for corners, etc.

We probably invested three hours in carpet/staples removal, five hours putting down the floor itself, and one hour installing quarter-round.  We did these jobs over three days.  Physically, all my muscles from the back of my legs up to my waist were quite sore.  As I finished the quarter-round I nearly needed help getting up off the floor!

Our chairs and other furniture tend to slide on the laminate so we bought some rubber stick-on pads to combat the skidding.  I think they are going to help a lot.

We have a few concerns.  The biggest is how the flooring will handle the opening and closing of the slides.  In our case, the slides are designed to tip slightly when closed, so the leading edge of the slides is up above the floor three or four inches.  That will give us room to put some throw rugs down the center of the camper, between the slides.  From what I’ve read that is supposed to guard against the slide banging the floor as we drive down the road. (2017 note: we’ve had no problems with the slides damaging the floor)

The other concern has to do with the floating floor which supposedly expands and contracts in response to temperature changes.  I put the laminate up against the walls in the corners.  Of course, the longer runs are along the slides where the flooring has all the room it wants to expand or contract.  I’m thinking that the relative smallness of the the floor space will pretty much negate this issue.  Time will tell. (2017 note: we’ve had no issues at all with this)

100_3708.JPG Would we do it again?  Well, so long as neither of the two concerns I just described become an issue, and if the seams themselves remain tightly glued together over long term use, I’d say an enthusiastic “yes.”  We think it looks great and will be much easier to care for than the carpet we removed.

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Upgrade: Macerator Pump

One of my lessons learned this summer has been that I need to make peace with water/electric only camping. As Thousand Trails members we’ve had to decide between sites we liked for one reason or another and sites that offer sewer hookups and not much else. Of course, beyond that we’ve been in several campgrounds (Thousand Trails and others) where full hookups are simply not available. My earlier feeling was that not having full hookups was going to be fairly unusual and it wasn’t necessary to make any special plans for that possibility. These days, I’m thinking it’s more common, especially in the west, and that I need to have an approach for dealing with partial hookups on a somewhat regular basis.

Our stays are generally 10-14 days. Our black water tank is plenty big enough for that, but our gray water tanks tend to fill quicker and need to be emptied during our stay. One could tow a blueboy through the campground to the dump station, but in some parks the dump station is unreasonably far from the campsites. Some campgrounds offer honey wagon service but it can be rather expensive.

PHOTO_20140821_171410.jpg We opted to get a macerator pump. Using it the blueboy can be left in the bed of the pickup and the macerator used to pump the waste water using an old water hose. Then, I just drive to the dump station, attach the 3″ sewer hose to it and dump in just a few seconds. I actually own two blueboys: one is 15 gallons and the other is 40. I opted to carry the 15 gallon one for my 2014 adventure but now that I have the macerator I’ll be carrying the big one in the future.

My approach has been to dump once daily (and it can be done as we leave the campground rather than part of a special effort). Then, as we get closer to moving day we just let the tanks begin to fill up.

I bought my pump from a fellow camper who had used it very little and paid less than half what a new one would cost. Either way, I think it’s a good investment. Others may have solutions that work better for them and I’m interested in seeing those solutions posted as comments to this post. At this point, though, I’m pleased with this approach and recommend it to others who do longer stays in two-point hookup sites.

June 27, 2015 followup:

PHOTO_20150627_123525.jpg Here’s a quick update on the macerator/blueboy approach…we’re now on the road with our 40 gallon blueboy aboard. I was pleased that I could stand it up on it’s side and have room for it in the 5th wheel bay. We’re in a CoE campground with water but no sewer hookup so we’re using the macerator/blueboy combo (and likely will be for our next few stops). It’s working exactly as I hoped. When we arrived we ran our R/O machine to make some drinking water. It creates a lot of “brine” water. We filled our kitchen tank doing that, so I dumped it using the macerator. Then, since we’ve been in this campground we’ve done three small loads of laundry (“small” is the watchword using the washer/dryer combo we have). The three loads plus bathroom sink usage filled the front grey water tank to 3/4 so I dumped again. I ended up making two trips to the nearby dump station to empty the two grey water tanks. I’m quite satisfied with this approach. It saves dragging the blueboy through the campground and is easy enough to do. One thing I like is that when I pull the dump valve the waste water stops at the pump until I turn it on. Then, when the blueboy is full, I can just turn off the pump and the water stops. This works great for multiple trips.

Let me add that I’m not planning on using this approach for black water unless it is absolutely necessary. Since the macerator does it’s thing for solids I think it would work, but the idea of holding the water hose as it pumps the “stuff” into the blueboy sounds rather yucky to me. I’ll stick with pumping shower/kitchen water.

Product Review: Winegard Carryout

PHOTO_20140213_115337.jpg I have a love/hate relationship with our Winegard Carryout GM-1518.  When it works it’s great.  I put it out, plug the two cables in, and finish setting up the campsite.  When I’m finished I go inside, turn on the TV and I’m ready to watch the news.  Let me mention that my experience with the Carryout is with Dish Network.  It works on DirectTV too.  Sometimes, I put it on the roof where it gets a better view of the sky (or if I’m in a place where I think it might be tempted to walk off).  Most of the time I put it somewhere around the campsite where it can do it’s thing.

If our move was far enough to get us out of the spotbeam for our current local channels I contact Dish, tell them my new location and in 10 or 15 minutes the new channels appear.  At that point, I reboot the receiver and let it update the program guide.

One trick I learned is to schedule programs I want to record on local channels using the “Dish Pass” feature.  That way the receiver looks for new episodes of those programs no matter what channel they are on.  When my locals are changed, the programs continue to record.

When there’s a problem, though, it can be a real pain.  For instance, I’ve had cabling problems with it.  Twice it was coax that had an intermittent short.  I also fought a long battle with the 12v power connection at the unit which kept losing ground.  The biggest problem with problems like this is that there’s no feedback from the unit.  All you know is that it isn’t getting a signal to the satellite receiver.  Most of the time, of course, no signal is a result of trees, etc. being in the way.  So, I put the unit out where I think it should see the southern sky and hear it start searching.  After awhile, I see that it isn’t finding the satellite.  I move the unit and start it searching again.  The thing is, with intermittent connections, sometime just moving the Carryout results in a good connect and it works.  Other times, I run in and out of the camper, moving the unit and then returning inside to watch the receiver’s set up screen until I realize that something is wrong.  If the Carryout had some kind of pilot light on it that said “I have power – I have a good coax connect” it would help.

carryout.jpg As I said, I’ve gone through two coax replacements.  I finally cut their oddball 12v connector off and put a two prong “trailer” connect on it.  These things have made the unit mostly reliable.  Still, once in a while I’ll turn on the TV and get the dreaded “lost signal” screen.  At that time I reboot the Carryout and let it search again (all the while listening for sudden starts and stops which are evidence of either the 12v line failing or the 12v signal that the receiver provides the Carryout via coax failing).  If that doesn’t work, I reboot the receiver.  Then, if no joy still, I unplug the coax and replug it.  Finally, I take the lid off of it so I can see the little LED lights on the circuit board and watch it search.  In fact, opening it up and watching it work is a good way to start using this unit.  By doing that you learn what it sounds like when it’s doing it’s thing.  Without any other real feedback it’s the best you are going to get,

Again, I have a love/hate relationship with the Winegard Carryout.  Most of the time, now that I’ve fixed the intermittent coax and power problems, I love it.  When it doesn’t work, though, it can be a frustrating product to own.


20170925_184715.jpg PS: Sept 2014 Update: I used the Carryout with generally positive results. I had to replace the 12V plug on it (the original was of some strange design and broke easily). I also had to send it back for service because of my own blunder.  I decided to use the Wineguard as a backup to a a regular dish.  Using the regular dish I’m able to record two programs at once, something I’ve missed with the Carryout.  So these days I’m using the dish on a tripod.  I’m not great at aiming it, but I am getting better.