Living in an RV

Living in an RV is not difficult, but you do need to do some things differently than if you were at home. If you are only a weekend camper, then you don’t have as many things to consider before you shut the door and drive off toward your favorite camping spot. If you are an extended traveler and will be gone from your home base for two or three months, then there are additional things that you must consider and take into account before you depart. And, finally, if you are going to be a full-timer, then you have a long list of considerations and actions to take before you sell your house and move into a motorhome or 5er.

For weekend campers and extended travelers, the biggest headache is loading and unloading the RV—with your clothes, personal items, and food. After your first few trips out in your RV, you will soon discover that you usually pack far too many clothes from your wardrobe. You will find that you use a few clothes frequently, but seldom use most items.

Many people find it easier, food wise, to prepare many meals, especially dinners, ahead of time, freeze them, and then only defrost and warm them up when they are camping. Be a bit cautious, though, since RV refrigerators and especially freezers are not as roomy as what you are accustomed to at home.

Never leave your home base without having at least some fresh water in your tank. On the road to your camp site you will most likely need to make a few pit stops, occasions arise where you need to wash your hands, or the pets need a drink.

House-Hold Tips and Tricks

graphic of a light bulb

After you have been living in an RV for awhile, you learn from others or develop your own tips and tricks for making your life easier.

Here is a quick list of things that you can do to make your RV living a bit easier:

Cross of TP in the Toilet. Many ladies do not like the unsightly mess left over after you have done your "business" in an RV toilet. Because RV toilets have much less water in the bowl, more pooh stays on the side of the bowl—making use of a toilet brush after every use almost mandatory.

Here is a trick to help minimize this constant problem. First, run a little bit of water into the toilet so that the walls of the boil are damp. Then place a cross of TP in the bottom of the bowl—probably three or four sheets in each direction, forming a cross over the bottom. After you are finished “doing your thing”, the TP cross usually slides down the drain with your contribution, and the sides of the toilet stay much cleaner. (My lady loves this tip, but it seldom seems to work for me— go figure).

Anti-Slide Mats Under Bed and Dinette Seats. One problem that most RVers face is that their bed mattress and their dinette seats do not want to stay in place, but would rather slide around. We have found that placing heavy-duty anti-slip material (such as placemats from your favorite RV supply store) under the rear corners of the bed and beneath both ends of the dinette seats helps to keep everything in its place. Using the anti-slip material under the bed also helps to keep the bottom of the sheets and blankets tucked in.

Bounce Sheets in the Bays. Most RVers, at one time or another, are bothered and sometimes inconvenienced, by mice entering their RV through holes in the bays and floor—and making nests or eating various parts of the RV or its contents. A helpful hint used by many RVers to reduce or eliminate this problem is to put Bounce sheets (like the Mrs. puts in the clothes dryer) into each lower bay. Somehow, the mice don’t like the smell (or something) and usually go elsewhere to find a nice warm nest site.

Plastic Jar Cover Over Smoke Detector. Almost every time that my lady cooks bacon on the stove, she is never more than about half way finished when the shrill squeal of the front smoke detector in our RV screams its displeasure. After this scenario happened several times, we started disconnecting the smoke detector while my lady was preparing breakfast. But disconnecting the detector was not the best way to handle our problem.

My lady came up with the idea of putting one of those plastic jar covers, with elastic around the edge, over the smoke detector while she was cooking bacon. This trick works like a charm, and we don’t have to keep taking the smoke detector off the ceiling.

Plastic Knife Blade Covers. Almost all RVs have very limited kitchen space, and there is usually no space for safely storing the sharp kitchen knives. One trick that works quite well for shielding the cutting edge of kitchen knives is to put a plastic "report cover" edge (from the stationery store) over the cutting edge of the sharp knives. These covers are about 11 inches long and the sides extend about a half-inch, like a very narrow U. By using these covers, you can put your sharp knives in the drawer with other utensils and not worry about cutting yourself or dulling the cutting edges of the knives.

Florescent Lights in Kitchen and Dinette. The small incandescent automotive lights normally found in most areas of RVs provide rather dim lighting for some tasks. An excellent alternative is to replace the dinette and kitchen lights with small two-tube florescent lights that run directly off of 12 volts. These lights are readily available at your favorite RV supply store. The florescent lights put out far more light than the regular automotive bulbs, and they also use far less wattage—a great advantage for serious boondockers.

Refrigerator Tweaks. RV refrigerators are notorious for spoiling food and wilting lettuce much too rapidly. The first refrigerator tweak is to add a small 12-volt fan inside the refrigerator compartment to move the cold air throughout the compartment. If you are handy, you can tap off the hot side of the refrigerator light switch to get the needed 12-volt source.

In hot weather, most RV refrigerators are rather wimpy. The main reason for this is that not enough air passes over the outside coils to provide enough cooling. To remedy this deficiency, many RVers add another 12-volt fan in the outside compartment of the refrigerator. The fan is mounted so that it can suck in air and force the air up past the refrigerator coils. Some RVers put a small switch in the outside compartment to turn off this fan when the weather is cool.

Bring Lots of Paper Towels. One of the most indispensable items in your RV is plenty of paper towels. They are especially useful for wiping off your dishes after a meal—and before you ever wash them. Most RVs do not have disposals, and all your dish water is going straight to the gray tank. If you let a lot of food waste go down the drain, your gray tank is going to eventually get a bad case of cholesterol (i.e, plugged up), as well as smelling almost as bad as your black tank. Dampening a paper towel before wiping off the dishes helps to get more of the food waste off the plates and dishes.

Plastic Bags and/or Sandwich Bags. If you have a pet, always have a bunch of plastic bags (if you have a big woofer) or two boxes of sandwich bags (if you have a small dog) in your RV. Be a good neighbor and always pick up after your pets. (See Campground Etiquette for a tip on how to make this task less obnoxious and messy.)

Dumping Waste Water Tanks. After you have lived in your RV for even a short period of time, the need will eventually arise for you to finally dump your Black and Gray water tanks. Most RVers fill up their Gray water tank much more quickly than their Black water tank. The Gray water tank holds the dirty water from your lavatory sink, shower, bathtub, and the kitchen sink. The Black water tank holds all the water and human waste from your toilet.

There is a right way and a wrong way to use and to dump your tanks. If you are camped in a campground that provides a sewer connection, then you can leave the valve on your Gray water tank open, so that you can take regular showers and not fill up your Gray tank. However, please remember to close this valve a day or so before you are going to leave, so that there is at least about ¼ of a tank of Gray water when you are ready to leave. (Personally, I never leave either the Gray or Black tank valves open. When my Gray tank gets full, I go outside and dump it, and then close the valve.)

Please be very aware that you should never leave your Black tank valve open while you are camped. If you leave the Black tank valve open, all of the water drains out of the Black tank, leaving your poop and TP to dry out, and eventually plug up your Black tank. Always leave this valve closed until you are ready to completely dump your Black tank.

You are advised to get in the habit of not dumping your Black tank until it is at least about 3/4s full. By leaving the valve closed, your Black tank has plenty of waste water to break up the TP, and to help break up your poo so that it is mostly a liquid that can more easily be flushed from the Black tank. The primary reason for not dumping your Black tank until it is almost full is because the surge of fluid leaving an almost full tank helps to clean the tank and helps remove any “stuff” that might tend to stick to the bottom of the tank.

Always dump your Black tank first—always. After you have dumped your Black tank, then you should dump your Gray water tank. The Gray water helps to flush out almost all of the Black tank contents from the sewer hose. After you have dumped your Gray tank, then simply rinse out the sewer hose with some fresh water before stowing it back into a storage bay.

I always put my sewer hose in a large plastic storage box, so that if any water happens to leak out of the sewer hose, it is trapped in the container and can’t drip on other things in the storage bay

Many folks think that they have to have all sorts of chemicals to break up the “stuff” in their Black tank, but such is really not the case. First, be aware that you should not use any toilet chemical that contains formaldehyde—since almost all campgrounds will not allow such a chemical to poison their septic systems.

Many folks also don’t like the sometimes messy job of putting a "swizzle stick" down the throat of the toilet and then dragging hose into the RV, so that they can thoroughly flush the Black tank after they have dumped the contents. Using a swizzle stick is also not really necessary. If you always flush your Black tank when it is mostly full, then you only have to flush the toilet two or three times to clear out the tank residue.

I use one of those clear 45-degree bends in my sewer hose that attaches right to the sewer connection on my motorhome. By looking through the clear plastic, I can easily tell when my Black tank has been completely drained. I then have my co-pilot flush the toilet two or three times, or as many times as it takes for the water exiting the tank to look clear.

And, no, I seldom use toilet chemicals. Many full-timers have discovered that you really don’t need any special toilet chemicals at all, unless you want a perfumed smell in your tank. Empty your Black and Gray tanks at regular intervals, and don’t store your RV for extended periods of time with the Gray and Black tanks having much in them. If you store your rig with liquid in the Gray and Black tanks, it often doesn’t take too much time for the liquids to evaporate, leaving all sorts of dried out “stuff” in your tanks.

Day/Night Shades

Most of the newer motorhomes come with Day/Night shades as a standard part of the package. These devices are wonderful for keeping out hot sun and for providing inside privacy. However, you need to be aware that the "privacy" rules change from daylight to night time!

There is no problem, either day or night, if you are using the Night position, where almost no light comes in and almost no light gets out.

When you are using the Day position, you need to be aware of how things change between day and night. During the day, the Day position lets in lots of outside light, keeps the sun from heating up the inside of your coach, and provides you with some privacy—where you can see out, but people outside can't see inside. A great convenience.

However, dear readers, just the opposite effect happens at night. If your Day/Night shades are still in the Day position and there are lights on inside your coach, you won't be able to see outside, but everyone outside walking their dogs might be treated to a sight that you had NOT intended!

Whichever side has the brighter intensity of light will be the "receiving" end of any viewing. Before disrobing for the evening, check the position of your Day/Night shades—especially in the bedroom.

The newer Day/Night shades make it easy to tell which way they are positioned. The color of the exposed shades is a rather dark color when they are in the Night position, and the shades appear almost white when they are in the Day position. Take a moment and look around your coach before retiring, and make sure all the Day/Night shades appear to be white—unless you purposely have other intentions.

Basement Heating and Air Conditioning

Many of the more recent motorhomes come equipped with a Basement Air unit, as well as the usual LP powered furnace. Since Basement Air units are technically Heat Pumps, they can provide both heating and cooling.

Be aware, however, that a Heat Pump (trying to make heat) extracts heat from the surrounding air, even when it is cool outside. However, most Heat Pumps become useless for generating heat when the outside temperature drops below about 40 degrees (F)—and they are tremendous power hogs.

Many folks are not aware of a "buddy system" where the Heat Pump and the LP furnace work together to provide heat inside the RV. If you set the thermostat to deliver heat that is more than 4 degrees higher than the present inside room temperature, the buddy system kicks in—and both the furnance and Heat Pump work at the same time, valiantly trying to get your coach up to the set temperature.

Many folks who have had a basement air system for awhile, learn a trick to prevent the wasting of their LP fuel for heating the coach.

TIP: graphic of a light bulb Before you turn on the Heat Pump in the morning, first look to see what the inside temperature is in your coach. Now set the desired temperature to be only four degrees higher —so only the Heat Pump works. When the Heat Pump shuts off, again raise the desired temperature another four degrees—until your coach is warm and toasty.

What? You leave the Heat Pump on all night to stay warm. Aw, come on now.

Flaky Thermostat?—Not Really. Ah ha! We have now lived with our Heat Pump for just a bit more than two years, and we often thought we had a flaky thermostat. We would set the morning temperature to only four degrees above the inside ambient temperature of our motorhome, but quite often we would notice that the LP furnace was also turned on and "helping" bring up the inside temperature. We were always careful to not set the themostat more than four degrees above ambient, but it seemed that the LP furnace quite often kicked on.

Just recently, we finally figured out why! When the Heat Pump first comes on, there is little heat output for a minute or two, but the ducts are putting out some very cool air (until they warm up a bit). We discovered that the cool air coming from the ducts is enough to cool down the inside temperature of our motorhome at least one degree before the warm air starts to heat the coach. When we set the thermostat to four degrees above ambient, and then the inside temperature cools down another degree, there is suddenly a five degree difference, the "buddy system" kicks in, and the LP furnace comes on.

Now, when we first turn on the Heat Pump in the morning, we set the thermostat to only a three degree difference—and the LP furnace continues to slumber peacefully. Once the Heat Pump has warmed up the ducts, we then revert to bumping the temperature four degrees at a time until our living space is warm and cozy. (Gee whiz, it only took us two years to figure it out.)

Flag Etiquette

US flag waving

Seeing our flag flying from an RV and silhouetted against a bright blue sky with some wispy white clouds is a wonderful sight. Many RVers like to display our lovely flag, but many of them also don’t know or don’t follow proper flag etiquette.

Let me take a minute and give you a quick refresher course on flag etiquette. Whenever the sun is up, it is OK to display our flag, but it should be taken down at sunset and not left out overnight. Formal etiquette says that the flag may stay up at night, but it must be illuminated—and most of us don’t have a source of outside light that directs the beam of light at the flag.

A lot of folks have a trio of small flags that they put on the front of their motorhome, but they seldom remember to take down the US Flag in the evening—instead just leaving their flags out all the time.

And a lot of folks don’t realize that our flag should not be put up and displayed in inclement weather—such as rain or snow.

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