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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RV plumbing "mod" saves wasted not-so-hot water

For boondockers, staying out in the "wilds" and away from civilization for as long as possible is often a priority. When we boondocked for entire winters on the desert, water was a primary concern – how do you stretch 40 gallons of fresh water between two people for as long as possible?

The usual water conservation techniques always apply: Take the "Navy shower," as an example. Step in the shower, wet yourself down, turn off the water. Soap up. Turn on water, rinse off. It's practically a contest to see who can use the least amount of water and still come out clean. Other water conservation techniques come into play – save the dish water for flushing the toilet. We've even heard of extreme measures – one RVer uses a bucket and takes gray water out of his holding tank to flush the pot. Not so sure on that one – our gray water never smelled good enough to bring back inside the rig.

But what about wasted water when waiting for hot water to make its seemingly sluggish way from the water heater all the way out to the faucet when you're waiting to wash your hands, dishes, etc? Some (ourselves included) have used a jug or pan to collect that otherwise clean, fresh water, and use it later for "cold water" purposes. But it can be a bit of a hassle, and if you're using a tankless "instant hot" heater, or if your conventional water heater is a long way from the faucet, you can collect quite a bit of tepid water while waiting. Here's an RV modification to think about.

Rather than collecting that tepid water in a pan, instead, simply re-route it with a modified plumbing scheme to send it back to the fresh water tank. How so? By putting a "T" in the water line that supplies the "hot" side of your faucet. One of the T outputs routes to the faucet, and the other side to an add-on line that routes back to the fresh water tank inlet. The trick is to put a valve in the line headed back to the fresh tank. When you want hot water at the faucet, leave the faucet turned off, but open the re-route valve long enough to ensure you really have hot water on location. Now close the valve, and use the faucet – and have hot water readily available.

You could really trick this idea out by using a 12-volt electrically operated solenoid valve in place of a standard water valve. Push a button at the sink, the solenoid opens, shunting tepid water back to the fresh tank; when the hot has arrived, let loose of the "normally open momentary contact push" style button. Here's one solenoid you could use, for less than $25.00.

Of course, you'll need access to 12 volts, and a way to route the "new" line back to the fresh water tank on your rig. It'd really only make sense if your tank is on the same side of the rig as the faucet(s) you want to modify, but hey, it's a great afternoon "mod" project for the boondocker.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Keeping your generator safe from thieves

If it's December, you can be sure that there's plenty of RVers boondocking on the desert near Quartzsite. And you can also bet good money that the local police agency will be investigating reports of stolen generators from some of those same boondockers. Just what can you do to keep somebody from running off with your generator?

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For years, RVers have been cooking up their best practices for deterring theft. One of the most typical approaches is the "chain and lock" trick. A heavy chain wrapped around the generator, secured to say, the RV's axle. Add a hefty lock, and that oughta keep the crooks at bay, right? Sad to say, chains and locks are quickly nullified with the use of a hefty bolt cutter. A couple of snips, a grab, and your generator is headed down the road.

Others suggest a different, but related approach. Instead of using a chain that can be quickly snipped with a bolt cutter, substitute a multi-strand metal cable. Indeed, trying to chew through a wire cable with a bolt cutter is akin to taking after my wife's BBQ ribs that she famously does in the microwave. OK, used to do in the microwave. Anyhow, it's just a tough, too-time-consuming process.

Well, one RVer visiting Quartzsite tried just that approach with a so-called Snip-Proof cable. One night, over a half-dozen generators vanished from the desert – including the one with the unsnippable cable. Police speculated that the crooks used a diamond cutting wheel on a cordless tool. Call it the great Honda Sayonara.

Since Honda generators seem to be particular targets of crooks, Honda now has an "accessory" anti-theft bracket available. It bolts over the plastic Honda 2000 handle, which precludes crooks from simply making a quick cut or two through the handle and running off with the generator – leaving chains or cables intact. Well, as some have suggested, why doesn't the company simply make these "standard equipment"? Good question, but even so, the determined crook can still whip through your chain or cable as we've already discussed.

So what's the answer? Alternative suggestions include motion-sensor equipped artillery, chains – not on the generator – but on large dogs with power jaws, perched near the generator, etc. But face it, if the crook wants your generator, and if he has enough time, he'll figure out a way to make off with your kilowatt-maker. But like the commercial for the computer security company says, "They can't hack what they can't see."

In practice, when your generator is operating, you're probably up and around, making a sufficient theft deterrent. Granted, that doesn't help much if you're running the generator on a hot summer day and trot down to the store for a quart of milk. Plenty of RVers have found their generator vamoosed while away for less than a quarter hour.

But when you're not running it, perhaps the best way to protect it is to hide it. It's a pain in the neck to be sure, but we keep our generator tucked away in our truck canopy. With obscured, smoke-glass windows, it's extremely difficult to see – if not impossible – in the dark of night. Other RVers actually stick their generators inside their RV at night, close to the door, but out of sight. Still others are known to somehow maneuver their tow vehicles up and over the top of their chained or cabled generator – making it extremely hard to physically get at the generator.

Until someone comes up with a thief-proof generator protection system, or all the crooks are gone (whichever comes first), your best generator protection system is probably to make it invisible.