Water, Flowing

So last post I covered the electrical systems, which I am comfortable with.  I’ll be doing a post soon outlining the parts lists I have developed for doing a full gut/refub of a trailer that will highlight some of the cool products I found for that system, but this time I’ll be focusing on water systems – the fountain of life and happiness on the road.

As much as I love taking showers in public bathroom sinks, I’d much rather have a nice supply of water.  To do that, we need to get it all contained and flowing.  The main components are:  tanks, pump, water heater, the fixtures, and (optionally) sensors.

THE TANKS

For some reason, I expected something much more expensive, and much bigger.  Why?  Dunno.   I used to keep fish, and even a 50 gallon all in glass was under $100.  PPL has a bunch of tanks (listed above), the biggest of which is 42 gallons, dimensions are 14″x18″x39″ and they’re already fitted with all the ins, outs, and tubing bits.

Let me back up.  First you have to get water in to the system.  I found a nice diagram by Mark Nemeth that I’m dropping here:

So, water fills tank, tank supplies

THE PUMP
In order to enjoy the same kind of water pressure (although a little less) that we have at home, you need a pump pressurizing the lines.  It’s a little 12V pump running off of the previously mentioned 12V systems.  It keeps everything flowing strong and has no problem running dry if that should happen.  Alternately, you bypass the fresh water tank and water pump, straight to the city line (off of some friendly person’s house, or the campground water supply).  The input panel for water often has a separate water input, or just a switch to choose lines.   Mr. Nemeth suggested putting a pressure regulator on the city water in just in case it runs high and decides to blow up all your hoses.  Good idea, cheap – I’ll do it!

Fresh water, either pumped or citied, is distributed to the various fixtures.  Our trailer will be like the above, but without that 2nd sink.  A sink in the bathroom seems like a waste of space – the kitchen works just find and it’s all of 5 feet away.  Replace that in the diagram with an outdoor shower (for the nudist/exhibitionist in all of us).

THE WATER HEATER
Or hot water heater…  Heats up the cold water so we all stay cozy and warm.  These are those standard little square vents on the side of any trailer – they’re these little tanks that hold about 5 or 6 gallons – enough for a quick shower – and heat it with your propane.  They run about $300 new, not bad, but a little pricey (or so I thought).

I like the idea of on-demand water heaters.  They only heat water as needed and turn on automatically when when water flow is detected.  Great in theory and practice – I’ve had them in past apartments.  There’s one company that makes the standard RV sized on-demands, but they’re almost $1000 and don’t have great reviews.  Other models are maybe $600, still twice as much as the standard tank style, and aren’t quite designed for RVs.  I fear a little bit for my safety, and I’m not sure where to put one.  Maybe we’ll add that to the “upgrade” pile and see if something new comes out in the future.  Tank all the way for me.

THE (OPTIONAL) SENSORS
It’s nice to know the levels in your tanks, but apparently not necessary.  Supposedly:

  •  If you can see water when you flush, black water’s full.
  • If your shower don’t drain, grey water’s full.
  • If your water runs dry, the fresh water’s empty.

Simple!  But we’re in a digital age with digital gauges - I need something that tells me exactly what I have and when and the temperature and what the media thinks about it.  I really like the Tech Edge sensors – they are Coast Guard grade, have a full tank measure, and can even check your LP levels.. lot of info, you pay.  $300 or more for the system.  Maybe put that in “when I get that bonus, I’ll buy it” pile.

DUMP IT!
When it’s full, you gotta dump it.  Hook up hoses to the dumping hole, throw open the black water tank, then the grey to chase it.  There are some thick, sort of rigid hoses that empty in to sewer holes at RV parks and dump stations.  I’ve been advised that this is NOT a place to be homemade or skimp – you do NOT want to be cleaning up leaks and spills.  There are also some nifty flush devices that you drill in to the side of each tank and use a hose to get anything clumpy (shudder) moving.  Worth the $15, if you ask me.

That’s it.  Not as scary as I thought.  Just gotta make sure everything is connected tightly and you will not have any issues.   It’s also more expensive than the power systems, but also very important to happy living.

Next time, I’ll go over some specific equipment related to these two systems, plus some appliances.  I also want to explore the whole Tiny House movement and why some of those trailer houses are nay so smart.

Mm, Power

Right, so, I’m starting with the system I should know the most about – electrical.  Low voltage isn’t that different from high voltage (just scarier) and I think it’s a system I feel fully comfortable tearing out and refitting completely.

First up – Batteries.  Batteries provide power to all those nice little things like water pump, lights, fans, gauges, etc etc etc.  After some reading, sounds like a pair of 6V golf cart batteries hooked up in parallel would work nicely to provide a good bit of power.

Trojan T-105 batteries are about $130 a piece (would need 2) and weight about 60 pounds.  In addition, they need a happy, ventilated space since they put off some gases as they operate.

After that, we need a converter/charger to get the batteries powered up and kept happy.  There are a lot of nice 3-stage chargers that keep the battery on a trickle and won’t dry them up.  They run anywhere from $100 – $400 and work pretty well.  Probably need to yank out any old charger in our used trailer and put in something proper.  The converter portion is pretty nice as well – lets you access the battery power when you’re not connected to hookups.  It feeds back in to the main breaker and supplies power for the regular outlets.  It probably won’t handle any big appliances, but it will power a little LCD TV and some sound, plus a few lights, etc.  Nifty!

Other than that you have a 30A or 50A plug on the side of your trailer for hookups.  These are specifically made connectors not to be confused with other types of industrial power connectors.  You can get a cheap cable adapter that allows 15A standard extension cords to plug in to your power as well, but it may not power some of the bigger appliances (air conditioning).

That really wasn’t that bad.  I need to figure out how to get everything wired up in to a breaker box and cabled out, but that can’t be that bad?  I also need to invest in the great RV Repair and Maintenance Guide.

Mobile Networking on the Road

One of my big concerns over full-timing was my connectivity.  I’m not a farmer, I’m a technology consultant and designer.  I actually need an internet connection, not for checking facebook (deleted, done with that!), but for making money – finding jobs/clients, delivering documents, etc.  It’s also the main source of entertainment for me – web comics, information about my area, and (mostly) watching movies.

Before I discuss all of the options for getting data, I have to say big kudos to Netflix for removing part of the entertainment dilemma!  They recently changed their pricing and while everybody got busy complaining about possible hikes, I focused in on this:

Unlimited Streaming only.  No DVDs required.  I figured with my old plan, I’d have to get 1 DVD (that I really liked) and just sit on it until I was parked some place with a semi-permanent address to get DVDs again.  Now, I can just add/remove DVDs on a monthly basis and only pay $7.99/month for streaming.  The rapidly-spreading RedBox allows me to grab most new releases before they hit streaming.

So what do we have for mobile internet?  There’s a few options, some good, some not so good:

  1. Satellite internet.  This is the old classic option.  You put a dish on your RV and get satellite internet reaching blazing (up to) 512k speeds down for $50/month.  Not exactly fast, but if it’s your only option, at least it’s something.  Add on to that the cost/trouble of setting up a dish everywhere you go and it’s not my favorite option at all.  WildBlue generally is the leader in this field.
  2. Cell network hotspots.  Virgin Mobile and others have unlimited data plans on a MiFi device for $50/month.  If you do not have 3G, you get a 150kbps connection, and with 3G an up to 1.4mbps connection.  The MiFiis $129 at the time of this post from Virgin Mobile.  While this is much cheaper, it does come with a lot of limitations.  Virgin only works near big cities and highways. Everywhere else it’s a complete dead spot.  You can get some cool cell-signal boosters that will get a signal 50 miles from a tower, but that’s just more expense and won’t help in a lot of cases.
  3. Freeloading.  Honestly, EVERYBODY has free wifi these days – restaurants, stores, and (although it’s not technically legal to connect) people’s homes.  There are tons of free wifi collectives that give you nice maps to find a connection near you.  Add to that many RV parks have wifi as part of their connection package and you’ve got a pretty stead stream of internets.

Right now I’m leaning towards a combination of 2 and 3.  One option I did not mention was using your cell phone as a hot-spot.  If I’m paying for a data connection through my phone, might as well be using it for my mobile connection.  Some providers, like Sprint, are cracking down on that to force you in to buying both data plans for your computer/laptop/tablet and for your phone.  Not very sporting.  Unlimited should be unlimited.

I’m sure all of this will change before this post even finishes drying (I think that’s how blogs work), but for now, I can get by without investing in a big dish.  Perhaps I’ll start watching a lot more local access television and less internet videos.

For Starters…

A blog, another blog, clogging up the internet.  Sheesh.  But we have a website, so why not use it?

This blog is for a few things:

  • Posting random things that don’t seem relevant to or don’t want cluttering up our “professional” sites.
  • Posting news and things for family and friends to see.
  • Posting progress on our wild ideas regarding travel (hence the subdomain), living in a travel trailer, and living simply.
  • Posting items that might be useful later, so we can find them.

Enjoy.  Or don’t.  This really isn’t for you unless you’d want it.