Utilities for a RV

By Bob Kelly

I realized that a RV is not a large SUV with more space.

I returned from a 6,800 mile trip that started in mid July 2019. I brought my nieces, who are new to RV’s, with me. There were a couple of things at the end of the trip, after 30 days of traveling, that provided insight as to why some new RV owners are timid/encounter problems with dry camping or boondocking. It was one of those AHA! moments. I’m sorry that I never saw the component before.

I came to RV’s with a strong backpacking/sailing background. In the late 70’s I owned a Backpacking shop in Upper Montclair. In the late 80’s I had a friend who owned a 35’ sloop that we moved from NJ to Newport, RI. Both experiences laid the foundation for my later RV trips.

An RV is not just a bigger SUV you can eat and sleep in with more room for your dogs. The RV is a mobile city of one, and not just a house on wheels. If you only stay at RV parks with full hookups, you can stop reading, as you are essentially still at home, just in a different neighborhood.

At home, there is unlimited energy. Carelessness results in a bigger utility bill. Leaving the water run, or having a leak increases the quarterly water bill or makes your water pump run more. Energy and water at home are endless, and seldom a concern. The RV, like the backpacker, or boat, must carry all of its water and energy, or find a location where it’s available. If you have unlimited water, you must have unlimited sewer disposal.

The incident  that brought this to light, is the relay in my RV that connects the house batteries to the alternator broke (It’s generally located under the passenger seat. It was eliminated in the 2020 Models). This was not been a problem, since I have 300 W of solar on the roof. Essentially, I have been dry camping for the bulk of the trip in one location, since the alternator has not contributed to my energy budget.

My niece asked to plug in her laptop to a small laptop inverter. It was a cloudy and rainy day, but we were doing well on the batteries, so I said OK. Later in the day when I checked the batteries they were at 40%. She left the charger plugged in. Not her fault, she didn’t understand the system. We had to run the generator.

Days later, it was shower night. I filled the water tank. It took 21 gallons to fill (I have a water meter). We did the standard 11 or 12 minutes of propane hot water heating, and then showered with just the hot water on. I did not realize that we had taken on some really soft water, and when you washed, it felt like the soap hadn’t rinsed off. The standard lather, shut off water, scrub and rinse turned into lather, shut off water, scrub and rinse, and rinse, and rinse. I was the last to shower and found my self standing in an inch of water in the shower basin.

Things were fixed so we had a dry shower pan, but we were essentially out of water. The girls had become very comfortable, and felt at home, but they weren’t at home, and that provided the revelation.

The RV, unlike home, requires you to monitor your energy availability and use. You must be aware of the energy you have at your disposal, and how you have been using it. The RV requires judicious use of water, and a conscious evaluation of where you are in your water budget. The RV requires that you monitor your waste tanks. None of these things are complicated or difficult, it’s just that you must be aware. If you raise your awareness, and/or plan ahead, there are dump stations everywhere.

Dry Camping/boondocking is just as comfortable as being in the most palatial RV resort, except there generally is no AC, and the sites are much more open and less crowded. It provides you with the opportunity to go almost anywhere. It opens up some beautiful places and parks. It just requires you to be in the utility business.