Jan 13, 2021

Where to Boondock?

For many RVers, boondocking is their favorite style of camping. Boondocking refers to a style of free camping without access to utility hookups. Now that we know why to boondock and how to boondock, we’re covering where to boondock.

An RVer can boondock in a wide variety of locations. These include public lands, such as national forests and other federally-protected lands, casino parking lots, the parking lots of many businesses, locations offered through several types of membership clubs, rest stops, and more. Here, we will list and describe in detail all the places available for free boondocking across the United States. You may be surprised at just how many places are available!

1. Public Lands

Did you know that the United States has over 610 million acres of publicly-owned land across the country? This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Park Service (NPS). Besides the lands managed by the NPS, most of the other public lands across America are open to campers for boondocking purposes. Rangers in federal land offices sometimes refer to this as dispersed camping. Among those who love to boondock, dispersed camping (camping on public lands) tends to be the most popular.

Credit: Public Lands Foundation

There are many benefits to camping on public lands. These include gorgeous views, minimal interactions with others, peace and solitude, access to nature in its purest form, and plenty of wide open spaces. However, free access to these gorgeous places comes with a few rules.
  • First of all, campers must ensure that they cause minimal impact to their campsite by leaving no trace and packing out all trash and waste.
  • In addition, all campers must be sure to camp for a maximum of fourteen days, although this number can vary depending on the location.
  • Finally, campers must respect any burn bans that may be in place, as well as any other conditional rules their camping area may have. When in doubt, call the nearest ranger station to double check on the rules.
Camping on public lands is incredible for all those able to experience it, and it is able to be regulated and enjoyed by everyone when campers adhere to the rules in place.

2. Business Parking Lots

There are many businesses that also allow RVers to park overnight for a night or two, free of charge. As a general corporate rule, some of these locations include Walmarts, Home Depots, Cracker Barrels, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, K-Marts, Targets, Costcos, and many other places. However, while camping is generally permitted at these locations, city ordinances in certain places may prohibit camping. As with each other free camping location, there is a process you should follow to ensure that camping is actually permitted at each individual location.
  • Start by locating the business where you are thinking of staying. Find the contact information and call, asking to speak with a manager.
  • Once you get a hold of someone, confirm whether or not camping is allowed, and ask if there are any specific rules to follow. This could include allowance of generator usage, where to park, if you are allowed to open your slide-outs, and more.
  • If you are unable to get a hold of a manager, it is not recommended that you try to stay overnight, as this could lead to fines or ticketing. However, keep in mind that most Walmarts are allowed, unless signage indicates otherwise.

Credit: RV Life

3. Membership Clubs

There are a few membership clubs that RVers can join for access to even more overnight camping. Each of these has a yearly fee, but after paying this one-time price, members can access to many unique locations for an entire year.

Boondockers Welcome is a great program in which hosts allow RVers to stay on their personal properties for free. Often, this may be in someone’s driveway or even in their backyard. A membership will allow members to gain access to the full repertoire of over 2,000 locations, each complete with information such as number of days permitted, what size RVs are allowed, whether or not the location is pet-friendly, and more. Often, this can be a great option for those camping in cities where overnighting in business lots is not permitted. In addition, it is also great for building a network of friends with similar camping interests.

Harvest Hosts is another unique program that allows those in self-contained RVs to stay overnight for free at over 1,100 business locations across North America. These include locations such as farms, vineyards, breweries, museums, and so much more. The membership costs a low yearly fee, and members are expected to patron their Hosts’ business, but the total amount spent is still significantly less than what one would spend at a campground. In addition, it gives campers tons of personal and interesting experiences that cannot be found in typical campgrounds or parking lots. Once you have joined, the website’s interactive map allows members to view hosts and details about their location before requesting to camp.

Credit: RV Travel

4. Rest stops

As a last resort, most rest stops along interstates and highways allow free overnight camping. While this may not be ideal, due to safety, noise, and comfort, this can be a very convenient option when traveling quickly from one place to another. Generally, there are few rules at rest stops. Just be sure to look for signage indicating that camping is permitted before setting up for the night. And as always, keep noise to a minimum, and properly dispose of all garbage.

Credit: Do it Yourself RV

5. Casinos

Finally, many casinos across the United States allow visitors to camp overnight in their self-contained RVs, free of charge. Most of these locations are Native American-owned and can be found in the western half of the United States. This camping option is excellent for those who wish to be near a city and save some money on camping fees. Like dispersed camping, casino camping tends to have a few rules.
  • First, campers will need to check in with security and ask where in the parking lot they are allowed to camp. Typically, there is a set area where the casino owners would like RVs to park if they are staying overnight.
  • Next, you will want to check to see if there are certain hours when generator use is permitted. If there are no set hours, you will want to stick to a 9pm-9am schedule for quiet hours, during which time your generator should be off, out of politeness to fellow campers and your host.
  • Then you will need to check and see how many days you are allowed to stay. This can be anywhere from a single night all the way up to two or three weeks, depending on the casino.
  • Finally, any campers enjoying their free overnight accommodations should be sure to patronize the casino with a small purchase of some entertainment or a meal. After all, the camping is permitted because it is profitable for the casino, so if RVers do not spend any money, the casino may begin to rethink whether or not it wants to allow free overnight camping.
If there is no public land and no casino camping available nearby, then you may look to any of the next three options for free campsites.

Credit: Aluminum Life

Free campsites are available in almost every area an RVer could wish to visit. Even if you only wish to camp for free occasionally, the money saved can allow you to enjoy even more fun while on vacation. Consider any of these location possibilities for an excellent variety of campsites to choose from. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will discuss what tools are most useful for locating and selecting specific boondocking sites.

Where do you like to boondock? Did we miss any of your favorite places? Feel free to share in the comments below!

FMCA Tech Tip: RV Fire Safety

Making a plan and having the proper equipment can help to avert disaster. 

An RV fire can quickly lead to devastating damage, injury, or, in the worst-case scenario, loss of life. Therefore, it’s important that RVers implement a fire-safety plan that includes knowing how to exit the RV, having a sufficient number of fire extinguishers of an adequate type and size, installing devices that warn of dangerous levels of smoke and propane (as well as carbon monoxide), and possibly installing an automatic extinguisher for a refrigerator or engine compartment.

Escape Options
When a fire breaks out, your first decision is whether to fight it or flee. Because RV fires can quickly become unmanageable, fast action is crucial. Some RV owners place important items in a pouch that they keep near the door, so it’s easy to grab on the way out. The door, of course, may not be accessible. Emergency exit windows are mandated by law, but crawling through one may be difficult. Some windows pop out, but many can slam shut on you, so you may want to keep handy a pole of some sort to hold the window open. You also might have to deal with a significant drop to the ground, unless a picnic table or bench is below the window. Rope ladders can be purchased, but you must be able to find and deploy the ladder quickly to avoid being overcome by smoke inhalation. Rather than an emergency exit window, some Type A motorhomes have an emergency exit door. Whatever your options, it’s important to have an escape plan and practice it with your travelers.

Fire Classifications
A fire needs three elements to ignite: fuel (such as wood, carpet, gasoline, diesel fuel, and propane), oxygen, and heat. Fire extinguishers put out fires by removing one or more of these elements. Although RVs come equipped with fire extinguishers, they often meet only the minimum standards provided by the National Fire Protection Association. Many models are undersized and fall short of what’s needed to put out anything but a very small fire. Before we examine the types of fire extinguishers, it’s important to understand how the fires most likely to occur in RVs are classified.

  • Class A fires involve solid combustible fuels (other than metals), such as wood, paper, cloth, and plastics. These are the easiest fires to put out. Water works well. Ideally, an element (such as soap) is added to the water to break the surface tension and separate the fuel from its oxygen.
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil, grease, diesel fuel, and alcohol. Water won’t extinguish such fires, because the liquid fuel floats on the water’s surface and spreads to other areas.
  • Class C electrical fires are caused by energized circuits. If a circuit is live, consider the fire a Class C blaze. The wire itself doesn’t burn, but the insulation and anything surrounding it does. Using water on Class C fires can create an electrical shock hazard. Once the circuit is de-energized, the blaze can be treated as a Class A fire.
Fire Extinguisher Ratings
Fire extinguishers tested by UL, a global safety certification company, are labeled with a rating that indicates the size and types of fires the extinguishers can put out. Each letter stands for a fire classification — that is, Class A, B, or C. The number preceding the letter A is a water equivalency rating, with each A equal to 1.25 gallons of water. For example, a 2A extinguisher is rated as effective as using 2.5 gallons of water on Class A fires; a 3A extinguisher is as effective as using 3.75 gallons of water, etc. The number rating for Class B and C extinguishers represents the square footage that the extinguisher is designed to handle. So, a 10B:C extinguisher can handle Class B or C fires up to 10 square feet. It’s common to combine ratings on a single extinguisher, such as 2A:10B:C.

Fire Extinguisher Types
Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher on certain fires can be life threatening. Following is a brief description of the types of extinguishers and the fire-fighting agents they employ:

Air pressurized water (APW): Extinguishes Class A fires. APWs are large tanks filled about two-thirds with water and then pressurized with compressed air. Pulling the trigger shoots water from the hose and nozzle.

Carbon Dioxide (CO?): Extinguishes Class B and C fires. The extinguishers are filled with highly pressurized carbon dioxide, which exits through a hard plastic horn and displaces oxygen from a fire, suffocating it. Because the CO is cold as it exits the extinguishers, it also cools the fire. CO generally is not effective on Class A fires because it may scatter burning particles and may not displace enough oxygen to smother the blaze and prevent it from reigniting.
  • Dry Chemical: Extinguishes Class A, B, and C fires. These are the most popular extinguishers among consumers. The dry chemical is a fine powder that is pressurized with nitrogen. The dry chemical interrupts the chemical reaction that occurs among elements of a fire (fuel, oxygen, and heat). Many RVs come equipped with a 3.9-pound dry-chemical fire extinguisher rated at 1A:10B:C. As a fire-fighting tool, it’s undersized, and therefore its usefulness is extremely limited. If you choose a dry-chemical extinguisher, I recommend a larger one, such as a 9-pound 3A:40B:C. One downside of dry-chemical extinguishers is that they leave a mess. The powder extinguishes electrical fires, but it is corrosive to electrical circuits, so once it’s used, electrical components may need to be replaced. In addition, inhaling or coming into contact with certain types of dry-chemical powders can cause irritation to the nose, throat, and lungs, as well as dizziness and headaches. Over time, the dry chemical tends to settle in the cylinder and become packed down. Therefore, every six months, turn the extinguisher upside down and whack the base with a rubber mallet so that the powder remains loose enough to be expelled. Most of these extinguishers come with a pressure gauge that should be checked regularly. If the gauge indicates a recharge is needed, it may be possible to refill the extinguisher, but usually inexpensive throwaway models simply should be replaced.
  • Clean-Agent Gas: Extinguishes Class A, B, and C fires. These extinguishers use an inert gas to interrupt the chemical reaction in a fire and/or remove heat. Halon has been banned in many areas, because it destroys ozone, but environmentally acceptable clean-agent gas alternatives are available. They leave no mess and don’t conduct electricity. Two types of clean agents exist, flooding and streaming. Flooding types are more gaseous, and often are used in enclosed, unoccupied areas where the gas can’t escape, such as computer rooms and engine compartments of boats. When such extinguishers are used in an open or fan-ventilated area, the gas can disperse, allowing the fire to flare up again. Streaming clean agents, such as Halotron 1, are discharged from a portable extinguisher as a liquid and then turn into a gas. This allows the user to stand back from a fire. Although Halotron 1 is approved for use in occupied spaces, inhaling it should be avoided. It should be used outdoors or in an enclosed area that can be adequately ventilated after use. A Halotron 1 fire extinguisher is capable of putting out a Class A fire, but it is not as effective in doing so as a dry-chemical extinguisher. EX:

  • Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF): Extinguishes Class A and B fires. AFFF is a soap-like foam agent that is mixed with water. The foam blankets a fire, suffocates it, cools it, and prevents reignition. Technically, AFFF can conduct electricity, but in a fire involving high-voltage electrical wiring, the conductors generally short out and trip the circuit breaker, which de-energizes the circuit and removes the fire from the Class C category.
  • High-Expansion Air-Compressed Foam: Extinguishes Class A and B fires. These extinguishers employ a mix of denatured water and a foam. They are more effective than AFFF extinguishers. The foam provides a viscous, nonflammable layer to block air from the fuel. The foam also renders hydrocarbons such as gasoline or oil inert so they cannot reignite. The foam clings to vertical surfaces and produces no toxic gases. Fire Fight Products sells handheld 16-ounce extinguishers, the SS20 ($30 plus shipping), which can be used on small fires, such as on a kitchen stovetop. The best practice is to keep multiple units handy — one in the bedroom, one up front by the entry door, one in an outside storage compartment, and one in the towed or towing vehicle. Fire Fight’s 6-liter SS450 handheld extinguisher ($245 plus shipping) provides significantly more fire-fighting capacity. It comes with a spare can of foam, enough to refill the extinguisher twice. The refill procedure: add distilled water and 8 ounces of foam to the extinguisher, and then charge it with compressed gas. Jim Bounds, CEO of Fire Fight Products, said the company’s fire extinguishers are supplemental fire safety products. Individual components of the fire extinguishers have been tested by UL, but the overall units have not, and therefore they do not carry a UL rating.
Automatic Extinguishers
Many RVs have absorption-style refrigerators. They contain an ammonia-based mixture that can release explosive hydrogen gas should the cooling unit rupture and leak. The gas can be ignited quickly by a heat source.

To control that kind of fire, compact automatic extinguishers that use a clean-agent gas can be installed in an enclosed compartment behind the refrigerator. Fire Fight’s SS30 was designed specifically for this type of application, and it works equally well in generator compartments. Its HFC227 gas can be dispensed through the standard sprinkler-style head or through a remote head attached to the cylinder via a 6-foot-long, stainless-steel braided hose. The cost of the SS30 series is about $250. An automatic extinguisher also can be a good choice for the engine compartment of a motorhome. A leak in a gas-powered coach can result in fuel coming in contact with hot engine parts or electrical components. And in a diesel-powered motorhome, the engine’s turbochargers can reach extreme temperatures, especially when working hard or climbing grades. If a hydraulic fan line or fuel line becomes loose or fails, flammable fluid can spray on the engine bay and ignite.

One option for engine compartments is an automatic extinguisher using high-expansion air-compressed foam, which coats the fire and reduces the temperature. Fire Fight Products offers such systems in three cylinder sizes: SS100 (2 liters of foam); SS200 (3 liters); and SS300 (4 liters). The head can be mounted directly on the top of the cylinder or can be mounted remotely on stainless-steel braided hoses. The 4-liter system is available with two remote heads to cover larger areas. When the engine is running, a fire may reflash. So, a larger cylinder with a longer run time can allow you more time to get off the road and shut down the engine. Proteng is another company with an automatic fire suppression system. It is available in two versions — standard and heavy-duty. Each is intended to be used in enclosed areas, such as diesel or gas engine compartments, battery compartments, and other electrical areas. The system consists of a polyamide (synthetic polymer) tube that is filled with the clean agent FM-200, which is nontoxic and noncorrosive. When the standard system is exposed to direct flame or temperatures that exceed 158 degrees Fahrenheit, the tube ruptures, releasing the FM-200. The heavy-duty system uses a thicker polyamide tube, which ruptures when exposed to flame or temperatures exceeding 194 degrees Fahrenheit. The length of tube required depends on the size of the area needing protection.

Fogmaker International AB also offers an automatic fire suppression system for engine compartments. According to the company website, the system dispenses a high-pressure mix of water and aqueous film-forming foam as a dense fog that can decrease temperatures by 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit) within 10 seconds. The dense water vapor displaces oxygen, and the AFFF prevents reignition of hydrocarbon vapors. A sensor connects to a warning display on the cockpit instrument panel. The cost of automatic systems ranges from about $160 to $900. When a fire in the engine compartment of a diesel pusher deploys an automatic extinguisher, the fire may go unnoticed by the driver for a considerable time. In fact, once the extinguisher is empty, the fire may reignite. Therefore, I recommend that an automatic fire suppression system have a remote alarm that senses pressure loss in the extinguisher. With an early warning of a fire, the driver can safely pull off the road, analyze the fire, and attack it with a handheld extinguisher, if necessary. Most any type of alarm can be used. You can buy a professional alarm or make something as simple as a 12-volt buzzer and flashing light on the dash. Fire Fight offers an optional pressure switch, but you must specify this when ordering a system, because it’s not shown on the company’s website.

Smoke Alarms
An effective warning system can be the difference between saving an RV or making a speedy exit while it burns to the ground. The longer an RV is, the more time it takes for smoke to travel from one end to the other, so it’s important to install multiple smoke alarms. They should be mounted on the ceiling or on a sidewall close to the ceiling. Place one in the rear and another in the front of the RV. To avoid false alerts, don’t install one in the cooking area.

Smoke alarms may utilize ionization or photoelectric sensing technologies, or both. Ionization alarms are more responsive to flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires, such as when electrical wiring is shorted and its insulation begins to burn slowly with smoke but no flame. In that case, you can shut down the electrical circuit to prevent a full-blown fire. Manufacturers such as Kidde and First Alert make dual-sensor smoke alarms that incorporate both types of sensors in one unit.

Other Detectors
If a leak develops in a propane line or if a propane appliance fails, the highly flammable gas can build up inside an RV. Propane is heavier than air, so it settles to the floor where a pilot light or spark can ignite it and start a major fire. That’s why propane alarms generally are mounted very low on an interior wall, next to the floor. Avoid using aerosols such as hair spray and various cleaning agents near a propane alarm, because they can ruin it. Test the alarm regularly. A carbon monoxide (CO) alarm won’t alert you to fire, but the colorless, odorless gas is just as deadly, so we’re including it here. CO, a byproduct of combustion, can come from a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger, or from a vehicle exhaust, or even the exhaust from a nearby camper’s generator. The lighter-than-air gas rises, so a CO alarm should be installed up high. Some RVs come equipped with a combination propane/CO alarm, which is generally located beneath the refrigerator. This is the perfect location for detecting propane but not for CO. If you have such a setup, I suggest adding a ceiling-mounted CO alarm. Some smoke alarms feature a digital LCD display that shows how much CO has accumulated. As little as 250 parts per million over an eight-hour period can be fatal. A good alarm will add up the accumulative amounts to protect you from a slow CO buildup, but less expensive models may sound an alert only if a large amount of CO is present at one time. Keep in mind that alarms for CO and smoke should not be mounted beneath a cabinet. They should be at the highest point in the RV.

When dealing with a fire, it’s important to stay calm, and you’ll have a better chance of that if you’ve rehearsed what to do in any given situation. Discuss and practice how to deal with a particular fire and whether to fight it or just safely exit the RV. Know your escape route and method so you don’t have to figure it out in an emergency. Be sure to outfit your RV with adequate fire extinguishers in multiple locations to cover your needs. Install smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide detectors in places where they will be most effective. Knowledge is power. Attend a fire and life safety seminar at an FMCA convention. You’ll gain immeasurable knowledge to help stay safe in your RV travels.

Equipment Suppliers
Fire Extinguisher Recall
The recall of millions of Kidde fire extinguishers has been widely reported, but it bears repeating. The recall involves models of Kidde extinguishers with plastic handles that were manufactured from January 1, 1973, to August 15, 2017. The fire extinguishers can become clogged or require excessive force to discharge and can fail during a fire emergency. To determine whether you have an affected model and to request a free replacement fire extinguisher, contact Kidde at (855) 271-0773 or visit www.kidde.com and click on the “Product Safety Recalls” box.

Dec 28, 2020

7 New Year’s Resolutions Perfect for RVers

We’re saying good riddance to 2020 (it was a doozy) and making way for 2021! A new year means a fresh start and people across the world are making resolutions for the upcoming year. You might have a few goals already planned out for 2021, but did you include any RV related resolutions into the mix? We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites that are sure to make 2021 great.

Go on More Trips - It’s no secret that RVers love to travel, but are you making time for new adventures? Try creating your very own bucket list of short treks and long adventures for the year and involve the whole family in the research process.

Take the Long Way - RVing is all about enjoying the journey, not just getting from point A to point B. It’s often more exciting to take the scenic route as you never know what you’ll find on the road less traveled.

Attempt Boondocking - Have you always wanted to try dry camping? Why not try it in 2021? Boondocking can save you money and can be an incredible experience if you’re interested in really going off the grid.

Make New RV Friends - Building an RV community is one of the best parts of the lifestyle. Host a socially distanced campfire at your campsite or walk around and meet new people who enjoy similar activities as you do. There also are tons of online RV groups on social media that you can join to chat with like-minded people who love RVing just as much as you do. The RV community is BIG - take advantage of it!

Plan for a Change in Scenery - Have you been traveling to the same locations year after year? Branch out in 2021 and go to a new destination. Usually travel to the mountains in your RV? Why not try a beach trip this year? Remember, variety is the spice of life.

Enjoy Nature - It can be easy to have the go-go-go mentality when you’re an RVer, but take some time to slow down this coming year and really enjoy the beauty of nature. Snap a few photos, but don’t forget to take a few deep breaths of the fresh air and enjoy the silence and beauty of your surroundings.

Try Something New - This resolution can apply to just about anything! From going to new restaurants to stopping at exciting pit stops to activities like white water rafting or rock climbing. One of the best parts of RVing is that it allows you to explore new places and try new things.

Are you ready to buy an RV and make a few resolutions of your own this year? 
Start your search on RVTrader.com today! 

Dec 17, 2020

FMCA Tech Tip: Water Heater Maintenance For Your RV

Take care of your water heater and you will be sure to have a reliable supply of hot water during your travels.

Prolonged showers at home may be taken for granted. While traveling in an RV, a hot shower might involve an interesting test of timing, especially when more than one person is considered. It is truly the experienced RVer who is aware of just how long it takes four to 16 gallons of hot water to trickle down the drain, even while practicing sound water conservation.

The typical RV water heater, however, like any propane-burning appliance, requires occasional maintenance in order to maximize its potential. Fortunately, the water heater is usually easy to access, with most mandated tasks doable by most RV handypersons. The water heater is typically situated at a comfortable height, and most components are located on the outside of the RV behind a vented door. Some older models may have parts and pieces at the rear of the unit, but for the most part, newer units have their components on the exterior.

Types Of Water Heaters

The most common type of water heater found in campers today is the direct spark ignition (DSI) model. To use this fully automatic model, all an owner has to do is to make sure the heater is properly filled with water and then flip a switch. A circuit board controls all its relative functions. Since it’s the most prevalent, the DSI type will be the focus of this article.

The second most popular choice of RV builders today is the pilot-type heater. Simple in design and function, pilot-type heaters have been an RV industry mainstay for years. Even though they are less expensive than their automatic cousins, they are less popular. It appears that automation wins out over economics.

Another type of water heater is the electric-only version. Powered by 120-volt-AC electric, these units operate only when plugged into a shoreline or when onboard generator or inverter power is available. As many manufacturers of larger RVs move toward all-electric appliances, this type is sure to become more popular. They are plentiful in the marine world as well.

Most water heaters today combine propane and electric power. An electric heating element protrudes into the tank portion of the heater, which allows the RV to utilize propane while dry camping, or power the water heater with 120-volt-AC electricity while plugged in. (Quick note: if your heater is a combination gas/electric-type model, and AC electricity is available, you can quickly bring the water temperature up by operating the unit on gas and electric at the same time.) It is not advisable to install an aftermarket electric heating element designed to replace the drain plug. Use only manufacturer-approved replacement parts.

An internal heat exchanger (motor-aid) is another option offered by water heater makers. This feature allows the motorhome’s engine coolant lines to be routed through tubing inside the storage tank, thereby heating the water while the engine is running. By the time the user reaches a destination, hot water is readily available at the faucets. While this may be convenient, the maintenance factor becomes greater with motor-aid models, because the hoses periodically need to be replaced. On some of the larger Type A motorhomes, this could be an expensive, yet necessary, undertaking. Akin to some models of RV refrigerators, water heaters, too, are available using three different energy sources.

Yet another type of water heater is making a comeback in the RV industry: the weight-saving tankless heater, which is commonly called an instantaneous water heater. This design does not involve an actual storage tank. Incoming water flows through a coil that is heated by super-sized propane burners. The flame is lit only when there is a demand for water. As soon as the hot faucet is turned off, the burner goes off as well. Activation is automatic via an impeller-type switching valve.

Finally, many owners of diesel-powered motorhomes may be familiar with hydronic heating systems in which individual zones within the coach are comfort-heated independently, while at the same time domestic water is heated and delivered to all the hot faucets inside the motorhome. Since 1984, hydronic heating systems have been installed in many brands of motorhomes. Because this type of system requires specific, atypical maintenance procedures, we’ll leave hydronic heating maintenance to a future blog. Our focus here will center on the typical DSI propane RV water heater found in thousands of RVs.

Water Heater Components
Components found on every propane water heater containing its own storage tank (pilot and DSI-type) include:
  • an inner storage tank
  • a pressure and temperature (P&T) relief valve
  • a drain plug; a main burner orifice
  • a mixing tube
  • the primary air adjustment.
What follows is a brief description of each of these parts and their maintenance requirements.

Storage tank
The inner tank is surrounded by insulation and typically encased with cardboard, foam, or metal. Water heaters are usually installed under a cabinet, so other than the access door, external aesthetics are not necessarily a consideration.

Flushing the tank is the main task to consider. To extend the life of the tank and to eliminate the buildup of mineral deposits inside, flush the heater at least a couple times each season. Mineral deposits settle to the bottom of the tank, so simply draining it will not completely rinse out these deposits, as the drain outlet is not positioned at the very bottom of the tank.

Pressure and temperature (P&T) relief valve
As a safety component, the P&T valve often has been viewed by RVers as an enigma of sorts. Many P&T valves have been unnecessarily replaced, deemed defective simply because they sometimes dripped water. But that is by design. Here’s why:

As any contained liquid is heated and the temperature rises, the content will expand and become pressurized. Without a means to regulate or control this expansion during the heating cycle, the unchecked pressure and temperature could eventually rupture the tank, resulting in serious injury. Water temps exceeding 210 degrees Fahrenheit are considered unsafe. Therefore, all P&T valves on today’s heaters are preset to open at 210 degrees. In the small confines of the RV water heater, the water is heated relatively quickly, so keeping up with the drastic fluctuations of both temperature and pressure is extremely important.

It is also important that a cushion of air be maintained inside the tank, above the level of the water. This air pocket acts like an accumulator during hot water delivery and also allows space for the water to expand during the heating cycle. Over time the oxygen in this air pocket is absorbed into the water, with the net result being a completely filled tank, with no void above.

At this point, there is no place for the expanding water to move into since the tank is literally full. The P&T valve then does its job — it opens. Expelling hot water from the outlet of the P&T valve allows cold water to enter the tank (thus lowering the temperature) and the relief valve closes.

P&T valves will fail over time, but, by and large, all will drip on occasion. If an adequate air cushion is maintained, the P&T relief valve should not leak. If an adequate air cushion is not maintained, then it is normal for the valve to drip water. If the valve drips or weeps during nonheating phases and the pressure within the fresh water system is regulated properly, then the relief valve may indeed be faulty.

Drain plug
All water heaters have a drain of some type. Older models incorporated an actual drain valve, while modern units use a threaded plug. Atwood (www.atwoodmobile.com) installs a plastic pipe plug. Many owners have mistakenly and inappropriately replaced the plastic plug with one made of brass. The plastic plug actually serves as a redundant safety device and should never be replaced with a metallic plug. If the plastic plug becomes damaged, always replace it with an Atwood plastic plug.

Atwood water heaters, by the way, do not require an anode, since their inner tanks are constructed of aluminum alloy. Do not cave into aftermarket attempts to sell you an anode for an Atwood water heater.

Suburban (www.rvcomfort.com) incorporates a component called an anode rod into its drain plug. Designed as a sacrificial element, the magnesium anode keeps electrolysis to a minimum and extends the life of the inner tank. All chemical and mineral reactions taking place inside the tank will attack the “weaker” molecules of the magnesium anode instead of the tank walls. Periodically, this sacrificial anode will have to be replaced. A deteriorated anode rod also may produce a less-than-favorable odor that can permeate the water system. Replace the Suburban anode rod/drain plug when it is reduced to 25 percent of its original size. On older American Appliance heaters, the anode will be accessible inside the motorhome at the rear of the heater.

Main burner orifice
The main burner orifice is threaded into the gas control valve outlet fitting. It directs a specific amount of propane into the next downstream component, the mixing tube. The orifice can be removed, soaked in acetone, allowed to air dry, and reinstalled. Never insert anything into the orifice. A simple acetone cleaning is all that is necessary to keep the gas flowing properly.

Mixing tube
The mixing tube is where the propane and the primary air are mixed just prior to combustion at the main burner. This tube, though not a precision component, must be kept clean, and more importantly, properly aligned.

As gas is projected through the main burner orifice, air is drawn in through the openings in the mixing tube. This “Venturi effect” brings in air that is needed to mix with the propane in order to have safe and complete combustion.

Make sure the mixing tube is properly centered on the main burner orifice fitting and that the alignment with the gas control valve is correct. Misalignment is one of the most common reasons for improper combustion in water heaters. The mixing tube should be in line with the flow of gas and positioned so the orifice is aimed at the direct center of the opening to the mixing tube.

This is the component that’s most prone to critter infestation, such as insect and spider nests, so make sure to check and clean it out often.

Primary air adjustment
As mentioned, the opening in the main burner orifice has a specific-size opening, so the only variable in the gas/air ratio is the amount of primary air allowed to enter. The primary air adjustment controls the volume of this incoming air.

The primary air adjustment is manipulated while the main burner flame is ignited. The flame should appear mostly blue in color with some orange or yellow tinges. Proper adjustment is attained when the flame is the correct color and also when the burner does not produce a loud, roaring flame. If you can hear the burner more than 5 feet away with the water heater door closed, chances are the mixture is incorrect and further adjustment is necessary.

In addition to the common components listed above, DSI models also incorporate a thermostat, an energy cut off (ECO) switch, a circuit board, a solenoid gas valve, and an electrode assembly.

Thermostat. Longtime coach owners might remember when all water heaters were controlled by a manually adjusted thermostat. A lever or knob was manipulated to make the water hotter or colder. With a DSI heater, adjustment of the water temperature is out of the RVer’s hands. On most units the thermostat is a preset, temperature-sensing, normally closed thermal switch that electrically turns off the heating sequence when the preset temperature has been attained. The nonadjustable thermostat is a thermal disc device secured to the front or rear of the water heater in direct contact with the inner tank. Most thermostats for DSI water heaters are preset for temperatures between 120 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In some cases, a thermostat can be replaced with one of a higher or lower temperature rating.

ECO switch. Wired in-line between the circuit board and the gas valve, in series with the thermostat is the ECO switch. Some may contain a resettable push button; others will automatically reset once the water temperature drops below the preset temperature rating of the ECO switch. The ECO switch and the thermostat are considered high-temperature safety devices to help protect the appliance and the user. Other than keeping the wire connections clean and tight, no maintenance is required for the ECO switch or the thermostat.

Circuit board. The circuit board is the heart of any DSI appliance. Similar to a furnace board, the circuit board for a water heater energizes and opens the gas solenoid valve; creates a high-voltage spark that ignites the burner; monitors the flame sense circuit from the electrode assembly; and places the unit into lockout when it fails to detect a flame. Clean the contact strip where the multipin connector plugs in. Consider purchasing a product called DeoxIT (www.caig.com). Small amounts of corrosion, invisible to the naked eye, can prohibit proper current conduction, often resulting in strange operating characteristics. Keeping the board contacts clean and preserved will minimize or eliminate erratic operation.

Solenoid gas valve. The solenoid gas valve is controlled by the circuit board. The incoming gas tube attaches to one side of this valve while the main burner fitting and orifice are located at the other end. Energized by a 12-volt-DC electric coming from the circuit board, the gas valve will remain open as long as it is receiving voltage. The gas solenoid valve closes only under the following normal conditions: when the water temperature reaches the maximum thermostat rating; when the ECO trips and opens; and when the 12-volt-DC power supply is interrupted from the circuit board.

As with the thermostat and ECO, just keep the electrical connections on the gas valve clean, dry, and tight.

Electrode assembly. The electrode assembly receives the high-voltage output from the circuit board and creates an electrical arc to ground. At the same time, the gas and air mixture is forced to flow through this electrical arc, initiating fuel ignition at the burner. The electrode probe also “senses” the presence of the flame and sends a micro-amp signal back to the board, allowing the gas valve to remain open. If the flame is extinguished for any reason, the micro-amp circuit between the electrode and board is broken, and the board shuts off the voltage to the gas valve, thereby closing it and stopping the flow of propane.

This electrode assembly is susceptible to carbon buildup and heat stresses over a period of time. Many circuit boards have been replaced in error when the cause of an outage has simply been a dirty electrode assembly. Periodically removing the carbon deposits and brightening each electrode will help keep the heater working properly.

Carbon deposits can be cleaned off and the probes brightened with steel wool. Inspect the probes and replace the entire assembly when the probes become pitted or if a portion of the ceramic insulator is broken. Check the gap between the probes. If the electrode assembly has three probes, the gap between the spark probe and the ground probe should be half as large as the gap between the ground probe and the flame sense probe. Manipulate only the center ground probe to achieve this spacing differential. If the arc jumps from the spark probe to the flame sense probe, it will damage the circuit board, which could be an expensive consequence.

If the electrode assembly has only two probes, the gap between them should measure approximately 1/8-inch. Take care when adjusting these probes. If any portion of the ceramic insulator becomes cracked or broken, the entire electrode assembly will have to be replaced.

There are also variables outside the water heater unit that need to be maintained and monitored for optimal performance.

Battery voltage. To operate correctly, the incoming DC voltage must be maintained between 10.5 and 13.5 volts to all DSI appliances, whether on battery power or through the converter. Also, do not overlook the negative side of DC circuitry. A faulty ground connection at the water heater can cause erratic operation and outages.

Propane gas pressure. At least once each year, have a professional RV service technician measure and adjust the propane delivery line pressure, evaluate the regulator lockup pressure, and have the entire propane system checked for leaks. These tests will ensure all the propane-burning appliances are fed the proper gas pressure. Ignoring this can lead to intermittent operation, appliance failure, undetected leaks, and regulator failure. It is a safety issue.

Additional Water Heater Tips
At least once (maybe twice) during the camping season, it will be necessary to perform the described maintenance procedures on the water heater. Remember, the heater’s controls are exposed to the elements; therefore road grime, dust, and dirt have ample opportunity to gather in and around the various components. Periodically blowing the exposed areas of the water heater with compressed air will help to minimize this condition. Likewise, soot and remnants of combustion will gather in the flue portion of the heater. Blow through the flue occasionally with compressed air as well. Be sure to wear eye protection when performing this step, as flying debris will be present.

Though most RVs come from the factory outfitted with a water heater bypass kit, it is advised to install one if yours is not so equipped. Permanently attached to the rear of the water heater, the valve configuration of a bypass kit allows the water heater to be closed off from the rest of the fresh water plumbing system. This is helpful when the RV’s plumbing system is winterized and RV antifreeze is used.

Purchase a kit equipped with metallic valves. Plastic bypass valves can contribute to water heater operational issues such as intermittent hot water and low hot water pressure, among other symptoms. Brass valves will not distort with prolonged exposure to heat, and they are not prone to failure.

In addition, there might be a one-way check valve positioned at the cold inlet fitting at the rear of the water heater (there also may be one at the water heater outlet). This prevents heated water from migrating out of the heater and back into the cold water plumbing. Normally, this isn’t an issue, but if there happens to be a cold water tee plumbed into the system fairly close to the rear of the water heater, heated water can be drawn into another fixture, such as the toilet. It can be a bit unnerving to see steam rising from the toilet whenever it’s flushed. You chuckle, but it has happened!

Although a check valve has no maintenance requirements, it is mentioned in case your water heater does not have one at the cold inlet. It’s relatively easy to install, and it just may save the heater from expending unnecessary energy trying to heat water in the cold distribution piping just outside of the water heater itself.

The Wrap-Up
As with many items aboard the RV, preventive maintenance practices will not only extend the life of the water heater, but they can eliminate, or at least minimize, those pesky interruptions during excursions. As usual, if you do not feel comfortable performing any of the procedures listed here, do not attempt them. Simply call your local RV service shop. Service centers employing certified or master certified technicians stand more than ready to perform this service for you. And remember, RVing is more than a hobby; it’s a lifestyle!

How to Correctly Flush the RV Water Heater

1. Make sure all energy sources to the water heater are turned off and that the water inside the tank has cooled.

2. Turn off all sources of water pressure — the demand pump and the city water supply — and bleed off the water system pressure by opening a faucet.

3. Drain the water heater by removing the plug. To aid in draining, open all the hot faucets throughout the RV.

4. If water barely trickles out of the drain opening at this point, carefully insert a straightened coat hanger into the tank to help break up any calcified deposits. Take special care not to scrape the inner sides of the tank, or damage may result.

5. Use a water heater cleanout tool to help flush mineral deposits. When all evidence of cloudy water has been eliminated, close all the hot faucets opened earlier and turn on the city water supply or the demand pump — the higher the pressure, the better. If a pressure regulator is normally used in-line with the city connection, temporarily remove it for this step.

6. Open the pressure and temperature (P&T) relief valve and allow water to gush from the drain opening as fresh water rushes in.

7. Allow this flushing to continue for five to 10 minutes. This will remove any stagnant water along with any remaining mineral particles in the tank.

8. After about 10 minutes of flushing, turn off the water source; reinstall the drain plug; and close the P&T valve by allowing the lever to snap shut.

9. Turn on a water pressure source once again and open all the hot water faucets inside the coach until water flows freely from all hot faucets. This will automatically fill the water heater and eliminate air pockets in the distribution system.

10. Finally, turn off the water source but leave the hot faucets open. Then open the P&T relief valve once again to release any water at the top of the tank. This establishes that needed cushion of air on top of the water. Remember, this air gap is necessary so the heated water will have room to expand. When water stops dripping from the P&T valve, close the hot faucets inside the motorhome and the P&T valve. The heater is now ready for operation.

FMCA RV Club brings you this monthly tech tip to Enhance Your RV Lifestyle. FMCA delivers RV know-how to its members. Learn more at FMCA.com.

This information is for educational purposes. FMCA shall not be responsible nor retain liability for RVer’s use of the provided information. Prior to making any RV service decision, you are advised to consult with an RV professional.

Dec 3, 2020

The Ultimate Gift Guide For RVers

It's hard to believe the holiday season is already upon us! That means it's time to start shopping for friends, family, and loved ones. Holiday shopping can often be a daunting task, but with our ultimate gift guide for RVers, it doesn't have to be. We have complied a list of our favorite items that any RVer would love to receive during the holiday season. Start making your personal wish list today!

Home, Hearth & Camper

Image: PersonalizationMall

Happy Camper Custom Doormat - This adorable doormat features a vintage camper and can be customized with your family's name. This doormat can be taken with you on the road or will make you remember your travels while you’re at home.

Funny RV Dish Towel - It’s no secret that parking an RV can be difficult. The saying on this dish towel (“Sorry for what I said when we were parking the camper”) rings true for many RVers. This would be a perfect stocking stuffer for the RVer in your life!

Organization, Innovative Tools & Life Hacks

Image: Bellemain

Spice Gripper - Saving space in an RV is crucial and this spice gripper can help with just that! Simply stick the clip strips to the inside of your RV cabinets and your spices will be neatly tucked away for the next time you need them. You can cut the strips to custom fit your specific cabinets.

Hitch Safe - Keep your keys, cards, and money safe with this hitch safe. It is designed to store up to 9 spare keys, cards, and more. You can easily set a combination to keep your belongings safe even when you're away from your campsite exploring the great wide somewhere.

Tech & Gadgets 


Solar Powered Phone Charger - When you’re out hiking or exploring, the last thing you want to worry about is your phone dying. Now you won’t have to with this solar powered phone charger. This phone charger also comes with a compass kit and can also be used as a flashlight.

Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker - Get ready for crystal clear music to pump through this waterproof bluetooth speaker. Whether you’re hanging out in your RV or you’re crowded around the campfire, this speaker will set the perfect mood. The COMISO Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker provides 20 hours of high quality sound, and is both lightweight and easy to use.

Outdoor & Adventure

Image: Wise Owl

Camping Hammock - Enjoy the relaxation of the outdoors with this durable camping hammock. The Wise Owl Outfitters Hammock is made out of heavy duty 210T parachute nylon which makes it incredibly lightweight and portable - perfect to throw in the RV!

Outdoor Rocking Camping Chair - A quality camping chair is essential for any RVer. This chair has a rocking feature that allows you to fully relax after a long day of traveling or adventuring. It easily folds flat for storage and has a mesh back to keep you cool. You’ll want to get one for each family member!

Cooking & Grilling

Image: Uncommongoods

Outdoor Popcorn Popper - With this outdoor popcorn popper, you can easily make the perfect bowl of popcorn over a campfire or grill. The popper is made from material that is extremely durable and can make 3 quarts of popcorn in just 4-5 minutes. The long handle keeps your hands away from the fire so all you have to worry about is having fun.

Easy Campfire Cooking Cookbook - Cookbooks are always a great holiday gift idea and this one is especially great for the outdoor lover in your life! This campfire cookbook has over 200 family-friendly campfire recipes that are easy to follow.


Image: Brovino

Silicone Wine Glasses - These portable silicone wine glasses should be on everyone’s RV wishlist this year. These glasses are unbreakable, lightweight, and perfect for a crisp glass of wine. They are completely dishwasher safe and worry free!

YETI Tumbler - A YETI is an easy gift that anyone can use and enjoy. They are perfect for enjoying a beverage in the great outdoors and they can keep your drink cool for hours. This tumbler comes in a variety of colors and includes a top to keep your drink from spilling.


Image: Surpahs

Over the Sink Drying Rack - Saving space is crucial in an RV, so clear up countertops with this over the sink drying rack. It comes in a variety of sizes and is resistant to rust. Not only does this handy rack save space while drying your dishes, it also rolls up for easy, out-of-the-way storage when not in use.

Trailer Shaped Cutting Board - Whether you’re slicing vegetables or creating a charcuterie board, a good cutting board is essential. This trailer shaped cutting board can get the job done all while being super cute. The RVer in your life (including you!) will love this rustic, practical gift. 

Subscriptions and Memberships

Image: USGS

America the Beautiful Passes - Give the gift of adventure by purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass. This pass is a ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass also covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges. This is the ultimate gift for any RVer.

FMCA Membership - A membership with the Family Motor Coach Association gives member-only discounts and services specifically designed for RVers. It also includes RV education, attendance at rallies, and so much more!


Image: Journals Unlimited 

Camper’s Journal - Looking for a creative way to capture all of your camping memories? Look no further than this camper’s journal. You can document all of your camping activities with its easy-to-fill-in journal format.

Vintage Camper Address Stamp - Let whoever you send mail to know that you are a proud RVer with this customized address stamp. The high-quality stamp features a vintage camper and reminds the recipient that home is where you park it!

Pets & Animals


Collapsable Dog Bowls - Save additional space in your RV by packing these collapsible dog bowls for your furry friends. They are lightweight and easy to store in a backpack if you plan on taking your dogs on hikes or any other outdoor adventures. They may be geared towards puppies, but these bowls will also work if you brought your cat on the road, too!

Safety Glow Necklace Collar - Your dog will stand out from the other pups at the campground with this LED collar necklace. It allows you and others to easily see your pet at night and is great for walks anywhere you travel.



Happy Camper Onesie - Even your littlest camper needs some RV swag! This 100% cotton onesie is super soft and features a bright vintage trailer that will make any RVer smile.

State Sticker Map - This state sticker map is fun for the whole family. Easily mark off the states you’ve traveled to with colorful stickers. The stickers include beautiful graphics of each state and are ideal for tracking your travels.