DIY RV Mods (Outside)

11Lee has made numerous upgrades to our Open Range 386-FLR Fifth Wheel and I wanted him to share them here.  Some are simple and others are more complicated but they have all resulted in an easier, more comfortable living environment.

 

Sewer Hose Storage

What to do with sewer hose is a major problem in all fifth wheels.  They take up a lot of space and are kind of gross. I really hated the smell that was always present in the basement as a result, even if I rinsed the hoses. Our rig does not have a rear bumper, which can be used to hold the hoses, and there really isn’t a way to attach a rear bumper, so I came up with another solution.

I bought an 8′ vinyl fence post sleeve and mounted that underneath the rig. (I used 5″ sleeves, which allow for plenty of room for the ears and tabs and other bits that stick out from the sewer fittings. They are available at Lowe’s and Home Depot. In the store they have white, but other colors can be ordered. Or you can sand off the glossy finish and prime it and paint it any color you want. I just went with white because it blends pretty well with our rig colors and didn’t require a special order or any extra work. I went with 8′ length because mounting it to the frame was easiest that way. It was incredibly easy to do, and didn’t cost very much at all. I did need to drill through the frame, and I used “L” brackets to hang it, and stainless steel hardware. Be careful when you’re laying underneath and drilling. The little curls of metal  that come off the drill bit are really hot, and will burn you when they fall on your skin. Ask me how I know.

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I also purchased the caps they sell for the fence posts. To hold the caps on I used 1/4 x 6″ stainless steel bolts and since I don’t travel with a drill press I had a machine shop drill holes so I could use hairpin cotter pins to keep the bolts on. This makes it really quick and easy to put on and take off the covers.

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To allow for the sewer elbow fitting I cut a little section of the sleeve on the rear side to allow it to stick out. I accidentally cut it a tad large so I use a ball bungee cord just in case the hose wants to slide out and escape on the highway.

 

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I liked this solution so much that I added a second sleeve, for my hose extension. That didn’t fill the tube, so I also store a LOT of other stuff in there. You’d be surprised at how much you can fit in a 5″ x 5″ tube. Tiki torch poles, fire poker, solar panel lift rods, all kinds of stuff.

 

 

 

Speaking of Poop…

I am a big fan of the Flush King. It lives on my waste outlet pipe, and I never take it off. First and foremost, it is a gate valve at the very end of the line, so once you close it, nothing else comes out. RV valves are notorious for leaking and dribbling, and there’s quite a bit of pipe between each tank valve and the outlet on the side of your rig. Quite a bit of dribble can accumulate there. So byt attaching this at the end of the pipe, as long as the valve is closed, nothing will come out when you take off the cap. It is your last line of defense. Which means that your hands never get…gunk on them. Second, it’s clear, so you can see how things are going, which is handy. It’s the best way to tell how close you are to being empty when you dump your tanks, and it’s great when you’re flusing/rinsing the tanks, because you can see the clear water. And third, it has a great built in spray nozzle. They claim it’s for reverse flushing, but I don’t use it for that. Once I’m finished dumping my tanks, there’s a turn valve where the rinse hose is attached that you can turn on, and let water  run through the sewer hose for a nice long time and get all the….gunk out of it.flush king

More About Poop…

Our rig originally had long cable remote valve handles in the convenience center for the gray and black tanks.

Original Con Center

The cables were too long and not routed properly, and kept binding up. Eventually they both broke. After the second one broke, I replaced both with 12 volt electric waste valves. They’re pricey, but not only is it nice to be able to just push a button to open and close them, they also have lights that indicate the position of the valve so you don’t accidentally leave them open. This could only be improved by a second switch inside allowing us to empty the tanks from either location, and a relay that prevented both valves being open at once. Maybe that’s a project for the future. The valves also can be manually operated at the valve itself, in case the motor fails or you don’t have any power.

Electric Black and Grey tank release valves
And rinse….

Like most people we have what is referred to as an “outdoor shower” on our rig, but in reality it’s just a hot and cold tap and a place to hook up a hose. The hose outlet is directly above the hose inlet for our black tank rinse connection, and since we never ever use the “outdoor shower” I made a short hose turnaround and just leave it permanently connected. Now when I want to rinse the black tank, all I have to do is turn on the water valve. As an added bonus, I have both hot and cold water to use. Hot water is much better for rinsing the black tank than cold. I also use an adjustable water pressure regulator which you can see in the image below. Water pressure varies greatly from campground to campground, and you can easily damage your internal plumbing if it’s over the rating for the pipes OR the fittings. I use one with a nice big dial that’s easy to read, and I keep it set to 60psi.

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The Last Thing I Have To Say About Poop…

When we’re boondocking we use a 35 gallon Smart Tote waste tank that lives in the bed of our pickup so I can empty the tanks even if there’s no nearby dump station. They can all be towed, but that doesn’t work if you have to go several miles. The down side to using it this way is that you can’t gravity feed the tanks into the Blue Boy, because it’s higher than the tank outlet. So we bought a Flo Jet macerator pump, which will grind up anything that comes through it, and pump it up to 75′ and vertically up to 10′. Initially I just used a 50ft cable with alligator clips to power it from the truck, but that was a big pain, so I decided to put in a 12volt flat power connection in the convenience center.

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That worked well, but created a problem of it’s own. There’s a little pop-up indicator, sort of like what’s on a turkey, that floats and lets you know when the tank is full. Of course, at 12 GPM, once that thing pops up, by the time I would get back to the power connector there was already some waste water bubbling up out of the portable tank. I found the perfect solution, a Fimco 12v remote switch. It handles up to 20amps, and works like a charm. Now I can turn the pump on and off no matter where I am standing. It also works when I am using an auxillary water pump to pump fresh water into the rig from a portable fresh water tank.

 

Bike Rack

Our rig did not come with any type of hitch receiver or bumper and there was no way to mount a standard bike rack on the back of it.  I had a friend who owns a machine shop fabricate a solution. First they bolted a cross beam between the two frame beams and welded a small receiver to it.

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Once the receiver was there they were able to mount a standard double bike rack to it. It had a lot of “play” so they stabilized it by through-bolting it to the back of the rig, along with a thick rubber seal and cushion.

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As an added bonus, when the bikes aren’t on it, the arms fold down flat so I don’t smack myself in the head when I walk past it.

 

Customer bike rack

 

Vinyl Lettering

I added vinyl lettering to the outside of our rig with our favorite song quote on one slideout and the name of our website on the front and the back of the rig.  I ordered the vinyl lettering from a local sign company and then carefully applied it. Tracy loves having the blog name right on the rig.

 

Our Anthem

 

 

Wasted Space On Storage Doors

I hate wasted space, and our storage compartments each have a little trough in front of the doors, which is nice, but it means that you can’t really have things on the storage area floor that goes right to the door. When the doors are closed, there’s a LOT of space that can’t be used.

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I thought about adding some shallow shelves or boxes to the inside of our compartment doors, but they are just styrofoam sandwiched between plastic sheets and surrounded with a “U channel” edge. At some point I will want to replace them with plywood doors, so I can hang shelves and/or caddies, but for now I still want to use that space. I used 3M Command hangers for a variety of purposes. Plus this is the first door that I open when we arrive somewhere, so everything I need to get power, water, and sewer hooked up in less than 10 minutes is right here. I’ve got an alcohol sprayer to clean off water connections, hand sanitizer, heavy duty hand cleaner, all of my power adaptors, sewer fitting wrenches, a universal sewer cap wrench, a pair of pliers for stubborn water hose connections, the bungees for my cables and hoses, and the power cord for my macerator and freshwater pumps.

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These are fantastic cable hangers.

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On the opposite door are a few extra extension cords and the antennae cable for our cellular booster.

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Speaking Of Wasted Space….

Since I’m always tinkering and poking around in the rig, I often run into things that look off, or just don’t make sense. Usually it’s something stupid the manufacturer did in the design or build process, and it always gets my attention. When I discovered useful wasted space under our rear inside stairs, I could see what looked like a pretty large void at the back of it, so I went looking to see why it wasn’t used. It’s closest to our smallish outside storage compartment, which looks like this:

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I took some stuff out to get a better look at the construction of this “box” and noticed that there were trim pieces along the edges, which are usually there to help keep a wall panel in place and cover nail heads, or staples.

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It wasn’t difficult to remove the trim pieces, and once I did, the small panel popped off pretty easily, and voila! A HUGE empty space. You can see the back of the area under the stairs I converted into storage by adding piano hinges to the stair treads.

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So this is a really nice large space, and the only reason I can think of that it wasn’t used is that it’s a little tricky to reach around past the compartment door opening to get in there. But small shoebox sized plastic totes fit in there perfectly, and it’s a great place to keep off shaped things that we don’t need to get to very often. I do want to point out that I will be rerouting the electrical line, which goes to an exterior outlet and the other two lines are exterior sattelite/cable jacks. I don’t need to, but it will look cleaner if I do. I decided to add this found storage blurb before I completed the project, because that might take a while, and Trace really wants this page done so she can publish it. And I’ll be adding a battery powered LED motion sensing light to the “ceiling” of this area so it’s easy to see what’s in there when the compartment door is opened.

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It’s like a treasure hunt!!!

In another mod blurb I talked about having found an extra 20amp circuit to use for a space heater in the kitchen when we removed the old converter and battery charger. The space it was tucked into was another hidden void behind a panel. This particular find is very easy to access once the panel is removed, and easy to get into from the compartment door opening.

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But, it has some wiring that needs to be cleaned up and moved out of the way, and a couple of ducts that will need to be extend and moved out of the way before the space can be utilized. I’ve looked under the area in the “crawl space” and there plenty of room to move the cut in the bottom of this space to relocate the ducts to the corner, and that will free up about 4 square feet. Again, perfect for shoebox sized totes that can be stuffed will little things that are hard to store.

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Water Manifold

I use a four port water manifold to split the water source. At the manifold I hook up separate hoses for a loose hose for a sprayer so I can put out campfires, rinse things off, whatever I might need water for, the hose to the Flush King, (with a backflow preventer) and our fresh water hose. I leave the first one empty and use it to release pressure when I need to disconnect, or for whatever else I might need.


 Power

One of the first things we bought, while we were at our first RV Dreams rally, long before we hit the road, was a surge protector and voltage regulator, on the recommendation of our friend Red. I got the Surge Guard 34850, which plugs right into the pedestal, and has a built in 2 minute delay to protect the AC system, and give you voltage and amps you’re using on each leg of power. It’s fantastic.

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I also bought the surge guard Voltage Regulator, which monitors the power and either “tamps down” over voltage, or “boosts” low voltage. Clean, stable power conditioning is a must have, especially for expensive electronic components.

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The down side is that both of them are very expensive, so they need to be locked up, or they are a very tempting target for theft. Surge Guard makes a locking hasp for the surge protector, but I never bought one. The voltage regulator is more expensive, so I just used a chain and padlock to lock that to the rig. Until….I got distracted when we were getting ready to leave a campground, and drove off without the surge protector. I just left it hanging on the pedestal. I was far enough away when I remembered it that it wasn’t possible to go back, but I called, and of course it was long gone. Because the voltage regulator is so heavy (50 lbs!!!) I was tired of hefting it and out of the rig, and it and it’s heavy cable took up a lot of space. That, and the fact that I needed to replace the surge protector, prompted me to try something a little different. I decided instead of just buying another pedestal surge protector, that I would buy the Surge Guard 35550 , which is a hard wired solution.

 

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I poked around and found enough unused space in the crawlspace/utility area of my rig, and hard wired the surge protector and the voltage regulator. I didn’t want to break the seal of the 50amp connector on the outside of the rig to do the wiring, so I found enough slack on the inside, and cut it. I hard wired the feed from the back side of the supply connector to the surge protector, and then made a short 3′ cable with a Camco 55353 female 50amp connector on it. I mounted the voltage regulator and used the male 50amp connector already on it to plug it into the female I had created. (Technology Research makes an optional voltage regulator mounting bracket ) Then I wired a Camco 55255  50amp male plug to the other end of the supply line I had cut (the end that goes to the rig’s service panel) and plugged that into the female 50amp connector that’s the output on the voltage regulator. Now I have the two devices inline, and permanently mounted so I don’t have to mess with them at all. They’re always there, so I won’t skip using them because it’s late, or I’m tired, or whatever. And since they’re mounted in the utility area, I get back the storage space they used to occupy. I also won’t drive off and leave either of them. It’s also worth mentioning that the surge protector has an optional remote display, Surge Guard 40298 so I can see the voltage and amperage being used from inside the rig.

And speaking of upgrading the power system, the main power cable that came with our rig had several features that drove me crazy. First of all, it’s way too long. 35′ of 50amp cable in a cheap jacket that doesn’t coil well and is hard to work with. Plus the giant heavy locking connector where it enters the rig comes out like 8″ at a 90 degree angle, and was putting way too much strain on the connector mounted to the rig. I bought a Camco 55562  right angle adaptor, which is a “dog bone” style locking 50 amp ring connector, which drops the cable straight down, significantly reducing the strain on the connectors. On the other end of it is a standard 50amp male plug. I then bought 50′ of 6 gauge 4 conductor SO cable, which is nice flexible rubberized cable that’s water/oil/damage resistant. I used Camco male and female 50amp connectors to make two 25′ cables. Most of the time I only need one, but the other one is there if I need it.

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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer. 

3 thoughts on “DIY RV Mods (Outside)

  1. Great read thank you for posting, I’ll be “reading” along seeing how YOU didn’t pickme up hitch-hiking….. Safe travels ahead.

  2. After looking at your upgrades, I think we would be great camping neighbors with lots to chat about! If you get a chance, check out our blog, we’re just getting started online documenting our upgrades. 🙂

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