Tag Archives: RV

Exploring RV Living – Environmental Considerations

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

When you see an RV travelling down the road, do you see a gas-guzzling road-hog? Or do you see an efficient and eco-friendly home on the move? I suppose it could be either or both — it all boils down to how it’s being used.

Conspicuous Consumption

At first glance a big RV, especially a ginormous rolling McMansion complete with exotic woodwork, crystal chandeliers, two baths, full laundry and dishwasher is luxurious, but far from sensible. If that is one’s mode of recreation, and it is in addition to one or more conventional houses, cars, and who-knows what else, then I’d certainly call it conspicuous consumption.

On the other hand, if an RV – even an oversized and lavishly appointed one – is one’s only home, it makes for a surprisingly eco-friendly dwelling. Of course oversized and lavish is not my style, and compact and sensible is an even more economical and environmentally sound choice.

Drive Much?

The truth of the matter is that while most RVs get horrible mileage, they are rarely used as daily commuters. While an average automobile might be driven  fifteen thousand miles per year, the average RV travels only a few thousand miles. Maybe a little more for frequent travelers, and a lot less for infrequent travelers.

Remember that each time you move an RV, you are moving your entire house and all its contents. Compare that to moving all the contents of a typical household, involving packing, one or more trips in a vehicle at least as large as the largest RV and then unpacking again, and the RV is the hands-down winner.

Less Is Less

While camped in one spot and providing a cozy place to live, an RV is very thrifty in its use of resources. This is primarily a result of its smaller size in comparison to conventional housing options. Less space to heat or cool means less energy is used. Same thing goes for having less space to light. With a rooftop photovoltaic array, I can be off-grid and free of fossil fuels for most of my electrical needs. Conservation habits learned while boondocking help me save resources (and money) even when I have full hookups.

Small Is Smart

Regardless of type of construction,  smaller homes are better for the environment and the budget. Being among the smallest homes around, an RV is an excellent choice for the eco-conscious as well as the frugal. Add to that the convenience of being able to move about readily and on short notice (and at lower cost, both financially and ecologically, than moving a conventional household) and RV living is just the smart thing to do.

Exploring RV Living – Differences Between RVs And Other Dwellings

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

An RV is an attempt to take all the comforts and conveniences of home and assemble them into a compact, mobile, and self contained package. This transformation results in some differences in form and function that affect liveability to varying degrees.

Size Matters

One significant difference between an RV and most other housing options is the size. Ranging is size from under 100 to about 400 square feet, all but the largest RVs are much smaller than most apartments, and sometimes smaller than  a hotel room. An RV certainly makes for a tiny house, available within the same size range as the recently popular “Tiny Houses.” If you are considering leaving your conventional house or apartment to go full-timing in an RV, be prepared for a major downsizing.

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

Unlike most houses and apartments, an RV has wheels. It is easily movable to suit your whim or need. Don’t like the weather? Move! Obnoxious neighbors? Move! New gig in another town? another state? Move!

Depending on the size of your rig and how lightly you travel, you could move in as little as a moment’s notice. In reality, unless you’re just at an overnight stop and haven’t really unpacked and settled, it might take anywhere from an hour to a day to be ready to roll.  I’ll admit I still have much more stuff than I should, but even I can be on the road within a few days of making the decision to travel.

Yeah, But…

I suppose those first two were pretty obvious differences. But let’s say you’re sitting still for a while — what’s different about day-to-day living between an RV and other similarly-sized homes?

Fixed Furniture

Some people like to rearrange the furniture in their rooms from time to time for a bit of variety. In an RV most, if not all, of the furniture is either built-in or bolted down so it doesn’t rearrange itself while you’re bouncing down the road. Sure, chairs might swivel and recline, and sofas and tables might convert to beds, but otherwise you’re stuck with everything where and how it is. That’s why one of the most important parts of RV shopping is making sure you will be happy with the floor plan. That’s not to say it’s impossible to make changes. Modifications can be made, but it’s a major remodeling project.

Blowin’ In The Wind

Unless you have leveling/stabilizing jacks, your whole house is sitting on a spring suspension. This suspension is necessary to absorb the shock of bumps, potholes, and irregular road surfaces while traveling. Once parked, it is subject to blowing winds as well as movement of the occupants within.

Limited Resources

This may or may not apply to some or all of your consumable resources, depending on how and where you are camping. If you are at a fancy RV park with full hookups, you might not have to worry about running out of water or electricity. On the other hand, your electrical service is delivered via a glorified extension cord, with about the same capacity as two regular household circuits. Your water service is delivered via a garden hose. Your propane isn’t limitless like a conventional home’s piped-in natural gas or huge propane tank.

You’ll  have to exercise conscious consumption of resources. Of course that’s a good habit to acquire, because even “limitless” resources are not really limitless in the bigger picture. You’ll be kinder to the earth and to your wallet if you try to use only what you really need instead of using as much as you can.

Extra Maintenance Chores

If you are camping with full hookups, you might be tempted to just hook up your sewer hose, open the dump valves, and forget about it. Not a good idea. While it’s OK to leave the hose connected, you really should leave the valves closed (at least the black one), and  periodically open to dump as needed.  Those of you who are RVers, especially full-timers, already know why. The rest of you can search RV Poop Pyramid for the gory details.

Batteries also require periodic maintenance, even (especially?) when you’re sitting still and connected to shore power. If they are traditional flooded(liquid electrolyte) batteries, water lost due to evaporation will need to be replaced. When the batteries are constantly under a float charge, as when continuously connected to commercial power, the rate of evaporation is accelerated.

With limited indoor space and close quarters, you’ll be taking the trash out at least daily, and sometimes several times per day.

Step On It!

Some fixtures in an RV don’t work the same as they do in a conventional home, most notably the toilet. Instead of the usual handle, an RV toilet is flushed with a foot pedal. Pressing the pedal opens a trap door in the bottom of the bowl, allowing the contents to fall into the holding tank below. The same or a second pedal regulates the flow of fresh water to rinse and refill the bowl. There may even be a hand-held sprayer for stubborn spots.

It’s The Little Things

You already know an RV is small, but so are many of the fixtures and components. Most traditional homes and apartments are built using standard materials to standard dimensions. Even in a small apartment, with less square footage and smaller closets, the kitchen and bath fixtures are still  normal sized.

In an RV you not only have fewer square feet — most everything is smaller. Doorways are shorter and narrower. Ceilings are lower. Sinks, lavatories, and toilets are smaller, and the shower is downright tiny. Beds are often smaller and may have thinner mattresses.

Cupboards and drawers are smaller. The cookstove is smaller and may have only 2 or 3 burners, and might lack a conventional oven. The largest RV refrigerators aren’t much bigger than a small apartment fridge, and the smallest ones are the size of the tiny cubes you’d find in a dorm room or hotel mini-bar.

Counter space is somewhere between little and none – covers for the stove and sink that transform them into additional counter space are popular accessories.

Comments Are Open

Have you vacationed in an RV? Live in one? Visited one? What stood out as something that made for a different experience than a conventional home?

Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Electricity

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I had planned to cover all the house systems (water, waste, gas, and electric) in one post, but as I got to writing about the electrical system I realized it would need its own post. The rest will be covered in the next installment.

Twelve Volt Basics

All RVs have a 12 volt DC electrical system. This powers interior and exterior lighting and a pump for the fresh water system, as well as exhaust fans and the blower of a forced-air furnace. Most newer rigs have smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide detectors, all running on 12 volts, and ignition and control electronics for the propane-fired combustion appliances.

More About Batteries

The 12 volts is supplied from a deep cycle storage battery. This is similar to a car battery, except that it is designed for deeper discharge at low current. A starting battery, in contrast, is designed to deliver short bursts of high current. Another reason not to use the engine starting battery to power the house loads is to avoid becoming stranded in the event of running the battery down while camping.

Getting Charged

The house battery is charged by the RV or tow vehicle’s engine alternator while driving. There is also a “converter” which converts 120 volt AC to 12 volts DC,  while connected to electric hookups, powering 12-volt loads without discharging the battery. The converter usually incorporates a charger as well. Photovoltaic solar panels can be added to generate power whenever there’s sunshine. With a decent sized battery bank and solar system, combined with mindful conservation habits, it is possible to go almost indefinitely without connecting to shore power or running an internal combustion engine.

What I’ve Got

What do I have? I’ve got 500 amp-hours (6000 watt-hours) of rated house battery capacity. In practice, a storage battery should not be discharged past 50% capacity or the life of the battery is severely impacted, so that leaves me with 3000 watt-hours to use. I have a 500 watt solar system, so an average six hours of insolation on a sunny day gives me, not incidentally, 3000 watt-hours of daily charging ability.  Take a look at your latest electric bill. Do the math and determine what your daily kilowatt-hour usage is. Could you live on 3 KWH per day? I can, at least when I don’t need air conditioning.

Household Power To Go

What about all the common electrical conveniences and necessities that run on regular 120-volt AC power? Most RVs have a 120-volt electrical system with standard receptacles. The power comes in through what amounts to a big thick glorified extension cord which you plug in when you stop at a campground or RV park offering hookups. But what about in the middle of nowhere? There are two options: inverters and generators.

Inversion Layer

Inverters change 12-volt DC battery power into 120-volt AC household power. They are available in numerous sizes from 100 watts, suitable for operating laptops, electronics, and small appliances through multi-kilowatt units able to power almost anything. Many RVers find that 300-500 watts is enough to power their TV, DVD, computer, and kitchen gadgets with power to spare. If you want to be able to power a microwave oven from your battery bank, you’ll want at least a 1000 watt inverter, though some folks will just run a generator for that. I have a 3000 watt (there’s that number again!) inverter that will allow me to operate anything I own, limited only by the capacity of my battery bank.

Generation XYZ

A generator can deliver all the power you might want or need, as long as you have fuel for it. Most motorhomes have a generator as standard or optional equipment, while trailers usually don’t. Trailer owners often carry a portable generator. In addition to powering standard 120-volt loads, the generator can also, via the converter/charger, power 12-volt devices as well as charge the house battery during a cloudy spell or for folks who have no photovoltaic system.

Twelve Volt Native

An alternative to using an inverter or generator is to find 12-volt appliances. You’d be surprised at all the different things that come in 12-volt versions, and not just electronics. I’ve seen blenders, coffeemakers, hair dryers, and even microwave ovens designed to operate directly from 12 volts DC. My recommendation, however, is for large or heating appliances that only get used occasionally for short intervals, stick with standard 120 volt versions. Most of the 12-volt kitchen appliances I’ve seen offer very disappointing performance. Electronics, lighting, and ventilation, however, are good places to look for 12-volt options.

Generator vs. Solar

There seems to be two kinds of RVers at any boondocking gathering.  There are the folks who have an adequate solar system and are careful about their usage. They do this to avoid having to run a noisy, smelly generator any more than absolutely necessary. They might have to succumb to generator usage either to recharge batteries after a string of cloudy days, or perhaps for a few minutes occasionally to operate a high-current appliance (microwave or coffeemaker, for example) if they have only a small inverter. They enjoy the peace and quiet and community with nature.  The other group enjoys their creature comforts and either have undersized (if any) solar systems or can’t concern themselves with energy frugality. These are the ones who fire up their gensets at the crack of dawn and run ‘em until noon, and then fire them up again around dusk and don’t shut ‘em down until long after dark. I’ve seen some campgrounds and events where they actually segregate campers based on generator usage. For the record, count me in the first camp. I prefer not to use a generator if at all possible.

Bucket Of Juice

Most people are used to having a virtually unlimited supply of electricity. Sure, you might try to conserve a bit to save money or help the environment. But you know that as long as you pay your electric bill, you aren’t going to run out of electricity unexpectedly. Not so when you’re off-grid. Your battery bank is like a bucket of electricity. It holds a finite amount of energy. Every time you turn on the light, listen to the radio, grind some coffee, or read my blog, you’re taking electricity out of the bucket. When the sun is shining, the generator is running, or you’re connected to shore power, you’re putting electricity back into the bucket. There are some pretty fancy instruments made that can measure the amount of energy going into and out of a battery bank and give the user a reasonably accurate indication of where they stand – much like the gas gauge on your car lets you know how far you can go before you need to fill up.

My Plan

I don’t have such a fancy system. I have very simple voltage and current metering, which keep me advised of the overall health of the system, and I rely on my experience with the system and familiarity with all of my devices and how much power they use to keep track of things. While off-grid, I am very conservative with my usage. I don’t leave things on when I’m not using them. I use only the lights I need, turn off or sleep the computer when not using it. I ration my TV and internet usage as well as my broadcast radio listening. If I’m not inside, then everything is shut off. Remember that 3 KWH figure I cited earlier? That’s not a goal – that’s a very real limit on my daily consumption.

Are we there yet?

Whew! This ended up being much longer than I expected, but there’s plenty of room in the comments if there’s something I left out, you didn’t understand, or would like more info about.

Exploring RV Living – Home Is Where I Park It

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.

RV Parks And Campgrounds

First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.

Hook Me Up

RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.

Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.

Private Property

If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.

With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.

Living Free

So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.

Wally World

Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.

While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?

This Land Is Your Land…

Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.

While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.

Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.

Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.

Friends and Family

Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.

Please share your thoughts — comments are open!

Exploring RV Living – Camping vs. Living

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

Let’s clarify what I mean when I say camping. Some people would go so far as to say that RVing isn’t camping at all. Well, according to my dictionary, camping means “lodging in a camp” with no mention of what or even if any shelter is involved. While there may be different styles of camping, and some folks may prefer more primitive camping, RVing is indeed camping. The confusion can also go in the opposite direction. One might think “if you live in your RV, are you then camping all the time?” Maybe so.

Let’s Go Camping!

For the purpose of this discussion, “camping” is what someone does when they leave their normal home for a period of time, and pack what they expect to need for the period of time they plan to be away. Like a vacation. They do not usually carry all of their earthly possessions with them. They know that they will be eventually returning home.

Home Is Where I Park It

No matter where I go, I take my home with me. All my possessions. Everything. Whether I’m spending the night in a parking lot, a month in the middle of the desert, or a year in a small town, there’s no going home because I’m already here. And so’s all my stuff. While the vacation camper only needs to pack what he or she will need for a week or so, the full timer takes everything. Well, that’s not always true. Some full timers do store off-season clothing or items they aren’t ready to part with. Not me.

That’s Life

Campers need only be prepared for their planned trip. The full timer must be prepared for every day life. While this includes the obvious things, such as food and clothing, it also includes things that one doesn’t give daily thought to. Stuff like business records, passports, birth certificates, medical records, and more. Maybe work-related tools or equipment. Even the obvious isn’t as obvious as it seems. Take clothing, for example. Unless I want to maintain storage at some permanent location, and return to it as needed, I must carry with me clothing appropriate for all seasons and any climate I expect to travel to. To complicate matters further, most RVs are designed with the occasional traveler, not the full timer, in mind, with precious little storage space.

Not Always a Holiday

The recreational RVer might enjoy leaving cares behind, forgetting about computers, telephones, bills, and other responsibilities. To live full-time in an RV is not the same as always being on vacation. In a future installment of this series, I’ll get into things like mail, telephone, and Internet, as well as how to stay on top of bills and other obligations.

Minimalism Helps

As you can imagine, if you want to carry your home and all its contents with you everywhere, a minimalist mindset will make things much easier. You will want to own only what you really need or really love. Although I downsized 90% of my possessions when I moved out of my 1200 square f00t home and into my 126 square f00t RV, I’m learning now that I still have a long way to go. Experience has really been my best teacher. If you’ve been following me for a while (and if not, feel free to browse the archives) you know I’m still working on my clutter, in order to live more comfortably in this tiny space.

One-Size-Fits-All?

That’s not to say you have to be able to fit in 100 square feet. Still, you’ll probably be significantly downsizing from whatever you live in now, unless you already live in an RV, a hotel room, or a really really small studio apartment. The tiniest pop-ups and pickup campers are well under 100 square feet, while the largest, most luxurious motor homes and trailers are barely 300 square feet. Still pretty small by traditional standards. If you’ve ever thought about living in an RV, or any sort of “tiny house”, you might consider the following experiment. Try living for a month in just your kitchen, bathroom, and smallest bedroom. In fact, if you have a large eat in kitchen, try confining yourself to just the kitchen and bathroom. For the whole month, all other parts of the house are off-limits, except for navigation purposes. This includes their contents, so before you begin, make sure everything you’ll need is in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

Are You Experienced?

Have you ever been RVing? Have you ever imagined spending more than a week or two in one? Are you a fellow full timer, or have you been in the past? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comments are open; questions are welcome.

Exploring RV Living – What’s In A Name?

(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)

I live in an RV, but just what does that mean? “RV” is actually an abbreviation for Recreational Vehicle, although many of us who live in one full-time prefer to think it really stands for Residence or Residential Vehicle. Elsewhere in the world “recreational vehicle” refers to the ruggedized, often four-wheel drive vehicle that we call an SUV, or Sport Utility Vehicle, but here in North America, an RV  is a motor vehicle or trailer having at least the basic necessary amenities of a home. For licensing, registration, and insurance purposes, to qualify as an RV a unit must include, at minimum, sleeping, cooking, and toilet facilities. In most other parts of the world a similar unit would be called either a camper van, if motorized, or a caravan, if towed. It is self-contained and self-sufficient, enabling all on-board systems to be functional without external connections for periods of days, weeks, or even months.

Now that we’ve defined the umbrella term RV, let’s take a look at all the different types of RVs. We can start by separating the lot into two groups: drivable and towable.

Drivable Dwellings

Drivable RVs are called motorhomes. They have an engine, a steering wheel, and a driver’s seat. They are fully self-contained motor vehicles that are also fully functional residences. Or, as Homer Simpson says, “It’s not just a motorhome — it’s a car you can go to the bathroom in!” They have the advantage of being a single vehicle that does it all. The disadvantage is that most motorhomes are too cumbersome and fuel inefficient to use as daily drivers. Most motorhome dwellers either tow a small car behind the motorhome or carry a bicycle, scooter, or small motorcycle for everyday local transportation.

Class A motorhomes are the largest of the motorhomes, built on a truck or bus chassis. They resemble a bus in that they usually have a flat front and boxy shape to them. The driver’s seat is obviously located at the front of the cabin, but there is no separate cab.

Bus conversions are a subset of class A motorhomes. A transit or school bus is converted, either commercially or DIY, into a custom motorhome. Commercially manufactured bus conversions usually start with a new empty bus shell, while DIY conversions are often made from retired commercial or school buses. There is plenty of room for creativity and originality in DIY conversions – many are as much works of art as they are homes on wheels.

Class B motorhomes are built inside a modified standard full-size van, and are sometimes called camper vans. From the outside it might be difficult to tell a class B motorhome from a regular van – the exterior differences include a raised roof (so that one may comfortably stand erect inside) and various vents and connections belonging to appliances and subsystems but may go unnoticed to the untrained eye. One of the biggest advantages of the class B van is that it is small and nimble enough for regular driving, so it could easily be your only vehicle. It’s also pretty stealthy, working well for urban camping.

Class C motorhomes are built upon a “cutaway” van or truck chassis. They retain the truck chassis’ cab, complete with its doors, windows, dashboard, and driver’s seat and controls. From the outside they are easily recognized by the telltale “cab over” portion of the coach which overhangs the cab.

Draggable Domiciles

Towable RVs — trailers — have the advantage of being able to un-hitch and use the tow vehicle for local transportation without having to carry your whole house around as you would with a motorhome. Trailers also come in a variety of styles.

Travel trailers are perhaps the most common trailers. They are towed by a bumper- or frame-mounted ball type hitch. They are sometimes also called bumper-pull trailers. For all but the smallest and lightest travel trailers, you’ll need a full-size pickup truck or large SUV to tow it with.

Other bumper-pull trailers include popups, sometimes called tent trailers, which are low profile when closed for travel, but “pop up” into a soft sided tent-like structure for camping, as well as “teardrop” and other hard-sided micro trailers.  The advantage to these lightweight trailers is that they can be easily towed by almost any vehicle, including a compact car or mini pickup.

Fifth-wheel trailers connect to the tow vehicle using a fifth-wheel hitch and kingpin system, just like a semi-trailer on a big truck. The fifth-wheel hitch is installed in the bed of a pickup truck, though some owners of very large fifth-wheel trailers prefer to use a semi tractor instead of a pickup truck as a tow vehicle. The big advantage of a fifth wheel trailer is size and carrying capacity. If you want the most living space possible and less risk of overloading it, a fifth wheel would be a good choice. In addition to the extra towing capacity, a fifth wheel offers improved handling and maneuverability over a travel trailer’s bumper pull system.

Pickup Campers

There’s one more type of RV that’s worthy of mention but is neither motorized nor towable. The pickup camper is a complete dwelling unit that slides into the bed of a pickup truck. This combination offers some of the convenience of a tiny motorhome with some of the advantages of a trailer. At the campsite, the camper can be supported by jacks and the pickup truck can be driven out from under it, so it may be driven as needed without having to break camp.

That’s Not An RV!

The Mobile Home – while it is a house on wheels, it is usually mobile in name only. They are difficult to move, and therefore it is rarely done. Also, they are not fully self-contained – they need to be connected to water, waste, and electric infrastructure. House Trailer is another name for a mobile home.

Your Turn

Did I miss something? Have any questions? Comments are open!

Exploring RV Living – Introduction

Many of you probably already know, or have deduced, that I live full-time in my RV. A small motorhome, to be exact. Somewhere back in my early archives I wrote about some of the considerations that led me to this lifestyle choice, but I figured it was time to revisit the whole concept. I’d also like to explore how it has been working out, now that I’ve been doing it for several years, and share with the curious just what RV living on a full-time basis is like.

About The Headline

While looking at my blog stats, I’ve noticed that I often get search hits with variations of “RV living” in them, yet  “RV lifestyle” or “RV full-timing” almost never appear. While the latter terms are common among the RV community, “RV living” or “living in an RV” are what I guess most people call it. I hope my decision to go with a title that favors common usage over insider jargon helps folks interested in this lifestyle to find this series. I’ll be offering a combination of general information and specific details of my own personal home and lifestyle.

Did You Say Series?

I’ve decided to make this a series for a few reasons. There’s way too much to cover for a single blog post. It would end up being far too long while still skimping on details. By breaking it up into a series of posts I can give each subtopic the attention and space it deserves.

Each reader may not be equally interested in each facet of RV living. Some may be more interested in the technical details of the various subsystems, others in the details of travel and locational possibilities, and still others in the social and community aspects of the lifestyle.

There will even be topics of interest to folks who could care less about the RV lifestyle, but might want to learn about off-grid living, strategies for living in tiny spaces, and location independence, all of which are parts of RV living.

The series format will allow readers to pick and choose what interests them, while allowing me to sufficiently elaborate on each topic. It will help keep follow-up discussions in the comments section organized too.

Topics I Plan To Cover

  • What’s in a name? - RV, camper, motorhome, pop-up, caravan, fifth wheel, house trailer, travel trailer, mobile home, van and bus conversions; what do they all mean and what’s the difference?
  • Camping vs. living - The similarities and differences between RV camping and full-time RV living.
  • Home is where I park it - Campgrounds, RV parks, private property, boondocking, and more.
  • All the comforts of home - Lights, running water, flush toilet, and a complete kitchen, even in the middle of nowhere.
  • Staying connected - Wireless telephone, internet, and HF radio keep me in touch no matter where I am.
  • That’s entertainment - Accommodating music, video, and reading libraries on-the-go in tiny places. Other entertainment options, too.
  • Similarities and differences - How is it the same as living in a tiny house or apartment, and how is it different? Exploring the unique challenges and rewards.
  • Environmental considerations - Many people think of an RV as a big, gas-guzzling road-hog, but is it really that bad? It makes for a very eco-friendly dwelling when it isn’t rolling down the road.
  • Is it expensive? - You can spend a fortune if you want, yet it can be surprisingly affordable, especially if you are handy and creative. Ongoing expenses can be very minimal.
  • Is it for you? - It may not be for everybody, but if you have a sense of adventure and a taste for unconventional living, it might be for you. Why I chose to try it and why I’m still doing it.

You Can Help

I’m sure I’ve missed something. Those are only the things I’ve thought you might be interested in. Please jump in down in the comment section and let me know what interests you and what you want to read about. Nothing is carved in stone – this series can go where you want it to.

Also, would you prefer that I concentrate my writing efforts exclusively on this series, until I’ve exhausted the topic, or would you rather I do, say,  one “Exploring RV Living” post plus an unrelated second post each week? Your opinion is important to me.

Repairs, additions, and modifications

Now I had me a motorhome.  Old, but habitable and roadworthy.  Or so it seemed.  I kept noticing a strong smell of gasoline.  It was pooling on the manifold below the carburetor.  Not good – wastes fuel and is a fire hazard.  Maybe a loose hose or fitting?  Tightening everything up didn’t help.  Ahhh… there’s where it’s coming from – accelerator pump.  The rubber diaphragm was dried and cracked and allowing fuel to escape.  Replacement part was about five dollars, plus a half hour of my time to install. 

Motor was now good again – what about the “home” part?  Hmmm… some tiny leaks in the fresh water system.  Like the fuel leak, turned out to be pretty easy and inexpensive – a few connections needed tightened, and an o-ring in one, and that was that.  While I was at it, I made the rounds checking and tightening screws and whatever all over – cupboard hinges, appliance mountings, and what-have-you.  Removed the slightly tattered folding door to the bathroom.  Hung a shower curtain.  Starting to look pretty good.

 Now it’s time to customize a bit.  I started by taking the 8-track stereo (no kidding!) out of the dash and replacing it with something made in this century. Now I can listen to  AM, FM, and XM radio as well as play CDs.  Can’t play 8-tracks anymore, though.  Replaced the existing speakers with something a little better.  Decided not to go overboard with amps and subwoofers and such – just kept it simple, but good enough for casual listening.  I figure I can use headphones when I really want an audiophile experience, and the rest of the time, pretty good is good enough.  Back in the living area, I installed a television, and I sacrificed one of the overhead cupboards in the kitchen to install a microwave oven.  It’s getting pretty darn habitable in here now, huh?  Oh, the exhaust fan in the bathroom vent was pretty noisy and the screen a bit raggedy, so I replaced it with a ShurFlo Comfort Air vent fan (similar to a Fantastic Fan) – very quiet on low, and can move a lot of air if needed – makes a great whole-house ventilator.

Had to fix the ladder on the back, and I put a couple coats of Kool-Seal on the roof to seal and insulate it.  Put some new fog lights in the front to replace what was left of the pair that used to be there.  Of course all this work took place over the course of several months worth of weekends.  So the forum people were right about finding something that had “nothing wrong with it” – despite the lack of obvious defects, there was plenty to do to keep me busy between chasing down the more subtle issues and customizing it to meet my needs.  Still – it was cheap to buy and so far I haven’t had to sink too much money into it.  All the expensive stuff (engine, transmission, fridge, and a/c, for example) continues to be OK.  Even the customizing has been pretty inexpensive, using mostly stuff I had around anyway or picked up on the cheap.   

Good and cheap – mutually exclusive?

Sorry I haven’t written in a bit. Had a bit of whatever’s been going around and just wasn’t in much of a writing mood for a few weeks.

So where were we? Oh yeah – filling you in on a little history.  So I’d decided this was do-able.  I’d have basic shelter plus all the technological comforts of home.  Next step was to learn as much as I could about RVing in general and motorhomes in particular.  Where did I go?  Where I always go when I need to absorb information on anything – the internet.  There I found lots of info.  Blogs and websites about general RVing, full-time RV living, technical info about all the various systems (as a fully self-contained living unit, a typical RV needs its own electrical, water, and septic systems, heating, cooling, ventilation, and more).  Now I’m a very handy person and can fix almost anything, but there was still plenty to learn.  How the RV systems differ from conventional systems, for example.  And how they are similar.  What things are subject to more frequent failure and why.  A fantastic resource was (and continues to be) the RV.NET forums.  Full of people who’ve been there and done that.  Post a question and you’ll quickly have lots of good answers.

Now that I’ve educated myself a bit, it’s time to go shopping.  My budget?  As cheap as possible.  I hoped to find something a little older, maybe in need of a little TLC that I could do myself, but no major problems.  I posted on the forums about what I hoped to do, asking if I was being realistic or just dreaming.  As you can imagine, the replies ran the gamut.  Some folks wouldn’t feel safe (nor be caught dead driving) anything older than five years old.  Others were a bit more realistic, suggesting that I should be able to find something good in the 5-10 year old range.  All but a few seemed to think that trying to buy a motorhome for full-timing on a shoestring budget was more wishful thinking than reality, suggesting that in the long run it would be more trouble than the money saved would be worth.  Some went as far as to suggest that if I couldn’t afford to buy a nice, late-model rig, then perhaps I shouldn’t be contemplating the lifestyle.  But it’s all opinion.  Some folks, OTOH, were supportive, with the caveat that I’d need to be pretty handy and do my own repairs, and to try to buy something with no apparent defects because there will always be some hidden problem or another, and things will eventually break.  No need to complicate matters by starting out with known problems.

Time to hit the usual places for used vehicle buying.  Dealers tend to be more expensive than private sellers, but they are nice for being able to compare different units all in the same place and get an idea of what I like and dislike about different styles and different floorplans, get a feel for different sizes and features, etc.  Most of the stuff at the dealers was bigger and more expensive than I was interested in, but it was still educational.  Next stop, the private sellers. Craigslist, RV Trader, and a couple other sites that list RVs for sale by private individuals.  Looked at tons of ads.  Most of the cheap ones were obviously junk, and most of the nicer ones were either way too expensive or already sold.  Alot of them I just didn’t like the floorplan.  Still, I managed to find some that seemed promising enough to actually look at in person.  What did I say about the cheap ones being junk?  Oh well.  Then I found one that looked OK.  Even in person.  I liked the floorplan.  Everything seemed to work.  No evidence of major leaking or structural damage.  Ran well.  Tires were decent.  Despite being almost 30 years old, it was in better shape than alot of much younger coaches I’d looked at.  It seemed to have been well maintained.  Had just the right mix of replacement parts of various ages, indicating that things were serviced or repaired as needed (rather than a rush “let’s get it fixed so we can sell it” rehab project).  After a little haggling, I became the proud new owner of a 1979 Georgie Boy Cruise Master “Mini-Home”.

Next installment:  repair and customization

Portable Living Via Technology

The seed had been planted. I wanted to do this.  But could I?  While it’s true that it doesn’t take too much for basic survival, I didn’t want that to mean deprivation.  A motorhome would provide a roof over my head, a bed, bathroom, and kitchen.  Basic needs fulfilled. How about the secondary needs?  Not true necessities,  but stuff I’d rather not do without.  For me that means a computer with internet access, a decent sound system with music library, and television.  Pretty simple, really.  The hardware isn’t too much of a challenge.  For the computer a laptop would be ideal, but even a compact desktop system could work.  There are some pretty nice audio components made for the mobile environment, plus some compact home equipment that might be modified as well. And TV is, well, TV.  For those who want it, satellite TV adapts well to the RV environment, but personally I’m happy with what I can pull in with an antenna or the occasional DVD.  How about the internet connection and music library?  As recently as less than ten years ago the internet connection would have been almost impossible, and what was available, via cellphone, was very expensive and excruciatingly slow.  Now there’s cell-based wireless broadband service, satellite internet service, WiFi all over the place, and other options just over the horizon.  And a music collection?  I’ve been a music lover all my life, and a working DJ for part of it.  Can you imagine my trying to carry around a collection of thousands of vinyl records, hundreds of CDs, and hundreds of cassettes?  Not too long ago I’d have had to decide between music and mobility.  Not anymore.  With digital music storage and small hard drives with huge capacities, it’s now possible to carry an immense music library in the space of a single paperback book.  Add XM Satellite Radio and it’s like having a library of millions of songs, plus news, sports, talk, comedy, and more.  Cool.  Maybe this really can be done without too much technology deprivation.