Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Water, Gas, And More

(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.)

In order to be self-contained, an RV needs more than just electricity. Water is necessary for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. That means there also has to be somewhere for the used water to go, as well as the, ahem, used food. Speaking of food, we need gas to cook it and to refrigerate it. Gas also keeps me toasty warm in winter, heats water, and can even be used for lighting.

Elixir Of Life

While in a campground offering hookups, the fresh water system can be supplied via a hose connected to the so-called “city water” inlet on the RV. Regular garden hose fittings are the standard. By convention, a white hose is always used for potable water, and never for anything else. With this arrangement I have a virtually limitless supply of water as you are probably used to at your house.

Getting Tanked

When not connected, water is supplied from an on-board tank. An electric pump operates on demand to distribute water to the various fixtures when called for. In this mode water becomes a precious commodity, and conservation is a must. I have a 25-gallon fresh water tank and, with care, I can go two weeks between fill-ups. Doing the math, that’s less than two gallons per day. How much water do you use in a day? If you have metered water service, take a look at your last bill and do the math. As you can imagine, I’ve learned to not waste water. Do you usually let the water run while washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or washing your hands? I can’t afford to do that.

Down The Drain

Most people give little thought to what happens to water after it goes down the drain, or what happens to the contents of the bowl when the toilet flushes. Since it is not only disgusting, but also illegal to release raw sewage, and even relatively clean wastewater is not permitted to be discharged in most places, an RV needs holding tanks. As the name implies, these tanks hold the sewage and wastewater until they can be emptied at an appropriate “dump station” into a proper sewer or septic system. Most rigs have two tanks. One is for “gray” water – sink and shower drains lead there. The other is for “black” water – the toilet bowl contents go there when flushed. Plates need to be scraped thoroughly before dish washing to avoid bits of food going down the drain. Special care needs to be exercised with the toilet too.

Don’t Forget The Paperwork

Toilet paper must be of a type that breaks up easily in water. The best seems to be the Scott single-ply 1000 sheets per roll variety. Other single-ply paper claiming to be RV or septic safe might work too. Multi-ply, super-comfy plush paper will only cause trouble. It is too bulky and does not easily break apart in water. Aside from the paper, nothing else goes in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first. That’s a reminder that some  things that you might be used to flushing down your regular toilet do not belong in an RV toilet or holding tank.

Got Gas?

Propane is used to operate the various gas appliances. My motorhome has a frame mounted tank plus I’ve added a hose to attach a portable cylinder to make for easy refills without breaking camp. A four burner gas stove with oven serves most of my cooking needs. In fact, it is an improvement over the stove in my last stick house, that having been electric. I have a 6-gallon  water heater, too.

Snug As A Bug

The coach was equipped from the factory with a forced air furnace, but I don’t use it often because it is inefficient in its propane consumption as well as using quite a bit of electrical power for the noisy blower. Mostly I use a small blue-flame heater – silent, efficient, and uses no electricity.

Wonders Of Ancient Technology

Perhaps my two favorite propane appliances, at least from the standpoint of interesting technology, are the refrigerator and the gas light. The mantle gas light remains relatively unchanged since its invention over 100 years ago.  At around 2000 BTU per hour, mine puts out just the right amount of heat for a mild winter evening or a cool spring or fall morning and makes a very bright light, too!

Making Cold From Heat

The propane-fired absorption refrigerator is almost magic – it turns the heat of a gas flame into cold! It is also another technology that has hardly changed since its invention in the 1920’s. While it may not be as energy-efficient as a mechanical compression-cycle refrigerator, it has a few advantages. No noisy compressor means it is totally silent. No moving parts, other than controls, means nothing to wear out. The main reason, however, that it is used for RV and other off-grid homes is because propane offers a much denser and therefore efficient means of energy storage than do batteries. A 20-pound cylinder, common for gas barbecue grills, will run the fridge for a month, while a battery the same size might run it for a day, and a battery of the same weight might run it for an hour or two.

Conservation Counts

Like other consumables that I carry on board, propane is a finite resource so I must plan my usage and practice active conservation. Unless I’m hooked up and plugged in, things that most folks take for granted and treat as unlimited are things I must carefully mind my usage and plan for resupplying as needed.

Your Turn

As always, your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged!

8 responses to “Exploring RV Living – All The Comforts Of Home: Water, Gas, And More

  1. Interesting post. I do sometimes think about managing without limitless running water because some wells have gone dry in this county and others have been contaminated by gas well drilling, making them unusable. Our water is rusty and leaves red or yellow stains on the bathroom fixtures, but it tastes good and has continued to work so far.

    I’ve never liked dealing with gas, so I’m happy to have an all-electric home despite it’s inefficiencies.

    This is a great post as are the others in the series. I’m glad you’re doing it.


    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      I imagine a well failure could border on being an emergency.

      I’ve heard of them making some really fancy high-end RVs that are all-electric, with conventional refrigerators and electric cookstoves, but I imagine they are intended mostly for folks who spend most of their time plugged in or don’t mind a constantly running genset. Some day when batteries can store more power for a given size, and photovoltaic power gets more efficient, all-electric RVs might become practical, and off-grid homes more common.

  2. i cannot really see myself living alone in an rv and dealing with the above… though i know other women do just fine. i’m a total washout when it comes to gas, propane, electricity, etc…. somehow it just scares me.
    altho the mantel gas light lantern brought back wonderful childhood memories of camping trips with my family!
    i love hearing about your rv life. and i’m sure there are lots of people like me out there who are interested in the details, even if we’re not rv’ers!
    thanks mike!
    the best time of year is coming!
    tammy j

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      SOme of the stuff sounds too technical, but most of it isn’t hard to learn and doesn’t need to be any more complicated than one chooses to make it. I think more potential RVers balk at the prospect of having to empty holding tanks than dealing with any of the other systems.

      Yep, fall is in the air. While it is still 100-105 during the day, it is getting down into the 70’s at night. Delightful for sleeping with the windows open.

  3. Did you have to vent your propane appliances? I’m like Tammy and Gip, propane and gas have always slightly scared me, even though I’m around it now. Patrick goes by the campground once a month or so and fills up two canisters to run the antique stove Cora’s got.

  4. Mike | HomelessOnWheels

    The Furnace and refrigerator are vented. The cookstove, mantle lamp, and blue flame heater are unvented. Of course, cookstoves almost never are, but I suppose I could use the range hood (with exhaust fan) while cooking if I was concerned. Unvented heaters are controversial. One concern is carbon monoxide, but a properly burning heater or stove burner (indicated by a blue flame) emits only carbon dioxide and water. A more legitimate concern would be that they use oxygen, but I’m not too concerned. This RV is far from airtight, and I usually crack a window or ceiling vent when running the heater just to be safe. Also, I don’t go to sleep with a heater burning. I just sleep with three or four blankies — quite snug — and as small as this place it it warms up pretty quickly in the morning.

  5. Rhonda from Baddeck

    I love your comment “…nothing else goes in the toilet unless you’ve eaten it first.” We have a composting toilet at our cabin, and once we start having guests, I’m going to post that in the bathroom. I just discovered your blog, and I’m having fun looking through the archives.

    • Mike | HomelessOnWheels

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the archives, Rhonda. There’s quite a bit of overlap among RV, cabin, “tiny house” and other off-grid living. Are you off-grid, or at least without conventional plumbing? Or did you just go with a composting toilet for ecological reasons?

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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