Lately we’ve noticed empty isn’t really empty according to our Airstream’s tank monitor. When we first got her, the Big Weaz’ tank monitors read 2 dots when empty. After 6 months of fulltime RV living, “empty” has become 4 dots (or 3/8ths full). Thats no good!
What the heck is a tank monitor?
Airstream Tank Monitor, Circa 2011
Let me take a step back for those of you not yet living the RV lifestyle. Living in a house, you can basically forget what happens to waste water once it goes down the drain. In an RV, the buck certainly doesn’t stop there. Your “gently used” water goes on to fill your black (toilet) and grey (sinks / shower) holding tanks until you manually empty them out. Failure to empty these tanks when they fill up leads to some hilarious Robin Williams-esque scenarios that I hope we never experience.
Since RVers aren’t born with an innate sense of “fullness” when it comes to our waste water tanks (or, in some cases, our stomachs), we need to rely on technology, experience, and math to determine just how full these tanks can get. Nowadays, RVs come standard with all types of consoles and doodads that tell you the state of your tanks. Most monitors today give you the basic info, but most have the same modern look and usability of the Bat Computer from the old 60’s Batman series.
Bat Computer, Circa 1966
It looks reliable, but can we trust it?
Now back to our story. After watching “empty” change meaning over the past few months, we became suspicious. So, off to Airforums for a more layman’s explanation of things to try.
Airforums recommended I first clean the tanks like never before, and that’s exactly what I did. I filled and emptied the tanks twice. I applied a healthy dose of borax to both my tanks, just to make sure things were nice and slippery inside. Still, the black tank blinked 4 dots at me when empty. So, according to airforums, my next move was to”recalibrate my monitor.”
How does one recalibrate holding tank monitors?
Being a bit of an electronics nerd, I rarely step down from a challenge. So, with manual in hand, I stepped up to the monitor and started following the directions for recalibrating. It turns out that the manual for the Bat Computer would have been easier to follow.
First off, the instructions don’t really warn you that there is not a “reset to factory” option, which makes sense I suppose, but would be a nice feature to have. As it stands, recalibrating requires you to empty and fill your tanks to get an accurate measurement.
This was one of the first gotchas I found while recalibrating. Since the procedure for recalibrating your tank monitor may be different, I won’t go into the specific directions. But I’ll give a few helpful hints I wished someone would have bestowed upon me before I took on this little adventure:
- You really need to make sure the tank is super clean before starting – rinse them out a few times, drop some ice down the black tank and drive around, whatever it takes to make sure you’re not just dealing with a dirty sensor.
- Know the exact capacity of your tanks – and subtract 1-2 gallons for “wiggle room”
- The Tank Monitor is not an exact instrument – it gets you close enough, but don’t expect it to be dead on accurate.
- Check the tank monitor manufacturer’s website for an updated manual. Who knows? They may have an updated one that doesn’t require a PhD to follow!
- Ask yourself – do you need to recalibrate ALL tank monitors, or just one of them? Recalibrating ALL tanks can be a LONG process. Have a full day with nothing to do.
- Have a measuring bucket – I used a 6 gallon bucket to measure the amount of water I poured back into my tanks.
- Don’t have a measuring bucket? you can approximate if you know the gallons per minute of your water source. For example, I know my shower head spits out water at 1.5 gpm, so 2 mins = 3 gallons.
That’s pretty much it. Have you ever recalibrated your tanks? Was it a good experience or bad? Has anyone found an easy to use tank monitor upgrade for Airstreams? We’d love to hear about them!
We were tipped off to the Instant-Off Faucet Aerators by Roger at www.casarodante.org who uses them in his Airstream. We were happy to hear such a think existed because we’re all looking for ways to conserve water, right?
These little gadgets are pretty cool! You screw them on to your existing faucet spout and then turn on the water from the faucet handle. Only when you touch the white lever that sticks our from the aerator attachment, will water actually come out — this prevents you from having to reach for the faucet handle to turn on and off when doing dishes and washing hands. This was always a big problem for me because I inevitably got water all over the counter every time I turned the water on and off while doing dishes (and I do a lot of dishes).
See how that screws up in there?
Two words of caution….
1. We originally bought two (at $10.95 each, why not?) and had one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. For those of you with a newer International, you know that the bathroom faucet is very low to the already shallow sink, so while the aerator fit, it wasn’t the most convenient to use. Eventually we replaced the original low faucet in the bathroom with one that has a much higher neck, however, now the aerator doesn’t fit in the spout of this new one. It seems that they might not work with every faucet out there, but if you have an original RV-made faucet, the chances are likely it’ll work great for you. And if not, you can always send it back!
2. The aerators are meant to work so that you always have your water on, however, as everyone knows with RVs, whenever water’s involved, there’s typically an issue. The first few weeks I noticed no water leakage around the base of the faucet or under the sink (and I checked regularly) but now that we’re on our second month of using them, in the morning there’s a pool of water around the base of the faucet. So, even though you should be able to always keep your water turned on when using this, I would suggest turning the water off from the source when you can or at night. These gadgets might not be as rugged as a fulltimer would hope!
Since we installed the aerator in the kitchen, the nice guys in the office of our park have been reporting my water usage to me and said in the last 6 weeks I’ve used 25 gallons less than the previous 6 weeks. (Since we’re fulltime, we pay water in our park.) This only adds up to a few dollars, but it’s saving water that’s important here in Texas right now!
We got our faucet aerators from e3living.com but I’m sure there are other models out there as well. If you have any feedback on any different ones that you use, we’d love to know about them!
Texas is hot, that’s for sure, but shouldn’t that be reason to conserve, not waste water? In Dallas, we’re constantly appalled at the number of lawn sprinklers running throughout the hottest part of the day, or car washes around every corner, steadily spraying water down the drain. Not to put all the blame on Texas – according to EPA.gov, in the US, a typical household uses approximately 260 gallons of water every day. That just seems outrageous to us. Thankfully, conserving – or at least not wasting – water is a fantastic benefit of the fulltime RV lifestyle we’ve chosen.
Learning to Conserve Water
Living in an RV comes with a percentage of water conservation built in. We don’t have lawns to water (although the few RV parks we’ve lived in so far definitely overwater the few patches of landscaping they have). We have smaller appliances that use less water, and we have fewer linear feet of pipes to fill. As an example, the average household toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush – ours uses less than .5.
One of our goals for the future is to require less time hooked up to water and power sources. So in addition to our general concern for using resources wisely, we’re trying to learn as much as we can about conserving now so we’ll have to make less of a transition later. Even if we didn’t live in drought-stricken Texas, we’d still conserve water, but living in an Airstream has brought this to a near competitive level with us. Regular checks of the tanks and high-fives (well, at least ‘good-job’ nods of the head) are telling us that we’re doing better at not only making water last, but using less of it in the first place. We’re now going into our 12th straight day of triple digits with no rain, or end, in sight.
Conserving Water Inside the RV
My favorite water saver inside the Airstream is the Oxygenics 130-XLF25 BodySpa SkinCare Handheld Shower. It uses almost half the amount of water as a regular shower head and it maintains fantastic pressure. It lowered our shower water consumption from ~2.5 gallons per minute to 1.5 or less! You should look into getting one of these.
We’re definitely still learning about how to best conserve water inside the Airstream. Our next project is to reduce the flow of water from our bathroom and kitchen faucets. We’ll start by experimenting with low flow aerating faucet heads, but ultimately we want to replace both faucets entirely. The standard faucets from Airstream aren’t really made for upgrading or adding low flow adapters. After that, we want to look at better ways to heat the water (tankless?), pump water into the RV, and use the fresh water tank more effectively.
Conserving Water Outside the RV
My newest favorite thing is collecting water from my air conditioner run off. It might sound a bit odd and extreme, but in the Weasel, the condensation runs from the AC unit through a tube that ends under the driver’s side wheel well. I started placing a bucket there about two weeks ago and was shocked at how much water drips out on a daily basis. It provides more than enough water for the plants, and really the neighbors plants as well, because it fills up to the top every day. I can’t imagine how much water is wasted from drippy RV air conditioner units!
and less than 24 hours later.... lots of water. Plus a bug.
We’re in city mandated water conservation mode here, and I didn’t want my plants to suffer, so I highly recommend doing it if you have an extra bucket lying around. Your plants will thank you for it!
Other informative links on conserving water:
That’s about all we’ve found so far, but we’re constantly looking for more ways to conserve water. We’d love to hear any tips and tricks you’ve found conserving water (or any other resource) in your RV.
In our Things They Don’t Tell You series, we talk about things we learned AFTER moving into our RV fulltime. Read on for tips on how to handle some of the little surprises that come with living a life on wheels.
Call us naive, but we severely underestimated the power and spite of H2O before we moved into the Airstream fulltime.
So far, we’ve battled a leaking shower, condensation, and mildew under our mattress – just this past week! Since we moved in, our water pump was broken and we have an ongoing battle with water pressure that we can’t win.
the Big Weaz soaking up a storm
And then there are the thunderstorms. Sure, the rain comes with its own aggravation – mud, flooding, and ruining perfectly good shoes, but it’s the accompanying noise that can really get to you after a while – imagine a tin roof wrapped all the way around you. Then, 100 hammers beat on it from the outside while a thunder-phobic dog pushes you out of bed at 3am. Talk about a restful night o’ sleep!
So far, we’ve found very few helpful precautionary measures when it comes to water issues. Trouble just sort of happens, and you have to figure out what it is and react. By all means, continue the routine under cabinet, hose, and pipe checks – but don’t be surprised when you find some weird water problem where and when you least expect it. If you spend enough time in an RV, you’re bound to experience it in some form or another.
Instead of trying to predict them, we’re trying to get smarter about finding and fixing our problems with water. Here are a few tips we’ve found to avoid or get past the most egregious problems with the wet stuff:
- ALWAYS investigate strange water. If you see a drop or two, look for a source. If you can’t find a source, look again.
- The same goes for water sounds.
- Standing water is destructive – keep water from gathering on anything, especially around faucets, toilets, in window frames and near door jambs
- Keep standing water off metals and woods.
- Check under your bed regularly. Better yet, cover your mattress with a waterproof cover and aerate the wooden plank under it.
- Running water is also destructive – learn the paths water takes down the side of your RV’s exterior. Keep these areas clean to avoid corrosion and stains.
- Avoid condensation – keep airflow moving with fans and vents, and avoid sudden or drastic temperature changes between outside and inside the trailer.
- Run the exhaust fan during your shower (and for about 10 minutes after) and squeegee afterwards.
- Keep plenty of towels and rags handy.
- If you have water pressure issues, check with the Park Host – it may be a problem for others as well.
That about covers the big things we’ve found so far. How about you? Do you have any unique water problem stories, or interesting tips for fixing them? If so, we’d love to hear from you!