Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A new porch light and a surprise ending

Last May the porch light over the entrance door went out. When I put in new fluorescent tubes they failed to light up.  So that meant the ballast was burned out and I would have to replace the entire fixture.  Replacing just the ballast was above my pay grade. 

The new light worked great for about three months and then the bulbs burned out.  Another 3 months later and the replacement bulbs burned out.  Another three months later and the same thing happened. At $13.00 for two bulbs this was going to be a $52 a year expense, plus the hassle of getting out the ladder and opening the fixture to replace the bulbs.

So I decided to replace the fluorescent bulbs with energy efficient LED bulbs.  I found a supplier of LEDs that claims their product will last 100,000 hours. Do the math -- at 4 hours a night that almost eight years.  I hope it becomes a problem down the road (grin).

I had to remove the entire fixture from the side of the coach so that I could work on it more easily.  Below is the part of the light that held the fluorescent tubes.  The cordless mouse is for scale.

When I removed the plastic ends that held the tubes, there were gaps in the aluminum base that needed to be covered up so that I could affix the ends of the tubes.  A Foretravel friend from Fredericksburg, TX made the same change to his light and he sent me a small ABS plastic strip that I used to cut small tabs.  First I made templates to size so that I would only have to cut each strip once. Sandy’s cutting board was pressed into service.

At the end of each LED tube is a small end cap with a self adhesive tab that can be used to stick the light into place.

But just to be on the safe side they also enclosed some of the smallest screws I’ve ever worked with.  I drilled a 1/16th inch hole in the end and put the screws in place.

Next I slipped three sections of clear vinyl tubing over the two sets of wires.  I “stole” this idea from my Foretravel friend, Brad Bissonnet.  The vinyl tubing helped contain all 4 wires in a neat row and protects the wires where they will touch the side of the fixture when it is totally assembled. 

Then I went outside and prepared the two wires that supply 12 Volt power to the light fixture.  At the end of each wire I crimped a butt splice that has a special end which shrinks water tight when exposed to a small open flame.  I used an Aim-N-Flame gas grill lighter.

Wednesday morning I began the final installation by attaching the light fixture to the side of the motorhome.  Once everything was in place I hooked up the wires and threw the switch and…………. nothing happened.  I knew the wires were hot.  Upon closer examination the hot wire had become separated from one of the splices I made yesterday.  I hate it when that happens.  Then the project went south.  I determined that I would have to connect new and longer wire leads inside of the coach and push them through the dime-sized hole in the outer wall.  But stupid me thought that the hole on the outside of the motorhome was in an exact straight line with the hole inside of the cabinet. So I pulled the one remaining length of old wire completely into the inside of the coach.  Well, crap.  It was not in a straight line.  In fact the outside hole was five inches higher than the inside hole and there was only a 1/4 inch gap between the walls for me to fish  new wires in place.  But with a bit of ingenuity and Sandy’s great help we got it done. 

Then all I had to do was connect the wires and put the sides and lens of the light into place.  That went well. 

This is what the fixture looked like after I connected the wires and secured them in place with ZIP ties, but I forgot to take this picture, so I borrowed the one from Brad Bissonnet, my Foretravel friend, who was so helpful.

And here is our renovated porch light ready for nightfall.

As I was putting my tools away things took a nasty turn to the south.  As I was putting a bungee cord around my telescoping ladder, the cord came apart and flew up and hit me in the mouth.  As I type this I am waiting for a 5:30 appointment with a dental surgeon to have one of my two front teeth extracted and a bone graft inserted into my upper jaw. So a $50 upgrade to the light fixture now has a $2500 to $3000 dental bill attached.
Hmmmm.  As I remember I started this project to get away from an annual $52 cost for light bulbs.  $3000 would buy a ton of light bulbs.
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How many people live full-time in an RV?

From time to time someone asks me this question and up until today, I didn’t have a good answer.  But now I do.  Well, sort of, anyway.
I went to the Escapees Forum where I asked the question and got some good estimates. 
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One member of the Escapees Organization reported that in 2008, USA TODAY said that 8 million U.S. households own at least one RV.  Now that is interesting, but still doesn’t answer my question.
One of the more knowledgeable Escapee members is Kirk Wood.  Kirk said:
“One major problem with any kind of accurate numbers is that RV owners do not agree on just what a full-timer is. Every time that question comes up there is a big fight over who is and who is not. There are even those who claim to be "part-time, full-timers!”

“I hear many talk of 1 million or more full-timers and have heard numbers that large now for most of the time that I have followed that, which is about 15 years now. The most documented report that I ever saw was from Texas A&M and about 7 or so years back. It estimated that there were no more than 250,000 people who owned an RV as their only home and had no permanent parking spot for it.. But do you have to move the RV to be a full-timer? That depends upon the rules! And in what they wrote (working from memory as I don't have the report now) that about 20% or so of those that they found were considered to be itinerant while most were retired. Even they agreed that it is difficult to track just how many people live in RVs because the population is so fluid and changes rapidly.”
Clay L chimed in to say that “In the 2000 census there was a category called "other non-standard housing" defined as boats, recreation vehicles and other such residences which have no permanent physical address. Based upon the 2000 census that number was estimated to be 260,000 people.
How many in that category are full time RVers is unknown. My best guess would be maybe 3/4 are. That would mean that there are about 200,000 of us.”

So there are probably one quarter of a million of us out here.  I’ll go with than number from now on.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, FL

North of Salt Creek is the sprawling town of Palatka where we discovered a neat gem of a park.

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Ravine Gardens State Park consists of 59 acres of trees, trails, suspension bridges, creeks and quiet beauty.  We got there in late March and missed the best time to see the azaleas in their prime, but it was still beautiful. 

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Standing 64 feet tall this obelisk was dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The park  was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1933 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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We drove through the park and fully intended to get back for a leisurely walk, but never got around to doing that.

Admission is $4 to $5.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The saga of the water pump

Our motorhome has -- as do most RVs -- a water pump. The main purpose of this pump is to allow us to have running water when we are not connected to “city water.”

Our motorhome also has a 2-gallon water/pressure tank that serves two main function:

  1. It smooths out the flow of water. Without the pressure tank, whenever we would turn on a faucet (if not on city water), the water flow would speed up and slow down as the pump cycled. Nothing really harmful, just a little annoying. If you have well water, you have a larger version of this tank.

  2. It keeps the pump from turning on every time we want to wash hands or just run a faucet briefly. Again. Nothing harmful about the pump turning on for a short period of time.

Recently, the rubber bladder that maintains the pressure inside the small tank ruptured.

Unfortunately, the tanks are very expensive. An exact replacement is about $200 plus shipping. But even if I replaced the tank, we would still have an 11-year-old noisy pump. So I thought that while I am in the water bay taking out the old tank, I might as well put in a new pump. Helping me make this decision is improved RV pump technology. Newer pumps (which operate at a variable speed) eliminate the “pulsing” action and the need for the small water/pressure tank.

So we decided to remove the old tank and install a new variable speed water pump. Sandy and I both read ForeForums, the internet-based forum for Foretravel owners, where we have learned a great deal and we try to contribute when we can.  I learned that there are two major makers of water pumps for RVs.  One is Shurflo, but they have a bad record with some owners on their third replacement of the same model.  The other company AquaJet has a better record – so we went with AquaJet.

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This is a view of the storage bay which holds the water pump and a lot of plumbing and electrical connections. 

To get to the pump, I had to remove the panel and shelf. We have learned that Foretravel likes a sleek look and hides many components behind panels and/or in out of the way spaces. Because the wiring is only 12 volts it is not necessary to have wires neatly contained within conduit.

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The blue tank is the pressure tank that failed.

It took me the better part of Friday and Saturday to successfully install the new pump. I also had to make two trips to Lowe's and each time I bought more stuff in case some issues popped up that I had not anticipated.  I have a huge amount of stuff to return.

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Tank and pump are gone.

At the end of the day on Friday we were not able to run any water inside the coach and the toilet had to be flushed by pouring water from a bucket. Real elegant. And I was beginning to doubt that I could get this done on my own.

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This configuration of PEX tubing with lots of connections and a solenoid valve became problematic when one of the connections started to leak as I was removing it.  I had to rent a special tool to re-crimp all of the small black bands seen on the blue segments of PEX. That step made the leak go away.  If that had not worked I would have had to do a lot more work.

I got some encouragement and some good advice from other Foretravel owners and by 6:00p.m. today Sandy and I had it completed.

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New pump in place.  The loop of white hose is called a “quiet loop” and dissipates vibration from rushing water and adds to the quiet operation of the system.

Next we had to sanitize the entire water system and that required 128 ounces of bleach. To get the bleach into the main tank, we would open up the water filter canister and fill it with bleach and then open the valve that permits “city water” to enter the 110 gallon storage tank. We did this 6 times until all the bleach was added. We will let it sit for 24 hours, drain it and then refill with fresh.

While this was another exhausting project it is really worthwhile.  We now have to make a conscious effort to hear the new pump.  It is that quiet.  There was no missing the noise from the older pump.

Stay tuned.