Saturday, January 25, 2014

Systems: water

I designed this rig with all the tanks, pipes and the dump/fill connections completely inside the van so I don’t have to worry about something other than my own parts freezing and falling off in cold weather. Sportmobile even went one better for me and designed the grey-water tank vent to come up high under the counter then turn and go straight down through the floor of the van so I didn’t have to have an extra hole cut into the van’s skin.

Tank levels available at a glance
The heart of the system is a pair of 10 gallon tanks sitting side by side under the sink. One is potable water and the other is the grey water tank. (Remember, I use a portable toilet which has its own black water tank.) Also under there is the 12V on-demand pump which supplies pressure to the one and only fixture at the sink. In addition to the normal connect-to-a-hose-outlet method of filling the potable water tank I also have a permanently connected length of tubing coiled up under the sink which I can pull out and pour containers of water through to gravity-fill the tank as well.

I find I go through about a gallon to gallon and a half of water a day, moving most of it from the potable tank to the grey water tank making use of it along the way mostly for washing dishes or brushing teeth.  This means I generally only need to bother with the fill/dump cycle once a week or so.

I know one gallon a day sounds impossible (I know this because that’s what everybody tells me. . .) and you’re probably skeptical too, but remember, I travel alone and also grew up tent camping and hauling my own water so tend to use it sparingly, even when at home with very good well and automatic pump. It helps that I don’t have a shower on board and drink bottled water. (I know from experience that you don’t want to be on the road with an intestinal bug!! So I don’t take chances – though I do brush my teeth with water from the tank – hummm. . . might be some faulty logic there. . .)

As a boy my brother and I had the job of fetching water in one of those big old steel 5 gallon Jerry cans, in those days usually from a hand pumped well on the far side of the campground. Since the can was nearly as big as we were, we would jam a stick through the handles and with one of us on each end of the stick, hump this thing back to the campsite with plenty of grunting and groaning and complaining as well as frequent stops along the way to recover and gather strength for the next few feet. (And argue about who was carrying more than their fair share of the load.) As you can imagine, because of all the effort it took fetching that water we learned to use it very carefully, such as brushing teeth with a single cup of water. (Dip brush, brush teeth, spit, rinse, spit, floss, spit, rinse, spit, then swish the brush in the remaining water to clean it.) Lessons I still practice today.

In addition to keeping all the water inside the heated space, another simple but deliberate design feature is the cutout in the back side of the cabinet housing the tanks. By opening the side door and looking through this opening I can see the water levels in my both of my translucent tanks without having to rely on any of those gauges or level indicators that always seem to be acting up. Since this is the door I use to go in and out of the rig the tank levels get checked often which may have some bearing on the fact that, so far anyway, I have not experienced the nasty surprise of running the tank dry and pumping air.

Hiking stick strap is partially covering the fill valve
Also, when the side door is open, the fill and dump valves for the tanks are readily at hand and the permanently attached dump hose is tucked away right here too; again, all inside the heated space of the van. The disadvantage of this arrangement is that I have to approach dump stations from the wrong direction. RV’s are normally designed to dump/fill from the left or driver’s side while I dump/fill from the right side. This could be an issue if the dump station is crowded, but since I work hard to avoid camping around crowds it hasn’t been a problem so far. It also means the only way I could hook up to water in a campsite for the duration of my stay would be to throw the hose under the van and leave the side door open. But I haven’t hooked up to campground water like that in so many years my system isn’t even designed to be able to do it. If I want water I have to run the pump and the noise reminds me I’m using up a limited resource.
And before we leave this subject, as long as we’re standing here with the side door open I’ll direct your attention to the left side of the opening, to the narrow vertical gap between the back of the cabinet and the steel of the van’s side. Notice that my collapsible hiking stick is jammed securely into this gap. Neatly out of the way yet ready at hand when needed.

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