Here’s where I’ll put stories about any house plumbing issues I might have. This is the system that would supply your sink faucets, showers, & toilet. If you’re looking for the chassis plumbing system, with info about the radiator or dash heating, go here: Chassis water system.
Water leak testing…
How do you know if you have a leak somewhere in your RV? It’s not always obvious and a hidden leak can do thousands worth of damage to the inexpensive flooring and walls of most RV’s long before it’s discovered. So, how do you keep track of it?
What I do is rather simple, doesn’t require more than a modicum of attention on my part, and has become my routine. When I travel, I always carry at least 1/4 tank of fresh water. This is for several reasons, such as on the road refreshment, a flushable toilet, and when I arrive at a new-to-me RV park, sometimes, the park’s water has mineral levels over the EPA’s guidelines. For instance, here in California’s Coachella Valley, I’ve stayed at two large RV parks and both have high levels of arsenic, fluoride, and some heavy metals. There have been times when a parks water just tastes funny, too, so I want to avoid it. So, those are the main reasons I carry water in my tank, another reason is that it gives me the opportunity to test whether or not I’ve got a new leak. Remember that you’re in or pulling a house on wheels, it’s getting jostled along at 60 MPH for hours at a time so when you stop at a RV park, that’s a perfect time to test for leaks. And here’s some ways to do that…
While I am traveling, I always switch off the water pump immediately after I’ve finished using it. This prevents draining the entire tank if I spring a leak while I’m driving and road noise prevents being able to hear it running.
When I arrive at a RV park to spend the night, I do not immediately connect to the park’s water. Instead, I use onboard water. After I stop using water for the evening, make sure all faucets are tightly closed, leave the water pump power on and while relaxing, just listen for the pump to run. If it periodically runs, that means I have a leak. The longer the time between pump run times, the slower the leak. If I don’t have a quiet time, like if I’m watching TV and can’t hear it, then I simply switch off the pump when I go to bed. Next morning, listen when I turn it on again. If it runs, I have a leak because I lost pressure during the night. The system should maintain pressure overnight. The longer it runs, the bigger the leak.
If everything is fine, and there isn’t evidence of a leak, then I hook up to park water. If there is a leak, I don’t. That allows me to switch off the pump after every use, which prevents excess water damage (I also open a faucet to relieve pressure after shutting off the water pump). Gives me some leeway in the timing of finding and fixing the leak. I’ve gone for weeks traveling and just using my tank water (refilling to 1/4 tank at RV parks with good water) before I was both willing and able to track down a slow drip. One time it turned out it was the toilet valve and behind the toilet, over a carpeted pedestal, so it could have been very difficult to find before wood rot had set in if I allowed it to drip all night and all day. One time it turned out the water pump had a slow leak. Never would have known if I’d just hooked up to water as soon as I’d arrived at RV parks since I hardly open the door on that cabinet. Another time there was a leak under the kitchen sink. But since I knew there was a drip somewhere, I searched it out and found it early.
I usually only do this test at the beginning of a multi-day trip, and again in the evening of days the RV has been banged around on poor roadways. Then I’ll do it at the conclusion of a trip. Delay in hooking up to park water overnight has the added benefit of time to ask my neighbors and office staff how the water is. Note that some parks do not, even though required by law, post the faults of their water. Over the years, I’ve run into several instances where a RV park has an obscure flier posted on a bulletin board announcing to park guest that they should not drink the water at all. Easily missed. It’s best to ask your neighbors because the parks aren’t always honest about it.
In conclusion, try to test your water system for leaks whenever you travel. Especially after the RV has been sitting for a long time. It’s easy, and only requires the owner to be vigilant, and has the added benefit of giving the opportunity to discover how drinkable a parks water really is. Finding the leak itself though, that can be a chore. But by using your water tank and pump, even at a park, and turning it on only when you need water, you can minimise any potential water damage and won’t have to shorten your vacation at all.
Kitchen Leak…May ’11
Moved back into my RV two or three weeks ago as it had warmed up sufficiently to make it comfortable. I was able to park it in my regular spot over the winter and then stayed in one of the rooms here in the building at Ice Park Campground. Getting everything up and running was an adventure to say the least.
I reconnected my water pump, I’d removed and drained it before winter, and turned it on. It started right up but I noticed a leak under the sink right away. And it was draining into my converter cubby hole which is right under the sink area. There’s a small 6″ hole in the side wall of the basement compartment right next to the converter where you can access the 120V plug-in. But I haven’t figured out how they got the converter in there. Built the RV around it? Anyway I found that the leak was spilling water into that compartment and quickly turned off the pump, and unplugged the converter from AC. Let it dry out for 24 hours and since it’s nice and dry here this time of year, it didn’t take long. When I plugged it back into 120V, it worked fine. Whew.
Back to the kitchen leak. First I found that the copper pipe from the $80 faucet I’d installed in ‘09 had split. When I took it out, I found out why. There are one way valves in the pipe connectors. I hadn’t considered that when I’d installed it. The tiny amount of water that didn’t drain out when I winterized froze and split the pipe and blew out one of the one way valves. I removed the other one since they’re not really needed in such a small plumbing system.
After squishing the split pipe back together and soldering the crack (solder no longer contains lead), turned the water back on and found another leak under the floor of the cabinet. Then it took several hours trying to rip out the carpet and removing the plywood floor under it. Most of the time was in trying to figure out how they had fastened it all down. Beneath the cabinet floor was a long split in the PEX pipe caused by the one way valve not letting the water drain out like I wanted it to. The suction kept the water in the pipe instead of draining out. If I’d realized the valves were there it would have been simple to just loosen the plastic nuts under the sink and break the vacuum.
So a run to Lowe’s was in order and there I found they don’t make my kind of PEX pipe anymore (because it wasn’t very good anyway). Now they have a replacement pipe that is white instead of grey, can be cut with a pipe cutter instead of having to use a hack saw or a plastic pipe cutter (which I don’t have yet) like with the old type PEX, and can be bent 90° around a plastic radius device that snaps onto it. And it’s resistant to splitting if frozen.
Those wires coming up from below through a hole in the floor go into the small compartment below that houses the converter. That’s how the water was getting onto the converter. I put a better seal there so if I get another faucet leak, it won’t flood the converter. The 1/4″ plywood cover is slotted for the pipes so it was easy to put it back together but this time I just used 4 wood screws on the front edge to keep it in place. It’s easy to remove now, don’t have to pull 50 staples. Then I just lay the carpet on top. Doesn’t need to be stapled with all the stuff that’s sitting on it.
Using the new type PEX, a 90° bend form, and some nice plastic couplers, shown here, I didn’t need a copper 90° and those metal band clamps (or the tools to install them) that the old style PEX needed. All in all a much better product. After removing and replacing a couple feet of busted pipe, I was back in business. Turned on the water and no more leaks, except the damn faucet drips incessantly. Something else ruined because it had those one way valves. A few days later, I pulled the handle off and found that there was some debris (parts of the broken one way valve) that had made it’s way up to the valve. No damage had been done though. Cleaned that up, adjusted the compression and no more drip.
Then I filled the sinks and check the drainage. Had a drain leak. Turned out that one of the compression nuts had cracked and split. Just from the cold. There hadn’t been any water near it that winter. Took that out, went to Lowe’s and Home Depot to try to find a replacement set but neither store had my style. Since they no longer carried that exact style, that would mean some extensive drain pipe replacements. Maybe even some woodwork. Crap.
OK, so I filed a couple slots on those wings so the zip tie would fit better, put some glue in the crack, tightened it up with the zip tie so the crack was looking nice, let the glue dry. Put it all back together and no more drain leak. Cool. Cost about $0.25. Lucky it was the upper nut but I think this method would work on the lower nut also. You can see in this picture that I don’t have any room below the J trap and nothing new I could find would fit in that space without mods. They don’t make under sink drain pipes that look like the one I had to add the zip tie to anymore that I could find.
Over the next few weeks, I kept finding a little water on that shelf under the sink. Turned out that all it needed was to tighten the plastic nuts going to the faucet a bit tighter. I’d only done it by hand the first time but this time I used channel locks and that finally did it. Months later and no more leaks under there.
Self caused major water leak…Mexico, 2009
I had found a digital thermometer with a wired remote sensor at a thrift shop a few months before and now that I’m here in Mazatlan, Mexico, it’s time to install it. I needed to drill a hole in the floor to route the wired thermistor that I intended to attach to the water tank. This would give me outside air temp near the water tank, pump, and plumbing so I could keep an eye on it in cold areas.
I grab my electric drill, put in a 1/4″ twist drill and start drilling. It goes through the wooden floor pretty easy and then meets resistance. Now here is where I should have stopped…but I didn’t. I kept drilling and all of a sudden, splosh, water starts pouring out of the hole! Crap! Not being very bright, I rushed inside the RV to see what was happening…instead of turning off the water faucet near where I was working and which was supplying the water in the first place.
When I got my wits about me, I turned off the water, and started the process of finding out what happened. That entailed removing the wooden cover on the floor over where the leak was coming from. This is called a raceway and runs through the living room, and the bedroom. It encloses pipes, 120V electrical cables, and 12V wires routed here and there in the RV. Once that was removed, it was obvious. I’d drilled right through the middle of the bathrooms plastic water supply pipe. Gah!
So now I had to come up with a patch method. Went to the local Home Depot, and bought a few items I thought might work, cut out 6″ of the pipe with the hole and tried a patching coupler. Still leaked. Must have tried 3 different pipe patches but nothing I tried seemed to stop it from slowly dripping.
Ok, the hell with it. I went to a plumbing shop, just across the street from HD as it turns out, talked to the english speaking gentleman there about the problems, showed him a length of plastic pipe I brought from home with me, and ending buying a foot of copper pipe and the couplers he recommended. With all the screwing around I’d done previously, cutting the pipe repeatedly, I now needed almost a foot long piece. And, yep, this time it worked. No leaks. Later I was able to get refunds on all the non working patches and couplers I’d gotten at HD. I learned something important, along with the obvious, and that’s that this grey colored PEX is very difficult to repair. And the tools for it are very expensive.
Still working, no leaks in this area. It’s withstood pressures of up to 125 PSI (accidently had that much on it for a short time – some RV parks have really high pressures).
In other good news, all the stores now carry a type of PEX that’s white and it’s great stuff. They even have couplers that mate it up with the crummy grey stuff. That wasn’t true back when I had this problem.