Living in a Small RV: Odds and Ends

I’m not cut out for these series. I write a couple posts and then start wanting to write about other stuff, but I’m already locked in. Anyway, this is post three of the Living in a Small RV series, coming live from my RV on the side of the road in Austin, TX.

Plumbing

There are three tanks on an RV. Fresh, grey, and black. The freshwater is your water source to be used for showering, washing, and even drinking if you don’t mind your water being a bit plasticky.

Grey is usually for the shower and sinks, and black is for the toilet. In my RV, for no good reason that I can deduce, the shower drains into the black tank.

On a SMALL RV like mine these tanks will last about a week between fills. Judicious use of public bathrooms and sponge-bathing rather than showering can get you a lot longer than that.

To drain and refill your tanks you just go to any RV park OR some rest stops OR most truck stops OR free public dump sites. Prices range from free to $15, with most places being $5 or less.

The actual process is oddly enjoyable. You hook one hose up and first dump the black water through it. Then you release the grey water valve which also acts as a cleaner for the valve and hose. Unhook the hose and give it a quick rinse and you’re good to go. No mess to deal with.

A normal hose hooks up to the water tank and fills it up easily. On the inside are gauges that tell you the status of your tanks, but toilet paper routinely sticks to the sensors of the black tank and screws up the readings.

RVs have either a propane or electric water heater. Mine has electric, which is terrible. Right now it’s hot enough that I don’t need a water heater, but I may have to run the generator to shower in the winter. I’ve also heard of people heating water on the stove and sponge-bathing with it.

Parking

Parking seems really difficult until you actually look for it, and then it’s easy to find everywhere. Getting an RV that’s around 22 feet makes it possible to parallel park or park in any normal spot. Any longer and that and you’re running the risk of getting keyed because you’ve screwed up the parking situation for other people.

You’d be surprised how many places you can park for free, usually for 72 hours or so. Basically anywhere that doesn’t say you can’t. This even includes prime downtown spots during the weekend. Sometimes I wish I still went downtown just because I could park directly in front of the clubs.

The best areas are the ones that are residential but near downtown, or better is mixed commercial and residential. In those areas the residents probably aren’t so paranoid about who is parking on the street.

Again, good to have a nice looking small RV so that you aren’t an eyesore.

I park about a mile and a half from the center of downtown, one street off of the main eclectic restauraunt / coffeeshop street. On that street are a couple condo buildings, a restaurant, a small office building, a private elementary school, and a theater.

You can basically ignore the 72 hour rule as long as your neighbors like you. Police probably won’t enforce it. When I was programming a lot I holed myself up in the RV and parked for a week at a time. Even if you do have to move, just a few feet is usually okay.

When you’re traveling you can park in Wal Marts or rest stops.

The one thing to know about parking is that you have to be relatively level if you want the fridge to work. You can buy levels or blocks to level if you want to get fancy, or you can use a tip that an RV park manager gave me. Just find a level spot.

Because the road contours to the outside I usually have my back tire against the curb and my front tire a foot and a half away from the curb. That’s enough for the fridge.

Cooking

I’ll admit that I do almost no cooking in the RV. I’ve done a bit, though, so I’ll share what I know.

Fridges can be powered in two or three ways, depending on the model: battery, AC power, or propane.

Battery is terribly inefficient and can’t get very cool. I’m not sure when the prudent time to use it would be. Maybe if you didn’t use all of the electricity you generate and were driving around with the AC on.

AC power is great, but it’s obviously impractical to run the generator 24/7.

Propane is a miracle. I have a very tenuous grasp on how a small flame chills the fridge down to 37 degrees, but it does, and it does it using very little propane. Maybe $5 a week at most in the summer.

RVs come with microwaves, which I hate and never use. They can only run on AC power.

They also have propane stoves, which are great. Mine has a two burner which you light manually. Just like a normal stove you can adjust the flame and all that.

Some bigger RVs have ovens, but neither of mine have. I used to have a Panasonic Light Oven in my old one, and would just run the generator for a few minutes while I toasted my veggie burger or heated up soup in a makeshift tin foil bowl (don’t need to wash anything!)

Technology

Internet is a must! Not much to say here, except that you get a wireless connection card from any of the major providers. It will run you $60/month for essentially unlimited bandwidth.

It’s more expensive than your cable and also slower, but hey… it’s as fast as decent DSL and it’s your only bill that will increase over living like a normal person.

To charge things, you buy either the car charger or the USB chargers and get car -> USB adapter. I got one with two sockets so I can charge two things at once.

I don’t watch TV, but these things are pretty well equipped. Mine has a huge crank-up antenna that would probably work for HD reception, although I’m not totally sure. Then again, every show you want to watch is also available online, and that’s a lot better.

Staying Warm

Not everyone lives in this sauna that we call Texas. In fact, rumor has it that some people even live north of Kentucky. For those people, heat might be equally or more important that air conditioning.

RVs come equipped with a forced air furnace. The battery blows air through a heating element that’s heated by propane. The bad news is that this thing drains the battery like crazy, making it useless for long stretches.

Fortunately, there’s a miracle product called the Olympian Wave. it uses NO battery, barely uses any propane, and the smallest one can keep a small RV 20 degrees warmer than outside. I’ll be getting the next biggest one which has double the BTUs.

The installation is super easy and no permanent modifications have to be made to the RV. Just tap into a propane line and let her go.

Best method, I hear, is to set the forced air thermostat for 50 degrees so that if things get too chilly it will keep you at 50, but the Olympian can do most of the work.

Pictures

I know you guys want pictures of all this stuff. Maybe I’ll make a little video of my RV so that you can see all the stuff I’m talking about. Rialtas have retractable bathrooms, which are really neat as well.

I think this is all I have to say about living in an RV for now, but if you have any questions, I’ll answer them all in the comments.

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