Plumbing Into an RV Propane System

Steve’s giving me a break and posting one of his tech-thingy articles – yay! ūüôā

We recently purchased a portable propane campfire unit, after checking out many¬†of them during our travels.¬† Mona Liza just couldn’t wait to say, “It’s about time, what took you so long”?, since¬†I had held off purchasing one for over four years.¬† Dave and Faye gave me the final push, after demonstrating their unit and making me realize it was exactly what I’d been looking for.

We love campfires, but the smoke and the issue of getting good firewood? ¬†Not so much.¬† And of course, many campgrounds just don’t allow wood¬†campfires.¬† So I had no problem with buying a portable unit – I just wanted to get the right one.¬† Some I had seen used “logs”, but I prefer¬†the small rocks and tremendous heat this little unit provides.¬† It’s Camco part#58041, and I can say after using it for a while that we’re very happy with it.

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The basic fire pit, ready to screw onto a propane tank. But that wasn’t good enough for me!

Back to the main reason for this post РI wanted to plumb this unit into my existing RV propane system which has a 30-gallon tank, and not have to carry and refill extra tanks.

The only downside to this I’ve heard is¬†that I can’t carry¬†the fire pit¬†and tank to another site.¬† Too bad, folks will just have to come to our place if they want to enjoy it with us! ¬†And in reality, it would be easy¬†to disconnect the fire pit from the extension hose if someone else provided¬†a tank for us to hook up¬†to.

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Staring at the parts didn’t get much done, so I got on the internet and educated¬†myself
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The task was to make this fitting from the fire pit connect to a 12′ extension hose, then get the other end of the¬†hose plumbed into the RV’s system

After researching propane systems and the parts I’d need, I got the job done – and it¬†was quite simple.¬† The requirement was to safely place the fire pit¬†at least 8-10 feet from our coach on the curb side, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time setting it up.

The parts I needed were:

  • A 12′ extension hose, Camco part#59043
  • A brass tee to plumb it into the system, Camco part#59113
  • An adaptor to¬†connect between the fire pit regulator and the extension hose
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This is the brass tee that gets plumbed into the high-pressure line coming out of the RV’s tank
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I found this adaptor at an RV parts supply place. ¬†It adapts the “propane tank” type connector on the fire pit regulator to one end of the 12′ extension hose. ¬†Sorry, no part# for this one

I’ll let some photos taken by Mona Liza during the project tell the rest of the story:

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Connecting the extension hose to the adaptor…
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… then connecting the other end of the adaptor to the fire pit regulator – easy peasy! ¬†Don’t use teflon tape or any “pipe dope” on these connections
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The tee will go here, between the shutoff valve on the tank and the regulator for the RV’s system.¬†Here you can see I’ve removed the regulator’s plastic cover
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Insert the tee and tighten moderately. Test the connections with soapy water, not a lighter Рor you might turn your whole RV into a fire pit!
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The fitting where the extension hose connects (behind my fingers) has a spring-loaded¬†valve in it, so you don’t need to shut off the main valve to connect/disconnect the hose. ¬†Sweet! ¬†The hanging cap keeps dirt out when the hose is disconnected. ¬†To the right under my hand you can see I’ve replaced the plastic cover over the RV regulator at its new location
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Testing everything right to the burner before adding the rocks
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Adding the bag of included lava rocks
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The instructions specified a 30-minute “burn in” for the rocks, and everything worked great

For only another $13.00, I purchased the campfire cooktop also sold by Camco, part#58033. ¬†It’s OK¬†to cook meats or other foods over this fire pit, since the intense heat will burn off any fats or other products that drip onto the lava rocks.

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Throw some shrimp (wrapped with bacon) on the Bar-B?  Oh, yeah!

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Love it when a plan comes together.  Cheers!

 



Installing a Blue Streak toilet chemical dispenser

This is another one of Steve’s easy RV modification posts:

I installed this kit several years ago and have had plenty of time to observe how it works for us.¬† We dump our black tank at different time intervals – anytime between¬†3 to 10 days of use, spending on our travel dates.¬† What I like about this kit is that the chemical is dispensed per-flush, so it makes no difference when we dump.¬† We don’t like to drive with the odor and extra weight of black tank contents, so we dump every¬†time we depart a campground, if possible.

We’ve been happy with this system and recommend that folks¬†traveling in a situation similar to ours take a look at it.¬† Be aware that the chemical refills can be somewhat difficult to find, and we’ve only had luck locating¬†them online – meaning we must have them shipped to us. ¬†It’s not too onerous, as each container lasts between 1 – 1.5 months with normal use, so¬†we normally¬†order refills¬†3-4 times per year. ¬†The best price we’ve found for the kit and the refills was at rvupgradestore, and we’ve always received the refills from them in a timely manner.

Blue Streak kit
An image of the kit from the rvupgradestore website

I haven’t tried to price-compare¬†the Blue Streak chemical vs. “toss-in” products, but we like the convenience of this kit so much that we won’t consider going back. ¬†It keeps the odor down just fine, and we like the blue water that remains¬†in our toilet after each¬†flush.

The installation on our toilet was very¬†easy, but I won’t detail it here as yours may differ.¬† I will point out that the kit is pretty much foolproof, since the chemical moves from the tank to the toilet’s water inlet line via gravity and there isn’t much that can go wrong with it. ¬†The container has a level indicator that shows how much remains¬†in it.

Blue Streak dispenser
Even in this lousy photo you can see the dispenser is about half full

We hope to hear from folks who decide to install this system, or are already using it.



 

Replacing an engine coalescing (CCV) filter

This is Steve’s¬†post detailing some maintenance he¬†did recently on the coach. ¬†His mechanically-minded buddies may enjoy it, but probably nobody else.

Betsy has been intermittently displaying a fault code indicating “high crankcase pressure” for quite some time, and after a bunch of research, I learned¬†one thing I could do to possibly resolve the problem is replace the crankcase ventilation (CCV) filter, also known as a coalescing filter. ¬†Note that there is also a “coalescent” filter in the air brake system on large diesel RV’s, but the one I’m talking about here is on top of the engine on our 2008 Cummins ISL 400hp unit. ¬†A bit confusing, and even the Freightliner guys weren’t familiar with this part¬†when I ordered it. ¬†But the filter itself had the word “coalescing” printed on it, so there’s no doubt.

Engines with closed crankcase systems use this filter to prevent crankcase oil from escaping the engine and reduce emissions, and my thought was that it might somehow be getting plugged up and throwing the codes.

Since the filter is on top of the engine, the only way to access it is to remove the engine cover inside the coach. ¬†I wasn’t crazy about having a mechanic inside Betsy¬†tearing our bedroom apart, and since the filter replacement itself is easy I decided to do the job myself. According to the mechanic, it would have been about two hours of labor for him to do it, so we saved a nice chunk of change too. ¬†Win-win!

About 90% of the job involved removing and re-installing the bedroom access panels to change the filter, which was a simple 20-minute job.

We have a Sleep Number bed, so I deflated and disassembled the mattress to reduce the weight so I could prop up the bed base:

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I replaced a bedchamber a few years ago, so I knew how to take the mattress apart.  Mona Liza ran over and laundered all of the mattress components while I did the work
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I propped the bed base up with a piece of metal bar, backed up by a 2×4 just in case. ¬†If this thing lands on your back, you’re toast!
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Finding the screws to remove the flooring. You may be able to use a magnet to locate them, but mine weren’t magnetic so I just yanked them out and replaced them with new ones
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Those black plates are the 2-piece engine covers that have several screws holding them together
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That rectangular cover where my hand houses the filter. About 12 bolts attach it to the engine
CCV Filter
Here’s the¬†new filter (left) next to the old one sitting in the cover (right) . There was a spring-loaded pressure valve in the filter¬†that I suspect was the culprit – time will tell!

Since the fault code was very intermittent, it will take a while to confirm if I fixed the problem.

Diffuser (tailpipe) replacement

I was feeling so good about how that¬†project went that I decided to replace Betsy’s diffuser (tailpipe) while I was all sweaty and dirty. ¬†Freightliner somehow forgot to install a new one when I had my maintenance done and asked them to do it, so I bought the part and did¬†it myself. ¬†Another 1/2 hour of labor cost saved!

This is the 2nd time I’ve replaced Betsy’s diffuser. ¬†Although it’s ceramic-coated, temperatures of over 900¬ļ give it a limited lifespan and make it impossible to keep clean.

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That simply won’t do…

Since I don’t happen to carry an air hammer with a cutting chisel¬†in the coach, I drilled a whole bunch of small holes and then cut between them with a hammer and chisel to remove the old piece:

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Now that’s more like it!

All in all a good day for Betsy!



 

Installing an adjustable water heater thermostat

Like many of you who own RV’s, Steve has a list of small projects to complete on Betsy this winter, and he’ll write a short post about the ones we think might be helpful to¬†others. ¬†Here is one he’d like to share.¬†



 

If your RV has a washer/dryer and/or dishwasher this post is probably not for you, as those machines require very hot water to do their job properly.  But you may want to read on if your hot water use is limited to showers, manual dish washing and other day-to-day needs.

This installation was performed on an Atwood water heater, and the adjustable thermostat kit (about $30) was advertised as universal for all Atwood units.  It consisted of the adjustable thermostat, a retainer and spring and two wire sections with terminals that adapt the new thermostat terminals to the existing wiring.

With our recent water heater/plumbing repair completed, we were once again getting scalding hot water at the taps.  I thought it made sense to install an adjustable thermostat as a way to save some propane and electricity.  Why heat the water to a higher temperature than we needed on every cycle?

 

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Photo grabbed from Amazon

After cutting off half of the foam cover and removing the old thermostat per the instructions, the only slightly challenging task was to get the retainer/spring assembly tabs pushed under the front panel so the new thermostat was seated flat against the water heater tank.  The final step was inserting the two adapter wires between the existing wires and the new thermostat.

That was it for the installation. ¬†Settings on the thermostat range from “A” to “E” (a bit strange), and I had read that each letter corresponds to about 10¬ļ of temperature reduction with “E” being the hottest. ¬†The factory-installed thermostat had supposedly allowed the shutoff to occur at about 150¬ļ.

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The unit¬†was set to “C” when I installed it, and after experimenting for a couple of days I found that “B” was about right for us (which would equate to about 120¬ļ, but I haven’t measured it yet). ¬†When¬†I turned the hot water tap all the way up it was no longer scalding hot, but hot enough for a comfortable¬†shower on a cold day (which Prescott, AZ was amply supplying¬†at the time).

Now I can set the temperature up or down with a screwdriver if I need to, and¬†I’ve already noticed that the water-heating cycles¬†are shorter.¬† For about $30 and very little effort I think this modification will pay for itself over time, and it would be especially beneficial to¬†folks who primarily use propane to run¬†their water heater.