Installing a Blue Streak toilet chemical dispenser

Comments 5 Standard

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.


Blocks and Sunblocks – New add-ons for Betsy

Comments 29 Standard
Tire Covers

[Posted by Steve]

In between our bursts of travel to new areas throughout the country, we like to occasionally settle down for a while to not only vegetate a bit, but also to take on some of the little projects and upgrades that have been added to our “wishlist” along the way.  Of course, I do all the actual work, but only after Mona Liza gives management approval!

A couple of our most recent upgrades involved:

  1. Building a set of nice, strong jack blocks to assist with leveling Betsy, when needed. These blocks sit between the jack base and the ground to reduce the distance the jack has to extend, and they offer a larger area to distribute the coach’s weight.
  2. Installing some cool tire covers that we heard about from Gay and Joe of good times rollin.  We didn’t really like our old tire covers and have been hoping to find something better.

Jack Blocks (set of 2) –

We have tried a couple of the “indestructible” jack block products available out there, which Betsy promptly destroyed.  With Betsy’s rear jacks holding up close to 22,000 pounds, those products can either flex badly out of shape or aren’t tall enough to allow the jack to gain the needed additional height.

Jack Blocks

My finished blocks – the handles make them easy to carry

I wanted something that was tall, wouldn’t buckle, was fairly light and wouldn’t take up a lot of room in our compartment.  Here’s what I did:

Each set of 2 blocks required a half sheet of 3/4″ exterior plywood.  I’ve built only 2 blocks so far, to see how they work and determine if we need 2 more.  The plywood can be purchased in half sheets from Home Depot, which is nice if you have a small car like ours and can’t fit a whole 4’x8′ sheet in it.  While at the store, get some construction glue, about twenty 3″ galvanized or deck screws (and the bit to drive them) and 2 cheap drawer handles like the ones in the photo.  That’s all of the materials, and it shouldn’t set you back more than $40.

Jack Block

Home Depot (and probably Lowe’s) carries these half-sheets of 3/4″ exterior plywood. One of these will make two blocks

Cut the half sheet into eight 12″x12″ squares.  Stack them into 2 stacks of 4 squares and drill a couple of starter holes into each of them.  Drive two of the deck screws into the holes – this step just keeps the stacks square and together while you drill the rest of the starter holes.

Building a Jack Block

Using 3″ galvanized or deck screws worked out just right

Drill the rest of the starter holes into the squares.  I figured 9 screws on each block would be plenty, so that’s what I did.

Completed Jack Block

I used 9 screws in each of my blocks – these aren’t going to fall apart!

Take the blocks apart, but be careful to lay them so you’ll be able to stack them back together the same way.

On one block, squirt or brush the construction glue liberally onto the mating surfaces of the four pieces of wood, then stack them back together as they came apart.  Now screw all of the deck screws in until they are flush with the surface and wipe off the excess glue.

Assemble the other block, then install the handles.  I offset my handles toward the “ground”, thinking it would be easier to pull them out with my awning rod.  I’ve heard of folks attaching a length of rope to each block so they can pull it out without using a rod, but I didn’t want muddy rope that I would have to store away when it rained.

This is a simple and inexpensive project, but you will need to own or borrow a saw to cut the plywood and a drill to drive the deck screws.  After several uses, my blocks are holding up well – even on uneven surfaces.  Although I realize they won’t last forever, they’re so cheap and easy to make that I won’t mind doing it every few years.

Tire covers –

This upgrade requires only your wallet and knowing what size tires are on your coach.

We owned a set of typical fabric tire covers for years, but we were never happy with them. They were bulky, got dirty and full of bugs, and they allowed condensation to build up on our nice wheels in humid conditions – not a good thing over time.

Tire Wheel Cover

Typical wheel covers – anyone want to buy our old ones for cheap?

As soon as I heard that Magneshade started offering tire shades, I picked up the phone and ordered four of them.  This small company makes everything custom, and the quality is excellent.  We’ve enjoyed a full set of their exterior magnetic window shades for years, and these tire covers are attractive, compact, and just plain cool.

Magneshade Tire cover

You hardly know the tire covers are there, and I can show off my nice wheels (when they’re clean)

Dressing up a Motorhome Tire

Installing the covers is easy, if we do it prior to dumping our air bags which makes tire-to-wheel well clearance very tight

For our large 22.5″ tires, the cost was just under $200 for a set of four, shipping and tax included.  It’s hard to tell they are even on our rig, and I can attest to the fact that they will stay put even in tremendous winds – as we found out a couple of weeks ago.  You might want to check these folks out!


Up next:  Back to our travels, the hikers paradise – Great Smoky Mountains

Betsy gets a refrigerator transplant

Comments 42 Standard
installing a residential refrigerator

We arrived at Bonita Springs, FL on the first of the year, planning to stay here for a full month – the longest stop of our adventure so far.  Steve had a list of minor “Betsy” maintenance and fix-up to-do’s, and we thought this would be a good place to complete them.

One item that was not on the list – replace our refrigerator.  We have never been comfortable with the complexity or performance of our absorption unit, and Steve had been studying the feasibility of replacing it with a residential refrigerator for several months.  But now the issue had become a high priority, as our current fridge was obviously getting warmer and likely to fail soon.  After adding extra fans and defrosting the thing multiple times, we had two experts check it out and they advised us that we would need a new cooling unit – at close to $2,000 for the CU (either Norcold or an Amish unit) and labor.  Decision time!

Refrigerator Temps

Internal temps of the old fridge and freezer – with it cranked all the way up!

Although we haven’t boondocked a lot so far, we didn’t want to lose the ability to do so. And that was really our only opposition to moving to a residential fridge.  Since we have a good inverter and 3 coach batteries, plus our trusty generator, we think we’ll be able to make it work.

Being the handyman he is, Steve decided to take on the job himself.  He would have tackled this without hesitation before we started full timing, but now he was limited by a lack of tools and wondering whether the RV park would allow it.  As luck would have it, we are at Imperial Bonita Estates RV Resort, where construction within sites is allowed and the resort workers even haul away any debris left by the street once a week.  There’s also a Home Depot right up the street for needed parts and tools.  Let’s get to work!

Steve measured all dimensions of the old fridge, the compartment that held it and our door opening (the only window large enough to get a fridge through is the emergency exit in the bedroom – not an option).  We located a unit at Home Depot that looked good, a Frigidaire model# FFHT1817PS.  It was slightly narrower in width at 30″, but taller at 66.5″ – meaning we would lose the drawer that was under the old unit – darn!  The depth of 30″ meant it would stick out of the wall slightly, but not too bad.  The weight was about the same, around 200 lbs.  We ordered the new fridge, ate everything in the freezer as fast as we could, emptied all of the remaining goodies into ice chests (thanks Joe and Judy for loaning us yours!), and Steve got busy.

After removing the doors and hinges, disconnecting the propane, ice maker line, 12V and AC power, and removing everything that looked like a retaining screw at the front/back/top/bottom, he happily yanked the old unit out:

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

A triumphant moment – now let’s get this thing out of here!

Residential Refrigerator in RV

What in the world have I gotten myself into?

The next step was to get rid of the old bracing and other stuff in the fridge compartment to prepare it for the new unit.  Steve plugged the end of the propane hose, since there was no access to the metal gas line under the coach where he would have preferred to plug it.  He moved the electrical outlet from the rear of the compartment to a brace on the side wall to give us a little more depth – the new unit needs only one inch at the rear for ventilation. Fortunately, the outlet was already connected through the inverter so no additional wiring was required.

The new fridge was tall enough that even though we lost our drawer at the bottom, a base had to be built to get it at the correct height in the opening.

Steve knew we wouldn’t need both outside vents, so he sealed the top one from the inside with sheet metal attached with sealant and screws.  We’re not sure whether we want to seal the bottom vent or not and will decide later.  On hot days we think it might be good to have some outside air flow, but the new fridge has a vent on the bottom which is open to the inside of the coach.  That will allow some outside air into the coach, but we will monitor it for a while to see if it’s too much.  If we find the bottom vent isn’t needed, we’ll fill it with spray foam and close it back up to seal it.

Delivery day arrived, and it was time for Steve to “clear the runway” for the landing of our brand new baby.  He removed the passenger’s seat but left the base in, since he wanted to avoid pulling up the carpet to remove it and he thought the delivery folks could work around it.  Next, he removed the grip handles on both sides of the door to make the opening as big as possible.  Finally, he unscrewed the door stop at the top to allow the door and screen to swing completely out of the way.  Now we had a 28″ door opening to get the 27″ deep fridge through, once the doors were removed – no problem!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

Delivery dudes removing the doors and installing the ice maker, project dude taking a break.

Steve was horrified when the delivery guys told him they were not allowed to deliver appliances into motorhomes or boats.  We pretty much begged them to help us out – these old people in the RV park can’t help us move a refrigerator!  By a stroke of luck, Steve happened to have some $10 bills in his hand as they were getting ready to leave and the guy saw them.  That did the trick!  Those guys had the old unit out of Betsy and the new one sitting in the galley in no time flat!  They told us they weren’t supposed to do it, so we carefully disguised their faces in the above image 😉

Back to our story, we slid the unit into its new home and Steve took careful measurements for the upcoming trim project.  Then he installed the doors and I put the shelves where I liked them.  We plugged our new refrigerator in, put a box of baking soda inside, and waited in anticipation.

Figuring out how to secure the fridge took some thinking, since there was very little access to the back and we didn’t want to put any screws into the unit – which would likely void the warranty if we have any future problems.  Steve decided to install the trim around the fridge with a strip of super-strong double-sided tape, then screw the trim into the cabinetry.  The guy at the hardware store thought it would work, and wow did it ever – this thing doesn’t budge a millimeter!

After two days of work and about $850 for the refrigerator and other parts, it’s just about done:

We love all of the space in this fridge, and we’re in the process of putting various storage trays inside to keep things from falling as we travel. Steve still has to devise retainers to keep the doors closed on the road, but he’s found some ideas using velcro that look simple and unobtrusive.  He’s filling the screw heads with wood putty now, and after a final coat of stain on the trim it looks like we’ll call this one a success!

Residential Refrigerator in an RV

OK, now that’s more like it! Honey, can I have a cold beer now?

Before starting this project, we talked with several people who had either performed a similar transplant, or who owned newer coaches that came with residential refrigerators. One couple who had done the transplant were John and Pam of Oh the Places.  Since they were staying nearby, we were able to visit them to pick their brains prior to starting our project.  Once we were done, they were nice enough to come over and do a “final inspection”.  I think we passed!

Residential refrigerator in RV

John and Pam came over for COLD drinks!

Now, back to that to-do list…