Best Money I Ever Spent: RV Accessories That Were Worth Every Penny

Are you ready to make a shopping list?

About a month ago, I asked a few Heartland RV owners to help me warn others about regrettable RV accessory purchases: items they bought that just didn’t work out.

This month?

This month, it’s time to flip the coin and report from the opposite side.

Items are listed in alphabetical order, and the cost approximated to account for differences in retailer pricing, tax, shipping, and special offers.

Links to manufacturer/retailer pages were provided by contributors as a starting point for your research. You may find better pricing and selection elsewhere.

BodySpa RV Shower Kit by Oxygenics

$45.00

“Uses less water and the pressure is great. My family loves showering in our RV now.”

Stacy Vaughn, owner of a 2017 Road Warrior 427

Photo source: Camping World


30-Pint Electronic Dehumidifier by Haier

$160.00

“Where we live is hot and humid, and we will soon be moving to the wet Pacific Northwest. We found that we were sticking to our furniture and bedsheets, and the bathroom just never seemed to completely dry out after showers. This dehumidifier has curbed those issues, and as a bonus has helped with the efficiency of our the A/C units.”

Carissa Edwards, owner of a 2014 Big Country

Photo source: Target


Elongated Ceramic Toilet, Model 320, by Dometic

$200.00

“Our new toilet eliminated some unpleasant issues. It’s taller so it’s more comfortable to sit on; the bowl is deeper so there’s plenty of space between us and the water; the seat and lid are both sturdy wood rather than plastic; the seat is elongated instead of round, making…um…personal hygiene tasks easier; when flushed, it rinses all the way around the bowl from under the rim; and it has a hand sprayer to quickly dispatch any stubborn residue. In short, it’s much more like a residential toilet, which is exactly what we want in our full-time home. It was easy to install, too. Who knew a lowly toilet could make us so happy?”

David Goldstein, owner of a 2013 Landmark San Antonio

Here’s a video of the product installation on David’s blog, Landmark Adventures.

(Author’s note: We at OwnLessDoMore also upgraded to this toilet, and our behinds stand behind David’s assessment.)

Photo source: Amazon


GlowStep Revolution Step System by Torklift

$600.00

“What makes them worth every penny is that they easily adjust to a variety of terrain, and have adjustable stabilizing legs which make contact with the ground, eliminating bounce. The step size between each step adjusts equally, so there is no gigantic step at the top or bottom of the rise. No need for a portable extra step, ever again! For me and my poor knees, these steps are a true lifesaver. I no longer have knee stress with step sizes that are uncomfortable. These steps will go with me if we ever change coaches.”

Erika Dorsey, owner of a 2016 Heartland Big Country 4010RD

Here’s a full write-up of the product installation on Erika’s blog, Mammoth Travels.

Photo source: Erika Dorsey

Feel free to comment below with your own tale of money well spent!


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

“Oh goody. Another project!” I said. RV done yet?

The Toad was built in 2008, and RV insulation standards have come a long way since our little home on wheels came off the assembly line.

To put it briefly, our fifth wheel’s threshold for extreme temperatures is a lot lower than that of newer units made for year-round enjoyment. We do our best to control our climate by supplementing our furnace and AC with space heaters and fans as needed, which is often.

The most obvious area for improvement: the basement ceiling. There’s nothing between those aluminum joists but air — air that does nothing to help us control the temperature in the bedroom, which sits right above that storage area.

There it is, the nothing between the joists.

The joists are not spaced at typical household intervals (ours weren’t even spaced at consistent intervals) so we had to do a lot of trimming to make standard pink insulation fit between them.

This time, I remembered to get proof that I was on the job too.
Please note that my footwear coordinates with the fiberglass insulation.

Materials

  • Single-faced fiberglass R-13 insulation
  • 2” HVAC tape
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife

There’s not a lot to say about the “how to” part of the installation. Our day went kind of like this:

  • Pull everything out of basement
  • Measure
  • Measure again
  • Cut
  • Contort
  • Shove
  • Tape
  • Uncontort
  • Put everything back in basement
  • Look forward to enjoying a warmer bedroom this winter*

Measure

Cut

Contort

Tape

Oh, and don’t forget a lunch break.
We went out for Thai!

*Even after complaining loudly and often about spending a whole day in May on the project, inhaling pink insulation fibers and wondering why your husband can’t just wear pajamas when he’s cold.


Author’s note: A version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

Wait. You did what? Why?

Well… we were tired of the gold wallpaper in our 2008 5th wheel, and we were stuck in a small Texas town waiting for a major repair to be completed on our truck, so we had plenty of time on our hands.

Also, we’d recently admired the interior paint job completed by new friends and fellow Heartland owners David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, so we knew it could be done by regular ol’ people like us.

Yes, yes, I remember that I once wrote this, all but swearing we’d never become those RV people. But then we decided we’d keep The Toad rather than upgrading to a newer model, and well, things started looking dated in here. Fast.

Dated, dated, dated.
Gold-tone wallpaper, decorative border halfway between floor and ceiling, and upholstered cornice boxes around the windows

So, like our two favorite major DIY projects of all time, this one also began in the bedroom. (Ahem. Sorry, sons!) But hey, we figured it was the best place to use our early painting mistakes as learning experiences, because not so many people see that part of the RV. By the time we worked our way out to the main living/visiting area, we’d be pros.

Or so we thought.

Here’s what we learned:

Lesson 1: Spending money on samples was worth it

We ended up buying eight color sample cups at about $4 each, which seems costly, but by the time we were ready to spend money on our full gallons of high end paint/primer combo at $44 each, we knew which colors and finishes looked best.

For that comparatively small investment, we were able to rule out three shades of green we thought we’d love, and we could also see that a satin finish looked rather flat in here, so we bumped up to a semi-gloss.

These two samples were no-go’s.
We ended up trying half a dozen more before getting things right.

Lesson 2: Prep time is, like, forever

We washed all the walls with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix, removed every fixture we possibly could, and rearranged items multiple times as we shifted operations from one area to another.

We pulled off the wallpaper border and unscrewed the window cornice boxes and said buh-bye to them for good.

We taped, and taped, and taped, using 3 full 60-yard rolls of 1” blue tape and several yards of a fourth.

Buh-bye border.
Peeled that shit right off!

#chaos #letspaintthervshesaid #ownlessdomore

A post shared by OwnLessDoMore (@ownlessdomore.us) on

Lesson 3: We should have checked the color of that first gallon against our sample

It would have saved us a full day’s work.

We put the entire gallon on our walls, then went back to the store for more to finish up the second coat (the label boasts one-coat coverage — don’t fall for it). We painted two walls before noticing the difference: they’d given us the wrong color in the first gallon. Argh!

It was Parchment Paper, not Parchment, and the difference in tone and warmth was important enough to us that we spent a full day repainting all the walls with our preferred color.

We feel like British royalty, as we are now riding around in Parchment and Royal Orchard Green

Lesson 4: It didn’t cost a lot of money

We made 6 20-mile round trips to Home Depot for a total of about $220 in paint and supplies, after deducting our 10% military discount.

Specific items we purchased:

  • 3 gallons of Behr Marquee Paint/Primer — 2 in our main wall color, 1 in our accent color
  • 1.5” and 2” high quality cutting brushes
  • 6-pack of 6” rough surface rollers
  • Roller handle
  • 4 rolls painter’s tape
  • 1 rolling pan
  • 2 paint cups with handles
  • Spackling compound
  • Plastic sheeting to protect furniture
  • 8 color samples as mentioned in Lesson 1

Other supplies we used included a drill, putty knife, sandpaper, utility blade, stepstool and ladder, all of which we already had on hand.

Lesson 5: It did cost a lot of time

Seven days scrolled by, from “let’s buy samples” to “let’s take the ‘after’ photos,” with four of them qualifying as intense, all-day efforts. Without the color mess-up, it would have been closer to three days.

Now 3-4 days doesn’t sound like a lot of time to spend on a complete interior paint job, but there were two of us working. And our total square footage is 355 feet, not much of which is actual wall. So yeah, it’s a complicated endeavor.

Lesson 6: Things were a hot mess until they weren’t

We chose to paint over our vinyl wallpaper rather than strip it, hence the high-end paint/primer combo. Vinyl wallpaper does not like being painted, so we needed a product that would grip, not drip.

We read a lot of tips, we consulted with others, and yet… it just didn’t go well in some spots, and we had to smooth out a lot of drippy-globby areas as we went along — with a brush or roller if we found them quickly enough, or by sanding and touching up later if we didn’t.

It was a lot like trying to become “experts” by reading about parenting before we had our own children: first thing we learned was that the babies don’t read the books! Well, the wallpaper didn’t read the tips, and it fought us at every turn.

In fact, when it came time to remove all the painter’s tape, we had to use a blade to help the process along, otherwise the paint pulled right off with it. Talk about time consuming!

Scoring with a blade helped the paint stick to the walls and ceilings, not the tape.
Damn vinyl wallpaper.

Lesson 7: It’s possible, and rewarding, to correct mistakes with kindness

After we’d finished painting, we decided to go back to Home Depot with our empty paint cans and our story of Parchment Paper vs. Parchment.

We were polite, we showed a before & after photo, and we asked for nothing in return but a listening ear. Yet to our surprise, the paint department manager made up for our troubles by giving us a $30 voucher toward that day’s purchases. Turns out we were the first folks (fools?) he’d met who’d tried to paint the inside of an RV!

This is the photo that helped win the day.

Lesson 8: It’s not for everyone

We were conscientious and careful, and we used high-end materials, but we can see flaws and oopsies everywhere — and some of them were caused by issues we couldn’t control, like buckled wallpaper in difficult-to-reach areas. If you can’t handle tons of work for results that might not leave you overjoyed, don’t do this yourself.

Overall, we’re happy with the transformation we’ve pulled off in here, but if a professional painter had left things like this? We would have withheld pay and filed a formal licensing complaint.

Here’s the deal: You think you know how many tight spaces your RV has, but you don’t — not until you try to paint them all. If you can’t handle spending hours in contorted positions, painting with your non-dominant hand around blind corners, and then living with the less-than-perfect results of that? Don’t do this yourself.

You have to hate the wall coverings you’ve got hard enough to commit fully to changing them. Otherwise? Don’t do this yourself.

Lesson 9: It will lead to more projects

Now that we’ve removed the window cornice boxes, we’ve got naked blinds, so we need curtains.

And our walls look really bare without the textured wallpaper and decorative border to break up the space, so we need artwork. (Good news: we know where to find tips for hanging it!)

And our furniture, in addition to already looking shabby, also no longer coordinates with our wall colors, so we need a new sofa, recliner, and set of dining chairs.

Carpet’s pretty worn out too…

Project creep: the struggle is as real in an RV as it is in a house!

For now, enjoy our befores & afters. I know we are.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

More Power! Tim’s bonus battery bonanza, Part III

~ A special, highly technical, data-driven guest series written by Tim ~

Tim the Tool Man’s “More power” grunt is repeated often around here.
(source: Giphy)

Readers of my electrical system articles likely fall into two groups: those in suspense since February, and those scratching their heads trying to remember what the previous two installments were about.

If you’re in the latter group, Part I of the series covered the planning and design, while Part II discussed research, costs and equipment selections. For Part III, roll up your sleeves!

“I hit my head. It is what I do.”

Installation took longer than expected. No surprise. It also caused me to grimace and repeatedly mutter the above statement. Working extended periods in the belly of The Toad involved contortionism and a couple of bandaids, but the results have been worth it.

The oriented strand board (OSB) used in the RV’s front compartment wall complicated installation of the inverter, as the material does not hold screws well compared to plywood. To address this, I built a back panel from plywood covered by thin metal plates to deflect heat generated by the inverter.

Four t-bolts were used to hang the 40 pound inverter (see Figure 1), while screws were driven in from the basement side (thus gripping into the plywood) to hold the combined weight.

Figure 1

Rough Wiring the Service Feed

Two 240V/50A lines were run from near the circuit panel to the front compartment to complete the new service feed. The Electrical Management System (EMS) (Figure 2) was attached to the floor behind the basement wall after connecting the output side to one of the feed lines. Both cable runs were attached to the basement ceiling using strap hangers.

Lesson learned: pick screws just large enough to hold the cables while still short enough to not poke through the floor. Ouch!

Figure 2

Other Puzzle Pieces

Heavy duty (4/0, “four aught”) cabling connects the batteries and smaller components with the inverter. I made custom-length cables, saving money and weight. To determine the correct lengths, I placed the battery cutout switch, the shunt, and the battery fuse where I wanted them on the RV’s front compartment wall, and then built each cable to fit between them.

Newer Heartland RVs have battery cut-out switches to isolate the batteries from the RV’s electrical system for safety and maintenance. Our 2008 Bighorn lacked this feature, so I added a Blue Sea Systems m-Series switch.

Lesson learned: The m-Series is rated for high-amp circuits, but required modification to fit the large cable; the e-Series switch would have been a better choice.

The fuse block (lower left corner of Figure 3’s right panel) is used to protect the system, while the shunt provides the means to measure performance using the Pentametric monitoring system. One wire from each side of the shunt is connected to the input unit. Additional small gauge wires provide power and temperature readings. The battery interconnects provide a series-parallel configuration. I found Spax screws provide better holding power for components mounted on the OSB.

Figure 3

Custom Cables

Making custom-length cables is as easy as measuring, cutting, stripping and crimping, right? Close. The process is simple, although three special tools and a couple of tricks are helpful.

Because of the 4/0s thickness, bends take extra room and cables should be laid out before cutting; high quality welding cable is a better choice than battery-grade cable because it uses numerous flexible small strands instead of fewer larger conduits.

Before cutting (measure twice!) consider how much cable will go into the end of the lug or other terminals being used (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Lesson learned: I used the saw method of cutting the cable, but then had to use scissors to taper the cable ends to fit into the lugs. Buy cutters suitable for 4/0 cable; they will make the work easier, and keep you from being asked, “What the heck happened to my scissors?”

After cutting,  I used a simple utility knife to strip back the rubber sheath (and then scissored the strands to death). Apply antioxidant to the exposed strands and inside the lug before crimping. I used a regular hammer to strike the crimper (see Figure 5), but a 2 lb mallet makes for easier work.

Figure 5
(source: eBay)

Some Assembly Required

Once the 12V cable runs were completed between the inverter and through the fuse block, shunt, and switch, I connected the two pairs of 240V/50A legs (not live yet) to the inverter. Completing this before installing the battery box gave me more room to work in the front compartment as I worked on my back looking up.

Yes, I hit my head. It is what I do.

The battery box I wanted, which was the one recommended specifically for the quantity and size of batteries I have, would have taken a few days to ship. My goal was to complete the project before we headed to Quartzsite, AZ, for boondocking, so I fashioned one from locally-available options (Full disclosure: I actually fashioned two, the first prototype being an epic failure).

A Durabilt Storage Tote (Figure 6) is large enough to fit the four 6V deep cycle batteries, and has the added benefit of being considerably cheaper than the aforementioned special-purpose box. To keep it sealed and safe (charging flooded batteries releases gasses that must be vented to the outside), I added weather stripping to the top edge of the box, and a vent line to the outside.

Figure 6

Inexpensive straps were fastened to the RV’s steel compartment floor to hold the box firmly in place. Look closely at the picture of the box and you’ll also see a hole, near the bottom, that allows fresh air to be drawn into the box, ensuring proper venting.

Installing the battery box and finalizing the cables up to the inverter was pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to run properly gauged wires from new battery bank to the existing bussbar providing 12V to the RV’s fuse panel.

Lesson learned: Connect these to the output sides of the switch and shunt vice the battery bank terminals to include the draw in system monitoring and safety cut-outs.

Instrumentation lines were run, based on the component instructions, back to the cabinet inside the coach near the existing instrument panel. The cabinet contains all of the monitoring boxes with incorporated displays (Figure 7). Later, I added the Pentametric computer interface module by my desk, using a separate instrumentation line tapped off behind the basement wall.

Figure 7

At this stage it was time to pause and double check all the wiring and installations because the next step involves removing the RV from all shore and 12V power sources, and rewiring the circuit panel (Figure 8) and EMS. ***MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO ELECTRICAL POWER IN THE RV.***

Figure 8

My wiring from the shore power connection was long enough that I could run it to the EMS after disconnecting from the circuit panel. The wiring I ran from the inverter’s output was then connected to the circuit panel.

Testing

Without any fanfare, after days of work, I reconnected shore power and flipped the switch.

The 120V light in the RV was dimmer than a sleazy bar. I was crushed, and I had no idea what was wrong, but I clearly wasn’t getting adequate voltage. I quickly realized the problem could be with the inverter or the EMS, but I didn’t know how to test either one.

In desperation, I killed shore power, followed the reset procedures for the inverter, and tried again. Presto! To this day, I don’t know why the first test failed, and I have only had one incident requiring an inverter reset since then.

The next day we got underway for Quartzsite, AZ, where we parked alongside friends and fellow RVers for 12 days of boondocking. The system worked great as I continued to make tweaks and learn the intricacies of using an inverter to provide 120V power from batteries.

One lesson involved just how many amps were used in charging the battery bank; I am not able to run the generator in econo-mode until the bulk charging stage is complete.

There were other lessons too, but I’ve maxed my word count, and probably your attention span too. Feel free to comment below or contact us via our Facebook Page if you have any specific questions.

Disclaimer: Electricity and electrical systems can be dangerous to living things and electrical equipment if not handled properly. What I write will convey my own experiences. If you or anyone else should choose to use any of the information in this post, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable handling electrical circuits or equipment, find someone who is knowledgeable about such things to help you.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

More Power! Tim’s bonus battery bonanza, Part II

~ A special, highly technical, data-driven guest series written by Tim ~

Tim the Tool Man’s “More power” grunt is repeated often around here.
(source: Giphy)

Did you know February 18th is National Battery Day? The history of this auspicious day must be electrifying, right? We’ll never know as my Internet search for this was a bust, but celebration of this day is a good backdrop to part II of our 2008 Heartland Bighorn electrical system upgrade (please read part I first). This second installment discusses equipment research, costs, and selections of the new components.

Costs and Suppliers

Gratefully, a budget wasn’t a limiter for this project; that said, I did not simply buy name-brand items or potentially overpriced packaged kits. Using a mix of online and local sources (to save time), I researched the best specifications for our requirements, and sought out the least expensive sources. My pre-tax and shipping & handling expenses were just over $2,900.

Many suppliers in the solar and renewable energy industries carry the necessary parts, most of which I found on the websites previously mentioned in Part I, or through my own searches. I was generally happy with all of them: Factory Motor Parts, solarseller.com, altestore.com, and the lowest price providers I was able to find on amazon.com.

 

RV Batteries 

The RV dealer where we purchased our used Heartland Bighorn had installed the typical underwhelming RV/Marine 12V battery that barely provided enough juice get us through half a night of parking without hookups, especially if operating the furnace. True deep cycle batteries are the best for RV coach applications. Please search the Internet or ask in the comments below if you do not understand why.

Our requirements, discussed in Part I, showed we needed a battery bank capable of at least 400 amp-hours of energy (capacity), but I still had to decide on the type, voltage and manufacturer. Being a systems engineer, I identified important factors, and gathered data.

Weight (capacity per pound) was an initial focus. Lithium batteries (superb weight per amp-hr ratio) are an option, but I could not justify the cost. I also initially considered Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries, and would have gladly spent the extra money for them if warranted. The main benefits of AGMs include being able to use them in/near living spaces, operating them in extreme temperatures, and not having to do routine maintenance. The first two were not relevant in our application, and I personally prefer to put my hands on such a critical system component once a month. Combine this with the cost savings benefit of flooded lead batteries, and they became the obvious choice.

Two common approaches to provide 12V battery power in an RV are to use 12V batteries, or to combine two 6V batteries in series. However, a single 12V battery, or a single pair of 6V batteries, will leave you “dead in the water” if just one battery fails. Solutions with multiple 12V, or four or more 6V batteries provide important redundancy and capacity. Deep cycle 12V batteries exist, but their limited capacity means more are required. I opted for 6V golf cart batteries.

Trojan Battery Company’s T-105 6V batteries are a popular choice for RVers. I found Factory Motor Parts has FVP-labeled batteries they stated are made at the Trojan plant in California. The warranty isn’t quite as long, but at 75% of the cost, it was worth the gamble. The design and specifications match the T-105s.

Inverter/Charger

Inverters apparently don’t rate their own day of celebration, but they’re important for RVers who want to boondock (dry camp) and be able to use their household-like appliances. An inverter changes 12V into 120V electricity — or as my wife says, “It performs magic!”

This purchase required the most research time after the battery decision.  The analysis in Part I of this series sized our inverter in the 2,000 to 3,000 watt range. I knew the 2,000W model would be sufficient if we managed the electrical load properly. To better protect my plethora of computers and electronics, I chose a pure sine wave inverter vice a modified sine variant. In most cases, using a combined inverter/charger (to keep those special batteries running) makes sense.

My research confirmed why many choose Magnum Energy products, but I selected a different brand for two reasons. First, most larger coaches take two 50A live wires (i.e., legs) from shore power, routing it to the inside circuit panel. This panel is designed to handle these currents, whereas not all inline inverters are. I only found one inverter I was confident could handle two full 50A legs. According to Jack Mayer, others existed previously, but most manufacturers now expect installation of a dedicated sub-panel for use by inverted loads. I felt the extra cost, work and weight outweighed the benefits. Please note my approach requires more personal discipline with load management.

The second reason was value. The option I chose doesn’t require the extra sub-panel and it meets or exceeds the specifications of comparable Magnum inverters at a fraction of the cost. The IC-2000-12 is a new product by GoPower (gpelectric.com), a reputable company involved with inverters and solar technologies for many years. On Amazon, I was able to get the IC-2000-12 with the remote controller for several hundred dollars less than a comparable Magnum product.

Electrical Management System (EMS/Surge Protection)

Most long-time RVers I’ve spoken with can confirm that they’ve parked at locations with poor electrical shore power. Our older Bighorn came with a simple electrical setup that brought the shore power straight to the circuit panel. There was no convenient and simple way to ensure there was quality electricity feeding my sensitive computers and other appliances. The project already called for shore power service to be re-routed through the inverter, so the timing was right. This was one situation where I skipped independent research and trusted recommendations for the Progressive Industries EMS-HW50C, a box that is hardwired in the service line before the inverter.

System Monitoring & Control

The inverter and the EMS came with remote monitors/controllers, but I didn’t have anything to monitor my new battery bank, and I neeeeded that. Really. Seriously.

Do-it-yourself designers often look to Bogart Engineering’s Trimetric for their battery monitors. Thirty seconds on their website was all it took for me to realize that wouldn’t be sufficient. Remember when I said I was a geek? Get ready to get it on, because Bogart Engineering has the PentaMetric for us misfits — two more better than the Trimetric! The PentaMetric allows a computer to program and control the battery monitor, and capture bunches of data on the battery bank’s state, even every minute. Overkill? Perhaps for mere mortals.

Kidding aside, the former owner of Bogart Engineering stated that the PentaMetric is a superb tool to see the performance of your system over time, and to identify problems before they get worse and potentially cause damage. Right up my alley.

Other Stuff

Our beloved batteries and other equipment form the core of an upgraded RV electrical system. Cabling/wires, connectors, fuses, switches and shunts tie the components into a usable system. These need to be sized properly for safety and performance. An inverter’s installation manual may include cable size requirements, but they are likely to be the minimum. Connectors get sized based on the cable’s size and the size and type of the terminal.

In the final installment of this series, I’ll cover more about cable and connector sizing while showing the steps taken to complete our installation. And no project of this magnitude is going to be completed without learning some lessons. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: Electricity and electrical systems can be dangerous to living things and electrical equipment if not handled properly. What I write will convey my own experiences. If you or anyone else should choose to use any of the information in this post, you do so at your own risk. If you’re not comfortable handling electrical circuits or equipment, find someone who is knowledgeable about such things to help you.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)