Small House Big World


Plumbing and Other Such Nightmares

Anna Edgren • April 5, 2015

Today we de-winterized the RV. This had trouble written all over it, and we knew that from the start. The one thing we weren’t able to test before purchasing the RV was the plumbing system. When I say we “weren’t able” I mean we probably SHOULD have and COULD have, but it would have been a huge pain in the butt and we decided to just roll the dice and hope that if there were any issues with the plumbing and water setup we could fix them ourselves or fix them with money. When you combine this pre-existing potential for issues with the fact that neither of us have ever done anything like this before and you have a recipe for an interesting day, which it was. To put it in a positive light we will say it was a day of learning and discovery. And also of poop 🙁

Here’s how it went down:

Step 1: Empty the tanks

There were 2 tanks we needed to empty: The grey water tank and the black water tank. The grey water tank has shower/dishwater and the black water tank has… poop. There is just one big fat nozzle at the end that all of this empties through, but there are 2 controller switches so that you can empty one tank and then the other. Logic dictates that you empty the black tank first and empty the grey tank second, so that the not-so-terrible grey water washes away the terrible-horrible-poop-time. We screwed our new hose to the main nozzle (tightly, very tightly), picked a hatch at random, opened it, and said a little prayer.

It's all going to work out! Maybe!

It’s all going to work out! Maybe!

As luck would have it of course we accidentally emptied the gray water tank first. We only realized our mistake when we opened the second hatch, and were hit by the overpowering scent of decomposing feces. An important note here: This is not OUR poop, but some mystery stranger from the past’s poop, which is about a thousand times worse. Oh the pleasures of an old used RV. Fortunately the hoses that you use here are opaque – you can’t actually see what’s draining into the hose unless you go out of your way to look at the clear connector bit by the top, which I would like to take a moment here to recommend against.

Don't look Kelly! Save yourself!

Don’t look Kelly! Save yourself!

Eventually the poop stopped flowing and all was quiet. Now, at this point you are advised to flush out the black water tank. To do this you attach a hose to another part of the nozzle and squirt water up in there and it flows back out and rinses everything. The way this campground is set up is that there is a dumping station and then about 50-75 feet away there is a freshwater station. Unfortunately, we found out that they have not yet turned the running water at the dump station. The only place with running water was the freshwater station, which was too far away for us to access from the dumping station. We were at first perplexed as to how we should handle this, and had a brief period where we dumped a few buckets of water down the toilet to try to clear things out. I would like to note that Max was no help at all during this whole ordeal.

Typical, Max

Typical, Max

Luckily a nice man came along (the park manager in fact) and he was able to lend us a long hose to run all the way to the freshwater distributor. With this long hose we were able to flush out the black tank, which we did for AGES until the water ran clear. Success! Magical success!

Step 2: Fill up the Freshwater Tank

With our new long hose ready to go and attached to the freshwater pump, we were ready to fill our freshwater tank. We were feeling pretty confident that we knew how everything worked, so we turned it on full blast and let it run for a good 5 minutes. Eventually, Kelly began to walk around the outside of the RV to check everything out. He said: “Hang on. I see a few drips here. That’s not good.” I look on my side and see water POURING out of one of our bays. Not good indeed. I shut the water off immediately and we ran over to check out the issue. One of our bays was filled with about 5 inches of water. So today I had the opportunity to literally bail us out. Which I did.

Luckily the only items inside were fairly waterproof and nothing crucial was damaged. So what on earth? After much exploring we discovered a burst pipe. It was the pipe that leads to our stand-alone icemaker, which is a separate refrigerated unit we have up front behind the passenger seat.  In other words, it is pretty much the most useless and worthless part of the RV. This was obnoxious because STUPID ICEMAKER WE KNEW YOU WERE NEEDLESS TROUBLE but also a bit of good luck, because we have NO qualms about simply shutting off the water to the icemaker and not using it. We even previously considered removing it entirely. Neither Kelly nor I consider plentiful quantities of ice on demand to be an important perk.

Step 3: Go to the Hardware Store

We ran to the nearest hardware store and picked up the equipment needed to shut off the pipe in question entirely. On the way we drove through the fantastic and charming small towns of Williamsburg and Bethel, which reminded us why we wanted to do this whole thing in the first place. These small towns are adorable and charming and quirky and interesting and having the chance to explore them is worth a lot. In town we discovered the local drive-thru beer mart, which we somewhat nervously drove through (because, what?) to pick up some delicious liquid happiness to cleanse our wounds from the day.

Step 4: Have a beer. 

2015-04-04 17.52.57

When we got home, Kelly installed the new piece and got it fixed up, but we were too exhausted to head back over to the freshwater station to give it a try. We let ourselves relax a bit and hung out and would try again in the morning.

Step 5: Try again

We woke up and got going bright and early, and drove to the nearest gas station to fill up our propane tank. We were quite low and it is still cold enough here at night and in the morning that it is nice to have the heat on. Then we drove over to the freshwater station and after a little monkeying around, Kelly got it to work! The solution was to shut off water entirely to the broken pipe since we won’t be using that icemaker. We were then able to fill up our freshwater tank, which is exciting because it makes the RV feel more like a real functional home. The toilet, sinks, and shower are now usable. We are not going to drink out of the tank quite yet because we do have some concerns about antifreeze residue. We are going to use this tank up, flush it out again, and refill it before the drink-test. 

Now that we are all filled up and don’t have to move the RV again any time soon we are settling into camp nicely! 

broken pipe in rvrv dewinterizingstupid icemaker

Anna Edgren • April 5, 2015

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  1. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor April 5, 2015 - 12:56 pm Reply

    Great post. Beer is, of course, an essential step in any sort of process where you have to fix things. I’m glad to see what sensible people you are and with such good taste in beer 🙂

  2. Kathy Edgren April 5, 2015 - 1:01 pm Reply

    What an adventure! So glad you waited till the resolution to post this. Or I would have been left in suspense! Hope you two are having a good holiday weekend.

  3. Kristina Martin April 5, 2015 - 2:36 pm Reply

    I love your positive attitude and amusing stories about settling into full time RV life. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

  4. envious ;-) April 5, 2015 - 4:07 pm Reply


    Not sure why, but poop stories always make me smile….
    Well, OTHER PEOPLES poop stories anyway…. 😉

    How was the beer?

  5. envious ;-) April 5, 2015 - 4:11 pm Reply


    Just noticed from the first picture, that the author/photographer kept an -EXTREMELY- safe distance from the man doing the dirty work… LOL Good show! 🙂

    • Anna Edgren April 7, 2015 - 4:01 pm Reply

      Haha – darn straight.

  6. Bill April 6, 2015 - 8:38 pm Reply

    I just started reading your blog in the past couple of days – I have to say, quite the story! My wife and I will be making the same transition in a few years, so it’s good to hear of others who have taken the plunge.

    Re: your water tank, you may want to look into disinfecting it and your lines with some bleach (look online for the procedure). It’s relatively painless and will ensure you don’t get sick when/if you use the water from your fresh water tank for consumption.

    Best of luck in your endeavor! We’re looking forward to continuing following your travels.

    • Anna Edgren April 7, 2015 - 6:15 pm Reply

      Thanks Bill!

      Doing the bleach thing is next on our list.

  7. Arele Reid April 10, 2015 - 11:18 am Reply

    plumbing – that businezz of water expanding when it freezes. so much better when its full of.crap. i think kel has heard about my days in coach maintance and the “doogie shute”. sure was glad when i was not low man on the pole.

    plumbers putty and self adhering tape can get you tbrough a lot.

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