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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Is an RV cover a good investment?

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As winter slowly ebbs away, spring approaches. We all know what follows – Hurray! Summer! No matter the season, each of the four represents a bit of a danger to the exterior of your RV. Winter, with its rain, snow and ice. Spring, with plenty of tree sap and bird poop. Summer and attacking UV radiation. Even placid fall can drop plenty of dead leaves and make a mess of your rig. Should you invest in an RV cover?

RV cover manufacturers have as much pizzazz for selling their products as snake oil merchants. 'Look! Consider these covers as you would a 24-hour security guard against damaging UV-radiation, dust and dirt, the horror of bird droppings, and to keep a stored rig cooler. Since they're a lot less expensive than a storage building big enough to accommodate an RV, price often is a big draw for those who chose to pack their RV away in a giant size storage bag.'

How can you sort it all out? It is true that a good RV cover will keep wind-blown dust from chewing on your finish, and some covers will keep rain out while still allowing moisture from the inside to make its way out. If you're in an area affected by UV radiation, not having the sun beating down on your rig constantly will do much to keep your finish looking nice for longer.

On the other hand, there are RVers who have bought and used RV covers who now wish they never had. A common complaint among users is the difficulty involved in putting a cover on. Typically you'll need to climb up on the roof to put the cover on. Getting on an RV roof without damaging the rig -- or yourself – can be difficult, but the problem is compounded when the cover is over the roof, and the installer has to carefully waltz around over the cover to adjust it. Not being able to see what you're stepping on can lead to broken roof vents, even broken legs.

Some users report having to put blocking under the cover to keep water from puddling on the cover.  While that may not be a problem for some, if you want to take the rig out of storage during a freeze, you may find the cover has frozen onto the roof. To remove it without damaging it, you'll then need to figure out how to get hot water up to the roof to thaw the frozen cover loose. And it's a given that if you want to remove an RV cover that's wet, it will be a major hassle, as any RV cover is heavy, but a wet one multiplies the weight greatly.

Some complain that with the cover in place, the inside of the RV is like a dark cave. With the cover in place, you won't be able to pop open roof vents to relieve inside humidity, and rig sweating can be an issue. Others say some covers don't breath well, creating a great environment for mold and mildew to develop. Others warn that rig attachments like antennas or mounting brackets can poke holes in expensive covers.

So what's to be done?  If you want to go for an RV cover, most recommend doing the added cost of a cover custom designed for your rig. In that way you can be assured that the cover will not block access to your door, so you'll be able to get into the rig without pulling the cover loose. Make sure you tighten the cover carefully, and make checks over the storage area: If a cover gets loose in the wind it will easily chaff the finish, and can even rub the paint off.

Alternatives to RV covers range from relatively inexpensive--be sure to give your rig a good bath and wax job before winter to help prevent finish damage--to the more spendy alternatives: Construct a "pole barn" style RV cover that prevents rain and snow from dumping down on the rig, while less expensive than a walled structure. Others bite the bullet and pay for inside storage from a suitable storage facility.

Listen to Russ and Tiña's new Internet program, Your RV Podcast. Click here to go to their Program Notes page. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Is your RV furnace chewing up your budget?

Here's a question worthy of posting on an Internet RV forum: "How much propane will a 15,000 btu RV furnace use in a day?" The question got posted – and it was certainly legitimate enough, but not a soul offered to render an opinion. Perhaps the safest might be: "Too much!"

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How much money will you spend to heat an RV is a frequently heard question when the cold weather rolls around and people think about getting away from the house and back to the great outdoors. Sad to say, the question is on a par with, "How much wood could a wood chuck chuck?" There are so many variables. How big is the RV? How well insulated? How cold is it outside? How warm do you want to keep the inside? What size is the furnace--or are you even heating with a furnace?

Here's a scenario:  A couple in Quartzsite, Arizona were bemoaning how cold a winter trip had been. They have a 40' trailer, and based on an eight-day propane consumption history, they came to a nasty conclusion: Using their trailer's furnace, it would cost them nearly $170 a month to heat if things stayed the way they were over the "trial period."  Needless to say, adjustments had to be made.

How much propane can you use? For them, their furnace is rated at 40,000 btu input, and a 31,000 output. A little math and a little propane background will help. A gallon of propane will supply 91,500 btu. Run their furnace a little over two hours and 15 minutes, and a full gallon of LP is burnt. Put another way, at $2.32 a gallon, for every hour of operation, $1.02 is spent. To add to the insult, 23 cents of that $1.02 is simply 'thrown out the window' due to heater inefficiency--if you lived in a perfect world. But by the time you account of heat loss from ducting the heat throughout the rig, the dollars thrown away in this system are almost too painful to contemplate.

The couple finally resorted to closing off the areas of the rig when not in use, keeping the thermostat set at a chilly 50 degrees at night, and running an electric space heater in the areas being used, keeping the fuel hog furnace for use in heating the place up in the morning.

It's no wonder that many RVers have opted out of using their rig's factory furnace. Often they use alternative propane heaters: Blue flame, catalytic, or "brick" heaters. Nearly all models of these units are "unvented" meaning they are not connected to the outside. Almost 100% of the energy they consume in the form of propane is turned into heat.  Keep in mind, to be safe you'll need to keep a window or vent cracked to bring in oxygen, which translates to a heat loss itself. However, the efficiencies are higher, the equivalent amount of LP used, much less than a built in furnace.

There are other considerations: Putting 100% of the heat into the RV also means 100% of any combustion byproducts. There's a whole world of controversy among RVers about just how safe or unsafe unvented heaters are. To that end, if you decide to use an unvented heater, ALWAYS follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter.  We shop for heaters with oxygen sensors--these will shut down the heater in the event the amount of oxygen in the RV gets so low as to present a health threat. We also insist on having a working, frequently tested, carbon monoxide alarm in the RV.

How much LP will you burn with an alternative heater? When it comes time to refill your LP cylinders, no doubt you'll moan, "Too much!" but it'll certainly be less than with your monster furnace.

Catch Russ and Tiña's new audio podcast, Your RV Podcast, a weekly feature. Visit to see program notes and a link to the audio feed.