NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.
Subject: RV Septic Systems
Instructors: Tom & Barbara Cambroto
Note: The instructors are employed by Camping World as Good Will representatives.
RV septic systems involve a classic love/hate relationship: We love self-containment, but we hate sewer hoses, dump stations, etc. But a septic system is the living example of "it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.".
Most of us starting camping in a tent, with no facilities whatsoever. The ultimate solution became the self-contained RV. It's interesting to note that on average 20% of the shelf space in an RV store is dedicated to products related to septic systems. This reflects the fact there's a lot of sales revenue related to septic sales.
All self contained RVs have black and gray water systems. Capacities vary across the lot, with larger RVs typically having larger tanks. If you're boondocking the rule of thumb is that whatever the capacity of your holding tanks, it won't be enough. But you will find creative ways to minimize fresh water usage, and waste tank use. Examples include use of paper plates. And even when you do dishes, heat water on the stove to avoid running fresh water until the hot water shows up at the tap.
All of the tanks have vents. Be careful that the pipes remain clear of debris, birds, etc. Usual symptom of blockage is odor in the rig. When this occurs, check the vents.
Fresh water tank sits above the flooring, while waste tanks hang below, are more exposed, and can develop leaks -- particularly if you're traveling with full tanks. Better to empty tanks before traveling. There are kits which can be used to patch a tank which has developed a leak, providing it is not so large as to be unrepairable.
Sewer hoses come in three weights, light, medium and heavy duty. These might be classified as: tear easily, tear harder, and tear eventually. The heaviest duty hoses do not compress well, and will require a larger storage compartment.
Couplings and connectors: Their recommendation from the various brands and styles is the blue Presto-Fit kits.
Hose carriers: Many are carried in bumper, which tends to rust and scrape the hose when storing and removing it.. PVC carriers which are vented can tend to minimize this problem, and can offer more space for extra lengths of hose when a longer hose length is required..
Tote tanks ("blue tank") are used to fully or partially drain your gray or black water, and drive the waste water to the dump station in another vehicle. This lets you leave your RV parked when boondocking.
"A Sewer Solution" -- like mascerator pump lets you pump uphill. However, it does require the use of water. Mascerators requires no water, but do require electicity.
Rest area dump stations, and the ettiquette thereof: Most RVers will find rest areas convenient places to dump. The "Rest Area Guide" provides a resource for locating a dump stations. Many states are closing the dump stations due to vandalism and poor manners by RVers. One of the key problems: Always use a hose. This seems overly simple, but unfortunately too many RVers violate this rule. And of course clean up after you're done so the next RVer starts with a clean area. The issue of fewer public dump stations is becoming more series, primarily because no group is working to reverse the local trend to close dump stations. [Note: This would seem to be a good issue for groups such as Good Sam and ARVC to take on as advocates for the RVing public.]
Chemicals: Very few RV chemicals still contain formaldahyde. But some parks still require emptying holding tanks before entering the park. Newer products are enzyme type -- tablets, liquid, powder, etc. Hot weather will require a bit more chemical to work effecively. A teaspoon full of baking soda every couple of months can help fight odor in black water tanks.
Myths and Tips
1. Myth: "Home brew" remedies are used by some in lieu of purchased chemicals. Lysol, PineSol, baking soda and even "a few aspirins" are advocated by some RVers. But some of these can damage toilet seals and valves. A safer solution are chemicals that are specifically designed for use in RVs.
2. Myth: You must use specialized toilet tissues. Maybe in old recirculating toilets. But now just buy the cheapest brand of regular tissue, and it will work as well.
3. Myth: Black waters smells worse than gray water. Not necessarily, because we seldom put chemicals in gray water. The soaps and detergents tend to kill off bacteria in the gray water tanks.
4. Myth: Coyote dumping is okay (down a rabbit hole, etc). No, that's not okay, and it's illegal. The effluents and chemicals will permeate the ground and invade water supply resources.
Tip: Keep your blackwater valves closed when you're parked. And leave it until at least 3/4 full. If you need to dump before it's full, full it w/a hose to 3/4 full before dumping. Only by having a substantially full tank can you ensure that it will properly empty all solid wastes.
Tip: Never drag a sewer hose across dirt or concrete when setting up or preparing to leave -- it will quickly result tearing. And be vary wary of weed whackers used by RV park maintenance personnel..
Tip: Be aware of local state laws. A doughnut, for example, will be required in some jurisdictions -- so be equipped with fittings which will keep you legal in all states. Oregon is just one example of a state which has special requirements.
Tip: Always dump gray water after you've dumped the black water, as it will tend to clean out the sewer hose.
Tip: Use drinking water safe hoses only for fresh water. Otherwise you'll get a plastic or rubber taste.
Tip: Periodically (every few months) clean fresh water lines, tank, and hot water tank by flushing and then following w/weak bleach solution. Also flush weak bleach solution through your fresh water hose. More specifically: Disonnect from city water, and then drain the fresh water tank. Next add back about 15 gallons of weak bleach solution. Turn on each cold water line until bleach smell appears. Wait 4 hours. Then empty the hot water tank. With city water still disconnected, turn on the hot water, which will fill the hot water tank w/weak bleach solution. Run solution to each hot water faucet in the rig until bleach smell appears. Wait four hours. Next empty fresh water and hot water tanks, refill with fresh water, and run fresh water through all hot and cold water lines. Empty fresh water tank once more, and refull with fresh water.