Dry Camping, aka mind thy water

The “RV Park” in White Rock is a dry park, meaning that it only has electrical hookups.  No freshwater or sewer.  It has a single freshwater station for filling up and a single dump station for, well…dumping.

This means we are dry camping, using our internal holding tanks.  We dumped black and grey tanks and filled up on fresh water Saturday when we arrived.    By the way, we told you this blog would be no-holds-barred, so if you don’t want to read about the realities of an RV plumbing system stop reading right now!

Tank empty
1 Empty black —>2 empty grey —–> 3 full fresh —–>4 full propane

You might be wondering why the black shows 1/3 if its empty.  The reason is that its not a good idea to have a truly empty black tank.  Once its drained and flushed a couple of times, we refill it with 5 gallons of water and drop in an odor control pouch.

Dometic black tank odor control
Dometic black tank odor control

We have been using the Dometic pouches that we get at Camping World.  A lot of RV’ers claim they don’t use anything, but we haven’t been brave enough to try that yet.

Our freshwater tank holds 100 gallons.  Our grey tank holds 75 gallons. Our black tank holds 50 gallons. What do these LED lights mean?  We have no idea. We don’t know if the 2/3 light comes on at 34% and stays on until 99% (which seems like it might be the case) or what level in the tanks triggers the lights. It seems like 1/3 comes really fast and then 2/3 comes and takes forever to get to full.

Tank gauges
How these sensors register is a mystery.

One of my (few) complaints with our Discovery is that it doesn’t use the more modern gauges which show an actual percentage vs. the empty-1/3-2/3-full that our gauges show.  My best guess is that the system works like I have shown above, where 2/3 is twice the range of 1/3, but who knows.

Fun trivia – a gallon of water weights 8.345 pounds.  So if all of our tanks were completely full, we would be carrying 1876 pounds of liquid. That’s 24 pounds more than a Smart Car!  It would be very unlikely that we would have all tanks full though, since that would take a fair amount of work.

The toilet is a subject of much fascination and question from many people.  Indeed, it was a mystery to us too for the first couple of days.

Our toilet is fairly typical of an RV toilet.  The base is a porcelain stool from Dometic, very similar to the toilet you are familiar with at home.

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Where it differs is that there is no water tank above the bowl.  There is a sprayer though.  More on that in just a second. there is a valve at the bottom of the toilet that opens with a foot pedal and water comes in the holes around the rim.  The valve opens and deposits drop straight down to the holding tank below.  Very little water is used, so if anything needs an extra push the sprayer comes into play.  In that way, it is purely gravity-fed and not vacuum-driven like an airplane.

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The holding tank has a vent pipe that goes up to the roof. This way the tank doesn’t develop a positive or negative pressure  but any fumes are vented above the MoHo living space.  It works very well. The only time we catch a whiff of something is when the bathroom Fantastic Fan is on and the toilet valve is open (during flushing).  There is enough air suction from the fan to bring a little bit of the aroma up from the tank.  But otherwise the system is odor free.

We don’t go more than a week without dumping the black tank and flushing it out.  So far, we don’t come close to filling it during that week.  My best guess is that we would go close to 2 weeks before the tank was full.

It is important to only dump the black tank when its at least 2/3 full. If its not that way at the end of the week, we use the flush filler to add more water before we dump the tank. The reason is that we want a good flow of water to empty the contents and not leave anything behind.  People who dump their tanks too soon or not often enough frequently find that the tanks become gunked up.  If it gets really bad, the tanks will not drain properly.  So we want to avoid that.

Some RVs that have two toilets – or really overengineered RVs that have a single – use a macerator.  This type of system has a grinder attached to the back of the toilet that turns the waste into a finely ground slurry which is then pumped to a holding tank.  The advantage of a macerator-type toilet is that they do not require gravity to operate so the toilet can be located somewhere other than directly above the holding tank.  The disadvantages are complexity, cost, and a reported tendency to plug up if not used regularly.  I’m glad we don’t have a macerator.

Anyway, since we are dry camping, we are being very careful of our water use.  We’ve switched to paper plates to save on dishwashing water.  We have been taking “Navy showers” where you get wet, turn the water off and soap up, then turn the water back on to rinse off.  The shower head has a handy switch just for this so we leave the water on and switch it on/off at the shower head.  That keeps the temperature setting steady.

And of course we have been avoiding the largest water user – the washing machine.  We will either do laundry at my Dad’s house on Saturday or just fill up the freshwater tanks, run a few loads of laundry, and then dump grey and fillup fresh again.  Its about a 30-45 minute process to pull the slides in, raise the hydraulic jacks, fill the air suspension, drive to the dump station and dump, then fill up with fresh, drive back to the site, drop the air suspension, lower the leveling jacks, and re-extend the slides.

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Transferring from fresh to grey and black
So its been 5 or 6 days (depending on how we count) and our freshwater tank is down in the 1/3 range while our grey is in 2/3. That’s pretty good!! At this rate, we will be able to go 6-7 days before running out of fresh water!

Water and capacity resource management is definitely a topic most homeowners never have to think about.  You open a faucet or flush a toilet when you need water, and it vanishes down the drain or sewer after.  If you leave a faucent runing, the worst that happens is your water bill might be higher.

But you can’t drive your house or apartment to a new location and we can!

Stopping in White Rock was a good opportunity to experiment with water savings. It is good to know we can go a week between water fill up/dump if we need to.

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