Improvements to our Home on Wheels
Last spring I detailed 20 RV upgrades I had done to our 2011 Keystone Cougar fifth wheel trailer to make our RVing life a little more enjoyable.
Well, I have been a busy boy since then and I’m back again with another 20. Many of these upgrades are designed to make our rig better suited for life off the grid. We love nothing more than to camp self-contained in beautiful landscapes.
Another selection of upgrades will make life inside the RV more comfortable and convenient for our unique lifestyle. Instead of the living with the generic manufacturer layout. I hope you enjoy a look at these upgrades and pick up few ideas for your own RV.
Click titles or photos for more info on each upgrade. Many of the posts have an accompanying video.
Our RV came with a tilt up bed frame with scads of underneath storage. We use it a lot! The problem was it’s quite dark under there and we were always using a flashlight at night to find things. With a simple little 12-volt wiring modification and the addition of an automotive dome light activated by a magnetic reed switch, the problem was solved. I used a spare LED lamp I had to save energy and make the low current magnetic switch feasible.
Last year’s upgrades included the Oxygenics shower head. It was a terrific upgrade over the original OEM fixture providing better pressure with less water. But, now they have a new model out that is even better. The Fury RV includes not only the original Oxgenics spray pattern but 4 other settings plus a water flow slider. I’ve noticed a definite improvement in our water usage this boondocking season. Squeezing an extra day out of our fresh tank without sacrificing shower quality.
The Cougar fifth wheel came with a FloJet brand water pump. Being only a cheaper 3 chamber style pump, it was noisy with a machine gun vibration. Even more so because of the way it had been plumbed without a flexible hose on the output piping. This summer I tore everything apart and added in a winterizing kit and some flexible hose, plus redesigned the pump enclosure. Still, it was noisy so I replaced the pump with a 4 chamber unit from Shurflo. It’s a big improvement, much quieter with more even flow from our faucets and shower.
The original dealer installed 12-volt battery plus the 2 Trojan six volts I had installed when the rig was new were beginning to show their age. I decided since I recently added a solar power system and had plans for a few more panels it was a good time to add some fresh batteries. I went with the Interstate brand since I have had such good performance out of the ones in my diesel pickup. The price ($124) was affordable so I could get four of them and increase my storage capacity.
I also added a new battery box and upgraded the wiring to a heavier gauge. It’s been really nice to have the extra capacity, especially on those long cold desert mid-winter nights. With 464 amp hours total capacity, I don’t have to worry about too much TV watching or the power hungry furnace fan draining the batteries overnight.
When I installed the 200 watts Renogy solar kit last year it was in the back of my mind to increase it to 400 watts when I could afford it. So when I mounted those two panels on the roof I left room to add two more right beside them. We stopped by the Renogy warehouse in California on our way down south this year and picked up two additional 100-watt panels. The price was pretty good ($136 each) due to a Black Friday sale. The 400 watts has allowed us to be much more piggish with power usage when boondocking. While the sun is shining my wife can use her large 21″ iMac desktop computer as much as she desires and we still have excess current to charge up the batteries.
With my multimeter, a hydrometer, and amp meter I was able to keep tabs on my battery banks state of charge but it was a bit of a pain so this year I’ve invested in a Trimetric Battery System Monitor. It’s really made things super convenient. I still use the good old hydrometer now and then but for daily monitoring, the Trimetric is the bee’s knees. I love the percentage of charge reading and amperage/wattage going in and out of the batteries.
At a glance, I know whether it’s time to fire up the generator or if we are good to go with just solar energy. I find it very valuable to test out the power draw of different items in the RV and how many amp hours we use on a daily basis. If you’re considering solar this is the first thing I’d advise installing. That way you can figure out your particular power needs.
To go with the above mentioned Trimetric monitor, I picked up the companion solar charge controller. The Bogart Engineering SC2030. It’s a fairly simple PWM controller out of the box but when paired with the Trimetric TM2030-RV becomes very sophisticated, unlocking a highly customizable set of options. It allows you to tailor the battery charging process to your unique dry camping situation and brand of batteries. I get more efficient charging, extended battery life and lots of fun for a geek like me. All without breaking the bank on a fancier controller.
For those times, the sun doesn’t shine or we want to be complete power pigs I’ve installed a second power converter up front in the front storage compartment next to the battery box. Why would I want another converter in the rig? Well quite frankly the OEM installed WFCO 8955 unit sucks for boondocking with my large battery bank. It takes forever to charge with an output voltage of 13.6 and it’s long run of thin 6 gauge wire from the location under our stove all the way to the front of the trailer, more than 20 feet away.
So, I’ve installed the 60 amp Inteli-POWER specifically for charging the batteries up with our generator. It’s made a night and day difference cutting the generator run time I’d estimate by 2/3rds. In the morning if our battery bank is depleted I can run the genny for about and hour and be at 85% or better charge, then let the solar panels take over to slowly bring the bank back to 100% charged.
We love our Big Buddy propane heater. Not only does it save on LP gas costs but puts out a very pleasing radiant heat with no fan noise and power usage. Perfect for boondocking. The only drawback was having to go out and hook up the hose to an external tank. With the guidance of a professional propane tech, I was able to plumb a hose into the RVs low-pressure LP gas line and install a quick connect adapter. Now within a minute or two, I can have the Big Buddy lit and warming our rig.
The dirty, dusty dog haired slide carpet is gone. Woohoo! Happy dance! I had been wondering what to do about it for a while when I was contacted by Infinity LWV and offered a roll to review. Perfect timing as I was in the midst of our Summer RV Renovation project. Now that we have had a chance to use it for several months of traveling I absolutely love it.
The slide operates fine with it and cleanup is a breeze. Dust, hair, and debris can be easily swept away and the vinyl material washed off. It comes back looking as good as new every time. We really like the clean, modern look of it, but best of all the smells that used to get trapped in the carpeting are a thing of the past.
Gone is the original RV sofa bed to a landfill where it belongs. What a piece of junk it was. In its place, I have made my own piece of furniture, a daybed with underneath storage and a pull out drawer. We looked at some factory made RV furniture but it all was ugly or cheaply built. I built the box and covered it with Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl and we then had a professional upholsterer make the mattress and cushions using very high-quality foam and vinyl. We are most pleased with the outcome. Now I have a sofa I can actually lay out on.
I’m writing this blog post from my new computer desk. For a few years, I plugged away on the computer while sitting on a swivel rocker hunched over a tiny coffee table. Finally, this past summer we turfed the 2 swivel rockers and I modified the small coffee table into a useful size computer desk. The challenge was to fit it in the limited space available. I did it by sitting sideways and utilizing a flip up design. This way the desk can be folded down to allow the slide out to clear when retracted. The desk has a little shelf underneath for odds and ends.
The Air Ride Pin Box replaced our OEM solid steel pin box smoothing out the ride and protecting the fifth wheel frame and truck from damaging blows. Since we travel so much as full timers and love to boondock off the beaten path this upgrade has given me some peace of mind. Having to have frame damage repaired would be a bitter pill to swallow both financially and time wise. This is our home after all and we hope to have it for a long time.
This is a very recent upgrade so can’t comment on the longer term durability yet. However, they were easy to install and function well. The rig feels very stable, less rocking with the extra foot size. Gone is the need to place wood or plastic blocks down. So far I’ve used the Elephant Foot jack pads in one cement padded RV park and 5 rough gravel, sandy desert dry camping locations with good results. If they can stand up to my abuse they should work well for anyone.
The 360 Siphon replaces the standard waste tank vent cap improving the flow of air into and out of the tank. It’s uniquely shaped to create a vortex when air passes through it sucking the bad air out and allowing fresh air in. This is really helpful for us boondockers trying to conserve water. Our black tank can get quite concentrated at times. With the addition of this vent cap and by adding Happy Camper powder in the tank when dry camping I don’t have any odor issues.
When I built my new computer desk I modified the existing coffee table. The tables inner cabinet area was used to store the 30 foot AC power cord. There was a hole at the back of the trailer the cord would be fed into when not in use. Since my new design didn’t have enough space to house the coiled up cord I installed myself a Marinco 30 amp conversion kit removing the so-called “mouse hole” and in its place a disconnectable power receptacle. It’s worked out great, no more trying to push all that cord in or untangling it when it jammed up. And one less hole for critters to get into the rig through.
I’m loving my new sewer hose. The Waste Master is wicked quality and has amazing expansion. I carry the main sewer hose plus an additional extension hose. Each hose takes up about 4 feet of storage space but can expand to 18 and 20 feet. I actually used the full length a few times. Once when camping in a friends driveway to reach his sewer hole and another to get a better spot in an RV Park. The shutoff valve on the head end is awesome to have and the cam lock connectors work flawlessly.
Yay! I don’t have to listen to that annoying buzzing/cycling fridge vent fan any longer. Nothing ruins the peace of a beautiful off-grid location faster than a dinky little fan cycling on and off every 20 seconds. I’m happy to report the fridge is cooling as well as ever but quietly. It took a bit of effort to pull out the fridge to perform the modification but well worth it.
Once setup the ReVo Leveler makes perfectly leveling of the fifth wheel a snap. It tells me how many inches I need to go up and on which side, plus lets me know when the trailer is level front to back. Also, I have it calibrated to let me know when I’ve adjusted the landing jacks for the hitch connect and disconnect height. Handy little gadget for sure.
Finally number 20, whew what a ton of RV upgrades this last year! This summer I scrapped the old folding step stool I have been using and bought myself a proper full-time RVing ladder. The 13 foot Werner ladder is lightweight and adjusts to many different heights, perfect for maintaining and working on the fifth wheel. Then it folds down small enough to carry in the bed of the pickup. As a bonus, it makes a handy beagle hitching post
Video Detailing the 20 RV Upgrades
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