Improvements Made to Our RV
We purchased a brand spanking new Keystone Cougar Fifth Wheel Trailer Model 276RLSWE just about 4 years ago and headed out on a one year RVing journey of exploration. We absolutely loved our time on the road. So much so it has since become into our day to day existence, wandering the US and Canada as full-time RV nomads.
When we first got the Cougar trailer I was amazed at all the fancy features like, pull out bike rack, remote controlled awning/slide/landing jacks/spot light, hitch vision, heated underbelly, 32″ inch TV, etc. However, once we started to really live in it we quickly realized there were many things lacking. Over the last few years as we could afford it we have been steadily adding upgrades and improving our Cougar.
Here are 20 upgrades we have made to our RV. Hopefully you might take away a few ideas for your own RV. We love to boondock (dry camp without hookups) so you will find a fair number of the upgrades are geared towards that. Others just make living day to day in the RV a little nicer.
I’ve outfitted most of the internal lamp fixtures and external trailer marker lamps with LED bulbs by a company called Starlights Inc. This has helped out a lot when dry camping by saving us valuable battery power and improving the visibility of the trailer at night or during foggy days. For the internal LED lights I went mostly with a warm 3200 Kelvin color which comes closest to a regular incandescent lamp. Many of the cheaper LED lamps I’ve seen have a very harsh blueish light or aren’t very bright. Many also don’t include built in regulation circuitry or heat sinks. Not all LEDs are created equal.
I’m pleased thus far with the Starlights LEDs after almost a year of continuous service they are still bright and working well. An interesting benefit of this upgrade was longer fixture life. The original lamps ran so hot they were melting or making the plastic connectors very brittle on our most often used fixtures.
It took us several years to justify the cost but recently solar has dropped in price per watt to the point we took the plunge and added a couple panels. I went with an entry level 200 watt kit from a company called Renogy. The 100 watt panel had many excellent reviews on Amazon. By doing the solar system install on my own I saved on the labor and it ended up only costing about 400 dollars total.
So far we are most pleased! If it is a sunny day and we avoid using the large 32″ TV and desktop computer and only charge laptops, cameras, phones, etc. we can get by without firing up the generator. Recently we stayed in a National Park “no hookup” campground and it was really nice to return home after a day of hiking and photographing to find fully charged batteries. In the future I plan to add two more 100 watt panels and a couple more batteries to make us even more energy independent when off the grid.
My photographer wife Anne uses a large IMAC computer to process her wonderful photos. We needed a way for her to be able to accomplish this task when we were dry camped with no shore power. I decided to install a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter. The 1000 watts would be more than enough to run her IMAC plus allow us to charge up all our assorted electronics. We could also use it to power our 32” LCD TV for a little entertainment off the grid. Another benefit of the inverter is it acts as circuit protection for her computer. Even when plugged into campground 120 volt AC power she still uses the inverter making her immune from power interruptions, surges and brownouts. Which turns out to be a fairly common occurrence in many older RV parks.
I chose to install a more expensive “Pure” or also called a “True” Sine Wave unit versus a “Modified” Sine Wave Inverter because we would manly be using it to power our sensitive electronics and Anne’s IMAC. Here is a good PDF article that explains the difference. – http://www.xantrex.com/documents/tech-doctor/universal/tech1-universal.pdf
Our Keystone Cougar 276RLS came with a single deep cycle battery with 85AH (ampere-hour) total capacity. This would be fine if we were the type of RVers that usually stayed in RV Parks or spent very short stays in campgrounds without electric hookups. But, we wanted to explore a little further field and camp in National, State and County parks or those very scenic BLM spots that are totally off the grid. We needed some extra power storage to keep us powered up longer.
I decided to add 2 large six volt golf cart style batteries with 225AH capacity to power our boondocking fun and keep the original in there as a backup. This has served us well for several years now but with the recent addition of solar to the camper I will likely be upgrading to 4 six volt batteries for next year’s snowbird season. Hopefully we can almost totally wean ourselves off our generator, saving fuel and making for a more peaceful boondocking experience.
Love this addition! Not only does it help keep the rig cool and comfortable on those hot desert boondocking days but it also is useful for expelling excess moisture in the cold months spent in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve found it very useful during cooking to remove odors, smoke or excess steam. .
Our rig came with two dinky little fans. One fan is in the toilet and the other above the stove. Both fans are super annoying sound wise and move a very small volume of air. The Fantastic fan by comparison runs much quieter and moves a ton of air. It also does this while using very little amperage, which is perfect for our off the grid adventures.
I went with the model that included an automatic thermostat feature. The auto thermostat feature is great for pets, keeping our beagle comfortable in the rig if the temps rise when we are away. We position her kennel beside an open window on the cool side of the rig and the fan provides her a cooling breeze
*Note* She is not left in the trailer if it is excessively hot out. We know our rig after years of dry camping and know how hot it gets inside depending on how we are setup and weather conditions. A thermometer that stores min and max temps was useful to gain the knowledge.
An early upgrade I did to the Cougar fifth wheels electrical system was the installation of quality surge protector. It is a little costly but much cheaper than having to replace or repair surge damaged electrical items in the rig. Also, who wants to wait around while the repairs take place, what a hassle that would be. Even if I did the work myself I’m sure sourcing the parts would be a nightmare.
The one I got is able to detect too low or too high of AC voltage and automatically disconnect the rig from a faulty power source. It also analyzes the power on plug in and won’t turn on if the power pedestal is improperly wired or the wrong voltage.
I really like the little remote readout. With a quick glance at the panel I can tell the present input AC voltage and how much current we are using in the RV. I’ve used it a few times to aid me in troubleshooting electrical issues within the rig.
We have three waste tanks on board the trailer and each has its own waste gate to control emptying the tank. Then the waste water flows through a series of plumbing pipes combining into one final end piece with a sewer cap. Well this is all fine and dandy except sometimes the valves don’t seal quite right and a little bit of waste water dribbles through and ends up behind the cap. Of course when I would open it I would always get greeted with some nasty water dribbling out, sometimes as much as a quart or two, yuck!
I finally got smart and added an extra waste valve right at the pipe end. It was super easy to install just twisting on and no more dribbles. As a bonus, I can now equalize my tanks when boondocking to maximize waste water storage capacity.
The Wingman UHF antenna was a quick and easy little add-on to the stock Winegard RV bat-wing style TV antenna helping us receive more digital stations in fringe reception areas. No tools were required, just a trip to the roof to snap the extra antenna element in place.
We quickly found as full time RVers there is no place for shoes in our fifth wheel. We ended up with several pairs piles up and in the way. What a nuisance! One day when poking around under the sink I spied a empty void in the cabinetry right near the entrance door. I quickly set to work planning and then installing a couple cubbyhole shelves. Voila, we now have a convenient place for our extra shoes and no more shoe pile by the door.
In this modern age of digital everything our expensive fifth wheel came with get this… a manual slider control thermostat. Talk about trying to save a few pennies or what? With a little bit of money spent and rewire plans found on the internet I was able to easily replace the crappy Coleman-Mach OEM unit with a decent digital one giving us much more precise temperature control.
Guess what? Most of the RV locks out there aren’t unique! If you have a key that is marked CH751 anyone else with a CH751 key can open your locks and a good percentage of RVs use the CH751 key. I know that a hardcore thief can easily break in to our RV; all it takes is a small crowbar or large screwdriver. But to keep the honest folks honest I invested in some unique locks for my storage doors.
Install was very simple and they are a much higher quality lock and key than the original OEM ones. They come with a numbered unique cylinder type key instead of the cheap OEM one that ends up wearing out. Mine were to the point I had to jiggle them and find just the right spot to get the door open. I added the optional chrome dust covers as well. Great to keep the locks dry on the west coast and dust free in the US southwest.
To keep the peace in the small living space that is an RV I often use headphones when watching TV. It was kind of a pain having a long cord from the TV to me draped around the rig. I looked at wireless headphones but last thing I need is more wires and things that take batteries to run. I did a bit of poking around in the bowels of the fifth wheel and found a path to run a wire and installed a headphone jack right beside my recliner at the back of the RV.
13) Towel and Shower Racks
Do you believe a towel and shower rack is an upgrade? Funny that the manufacture makes so many décor choices but decides a simple place to hang your towel is beyond them. Anne found a nice set of bamboo wood and metal units and I drilled and screwed them onto the shower enclosure.
My wife likes to enjoy a beverage in bed while reading but there was no easily accessible place to keep the cup or mug. I remembered a fold up cup holder I had on my old camper van dashboard and added one on her side of the bed. I was a hero for that one!
No matter how many lights we put on it was impossible to see things way back in our deep pantry shelves. I ended up screwing a little holder and flashlight to the door. This was not the best solution so I took some left over LED lamps I had and wired in a permanent switch and the LED lights for the pantry. It’s a simple little thing but makes a big difference to life in the trailer as the pantry is a heavily used storage area for our dry foods and happy hour libations.
I’m a stickler for maintaining the RVs roof sealant. I know that a roof leak can be one of the worst things to happen to any RV. The repair costs can quickly rise into the thousands of dollars, not to mention the health concerns from hidden mold. The rig is almost 4 years old and the original Dicor lap sealant and silicone sealants used on the roof seams and gutters were starting to show their age.
I had heard about how great a product called Eternabond tape was for roof repairs and decided to give it a try. I figured by taping over all the roofs seams with this roofing tape I could improve the original seals and decrease the amount of maintenance required. Normal RV roof sealant needs to be constantly checked and patched/resealed every 6 months or so whereas the Eternabond tape is good for many, many years.
The failure of our cold water shower faucet was a blessing in disguise. It gave me reason when replacing it to also replace the junky OEM shower head. I had long heard rave reviews from other RVers for the Oxygenics brand RV shower head and how it was more like a regular household shower. I ordered up a new ¼ turn faucet set and a swanky looking chrome Oxygenics head.
The reviews were right and we love the upgrade. Wish we did it sooner. Both the quarter turn faucets and new shower head are a huge improvement. Showering is something you do all the time so it only makes sense to have decent fixtures in there and a full pressure shower.
Our Keystone Cougar fifth wheel has copious amounts of cupboard space but much of it is up high and was useless. By adding several lightweight wire basket type shelves we are able to utilize much more of it for light weight items like towels, clothes, plastic dishes, etc. More tips for improving RV storage space.
19) Paper Towel Holder
Counter space is at a premium in the RV so I went with a quality metal holder in the cabinet under the sink where we keep our trash. It worked out perfect and can take the giant sized rolls.
20) Quality Propane Regulator
In less than one year our propane system was having issues. Seems one of the pigtail hoses connecting the 30 lb. cylinder to the regulator was faulty. Talking to a propane tech about it he advised me to upgrade the system to higher quality Marshall Brand pigtail hoses and regulator with auto tank switch over. I’m glad I did. The cost was under $100 and I have not had a problem since. The auto tank switch over works flawlessly. The LP gas system hardware is one place not to cheap out on.
Future Planned Improvements:
- New Furniture – we hope to find more comfortable leather furniture to replace our sad looking OEM fabric stuff.
- New Mattress – looking forward purchasing to a new high quality (short queen) memory foam mattress.
- Computer Desk for Me – want to build in a dedicated computer workstation in place of one of our recliners.
- Under Bed Storage Light – under bed storage is dark and needs a light source.
- Tire Pressure Monitor – would love to keep track of the trailer tire pressure and temperatures.
- Battery Power Monitor – need a unit to monitor our battery capacity and charging status when on solar power.
- More Batteries and Solar Panels – plans are for another 2 six volts batteries and 2 more 100 watt panels.
- Big Buddy Propane Hookup – would like an internal fixed install, low pressure quick connect for our Big Buddy heater.
*Update* – Check a new post with 20 More Updates to our Fifth Wheel
20 Useful Upgrades I’ve Made To Our RV
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