Well, we’ve lived in a motorhome for a month now, and I think it’s time to start sharing some of our experiences, as well as a little bit of data I’ve collected. We’ve made the life choice to live in an RV for a number of reasons, but my main reason is to establish a conscious connection to the impact I have on the world through the resources I utilize; also, how I can better utilize the resources which are readily available all around us through careful management.
To this end, our motorhome stands unconnected to the city water supply and sewer hookup. Water is supplied by a potable rated water hose connected by myself to a water valve protruding from the ground on our lot. The other end is filtered through a carbon filter and discharged into our 66 gallon water tank. When full, the hose is coiled up and stowed. When the tank level is getting low, either by reading the crude meter over the stove or through calculation through daily water readings (See Water Meters Under the Sink), I simply go fill up. The unfortunate drawback of this arrangement, is that my system pressure is substantially lower than city water mains because my onboard pump is not set for high pressure.
On average, I refill the fresh water tank every 6.25 days after 40.2 gallons of water used. The most important number is the average daily water used, which works out to 6.16 gallons per day. That’s total household use.
The grey water tank is rather small for my liking at 30 gallons. It receives wastewater from the sinks and shower. On average, I empty the grey water tank every 4.5 days after 28.5 gallons of water consumption. Erin took a bath early on, and largely filled it on her own. I haven’t done much work to calculate her water use in bathing, but I am sure it is significantly more than my own. This is understandable because she has thick curly hair which requires quite a bit of water to wet and rinse. Without any harassment, I know she has done much to find ways to reduce her water use. My own bathing takes somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 gallons of water. This small quantity is achieved by taking NAVY showers. (It could be much less though!)
More than once, the grey water tank has backed up into the shower tub. At this point, I know it’s time to dump. I roll out the long hose and let her go into the sewer. This is always a time of reflection when I see the torrent of slightly murky water flood through the clear elbow coming off the discharge of the Squatch. Even more than the observable daily water data collected from the supply meter, that huge volume of wastewater clearly resonates with me the desire to manage my water usage.
The foot pedal sinks (See Foot Pedal Sinks in the Squatch) have no doubt greatly furthered our water conservation efforts and have proven to be quite convenient. I rarely ever touch a faucet, and rely on my foot to dispense water. Hot water is only used for bathing; even doing dishes in the kitchen sink is performed with “cold water”. I haven’t measured the temperature of the straight water from the tank, but it’s a bit warmer than I’m used to from sitting in the tank. I find that it works well enough for washing dishes, if they’re done rather soon after use and are not allowed to sit long.
The small propane water heater is turned on for showers and then turned off immediately afterwards. For myself, I turn it on for twenty minutes or so, and turn it off before it’s even up to temperature BEFORE I get in the shower. I’ve never run out of hot water.
Propane consumption is only monitored by the small dial on the tank and the LED display over the stove. In a month of living here, we’ve probably used 12-15 gallons; much of this for the water heater, but a little for a few cold nights where I activated the motorhome’s furnace. My only method of determining the actual average use is by the refill quantity, much like determining fuel mileage in a car. The resolution of this value is unacceptably low. I plan to install data loggers in the water heater, forced air heater, and refrigerator, in order to provide useful feedback as to our behaviors.
Blackwater….basically the shit tank at 22 gallons, has been dumped three times since we owned the Squatch, and twice here while we lived in it. On average, it gets dumped every 11.5 days, but I should probably go longer to avoid the dreaded “poop pyramid”. The LED meter is stuck at 3/4 tank due to deposits in the tank. I do not want to find out what happens if it gets too full. Within in few months the RV toilet will get ripped out to be replace by a composting toilet. At that point, I’ll plumb it into the grey water tank for added capacity.
Electrical consumption is a little tricky. The coach batteries provide al lighting and ventilation, and are charged by two small solar panels which are not set up in ideal conditions nor are in great shape. Nonetheless, with our very sunny weather this time of year in Portland, I’ve had trouble getting the battery bank lower than 80% at night. Most days, they don’t go lower than 95%. At the time of this writing, I’m running many lights and fans to burn off some of the battery charge to cycle them. There is some data provided through the battery monitor I installed before moving in, but I have not logged it.
The coach is hooked up to the power grid so we can use the air conditioner on the hotter mid days. It also powers the LED television and a few electronics that I haven’t converted over to 12VDC. The average daily consumption in the last month is 3 kwh per day. Granted this is a lot higher than I’d like, it’s far lower than most Americans use, and besides, that grid hook up is getting pulled as soon as the heat lets up. At that point, any 120VAC needs will supplied by the on board inverter and batteries.
So far, my data collection has been limited to a small red journal I keep important dates and information. It has largely been a compendium of daily water meter readings and notes on tank fills and dumps. I plan to create a clipboard chart that streamlines the process of recording information on our consumptive habits and general maintenance notations. Some data, such as propane furnace cycles will be a bit more automated through the use of data loggers, which will allow me to compare it to environmental conditions inside and out of the Squatch from data collected through a wireless weather station mounted to the ladder.
As the season turns toward winter, the available sun for recharging my batteries will be less of an expectation, and more of a surprise when it shines. I have no doubt that I will see the limits of my current PV arrangement sometime this winter. I am surprisingly, rather excited for this; it will let the batteries discharge and teach me more about my system, our behaviors, and just how large a system we need. An over sized PV / Battery array likely wouldn’t accomplish this goal.
Well, it’s time to go. I’ll try not to be so long winded in the next post, but there’s no promise…