Around-Oz: Living the Dream!

 

Finding and Using Water on the Road
Important Stuff!

Apart from not enough refrigeration, water is the one thing that can limit how long you can stay in an area. You may have found the most remote idyllic spot in Australia, BUT you can only stay for as long as your water hangs out. What we are saying here is to keep your water tanks full - many RVers travel with them empty to improve fuel consumption. As you travel around this wonderful country of ours, be ever vigilant and make a note of all the water taps you spy along the way. We have our own "water book". It is simply a hard bound alphabetical index note book. In it we write down the town, how to find the tap, the type of fitting, how far from any fence and any other info. If the water turns out to be crook, we also make a note of that for next time round, as it takes a while to empty and flush tanks, if you accidentally take on a load of bad water. Most Winnebagos for instance have no provision for draining the water tanks. If possible, have two separate water tanks, and filter the second one and use it just for drinking. Only fill it with known good quality water. The other tank can be filled with river water and used for the toilet and shower. The photos below were taken near Warburtons Bridge in Victoria. We filled the tank with river water and then used it to wash our dog Rex. This is a good trick to remember when washing of vehicles is banned from the mains, and you have an outside tap or shower fitted.


 
 

Where to Look

It's amazing the number of people who don't do this - simply fill up with water when you fill up with fuel. We ALWAYS ask first, and try to pick a servo where we wont block the guys driveway whilst we fill up. This system falls down badly though, as only about 50% of servos actually provide a water tap on the driveway! We tend to cruise past first and take a note of the tap location, as hunting around a strange town can easily add 20 minutes of wasted time. The larger servos usually have an "air and water" area well away from the pumps, and this set up is ideal as you usually don't get in anyone's way. Try to have your filling up gear very accessible. We have a short hose for these quick fills where we will be close to the tap - no messing about with hose reels and winders etc. A couple of the newer service centres north of Brisbane actually provide drinking water hoses on reels right next to the diesel pumps, so you can fill both diesel and water simultaneously - a great system. Now this all falls over if you don't need petrol, as each day you will use water, BUT if you have only gone 50 kms then you can't very well ask for water with no purchase! So this is where the great water hunt saga begins! It is a good move to always be in "scan" mode for water when you come into a town - in fact you can turn into a "tap perv"! Of course if you always stay in a caravan park, then in 95% of cases, water will be easily available, and in some cases you will be able to leave your RV permanently connected, PROVIDED your motorhome has a pressure reducer - more on this below. The photo below shows the excellent facilities at the BP Service Centre on the M1 Motorway at Coomera near Dreamworld on the Gold Coast. You only get these in the diesel truck area. In this case water hoses are supplied at the end of each set of pumps - drinking water quality.


 
 

Where Do You Put the Water?

There are many methods of getting water into your motorhome. There is a very positive school of thought that lockable fillers are best as they stop vandals contaminating your water supply - photo below right. Be aware though that almost all share the same key! Fiamma is possibly the most popular, however it is definitely not the easiest to fill as to fill at any speed the hose needs to be inserted into the hole. Many motorhomers make up a curved adaptor using a short piece of curved 1/2" OD copper pipe. You can often find scrap pieces on building sites. Fit this into a hose fitting. It is very important that you ALWAYS lock your Fiamma. They have a nasty habit of falling off on rough roads and only Coast to Coast will sell you just the cap.

NOTE: The Fiamma filler has a serious design fault. In older units there is a very real danger of the end falling off as it consists of an "O" ring and glue. Trying to find the inlet hole too aggressively can force the end cap off resulting in your RV filling with water. The simple fix is to put a couple of screws into the sides.


 
 

Filling a tank can be a bit of a chore, as with the type shown above right you have to take the plastic fittings off the hose, otherwise it wont fit in the hole. Long time motorhomer Peter Eyland came up with a brilliantly simple solution. Replace the plastic fittings with the more expensive brass Neta type and the hose then neatly pops into the hole and tends never to pop out during filling. The photos below show how simple it is.


 
 

Pictured below is a very simple non-lockable type found mainly on Coaster type conversions and slide ons and of course 1,000's of caravans as it was the original water filler. There are a couple of after market insertable filler inlet locks if this worries you at all. Camec always stock them.


 
 

Types of Tap Fittings

The most common variety is 1/2" BSP - you probably have this one at home. Then comes 3/4" BSP. We ALWAYS carry two 1/2" and 3/4" hose adaptors and also a few rubber washers. In the country you will frequently come across plain ended taps. To solve this problem you need a special clamp on fitting. Again in country areas you will find taps with no handle. You can buy a magic tool from Bunnings etc. to operate these recessed square drive taps - under $20.00. Please be careful accessing these taps as sometimes these outlets are used for recycled water. We got really caught at Coffin Bay and Streaky Bay in South Australia and at Wynyard in Tasmania. Where possible it's best to ask a local before using as the signs are not always obvious. We try to avoid taps located right next to dump points, as this is simply not good hygiene. Many councils particularly in Tasmania and Queensland are fitting an extra check valve on the tap to stop flow back into the mains - see photo below left. Similarly, filling up from taps above urinals in male toilets is not a particularly hygienic way in our view, although many do it! The taps shown below right are typical of most modern caravan parks. This photo was taken at the CMCA Casino Village - Australia's premium motorhome park.


 
 

Selecting the Correct Hose

On the road, you quite often come across RVers having a little whinge about how they haven't had a decent cup of tea since leaving home. Yes it's probably true and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the common plastic water tanks. The culprit usually is WRONG HOSE TYPE. If you fill your tank up using ordinary garden hose you will get "plastic taste". Go out and try it. Have a drink of water from your hose at home - chances are it will taste foul even if you run lots of water through it first. First up you must understand that PRICE plays a big part in water taste. Camec, Coast to Coast etc. all sell drinking water hose. These are easy to spot as they are nearly always white. Beware of cheaper overseas versions of the flat hose idea as these more often than not are not drinking water quality unless marked as food grade - you get what you pay for. The examples shown below - on the right is the safe for drinking "blue" hose but it is not a pressure hose - merely used for "transferring" water. You can buy this at Bunnings for around $3 a metre but it kinks very easily. To the left of it is normal garden hose. Please don't use this if you can't stand the tainted plastic taste - it gets worse in really hot weather. Now it is a really good idea to carry the fitting shown below right. This clamps onto ordinary sink type taps with no thread. Yopu will come across this type of tap quite frequently in country areas.


 
 

Hose Storage Methods

You really do need to get your act together in this area otherwise you could end up with water in your bins. The secret is ease of accessibility as your hose could be used as frequently as every day particularly if you have a washing machine onboard. This is an area sadly neglected by most manufacturers. Swagman and Sunliner offer the excellent retracting hose reels by AK Reels, but mostly these are offered as an extra. This type of reel comes with excellent food quality hose. The only limitation is length if space is at a premium. There are several hoses on hand roll up reels. The premium ones such as Flat Out in our view are grossly overpriced - we paid almost $200. Be aware that this hose is very difficult top repair and that the end fitting cannot be removed and are very heavy and awkward to use. Overall, not really a satisfactory product, as if you are on the move, you are forced to put it away wet being of canvas type construction. This is not a problem with ordinary plastic hose, as it is so easy to wipe dry. So for a slight space advantage you can end up with a boot with water in the bottom. Places such as the 12 Volt Shop have cheaper versions. Expect to pay from $70 to $90. These usually have a plastic cover and they claim they are food grade. You also come across these at Caravan shows and at motorhome rallies.


 
 

Every now and again a really fantastic, very cheap idea comes along. Putting it another way, if there was an award for Best Simple Idea this one would surely get it! Nobody seems to know who thought of this! Anyway, get yourself a Gardena Hose Coupling for about $2.50 and when you put your hose away just stick it in both ends! That way you don't have to drain it and it wont ever leak inside your RV again.


 
 

Connecting Up to Mains in Caravan Parks

This area causes a lot of confusion as most motorhomes and caravans use the made in the USA Whale Pressure Reducing Inlet. A beautifully made, and very reliable unit, except that it uses American pipe thread. In Australia the standard is British pipe (BSP). Consequently, if you force screw these two together it will always leak slightly no matter how much Teflon tape is wound on. The gadgets shown below solve this problem. Both are available from spares outlets and from Don at Winnebago Spares in Emu Plains NSW. The one shown on the right below is the easiest to use. You can if you wish leave the fitting in the pressure reducer, but be aware that it does protrude about 35mm and there is the very real danger of bumping in whilst underway. Water does not flow back out through this fitting. If it does you must replace your pressure reducer. Before connecting up to mains pressure for the first time and leaving your van, you really need to check that nothing is leaking - this particularly applies to RVs that use worm drive hose clips, as there is a very real danger that these may have not been fully tightened at the time of manufacture. If unsure don't do it! Yes folks, we have been caught on two different RVs and now NEVER connect up to mains, but simply top up our water tank every couple of days. However the majority of motorhomers do connect up to the mains so you take your chances. Motorhomes using the excellent John Guest fittings (most Winnebagos) rarely have theses problems as Winnebago very wisely fit locking rings. We have come across quite a lot of RVs without the red locking rings and a popular caravan magazine recently ran an article on plumbing and failed to mention this vital fact.


 
 

The fitting shown above right also has some problems as supplied. There HAS to be a rubber washer inserted between the Neta hose fitting (light grey) and white nylon body of the fitting. The pictures below show where to insert it. The washers are known as 3/4" tap washers and are usually sold as a pack. It is a good idea to carry a pack as they are also used in hose adaptors as these have a habit of falling out.


 
 

Filling Up Away From the Mains

Some manufacturers get this really wrong. With most Swagman units for instance, the type of fittings used precludes filling a tank by using a bucket or a water tank, as the water must be pressurised. Some 5th wheelers also have this problem, particularly the imported models. If you never bush camp and always stay in caravan parks then this will never be a problem for you. However, if you intend bush camping or going to country rallies, then you do need to have your vehicle modified so that the tank can be filled by bucket when mains pressure is not available. This usually doesn't cost more than $100.00.


 
 

Methods for Conserving Water

We always laugh at this one. When you return from from a long weekend away using under 100 litres of water between two people, you clean your teeth and use 10 litres or more! The golden rule for conserving water on the road is don't do your washing, have long showers (joke of course!), wash your hair ladies, unless you are reasonably sure of water further down the track. Fit your RV with a wand type shower with a water control on the head - photo below left. In this way you can trickle on water, turn off and soap up. Using your shower water to do your washing is an excellent move.


 
 

Advantages of a Separate Drinking Water Supply

If you can possibly fit in an extra tank somewhere it will make life so much easier for you. Be sure to check if you can legally handle the extra weight. One litre of water weighs one KG. The supply only needs to be around 40 to 60 litres as you can make this amount last for 10 days or so. This means that your "normal tank" used just for showering can actually be "dubious for drinking water". You can go the deluxe way and use another pump - called a demand pump as it only operates when you push a button or alternatively use a hand pump costing as little as $18.00. We NEVER put suspect water into our drinking water tank. Buy bottled water instead. Another much lower cost version used on Coaster type conversions quite a lot is a hand pump fed from a 10 to 20 litre removable plastic tank/container. This is usually simply placed under the kitchen sink. Some even get away without a lid if there is zero chance of falling over. If you buy a motorhome with a separate system, it is a very good move to make CERTAIN that the drinking water supply is truly separate. Some manufacturers cut corners by simply using a cartridge under the sink and both tanks are filled from the one fill point. It's a good bet that this has happened if you can find only one filling point. The photos below show a completely separate system. Another good way to spot if a system is truly separate and not just a filter off the main tank, is to look for another water level gauge. The photo below right shows the drinking water contents gauge (green). It uses a demand pump - when you press the black button the pump motor operates. If installing filters, it is very good practice to fit them under the floor. Then if they leak they will not damage your motorhome.


 
 

Types of Water Tanks

Another mine field - sorry folks! Once again money has a lot to do with it. The most common type of water tank is black plastic. Most of these are made using a rotary moulding process. This has the huge advantage of giving a mirror like finish to the inside of the tank and in the better ones, zero weld lines - these sometimes leak. Winnebago for instance use the fantastic Rotodyne tanks and we have never heard a solitary "moan"! Camec make a huge range of tanks starting from around $50.00 right up to $400.00 jobs that are just about indestructible. Aluminium tanks are very popular on Coaster type conversions, however you do need to work out if you can risk the known effects on health of using aluminium containers. Stainless steel tanks are possibly the ultimate tank, however it is the most expensive option. These can fail on the edge welds on really rough roads if a "lip" is not left on all corners. The innovation leaders, Paradise Motorhomes are the only manufacturers to our knowledge using the space age material Kevlar. These would have to be the longest lasting tanks, as they are five times stronger than the equivalent weight in steel. Paradise further enhance the strength by moulding to the exact shape of the floor and corrugating the bottoms. Atlas make a welded white plastic tank, however these are around the same price as top quality stainless steel.


 
 

How Much Water is in Your Tank?

You really do need some method of finding out just how much water you have in your tanks. Colin Ross Motorhomes uses the simplest system we have ever seen. A little float in a tube. The only disadvantage is you must go outside to check the level. Winnebago use generic USA gauges also available from Camec etc. This is not a cheap solution from upwards of $160.00 - see photo below right. Our all time favourite is the wonderful Australian made and designed gauge from RV Electronics - see photo below left. The RV Electronics model is also available in a black square case.


 
 

Using Creek and River Water

You do need to be careful filling your tanks from unknown water sources. A creek may look pristine and beautiful, BUT just back around the corner you may find a dead animal in the water! You MUST boil or chemically purify all water from unknown sources and also be ever vigilant, otherwise you will almost certainly end up with extremely unpleasant tummy bugs. Washing fruit and veges MUST be done with cooled boiled water. Similarly cleaning your teeth/dentures must be done the same way. The problem is, it is so very easy to forget! We did at a lovely spot not an hour out of Brissie and got really sick together with 14 others in our group, so you must forever be on your guard. Another problem is that of calcification. You have this problem if you notice white powder coming out of your taps. Eventually the flow stops completely, and it can be very expensive to repair. CMCA Casino Village director Terry Childs is a bit of an expert on this, and can possibly advise motorhomers on best practice if you continually travel the inland and have to use heavily mineralised water. Having two tanks and religiously only filling one with known to be good drinking water is the best way to go. Fitting a water conditioner is a very wise investment ($300+) if you intend staying for long periods in the outback. Don't forget to check your hot water service annode if fitted.


 
 

Purifying Water and Sterilising Tanks

You MUST sterilise water tanks before use on all new motorhomes and its also a good idea on secondhand ones. Camec etc. have powdered chemicals for around $10.00. We simply use two capfuls of bleach. We fill with water and leave a couple of days. We then completely empty and flush and fill twice. Yes this is a pain in vehicles where you cannot drain the tank easily, but it is worthwhile. Puratabs can be added to suspect drinking water - about $8.50 - $10.00. As you travel into remote areas it becomes more and more difficult to keep your tanks full of good water. In fact water on the Nullabor is more expensive than diesel. In Tasmania for instance many towns use river water with a dash of chlorine with little if any filtration. This means that water is often far from clear and can have a "taste". Some filters can correct this. We use a simple filter from Whitworth Marine. The charcoal cartridges cost $19.20 and last us 6 months. The filter body is quite compact - we fitted it behind the steps on our current Winnebago. It cost around $70.00. We have been using this system for over 5 years on various RVs and have nothing but praise for it, particularly as it works just as well as the $300.00 plus systems.


 
 

As you can now see finding and managing water is a critical component of our wonderful lifestyle. If you have any other ideas please email them into us and we will add them to these pages, as the more knowledge the better.

 

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