Convert Your ‘Pavement Queen’ RV
Into A Mean Off-Road Prepper Machine
By: William E. Simpson © 2014 All Rights Reserved
It’s a big mistake to just assume that the water coming-out of a tap or hose is suitable for you, your family and friends to drink!
Not everyone realizes how important water is in their lives; you can only live for about 3-days without water. The water in most cities is relatively safe to drink. However, there are many places inside the United States (cities/towns included) where the water is of marginal quality, and in some places, untreated water can be unsafe for drinking and/or cooking. Some people incorrectly assume that boiling water fixes everything… it doesn’t!
Boiling water is effective for killing pathogenic organisms such as E-Coli and Cryptosporidium, but some organic and inorganic contaminants, such as arsenic are not affected by boiling. Here is a list of various contaminants found in U.S. water sources:
For instance, there are many places in the United States where there are significant levels of arsenic in the water supply... and arsenic poisoning is no joke. Some areas may have unacceptable levels of dissolved minerals and/or other more nasty contaminants.
So even if you’re traveling in your brand-new ‘Pavement Queen’ RV between RV parks and campgrounds, it’s a very good practice to pay very close attention to your water supply, which means that; you need to be able to effectively treat the water you plan on sending into your RV or putting into your water tanks. The water that you put into your tanks must be very clean, otherwise you contaminate the tank as well as the water lines and fixtures in the rig, and then you are forced to deal with that using more water (and chemicals), which comes at a premium when you’re off-grid. Water that is contaminated with viruses, bacteria, organic and inorganic substances are responsible for millions of Americans becoming ill annually, as well as causing deaths every year. And getting sick while you’re traveling is not my idea of a good time. This link is a real eye-opener:
So the problem of sourcing water gets even more interesting if you are dry-camping or taking your ‘Prepperized’ RV (goo.gl/vMVL2G ) off-grid into the mountains or the wilderness for a few weeks or more.
When you’re dry-camping there’s no handy spigot with pressurized water next-to your RV for your garden hose. If there is a nearby spring, lake or stream, even that water would have to be bucketed up to your RV. And even if that water is pristine (which is very unlikely), how do you get it into the 1-inch diameter filler-neck (usually located on a vertical side of the rig) on the water tanks so you can enjoy that nice morning shower and clean water for coffee, cooking, etc.?
It’s not until you actually go through these exercises out in the boonies that you realize it’s not so easy!
Don’t despair, there is good news! Some of my readers know my resume as an expedition sailor and inventor. My wife and I spent nearly a decade at sea and at extremely remote off-grid locations dealing everyday with the issues around sourcing and treating water…. hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. During that time, where water was critical to life itself, we explored many methods and technologies for pumping, transferring and treating water, some of which can be easily adapted to ‘RVers’ and campers who want more freedom and flexibility, as well as by Preppers who may have to ‘bug-out’ long term.
Because I have ‘Prepperized’ (rigged it for off-grid use) my own RV, I have already designed some cost-effective systems (including a battery powered water delivery-transfer and treatment system) that can be built by anyone with some basic skills and hand-tools using parts and pieces available at any Lowes or Home Depot supply store (depending on your needs, there are some filter cartridges that you may want that have to be sourced online).
So if you’ve improved your RV suspension (http://goo.gl/vMVL2G) to the point where you feel you’re ready for the next step in turning your Pavement-Queen RV into a mean off-road Prepper machine, we can now look into adding a bit more weight related to the equipment you’ll need to improve your ability to source and treat water for use in your RV out in the boonies… namely; a portable AGM battery, a 100-foot (or more) length of hose, a 12-volt water pump, some in-line screens, and a set of filter housings with filter cartridges. Because the system is modular and compact, it is easily stored and deployed as needed.
So the envisioned (completed) water delivery and treatment system needs to have at least these key features:
1. The component water delivery and treatment system must be light and portable.
2. Must be deployed, used and then stored without the use of any tools.
3. It must be powered by readily available power sources (12 volts).
4. It must remove things like debris, sediments, pathogens, toxins (arsenic, etc.) from the water…
5. It must be able to deliver-transfer water from a lake, spring or stream over distances of several hundred feet (laterally) across the ground, and also possibly uphill (lift) 50 feet or more and directly into the filler neck of the RV water tank.
When you’re dry-camping or exploring way-off the beaten path, one of the biggest problems with water is hauling it. Water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon. And most of the smaller more versatile RVs have 40-45 gallon water tanks, so to fill that tank, you going to have to haul at least 332 pounds of water over the local terrain! Not my idea of fun, although it’s great exercise.
So assuming you don’t want or need that exercise, how do we get the water from the local water source to the RV and treat it at the same time?
The first step is to determine the ‘total dissolved solids’ (‘TDS’) in the water that you are considering for use as drinking water. It is generally accepted (World Health Organization) that a TDS reading of 1,000 mg./liter is acceptable for drinking. However, TDS is not a measurement that considers pathogens or contaminants, so you can have an acceptable TDS level, and the water can still be dangerous. The reason we are considering the concept of TDS is that if it is too high, no amount of low-pressure filtration is going to help. For instance, the TDS of seawater is about 30,000 mg./liter and in order to bring that TDS level down to under 1,000 mg./liter, a desalination plant is needed, which pumps the seawater at a pressure of about 800 psi. against a special semi-permeable membrane, which blocks the sodium chloride from passing the filter. Drinking seawater, or any other water with excessively high TDS levels can damage your kidneys and cause death, and the higher the TDS is over 1,200 mg./liter, the faster that occurs. So clearly, if we are looking at a body of water that is brackish (TDS = 5,000 mg./liter) for our potential water source, it’s a NON-STARTER.
We must start with a water source that has a TDS that is no greater than 1,200 mg./liter as an absolute MAXIMUM… In other words the lower the TDS is below 1,000 the better. To give you a reference point, distilled drinking water has a TDS of about 0-1 on my TDS meter, and water that has been treated by the desalination plant on our ship had a TDS that ranged from 200-350.
So this brings up the next question… How the heck do we figure the TDS of our potential water sources? Good News… there’s a cool little device about the size of a cigarette lighter that does the job perfectly and accurately.
Liquatec PM-3000 TDS Pocket Meter
There are several companies that make pocket-model TDS meters and they cost less than $50.00. The one pictured above sells online for about $22.00, and one of these meters is a MUST for campers, hikers, Preppers and RV wagon-masters (http://www.waterfilters.net/Liquatec-PM-3000-TDS-Testing-Meter.html).
OK, so now that we have a basic understanding about testing the TDS of our proposed water source, and that at 1,000 mg./liter or less, we can use our system on it, we can move on to discussing our water filtration and transfer system…
Thanks largely to the sailing/boating community and the industries that serve boats and ships, there has been an evolution in powerful 12-volt pumps of all kinds, including ones that are designed to move large volumes of water at pressure. That technology has migrated to some extent into the RV business to provide pressurized water to the fixtures inside RVs, but not in the manner that I am going to share with you here…
In order to develop your off-grid water transfer and treatment system, you’re going to need several components, which I will cover, starting with a good pump. The pump is the heart of the system, so my advice is to buy a good one that is designed for a continuous duty cycle (high-pressure, high volume pump).
There are many companies that make low-voltage water pumps, but through my experience, one company has the best pumps… and unlike some weekend warriors, I base my view on using these pumps day-in and day-out for years at a time in extremely remote locations!
The SHUREflo company (http://www.shurflo.com/) makes great 12-volt pumps (serviceable), and since we’re operating off-grid and powering things in and around the RV with 12-volt batteries, these pumps fit the need. I should also mention that I am not affiliated with SHUREflo in any way as of this article.
All pumps have design limitations: they can ‘push’ water much better than they can suck (‘lift’) water up to the pump. This is why it is very important to locate your pump intake (suction port) as close as possible to the water source. And this is why in deep water wells, submersible pumps are used… it’s easier for a pump to push the water hundreds of feet up from the source, as opposed to sucking it up from that distance.
The completed system (pictured above):
Looking at the photo above: On the far lower left is the intake hose. On the end of that intake (suction) hose is a bronze and stainless steel stone filter that is dropped into the water source. I use a standard 1” bronze/stainless ‘foot-value’ for a well and remove the valve inside (costs about $12.00 at any home improvement store).
The intake hose then leads from that to the fine-mesh screen filter that keeps small debris out of the pump. The pump is the black cylinder next in series and then a short piece of hose leading from the pump outlet into the series of 3-filter housings. Coming out of the series of filter housings on the far right of the photo is the hose that dispenses the treated and filtered water (the product). The outlet, or product-water hose is shortened for the photo… the product water hose might be as long as 200+ feet. At the bottom center of the photo above is a selection of various filters that are available at most home improvement stores. I built this total system for under $450.00.
This system is simple:
First, we have a short length of hose (6-12 feet long) the runs between our water source and the suction side of the water pump. A coarse screen (modified foot-valve) is fitted to the end that you place in the water source (spring, lake or stream). This rough screen is designed to keep the larger debris and stones from entering the suction hose (see photo below).
Just before the hose reaches the suction side of the pump, there is a second inline fine stainless steel mesh screen filter that keeps small debris and sand from entering the pump. Some pumps come with a small modular screen system that fits to the pump as seen in the system pictured just above. You can also buy after-market fine screen filters as seen in the photo just below.
This fine-screened (50-mesh) filter (pictured above) has a removable see-thru cover that allows easy access and cleaning of this screen which is critical, since it protects the pump from sand and debris. These inline strainers are available from several companies; the model pictured above is available for about $24.00 from Grainger (http://www.grainger.com/product/RON-VIK-Line-Strainer-6UJL3?s_pp=false&picUrl=//static.grainger.com/rp/s/is/image/Grainger/2P582_AS01?$smthumb$).
The fine screen housing is connected to the suction side of the pump on some factory pumps, or this can be accomplished by using a short (6 inches) piece of suction hose; a 1/2 inch hose barb adapter is threaded into the outlet side of the strainer housing and that allows the 1/2 inch hose to be fitted to the strainer.
Hose barb adaptor for pump inlet and outlet
Most pumps come with 1/2 inch hose barb adaptors for both the inlet and outlet sides of the pump, which allows for quick disassembly of the hoses from the pump, so you’ll want to verify that you have the same size hose barbs at both ends of the hose connections. I advise the use of these quick connect-disconnect fittings (as seen in the photo above with ‘wing-nuts’); it keeps the total system in small manageable modular pieces that are easy to store and carry.
On the pressure side of the pump, we have a standard hose connection (or other quick connect-disconnect fitting) that provides an easy way to connect the modular pump to the series of three standard 10-inch water filter housings that contain our selected filters using a short piece of hose. The first housing in the series contains an arsenic filter (in this example) (http://www.arieswater.com/products/catridgesoptions.aspx?rcid=9), and the reason for this is that arsenic is a very common contaminant.
The second in the series is a 0.5 micron combo-filter (activated charcoal and media) that traps organic compounds, most cysts and also things like lead, chrome, etc. (http://www.arieswater.com/download.aspx?qFileId=115).
The third and final stage of the filter system is in some ways the most important given the prevalence of bacteria in surface and subsurface water sources. It’s a quarter-micron (0.25 micron) filter and is capable of removing virtually all bacteria and small cysts. Here’s the contact info for these sub-micron re-usable (clean and reuse) filters: http://doultonusa.com/HTML pages/ceramic_candles.htm
The final part of the water delivery system is the long hose (100 feet or more) that is connected to the outlet port of the three-stage filter system via a standard garden hose connection. The system that I prefer uses a brass pipe fitting that has a male side (fits into the filter housing) and is 3/4 inch NPT male pipe to male garden hose thread. The male hose thread coming off the final stage (outlet) of the three-stage filter system allows you to connect a standard garden hose to the system. And this in turn allows you to easily add more lengths of hose as needed to reach your RV from the water source where the pump, battery and filter system is located.
Finally, you’ll need a portable, rechargeable power source to connect to the water pump. I like using a small AGM battery that I can recharge using a small solar panel. So when I am done filling my water tank, I put the battery back on the solar charger (more on ‘solar’ in the next article of the series) so it will be ready again when the water tank needs to be refilled. We have learned to be efficient with our limited water storage tanks (we keep an emergency reserve of bottled water as well; 15 gallons). So when we fill our 45 gallon tank, we can make that last about 4-5 days, which includes an economical shower for each person daily. The battery pictured above is a Lifeline brand AGM battery that weighs 24 pounds and has the power to run a pump for a long time (varies with the pumps running amperage draw).
Of course most RVs today also have a built-in water filter housing located somewhere in the rig… on our 5th wheel, we have a standard under-sink filter housing which will accept any 10-inch filter… This housing is sometimes mounted in the basement of the coach or in a storage compartment. And here is where you use an important upgrade… instead of using a simple sediment filter, buy the multi-media (all in one commercial filter) filter that incorporates a carbon block and other filter media that also removes pathogens as well as organic and inorganic contaminants! This is important for both off-grid dry-camping as well as RV-park camping because when you connect the handy spigot to your coach; you don’t want any bad water from that source either! Just because it says ‘potable’ doesn’t guarantee that it won’t make you sick.
The filter housing/cartridge that is mounted in the coach filters both the water that comes into the coach via a garden hose connection, as well as filtering the water that is used from the on-board tanks. So by having the cartridge upgraded here, you can have a final polish on the water coming from the water tanks as well!
Always carry multiple spare water filter cartridges!
So you’ll need to make a decision on the AGM battery you will buy. Why an ‘AGM’ battery? Because they don’t spill acid all over the place and there is virtually no out-gassing.
I recommend using ‘Lifeline’ batteries, and for this particular project, model GPL-U1T (http://www.lifelinebatteries.com/rvflyer.php?id=9). Here again, I use Lifeline batteries myself, but have no affiliation with the company.
The potent GPL-U1T AGM battery weighs a mere 24 pounds and will power your pump motor for over 2 hours, if you use an Aqua-King pump by SHUREflo (http://www.shurflo.com/marine-products/marine-pumps/fresh-water-pumps/extreme-series-pumps/default.html#tab01)
The SHUREflo Aqua-King (12-volt model) delivers about 4 gallons of water per minute (GPM), which is 240 gallons per hour without the filters inline. Generally speaking; when you add-in the hydraulic resistance created by the filters and a long run of hose (200 feet) plus the added resistance of lifting the water any reasonable vertical distance to the RV over the run, you might lose as much as 2-GPM of output at the RV side of the system. The technical stuff related to the loss of volume (2 GPM instead of the 4 GPM) is beyond the scope of this article. It suffices to say that the higher you have to lift the water from the source to the RV, the greater the pressure loss. And pressure loss means less water volume. And when this is combined with the friction caused by the filters and a long-run of hose, it reduces the effective output (GPM) of the pump. The other important practice is to locate the pump as close to your water source as possible, where the height above (vertical distance) the water source (critical) should never exceed 6-feet when using the Aqua-King pump. By keeping these general concepts in mind, you can maximize the performance of your system.
So in the field, under actual conditions, you can expect the water transfer-filter system to deliver about 120 gallons per-hour of purified water to your RV from the water source. That’s almost 1,000 pounds of water moved over 200-feet in an hour… saves a lot of work! Of course with a small RV water tank of just 45 gallons, this system will fill that tank in about 30 minutes.
All batteries are heavy, so there is a compromise between how long you can run your system and the weight of the battery. The good news is that unless you’re filling a very large tank, a smaller AGM battery will work well.
You’ll want to fit the positive and negative wires from the water pump with small battery clips, which will allow a fast yet secure electrical connection between the pump and the battery. And you can simply turn the pump on and off by making the connections to the battery… Note: Turning any electrical device ‘on’ and ‘off’ by making a connection at an AGM battery in a well-ventilated area is relatively safe since they have very minimal out gassing, unlike flooded-cell batteries, which could explode using this method (another reason to use an AGM battery)
Stay safe and have fun out there!
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Important notes/disclaimers: Do not modify any RV without the proper engineering and installation oversight. Also, as I learned, any modification of any RV under warrantee will usually void the factory warrantee (consult with your RV’s manufacturer before making any modifications to any RV). Most warrantees aren’t that long (a year or two) and they almost never extend to the second owner of an RV. Improperly engineered modifications ca n be extremely dangerous and may cause property damage, injuries and/or death. Readers are advised that any such modifications as suggested or outlined in this article are done so at the sole and exclusive risk of the reader. The author and publisher of this article make no warrantee or representation as to the suitability or fitness of any advice provided herein for any purpose.