By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Water – the elixir of life. For humans, perhaps, but for your RV, water has its place – in the plumbing system, but not in structural members. A recent poll tells us more than a third of respondents found out, to their dismay, that water can cause serious damage to your RV.
Water damage can result from plumbing leaks, as one reader, Debra, told us. After bringing home a relatively new, but used, unit that the dealer swore had been “pressure tested,” she and her husband spotted “a small, dripping under the rig after filling the water holding tank and doing our own walk thru/testing fixtures. We finally found the problem – the factory didn’t use plumbing glue when installing the water tank so the rig had been leaking at the valves/multiple points since the first time the tank was filled.” The water infiltration rotted out flooring and part of a wall section. Happily, Debra’s husband was able to do suitable repairs. But what if they hadn’t caught the leak?
Other water matters aren’t related to plumbing issues. Here’s a sample from Glenda, who wrote about her rig that came from the factory without the windows being properly sealed. “Over time, water had seeped inside the walls. The damage was discovered by an RV serviceman when I took it in with a different issue. He discovered that the walls were spongy. To their credit, the manufacturer paid to have it shipped back and they did a very good job of replacing the walls, flooring, etc., that had been damaged.” Now, imagine the situation had the manufacturer not backed their product? A little bit of rainwater could have been the end of this unit.
Leaking water can easily destroy an RV. Hence, the kind of admonitions you read about on our site: Regularly inspect for leaks, and follow through with maintenance to prevent them to start with. In terms of plumbing leaks, it’s not a bad idea to make it a habit to poke around under cabinets that have plumbing fixtures or water lines. Of course, that won’t help you in all cases. But there’s a simple test that will go a long way to help you detect a leak in your pressurized plumbing. Boondockers are familiar with it, even if they don’t consciously know about it. It’s simple: Go off “city water” for a while. Turn on your RV’s fresh water pump and then simply listen.
Listen? Yep, simply listen to your water pump. After the system initially pressurizes, your water pump should shut down –and not start up again – until you “call” for water by opening a faucet or flushing the toilet. If the pump starts up without a call for water, it’s indicative of a leak in the pressurized system. It won’t usually be a long run of the pump, just a “bump” that indicates pressure dropped a little, and the pump quickly brings it back up. Now it’s time for you and your flashlight to follow every inch of water line, and visit every connection until you track down and fix the leaker. Don’t forget to check the water heater – a pinhole leak in a water heater isn’t uncommon, and can create costly damage.
Weather-related water intrusion is another item that requires constant vigilance. At least once a year (every six months is even better), you should carefully inspect your RV roof. Look for tears and damage (low-hanging limbs and rubber roofs make for strange bedfellows). Inspect every single spot where something comes through that roof: Vents (both crank-up and plumbing), antenna, skylights, etc. Sealant material used around these openings is not immortal, it weathers, wears out, and needs to be removed and replaced. Look around end caps, too – sealant in these areas also needs to be renewed. When adding new sealant, make sure all the old stuff is removed; new sealant may not adhere to old sealant, leaving you unprotected.
Windows are another area where water can gain a toehold, infiltrate your walls, and create huge delamination issues. When we bought an older fifth wheel, one of the first steps in our new ownership was to remove every single window from the rig, painstakingly remove the old sealant, reseal, and reinstall those windows. It took a day, but window sealant, too, is an owner maintenance responsibility. Done regularly and properly, it’ll save you tons of grief.
Shopping for a used RV? Closely inspect the rig for any evidence of leakage. Inside, thoroughly inspect the ceiling and walls for any signs of water intrusion – stains, peeling wallpaper, etc. Open all cabinets and look for the same. If you find evidence of leakage, or smell mold and mildew, best advice: RUN! Buying an RV that has a history of water leakage is a folly. The same is true for your outside inspection. Bulging, out-of-alignment with the rest of the wall delamination is a surefire sign of water infiltration. This isn’t a “do-it-yourselfer” repair – it’s probably best done at the factory or at a high-level, high-cost shop.
For your RV, keeping water only where it belongs, and away from everywhere else, is essential for keeping your rig alive and well.