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Old 10-13-2013, 04:11 PM   #1
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 99
A newcomer's thank you; Energy conservation; & Sans toys: Don't rule out toy-haulers!

A Thanks to Those Who Helped Me,
Some Energy Conservation Comments,
& A Fifth-Wheeler Shopping Tip: Don't Ignore the Toy-Haulers

Several of my extended family enrolled and posted here a few weeks ago about buying our RVs and so I first want to express my appreciation to those who replied graciously to our questions and even provided one-on-one assistance by email and private messages. I had a very short timeframe (due to rapidly deteriorating vision) for finding and purchasing what will be my primary home, so the timely advice was so helpful to me. Thank you.

Yesterday I closed on the second of the three RVs and that Tahoe Transport 38' fifth-wheel will be delivered to the eastern Texas ranch in a week or so. [The eventual third RV for Galveston Island which we had discussed on this forum may be deferred several months.] The search was arduous. We did a lot of Googling and dealer visits, and asked a lot of questions in order to make the decisions so quickly, but so far we are very pleased with what we've purchased. (Time will tell from here.) But even though we got some flack from a few people here for asking questions, most iRV2 members were quite helpful and friendly. We thank you for your gracious willingness to come to our aid and offer your time and experience as RVers during a very difficult time which included family bereavements and unexpected obstacles.

So now I just want to "pay back" [or pay it forward?] some advice to other newcomers after benefiting from the advice of the experienced RVers who helped us one-on-one.

I sold building materials to contractors in my youth and my own building projects included experiments with various insulation and ambient sound-reduction techniques, so I hope to apply those experiences and research to optimizing this long-term RV adventure. Some day I plan to post some detailed conclusions and tips but for now this will summarize some of my experiences which may help other fifth-wheeler shoppers.


I have an engineering and technical background which causes me to approach RV construction and energy-efficiency issues in atypical ways. So I have been using some of my sensors and thermography equipment to analyze energy use and air leaks as well as sound transmission properties. I'm setting up on my long-term rural site [where commercial/agricultural mixed-use zoning/code-compliance and a private contract with partners makes mobile homes or "park models" legitimate legal options but in my case, not as advantageous as choosing a fifth-wheel. (Among other things, I might eventually decide to place this fifth-wheel down-state while I place another fifth-wheel at this site. So a fifth-wheel gives me more flexibility. Moreover, at under $10,000 complete, delivered from almost 200 miles away, this solution is very hard to beat.)

[For those who obsessed about my RV site being illegal, I'm nearly a half mile from the nearest road and invisible to the general public. The closest occupied home is over a mile away. I connect to the electrical grid but, by choice, make no permanent connection to water or sewer at the site because I can walk a very short distance to use the conventional restroom and shower to our fully-permitted commercial-building which is otherwise used only a limited number of days per year for public events. I'm rapidly going blind (I may retain some "tunnel-vision" at the fovea) so I've tied a waist-high rope on the path from RV to the public restroom so that I can easily follow it. This solution is preferable to paying for a periodic porta-potty service call at the RV. Plus, once I"m acclimated, I hope to resume travels to speaking engagements so that much of the time my RV will simply be stored at the location while I'm out of state. But even if I were living on the property full-time, an adjacent unoccupied house is still fully permitted and code-compliant. Indeed, if I find the RV too noisy during public events at adjacent properties in that area, I may always sleep in that house. I've bothered to explain these rather irrelevant details to placate the busy-bodies who complained on this forum that I was violating countless codes and laws. In actual fact, I am far more compliant than several of the residences anyone can see from the road in that area. Once I'm settled, the RV may turn out to be nothing more than my office and library and a climate-controlled storage to which I retreat when not travelling as an active retiree.]

(Be Wary of Radiant Barrier Hype & Misuse)

As an example of something I've observed from studying RV manufacturers' brochures/websites as well as RVer recommendations on various forums, radiant barriers---such as aluminum foil bubble-wrap "insulation" --- are being used in inefficient and even harmful ways because they fail to provide an enclosed air-layer of at least 3/4" at the aluminum foil surface. Moreover, along the infamous heating-meets-cooling degree-days zone which goes through my area of Texas, building supply chains tend to stock the wrong kind of radiant barrier: One must use PERFORATED radiant barrier [indeed, probably almost all vapor barriers in this area should be perforated or somehow remain "breathe-able"] so as to prevent moisture condensation in the walls on the surface of that barrier. Indeed, I've been amazed how often I've observed misuse of various kinds of vapor barriers and insulations in ways which would be major code violations in conventional building construction. [Of course, I don't necessarily blame RV manufacturers because it simply isn't practical to building four or five "regional climate versions" for each model that they produce. But RV owners should investigate what materials and construction techniques were applied to their RV and adjust their "climate strategy" accordingly. For example, RVs in the infamous "in-between heating-cooling climate zone" which goes through Austin, Texas may need more attention paid to wall condensation than the average RVer in Iowa because a breathable wall is more important to those of us in that infamous 100 miles wide zone marked on many of those Federal government "vapor barrier recommendations" climate maps.]

Yes, with some common sense and due diligence, most RVers will probably not find it difficult to avoid wall condensation conditions. But everyone should be mindful of their area's dewpoint seasonal patterns. (In many cases, just a few days per year constitute the greatest risk to wall condensation and the beginnings of dry rot.)

I also discovered that many of the same people who carefully maintain their roofs and prevent water entry nevertheless have various levels of dry rot unseen (and undetected by odor) behind the wall panels or siding. By using sensor probes or insulation and wood samples, I've found damage and slowly progressing fungi in walls which the owner honestly claimed no rain nor water leaks had ever infiltrated.

[NOTE: I'm a retired professor and my natural curiosity leads me to extremes of details and analysis which are routine in science but are not necessarily practical or necessary for every RVer. For me, limiting energy costs using various experimental techniques and USB-computer sensors is a matter of research and seeing how low I can take my RV's electricity consumption and extend the life of my ten year old RV, just as I have my automobiles. So just as some people are prone to psychosomatic symptoms when reading the fine print on those little folded papers that come with prescriptions (and list every possible ache, pain, and side-effect anybody ever had with that medication), don't let my interests in optimizing RV energy use scare you. In fact, I probably wouldn't have posted this information at all if not for the requests I've received from various people online. So if such details bore you, simply ignore them. Posting here gives me a link that I can pass along when people ask for more information about energy conservation experiments and RV tips.]

Some RVers may find it helpful to use a relatively inexpensive laser-directed infrared "remote read" thermometer. [I don't expect everyone to have access to a much more efficient FLIR thermograph like one sees in science fiction movies, where one spots the body heat of the monster or murdered as he hides in the bushes from the helicopter overhead.] But if I were a professional/certified RV inspector, and looking for air-leaks and insulation gaps in RVs on a daily basis, I'd probably at least wish for a thermograph camera "gun" one of my favorite tools of the trade. It is a good way to look for fiberglass insulation gaps where the batts have inevitably sagged over time as road travel vibrates the insulation down the RV walls, leaving cold/hot spots at the top of the batting space. So far, I've found several RV with fiberglassing batting gaps at the top of their 16-on-center channels. No wonder the blue Dow foam board wall insulation is a bragging-point among various quality-conscious manufacturers.]

DON'T RULE OUT TOY-HAULERS (even if you have no toys)

To my surprise, I ended up buying a toy-hauler Tahoe Transport with only one slide-out. Even though my semi-permanent location would allow me to supplement easily the insulation of each slide-out, I figured reducing the number of slide-outs would improve my insulation and ambient sound-transmission situation at least a little bit. And even though strength/rigidity is less of an issue with my fifth-wheel rarely being on the road, I figured that having one slide-out instead of three or four could have its benefits.

Other fifth-wheel-shopping newcomers to iRV2 might benefit from my discovery that I should rethink my original layout expectations. I had largely dismissed toy haulers because I have no motorcycles or ATVs. But I realized that I do like lots of open-space which I can use anyway I wish over time, and because my Tahoe is divided into three distinct "rooms", the kitchen is sufficient yet compact within the middle-room/living-room of the RV, and the convertible dining booth and sleeper-couch opposite the kitchen are easily removable. This provides complete flexibility of space use in at least half of the square footage. (In fact, because I'm not boondocking, I could also remove the master queen bed and the storage compartment below it and place the 100 gallon extra-water tank outside---making the master bedroom yet another empty "room". In my case, that bedroom at the front of the fifth-wheel doesn't allow me to stand up straight but because I only need a 40" wide space for my water-bed tubes, I can build a bed over a storage box and place it on the left wall of the master bedroom and have the rest of the room for my electronic keyboards or part of my large library. Of course, if I decide to sleep in the house nearby, I have the entire master bedroom for all sorts of purposes.

So, RV shoppers, don't ignore the toy haulers when looking for a spacious RV. I could have spent three or four times as much money on a splendorous fifth-wheel where the kitchen takes up much of the living space while the "flexible space" remains limited, especially if there's important equipment inside the fixed-state couches or storage cabinets/pantries. But with this under $10,000 38' toy-hauler, the empty 8x10 "utility room" in the back has a seal-able door separating it from my living space. Therefore, at least for me, it feels like a complete RV plusan extra 8x10 room. Moreover, even at 6' 5" I can enjoy 8' ceilings everywhere but the master bedroom. (Of course, if I wish, I could use the fold-out couch as my main bed and add a rolled up memory-foam mattress-top every night; it easily stores on top of the kitchen cabinets, where there is lots of open storage space up there, even enough for another row of cabinets.)

Therefore, "the moral of the story" in my case is this advice for other newcomers/RV-shoppers: Don't write off a toy-hauler fifth-wheel just because you don't have any motorcycles or ATVs to haul. Not only will it provide much more flexibility using the abundant living space, having full-fledged doors from the across-from-the-kitchen living space to the master bedroom and the "utility room" makes my new home feel much more like an actual house or multi-room apartment. Moreover, with a cargo capacity of nearly 4,000 lbs, dropping down the 8'x8' ramp gives me the option of assembling my 450 lbs baby grand piano there. I get yet another space saving advantage in having a second side-entry door in that same "back room", thereby freeing up the main side-entry door to the living room which will remain operable as a fire exit but I will "reclaim" its wasted "landing" space for a TV/stereo cabinet on wheels. That is, if the rear entry side-door becomes my main entrance, I can use the empty 4'x4' entrance door landing in such a way that I can place a nice recliner facing it from the opposite wall slide-out [in place of the present fold-out-couch/bed.] So that reclaims yet another 16 square feet or more, just as if I had a small second slide-out for living space. [Furthermore, as I wrote previously, in an emergency I can still walk out that main door. So nothing is lost.]

The relatively small number and size of windows (and fewer slide-outs) compared to most fifth-wheels should save me on energy costs and perhaps a few decibels.

This toy-hauler also includes a 5.5KWH generator and a supplementary gas tank for fueling the motorcycles and other toys. Add some gasoline stabilizer, and I have an emergency gasoline supply for my car. [One should have extra gasoline in case of a natural disaster so that a full tank gets one out of the area when all gas stations might be inoperable or plagued by long lines.]


1) Don't disregard toy-haulers when shopping for a fifth-wheel and thinking about your preferred layouts. Toy-haulers can be extremely versatile.

2) RV energy conservation: I hope to return in the spring to post some results from my insulation experiments using strategically placed USB temp/humidity/dew-point sensors for 24/7 computer recording and, hopefully, useful correlations between that telemetry and the degree-day heating/cooling data for my RV site micro-climate. I also hope to include some radiant barrier experiments. (I've noticed a lot of people wasting their money on it. Radiant barrier can be a wonderful technology but only if used very carefully.)

[In the meantime, if anyone has any questions about the use and abuse of radiant barriers and especially the "bubble-wrapped double-film radiant barrier insulation" which is often over-hyped, and can even be harmful when used incorrectly, feel free to private-message me even if you publicly post to this forum. Otherwise I probably won't notice your question.]

FT'er,38' 5W/ToyHauler but no toys; rural eastern Texas 140mi.from Houston coastline.[On-grid gray/black-water code-compliant.] Interested in feedback re: climate/mold issues, vermin/pests/coyotes, energy-conservation tech & experiments, passive solar, RV security.
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Old 10-16-2013, 07:41 AM   #2
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Happy for you that you seemed to have found the ideal solution to your quest.
Keep us up on how your adventure unfolds.

But keep in mind, if the RV manufacturers did everything you suggest, your $10k used Tahoe would problably have sold new for $100K and now would have been $30K.


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Old 10-17-2013, 05:34 PM   #3
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 99
Originally Posted by wingnut60 View Post

Happy for you that you seemed to have found the ideal solution to your quest.
Keep us up on how your adventure unfolds.
OK, will do. (For me, experimenting with energy-conservation technologies can be an entertaining diversion. With traditional structures I've found that many much promoted innovations are virtually worthless and expensive while some very low-cost concepts can pay off wonderfully. I'm curious to see if RV applications will work out similarly.)

Originally Posted by wingnut60 View Post
But keep in mind, if the RV manufacturers did everything you suggest, your $10k used Tahoe would problably have sold new for $100K and now would have been $30K.
Yes, I'm willing to admit to being a Milton Friedman fan.

However, I've found that a few manufacturers have put a lot of smart engineering into even their most economically priced, "low end" models--- while many other manufacturers have put very high price-tags on poorly designed RVs which could have afforded a bit better materials. So the brands can differ greatly in engineering, and price does not always indicate quality. (Of course, anybody who has shopped around probably figured that out with little effort.)

I was surprised to see aluminum wire on some RVs where the weight-savings wouldn't seem worth the hassles. (I know that it is certainly possible to wire safely with aluminum but, personally speaking, I wouldn't trust aluminum wires in any structure that has to bounce around, flex, and vibrate. Why take the chance?) That's an example of a trade-off I wouldn't have made in designing an RV.

Has anyone here had problems with aluminum wire on their RV?

I'm also curious to hear if anyone has made replacement gaskets and/or their own polymer parts for their RV? I see a growing collection of Youtube videos where RVers are making all sorts of substitutes for expensive replacement parts. The various resins, silicones, and acrylates materials have become cheaper and easier to find with the growth of the Internet. (I got tired of paying $1200 a pop for the dental device that treats my apnea, so after the dog kept confusing them with chew toys, I finally started making my own from the little white acrylate beads one can order from craft suppliers. Now, whenever I want to adjust the fit, I just heat some water in the microwave and when it cools to the right temperature, I soften the acrylate and make adjustments.)

Now that the hobbyists are buying their own 3D printers, I suppose we will soon be seeing Youtube videos on making various little RV drawer parts and cabinet latches. You probably heard the news story this week about some study which claims that a 3D printer can pay for itself in one year of use. I found it a little hard to believe in 2013, but once the experimenters in a given field of application put together a large enough catalog of "printing/casting instructions", the day can't be too far off for RVers.
FT'er,38' 5W/ToyHauler but no toys; rural eastern Texas 140mi.from Houston coastline.[On-grid gray/black-water code-compliant.] Interested in feedback re: climate/mold issues, vermin/pests/coyotes, energy-conservation tech & experiments, passive solar, RV security.
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