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Little Mods That Make RV Life Better: Forgetting to turn things off?

| Updated Sep 26, 2014

One of the joys of an older Class B is the absence of reluctance to make changes.  Over the years we have learned much from Roadtrek owners we encountered on the Roadtrek Yahoo list.  Patrick Hayes, Yan Seiner, Campskunk, Jim Lever, Jim Caudill and Loren Phillips have been fountains of wonderful information as we have gradually made changes to our camper to suit our lifestyle.  We owe all of them, plus the great website by Lazy Daze owner Andy Baird a huge debt of gratitude for sharing their knowledge.  We have met only half of these people in person.  Today we describe two small useful modifications inspired by Loren.

Red Rover in HV
Off grid and off road

If you boondock you know it's important to conserve water, electricity, and propane.  You hate to discover you left the furnace on while you took a three hour hike.  We've always been thankful that our water pump switch is lighted.  We learned to glance at the panel when we exit the camper to make sure we turn it off.  However we do find ourselves forgetting other systems.  Like the water heater.   When you turn on the water heater a red signal light glows briefly while the ignition is on, and then it quickly goes out.  But the water temperature is still rising until it hits the set upper temperature limit. We found that upper temperature limit is much hotter than needed to wash dishes or to take a shower using hot water alone. We bought a meat thermometer with a 6-foot wire extension, and thrust the probe under the insulation on the water heater tank. We set the wall-mounted meat thermometer to sound a beep when the temperature reaches 112 degrees F.  (See article about this here.)  Then we turn off the water heater, saving propane. But sometimes we turn off the alarm, yet forget to turn off the water heater, so the unit keeps the water hot until we remember to turn it off, wasting propane.  It takes a close look at the black switch to determine if the water heater is on or off.

Lorens WH & Furnace LEDs
Loren's Indicator LEDs

Some years ago, there was a discussion on the Yahoo Roadtrek list about adding an LED to the water heater panel as a reminder than it is on.  We thought that was a good idea but never pursued it until Loren, a friend with a 1994 Roadtrek 190 Versatile, was showing us his latest improvements (and he has many).  These included not only a LED on the water heater but he had added one for the furnace as well.  Great idea!  Many times we had inadvertently left the furnace on.  After the day warms up and the furnace stays off, we sometimes forgot about it.  He had added an LED for the water pump also – the 1994 didn't have a lighted switch like ours.

Red LED from Radio Shack

We decided to make some of those little modifications that make Class B life easier.   We learned that the installation is straightforward. We purchased a 12 V red LED from Radio Shack.

Back of Water Heater Switch -  Close Up
Back of water heater switch

On our Roadtrek the water heater switch is located on the outside of the bathroom wall, behind which is a chase — a hidden cavity — containing electrical wiring. Access to the chase is obtained by unscrewing panels in the bathroom. On the back of the water heater switch are four terminals. The upper right terminal (red wire) is the input for 12 VDC. The lower right terminal (black wire) on the switch is the 12 VDC output to the water heater. When the switch is on, 12 volts go to the lower terminal.   So you just need to install the LED between that terminal and a ground.  The lower left terminal (green wire) is a ground.  With a multimeter you can test the terminals on the switch and also any ground wire. We drilled a 5/32″ hole in the water heater switch panel and threaded the LED leads through it into the chase. We attached the LED's red wire to the lower right switch terminal (black wire) and spliced the LED's black wire into the electrical ground wire. Now, the LED glows red anytime the water heater switch is in the on position.

Suburban Thermostat
Suburban Thermostat

Armed with that propane-saving measure, we were ready to tackle the problem of leaving the propane furnace on after the interior of the RV has warmed up. We noticed that if we forget to turn off the furnace at the wall thermostat, the furnace can surprise us and turn on unexpectedly with no visual warning. Again, our friend's ingenuity saved propane.  Loren bought an amber LED from Radio Shack. He mounted it on the wall near the water heater switch. Then he fished a single wire from the furnace mechanical thermostat through the cabinets to the chase, where he hooked that wire to the red wire on the LED. The black wire on the LED attached to the electrical ground. Inside the wall thermostat is a circuit board and a screw-terminal board. The wiring diagram for the mechanical thermostat shows the ON/OFF switch for the furnace. He attached the single wire into the ON side terminal of the switch.  The amber LED glows whenever the furnace switch is on, regardless of whether the thermostat is calling for furnace heat. The result: At a glance he can see if he left the furnace on inadvertently.

Red Rover Indicator LEDs
Our green LED for the furnace

We duplicated what Loren did with a couple of exceptions.  Radio Shack had no amber LEDs in stock, so we used green.  Also Loren still had the original Suburban thermostat.  Ours had failed and we replaced it with an electronic LuxPro thermostat.  It was equally simple (heat only) with only 2 wires.  One of them has 12 VDC on it all the time, and the other had 12 volts only when the furnace is calling for heat.   We needed to connect our wire to the other side of the on/off switch which was on the circuit board – which would have 12 volts whenever the thermostat was switched on.. This required following the traces on the circuit board and soldering a wire to a point that would have power whenever the thermostat was turned on. Definitely more complicated than if we had the original Suburban thermostat.  Thanks to Loren who figured it all out and demonstrated his superior soldering skills.

Thermostat Circuit Board
Thermostat Circuit Board

We ran a wire through the cabinets to the area of the water heater switch and drilled a 5/32″ hole for the LED.  The LED's red wire was attached the wire from the thermostat, and the black wire went to the same ground as the water heater LED.  Now when we exit the camper, a quick glance will tell us if the furnace, water heater or water pump are on.

You may be reluctant to perform these simple electrical hookups for yourself, but any electrician or RV technician can add these LEDs if you want indicator lights to know what systems are ON in your camper.  It can help conserve your propane and electricity for off-grid stays. Roger installed the two LEDs in a few hours, following the directions given by Loren.

Next on our schedule are some other useful improvements inspired by Loren.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2014-09-26

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

5 Responses to “Little Mods That Make RV Life Better: Forgetting to turn things off?”

March 15, 2015at8:00 am, tom73458 . said:

I have the LED, but am now wondering how to splice in the skinny LED wire to the fatter looking wire on the water heater switch. What method of splice did you use?

September 27, 2014at12:31 am, Pat said:

Thank you!

September 26, 2014at6:26 pm, Pat said:

I tried to find the green LED bulb on both Radio Shack and Amazon but am having difficulty. Could you provide a part number? Thank you!

Comments are closed.

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