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Electrical Discussion of preventative/corrective maintenance and other technical issues regarding your coach's electrical system.

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  #61  
Old 06-26-2010
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Mark105 Mark105 is offline
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Thanks guys. Will add that to the check list.
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  #62  
Old 09-21-2010
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Hey I was just considering the copper braded 120 volt and any heat tape with a contigious ground in the tape could be "made safe" to use until failure with GFCI breakers or receptacles.

The Idea is when they fault to ground either by hot or neutral it will trip the gfci at 10ma. Remember that gfci's fail too so check them monthly..

Over all I would replace anything over 20 years old and run the rest on gfci protection!

Plastic and heat, electricity and time are a bad mixture.
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Last edited by Christian; 09-22-2010 at 02:05 AM.
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  #63  
Old 11-12-2010
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Has anyone tried to replace the heat tapes with new ones? I bought some with the intention of replacing the old ones. After stripping the old insulation I found it impossible to fish the new ones in. Some of the pipes between the tank and the kitchen are inaccessable.

I like the idea of using them so that I can keep the coach ready to travel without winterizing the water system (we are heading out for the week of Thanksgiving). I plan to winterize when we return.

Do the freeze protection heaters get the job done? How about in the bathroom?
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Last edited by maustin; 11-12-2010 at 03:39 PM. Reason: typo
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  #64  
Old 11-12-2010
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When it comes to winter, I might be the guy. I have added heat tape, and abandoned in place some of the original. There are concerns about fire with heat tape, and some of the old heat tape has browned its suroundings. Some of the tank mats have browned the areas under the tanks.

The big "freeze heaters" in the kitchen and the rear water tank are pretty ineffective. They waste alot of heat, heating the area, and not the pipes.

The original heat tape has termostats at the connection end, which may or may not indicate the temp at the tape locations.

I have had troubles with the original tape not doing its job at about 10F. I have lost the valves in the shower, and had blocked lines behind the head.

I have installed low wattage, self regulating, metal braided heat tape from McMaster-Carr. What I like about this material is that any location along the tape is not suppose to exceed 120F, the power draw is low, and I ground the metal braid, to provide a path to ground if the wire should get damaged. This path to ground should blow the breaker.

I don't worry about getting the heat tape in the insulated bundle, like BB did. If I can get the heat tape near the pipes, tie wrapped here and there, it seems to work quite well. It was very tricky to install behind the tub, but most places it isn't to bad. I do avoid allowing it to touch other wiring.

Pray for Snow!
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  #65  
Old 11-13-2010
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Again I wanted to reiterate, If you are going to use 120v heat tape it will take 120 volts x 20 amps = 2400 watts to trip the breaker.... that would be over the course of several minutes to trip thermally if it is a good short it will trip but maybe not.... so it would be possible and likely that you would have 2400 watts of heat localized at the short before it trips... perhaps more... less assuming the ground is still good...
Please consider installing GFCI receptacles or circuit breakers to protect yourself before these things go off... They will trip on a ground fault long before the circuit breaker has a chance to... They will trip on a .010 amp fault... The GFCI breakers go for 80 bucks and the receptacles go for 6 bucks.
Replace all that old heat trace/tape stuff it simply isn't worth the risk...
Keep the GFCI receptacles in a dry place as they will trip with dew or moisture...easily
I just bought some heat mats 80 watts each 12 volt... I will mount them to a grounded aluminum sheet then glue/epoxy the sheet to the bottom of holding tanks under the bus... they will be fused and if they go bad the aluminum sheet will protect the tank...from burning and the fuse should blow. Then I will see about wrapping the tanks in blueboard or neoprene mat... except where the heaters are that is...
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  #66  
Old 10-31-2013
technomage99 technomage99 is offline
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After reviewing all the posts about tank heaters and those copper line heaters for the water pipes, I concur. There is a risk of them failing to work when needed (and therefore allowing a freeze with accompanying burst pipe) OR they could suffer a fault and overheat and create a fire hazard and/or just run up your electric bill.

In my 89 36SP Bluebird really went "whole hog" with copper pipes with a zillion zip ties attaching the heat cables with fiberglass insulation over that with plastic sheet over that and another zillion zip ties. The 120vac plugs for the heat cables are in really inaccessible places, but they seem to all plug into sockets vs hardwired. I removed the fresh water tank under the closet floor to repair a leak and I found a
"heater mat" on the plywood floor under it. The plywood floor was "browned" from the heat of that mat which is 100+ watts with a built in thermostat and some chintzy small gage wires hard-wired to it. I removed the mat and reinstalled everything else and made a few improvements while I was at it. I'm not too worried about the fresh water tank freezing if its in use if I ever boondocked in the winter, because its on the "Warm side" of the floor.

If the interior heat is off in the winter, its time to drain and blow out all the lines and tank via engine air or an external compressor. I don't like the idea of putting that "pink" antifreeze in any line I drink from. I don't mind putting a little antifreeze in the traps, toilet, and waste tanks after draining them. The waste tank heaters are disconnected (they were not a good idea for "custom made" plastic tanks in my opinion). If I wanted to use them, I would temporarily put an ammeter in series just to see how many amps they take once the temp drops and install a slightly larger low current fuse in those lines -- not so easy. If those heaters can get hot enough to melt the plastic when the tank is dry, that's bad news. I think other circuits share those breakers in the main panel so a 15 or 20 amp breaker is not protection.

Some of the ideas that Bluebird engineers came up with seem good on paper at first thought, but the failure modes can be catastrophic. A friend of mine had his (non -bluebird) RV completely destroyed by fire on the highway -- a total loss. The fire started while he was moving! The small town fire department didn't have enough to work with to determine the cause. It did have a gasoline engine -- uck.
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  #67  
Old 10-31-2013
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I don't winterize my 'bird anymore. Too much trouble and we don't have the winters here some of y'all do, besides, we rarely go more than and week or so without rolling somewhere. I have three small ceramic heaters, 2, I use in the bay and one for use upstairs (if needed). I usually run my toe heaters when the temps fall below freezing and stay there. Windshield wiper fluid (the non-toxic kind) in the sink and lavatory traps (its cheaper than the "pink stuff"). A 40 watt bulb in the street side utility compartment keeps it from freezing. Open the under the sink doors in the galley and the head, and if necessary, I run the primus.

If it really gets cold (can happen here) we simply move next door and camp out in the bird 'til it warms up.Click image for larger version

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BTW, the freeze tapes were removed several years ago.
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  #68  
Old 10-31-2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by technomage99 View Post
A
In my 89 36SP Bluebird really went "whole hog" with copper pipes with a zillion zip ties attaching the heat cables with fiberglass insulation over that with plastic sheet over that and another zillion zip ties.
Interesting data point. My '91 SP has gray plastic pipe for water plumbing. I haven't found any heat tape on the interior plumbing.

I did find the heater mat under the FW tank, disconnected it at its junction box on the kitchen wall. The waste tank heaters are supposed to be fed from a junction box on the wall of one of the waste tank bays, I forget which one . Most owners disconnect them there and convert the junction box to an outlet.

I'm currently in PEX mid-conversion, replacing all FW plumbing with PEX pipe (the water bay is all PEX now, just the bath and kitchen runs left to do). PEX, it has been said here, can stretch a little to accomodate freezing without bursting. I don't plan to let it freeze--light bulbs in basement areas, and the rear Primus heats under the bed and the convector there blows out to the walk-thru bath, but the propane tank is only good for a week of Primus heat, so I think an Extend-a-Stay connector and extra propane tank is in order if I ever encounter an extended cold spell.

Anyway replacing with PEX under bed and in plumbing spaces is a good opportunity to search out and remove the heat tapes. I'll be glad when that task is all scoped out and completed. I hate that fire risk!

Speking of fire risk, I also have a Dometic recall on my refrigerator, another fire hazard! See: http://www.dometic.com/enus/Americas...l-Information/

Planning to get that taken care of soon, need to schedule with a local shop as Dometic will send the replacement parts only to authorized repair shop.

Good luck, get 'er done.
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  #69  
Old 10-31-2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jyclegg View Post

The big "freeze heaters" in the kitchen and the rear water tank are pretty ineffective. They waste alot of heat, heating the area, and not the pipes.

The original heat tape has termostats at the connection end, which may or may not indicate the temp at the tape locations.

I have had troubles with the original tape not doing its job at about 10F. I have lost the valves in the shower, and had blocked lines behind the head.

I have installed low wattage, self regulating, metal braided heat tape from McMaster-Carr. What I like about this material is that any location along the tape is not suppose to exceed 120F, the power draw is low, and I ground the metal braid, to provide a path to ground if the wire should get damaged. This path to ground should blow the breaker.

I don't worry about getting the heat tape in the insulated bundle, like BB did. If I can get the heat tape near the pipes, tie wrapped here and there, it seems to work quite well. It was very tricky to install behind the tub, but most places it isn't to bad. I do avoid allowing it to touch other wiring.

Pray for Snow!

How do you know when your heat tapes not working right and shorting out and catching fire when you smell smoke ?

I read one post about testing the continuity, Or are you still living on borrowed time ? Is it the age of the wire or the use that makes it a risk or was it just a design flaw ?

Is the McMaster-Carr cable safe or safer ? I guess your heating the chase that the plumbing runs in, where you don't get the cable tight ? How low(outside)can you operate with this set up ?

Has anyone switched out or retrofitted there tank heaters with some other mats like ultra heat ?

There is another,thread about the freeze heaters the electric baseboard types one under the kitchen sink one under the the bed(queen size center). Does it make sense to swap these out to ceramic or is any heater going to be a fire hazard ?

What do you do for you black and gray in below freezing weather or should that be another thread ?
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Last edited by Steelwheels; 10-31-2013 at 10:22 PM. Reason: Punctuation
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  #70  
Old 10-31-2013
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All I've done so far with my heat tapes is kill the breakers but I'll be looking for more plugs next time I'm at the Bird - the tape is just too old to trust..it's not that the heat tape is bad, it's that it's at or past the end of it's design life and when it does go bad, it will be REAL BAD! So don't risk it

As far as black / grey, I'm assuming you mean not in storage (just empty them and throw in some pink stuff when storing). When in use, I've always added a healthy dose of rock salt initially and washed it down so it didn't sit in the pipes. The salt, in combination with the other "stuff" in the tanks lowers the freeze point (an interesting note, urine and salt water both have about the same freeze point which is around -20 Celsius or -4 Fahrenheit). So, theoretically, if you drink enough beer you'll never have to worry about your black tank
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