Barely awake in the morning, I hear water gushing from somewhere in my dream. Or is it real? As I gain a little more consciousness, I realize that I actually do hear real water somewhere. It must be outside, but what could it be? A waterfall? A hose? I finally pull myself far enough out of dreamland to understand that the sound of water is inside the trailer. The toilet!!! No!!! Not again!!!
Michael is already leaping out of bed, running to the bathroom, and crouching down to place his thumb over the hose at the back of the toilet to stop the flow of water. I’m still a zombie, stumbling out of bed with a thick layer of fog over my brain. I’m awake enough to know it’s a problem but not awake enough to know what to do.
Michael shouts, “turn off the water!” But, I’m in my nightgown!
After what feels like minutes going by while I stand there in a fog, I finally get my wits about me and throw on some shorts and run outside to shut off the water. Without my glasses on yet, I couldn’t see who was watching as I bounded around the trailer in my nightgown, hair sticking up and out in every direction, and thank goodness for that!
Back inside, we begin grabbing at towels to mop up the pool of water in the bathroom and the stream that had flowed across the floor all the way to the back of the trailer and into the carpet. Of course, there are a couple of heater vents in the floor on the way, one very close to the bathroom. The water had found it’s way down into the vents and into the underbelly of the trailer, where the insulation is ready and waiting to absorb it.
Faulty Toilet Plumbing
What a way to wake up! This was not the first time either. We were pulled from slumber once before by water gushing from the hose to the back of the toilet. In fact, the hose that delivers water to the back of the toilet had popped off numerous times before. At one point, we were so accustomed to the sound that we jumped to our feet and caught it in time before the stream flowed across the trailer. However, this time was as unexpected as the first time, because we thought we had fixed it months ago.
The problem started about a week after we picked up our trailer from Banning RV after a month’s worth of repairs while the trailer was still under warranty. We were getting ready to leave California and get back to our travels. Since we had already been held up by illness, the repairs, and jury duty (more on that story here), we were not going to let this problem stop us from getting on our way. We chose to solve it on our own.
We were suspicious about the fact that we never had this problem until after our trailer sat on the lot at Banning RV for a month. Could one of the repairs have caused an increase in tension on the hose to the back of the toilet?
Perhaps our water pressure regulator needed to be replaced. However, if that were the case, we would have noticed an increase in water pressure elsewhere in the trailer. Another bit of evidence that our water pressure regulator was not to blame was that our showers are always so much better on the pump than when we are hooked up to a water source with our hose and regulator. The pump provides more pressure than a direct water source with our regulator.
A closer look at the plumbing behind the toilet revealed that the hose may be a bit too short with too much tension. In addition, it was being held onto the toilet with only a metal clamp and not a screw cap like most other plumbing connections in the trailer. At first, we tried adding a hose clamp that could be screwed down to tighten it. This held for a little while, but it eventually slipped off again.
Sometimes the hose popped off under the pressure of the city water connection. Other times, it popped off under the pressure from the hot water heater, which is located just behind the toilet. For a time, I would cringe in fear after switching on the hot water heater, and any unexpected sound would make me jump.
We finally made a trip to Camping World and found our missing part, a screw cap with rubber gasket that connects the hose to the tube from the toilet. Why was this part missing from our trailer? We will never know. We could have taken our trailer into an Arctic Fox dealership and asked them to solve the problem and have it covered under the warranty, but it was so much easier to purchase this inexpensive part and fix it ourselves.
After installing the part, the problem seemed to be solved. We enjoyed water hookups at RV parks and hot water from our water heater for several months. The sudden morning flood after so many months came as a shock and a disappointment to say the least.
Drying Out the Underbelly
This may have been the sixth time that the hose to the toilet popped off, but it was only the third time that our trailer’s underbelly with all its insulation has been flooded. In a little over a year, our brand new Arctic Fox travel trailer has been flooded three times! First, the overflow tube from the fresh water tank had not been connected to the outside spout (at the factory, we assume), so when the check valve in the water pump failed and our water tank overflowed, it overflowed INTO the trailer!! (You can read more about that story here.) At that time, we were camping on the dry side of the Cascades in Oregon. We opened up the underbelly cover and let the air dry it out.
The second time was our first experience with this toilet problem. Luckily we were camping in the Arizona desert during the windy season. By the time we opened up the underbelly, it was already dry. I should mention that the RV manufacturers are aware that trailer plumbing sometimes fails, and even with the heated and enclosed underbellies, they drill holes in strategic areas of the underbelly cover to allow water to escape.
After the third flood, we were camping in the Colorado Rockies during the monsoon season, where there are thunderstorms with downpours nearly everyday. We hooked up and headed out to the Pawnee National Grassland, where the air is dry and warm during most of the day, and the insulation could dry out.
Airing out the underbelly insulation to ensure a dry trailer
This little mysterious plumbing problem led to the wet insulation problem, and fixing the wet insulation problem led to…yes, a rodent problem! Owning an RV, even a new RV, brings lots of new challenges. Wandering around from National Forest to National Park at a leisurely pace sounds romantic and carefree, but as I’m sure you have experienced, travel exposes you to the possibility of problems. Travel with an RV only compounds that possibility.
After finding a campsite up near Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse, we opened up the underbelly again to ensure complete dryness. Unfortunately, being parked next to the North Platte River, our insulation looked like a perfect, cozy home to some harvest mice. We began hearing scratching under the floor and found mouse scat (mouse poop) at the bottom of a couple of our cabinets, where holes in the floor for plumbing and electric allowed them to come up from the underbelly. Luckily the mice were not able to get out into the rest of the trailer as long as we left the cabinet doors closed.
We made a trip to the local Tractor Supply Company (TSC) and picked up a small capture and release trap. After closing up the underbelly, we set the trap at the bottom of the cabinets. Slowly but surely we caught a total of six harvest mice, using peanut butter and bacon as bait. After several days of no new scat, we felt confident that we had finished the job.
Back to Problem #1
Although we solved the secondary problems that resulted from the plumbing problem, we have yet to solve the mystery behind the toilet. Why is this plumbing connection so tenuous? Or is there some additional pressure back there that other connections in the trailer do not experience? We inspected the plumbing around the water heater. In my diagram below, there is a bypass for the water heater. When the bypass is open to allow water to the heater, could hot water flow back through the hose and heat the water to the toilet? The connection to the toilet does seem a bit close to the water heater, but we will not know if this is unusual unless we hire someone who has seen hundreds of these. It may just be time to hire a professional.
Now that our warranty has expired, it’s up to us to solve the mystery and correct the problem for good. We’ll be sure to update this post once we figure it out. At the least, we have learned to turn off the water to our trailer when we leave for the day. Luckily our trailer has never flooded when we were not at home to stop the flow and mop up the water, but we don’t ever want that to happen.