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Bomb Scare!

by Bob (Ram) Muessig

    Most of us who own and operate some type of RV also have batteries installed in those units.  Water heaters, too.  Real convenient, if you like lights to read by at night and hot showers in the morning.  Unfortunately, these simple, and often taken-for-granted amenities can become extremely dangerous if not looked after and properly cared for.  How, you ask?   Read on.

     Our first subject is:  Batteries.  Not the type used in lanterns or flashlights, but big ones like those found in cars, trucks, electric golf carts, and...yes...RVs.   These batteries are not of the "dry cell" genre, but contain sulphuric acid (H2SO4), a highly corrosive liquid.  This kind of battery does not make electricity, but stores it, hence the name "storage battery".  Exactly how they work is not nearly as important as the fact that they do work, supplying us with ower to operate our lights, water pumps, furnaces, fans, and other 12 volt small appliances.  They won't operate your air conditioners or your microwave ovens, or any other 120 VAC apliances, unless you have an "inverter", but that's another story altogether.

     Simply put, storage batteries are there to supply 12 volt electric power, and they are hooked up in a similar fashion as car batteries, in that there is a battery charger connected into the circuit.  When you're in an RV park and hooked up to shore power, this charger acts just like the voltage regulator in your car, keeping your batteries charged until they are needed.  If you go "boondocking" and have no external power supply, your batteries take over the job of supplying power until they become discharged.  Deep-cycle batteries, the kind recommended for use in RVs, are designed to be discharged almost completely, then be recharged, over and over again.  You don't even have to worry about charging your batteries, for this process is done automatically by your RV's electrical system when you run your generator, are plugged into a park power supply, or connected to solar panels for power.  In fact, folks who "snowbird" in the sunny southwest are really missing out on a cheap source of power if they don't have solar panels.  Once the installation is done, the operation expense are virtually NIL.  regardless of what type of recharging system you have, once your batteries are fully charge, they can then go back to their job of supplying power for you when you need it.  Nice, huh?

     The danger arises during the charging cycle, at which time some of the hydro-
gen in the acid is released.  If your batteries are kept in a space which is not well ventilated, this gas may accumulate.  Hydrogen, combined with the oxygen in our atmosphere, can be highly explosive, and all it takes to ignite it is one tiny little spark.  BOOM!  End of vacation.   but before you run out and paint HINDENBURG on the sides of your RV, why not minimize the risk of such an explosion ever taking place?  make sure your batteries are in a ventilated container specially designed to hold them securely.   Then, attend them often.  Even better, consider purchasing "maintenance-free" batteries.

     Maintenance-free batteries are somewhat more expensive than other types, but their cost can be justified by the facts that:  A) you don't have to fool around with them very much, other than keeping them clean, and B) they will last about 30% longer than conventional storage batteries.   Now, if you're like me, lazy and cheap, then maintenance-free batteries make a lot of sense.  'Nuff said?

     Oh...did I mention water heaters earlier?  Did I say that they could be dangerous?  Could be.  Let's say that you only use your RV for about 3 weeks or so each year.  You live in a warm climate, so you don't worry about freezing.  You don't drain your fresh water holding tank or your water heater.  Why bother?  What is water, anyway?  H2O, right?  This means that water is comprised of 2 parts of hydrogen and 1 part of oxygen.  Hmmm...where have I heard those names before?

     If allowed to stand for extended periods of time, as the water evaporates hydrogen will precipitate out of it and cause a build-up in whatever storage tank it's in, or in your water heater.  If your water heater is not full (due to evaporation), and hydrogen gas has accumulated inside it, you may be in for trouble.  That electric heating element MUST be covered with water when you turn it on, or it could burn out.  When this happens, it could spark.   Hydrogen...oxygen...spark?  Does that sound familiar?  I sure hope so, because this could end your vacation trip even before it starts.  This may be highly unlikely, but why take chances?  Inspect your safety valve on the water heater and make sure it's operating properly.  Flush the water heater periodically, as well.

     The whole point is:  FLUSH your water system and FILL both your fresh water holding tank and your water heater before you turn it on.  You'll protect the heating element that way and probably save yourself a lot of grief in the process.  Use a checklist so that you don't forget the correct procedures.

     Now, I never intended to give you a case of the heebie-jeebies.  I just want to see you out there enjoying your RV and your travels.  You don't need a "BOMB SCARE" to boost your adrenalin flow.   There're enough things out there that can do that without adding to the list.   A few simple precautionary procedures will help eliminate or minimize the dangers.

     So...have a safe trip, enjoy your vacation, and I'll see ya down the road.

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