How Does an RV Water System Work?

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Water is essential to life. It’s critical to maintaining a safe and healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, most RVs include a water system. And it can be an advantage to get acquainted with it. That’s why in this article, we’ll look at some of the basics: how does an RV water system work, what are its main components and how to ensure that it stays in a good condition.

RV Water System Components

How Does an RV Water System Work

RV water system setup can vary depending on the type of recreational vehicle you have. The more outfitted your RV is, the more complex your water system will be. So, below we’ve listed the most common RV water system components that you’ll encounter in motorhomes, campers, and trailers.

However, keep in mind that your system might not necessarily have each of these components. And there might be other components that we haven’t included in this list since we can’t mention every single component in just one article.

Fresh Water Tank

The purpose of a fresh water tank is to hold fresh, potable water that you can use for flushing the toilet, showering or drinking. And you can find a freshwater tank on any RV that has a functioning plumbing system.

Depending on the size of your RV, you can have a smaller or bigger fresh water tank. It can also depend on if you plan to be mostly staying at campsites and using the water there or boondocking.

It will store the fresh water for you and when you open a faucet, the water will come out. You can also hook it up to an outside source and get continuous water flow throughout your RV.

A freshwater tank usually requires a 12 volt DC pump. Its purpose is to pull water from the tank, pressurize your water lines and deliver the flow to various water outlets throughout your RV. They are wired to turn on whenever you open a water fixture in your RV. So, when you open a faucet, it automatically activates the pump and will continue pumping until you close the faucet.

We also recommend adding a water filter, so you could keep the debris out of your water pump. The pump, after all, is designed to pump water and not debris. Most filtration systems rely on carbon filtration but there are also plenty of other systems out there. They include deionization, reverse osmosis, and charcoal filtration.

One more thing that you should add to your RV’s water system if it doesn’t already have it, is a pressure regulator. It’s a device that you install on the incoming line from a city source. Sometimes, city water pressure can be too high for your RV’s plumbing system to handle. By installing a pressure regulator, you ensure that all the pipes will stay safe from too much pressure.

Grey Water Tank

Grey water tanks may not be found on all RVs but they are becoming increasingly popular due to the benefits they offer. It’s used for holding all the waste water that goes down the drain. This includes the water that comes from the sinks and showers but does not include the waste that goes down the toilet.

The waste water in this tank is relatively clean, though it can contain soap, dirt, and food particles. It’s not potable but it’s safer than the black water tank content.

Since grey water tanks don’t hold the same stinky content as black water tanks do, their chemical treatment doesn’t have to be as powerful. However, there are treatments that you can use when you find that your tank is beginning to stink.

Once your grey water tank has filled up, you should dump it. Though we recommend dumping the black water tank first and after it, dump the grey water tank. And although grey water is not as toxic as black water, it’s still better to dump it into a designated sewer system. Even though it’s legal to dump it on the ground in some states, we highly recommend avoiding this practice.

Black Water Tank

A black water tank is basically your toilet waste storage tank. It’s designed for holding raw sewage. This tank allows you to use your onboard facilities without having to hook up to a sewer connection.

There are a few things to know about your black water tank. Firstly, this tank’s contents are not potable under any conditions. Secondly, this tank requires the use of special RV toilet paper, which can quickly dissolve and not cause any clogging. And thirdly, your black water tank requires the use of deodorizes.

At the start of your camping trip, add a dose of black water tank treatment and about a gallon of water. It will keep the odors down and will help to break down the solid waste and toilet paper.

Some RVs have the black and grey water tanks combined in one unit, meaning that all the waste in the RV from the toilet and all the drains collects in one tank. However, combining these two tanks is usually not very practical since it requires a much larger tank size for holding the combined waste materials. Due to this, separate tanks are more common.

To prevent the spread of odor from your black water tank, it’s important to regularly dump it. In many RVs, you can find a sensor that tells how full each of the three tanks is, while on others you just kind of have to figure it out. But you should wait for the tanks to get full or nearly full before you dump them. And at the very least, you should empty the tanks after each camping trip.

After you’ve finished dumping the black water tank, you also want to thoroughly flush it. Some RVs come with a built-in flush system, which allows you to power wash your black water tank and ensure that it’s sparkling clean.

These three tanks are maintained through ports that you can find on the outside of your rig. For the fresh water holding tank port, look for the label “city water supply”. In most other cases, the port will have a fixture designed to fit a standard garden hose.

When connecting your freshwater tank to an outside water source, always use a food-grade hose and make sure that it’s only used for this tank and never for the other two.

Most holding tanks feature an overflow tube, so you will know when your tank is full of water. However, when you’re staying at a campsite and want to use a continuous supply of water, you can turn the valve off.

Final Thoughts

Most RV water systems feature these main components. Though, it’s not a complete list of components. And specific plumbing fittings can vary depending on the model and size of your rig. The additional list will include a hot water heater (we recommend choosing a tankless water heater, shower fixtures, kitchen faucet, and pump. However, many plumbing parts are the same that you’ll find in a regular household system. The main difference is that in an RV the pipes are usually made of PVC instead of metal. So, make sure that you get RV-specific plumbing parts when you need a replacement.

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