A Plumber I Ain’t

A plumber I ain’t, but persistent I am.

We’re learning many new things since we bought the motorhome this spring. Among them is the inevitability of putting the thing away for the winter months. I searched around on youtube and found some videos that show how to go about draining the water from the tank and lines of the RV, and then pumping non-toxic antifreeze into all the lines. Then it can be put away without fearing any frost-caused ruptures and the resulting large repair bills.

I learned there are two devices that help the winterizing process; a hot water heater bypass, and a pump bypass. I purchased both on a trip to Marquette last week, and all that remained was to install them and follow the winterizing directions. How hard could it be?

Getting to the hot water heater proved to be the first challenge. There is an access door on the outside of the RV, but that only allows you to get at the drain plug, pressure relief valve, and some electronics. I looked under the kitchen sink and saw no obvious sliding panels that would allow access from inside. So I got the screw gun out, and started removing screws. Once I got going, the under-sink inside cabinet walls melted away revealing the plumbing project. One problem presented itself right away… a repair done to one of the hot water pipes needed to be redone in order to hook up the bypass. The RV is plumbed with plastic PEX, which I’ve never used and have no tools for.

A trip to the local hardware, and the rental of the PEX crimp tool allowed me to repair the old repair with a more sensible approach. Now I could install the bypass system which included two special valves and a short piece of hose. I will not say it was easy with my 6’2″ frame and correspondingly wide shoulders jammed under the sink, but I did get it together. I then installed the pump bypass that allows me to suck anti-freeze directly from the jug instead of pouring gallons of it into the water tank in the back of the RV.

When all was in place, I ran the first test by positioning a bottle of anti-freeze with the filler hose inside, adjusting the valve, and turning on the pump. Things rattled, the liquid drained out of the jug, but no red fluid came out of the kitchen tap. Where was it going? I went through this process a couple of times by trying different positions on the bypass valves, but still no success. When I walked outside, I determined the fluid was still going into the hot water heater and shooting out the drain plug. For some reason, no matter what I did with the bypass valves, the thing still wanted to fill the hot water tank, wasting gallons of anti-freeze.

At that point, I cleaned up my tools and put the project to bed for a while. I could see nothing I was doing wrong, but yet the bypass was not bypassing. I think it took me a day to come up with another way to attack the problem. There are two possible ways the valves could be connected, and possibly I’d put them the wrong way around. I had tossed out the instructions, but hadn’t emptied the trash yet. When I looked at the diagram, sure enough, I’d guessed wrong.

Armed with my tools and a bit of fresh enthusiasm, I re-entered the RV, and removed the top valve. Using my breath, I tested the flow possibilities of the two valve positions. Sure enough, they were on backwards. I think I almost started whistling as I got back to work. The advantage to having chosen the wrong path the first time means the right path is the only one left. We were as good as done.

Once both valves were on correctly, I only needed to re install the bypass tube. The bottom one went on fine. I was within about 180 degrees of having the top one installed, thereby finishing this project, when I heard something snap. Sometimes you hear things like that when tightening pipes, so I continued tightening. It soon became obvious that the snap was the little brass valve handle on the top valve, snapped clean off. Argh!

Laying inside the cabinet with the flashlight trained on the broken part, I found I could just get my Leatherman on the broken valve stub, and could turn it. Now all I had to do is figure out which was was closed, and I could continue with the winterizing. I could buy a replacement valve and fix it next spring. I wasted 2 more gallons of anti-freeze figuring this out, but eventually got it. Red liquid came out of all the taps, none went into the hot water heater, and the job was done. Now I understand why I’d put it off for so long.

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