Here's a brief guide to the services needed to
make life comfortable in your motorhome just to get you started. For more information see the individual topics under Vehicles &
Also known as LPG and
stored on-board in special replaceable steel bottles or cylinders which
must be used in an upright position. A few motorhomes have permanent gas
tanks which are topped up at refilling stations like LPG cars. There are
Gaslow Refillable bottles that can be topped up in the same way. Gas is
needed for cooking and heating when not 'hooked-up' to mains electricity
and will also run a 'three-way' fridge in similar circumstances. It cannot
legally be used on the move in the UK nor in tunnels or on ferries where
it must be turned off at the bottle. Permanent tanks are not allowed in
some tunnels - the Channel Tunnel for example.
The gas supply is controlled by a regulator fitted
to the motorcaravan or to the top of the gas cylinder.
The regulator must
suit both the installed appliances and the type of gas used. There are two
gas types commonly available, Butane and Propane, often colour coded blue
and orange/red. Each cylinder type has a different fitting so they cannot
be accidentally connected to the wrong regulator. Butane contains more
energy per bottle than Propane but will not deliver gas at low
temperatures whereas Propane will work happily in freezing conditions.
Occasional advice to change from one to the other for Summer & Winter use
is complicated by the need to change regulators and fittings, so many
motorcaravanners use Propane all year round.
Many newer vehicles are fitted to a new standard
30mbar remote regulator
where a single universal regulator is fixed to the vehicle and the bottles
are connected to that by high pressure hoses often called 'pigtails'. Potentially this will be more useful
in Europe since only pigtail or adapter changes will be needed when changing bottles.
Also it will be easier to change from Propane to Butane if desired.
It almost goes without
saying that a reliable source of clean and drinkable water is needed.
Modern motorhomes nearly all come with on-board water tanks taking 15 to
30 gallons or more. This could last a day or a week depending on how many
of you are sharing it and on your lifestyle. In practice we two refill our
25 gallon tank about every two to three days or top-up whenever
convenient. Make sure you refill from mains water and not a tank based
The water is delivered to taps, showers etc via an
electric pump running from the motorhome battery. In regular use
this is a perfectly satisfactory supply of water for all purposes
including drinking. In less regular use some motorcaravanners suffer from
stale tasting or tainted water and prefer to carry a small separate supply
of drinking water. Either way you have to go to some trouble, either
keeping the tank 'sweet' or by using separate supplies. We prefer the sweet
tank route and also use an in-line water filter on the kitchen cold tap, this works
in a similar way to a jug filter but is more convenient.
Hot water is provided by gas heating sometimes
with a mains electricity option too. Usually just a couple of gallons is heated at a
time but this is enough for most purposes and another couple of gallons
for a second shower heats up very quickly. The latest motorhomes have
electronic ignition, thermostatic control and automatic safety shut down -
all the convenience you'd expect at home in fact. Earlier models will be
more hands-on but will still have the necessary safety features.
Waste There are three things to consider
here, used water, toilet waste and household waste. The household waste is
the easiest, simply dispose of it in waste bins in plastic bags but do it more
frequently than at home to prevent any build up of odour in your small
living space. We find supermarket shopping bags ideal for this. By the way
the fabric spray called Febreze works wonders at getting rid of cooking
smells etc from motorhome fabrics - especially camping out of season when a good
airing is less likely.
Used water is also known as 'grey water' or 'grey
waste' and causes motorcaravanners some minor hassle. Many motorhomes are
now fitted with on-board waste tanks which have outlet taps or dump valves
hassle comes in because there are few places in the UK that cater for
motorcaravans, so most dump points assume you will walk there with a small
portable device and tip its contents down a drain. So in practice, you'll
need to carry some hose to extend your reach for grey waste dumping.
Fortunately some sites have given the matter proper thought and will
provide better facilities where it is easy to drive to the emptying point
on firm ground and dump the waste water straight into a gulley. On some
farm sites you'll be asked to let the water go on the field or near the
hedge. Emptying into road drains is also a possibility but strictly
speaking is illegal in most places (as is rinsing off the suds from your
freshly washed car into one!!). In practice you shouldn't do this in rural
locations because there the water is likely to go straight into a brook or
stream where it can do a lot of harm, city drains on the other hand are
far more likely to be connected to a full drainage system that can cope
with a few extra suds - the trouble is there's no way of telling!
Black or toilet waste is contained in the toilet
cassette complete with a special camping toilet fluid. The modern fluids
(Green Aquachem for example) are environmentally friendly being mostly
odour suppressants that break down in the environment rather than
polluting it. Cassette emptying on site is at the 'CDP' or Chemical-toilet
Disposal Point which can be anything from a white ceramic toilet-like
device to a hole in the ground with a cover! Water points are
usually provided for rinsing and I shouldn't need to point it out but ...
never use these for water tank filling nor ever use the drinking water
taps for toilet rinsing!! If not on a camp site public toilets can
be used as long as the green versions of the fluids are used.
In contrast in much of Western Europe there are
numerous motorhome service points (pictured) offering fresh water, grey
and black waste disposal and even short term mains electricity for
charging for just a few euros.
Electricity This comes in two
flavours in motorhomes, 12 volt and 230 volt, i.e. vehicle and mains
electricity. The vehicle electrics have the advantage of being fully
portable and available all the time but low powered while mains
electricity can offer far more power, enough for space heating and cooling for example, but
only when you are on a camp site 'hooked-up' as it's known.
12 volt electricity is provided nowadays from an
extra leisure battery housed in the caravan part of the vehicle. This is
connected in a special way to link it to the vehicle battery for
charging when the engine is running but to separate it from the vehicle
battery when static. This prevents you from flattening the vehicle battery
so that you can always start the motorhome! The 12 volt system will
happily provide lighting and operate the water pump but doesn't have
enough reserve to provide heating. It can also power the 3-way fridge but
only while on the move and being boosted by the vehicle charging.
Mains electricity is the preferred choice if you
need more power than a 12 volt battery can provide.
gas will provide heat for cooking and for comfort it won't power a
microwave and you might well consume several bottle-fulls in the depths of
winter or even in very hot conditions when the fridge is running flat out!
Air conditioning is also best on mains electricity. A fully equipped
motorcaravan will already have all the necessary fittings so all that you
need to do is to tell the camp site that you want electricity and to
connect the mains post to the 'van using the special outdoor cables and
connectors sold in every caravan accessory store. You can then use mains
appliances as you would at home - up to the maximum allowed by the site,
typically 2 to 3 kilowatts of appliance in total.
Cooking Almost always based on
gas but may be supplemented by a microwave and possibly a small portable
electric oven, both of which require a hook-up as above. English
motorhomes often have a hob plus grill and oven installed but European
'vans frequently have just a gas hob. Auto-ignition is sometimes but not
always available and many of us use a 'gas-match' or similar to light the
gas. Auto shut-off if a flame failure occurs is always fitted. Outdoor cooking on barbeques is of
course popular in summer.
Heating The heating system is
usually gas based and may be a gas fire or blown hot air heating or both.
Blown air heating uses 12 volt electricity just for the fan to circulate
air and is very effective in warming an interior quite quickly, it can
also be routed where a boost is desired; like into the washroom, cab area,
under a bed, etc. Portable gas heaters should never be used because of the suffocation risk
- the installed units have carefully designed external flues to protect
you in all normal circumstances. A few motorhomes have a full hot water
based heating system run on
diesel fuel with fans to distribute hot air. Portable electric fan heaters can be
used when on hook-up, the modern thermostatic versions with safety cut-outs
are essential for safety in such a small space. Ours also has a
'frost-stat' and so has a double use as a frost protector in winter.
We also went to some trouble to find a quiet one so that it can be left on
all night in extreme weather.