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Jerry Work
July 1, 2023
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Modernizing Your Bus Conversion’s Water System (Part 1 of 3)

Editor’s Note: Jerry refers to the term bus or bus conversion throughout this article, but this article applies to all types of RVs on the road today.  Part 1 will discuss the dangers lurking in your current water system and how you can ensure you have high-quality water hoses and fittings as well as a good filter system to remove any harmful stuff.

Whether we have a bus conversion, factory motorhome, class C, class B, van conversion, 5th wheel, travel trailer, or Skoolie, all of us tend to hook up to whatever hose bib is nearby to supply water to our bus.  That hose bib often is at a site in an RV park but might also be at someone’s residence, at a rest stop, a barnyard, or outside of a building somewhere.  Once our hose is connected to that hose bib, we turn on the water faucet and seldom think much about it as our tanks are filling.

But what do we know about the source or cleanliness of that water?  And, how about what might be growing inside the hose we use, the inside of the water lines in our bus, or even inside our “fresh” water tank?  If your RV or bus is ten or more years old - mine is about 25 years old - what might be growing in there for all these years and what kinds of hard water buildup might be present in the tanks, fittings, and faucets?  

Yup, we have been putting unknown water through everything, including ourselves, for a long time. Short of replacing all fresh water tanks, our water heater, all faucets, and our water lines and fittings, what can we do? Now it is time to fix this situation by modernizing our water system from top to bottom.

In this series of articles, I will show you how you can rectify this situation by 1.) properly sanitizing everything in the water system, 2.) adding micro-filtration to remove everything out of the incoming water down to 0.2 microns or smaller in size, and then 3.) softening the water with ion-exchange resin-based water softener before the water ever goes into your coach (or you) in the first place.  It is not that hard, not that inconvenient, and not that expensive compared to the expense of “fixing” you or your family if they react badly to what they are exposed to in your bus now, or what may enter your system in the future from the many sources you obtain drinking water over the next few years.

First a note about water filtering. Water filters come in a bewildering array of types and sizes, but they basically boil down to three factors - how small a particle they can trap, the percentage of particles that small they can trap, and how much water can flow through the filter at a given volume and water pressure.  

The best conventional water filters can filter out nearly 100% of particles as small as 0.1 to 0.2 microns.  These can catch most viruses, bacteria, and cysts while allowing helpful minerals to pass on to your body.  Only a few will filter to that level while still providing a flow rate that is required for servicing your whole bus.  Fortunately, there now are at least two commercially available alternatives that feature both advanced filtering and good water flow.    

Editor’s Note: As a point of reference, human hair is approximately 70 microns, give or take 20 microns depending on the thickness of a given individual’s hair.  So, these filters, catch some pretty small stuff.

In this article, I will show one filter that seems optimized for small size for ease of storage and is lightweight, and another one that seems optimized for higher flow rates and claimed superior filtration which is larger in size and weight.

The smaller one is constructed of stainless steel and the larger one is constructed of powder-coated steel and plastic.  The stainless steel one is a bit more expensive than the other, but the difference is not all that great.  Both work really well and both fulfill the objective of modernizing the water system in your bus, so the choice will be up to you.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) is a technology that forces water under elevated pressure through really small openings in what is called a membrane.  These take out nearly everything in the water including helpful minerals the body needs.  To do so they consume more water than they deliver since not all of the incoming water can get through those really small openings in the membrane.  The wastewater goes down the drain or can be captured for non-drinking water use.

The better-quality units will deliver about one gallon of good water for every three to seven gallons of incoming water so they can be less than ideal in areas where water is somewhat scarce or for a bus, which carries only limited water for domestic use.  And, except for quite expensive whole-house systems not suited for bus use, they tend to offer limited flow rates so often are marketed just to supply drinking water at one sink.  While I find the RO technology interesting, I find micro-filtration far better for modernizing the water system supplying the whole bus - drinking, making coffee or tea, brushing teeth, washing dishes and clothes, showering, etc.

Editor’s Note: Some bus conversions have onboard RO systems.  The water that makes it through the system is used for drinking water and cooking while the water that bypasses the system gets used in the shower and the toilet.  Also, when I travel in Mexico, most water trucked into campgrounds that do not have their own water supply is RO water.

Here are the relative sizes of a few of the different things you want to be removed from your water before it enters your bus or you.  

Sand:  Pollen:  Dust:  Respiratory Droplets:  Bacterium:  Coronavirus:  Bacteriophage: 90 microns 15 microns 10 microns 5-10 microns 1-5 microns 0.1 to 0.5 microns 0.2 microns

The two alternatives we will discuss will catch almost all these according to the manufacturers’ specifications and claims.  The larger of the two alternatives featured here, Clearsource, claims that in addition to filtering out small particles their technology actually attracts really small particles like a magnet so they can capture even smaller particles than filtration alone can achieve.  The smaller one, BluTec, claims something similar for their raw water final filter.  

I have no way of doing detailed or scientific testing on my own, so these alternatives are based on the manufacturers’ statements.  If you have concerns, do your own research on the validity of these statements.

Now let’s discuss the steps you need to take to modernize your bus water system.

The first thing you want to do is to carefully clean and sanitize every part of your existing bus water system.  Start by buying a new water hose that you will use to bring water from the hose bib into your system.  I will show you how to somewhat clean your existing hose in the next article so you can reuse it if you really want to, but you are far better off relegating your existing hose to garden use and buying a new hose to replace it.

Hose quality is all over the place, some good, some not so much.  I am partial to stainless steel braided hoses like what is used under the sinks in your residence.  We will see more of that style hose a bit later.  It is somewhat difficult to find 15 to 25-foot lengths of braided stainless-steel hose with quality hose fittings on the ends, but they are available from BluTec, MobileMustHave, and to a lesser extent, Amazon.  They do tend to have a smaller ID so usually will flow less water than the larger garden hose styles.  Clearsource offers high-quality drinking water-safe hoses of conventional construction in garden hose sizes.  

Conventional hose shown is from Clearsource while the SS braided hose is from BluTec.

The corrugated stainless-steel hoses look nice and offer some level of wear protection but the rolled corrugations can separate if the hose is crushed or over-stretched.  I find the soft hoses that expand to full length when under pressure and contract when the pressure is released to be short-lived and seldom rated for drinking water use.  You definitely want a hose rated specifically for drinking water use and one that can stand constant water pressures up to at least 60 PSI.  Traditional garden hoses are not typically rated for drinking water use and often impart a bad taste to the water.

Pay special attention to the hose fittings and how they are attached to the hose.  Ideally, you want stainless steel (hard to find), but brass is okay so long as it is lead-free.  Aluminum fittings are not a good idea as they may bind to the metal on the hose bib or to a dissimilar metal on other hose fittings, especially if the water is quite hard.  Cast fittings are far better than most stamped sheet metal fittings.

The ID (inside diameter) size of the hose you select is less of a factor than you might think.  The plumbing inside your bus is likely 3/8” so a hose larger than that is not necessary except for very long runs (50 feet or more) between the hose bib and your bus.  Longer runs create more internal resistance to water flow.  

Editor’s Note: The one advantage to a larger diameter hose is that your tank will fill in less time.  This is helpful if you tend to fill your ank to capacity, and then and draw water from your tank rather than a campground faucet as many of us do, as we spend most of our time boondocking.  It is also helpful when you are in a line of RVs to take on water as it may make the people waiting behind you happier campers.  For example, a 1/2” hose will deliver about nine gallons per minute while a 5/8” hose will deliver about seventeen gallons per minute, thereby cutting the time to fill your tank in half, all things being equal.

For the purpose of modernizing your bus fresh water system, I really like quality stainless steel quick disconnect fittings like those supplied with the BluTec system.  They are quite expensive but worth it to me.  The good ones will have eight balls to lock the two halves of the fitting together.  The lesser ones will only have three balls and those are far more prone to leaking.  

Editor’s Note: Quick disconnect fittings from big box stores, while convenient, will also reduce the flow rate, so again, there is a tradeoff.  The higher quality quick disconnects, don’t restrict the flow as much.

Watch out for the so-called “brass” quick disconnect fittings found at most hardware and big box stores.  Unless they say they are lead-free and feature six or more locking balls they may not be suitable for drinking water use, and they may discolor, corrode, or leak in use.  Don’t scrimp on quality here!

Stainless steel Quick Disconnect Fittings.

Since you normally will not know what the water pressure is at the hose bib you are about to hook up to, buying a new, good-quality water pressure controller is a good idea.  Again, I really prefer stainless steel over most brass units unless the brass unit is stated specifically for drinking water use.  Many are nickel plated to look like stainless steel and those usually are safe for drinking water use.  The gauge should be dampened (partially filled with oil) and an easily accessed screw should be readily available to set the maximum pressure you want coming into your bus.  Usually, you want that to be about 50 PSI.

Editor’s Note: There are water pressure regulators that have a normal flow rate and there are the ones that tout a high flow rate. I prefer to use the high-flow rate ones. 

Whew!  That is a lot of words just to describe how to get water from the hose bib to your bus, but I cannot overstress how important it is to keep this segment of your new, modern water system clean and sanitary.  As we will see in a little bit, this hose is going to connect from the parks hose bib to the inlet on your multi-stage filter system so, if you keep this part sanitary and clean, the filters will have less work to do and will last longer.

For a tutorial on how to sanitize your fresh water system where water has probably been passing through for several years and building up the bad stuff, read the next article. 

Editor’s Note: In the next installment of this series, Jerry will recommend a couple of 3-stage filtrations systems that may help keep your family and your bus healthy.

Article written by Jerry Work

Jerry Work spent his professional career in technology management, first as the founder and CEO of two moderate-sized computer software companies and then as the Associate Laboratory Director for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), one of the DOE multi-program laboratories. At PNNL, in addition to overall Laboratory management, he oversaw the laboratory’s work in the energy, transportation, medical and information technologies.

After retirement, he and his wife Sharon purchased a Beaver Patriot motorhome and began a cold turkey four years of full-timing which they enjoyed greatly. They then purchased a 1907 former Masonic Temple in rural Southern Oregon, restored the building and remodeled it into his studio and gallery on the first floor and living quarters on the second floor. There he designs and handcrafts fine furniture. He is well known for his many articles and tutorials about how to get the most from Festool and other-high end woodworking products.

They purchased the first of what became two fully restored GMC motorhomes, those iconic and swoopy front-wheel drive units from the 1970’s. They found the second of their two GMC’s in an air-conditioned building in Naples, FL, with just 11,000 miles on the clock following a ground-up restoration in 1984. Both of those motorhomes found their way from Mexico to Alaska and from the West to the East coast. He wrote extensively about his experiences with GMC’s and gave many a presentation at GMC club events over the years.

A few years ago they decided to go back out on the road again for longer periods of time than they could support in the GMC motorhomes so purchased a low mileage 1997 40 foot Country Coach Prevost bus conversion which is now home for more than six months out of the year. Visitors always welcome no matter where in their travels is their motto.

You can reach Jerry Work by email at:
GLwork@mac.com

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