UPDATE: RVsWithoutBorders is no longer donating RVs in response to the Northern California Firestorms. This has not been updated since Christmas. 95% of this information is useful but municipality info will change over time.
This is a living, changing document and we will update frequently. You are invited to offer your suggestions to improve this resource for other people.
RV living has its special challenges and privileges of use and ownership. It will not be as comfortable as a house, but it is a flexible housing unit that can be taken nearly anywhere, and moved out of a flood zone if required, which is typical of zoning for campgrounds. (Hint to zoning planners on emergency ordinances!)
By using an RV, you will cap your housing expenses and if cared for well, you will have a good usable asset to sell or enjoy after your home is built. You will come to appreciate the energy and water required to run a home and how the basic systems work. Your appreciation of home ownership and your skills will be positively influenced by this RV living experience.
Valterra produced a short publication that we found very helpful. It has tips on common mistakes to avoid that result in costly repairs. You can find a summary below of the most important tips to help make this experience better for you.
Basic Things to Plan For
- Your RV roof will leak. If not now, in the future. Expect it! This happens to even the BEST rigs, so DO NOT get your panties in a bunch when it happens! Be prepared to deal with it. When the rains hit, look at the windows, walls and ceiling. Depending on which side faces the weather front and any tilt the RV may have can result in leaks in different places.
- Put gravel down around your parking pad or put your RV on or next to a cement pad. When it’s super wet outside, you will be grateful you did this. One could use wooden pallets as a partial solution, but the area around the RV could get mucky and yucky. Some people like using a bin to keep shoes outside.
- DO NOT connect water directly into the RV, especially well water, without a pressure connect fitting. You could blow connections in the RV and drive yourself nuts fixing it. It is also important to TURN OFF YOUR WATER PUMP before connecting to outside water.
- Heat loss in the winter is fairly significant. You can plan for this by putting insulation on windows, putting a skirt around the bottom of the RV and using a dehumidifier to cut down on excess interior moisture, which is common.
- Heat gain in the summer can be fairly significant. Most RVers don’t do this, but a canopy over the top of the RV and the south side can provide a sun break. A good functioning A/C unit or a swamp cooler is mandatory for comfortable use.
- If the RV is loaned, the applicant won’t be permitted to drive it for insurance reasons. Plan on getting a propane Extend-a-Stay kit to add and remove propane tanks for refill as needed.
Checklist of Supplies Desired for RV
- Water pressure regulator (Mandatory on ALL exterior water hookups)
- Black tank washer wand
- 2 garden hoses (1 black water and 1 potable, marked)
- Vacuum cleaner
- Sewer Solution (Drains tanks over slopes and helps with cleaning)
- Set of keys for doors and storage compartments
- Gravel, pallets, fake grass or matts or other exterior means to keep dirt out of living space.
- Equipment to increase comfort: de-humidifer (winter)
- Equipment to increase comfort: shade structure (summer)
- Propane tank “extend-a-stay” and portable propane tanks (especially in winter)
Key Points for RV Maintenance
Below is summary of ideas given by Valterra.com in a publication called “Motor Homes Made Easy.” Using and maintaining an RV is a big responsibility, like a home, it has a variety of systems that are designed to increase your comfort.
While living in your RV you will have the opportunity to learn a little about how each system works, and as a result you will increase your mechanical skills and understanding. THE KNOWLEDGE WILL BE VALUABLE TO YOU IN OTHER SITUATIONS.
It is important for you to realize that cold weather operation and/or storage requires greater care to avoid expensive damage.
- NEVER EVER, EVER use an external water source connected to the RV without a water pressure regulator.
- Turn off the water pump before pressurizing water system with external water source.
- Use 2 hoses and mark one for potable water use ONLY. When hoses are not in use coil ends and screw together.
- Always taste the water from an unfamiliar source before filling tanks with it. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in the tank.
- Using water filters and cleaning tanks regularly are recommended.
- Do not ever turn a water heater on when the tank is empty, because it could explode.
- Hot water is generally produced quickly, so you don’t need to keep it on all the time.
- If at any time propane is detected inside the coach, other than lighting the stove, exit the vehicle, ventilate the interior and turn off the propane until the source of the leak is detected.
- Cold weather operations require a great deal of propane for heating. Otherwise, you will have very little need for propane if the fridge can run on 120v electricity.
- Unless you use the oven alot, do not turn on the pilot light. This wastes propane.
- Do not leave black water connection open, if hooked up to sewer. Wait until at least half full before opening valve so that solids and paper products can be more easily flushed from tank.
- Do not put water treatment products in holding tanks you would not want in septic that could destroy bio-degrading ability
- Always empty black water first, then open grey valve, wait a moment, then close black valve and allow grey water to flush out the hose.
- Minimize paper products flushed in toilet, use septic friendly paper and NEVER put feminine hygiene products in it.
- Run RV engine and generator once a month.
- If using a generator, let it warm up first before putting a big electrical load on it.
- Keep gasoline tank full in the winter to prevent condensation inside the tank
- Test for polarity before hooking up RV to any untested connection.
- The typical RV connection will be a 30 or 50 amp connection.
- When plugged into 15-20 amp power, do NOT use the A/C on shore power (use with generator only. If voltage is less than 110v at electric box with A/C running TURN A/C OFF! It will damage power lines and the A/C compressor motor.)
- Turn off generator FIRST, before connecting to shore power, otherwise you will damage the relay.
- Use the shortest cord possible or valuable voltage is lost. Carry 10 or 12 gauge extension cords in 25 foot segments. (The lower the number the better, never smaller than 14 gauge.) Longer than 50 foot connections should never use more than 20 amps.
- Power cables should never feel hot to the touch (If it is, you don’t have enough voltage and are at risk for a fire.)
- Keep extra fuses near electrical panel, if needed. Occasionally you will trip the breakers.
- Run only one heavy load at a time (ie only micro or A/C, not both.)
- Check batteries once a month. Add distilled water only. (Minerals in water can damage.)
- If a refrigerator panel is exposed to extreme mid-day temperatures, a fan inside the cabinet will help it run more efficiently.
- Check tire pressure and cover the tires, especially in the summer to avoid UV damage.
- Jack the unit off the ground, if possible.
- Leveling is absolutely required for property RV operation. If using leveling blocks, be sure that both rear dually tires are completely set on the blocks.
- Do not walk on it, ever unless you own it. (Improper walking on it can result in thousands of dollars in damage.)
- Never leave an awning open while not present. Sudden winds can rip an awning off the side of an RV resulting in thousands of dollars in damage. (Sometimes not covered by insurance.)
- Keeping the RV cool can be a challenge if no shade is available, putting a canopy over the RV that allows for a little airflow, and possibly block the sun on the south facing side will help keep the RV cooler and require less A/C usage.
Carpets and General Cleanliness
- Living in a tiny space, clutter and dirt become quickly apparent. On the exterior of the RV using a paved surface, gravel or pallets are needed to reduce the amount of dirt brought in. And never wear shoes inside the RV. Some people leave a rubber bit outside their entry door. Using a small vacuum cleaner every couple days helps keep the space fresh and clean.
- External water hoses will freeze, if left pressurized.
- Holding tanks can freeze, particularly in sub-zero weather.
- Dumping valves will freeze and become unusable until thawed.
- Internal plumbing is usually protected, if the interior is heated. If in doubt leave cabinet open.
- In very severe weather, drain the entire system, including water heater and toilet lines.
- Leave the water heater on and the furnace on at night.
Propane and Batteries
- Batteries charge slower and discharge quicker in cold weather. Furnace blowers require a great deal of battery energy and as a result dry camping is not recommended beyond 3 days at best.
- During the winter, it is typical for moisture to accumulate on windows and result in a bit of mold growth. This can be avoided by using a de-humidifier.
- If water pump comes on when not in use, or leaks are seen anywhere, fix it immediately to avoid expensive repairs later.
Winter Comfort Tips
Here are some ideas for keeping your RV home warmer this coming winter:
Where can I get RV services and supplies?
This list is provided because we understand as a survivor, that searching for information when you are exhausted is frustrating. We hope this helps you.
Just like any other provider we list, we have no relation to them at all and this isn’t an endorsement. We wish to help make your search for solutions easier. Please check Yelp Reviews and other tools to make your contracting decision. AND ALWAYS as for proof of Workman’s Comp before authorizing any changes to your property.
- County of Mendocino (coming soon)
- County of Napa (coming soon)
- County of Sonoma
- County of Ventura (coming soon)
~*~ Updated Nov. 30, 2017 ~*~
Together we can help each other with valuable advice that needs to be shared to protect our homes and our foundation to thrive.
This information is being re-purposed from our experience responding to the Valley Fire of 2015 and this is a living, changing document. This website resource is only a guide. Your local building and economic development department has the final word on what we can or can’t do.
Please thank them for allowing this RV policy because not every disaster area gets this privilege. SERIOUSLY!!! ~ Bring them as much love as the fire department. They are your NEXT RESPONDERS! They care about your well being and are working very hard to help people that were displaced by the fire storms on October 8th.
Disclaimer: Everything related to RVs Without Borders and Tips From Survivors is being done by Good Samaritans. By using this site or its content or our ideas in any way, you agree to now and forever waive and release any claims whatsoever against the organizers, volunteers, and RV owners involved with this initiative, arising from any cause or event, or any action or non-action, real or imagined.