Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Don't Lose Your Water Heater Door

If you have a Roadtrek - or any RV - with a Suburban (or with some other RVs Atwood) hot water heater on the outside wall of the van (behind where your water heater tank is located) there is a panel door with vents to access your hot water heater to empty the tank and/or change the anode rod (if you have a Suburban as many Roadtreks do). From what some of our readers have told me and what I have seen on many forums, these doors can come off and get lost. When they do you are left with the not inexpensive task of replacing it and then painting it to match the exterior color of the RV.

I recently read a comment from someone who said losing this door is an "RV right of passage". What baloney! Don't lose it and this is how to prevent that - and for less than four dollars.

Now, I cannot take credit for this idea. I read about this idea in a magazine on motorhomes, but I have modified the idea. Here we go.

First it is important to understand - if you don't have an RV yet - how this door "locks" in place. At top of the door in the center there is a vertical slot. From behind that slot a plastic ring on a flexible strap comes through the slot and then is turned horizontally and then pushed down so that it lies flat against the door. IF this remains this way the door will not come off. Why would it not lie flat? If the strap starts to lose its elasticity, if someone maliciously comes along and turns the ring vertically, or if vibrations cause the ring to lift and turn - all reasons why the door may fall off - and I am sure there are many others.

The simplest solution would be to put a hasp lock through the ring and lock it but then you will have "BANG, BANG" as you drive down the road with the lock hitting the side of the door with every bump. Not really a good idea.

What the magazine suggested was to take a screw and nut and put it through the ring, preventing the ring from coming through the slot without removing the nut and screw. Nice idea, but I could see the screw also bouncing around if it was loose in the ring and also scratching the paint on the door. So I modified this idea for my Roadtrek by using a nylon screw and nut. You need to buy two things - both found in Lowes - not on the wall with screws and nuts but in the specialty parts drawers in the same aisle of the store.

You can see the parts number, sizes and descriptions on the packages above. You want a 1/4-20 X 1/2 nylon screw. With that you want matching 1/4-20 nylon nuts. You get two screws in a package and 4 nuts in a package. Each package costs less than $2.00. Total cost for the whole project is less than $4.00. The 1/4 is the thickness of the screw. The 20 is the thread on the screw. The 1/2 is the length of the screw.

I tried a longer screw and I also tried a matching wing nut to the screw shown above. The longer than 1/2 inch screw was too long and the ring would not sit against the door when it was in place. The wing nut was much too big - none smaller were to be had - and that prevented the ring from sitting flat against the door. With anything through the ring, the ring will not sit exactly flat but with the right combination shown here, you can get the ring as flat as possible with little chance that it will stick out too far from the side of the van and become a problem.

 Here is what you do - oh, so simple!  Turn the ring vertically. Put the screw through the ring. The head of this screw is bigger than the opening in the ring so it will not pull through and stop flush. Put the nut on the end of the screw and tighten it on - no screw driver - use your hand and for the last turn gently use a coin. Do not screw it so tight that it will break the ring. That would be a very expensive mistake. Just tighten the nut until it meets the ring and it will not come off. Turn the ring horizontally as much as it goes - you will see this in the photo below, and let it stay on an angle. Done!

To remove this to open the door, just unscrew the nut and remove the screw. If the nut seems tight, use a coin in the slot of the screw to turn the screw to open it as you hold the nut with your fingers. It should be no effort to unscrew the nut - but after some time after putting it on, it does seem to tighten more on the screw - though not on the ring.

Yes, there is still the possibility of someone stealing the door. If they really want it there is not much you can do to stop that as the ring could just be broken even with a lock through it. But with this, you will cut down the possibility of losing this door by - how much? 90%? More? Better than nothing is always good! And the nylon will not scratch the paint.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Finally - Keeping the Drawer CLOSED! Closed!

If you are a regular reader you know that we have had a big problem keeping the one drawer that we have in the 190 closed. There is one, small, plastic catch at the bottom corner of one side of the drawer face and the inside of the drawer space and this is supposed to keep the drawer closed - but since we have had the Roadtrek - that's four years now - that drawer flies open at the most inopportune times. At the beginning we brought it back to the dealer and they said they "tightened the catch" - since both sides of the catch are plastic I am not sure how they did that but it did nothing. it is very exciting when driving on a high speed interstate and you go around a turn and hear "CRASH BANG" behind you inside. Of course, I can look so Meryl turns around from the passenger seat and says "Drawers open again." and we keep on driving because there is no place to stop to do anything about it. And then as you drive, the slightest bump now jumps whatever is in the drawer and that makes a loud crash. Then with a turn in the other direction the drawer goes back across the aisle to the drawer opening, but that is not enough to close it, so with the slightest turn it comes sliding back across with another "crash"! As I say, very exciting.

We have been looking for four years for a way to keep this drawer closed. Several things have been suggested - none have worked. The suction cups on the counter top with a string around the draer pull worked for awhile but then didn't. The suggestion to install a hasp on the drawer front did not work and resulted in four screw holes that will never go away - even if filled they will be obvious (covering them with a charm or sticker may be the solution for that). The reason the hasp did not work as the cabinet front next to the drawer is - surprise to us - hinged in place so that when the hasp was closed and secured with a pin - when the drawer tried to open it pulled the cabinet front down. As I said in another article we are not sure why this panel is hinged as there is nothing accessible to utilize behind it. So we have been looking for a solution - and with a visit to an RV show an idea started to perk...

We went to an RV show just for something different to do. We went into all types of Class As, Cs,  B+s, Fifth Wheels, Toy Haulers, and Trailers. I was interested in seeing what kept the many drawers inside a Class A closed. The most common catch was a spring loaded hook that was caught when pushed into the drawer by a mating piece on the other side. It took a very hard pull to get one fo these drawers open. A similar catch was used on cabinet doors. I took some photos and kept this in mind. We also saw something that was unrelated. Many of these Class As had house refrigerators with large doors and freezer doors. Many of these had a velcro strap that went across the door to the cabinet or wall on the side and with this put in place the door would not open. I did not think much of this - but this was the seed that was planted.

We went to dealer service for work and they have an RV parts and accessories store. They had these catches that we saw at the RV show, but looking closely at them there was no room in the Roadtrek drawer or drawer frame to install one. The drawer front top goes under the granite counter top ledge which sticks out about a half inch or more past the drawer front when it is closed. No catch can be attached above the inside of the drawer because you would be screwing into the granite - or whatever the granite is backed with - and you take a chance of cracking the counter top. No way was I going to attempt that. We left that catch on the rack and looked around for something that might fit and other than the standard catches one sees in Home Depot there was nothing - and none of those standard ones were going to hold this drawer in - which is weighted by whatever is inside and picks up the side momentum of the van.

But there was still this idea percolating at the back of my head. I made a trip to Home Depot and Lowes and looked at various possibilities. I passed a display of Velcro and that refrigerator stap came back to me - what if I created a similar Velcro strap for the drawer? I had an idea like this about a year ago - making a catch with Velcro but I was seeing it in my head at that time all wrong and there were reasons why that way would not work.  Now when put together with the strap around the Class A fridge - this would work. I went home to examine the inside of the drawer.

What I saw were several obstacles. The most logical place to put the strap was across the bottom of the drawer as this would cover all of the edge of the lower drawer front - but on one side was the catch that did not work and that would have to be removed - but if removed and when living inside the Roadtrek on a trip, nothing would keep the drawer closed - and if on a slight angle it would open unless strapped. The top edge had room for installation but I was not sure enough of the top edge of the drawer would be covered enough to hold the drawer closed. Meryl gave her opinion and said, if you can do it without removing the catch do it that way. OK - as I have said often - "Meryl is always right." (Well almost but we won't get into that story right now... though I will tell you that she insists the map was wrong.) Anyway - here is how we did it.

What to buy - Velcro strap - 3/4" double sided Velcro that comes on a roll of 12 feet of strap to make cord ties, wraparounds, etc. One side sticks to the other side. We found it in Walmart at the cheapest price ($7) in the electrical department. It is in Home Depot and Lowes for $10.
You will also need two screws  3/8" - 8 and two matching washers. I had stainless screws this size and bought a package of matching washers - both come from Home Depot (or Lowes). You also should have metal eyelets and an eyelet setter. The eyelets will prevent the screws from ripping through the Velcro - while this Velcro is strong and thick, the drawer exerts force when it opens as it has been. A simple setter complete with eyelets is a few dollars at any sewing store. As a leatherworker I had a supply and the setter already.

First step - we measured from the inside side of the top of the drawer just above the drawer side going inside three inches to outside around the drawer past the drawer pull. Longer was better than shorter and we decided on 14".  I cut two lengths of the Velcro 14 " long and I set on eyelet on each of these lengths one inch from the end of one end. I wanted the rounded side of the eyelet to be against the wall of the drawer opening so I made sure the Velcro was oriented in the proper direction for each strap. When the strap is installed it must be soft side out on the outside of the drawer which means inside - soft side against the wall of the opening.

Next came the actual install - easy as long as you remove the drawer. There is a catch on each drawer slide. Pull the drawer out all the way. Go to mid-slide sticking out and look for the black lever - one side goes up and the other side goes down. Push those and pull. The drawer slides off the track. If you don't empty the drawer (I didn't) support the drawer well as it comes off and sit it aside.

One more step - VERY important to remember at this point (and not later). If you have the sliding cutting board inside the drawer that slides out and sits on top of the drawer for use - PULL IT OUT NOW! The only drawback of this whole solution is that the cutting board will not fit inside any longer - well, it fits inside but it will never pull out (don't ask me how I know...). Just put it aside and it can sit under the sink or under one of the cushions. We have never used this in four years anyway. It still sits on top of the drawer once the drawer is open. We have it under a cushion for the moment and I will look to see if there is a way of modifying it to bet it back in and out. With this install the screw blocks its path out and in.

Now you are ready to start putting the straps on. These are installed right along the top edge od the slide against the inside of the drawer opening. Measure three inches from the front edge and mark that spot - do this on both sides. Do not drill a pilot hole for the screw. The wall is only 1/2" thick - and despite Roadtrek's claims that all of the wood inside the Roadtrek is real wood - the side of the drawer against the end of the kitchen sink woodwork from the counter top to the floor is plywood covered in laminate and not solid wood. The sink side of the drawer space is real wood. (The cabinet doors and SOME of the trim are real wood - in mine, cherry, but that is the extent of the real solid wood.) Put the strap in place and mark around the inside of the eyelet with a sharp pencil. Use a nail or awl with a gentle push to make a small starter dimple for the screw in the center of the eyelet that you just marked in pencil. Put a washer on one of the two screws and put the screw and washer on the end of a magnetic screwdriver - if the screw does not stay use a piece of Scotch tape and wrap it around the screw head securing it to the end of the screw driver. Put the strap in place - soft side to the wall and push the screw into the dimple on the wall in the middle of the eyelet and start to screw the screw in.Screw it in so that it is well in but not so tight that the eyelet won't rotate slightly on the screw. Do this on both sides. Remember - soft side to the wall - so that when you pull the straps out to around the drawer front the soft side will be facing out and what you feel if you rub against the straps.

That is it. Put the drawer back on the slides. Pull both slides out - fit them back onto the drawer. This is easiest done by two - togetherness is a prerequisite for traveling in a Class B. Once the slides are lined up and each is set into its mate, push the drawer closed and it will be as it was before. As you close the drawer keep both straps outside the drawer.

Now pull one strap over the top of the drawer snugly and hold it in place and pull the other strap over it and across and let the Velcro catch. It does not matter which strap you put over or under - they will hold both ways - this is how this Velcro is designed. The top of the strap will cover just about all of the top edge of the drawer. Give a tug. That drawer is not going anyplace.

Now when you are stopped and are going to use the drawer - opening and closing and opening again, just open the drawer by pulling the end of the Velcro strap on the top off the strap under it, open the drawer and just put the two straps over the drawer sides inside the drawer. The drawer will open and close normally and those straps will stay inside until you are ready to lock up the drawer again for travel.

It works. No more crash bang! The drawer stays closed until you want it open!

FIELD TEST REPORT:  It works perfectly. We have been on the roughest roads and the sharpest turns with the strap closed on the drawer front and the drawer does not budge. At night and stopped, the strap ends go inside the drawer and the drawer opens and closes normally and they don't get in the way.