In my opinion you are ahead of the game already, simply because you are in most cases halfway there.
Most likely, you have set up your RV with basic ways to stay off the grid for extended periods of time. However, many Full-time RVers simply roam from one RV park to another, and are not suited for true off the grid living. I hope my suggestions will give many of you ideas on how to improve your RV for the SHTF scenario. Now, mind you that each one of these suggestions can be and should be expanded in the future to ways in which you can do this for yourself. Also, bear in mind the many various types of RVs out there…
Here are some basic tips for bringing your unit up to these standards. My idea of an off the grid RV-ing experience is providing as many creature comforts as possible. The truly off the grid situation, is being away from civilization without any need to return home other than for fuel.
Which brings me to our first consideration, fuel. Let’s get that out-of-the-way right off the bat. Fuel is the one element a mobile person, RVer cannot escape. Well… certainly not if you are surviving with anything more than a horse draw chuck wagon…
Therefore, our first consideration when selecting a full time experience is to choose the minimal fuel consumption we can get, with the maximum creature comforts. This energy gambit can range from a simple tent trailer up to a monster diesel pusher with solar panels, extended range water, and fuel tanks, and a propane heated Jacuzzi in the back with glitter ball, and 1000 watt stereo. Obviously the latter will require far more fuel than the former.
Obviously, converting whatever engine you have can give you some added efficiency, however one must consider the availability of whatever fuel you will be running on. I recommend Diesel for it is still probably the best all-around fuel for any such RV-ing unit, especially large ones, and it is readily available in most scenarios.
Even if you have a tent trailer, your truck, or car could be a diesel engine, simply because of the availability of fuel such as diesel is far more likely to find than gasoline or propane. Furthermore, almost all basic style diesels (without the fancy electronic chipped out engines) can run off of alternative fuels such as bio-diesel etc. I could get into an entirely different tangent here regarding fuel conversion (Perhaps in another article), but allow me to move on.
RVs, just like boats on the high seas, will get the best fuel consumption to mileage ratio out of diesel. Besides being able to purchase add-on accessories such as a diesel heaters or furnace, and/or cooking stove for your unit using the same fuel source. There are diesel generators, and lamps too. This way reducing the multiple fuels necessary for most if not all commercially RV units built today.
If you are handy enough to build and design your own full-time RV unit, I recommend NOT using the VERY INEFFICIENT propane style furnace that most RV units have installed at the factory. Perhaps consider replacing the existing furnace for a diesel one as an option.
Dickinson makes MANY great diesel heaters, and stoves for commercial, and pleasure boating, including the desired diesel units. (I’m sure there are many other similar companies out there too)
Even though these diesel units are expensive they are easily installed, and are designed for the close clearance problems such as you will have in a cramped RV. The Dickinson company has been around for a long time and is highly regarded in the commercial fishing industry. If you are on a budget, try finding a used one on-line or at your local marina, as they are very sturdy and simply designed, and to refit one with new parts would not take much effort. This will eliminate propane altogether… a good idea. If you have ever tried to fill your propane at the last minute after heading out on a camping trip on a long weekend, just imagine how difficult it will be after an economic collapse or a fuel shortage?
I also recommend you consider a good marina style wood stove system for emergencies, as no one truly knows how long a SHTF scenario will last, you may someday need to heat your unit with combustibles, which a freely found most anywhere.
Next, creature comfort for surviving off the grid….
In my opinion is a must have water system. That is a water purification system…
Being able to fill your water tanks while off the grid with filtered pure potable water is a must. It is so simple to make these units, that NOT installing one is foolish. A simple device can be made by anyone at home. These can filter thousands of gallons of fresh water for you and your family. Simply by using those under sink residential filtration systems that anyone can purchase at your various hardware stores.
My personal system is portable, and can run off of solar or generator. It has a 12VDC sump pump that will push water through a ceramic filtration system. Simply plumbing an under sink water filter system to a basic garden hose that can be attached to any pumping system, lifting it into your holding tanks is all one needs.
I found a tiny 1/10 horse power, 110 VAC sump-pump that can run off of even the smallest generator or inverter. It pushes the water through a ceramic style water filter system to fill my tank. I believe these are the best type of filter system as the ceramic filters can be cleaned and re-used repeatedly, unlike the carbon units. I also believe that filtering the water before filling the tank is best to reduce algae problems in your tank. I suppose a person could incorporate both if they are concerned about industrial pollutants.
My filter unit is specifically designed for lake and river water filtration, such as out in wilderness areas. You will have to determine what BUG-OUT situation you might find yourself in, and build yours accordingly. These are so simple to make that perhaps several types can be stored for whatever situation you might encounter. Obviously a self-priming pump would be best, so shop around.
The next and equally important system any RVer needs is an alternate electrical system…
…which is able to generate sufficient power to run whatever you need to survive off of the grid. My RV is equipped with a solar power system 288 watts, and is able to provide 110 VAC up to 600 Ah (batteries are the biggest consideration). It also has a wind turbine with a 500 watt peak powered unit, that I use only for long term camping situations. Now that might sound like a lot, but it isn’t. The optimal RV system should be able to run whatever you so desire for as long as you so desire to use it. I know that sounds simple but when you sit down and do the math, you will see my point. Meaning that is your base line for figuring out your own personal needs.
Here’s the rub… You will soon find out rather quickly that, what you want far exceeds what your wallet and other limitations can provide (Battery weight, storage, roof space, etc…
Therefore, I highly recommend reducing your power consumption first, and then designing your system around that.
For instance, start off by replacing all the power sucking incandescent bulbs in your RV with LED bulbs. Also, finding new technology such as solar powered freezers would be a great asset after a collapse. A good consideration is installing a diesel lamp for light and heat. I find that these provide just enough heat to use in the spring or fall after dark to give you that needed light and also keep the chill off during the evenings.
Try to find a power supply replacement for whatever unit or device you are hoping to use (such as laptop, radio, TV). Meaning convert them to direct DC input before bogging down your power inverter trying to turn DC into AC then back to DC.
Direct Current (DC) is what all electronics run off of, even your big screen TV uses VDC the converter is inside the TV. All electronics can potentially use DC power. For instance, that plastic brick on the laptop cord of your laptop is an AC to DC converter. Meaning it takes the AC current from your home, and converts it down to the required DC current to run the unit. Obviously this is a VERY inefficient waste of battery power. The good news is once you iron out all these modern inconveniences, you will be delighted at how easy off the grid living can be, and it’s virtually free after that. So spend that money now for quality, because it may be the last time you will be able to get what you need.
If you can design a system to bypass this electric current conversion firsthand, you will save so much more on designing your system. This way you are ahead of the game by reducing your consumption first.
Unfortunately, many laptops run at 18VDC (give or take) instead of the 12 VDC that most RV systems have on them.
However, you can design a separate 24 VDC solar system, and then simply step down the voltage to run your electronics straight from the batteries. A 24 VDC system is a more efficient system, anyhow. Most small solar powered system can power whatever you may want during the day light hours when the suns out, however the real challenge is running them at night straight off of your batteries.
I personally work and write these articles at night, and therefore I need a sufficient battery system to power my laptop or whatever else I need during this time, often into the wee hours. These are things you must consider when designing your system. I recommend designing as powerful a system as you can afford, as whatever it is, you will someday wish you had more power.
Again, reduce your consumption first to facilitate the system. This is the first and best way to go. Bear in mind that this system can be tweaked and upgraded as you go. Let’s hope we all have time until that fateful day…
Next consideration is storage
Storage of seasonal items, food storage, fuel, security such as firearms etc. Simply you will never have enough storage. Therefore, design your unit to use every inch of space to its fullest potential. You will need dry storage for foods such as rice, beans, flour, grains etc. Secure storage for your guns, and ammunition. Find a secure place to fix a sheet metal gun safe, such as beneath your bed. Seasonal storage for items such as clothing, camping accessories, a kayak, rubber raft, snow-shoes, skis etc. Storage space for tools such as a chainsaw, mechanical tools, carpentry tools… people never consider how useful a circular saw can be at times, or a sawzall.
Also consider, those cordless battery powered tools… they are so available these days, but will eventually wear out. Whereas a traditional circular saw or saws-all will keep working, as long as you have a generator to power them (which you will have).
The difference here is, as a full time RVer, you are not just going camping you are living off the grid. Perhaps never to return to a fixed home ever again, so whatever you think you will need in your life, you will have to find a place for it somewhere. Here’s a tip, I also have several car topper units fastened on top of my RV for additional storage. The real-estate located on top of your RV is space you need to plan out carefully too. This is where your solar panels are located and your storage units, and any communications antennas.
Which brings me to the last consideration, communications.
In most rural and mountainous areas, you are required to have a two-way radio, even if only to announce your presence on logging roads. At the beginning of most forestry logging zones there will be a sign that tells you the frequency used on that road. The reason for this is that these roads are narrow, and the logging trucks take the turns in the roads by sheering off the curves as close as possible. In order to reduce fatalities anyone who travels these roads must periodically announce their position to the oncoming truck drivers, thus avoiding collisions. For this you can have a simple handheld radio or an under-dash unit.
Another great system for off the grid living is a satellite phone. Now these are very expensive, in most cases, but there are a few fringe companies that have units for as little as $50-60 dollars per month (shop around… a lot). These can be useful (although these are very, very inefficient) for email transmission, they also have a very limited web browsing capability (As I said shop around, and the chances they work after a collapse is slim.).
Please do your homework. You may even want to look into portable satellite dishes that you aim yourself. These can be purchased from Ebay or Amazon (see this one and this one) and with a little homework they can be run for free from your existing home satellite network. This of course may be not covered on your original contract, therefore your due diligence is your responsibility. Wink wink…
I hope I have covered some basic considerations for the full time RVer, at least to get you thinking on ways to improve your chances after a collapse. Obviously there are many more things any RVer can do to improve their situation, and each of these can be expanded upon in future articles, the “How to,” articles I can see coming in the near future.
Well good luck and keep on prepping.