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Modifications

When it comes to the RV I seem to have some compulsive tinkering issues. I get an idea in my head and the project itself becomes more important than the end result. Some of the projects shown below may be overkill. Others may be frivolous. It's all fun.

Exterior Mods

The most significant exterior modification to our new Trail Sport was the addition of a Carolina Carports building. We intend to protect our RV investment this time around.

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Carolina Carports building.

Anti-bird tip: If you have an open Carolina Carports building you probably have birds nesting in the soffits. I bought rolls of 6"-wide plastic rain gutter screen. I gently bent the screen lengthwise and stuffed it into all the interior soffit openings. The screen stays put without any fasteners. Best to do this during the winter before the birds take an interest in the carport to begin with.

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Gutter screen stuffed in the side and end soffits.

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Gutter screen stuffed in the horizontal roof members.

Update: The little friggin birds were more tenacious than I anticipated. They pulled out the screen and squirmed around the ends. So I used canned expansion foam to glue and seal the screen sections. After attacking the foam for a few days the birds seem to have given up for good.

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Gutter screen sealed with canned expansion foam.

The building is a big help, but the front of the RV is still exposed to afternoon sun. I decided to proactively get rid of the front decals before the weather turned them into a faded, crinkled mess. I'm not a fan of modern RV graphics. But removing all the decals would make the RV look like a concession trailer. I compromised by only pulling off the decals around the front and front sides plus all the "R-Vision" and "Trail Sport" decals. Nothing against the company, I'm just not into decals. I also removed most of the various warning labels around the trailer. It wasn't a fun job. I worked on it for an hour here and there over the course of a summer. The decals were only about two years old when I pulled them off. But the ones on the front were already becoming brittle. I'm glad I didn't wait any longer. Some shadows were left behind, but I think they'll fade with a few more years of weathering.

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By the end of 2013 I had removed many of the RV's decals including everything up front.

The RV was ordered with two Fan-Tastic 4000R roof vents. I added a pair of MaxxAir II covers so the vents can be left open in all weather.

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MaxxAir II vent covers.

In preparation for adding a bike rack I had the flimsy original bumper replaced with a new full-width tube made from heavier steel. I forget the gauge, but the walls are about 1⁄8" thick. I opted for a Swagman model "XC-2 RV" bike rack which is supposed to be an RV-specific design. The bike rack included a bolt-on 2" hitch receiver for a 4"x4" RV bumper. I scrapped the spare tire carrier to make room for the bicycles. The spare tire is now stowed in the truck. I'm pretty confident that this new bumper isn't going anywhere. I lock a steel cable around the bumper and bikes to hold it all together should something else fail.

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New bumper.

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Bolt-on hitch receiver.

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Swagman model "XC-2 RV" bike rack.

One thing leads to another... The inside dimensions of the new bumper would not accommodate sewer hoses. So I made a new sewer hose carrier from a 4" PVC drain pipe. I cut an 8' section of pipe and mounted it under the trailer frame. Curbside I added a cap with a vent hole in the middle and a drain hole underneath. I oriented the bell end of the pipe streetside. The bell acts like a funnel for stuffing in the sewer hose. It's still a tight fit. I had to trim the grip tabs off the female ends of my sewer hose couplers. Streetside I drilled a hole through the bell end of the pipe as well as a spare hose coupler. As I stow the hose I twist on the spare coupler and then clip it on to the pipe. Finally I covered everything in a coat of black paint. The pipe is more than sufficient to carry my three 10' sections of hose.

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Curbside end of the sewer hose carrier.

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Spare coupler and clip.

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Streetside the hose is stowed and the spare coupler is clipped to the bell end of the pipe.

I once forgot to secure the lid on the propane tank cover. Highway winds subsequently unsnapped the hinges and blew it away. After acquiring a new lid, I drilled some holes and added some cable ties. Hopefully the lid will stay with the cover even if it comes loose from the hinges. I used black cable ties because they're supposed to be UV resistant.

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Propane tank cover lid with added cable ties.

After a mere two years of use I found the strap around the factory battery box had sun rot. Really? I scrapped the whole thing and bought an aluminum diamond plate toolbox by DeeZee. The box is just the right width to fit between the spring bar lift brackets and the front of the trailer body. Inside the box I installed a Powerhouse battery tray. I deliberately selected a battery tray that did not involve a strap. I like that the battery is exposed such that I can easily check levels without any disassembly. On the back wall of the box I cut two holes for a pair of plastic soffit vents. They're glued in with silicone caulk. For the battery cables I cut another hole and added a rubber grommet. I also drilled two small holes in the bottom of the box for added ventilation and to drain any moisture that may accumulate. The box is clamped to the A-frame byway of eight long bolts and pieces of aluminum angle stock. A long piece of angle stock supports the back of the box where it's narrower than the A-frame. Finally, I masked off the box and sprayed black around the bolts and angle stock. The rest of the box is filled with my collection of Linx Levelers. This move freed up a lot of storage inside the RV. The plastic blocks are lightweight, moisture resistant and won't short the battery.

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New battery box.

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Rear wall of the battery box showing one of two soffit vents and a rubber grommet for the battery cables.

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Battery box clamped to the A-frame with long bolts and aluminum angle stock.

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Powerhouse battery tray.

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Lynx Levelers fill the rest of the battery box.

The RV has two emergency exit windows streetside. I made a pair of prop stick extensions from 1" PVC pipe. I bought precut 2' sections that ended up being just the right length. The pipe simply slips over the window's existing push bar handle. On the other end of the pipe I added a 45 degree elbow that I cut down into the shape of a tab. The tab slips into the existing window frame notch. Not sure I'd leave this set up in gusty winds, but... .

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Modified 45 degree elbows.

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Window open wide for way more air than the existing push bar handle would allow.

I added a third pair of stabilizer jacks toward the center of the trailer just in front of the wheels. The new jacks dramatically improve the trailer's stability. Having one right by the entry step is especially helpful. I was already using a small cordless drill to deploy the original corner jacks. So the new jacks only add a few more seconds to our setup time.

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One of two additional stabilizer jacks shown curbside between the wheels and entry steps.

Interior Mods

The Trail Sport 24BH has more hanging space than we need. So I added a narrow plastic modular drawer unit to the rear closet. Different sized drawers can be combined to create a unit of any height. First I cut a piece of ½" plywood to cover and strengthen the closet floor. Then I set the drawer unit and screwed its frame to the back wall of the trailer. The drawers are secured with a bungee cord while underway. There's a tall narrow space on each side of the drawer unit for storing thin items like brooms and trays. And we still have some hanging space in smaller closets at the front of the trailer. After a year's use I modified the drawer unit with thin hardboard side panels. The panels prevent items beside the drawer unit from falling behind and jamming an open drawer.

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Modular drawer unit modified with hardboard side panels.

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Rear closet with drawer unit installed.

There are several areas where R-Vision failed to take full advantage of potential storage spaces. The pictures below show the cabinet below the rear hanging closet. A rear bulkhead protected a heating duct, but also walled off a lot of potential space. To the right of the cabinet was a hidden nook that could only be accessed by disassembling the lower rear bunk. I removed the rear bulkhead and cut out the right-side dividing wall. Then I boxed in the heating duct. The cabinet is now about 8" deeper and 8" wider.

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Before and after. The modified cabinet space is about 8" deeper and 8" wider.

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Before and after. The aforementioned hidden nook is now part of the enlarged cabinet.

Shown below is the rear external storage compartment. Inner bulkheads protect the heating duck and tail light wiring. Again, I removed the bulkheads and boxed in the duck and wiring.

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Rear external storage compartment before and after expansion modifications.

The plywood under the rear lower bunk was screwed in place. I wanted easier access to the water heater and furnace (especially for winterizing the water heater). I cut the plywood lengthwise and added a piano hinge. The narrow wall-side piece is still screwed down. But the larger piece simply lifts up and out of the way.

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Rear bunk plywood with piano hinge down and up.

There was a shallow storage cabinet under the refrigerator. Removing the bulkhead revealed a bunch of utilities over the wheel well and a propane supply line for the refrigerator. The propane line is made from heavy copper tubing with plastic sheathing. I decided the line was sturdy enough to go unprotected so I moved the bulkhead back to the wheel well. Nevertheless, we'll reserve this storage space for items that are light and soft.

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Shallow storage under the refrigerator.

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Expanded storage under the refrigerator.

I made a cabinet door to access storage space under the dinette bench without lifting out the seat cushions and support boards. I had no hope of duplicating the original millwork. So I tried to match the black & panel look of the galley appliances. I used a router to round the frame edges and make a rabbet for the insert panel (which was cut from the bench). I also used the router to make a finger pull instead of adding a protruding handle. In retrospect, I should have made the door a bit smaller with an inch or two of clearance between the bottom of the door and the floor. As it is, any throw rug on the floor gets in the way of opening the door.

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Cabinet door added to dinette bench.

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Cabinet door added to dinette bench.

Opening the cabinet door in the bathroom revealed an upper shelf and a lower access panel for a pipe chase. I simply removed the lower access panel. This is a good place to store extra paper towels and toilet paper - items that won't damage the plumbing.

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Pipe chase storage at the bottom of the bathroom cabinet.

We had no intentions of using the upper rear bunk as a bunk (no ladder was provided anyway). The upper bunk does make a good storage shelf. But it juts out too far. The corner was a source of bruises. The upper bunk was too wide for comfortable seating on the edge of the lower bunk. Also, the upper bunk was too wide to reach the upper window knob without a stepstool. I disassembled the upper bunk components, made some cuts and reassembled the parts. The bunk/shelf is now a narrower "L" shape and is flush with the refrigerator. The lower bunk is a bit more comfortable, I can reach the upper window and the RV feels a little bigger.

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Upper bunk (left) to storage shelf (right).

While I had the upper bunk/shelf disassembled, I ran internal wiring for an under-shelf reading lamp. The lamp is meant to provide a variety of lighting effects for someone reading or sleeping on the lower bunk. The product is from Star Lights Inc. and comes with a modular selection of optional features. I configured the unit with a dimmer knob for the main lamp and a small separately-switched night light.

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Star Lights Inc. lamp unit with a dimmer knob for the main lamp and a small separately-switched night light.

The cabinet above the dinette table has a shallow nook for a small flat screen TV. I built some slats and made a bookrack. I also added a magazine rack.

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Book rack.

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Magazine rack.

I built a long narrow shelf between the dinette bench and the door. The shelf is great for staging drinks and other small items that can be quickly passed in and out of the screen door hatch thereby minimizing fly infiltration. In practice the shelf is mostly used by the cat as another window perch. Under-shelf hooks store dog leashes. I also added a drop leaf shelf next to the sink for a little more counter space.

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Door shelf.

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Drop leaf shelf.

The Trail Sport 24BH features a big pass-through storage compartment at the front of the trailer. It's a great place to keep Scruffy's litter box. She can get to the litter box through an inside cabinet door. I can get to the litter box through an outside hatch. I added a hook latch to the inside cabinet door. This creates a fixed opening that's big enough for the cat, but too small for the dog. The door remains closed while underway.

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Inside access to pass-through storage and litter box.

I made a shoe rack from ½" CPVC pipe fittings. I used CPVC simply because the color went a little better with the RV as opposed to the stark white of PVC.

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Shoe rack.

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Shoe rack.

The front queen bed lifts up to access a large storage space. The bed was originally equipped with a metal rod that was awkward to set up. I replaced the rod with a self-deploying prop stick made from two boards and three hinges. When the bed is down the prop stick folds against the underside of the bed. The stick unfolds as the bed is raised. I also added a 20 lb. gas spring to make the bed a bit easier to lift. The gas spring isn't strong enough to hold up the bed, but it does push the middle elbow joint slightly past center. So as the bed is raised the prop stick automatically locks. Lowering the bed requires a gentle forward push on the elbow to unlock the prop stick.

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Prop stick partially deployed as the bed is raised.

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Prop stick fully deployed with the elbow locked.

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Gas spring detail with prop stick fully deployed.

One feature we didn't get with this RV was a sofa. Within our allotted length, we just couldn't find a floor plan that included a sofa along with everything else we wanted. The lack of a sofa is a nonissue except for those few days per season when the weather is just too nasty to lounge around outside. Inside there's no comfortable place to sit for hours at a time. I decided to make a backrest for the front bed. In a futile attempt at aerodynamics, the front wall of the RV slopes inward over the head of the bed which is pretty uncomfortable to sit against. I cut a 2½' by 4' piece of 3⁄8" plywood to set up as a backrest. Normally the piece lays flat in its stowed position between the bed platform and the mattress. It's thin enough that I can't feel it through the mattress when sleeping. In lounge mode the plywood is setup against the front wall as a backrest. Note the two tabs that fit into slots I cut into the bed platform. Note the lift cutouts that also serve to allow the backrest the lay flat over the platform hinges. Not shown in the pictures below is the beach towel that we drape over the top edge of the backrest so it doesn't damage the front wall finish. Next we pull the mattress up over the backrest. With the addition of some extra pillows it's a pretty comfy place to lounge around on a dreary day. It's kind of a pain to set up, but again, it's something we only bother with a few times per year. Up or down, the backrest does not interfere with access to the under bed storage.

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The backrest in its stowed position. Note the two tabs at the far edge of the backrest which fit into a pair of slots cut into the bed platform. Note the cutouts for the hinges that also serve to handle the backrest.

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The backrest raised with the tabs fitted into the slots. A beach towel is added over the top edge of the backrest to protect the front wall finish.

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Tab and slot detail.

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Mattress pulled up against the backrest.

Plumbing Mods

I added a small accumulator tank at the output of the water pump to cut the noise of excessive pump cycling. This was a simple installation since the pump was already hooked up with threaded hoses. One additional hose completed the installation.

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Accumulator tank.

I wanted an easy way to drain the water heater without messing with the plug. So I replaced the plug with a metal braded hose and a ball valve. A lot of people warn not to mix metals with the water heater tank, so I used a nylon nipple between the tank and hose. I also cut down the valve handle so it doesn't interfere with the burner. Cracking the pressure valve helps drain the tank.

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Water heater with hose and drain valve.

Update: In reality I only ever drained the water heater once per year at the end of the season. Then I had to remove my hose contraption away to get after the tank with my flushing tool. So I scrapped the above hose and drain valve arrangement and went back to the stock nylon plug.

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Water heater flushing tool.

The gray and black tanks each have their own dump valve leading to a common outlet. Each tank is 30 gallons so the gray reaches capacity long before the black. I cut the pipe behind the bayonet outlet and inserted a third dump valve common to both tanks. By closing off the common valve I can gravity drain a portion of gray water into the black tank until the two tanks equalize. I only leave the black valve open long enough to facilitate the transfer such that no black water mixes back into the gray tank. This procedure can extend our stay at locations without full hookups. I can also use this valve arrangement to back-flush the black tank with gray water.

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Third dump valve.

Having effectively increased the trailer's waste capacity to 60 gallons, it was time to do something about the fresh water capacity. We never boondock, but we often find ourselves in places without a convenient city water connection. The trailer's original 30 gallon fresh water tank worked okay with some judicious conservation, but we were looking for a bit more capacity. Another thing I don't like about the original tank is its unconventionally located curbside water fill. The trailer has a front queen bed with a lot of storage that was generally underutilized. So I decided to add an extra 20 gallon tank with its own streetside water fill. Total fresh water capacity is now 50 gallons. Installation of the new tank was conventional and straightforward. But due to the trailer's layout, there was no way to connect the two tanks internally. So I routed each tank's drain port through a shutoff valve to an under-trailer connecting pipe made from CPVC fittings. The connecting pipe is also fitted with a drain valve. By manipulating the three valves, I can drain either or both tanks. I can also isolate both tanks and drain just the connecting pipe which is handy for nights below freezing. With both isolation valves open and the drain valve closed, the tanks equalize as water is used. I can also fill both tanks from the new streetside water fill. But it's actually faster to fill the tanks individually thanks to the small diameter of the connecting drain ports. 20 gallons of water adds another 160 pounds to the front of the trailer. I don't know what the engineering implications of that may be, but I only fill up the new tank after we reach our destination.

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New 20 gallon tank.

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New tank connections.

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New streetside water fill.

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Looking down at the original tank drain reconfigured with a shutoff valve leading to the under-trailer connecting pipe.

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Connecting pipe drain valve.

Before adding the new 20 gallon fresh water tank, I used this 7 gallon water jug I found at Walmart. I liked the jug's squat cubical shape that won't easily tip over. The jug came with a spigot that was screwed into the cap via ¾" pipe threads. I replaced the spigot with a nylon nipple and added an RV fill tube with shutoff valve. Lifting a 7 gallon jug wasn't fun, but it was a relatively cheap and easy way to add a little more fresh water at remote sites without a city water hookup.

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Walmart jug with RV fill tube.

There's a meandering 25' of plumbing between the water heater and the bathroom. I felt we were wasting a lot of our freshwater in the process of waiting for hot water to reach the bathroom. Not just wasting freshwater, but wasting gray tank capacity as well. I devised a circulation line to divert this otherwise wasted water back to the freshwater tank. The circulation line begins under the tub which is the farthest point from the water heater. The line routes through a control valve and back to the freshwater tank. Opening the control valve activates the RV's on-demand pump. As hot water moves toward the bathroom, the displaced cold water is circulated back to the freshwater tank. After a ten-count, the control valve is closed and hot water is immediately available at the vanity sink and tub.

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The beginning of the circulation line is teed off the hot water line under the tub which is the farthest point from the water heater.

The control valve is perhaps my most redneck creation to date. I wanted something that would be convenient to use yet inconspicuous in what is already a tight bathroom. I came up with a ball valve design that's hidden under the sink and operated from outside via a rod and knob. I chose a cabinet knob with a finish matching the existing cabinet hardware.

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My redneck control valve.

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Here's the control valve mounted under the sink. Pulling out the knob as shown opens the valve.

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Here's everything back together. The valve is normally closed and the knob inconspicuously tucks under the front edge of the sink countertop.

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The end of the circulation line feeds back into the freshwater tank at the tank's drain port. The right leg of the tee is the circulation line. The left leg of the tee leads to my auxiliary 20 gallon freshwater tank described above.

I only had two major complaints about the fit and finish of the new trailer. The bathroom door opening wasn't quite square. I fixed that by planing down the hinge side of the door. The second problem was more complicated. The structure supporting the floor of the tub was a smidge too high relative to the perimeter support. So the ledge around the tub sloped out toward the walls instead of back into the tub. Shower water would collect on the ledge and run out onto the bathroom floor.

The tub floor support comprises a table-like structure of plywood and legs. I decided to cut ½" off the bottom of each leg. Fortunately the table was only pinched in place and not screwed to the floor of the RV. I bought a Dremel Multi-Max tool with a flush cut blade to do the job. I can't think of any other tool that could have squeezed into such a tight space. The job still cost a lot of contorting and sore muscles.

After I shortened the table legs I cut a piece of plywood to apply weight to the inside edges of the tub ledge. The tub has somewhat reshaped itself over time. It's not great, but better than it was.

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Here's the tub area with bathroom door, access panels and furnace vent removed. Not much room to work.

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Two of the four table legs. The two legs out of view were difficult to get at and there was plumbing and wiring to be avoided.

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Plywood and weight applied to the inside edges of the tub ledge.

I replaced the shower curtain with a Irvine triple slide shower door. The product seemed cheaply made, it wasn't packaged well and the instructions were horrible. Nevertheless, the door has worked out well and is way better than a curtain. Shown further down is an inner plastic hook for holding the shower door open for travel. That's not how the instructions show the hook, but it's the only way I could figure to make work. It sort of works. Overall, I guess I'd recommend this product if you're a handy person.

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Irvine triple slide shower door.

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Crappy shower door hook.

Update: As expected, the crappy shower door hook didn't last long. I replaced it with a small eye bolt and bungee cord.

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Eye bolt and bungee cord.

Electrical Mods

I added a battery cutoff switch to isolate the battery from the converter and all interior loads. The switch can prevent the battery from being drained if the RV is disconnected from shore power for an extended period. The cutoff switch does not disconnect the battery from the tongue jack and breakaway switch.

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Battery cutoff switch.

I keep a bottle of hand soap in the rear external storage compartment and use the external shower wand to wash up after visiting the dump station. I wanted to be able to control the fresh water pump from outside the RV. So I installed a second pump switch in the storage compartment. I mounted the switch in the bottom half of a small plastic project box so the switch does not get inadvertently bumped. The new external switch is simply wired in parallel with the existing internal switch. Both switches must be off for the pump to be off. Now I can shut down and lockup the RV before leaving the campsite but still have convenient control over the pump at the dump station.

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New fresh water pump switch in external storage compartment.

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Switch detail.

Update: Instead of fooling with the external shower wand as noted above, I added a shutoff valve to the streetside low-point drain. Unlike the shower wand, there's nothing to set up; the valve is just there. I put the valve on the hot side since there's usually some leftover hot water. Cracking the valve produced a thin high-pressure spray that wasn't what I wanted. So I added a threaded fitting and a screw-on cap to the bottom of the valve. I drilled five small holes in the bottom of the cap to break up the spray and act as a makeshift showerhead. Now the flow and pressure is just right.

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Low-point drain shutoff valve is handy for hand washing.

I added an extra AC outlet below the rear bunk.

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Extra outlet.

Since we don't use any of the connections at the TV nook, I added a plug-in polarity checker, an AC voltmeter and a DC voltmeter.

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Plug-in electrical testers.

For a little ambiance at the campsite I sometimes like to turn ON the trailer's clearance lights. I bought an extra car-side 7-pin receptacle and wired it to a switch inside the trailer. The receptacle is mounted to the side of my aluminum battery box. I plug the connector into the receptacle when not plugged into to the tow vehicle. The switch is wired between the receptacle's 12 volt circuit (pin 4/black) and the clearance light circuit (pin 3/brown). Since the switch has a pilot light, there's also a ground wire (pin 1/white). I also added an inline fuse to the 12 volt circuit near the receptacle. In a more practical sense the switch could be useful in an emergency if I had the leave the trailer by the side of the road at night. Another advantage of this setup is that the trailer connector is always plugged into either the tow vehicle receptacle or my switch circuit receptacle. So weather and bugs are always kept out of the connector.

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7-pin receptacle mounted to the side of the battery box.

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7-pin trailer connector plugged into the receptacle.

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Inside clearance light switch.

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Lights at the campsite.

What I really wanted was a more subtle way of lighting the entry steps without the bright porch light. I bought a 12 volt amber LED strip which I stuck along the trailer's frame rail. I used about 10' of LED strip from the front of the trailer back to wheels. The LED strip had double-sided tape already applied. But I added my own layer of foam double-sided tape thinking the foam-type tape would better adhere to any imperfections along the frame rail. For power I added a second switch to my clearance lights circuit explained above.

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Second switch for the LED strip.

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LED strip wiring at the front curbside corner.

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LED strip detail. The stip can be cut to size at every third LED

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Amber LED strip.