Chinese Diesel Heaters

Succinct and pertinent information regarding the install of a cheap, Chinese diesel heater in your van, trailer, or motorhome.

Chinese diesel heaters have become all the rage with the explosion of “Van Life” and DIY Aisrtream and RV restorations.  For around $200 for a 5KW unit, there is NO cheaper way to get a LOT of heat into your rig’s  living space.  There isn’t a lot of quality control, and there is certainly NO chance of holding one of these manufacturers responsible for anything that goes wrong, so using one of these heaters is solely the risk and responsibility of the person purchasing and installing them.  As such, one should take every measure to mitigate any possible dangers or faults that might result from the install.  There’s nothing you can do about defective equipment or something that wasn’t put together correctly at the factory (except not buy one of these in the first place), so it’s even more important to make sure the install is as perfect as possible.

If the above information worries you and you have a little more cash to spend (well… quite a bit more, actually), you are in luck.  Eberspacher and Webasto are two companies that have been making these heaters for decades (and even ones that run on regular fuel instead of diesel), so you have the option of spending around $2-4k for a really fantastic version of these Chinese risks. :-D  Buying from Eberspacher or Webasto also means you will get great customer service to help with the purchase and install, as well as a warranty.  These companies really are excellent, so if you have the money, I highly recommend going the much safer route.

Before I get to the installation information (that’s fun to say!), I want to point out that there is a lovely Australian gentleman who goes by John McK 47 on YouTube who has put together a series of around 20 videos that present the most useful and pertinent information on this subject anywhere.  Seriously.  I can’t believe how thorough and informative these videos are (and I don’t think he’s even monetized his videos –he’s just created and presented all this stuff for the good of humankind!).  You would be doing yourself a huge favor to watch every single one of his videos on the Chinese diesel heater topic.

Finally, this is far from the most comprehensive post on the topic of Chinese diesel heaters.  Think of it more like the information you need for your install once you’re sick of reading the hundreds and hundreds of posts on this topic and you just want to get to putting the heater in your vehicle.  So let’s go…

Mounting the Heater Body

On my first install it took me a while to decide how to mount the unit, and what kind of a hole was necessary for the intake/exhaust ports on the bottom of the unit.  Now that I’ve installed a couple of these, I feel like I’ve got it down.  Here are some tips regarding mounting the heater to the floor…

The metal plate should be mounted to a flat and stable surface.  The plate doesn’t seem to get that hot, but on my first install I thought I would go the extra mile and place ceramic fiber blanket between the mounting plate and the deck (the subfloor of the trailer).  After a bit of use, I think the ceramic blanket is overkill, but I do think a sheet of high temp silicone (the material used for modern oven mitts) can be a good idea.  Not only does it offer peace of mind regarding high temps against wood decking, but it also offers a little vibration absorption to help mitigate the noise caused by the heater being fastened to a huge flat surface which inevitably acts as a drum/amplifier.

Pro tip:  you should put almost everything together before you fasten the heater to the floor; this way, you don’t have to make all the connections on your back while crawling under the vehicle.  Thread the fuel pump electrical wire and coupler through the deck plate keyhole (that little extra hole connected to the intake hose hole), then fasten the deck plate to the heater.  Fasten both the exhaust hose and intake hose, and then attach a small piece of rubber fuel hose to the fuel port to be used for attaching the nylon fuel feed tube once it’s time to hook up the fuel pump.  When you’ve got all this put together, you can see what kind of hole you should create in your mounting surface.  It can be rectangular or round.  Just make sure of two things: the hole should be smaller than the mounting plate, but it should be big enough to give as much clearance as possible for any heat coming off the exhaust outlet.

The end of the exhaust hose should not be anywhere near the opening of the air intake hose.  If you are installing the heater on a moving vehicle, make sure the exhaust is behind the intake.  Also make sure your exhaust hose does not have any low points between the heater and it’s termination point.  Moisture is one of the things being “exhausted,” so if there is a low point in the exhaust hose, then water will pool in that area.

Along the same lines, make sure you position the exhaust muffler on it’s side.  It might seem like it’s meant to be mounted flat against the deck/floor, but it actually has a top and bottom edge, and should be mounted against a side support, so moisture can drain out of tiny holes in the bottom edge of the muffler.

The fewer bends in your intake/exhaust, the more efficiently your heater will run.  There are specific guidelines on maximum lengths and number of bends, but I’m trying to keep this post tight!  Just remember, the fewer restrictions on your lines, the happier your heater will be.

Fuel Lines

On the *feed* side of the pump (between the pump and the heater), you want hard nylon tubing, not soft rubber.  These pumps are made to feed intermittent fuel to the heater separated by tiny bubbles.  If you use rubber tubing, the vibration will be absorbed and the bubbles won’t properly form.  Typical rubber fuel lines can be used on the intake side of the pump (from the tank to the fuel pump), but anything after the pump should be the hard nylon line.  Your heater most likely came with some rubber fuel line (hopefully in addition to the hard nylon line), and that rubber hose should be used as the unions where the nylon tube attaches to things like the pump, filter, and heater.  Make sure that the nylon tubing presses directly against anything with which it is being coupled.  If there is a gap inside the rubber fuel line being used as a union, air gaps can form inside the rubber hose and will disrupt the flow of fuel to the heater.  From what I have read, it’s not a good idea to make the nylon supply line any longer than around 3 meters (15 feet) and the supply side rubber hose shouldn’t be any longer than 3 feet.  In any case, the shorter the fuel lines the better.

The Fuel Pump

The fuel pump should be placed as close to the fuel source (the tank) as possible.  It is easier for the small pump to push fuel than to pull it.  The fuel pump should also be placed on a slight incline.  By design, these pumps make tiny little bubbles that you want *floating up.* You can get away with placing the pump completely horizontal, but if the flow is positioned at all down, the pump will not function properly, so it’s best to position it with the “out” port above the “in” port.  You also want your fuel

The Plastic Fuel Tank

I’m not sure how great these tanks are for this purpose.  The tanks that are included with these heaters are translucent plastic.  If you mount them exposed to sunlight (whether it’s inside or outside the vehicle), your fuel will be compromised by UV rays.  Not only that, but the plastic tank itself will also break down over time.  I think it would be better to utilize an aluminum or stainless tank.

The included plastic tank does not come with the “bung” (the fuel port) installed.  You need to drill a hole and install the port.  If you haven’t done it before, it seems impossible.  How in the world do you hold the port from the back side… inside the tank?!  The answer is either a wire or string.  Drill the hole for the port, then feed a wire, coat hanger, or string through the hole from outside of the tank, through the tank, and out through the fill port (where you pour the fuel in).  Next place the bung over the wire or string and let it slide down to the hole.  If you used a string, tie a nut to the far end so you can pull the string tight to pull the bung through the hole.  If you used a wire or coat hanger, bend the far end into an L shape, so you can pull the bung through the hole.  You can make the hole a bit smaller than the bung threads so that the bung actually threads into the plastic, or you can just rely solely on the rubber washers pressed on the inside and outside of the tank.

Some people say putting a bung in the bottom of the tank isn’t a good idea because you’ll get sediment in your fuel line.  The preferred method is using an “uptake” line positioned 2cm from the bottom of the tank (like in a car’s fuel tank).  With these little pumps, I don’t think it’s a good idea to make them work harder in order to *suck* fuel up a fuel uptake.  Since you want the pump as close to the fuel source as possible, if you’re adding a fuel uptake, you’re basically moving the pump farther away from the source and making it work harder.  Not only that, but if your heater is mounted on the floor, it’s usually going to be difficult to place the tank much lower than the heater (to keep the fuel feed moving up as it should).  Therefore, it’s best to let gravity do it’s work with getting fuel to the pump, and the bung needs to go in the bottom of the tank.  Just make sure you check your fuel filter regularly so the flow of fuel isn’t being blocked by sediment that may collect in the bottom of the tank.  The bung is also made with extra material on the inside of the tank, so that the port is actually around 1cm above the very bottom of the tank.  Thus, even a bottom mounted bung is pulling fuel from a similar gap to what an uptake would utilize.

Additional (important) information…

Make sure you prime the fuel pump before starting the heater.  Simply put, this means getting fuel going through the fuel lines without actually running the heater.  This clears the air from the fuel lines and allows the fuel to lubricate the interior heater parts, so the heater is not “running dry” when it begins the start cycle.  For units with a digital panel, priming is activated by pressing the down arrow and OK button at the same time until the read out shows H-OF.  The pump will activate when you let go of those buttons and press the up arrow so the read out reads H-ON.  Press the down arrow again to halt the pump.  If you have a manual knob controller, turn the knob so that the low/high indicator lights up, then press the “off” button for more than three seconds to activate the pump.  Once you have let the pump run for a while to prime the pump and lines, press “off” again to halt the flow of fuel.

The flexible tubes (exhaust, intake, heat routing) that come with these units aren’t of the greatest quality.  You may want to update your tubes, dude.

Though it may seem like a good idea to put the heater on a switch, DON’T DO IT.  These heaters have various cycles that keep them functioning efficiently and safely.  If the power is cut before the heater can finish one or more of these cycles, it can damage the heater and/or lead to dangerous operating conditions.

Finally, make sure you install a carbon monoxide detector!  It could be the difference between life or death.  If that sounds dire… it is!


For more complete information, I think this guy put together a pretty good (and more comprehensive) post on the subject of Chinese diesel heaters (probably the “easiest” single-source on the topic, if that’s more what you’re after):

Updating RV Cooking Appliances

After a couple of years of real life experience on the road, I’m deciding to update the appliances in my 1975 Argosy/Airstream 24. Which is to say, I’m going to get rid of the original MagicChef range and oven.

I have a really great (relatively compact but powerful) microwave and a really great toaster oven (big enough for a 12″ pizza) in the pantry, but those can only be used on shore power or generator.  I’ve always thought it was a good idea to be able to *fully* prepare meals while running only on propane, but after a lot of time in the vehicle, I’m rethinking that notion.  Plus, I’m about to buy a dual-fuel generator, so technically I will be able to use those electric appliances via propane.

A quick aside before I go on… in the past, a “combo” microwave/oven has not been a realistic option.  The technology has just not been there.  No combo microwave unit could cook a crispy crust pizza, so that was that.  I think the technology is improving, but I am still utilizing two separate units.  I make toast/bagels often enough that I feel justified in having a separate microwave and toaster oven, and the toaster oven definitely makes a good pizza (or poppers, or frozen egg rolls, etc.).  Also, there are some really great multi-function toaster ovens now that include an “air fryer” option, so I think a microwave with a separate toaster/oven/air fryer is currently the best set up.

On to the cook top…

In the past, I usually scoffed when I saw galley set ups that included only a two burner cooktop.  In reality, I have NEVER used more than two burners at once.  I do almost always use two burners, but never more (quoth the raven).

The actual oven has never been used for anything but “storage” (and bad storage at that).  Not in my Argosy; not in my Landyacht; not ever.  Since the toaster oven is a good one, I have always done any “baking” (usually a pizza or lasagna) in the toaster oven.  I know if I was without shore power I couldn’t do this, but at that point planning a different meal is fine.  Plus, I recently installed an exterior grill (Olympian 5500 professional series) that could easily function as an oven if I absolutely had to have a propane powered oven to cook something.

So now the question is: what cooktop to install?  The main issue I have with the current cooktop (other than taking up too much counter space), is that the burners don’t have a high enough output.  I think they were probably originally rated around 6500 BTU, but after 40 years, even that is likely an optimistic figure.  It takes a million years to heat up water for coffee, and I can’t even think about boiling a large pot of water for pasta.  This probably makes this particular cook top safer (it’s not creating as much combustion exhaust inside the camper), but I am aware of the issue and pay attention to that factor when cooking, so I’m comfortable moving to something with a higher BTU output.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the “travel-ability” of the cook top unit.  What this means is being able to cover it up (ideally creating a flush countertop) and not having the burner covers, cooking grates, etc., rattle around while bouncing down the road.

There are a slew of $100-200 two burner units on Amazon, etc., but even if they are labeled “drop in,” almost all of them sit above the counter.  They also have grates and burner covers that simply rest on the surface, so they will definitely bounce around and cause a lot of noise (and possibly damage) with road vibration.

It’s also surprising to me how many cook top burners, even ones designed specifically for RV’s, have only 120v igniter options (they plug into a regular household outlet just to start the flame).  Why in the world isn’t 12v or even a AA battery the standard here?!  That problem can be easily remedied with modification (installing your own igniter), but it seems crazy that I will have to make this mod in the first place.

Dometic seems to be the only readily available unit that is properly “recessed,” but the burners are only rated 7,200 and 5,400 BTU.  This unit does however have a 12v igniter, so at least there’s that.  I don’t think I would be happy cooking on the “wire” grate pictured on the unit above, but for an extra $50 they do offer a more sturdy cooking grate option.  Here’s the kicker though… all of the reviews I’m reading about this unit (mostly 1 star) are people ranting about the fact that the description does not disclose that you can’t use it over 4,500 ft.!  I LIVE at 6,000 ft., so this thing won’t even work in my driveway!  Obviously the Dometic is not for me.

All of the other recessed propane burners I’m finding are really chintzy looking “camping” units (I’m looking at you Atwood and Suburban), so I have a feeling I’m going to end up finding a commercial two burner unit and modifying it for my own needs.  I plan on installing a butcher block countertop, so I could modify the opening to allow the cook top to sit lower, and then I can make a flush-fit cover.  So… as usual, I guess custom is the only answer.  Perhaps I will dismantle a stainless steel grill and go from there.

I do have to admit, this little Wedgewood is gorgeous…

External Propane Tanks and Accessories

Disclaimer: Propane is flammable.  The information provided here is *general information* culled from the web.  I cannot be held responsible if you blow yourself up or burn off your face or someone else’s.

The “Stay-a-while” type adapters simply add two ports to your existing propane supply line, and cost around $30 at the time of this posting.  The Stanbroil version pictured above actually calls it what it is: a brass tee with 4 ports. Theses adapters go just after the propane tank but BEFORE the regulator, and are thus for HIGH PRESSURE.  Usually one port is a disposable one pound container fitting (1″-20), and the other is a threaded quarter inch inverted flare fitting (both attached to the tee via 1/4 male pipe threads). I swapped the 1/4″ inverted flare on mine for the QCC fitting typically used to connect back to the supply line, so the QCC port is now available for an external tank connection.  I left the “disposable 1lb. tank” connector for hooking up external high pressure appliances like camping stoves that normally use the small disposable tanks.  I then made my own supply hose to go from QCC to QCC (i.e. To connect a typical tank with the “big threads” to the “big threads” now on my RV supply line.


Some useful information…

POL is short for Prest-o-lite, the company that first started manufacturing this connection.  POL is the connection that utilizes the INSIDE thread.  A POL connection usually requires a wrench to get the connection tight enough to prevent leaking.

QCC stands for Quick Closing Coupling.  A QCC connector uses the giant external threads you typically see on a 20# propane BBQ tank.  The big plastic nut part of the QCC connector is often called an Acme Nut and is what threads onto the big QCC threads.

The pressure coming out of a propane tank when the ambient temperature is 100 degrees Fahrenheit is around 172 PSI.

Low pressure propane quick-connects are to be used AFTER a regulator.

A propane supply line quick connect must be High Pressure, not the low pressure rated ones typically marketed for RV’s and available from brands like Camco and Mr. Heater.  These low pressure accessory quick connects are labeled as being made for 1/2 psi (low pressure) lines.



Vintage RV Interiors (Greatest Hits)

1975 Argosy MH Tank Sending Unit and Sock Filter

The biggest reason I scored my Argosy Motorhome (other than my neighbor being a great guy) is because the previous owner couldn’t get fuel to the motor.  He had “help” from a friend who tried replacing the fuel pump (with one that wasn’t powerful enough), but the actual issue was that the fuel line from the tank was severely blocked.  In the gallery below you can see what I removed from the lift tube in the fuel sender.  Not only was the “filter sock” pretty much full to the point of saturation, but the metal tube from the bottom of the tank was filled with a lot of black, rubbery crud.

To get the Argosy back to my place from where it had been sitting for more than a decade, I had bypassed the gas tank by placing a small fuel reservoir inside the cabin and installing  a Carter P4070 fuel pump to move the fuel.  It is common consensus that a fuel pump should be as close to the tank as possible, with no part of the fuel line “behind” the pump; thus, inside the tank is the very best placement.  My intention for the *final* fuel delivery solution was to install an in-tank lift pump, and with the access port that my Argosy has in the floor above the tank, I think that’s still a viable option, but after seeing how everything is set up, I think I’m going to just stick with the Carter as close to the tank as I can get it (not inside the tank).  This just makes replacing/servicing the fuel pump that much easier, because you don’t have to open up the access port in the floor to get inside the fuel tank.

I was considering adding a “better” fuel filter inside the tank, but after doing a lot reading, apparently the sock is the best way to go, because it soaks up fuel, and allows the vehicle to run when the tank is virtually empty.  If the fuel is moving around in the tank while driving, the sock soaks it up and keeps it at the intake line.  If the sock weren’t present, there would be an empty tube trying to suck up fuel from places in the tank it can’t reach.  I may need to replace the sock filter in another 50 years, but I’ve got the floor access panel, so dropping the tank isn’t necessary for that procedure.

So now that I have my tank opened up and the sender removed, I will replace the fuel sock and clean out the tank before hooking everything back up and driving away!


1975 Argosy 454 Chevy Big Block – Replace Mechanical Fuel Pump with Electric Fuel Pump

I am getting ready to bring the “Diskotrek” home.  It’s a fully loaded 1975 Argosy 24′ mobile home that has been sitting for at least five years.  Last weekend I towed it about 10 feet to pull it out of the ruts it was sitting in and to make sure the brakes work (they do!).  All six tires were still holding air and almost at full pressure.  The brake fluid reservoir was almost completely full (I added maybe 4 tablespoons of Dot 3), and pumping the brake definitely moved the fluid in the reservoir.  After pumping the pedal for around a minute, we started to get resistance.  The brakes didn’t work the first time we started rolling, but after a little more pumping, they were good to go (at least at around 3mph!). The only information I have on why it has been sitting so long is that the last time someone tried to get it running, they didn’t want to pony up for a strong enough fuel pump.  That sounds odd (giving up because of a $30 part?!), but it’s all I’ve got to go on, so…

I’ve been researching the fuel pump swap.  These 454 Big Blocks used a mechanical pump (a pump that gets moved by a link to the engine cam).  To start the vehicle, you’re supposed to “prime” the fuel by pumping the gas pedal.  If you pump too much, you’ll flood the engine.  Not only that, but the rod between the pump and the cam shaft often becomes uncoupled or seizes (depending on the style of the year of the motor) so the pump stops, well, pumping.

Some people replace the mechanical pump to keep it stock (which seems to last 3 years or so on average?), so the preferred solution is to replace the mechanical pump with an electric one (or just add it to the line if the mechanical pump is still functioning).  From what I gather, though not absolutely necessary, it’s best to remove the mechanical pump if it fails and cap off the hole, so fuel isn’t being pushed into/through the old, non-functioning pump.  The replacement pump should provide around 5psi and needs to “push” the fuel rather than suck it, so you need to mount the pump as close to the fuel tank as possible, preferably with an inline fuel filter right before the pump (to keep all the rust and other gunk inside your tank from clogging the fuel line or getting to the carburetor).

A lot of people use the Red Holly pump, but at $130, it has much worse reviews than a lot of the $25-$40 pumps I’m seeing online, so I’m not sure the “Holly” premium is worth it.  However, the Carter P4070 gets mentioned a lot, was installed (either by Chevy or Airstream) on newer Airstreams/Argosies to take care of vapor lock issues, has a 72GPH idle flow rate (much higher than I’m seeing from other pumps), and comes highly recommended by a lot of Airforums users.  It’s around $62 delivered, but seems to be worth the little bit extra for something tried and true.

So I pulled both batteries (starting and house) and will put a new starting battery in next weekend along with the new electric fuel pump to see if she starts!

Didn’t see this mentioned in a lot of places, so thought this was worth highlighting…

Airforums user WayneG comments:

A electric fuel pump should be hooked up to run only when the engine is running. To do that it should have a safety interlock that prevents it from pumping unless the ignition switch is on and there is oil pressure. Too many people leave out the oil pressure switch, which is a bad idea. The reason for it is that if you break a fuel line after the electric pump or your carb float sticks open, it will be pouring fuel some place creating a fire hazard. If the engine is not running because of lack of fuel, there will be no oil pressure and the fuel pump will stop pumping. I found this diagram for a fuel pump hookup, there may be better methods.




Links to some of the resources I used for this post:

Airstream Problems and Build Quality

While I firmly believe that Airstream is the best mass-produced travel trailer available, they are not without their issues.  A lot of people seem to think that for the price (usually over $100k), there should be no issues, but obviously that’s not realistic.  From what I understand, Airstream does do a pretty good job of fixing that which wasn’t done correctly in the first place (and you can stay at the “mothership” while they fix it!). Do “small things” fail too often?  Probably.  Are there some really bad ideas/designs implemented on a fairly regular basis.  Maybe.  But “batting 500” is considered stellar (if not impossible) in terms of baseball stats, and Airstream is probably doing better than that, so it all depends on perspective.

Many Airstream problems are a result of poor design, but those problems are almost always “luxury” problems (cabinets, appliances, layout, latches, etc.), not major mechanicals or the design of the body and frame.

Most Airstreams also aren’t built for “owner maintenance.”  As such, when something goes wrong, it can be incredibly difficult to fix.  Sometimes people end up “breaking things more” while attempting to fix something that they shouldn’t have been messing with in the first place.

The issue is similar to the Apple vs. PC mentality.  Apple products are made to only function with Apple components; by keeping things close, Apple creates an environment where they have more control over the outcome.  Apple products are meant to be “worked on” only by licensed Apple specialists.  PC’s are made more for the “do-it-yourself” crowd, and there are a plethora of components that can be used to make things work in myriad ways.  Apple is generally thought of as a product for people who just “want things to work.”  If those items stop working as they should, Apple customers send them back, trade them in, or have an “expert” fix them.  Airstream definitely operates by the Apple code, and the price of the initial product as well as the maintenance reflects that ideal.

Another issue is often that people try to use their Airstream outside of it’s window of expected use (sub-zero camping, questionable road conditions, etc).  In other words, they are pushing the boundaries of what Airstream has intended for the trailer.  Many people believe that if you spend over $100,000 for a trailer, it should work all of the time, in any condition.  But what those people fail to consider is that it’s more like owning a Ferrari.  If you don’t baby it, things will go wrong, and it will be expensive to fix them… if you can even find someone with the expertise to do the work properly.

All of these thoughts are going into my idea of what an ideal Airstream renovation should entail.  I think the build should certainly be “done right” in the first place (no cabinets “anchored to air” or missing fasteners), but it should also be user-friendly, so that when something goes wrong (because thing will go wrong when you’re bouncing down the road for years), they can be easily fixed by anyone with a decent idea of “how things work.”  Components should also be readily available, so that it doesn’t take weeks (or even months!) of waiting for parts or service windows.

Any time something is mass-produced, you make sacrifices in quality control (the more hands there are, the more opportunity there is for mistakes).  The “Apple mentality” is one way of trying to minimize those issues.  I prefer the “one-at-a-time” approach (which is certainly a luxury), and that’s how I plan to renovate and reinvent travel trailers.  I don’t plan on getting rich.  I just plan on building great vehicles.


Here are some threads I’ve collected that reflect people’s varied opinions on Airstream build quality and service, as well as some of the specific things that seem to consistently go wrong…

“Attention to detail” issues…

Designed to sell, not to use…

Frustrated with Airstream quality…

Forty things we would change on our Airstream…

Had it with my Basecamp…

Bath mirror cabinet fell off…

Bath vanity failure…

Remounting medicine cabinet to prevent falling…

Leaking, rust, A/C issues, drawers off tracks, cabinet alignment…

Component choices…

Repairing a Cracked Airstream Plastic End Cap

I was going to build a bunk over the dinette, but plans change, and luckily I hadn’t yet recycled the plastic interior end cap.  Originally I had decided not to use the end cap, because it had been damaged by the previous owner upon removal.  But plastic can be repaired, and here’s how I did it.

While the giant crack was the major concern, the first thing I knew I would need to do is stop all the little cracks from getting bigger.  The best way to do this is by drilling a small hole at the end of each crack.

Next I needed to make sure the end cap was super clean so whatever I was going to use for repairing the crack would adhere to the plastic, so I went over it with soap and water, then TSP-PF, then denatured alcohol to remove any residue.

I research online quite a bit deciding how I would make this repair.  There are many posts and videos on “plastic welding,” but I think that method is best for softer plastic like ABS.  I tried plastic welding on a small crack, but this aged, brittle plastic just doesn’t take well to being melted by heat.

Next I thought about using a flexible backing and epoxy.  I braced the crack from underneath as well as using some foil tape on the other side to make sure there was no movement during curing.  Then I cut a patch of screen, and  spread some two part epoxy over the crack before applying the screen.  The idea was that the epoxy would stick to the end cap, and the screen would be embedded in the epoxy.  I used foil tape and a brick to hold the screen and epoxy in place while it dried.  I tested this method on the upper part of the crack.  My thought was that I could finish the repair on the bottom (where separation was greater) with a different solution if this didn’t work well.

The epoxy and screen did work pretty well, but the more I thought about it, the more I worried that the cured epoxy would be brittle, and thus would just crack again with road vibration.  The screen would likely keep the two pieces from separating, but the crack would become visible again from the front side.  So I moved on to using something that I would actually need to purchase (what I had been avoiding by trying to use stuff I had on hand).

I also used a piece of steel (an Ikea wall cleat) across the entire front of the end cap to hold the crack closed and strengthen the structure.

I had used Fiber Fix rigid patch while on the road to repair a split in my turbo hose once, so I knew it did a great job of holding together, even under heat.  The product had some pretty bad reviews online, but I think this was because people were not using it correctly.  The product requires UV light to cure, and luckily, that is something I have a serious abundance of, living a mile closer to the sun here in Colorado.  So I re-prepped the large bottom portion of the crack, and applied the patch as instructed.  I then let the end cap sit in the bright Colorado sun for the entire day.  The Fiber Fix cured extremely well, and I don’t think it will ever let go.  It is seriously bonded to the plastic.


I then installed the end cap back into the Airstream, and finished the visible side with a couple of coats of Bondo before sanding smooth and painting.

Custom Hybrid RV Toilet

I definitely prefer boondocking over crowded campsites.  As such, a black tank is a hindrance beyond an inconvenience.  All that water, holding capacity, and weight wasted on simply flushing a toilet.  The obvious solution is a composting toilet, but the market leaders require maintenance that I feel is unnecessary (mainly, a small urine tank you have to empty by hand, cranking a handle to stir up the solid waste, and finally, disposal of solid waste).

Some composting toilets allow you to plumb the urine diverter to the gray tank.  That’s a good idea (no dumping a urine jug).

At the time of my build, I was surprised that there didn’t seem to be anyone in the US selling a stand alone urine diverter, especially with how many blog posts there were on building bucket toilets for off-grid houses, etc.  That has since changed (there are now a lot more options), but I will give props to the couple in England who made a business of selling their urine diverter online.  I paid $45 on eBay, which seemed a little steep for a molded piece of plastic, but it was definitely quick and easy, and I’ve been happy with the product and design.

So then how to improve on the #2 part?  Well, it seems like ever since human kind invited cats into their homes, the problem has been “solved.”  Yes, I believe that a human litter box is the way to go.  They key to this, however, is the exhaust fan.  The reason a composting toilet functions well is because there is a 12v continuous exhaust fan sucking out any odor and making sure the compartment is void of all moisture.  As long as this idea is incorporated, the human litter box is a great solution.

So basically, all one needs to do is build a fancy “outhouse” setup where the toilet in the Airstream would normally go.  A cabinet box houses the bin that will catch the solids as well as the urine diverter and the exhaust fan.  You need a deck on top of the cabinet with a toilet seat attached.  That’s pretty much it.

For the deck, I wanted a solid material that is as easy as possible to clean (for obvious reasons), thus, I chose a heavy duty commercial kitchen cutting board (18″x24″).  It’s an inch thick, so plenty solid, and it’s made to be easily wiped completely clean (removing bacteria, etc., in a kitchen setting).  I searched a bit online and found the Winco CBXH-1824 for $30 from a commercial kitchen supplier.  I used the toilet seat as a template, and then cut the hole with a reciprocating saw.  I then used a router to round off the sharp edge.

For the seat, I chose a “soft close” hinge (it doesn’t slam) and found a seat with a lid that is actually molded over the edge of the seat, to form a kind of seal.  I thought about making a gasket to make the seat and lid really seal, as I thought this would help mitigate odor, but it turns out that the exhaust fan really does completely eliminate odor, and leaving a little bit of an air gap around the seat (vs. sealing it completely) helps with air flow.

I was a little worried that I hadn’t left a vent stack through the roof.  I didn’t want to vent through the side wall for aesthetic reasons, and I was worried that venting through the floor wouldn’t work very well.  I did some poking around online, and there were a few people who had installed set ups in their Sprinter vans that included exhaust vents through the floor, so I decided to give it a try.  It has worked great.  No complaints with functionality, and after a year of use, any worry about excessive odor due to not venting above the nose line has been assuaged.

The vent fan box build…



The most convenient way to plumb the urine diverter in my build was to pipe into the lavatory sink drain pipe.  This has the added bonus of “flushing” the toilet (anything standing in the drain pipe) when you wash your hands. I though that was pretty clever.


So I just place a trash bag in the bin (the plastic container that the kitty litter came in happens to be the perfect size), ad a little kitty litter (like, just a couple cups), and the exhaust fan takes care of the rest. With two people, every couple of weeks or so I take the deck off the toilet cabinet and remove the bag from the bin and toss it in a dumpster.  We’ve been using this set up for more than a year, and I have to say I’m extremely pleased with the results.  And there has never been any odor!  My eight-year-old actually prefers the Airstream toilet to the ones in the house.






Upgrading Speakers while Retaining the Original Trim (Speaker Housing)

I’ve been using a portable Bluetooth speaker in the Airstream, but with as much time as I’m spending in there these days, it’s time for something a little more “serious.”  The 5.25″ speakers from 1972 are unlistenable, and I really wanted to keep the original trim (the speaker covers), so I hopped online to  research car speakers that would work.  I didn’t need anything “crazy,” and was happy to find a set of Infinity car speakers (REF-5022cfx) with great reviews for $50.

When they arrived, I placed them in the original speaker housing, and while the diameter was a perfect fit, the “tweeter” portion of the speaker protruded too far from the “woofer” portion, and thus pressed up against the grill of the housing.  This was a pretty easy fix, but it did take a little while to scavenge the perfect objects to use for stand-offs/spacers (rubber grommets).  I tried both plastic and rubber, and rubber was definitely the way to go.  Not only does it have some give, but it also helps reduce vibration between the speaker and housing.  I also ended up using rubber washers to replace the original nuts that hold the speakers in place.

The new speakers were already quite a bit deeper than the originals (larger magnets, deeper cone, additional tweeter component, etc.), so I knew I would need to cut away quite a bit of the insulation behind the speaker housing to accommodate the new speaker depth.  I cut away the existing 1.5 inches of polyiso insulation, then TremPro’d a 1/2″ sheet of polyiso panel to the exterior skin behind the speaker hole and sealed everything back up with 3M foil tape to make sure there wouldn’t be any drafts from behind the speaker grates.

Because all this insulation is foil-faced, and since I used foil tape to seal everything up, I made sure to cover the posts on the speaker with electric tape so there wouldn’t be any metal-on-metal contact.

Before placing the speakers back in the wall, I hooked them up to take a listen, and was extremely disappointed by the thin sound, especially since so many of the reviews specifically commented on how great the bass was for these 5.25″ speakers.   I realized that actually placing them on/in the wall would increase surface area and create more vibration and reflection, but I didn’t realize just *how* much of a difference placement would make.  They actually sound great!

So now I have permanent front speakers that I can use with my temporary audio set up (a 12v powered Bluetooth receiver/amp that I feed with either my phone or the television) until I decide what I will be using for the whole-house media system.  (More on that in a future post!)