Ask Outside Interests

Ask Outside Interests – 2/24/15

You ask, we answer—or we find someone who can.

Here are our responses to the sticky Airstream issues recently raised by Robert L. and Myron F. (Got a tough question about Airstreaming and need a reliable answer? Drop a line to and let us know what you’d like us to cover in future editions of Outside Interests. Your RV news for the Airstream community and photos are always welcome, too!)

Are surge protectors a necessary expense to protect the electrical systems of the Airstream?

Surge protectors and related electrical protectors are like insurance policies: you only need them when something goes wrong, but you have to buy them in advance if they’re going to be of any use at all. A basic surge protector can stop a sudden electrical spike from damaging electronics in your Airstream. More sophisticated power protectors can do that as well as protect against unsafe conditions like incorrect wiring, or low/high voltage conditions that might burn out your air conditioner or microwave oven.

Most campgrounds have good wiring, but if you travel a lot you’ll eventually run into a shoddy-looking receptacle with bad wiring, or find a campground that is struggling to maintain proper voltage to all the campers (especially during air conditioning season). Since you can’t be there to monitor the power all the time, a good power protector is a wise choice. Expect to spend about $200-300 for a quality unit.

Are in line water filters necessary when camping in established camp grounds?

It’s a matter of personal choice. Campground water has to meet the same standards as any other public water system, so it should be safe. But you might not like the taste, or your body might be sensitive to different water than what you are accustomed to drinking at home. If so, a good filtration system is the solution.

Water treatment is a complex subject. Basic charcoal filters improve taste and remove chlorine, as well as large sediment, and they are inexpensive. From there, you can upgrade to filter out even finer sediment, bacteria, protozoa, chemicals and metals with other types of filters. You can also soften the water, de-ionize it, and even sterilize the water with a UV light.

Of course, every added element means more expense, more weight, more stuff to carry, an ongoing maintenance cost, and (in the case of external filtration systems) more setup time at the campground. So before you buy, consider carefully how far you are willing to go for extremely pure water.

Sometimes water filtration is necessary to prevent problems with the plumbing, as the next question demonstrates:

About three years ago I started having problem with the water valve in a Thetford commode. It was clogging, and holding it open, thus allowing my commode to overflow and flood my trailer. Unable to figure it out, I bought a Dometic toilet and then the water line started to clog up with what looked like calcium pellets. Since the Dometic toilet had a screen in the water valve, it would not let the pellets into the water valve, so I avoided the flooding problem. Where are the calcium pellets coming from? I installed an inline water filter just prior to the water filter on the commode and now I can just open the water filter and clean the bowl out and everything is good for about two weeks. This problem is really noticeable after I move the trailer as I guess I am shaking trash loose as we travel. Any thoughts on how to solve this problem?

You’ve got hard water, and that’s probably the basic source of all the problems you are having. Mineral deposits from the water are accumulating and clogging the pipes, valves, water heater, and every other part of the plumbing system. Unfortunately, for those living in the southwest it’s a common issue.

The best solution is a water softener. You can buy portable units designed specifically for recreational vehicles, which work the same way as household units. When it’s time to recharge the softener, you can do it with ordinary table salt. There’s some maintenance and a little bit of setup hassle, but a softener would eliminate the mineral pellets and other problems you’ve been having. We’d also recommend a good filter to remove any sediment, installed at the outside of the Airstream.

How do I adjust the spring hinges of the Airstream cabinets so they close like new?

The hinges are not difficult to adjust, but you do have to pop the cover off the inside rectangular portion of the hinge to get to the screws. If the door is not closing properly, or is no longer hanging straight you can make the adjustments with a simple screwdriver. If the door is not staying shut due to a weak spring, then the hinge will need to be replaced. The hinges in the newer model Airstreams are typically a high end European cabinet hinge and if you need to replace them you can find them in most of the big box stores. Be sure to take one with you, to match the sizes!

What options are there to replace the odd shaped queen mattress of the Airstreams? Factory replacements take a month to get and cost over $1000! There has to be a replacement option that is more economical and just as nice as an original Airstream queen mattress.

Unfortunately this is not one of those situations where you can have it fast, easy or cheap. If you want to stay with the custom size, you will need to deal with Airstream to get a replacement or go to a custom mattress manufacturer and have them make you one. Depending on where you live you may have a resource in your local community.

The custom route locally will likely cost close to the Airstream price, but you can get the exact firmness you want and choose the level of quality you are willing to pay for. The fast and cheap option is to buy a mattress from a regular mattress store that you can make “fit”. You may lose some of the walk-around room at the foot of an island bed, or it may be taller than the nightstands, but you can have it tomorrow.