Clean Algae From Fresh Water Tanks

If you are relatively new to RVing, you might not realize that underneath your RV a biology experiment is taking place. But if you’ve owned your RV for a few years, you have likely already learned this lesson: algae grows in your fresh water tank. According to Mike Richert, owner and chief technician of Onward RV in Maryville, Tennessee, it’s essential that you clean algae out of this tank periodically, and especially after a warm winter like we’ve had here in east Tennessee.

Algae requires these to grow: water, sunlight, and nutrients, particularly nitrates, phosphates, and/or carbon dioxide. Algae loves to grow in fish tanks and swimming pools.

Now I’m not a biologist and I’m betting you aren’t either. I have no idea how a tank underneath an RV gets enough sunlight and contains enough of these nutrients to allow algae growth, but it happens. And it happens more quickly than you might think.

The design of RV fresh water tanks makes perfect sense for filling, but creates a problem with draining.

algae in tank 4

With most RVs, when you drain the fresh water holding tank there is still some water left in the bottom of the tank. Even if you manage to drain all the water out of the tank, moisture remains. Two or three months, at most, is all it takes for algae growth to begin.


Cleaning algae out of a fresh water tank doesn’t need to take a lot of time or cost you a fortune. Onward RV’s Mike Richert keeps it simple. “Peroxide works well. Just one or two bottles. Bleach works too but many people don’t like putting it in their systems,” Mike says. “Vinegar gets rid of general bad tastes and adding baking soda with it works to remove the tastes of plastic and antifreeze.” Mike adds, “Driving or towing your RV while these products are in the tank helps the cleaning process by agitating the water.”

Note: If your RV’s fridge is equipped with an ice maker, turn if off before starting this process. Also do not run any water through a drinking water dispenser in your fridge or sink.

Products made specifically to clean fresh water tanks are available, if you prefer to go that route.










Another Undetected Roof Leak

Five months ago, the RV Living blog posted “A Cautionary Tale: The Undetected Roof Leak.” That post chronicled the rebuilding required when a motorhome had a roof leak that went undetected for more than a year. Major water damage from unnoticed roof leaks is the most common cause of rot, mold and mildew, and structural weakening. And Mike Richert, owner and chief technician of Onward RV in Maryville, Tennessee, is seeing a lot of it.

The photos in this post will look eerily similar to the last post, but it truly is a different motorhome. Just the same problem: the extensive damage caused by an undetected roof leak.

Skip and Cydna Savage of Maryville contacted Mike to inspect their 2005 Dutchmen Express, which had been sitting uncovered and unused on the back of their property for nearly two years. They knew the motorhome needed cleaning inside and out and surely some work to get it up and running again, but they weren’t expecting what Mike found when he inspected it. The motorhome had extensive rot and structural damage from a roof leak. These photos, with the Dutchmen Express already in the Onward RV shop, show the spot where the roof leak originated.


See that? The spot where water was getting in. Don’t you see it? Let’s look closer.

savage21          sav26

Just there, at the corner of a skylight over the kitchenette. Sun, heat, and temperature changes over several seasons had deteriorated the seal around the skylight, raising one corner and allowing a small stream of water to seep in between the wall and ceiling boards and the fiberglass exterior. It doesn’t look like much, does it? But the damage it caused is tremendous. The entire wall along the kitchen and dining areas and the entire cab-over bunk area were rotten. Here the work begins in the kitchen area:

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Here’s the wall and ceiling along the dining area, toward the front of the motorhome and the cab-over bunk area:

savage18     savage24


And the work of removing and rebuilding the structure begins.

savage14    savage13


The damage was widespread and the repair process was arduous and time-consuming. But ultimately, the Dutchmen Express started to regain it’s dignity!

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savage6    savage7


The hood, which had been damaged by hail and weather, was sent off to be repaired and repainted at a body shop.







From the outside, the motorhome is looking almost as good as new.


So yet again, here is the moral of this story:

Nothing is more destructive to an RV than to have its roof neglected.

Regular roof care and maintenance is paramount to the health, usability, and value of every RV. Regardless of the type of roof your RV has, regular visual checks, cleaning, and basic maintenance are necessary to keep the roof in good condition and head off damaging leaks and expensive repairs. Just ask Skip and Cydna Savage!

Mike Richert is the owner and chief technician of Onward RV, Maryville, Tennessee. Onward RV serves Blount, Knox, and other counties of east Tennessee. Visit the Onward RV website at and LIKE us on Facebook,



A Cautionary Tale: The Undetected Roof Leak

Don and Roberta Walker called Onward RV, a mobile RV repair service based in Maryville, Tennessee, to take a look at their 1998 Coachmen Santara. This little Class C had been sitting outside uncovered for more than a year when the Walkers asked Mike Richert, Onward RV’s owner and chief technician, to clean it up and get it road-worthy again. Unfortunately for the Walkers, Mike quickly discovered a major problem — a roof leak that had been allowing water to seep in under the fiberglass exterior and get into the cab area of the motorhome.

Here is the motorhome the Walkers brought to the Onward RV repair facility in Alcoa, Tennessee.


She’s dirty and stained by mildew, but Mike knows that’s not the big problem. Undetected, even a small leak can do a great deal of damage over time.

In the shop, Mike begins to peel back the fiberglass exterior.


The amount of rot is enormous. Outside and in. The entire cab-over bunk area is rotted.


So the weeks-long process of removing the rotten wood and getting the Walkers’ motorhome back to a usable condition begins. Rotten wood is removed. New wood is installed and painted.

The bunk-over cab is put back together, outside and in.

The bunk with entertainment center is re-installed, looking good as new.

Now the outside clean-up begins. Before and after:

IMG_3343  IMG_2196

The exterior cleaning wasn’t an easy process either, but the results were great!

And we’ve gone from this:


To this:


What a difference! And finally this 1998 Coachmen Santara is ready to go home.

And here are the Happy Campers, Don and Roberta, who were thrilled with the outcome of this big job.


The moral of the story is the same one we’ve made in this blog before: nothing is more destructive to an RV than to have its roof neglected. Regular roof care and maintenance is paramount to the health, usability, and value of every RV. Regardless of the type of roof your RV has, regular visual checks, cleaning, and basic maintenance are necessary to keep the roof in good condition and head off damaging leaks and expensive repairs. Just ask the Walkers!

Mike Richert is the owner and chief technician of Onward RV, Maryville, Tennessee. Onward RV serves Blount, Knox, Loudon, and other counties of east Tennessee. Visit the Onward RV website at and LIKE us on Facebook,


The RV Roof: Out of sight, out of mind.

By – Mike Richert, Onward RV, Maryville, TN

When it comes to RV roofs, the norm seems to be “out of sight, out of mind.” I’m often amazed when I go to service a customer’s RV and the exterior is washed and well maintained, and the interior is clean, stylish, and organized. Then I climb up and check the roof. Oh my goodness! Often I find a roof that is dirty and moldy, with tears, cracks, and rips. Nine times out of 10, the owners have no idea what condition their roofs are in and are shocked when I ask them to climb up and have a look, or send them photos, like these:


A “healthy” RV roof is essential to the overall condition of the RV. Just as with the roof of your home, your RV roof is the first line of defense against the elements, debris, and environmental contaminants. Regardless of the type of roof on the RV, follow these basic guidelines:

Inspect the roof – While you’re up there, be sure to check the seals around the air conditioner, vent caps, sewer vents, and around the front, back, and sides. Look for weak seams, and any cuts, tears, or gouges in the RV roof.

Prepare the roof – Make sure your RV roof is clear of dirt, debris, and dust and that it is completely dry before beginning work on it.

Use the right products for the roof – Use the right cleaners, sealants, protectants, and materials for the RV roof type you have. This is particularly important on EPDM and TPO rubber roofs.

Follow the directions on the products you use – Give them time to properly cure, set, dry, etc.

While performing RV roof maintenance… – Be sure to check your skylights, AC unit, vents, and ladders, as they can also attract mold and dirt and get cracked. Don’t seal around your AC unit in most cases, it may disrupt the condensation drainage system and push that water inside your RV.


Regardless of the type of roof your RV has, regular visual checks, cleaning, and basic maintenance are necessary to keep the roof in good condition and head off damaging leaks and expensive repairs. Let’s discuss each roof type.

What type of roof do I have?

Simply, there are 3 types of factory standard RV roofs: metal, fiberglass, and rubber membrane (EPDM and TPO). Make sure you know what type of roof you have before cleaning or repairing. (Don’t laugh! People often aren’t sure when I ask.) It’s easy to know if an RV has a metal roof – it looks like metal! To differentiate between fiberglass and rubber, look for these characteristics: fiberglass roofs are hard and smooth. Rubber roofs are soft, white (if they’re a year or so old), off-white or tan (if older), and chalky-looking (if older than one year). When all else fails, refer to the owner’s manual, if you have one.

Metal Roofs

Metal roofs (usually aluminum or steel) are more common in older motorhomes and are fairly rare in modern RVs. Aluminum roofs are particularly low maintenance, but they increase the cost of your RV and add a significant amount of weight. Regular cleaning and inspection are still necessary. Gentle cleaning with automotive wash and wax products will do the trick, although specialized products are available. Metal roofs should be cleaned once or twice a year unless you regularly park under sap-dripping tress, fruit trees, or trees that attract a lot of birds. Then clean them 3 or 4 times per year.

Fiberglass Roofs

After washing, the fiberglass roof needs the application of a protectant product so it doesn’t oxidize (lose its shine, feel rough to the touch, and eventually slough off white powder). Oxidation is the bane of the fiberglass roof. Use a protectant in lieu of waxing. Numerous such products are available. An alternative is to put a coat of paste wax on the roof, but be careful when walking on the roof with a fresh coat of wax! Very slippery.

Rubber Roofs

Rubber roofs are far and away the standard for RVs. Today, rubber roofs account for upwards of 70% of RV roofs. There are two types of rubber roofs: EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer) and TPO (thermoplastic olefin). EPDM roofs are more common than TPO roofs. Both types of rubber roof require similar care and maintenance. Make certain the products you use are approved for your specific type of rubber membrane.


EPDM rubber roofing membrane is made to last 20 years or longer and usually has a 10- to 20-year guarantee, depending on the brand. EPDM roofs do not require the use of any protective roof treatment or protectant product. Make certain to use an approved cleaning product on your rubber roof.

NEVER USE cleaners or conditioners containing petroleum solvents, harsh abrasives, or citric-based cleaners on your EPDM roof. Not only could you damage the membrane, you might void your warranty.


EPDM roofs are approximately 1/6” thick which allows them to be lightweight, yet easily susceptible to damage. When driving and parking your RV you want to be cautious of low hanging branches or any external objects that could damage your delicate roof. Because EPDM is porous, it easily collects dirt, and is prone to chalking as it ages. EPDM roofs are likely to show signs of discoloration faster if you reside in damp climates. Regardless of the climate you live in, your EPDM roof is likely to begin chalking after approximately 12 months. Chalking can be identified by off-white and gray powdery residue that sometimes forms streaks down the side of your RV as it is washed away.


Roof maintenance and cleaning for EPDM roofs needs to be performed at least 4 times annually to wipe away dirt, debris and any accumulating mold. While molds may begin to grow on your EPDM roof, the mold will not penetrate the EPDM fully. However both mold and dirt can cause lasting visual stains (although this does not affect your roof’s performance). It is important to remember that mold can grow on RVs in warm climates too. This is because the rubberized material of your roof reflects the heat of the sun allowing mold to grow. To reduce the likelihood of stains, regularly use a non-abrasive cleanser and a soft bristled brush. Try to avoid regularly parking under sap-dripping tress, fruit trees, or trees that attract a lot of birds. Remember to avoid all petroleum-based  and citric-based products and cleansers when cleaning your EPDM roof.

Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel? The Pros and Cons.

Many “RV Living” readers are full-timers; but even full-timers periodically re-think which type of RV is best for them. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss the differences between a travel trailer and a fifth wheel, from both practical and esthetic points of view.


Cost. Between travel trailers and fifth wheels, travel trailers are generally less expensive. This includes the cost of the type of vehicle required to tow a travel trailer.

Space. Fifth wheels tend to have a greater amount of living space, can be more luxurious, and offer more amenities.

Towing. Fifth wheels are easier and safer to tow. By having much of their weight positioned over the tow vehicle, they are less susceptible to jack-knifing or fish-tailing. More about towing later.

Conventional travel trailers

Travel trailers range in length from 12-35 feet and can sleep up to 10. They boast all the conveniences of home, including kitchen, dining, bathroom, entertainment equipment, and storage. Slide outs in some models move the RV wall outward up to three feet at the touch of a button, to create larger living areas once the travel trailer is set up in a campsite.

March blog travel trailer      March blog travel trailer interior

As with anything, costs vary depending upon size, condition, amenities, etc. Broadly, a travel trailer can cost $8,000-$65,000, but average $15,000-$30,000.

Smaller models can be towed by mid-size vehicles, including the family car, minivan, SUV or pickup truck equipped with a hitch. Lightweight composite models are designed specifically for towing behind many six-cylinder family vehicles.

At the campground, travel trailers easily detach from the tow vehicle, allowing you to use the vehicle for errands and sightseeing.

Fifth wheels

A fifth-wheel travel trailer can have the same amenities as the conventional travel trailer, but is constructed with a raised forward section that provides a spacious bi-level floor plan. These models are designed to be towed by a pickup truck equipped with a device known as a fifth-wheel hitch. Fifth wheels range in length from 21-40 feet and can sleep up to 6. And as with the travel trailers, slide outs in some models move the RV wall outward up to three feet at the touch of a button, to create larger living areas once the fifth wheel is set up in a campsite.

March blog fifth wheel     March blog fifth wheel hitch 2

Fifth wheels are equipped with all the conveniences of home, including sleeping, showering, dining, cooking, entertainment equipment, and storage. Many manufacturers also offer luxury models that are very spacious and elegantly furnished, with as many as four slide outs in some models.

March blog luxury interior 2        March blog luxury interior

And, like a travel trailer, costs vary depending upon size, condition, amenities, etc. Fifth-wheels often have a large picture window at the rear for panoramic views. They are generally more expensive than conventional travel trailers, priced at $13,000-$100,000, depending on size and interior features, furnishings, and so forth.


In addition to size and comfort, what sets the conventional travel trailer apart from the fifth wheel is the vehicle required for towing. There is a price to be paid for the extra length and luxury of the fifth wheel. You will need a ¾- or full-ton pickup to haul a fifth wheel. A half-ton truck is not made to haul a fifth wheel, although some manufacturers make smaller fifth wheels models that can be towed by half-ton pickups.

March blog travel trailer tow       March blog fifth wheel hitch

A medium- to heavy-duty pickup truck or similar tow vehicle can cost $20,000-$50,000. Towing a loaded trailer reduces the tow vehicle’s fuel efficiency by at least a couple miles per gallon and could cut it by as much as half. Many owners of heavy RV trailers report getting 8-10 mpg while towing.

NOTE: It is important to match the loaded weight of the RV to the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. Consult your dealer or owner’s manual for details and have the tow hitch professionally installed.

Bottom line

If you intend to RV full-time or travel extensively for long periods of time, a fifth wheel offers a more stable, safe ride, and is the more comfortable and spacious way to go. If cost is the most important factor to you, take a look at the wide assortment of travel trailers.

–Mike Richert

(Mike Richert is the owner and chief technician of Onward RV, Maryville, TN. Visit the Onward RV website at and on Facebook.)

Planning a winter trip in your RV

This month’s blog post will be about RV travel in winter, I promise. But first, since I live near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, I just have to share a few images from winters past in the Smokies.

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winter blog 2  winter blog 4

Spectacular, isn’t it?

Have you ever gone RVing during the winter months? The majority of RVers winterize their motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheels by late November in these parts, and hibernate until spring! The area’s many RV campgrounds and resorts do thin out a bit during winter, as many head south or west. But those who bravely choose to visit at this time of year will be rewarded with breathtaking beauty.

If you are thinking about visiting East Tennessee during winter, you must be prepared for snow and, maybe more importantly, ice. Storage is always at a premium when traveling in an RV. So lose the picnic items, frisbees, bottles of suntan lotion, stadium chairs, and volleyball net. Make sure you have a snow shovel, window scraper and some kind of ice chipper (such as an axe). Also pack a bag of rock salt, sand, or kitty litter to sprinkle on walkways and to put around your tires in the event you get stuck in snow or end up on slippery patches of ice.

Retaining heat in your RV is key to comfort. Before the trip, make sure to seal around vents and windows. Tape windows, vents, and unused doors along the edges. Consider sealing these areas with sheets of plastic, for added heat retention. Close blinds and drapes at dusk to keep in heat.

The Internet is chockfull of articles about winter RV travel. I found these links offer excellent advice:

One of the most useful articles I read is “Winter traveling in your RV” by Norm Eichberger (

Mr. Eichberger offers advice learned through years of experience with year-round RVing. Here is some of his advice for getting ready for winter travel:

  • Make certain your RV is in top shape, both the driving portion as well as the coach.
  • Batteries are in good condition and are not nearing the end of their life —batteries can quit with no notice when they have reached their normal life span.
  • The coach water system works well, the heating system (furnace) is in excellent operating condition. Your heating system should keep the RV livable at 0 degrees.
  • The generator works and will start at 0 degrees.
  • If propane is your source of heat, do not run out. You can expect to use 10 gallons or more per week in cold weather.

Planning and preparation are always necessary when traveling in an RV. But preparation for winter travel is essential to ensure a fun, safe, and enjoyable experience. Whether you are in for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months of cold weather, with a little planning you can stay warn and toasty in your RV at any temperature. Hike, sight-see, photograph, or simply stand and marvel at the majesty of a winter landscape.

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If you come for a winter visit to the Great Smoky Mountains area of East Tennessee, don’t let your trip be spoiled by problems with your RV. For service and repair needs, contact Mike Richert of Onward RV, serving counties around the Smokies, including Blount and Sevier. Call Mike at 865-604-2789.

East Tennessee Fall Foliage is Without Equal, Part 3

Fall leaves

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And so it is true of the glorious autumn in East Tennessee. The weather in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) has been spectacular this year, with milder than normal temperatures. This third and final blog post about East Tennessee’s fall foliage gives you one last look at the best trails and drives in this area to see fall color.

Some popular spots to view November fall color in the GSMNP are:

  • Cades Cove (beautiful 11-mile one-way road for autos and bicycles)
  • Tremont
  • Foothills Parkway (a breath-taking drive with numerous pull-offs)
  • Mt. LeConte
  • Greenbrier
  • Clingman’s Dome
  • Newfound Gap Road

For more detail about the best drives and trails for fall leaf color in November, visit

Here is a quick cheat sheet for fall leaf colors:

  • Tulip Poplar: golden yellow
  • Birch: bright yellow
  • Black Cherry: yellow
  • Dogwood: deep red
  • Sourwood: brick red
  • Shining Sumac: red
  • Hickories: golden-bronze
  • Oaks: red, brown or russet
  • Maples:
  • Sugar Maple: orange-red
  • Black Maple: glowing yellow
  • Red Maple: bright scarlet or orange

fall color 2

November is actually a wonderful time to visit this area. The fall colors are still gorgeous but much of the hectic tourist activity and crowds have come and gone. The GSMNP ranger-led programs are great and there are still plenty to choose from. Here’s a link to the schedule on the park service website:

To get a taste of the sights autumn offers those in East Tennessee, vist Great Smoky Mountains National Park Blog by Richard Weisser here:–another-not-so-wordless-weekday-

Cities in Tennessee surrounding the Great Smokies (Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and “the quiet side of the Smokies,” Townsend) offer dozens of comfortable and attractive RV parks, resorts, and campgrounds. Remember that your visit need not be marred by problems with your RV. For service and repair needs, contact Mike Richert of Onward RV, serving counties around the Smokies, including Blount and Sevier.

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