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Mark Polk, motorhome and motor coach maintenance expertPolk's Top 7
By Mark Polk, RV Education 101

Can you drive a 35-foot motorhome and still be conscious about the environment around you?


To the non-RVing onlooker, though, traveling by RV equates to a gas-guzzling behemoth that is destroying the environment. The stereotype is, RVs and the people who use them are reckless, self-serving individuals with no regard for the carbon footprint they leave behind.

The biggest culprits related to energy consumption and environmental concerns are, of course, the fossil fuels burned getting from point A to point B in our RVs. But when compared to air travel, RVs — even at 7 to 10 miles per gallon — are the better choice environmentally.

In an edition of the weekly periodical The Nation, an article stated the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by jets during air travel are around 270 percent greater than those of average emissions caused by driving the same distance. George Monbiot, the author, went on to say that this makes air travel "one of the most destructive things we can do."

At the last several RV and auto shows I have attended, it was evident that innovative RV and automobile manufacturers are designing green RVs, smaller and lighter RVs, and engines that run on alternative fuels. In addition, there are ways the energy-conscious RVer can improve the amount of energy consumed while driving down the highway.

Ways to improve RV fuel economy

For starters, we can slow down. Speeding and rapid acceleration reduces fuel economy from 5 to 33 percent, depending on your individual driving habits. Here are seven other simple ways to lower your fuel consumption:

1. Check and adjust the tire pressure to the proper pressure. This can increase fuel economy by 3 percent. It can also prevent premature tire wear and failures or blowouts caused by overinflated or underinflated tires. Tires can look normal when they are seriously underinflated.

2. Use a clean air filter. It’s simple, but can improve your fuel economy by up to 10 percent.

3. Use overdrive whenever you can. It will save fuel by decreasing the engine speed.

4. Use the cruise control whenever possible. This saves fuel because it keeps the vehicle at a constant speed rather than variable speeds. Note: This applies when you are driving on a relatively flat surface.

5. Keep the RV tuned up and in top running condition. A poorly tuned engine can lower fuel economy by 10 to 20 percent.

6. Poor emissions and/or a faulty oxygen sensor can cause a 40-percent reduction in fuel economy. Can you believe that -- a 40-percent reduction!

7. Added weight, which you don’t need, reduces fuel economy significantly. We’re all guilty of this one.

Water consumption: house vs. RV

After arriving at your destination, the amount of energy consumed by a motorhome is far less than that of your home. By design, the RV is an environmentally friendly house. You have water-saving devices such as a 6- or 10-gallon water heater as compared to a 40- or 100-gallon water heater tank in your home. There is a water-saving toilet, and you aren’t watering the lawn or using the dishwasher when you’re RVing.

According to the American Water Works Association, the average U.S. residence uses about 110 gallons of water a day. I would venture to say that when we use our RV, as a family, we probably use less than 40 gallons of water a day.

In addition to the built-in water-saving features of an RV, there are many other ways we can lower the amount of water we use. Here are a few ideas touted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service:

  • When brushing your teeth, don't let the water keep running. Instead, half fill a glass and use that water to wet your brush and rinse your mouth.
  • When washing your hands or shaving, do not let the water run. Fill the basin and dip your hands or razor, as needed.
  • Turn off the shower while shampooing your hair.
  • Teach children water-saving techniques.
  • Take short showers, not baths. Limit showers to five minutes or less.
  • Install flow restrictors on individual water fixtures like shower heads and faucets. They automatically reduce flow and aerate the water.

Electricity use: home vs. motorhome

On the electric side of energy consumption, your RV uses less than your home too, even when the RV is plugged in to a campground electrical service. It’s more efficient to heat and cool the RV, simply because of the amount of space we are heating and/or cooling, as compared to our homes. Another reason is your RV has many devices that operate on 12-volt DC power, that at home would require 120-volt AC power to operate.

If your house uses LP-gas as an energy source for heat, cooking, and heating water, your home on wheels will use much less propane to do the same thing.

Renewable energy source: solar power

If you are really interested in reducing the carbon footprint left behind in your RV, and going green, you can start by looking at renewable energy sources. America depends on fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal for everything we do. Fossil fuels are not renewable energy sources and cause pollution whenever they are burned.

Renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels, can never be used up and does not cause pollution.

For RVers the most logical renewable energy source comes by the way of the sun. Solar energy is produced by the sun’s rays. By using solar panels, batteries and inverters, we have a way to harness this renewable energy for use in our RV. Solar energy is clean energy that never can be used up, doesn’t pollute and is almost always available at no charge.

Basically, a typical solar-power system for an RV would consist of solar panels, batteries, some type of charge controller and an inverter. The solar panels capture the sun’s energy and produce direct current, or DC power. This captured power is stored in the RV’s auxiliary batteries. A charge controller makes sure the RV batteries are fully charged, but not overcharged. The power inverter converts the DC power stored in the batteries to alternating current, or AC power, to be used by the RV’s appliances.

Many of the inverters found in RVs today are inverter/chargers. This means they are inverters, battery chargers and a transfer switch all in one.

As I stated earlier, it is possible to drive a 35-foot motorhome and still be conscious about the environment. We as a country, and even more so as RVers, can and should protect the environment and leave it in as good of, if not better, condition than we found it. We can all do our part, in some way, to be good stewards of the land we enjoy so much.

One of my wishes is for my children’s children, and their future generations to visit some of the same spectacular places we have visited in our RV; and when they do, to see it the same way it was when we first saw it.



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