Today, We “Did A Thing!”
A plumbing thing. An RV plumbing thing. We replaced a faulty shutoff valve.
It all started after dinner on 6 May when we discovered a puddle of water on the living room floor. We pulled the dinette apart and discovered one of the many black plastic valves for routing the water in the trailer would drip or spray, depending on what kind of stress was on the system.
I wrapped a thick towel around the valve and made sure to turn off the water pump whenever we did not actively require water. That was 18 days ago.
To look for a replacement part, we needed a name for the faulty valve. So, we started where many Airstream owners begin with maintenance and repair questions — on Facebook.
The magic search words were “quarter turn,” and “pex.” Thank you Matt P!! Amazon’s search results were overwhelming. Our valve has to be drinking water quality and able to handle high temperature. We looked on the manufacturer’s web site as suggested by Betty, but they were not offering that hardware anymore.
[Note for Airstream Classic Owners: Our Classic had one owner before us, and he had a separate water heater installed, bypassing the Alde 3010 radiant heating system that also provides hot water in trailers of this design. Tracing the lines, it is the bypass that is not working. Your Alde pipes won’t look like ours.]
We started with the Alde manufacturer, hoping they could send us a replacement valve — only to discover after several rounds of emails and phone calls that plumbing is plumbing and they just make (and service) whatever is in the mysterious silver box.
I ventured into the local Ace Hardware store in town, armed with photos of the offending parts, and was promptly taken to the RV section of the store, featuring waste hoses and hitch cotter pins. After thanking them I went to the domestic plumbing section and struck out — lots of sizes but not the one I needed.
More days go by as we are busy with our work on the Wildlife Brigade. Dave and I visit a plumbing supply warehouse in the industrial corner of Jackson, and are able to secure a brass valve. However, they don’t have any of the clamps or the crimping tool required to secure the valve to the plastic pex pipes.
Before giving up, we find out there is another plumbing supply shop in town. They don’t have the clamps or tools either. But! He has a valve made by a company called Shark-Bite, and that valve doesn’t require special tools. You just push it on! We bought the Shark-Bite valve and a special tool for cutting pex. As a precaution, we also bought two end caps in case we couldn’t make the valve work — we could cap off the two sides so we could still have water and wait to get someone in who knows what they are doing.
Given how exhausted we are after working, we decide to wait until a weekday day off so the stores will be open in case we need to dash out for some other supply.
The next most valuable piece of advice we were given was to watch YouTube videos on how to remove pex clamps. Much of the advice sacrificed the pex tubing in favor of saving the valve. I wanted to preserve the pipe and ditch the valve!
We began by turning off the water pump and draining the water in the pipes. Then used a monkey wrench to grip the crimped part of a clamp and twist it to weaken it and theoretically break it off — as seen in a few videos. The demonstrators must have had muscles of orangutans because we could deform the clamp, we couldn’t seem to weaken it to the point of breaking. But I did deform it enough to use the other suggested technique — getting a screw driver under the tail to pop it off the tab and start unrolling it.
Wrestling the clamp off did knick the pex a little, which we trimmed as minutely as possible. The special cutting tool went through the plastic like a hot knife through butter. The hardest part here was trying to see what I was doing under the dinette — wearing bifocals. At some point you just have to trust.
The valve slid over the pex easily, and we both took turns pushing the ends together as hard as we could. The moment of truth came and we turned on the water pump. Aaack! Water spraying from the new connections!! We regrouped, found another seated position on the floor and pushed again. It moved a little.
Try again … whoo-hoo! The valve is dry and water is coming out of the kitchen faucet as it should.
You can see there was no room for error here — the valve used every available millimeter of pex between it and the adjacent fitting. *whew!*
And because we are paranoid, we are leaving the dinette seat in pieces for another day to keep a close eye on the new valve. So far, so good!