Getting Ready

Our Home on Wheels

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Truck and RV

Our new home on wheels arrived May 5th. It’s a 2020 Grand Design 3550BH (which means it has a bunk house for the kids). We did a walk-thru with the seller, verified all the appliances all worked, slides opened and closed, and then looked at each other in disbelief as we now stood in front of our very own home on wheels. 

First things first, we had to learn how to drive this beast or we weren’t going to get very far. My dad, an experienced fifth wheel driver himself, flew out from Texas to give us a crash course in RV driving. We found an empty high school parking lot to mess around in and learned how to back the RV in a straight line and into a simulated campsite. It took a little while to understand the way to turn the wheel to make the trailer go the way you want it, but by the second day, everything started to make more sense. Then we took off to do some driving around town to gauge turning radius, braking, driving distance, and changing lanes. All in all, I think it went well. Thanks for the crash course and the grade ‘C’, Dad!


The Upgrades

Repacked the Bearings, Checked the Brakes, and Replaced the Tires

Hercules 901 tires

Since then we’ve been working on upgrades. For the final driving exam, I took it over to the RV repair shop and had the bearings repacked and the brakes inspected. We’re good there for at least another year. Then took it to have the old Westlake tires replaced with Hercules 901’s. They were showing some uneven wear on the edges. Even though they were only two years old, we thought it best to replace them as we didn’t want any surprises on our trip. The Hercules 901 tires should last us a long time.  

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

TST TPMS system (Tire pressure monitoring system)

The fifth wheel didn’t come with a TPMS system, so we bought one from Amazon. The TST brand was recommended by other RVer’s as being a reliable system to be able to monitor the tire pressure. It was fairly simple to install. The sensors replace the valve stem caps and they connect remotely with a monitor that is placed in the truck. We set the high and low pressure warning alarms within a range specified for the tires so that if it ever goes above or below that range, it will notify us of any problems. 

Roof-Gard UV Roof Protectant

UV Roof Protectant Mopped onto the Roof

Before we could install solar panels on the roof, the RV technician advised us it was a good idea to make sure the roof had good coating of UV sealant. At this point, Ben had spent all the time up on the roof of the RV fixing any potential tears in the roof, finding out where to run the wires for the solar panels, and just giving it a good cleaning. 

It was my turn to do this one. Now I’m not usually one to feign illness at the thought of being nearly 14′ off the ground with a 20 mph wind, but I was tempted on more than one occasion to turn this one back over to Ben. 

The UV sealant was pretty easy to put on. I just mopped it on the Dicor UV Sealant with a clean mop pad around all nooks and crannies and let it dry. Then, very eagerly, climbed back down. 

Solar Panels, Inverter, Charger, Batteries

Solar Panels Mounted on the RV Roof

The solar panels, inverter, charger, and batteries are more of a combination install since they all work together in providing us with electricity while on the road. This was Ben’s big project. He used a spreadsheet to plan out how much power all the devices used in the RV. With that information, he calculated the size of the batteries we would need based on the number of hours each of those devices and appliances would be running though out a normal day. It turns out that we needed (10) 200 watt solar panels, (1) 200 watt inverter, (1) 150 watt inverter, and (4) SOK heated batteries (the picture only shows 3).  

Ben mounted them on galvanized Unistrut rods instead of directly drilling them into the RV roof. Doing it this way allowed him to use less screws and give a space underneath the solar panels to allow for cooling and air flow. The panels were connected in paired series to a solar junction box on the roof, then the wires were run down to the front compartment to two solar charge controllers in parallel. The controllers then charge the batteries, and power the inverter and DC loads.

Front Compartment with Solar Control Center and Batteries

RV Combo and Key Lock

RV Combo and Key Lock

We wanted to make entry and exit out of the RV easier on ourselves by not having to carry yet another key around. Seems like all we’ve been doing is adding keys since this process started… storage, truck, RV, RV storage, etc. To make life easier and so the kids could access the RV without needing to grab Ben’s or my keys,  we installed RV Lock. 

This was probably one of the easiest upgrades so far. It only took about 10 minutes to switch out the locks. The digital combination lock is programmable so we set the combination and happily removed a key from our keychains. (We still have the keys for a backup in case of a battery failure lockout.)

Snap Pads

While getting the bearings done, I noticedFoot going into Snap Pad another fifth wheel of the same year and make that had protective pads on its leveling feet. When I talked to the owner about them he mentioned that they were Snap Pads, designed to help prevent the feet from soaking down into the mud or wet grass.

Snap Pads installed
Snap Pads attached to the RV feet









In a way, they act like shoes for the feet. They snap on when dropping down the jacks with a little help from some lubricating soap. It should also help protect the feet from rusting while in contact with the ground.

Mopeka Propane Sensor

Mopeka propane gauge for the tanks
Mopeka Propane Level Sensor

One way to keep track of the level of propane in the containers is through this ingenious little device made by Mopeka. When installed on the bottom of the propane tank, it sends a radar wave up through the cylinder and registers how much propane is left in the tank. The devices communicate through the app with an onboard gauge that was installed in the control panel closet. Since we have two propane tanks we need to keep track of, we installed and labeled a device on each tank. 

Propane Tank Monitor Installed in the Command Center








In the Command Center, we installed a tank monitor for one-touch access to the show the level of propane in the tanks. It also has a phone app that can be sync’d with the indicators so we can see the levels in the tanks just by looking at the app. 


Splendide Washer and Dryer Combo and Dryer Vent

Splendide Washer/Dryer Combo

We wanted to be able to do laundry in the RV instead of having to lug it all to the laundry mat once a week. Having heard a lot of negative things about the unvented units and we decided we didn’t want to go that way. We had a dryer vent installed with the duct running from under the coffee bar and out through a hole in the pantry. We bought a Splendide washer/dryer combo that, with a lot of finagling, just barely fit under the coffee bar. (We had to take off the trim and doors in order to shimmy the machine in there.) Nothing like a tight gloved fit and that’s no joke!

Access Door for the Shut Off Valves

Ben cut a hole in the pantry wall to make an access door to reach the shut off valves for the washing machine in case of a spill.  I purchased a slim dryer vent piece to allow the machine to vent with a small amount of space behind the machine. The hoses and dryer vent were pre-attached and then the machine was slowly slid back into place.


Dryer Vent


We had a professional install the dryer vent. I am not comfortable making holes in the side of the RV. He then ran the metal duct from under the coffee bar area, through the pantry and out to the vent in the side of the RV. 

Watchdog Wired Surge Protector

Watchdog wired surge protector

We plan to do a lot of boondocking while in the west, but once we hit the east coast we’ll be in and out of a lot of campgrounds. That would mean hooking up the surge protector at every campsite and having to securely lock it to prevent it from going missing. Instead of going through that hassle, we installed a wired surge protector so that all we have to do it hook up the 50amp cable to the post. 

The Watchdog also lets us connect remotely via the app to track our power usage, which is a very useful feature.





Heavy-Duty Gas Spring Shock Struts 

Heavy-Duty Gas Spring Shock Struts Installed Under the Bed

Since the RV originally came with a light-weight mattress, the original shock struts were too light weight and could not hold up our heavier foam mattress. We took off the old struts and replaced them with some heavy-duty shock struts that would hold up the heavier (and much more comfortable) foam mattress.   

We also had to fix the struts in the kid’s bunk room because the piano hinge had become unscrewed. Now both beds will lift up for extra storage.





Work Desk – Adjustable Height for Standing and Sitting

Ben needed a place to be able to work while we’re on the road. We took out the second couch and installed an Ikea work desk. The great thing about this desk is it transitions from sitting to standing desk using the crank on the right-hand side. So if he got tired of sitting, he could crank the desk up and stand for a while. Fortunately, the cabinets above the desk arrow allow enough room for his monitor to be able to adjust it to standing height. 

The desk is secured in place using the same hold-downs that used to hold the couch. There was not a really good way to keep the monitor from moving, so it goes onto the mattress when we need to move. 


Starlink on the roof

In order for this whole trip to be possible, Ben must have internet access on the road to be able to work. We ordered Starlink at the beginning of the month then spent the rest of the month wondering how we were going to mount it. We went back and forth between Flagpole Buddy, a tire flagpole mount, leaving it on its stand on the ground… each of these having its own problems. While a great design, Flagpole Buddy would be mounted on the RV ladder, leaving only one location at the rear of the fifth wheel to mount it with possibly a greater incidence of trees at this location. The under tire mount wouldn’t work either due to the slides being located directly above the tires on each side. Leaving it on the ground just begged for it to be stolen, even though in the end it would just be a dead paperweight to the would-be thief once service was disconnected. 

Starlink makes RV life possible
Starlink Makes RV Life Possible

Finally, Ben came up with the idea to use the same Unistruts on which the solar panels are mounted to attach Dishy. The dish would be mounted on a variable height (4′ or 8′) pole that folds down for easy storage. Dishy McFlatface (Elon’s name for it) would stay on the roof, in stowed position when not in use and while traveling and be raised on the pole once we reach our campsite. The cable never needs to be removed or stored which is also a plus as that lends itself to wear with every setup and tear down. That does means someone has to ascend the ladder at every campsite, but I’m glad Ben doesn’t seem to mind that task. 

AT&T Back-up Internet Antenna

Cellular Antenna

While Starlink is still in its infancy, we still must have a back-up until the satellite network becomes more reliable. Trees don’t seem to be very friendly to satellite service either, so we chose to go with AT&T unlimited internet and Pepwave Duo. The combination of those two should help prevent any dropped connections to allow Ben to work seemlessly while on internet conference calls.

Below the antenna is the solar junction box, where all the wiring for the solar panels come together in one spot to enter the RV. The antenna and Starlink wiring also enter through the same port. This solar wiring goes down through the wall framing and into the RV basement, where it then connects with the front compartment’s solar command center. The antenna and Starlink wiring goes down through the wall a space above the command center and connects with the Pepwave, to provide Wi-Fi.

Water Filters & Soap Dispenser

Filtered Water Dispenser and Soap Dispenser

To get filtered drinking water while at campgrounds or while boondocking, Ben installed the system we use at home into the RV. It’s a 3 stage inline filter designed to filter down to 0.1 microns. It filters a majority of bacteria, fluoride, sediment, and a range of other impurities in the water. 

The water filter spigot is on the left and the soap dispenser is on the right, not to confuse the two! 

Three Stage Water Filter

Swagman 2-Bike Rack

Bike Rack Leans Backwards for Opening the Rear Compartment
Swagman Bike Rack

We needed a bike rack to be able to transport the kids’ bikes, but the problem was it needed to clear the rear compartment door. Swagman makes a bike rack that leans backwards for just this purpose. With the size of that door though, we had to put on a 7″ hitch extender in order for it to clear. 

The bike rack has a hitch pin lock and locks at the hooks to prevent theft of either the hitch or the bikes. The hooks can be moved up or down to secure the bikes on the rack once they’re in place. 

Sometimes we may come to a campsite that has a restriction on overall length and since we’re already at 40′ in overall RV length, we may have to take the bike rack off to squeeze into a location. But we have that option if needed.








Side and Rear Cameras

Haloview 3-view camera

There’s nothing that can end a family vacation faster than an accident. So to help in driving this beast, we installed side and rear cameras. Helpful in changing lanes or getting into a tight spot in a background, the cameras give us an additional vantage point that we wouldn’t otherwise have. 

We went with Haloview over Furrion based on the comparison reviews. While they both function nearly the same, the quality of the picture of the Haloview beats out the Furrion. We also had the ability to run a repeater up to the front of the RV to prevent any lag in camera feed while on the road. 

The display is mounted in the truck on the Bulletpoint tablet mount. It’s a solid install and prevents any shaking to keep the picture steady. 

The rear camera mount that was pre-installed on the Grand Design was taken off and the Haloview camera mounted directly over it. On the sides, the reflectors were removed and camera reflectors installed in their place.

Haloview Rear Camera


Repeater on the Front










We Gave It A Good Washing

The trip from Florida to Colorado was a brutal one for the hundreds of bugs that ended their lives on our front window.

We gave it a good washing and waxing to get it shining like new again. Ben tackled the roof and the kids and I hit the sides and bug-splattered front. 

It’s all ready to go!









Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Colorado is on the map

It’s taken us a bit longer than expected as we were supposed to leave in May and we ended up leaving at the end of July 2022. But no worries, we’re off now and on our way on our journey around America.

Ellie was able to place the first state on the RV decal map. Being that we are starting from Colorado, it is the first state to go on the map. Many more to follow…