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Water Level Indicator

All photos are thumbnails, click to see an enlarged version

For those who have visited my site before, the idea of a water level indicator for the fresh water tanks was brought to my attention by  Fred Camper on the Pop Up Times Message board.  The homemade system at the bottom of this page was designed by Fred and I posted it for him here in late 2002.

Now, if you have a tank that is above the floor, i.e. in one of your cabinets and is easily visible this modification would not be for you.  Most Coleman tanks as well as several other manufacturers are installed hanging from the floor.  The only way to know when it is empty is to look underneath the pop up or wait for the pump to run dry.  For me, that is usually when I'm brushing my teeth.

Obviously the original web page caught some peoples attention, because in early May 2003 I received an e-mail from a foreign manufacturer of a commercial water levelWLIPkg.jpg (19723 bytes) meter.  Many of you know how I love my toys and modifications, so I responded to their e-mail.  After several back an forth e-mails, I had a water level indicator of my own!  Manufactured by RV Electronics in Australia, this appears to be a well though out, well made product. 

The indicator consists of a water level sending unit which you install through the side of your tank with a wire that connects to a level indicator that you can place inside the pop up.  By a simple push of a button I can now see how much water is in the tank without crawling under the pop up.

So, how hard was it to install you ask??  Easy!!!!  On my "pop up" scale,WLITools.jpg (43070 bytes) it's a 2, only because you should be comfortable with tools to do it. The tools you need include a drill, 7/8" spade bit, 5/8" spade bit flashlight, 15/16" wrench, measuring tape, and marking pen.  I added wire ties and "quick tack" compound.

As you read the instructions, please note things I have highlighted.  If I identified a passage with  BOLD or italics, please pay particular attention.  Failure to do so may result in you needing to buy a new water tank.

Installation Instructions

The first thing you need to do is crawl under the pop up and look at your tank  You need a minimum of 240mm (I told you it was a foreign company)WLITank.jpg (40380 bytes) clearance from the right edge to the point you are going to install it in.  I had to run to a metric to imperial calculator to find out that that is about 9.44 inches.  I was in luck so far, the side I wanted to install it in was about two feet wide.  To the left you see the 20 gallon tank on my Coleman Santa Fe, looking at it from the street side.  The white hose you see is the feed tube from the bottom of the tank going up through the floor to the swing level galley.  The only problem I saw was the silver cable you see in the picture, this is the roof cable for the front of the pop up and it ran about one inch from the side of the tank.

I measured the location I wanted (remember at least 9.44 inches clearance to the right of the hole) and 3/4 of the way up the tank, which for me was 5 1/2 inches.  Darn, right next to the lift cable.  OK, I dropped mine down about 1/4 inch).  remember the old carpenters rule, Measure Twice, Cut Once! Make sure you know where you want to drill.  If you look just below the green label in the picture above you will see the "X" where I plan to drill.  OK, now that you think you know where you are going to drill, take your flashlight and closely examine the tank.  Some tanks have center dividers for additional strength.  Remember you need 9.44 inches clearance to the right of the hole you drill.  If there is a center divider in the way it will interfere with the sending unit!  

OK, once you are sure of the sending unit location you need to figure the route the wire is going to take to the indicator location inside the pop up.  I decided to put it on the front of the lower section of the swing level galley, so I was in luck.  The galley was right above the location I picked to drill a hole.  Additionally, I was able to find a wire route next to the LP Gas lines for my furnace and hot water heater.  Make sure you will have sufficient wire length to run from sending unit to your chosen location for the display.  The wire supplied is over 8 feetWLIWire2.jpg (36483 bytes) long and I found this to be plenty of wire to route it to a mounting location.  In the photo to the right you see the hole I drilled through the floor to route the wire.  I used a ?? spade bit which just barely provided space to run the wire/connector through the hole.  Note, this photo is inside the galley base cabinet, so the hole will be hidden from view.

Now, I know I can get the wire from the tank to the indicator and I'm sure that there is clearance inside the tank, 9.44 inches to the right of the hole.  It's time to drill.  Using a 7/8" spade bit - SLOWLY drill through the side of the water tank at your selected location.  Going slowly will allow you to keep most of the plastic out of the tank.

OK, now you have a hole in the side of your tank. It's time to install the sending WLIParts.jpg (18043 bytes)unit.  In the picture to the left, the sending unit is the grey (gray) plastic "stick" with a wire hanging out of it.  It is an electrical probe sensing unit, not a float type device.  You insert it into the tank pointing to the right.  You do have 9.44 inches to get it in there don't you?  Now you get to use the wrench.  The black plastic bushing has a self sealing ring.  As you tighten up the nut, the ring expands inside the tank, sealing the hole you drilled.  DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN THIS NUT!  Additionally as you tighten it, the sending unit slowly swings down so that the grey stick is now somewhere between 45 and vertical.  With the sensors along the length of the shaft, it can now sense the amount of water in the tank, sending that information to the display.

Once the sending unit is installed, route the wire through the floor into the cabinet you plan to mount it to.  Secure the wire under the floor of the pop up to assure that it will not snag on anything as you travel.  As my wire route was next to LP Gas pipes I was able to use wire ties to secure it under the pop up.

Now it is time to drill a hole through the cabinet you plan to mount the displayWLIWire1.jpg (26295 bytes) on.  Us the same spade bit you used on the floor, this time through the cabinet face.  Make sure you have sufficient clearance from and moving parts like cabinet doors or in my case the LP Gas furnace.  For this reason I also used tie wraps and quick tack to secure the wire out of the way of moving parts and the furnace. Here you see the connector on the end of the wire hanging out of the hole I drilled just above the furnace.  This connector plugs into the rear of the display and the display attached to the front of the cabinet with double sided tape (provided).

 

WLIPush.jpg (12140 bytes)WLIFinal.jpg (37361 bytes)Now, with a simple push of a button I can tell how much water is in my tank.  It has LEDs to indicate the amount of water from "Res" (reserve or empty) to "F" for full.  It is powered by a standard A23 battery which should give plenty of time before battery replacement.

 

The instructions with the unit were printed on the back of the box, but I found them clear and easy to follow.  If I had not been stopping to take pictures as I worked, the installation the entire project should have only been about 30 minutes.  As it was I completed it in less than one hour.  Prior to making this modification you should be comfortable with hand tools.  Read and understand all written instruction of the manufacturers packaging.

 

 

 

 

Original Water Level Indicator

By Fred Camper

We are new to having a big under floor fresh water tank. In the past we could just look at the loose jug and know how much fresh water we had left, but now it is hard to guess when to go into conserve mode.

My idea is to connect a clear hose to the fresh water drain valve on the bottom of the under floor tank and route the hose part way up the side of the camper. That way we could leave the drain valve open and the clear hose could be marked to indicate the level.

 

This first picture is a view of the camper showing the location of the fresh
water indicator. The indicator is directly below the door.  Keep in mind this system is not necessary if you can readily
see your fresh water tank already. Mine was impossible to view even from
under the camper, as the frame covers all sides but the bottom.

WaterLevelIndicator.jpg (425567 bytes)

 

This picture shows how the 5/8th inch vinyl hose routes from the existing
fresh water drain valve on the left side of the camper, to a 5/8th plastic
barbed tee fitting, then over towards the camper door for easy viewing. You
may also note the drain valve I installed, I found I could hose clamp the
5/8th vinyl tube directly to a household fixture valve outlet port, so no
adapters were required. You will also notice the mud flaps I added to keep
the rear jacks clean.

 

WaterLevelHose.jpg (356935 bytes)

Above is a detail of the level indicator, you may note the indicated level
is about 13.5 gallons. I could float a plastic pea in the line for easier
viewing, not sure if that will be required yet.

WaterLevelClose-up.jpg (427018 bytes)

 

 

Installation

The installation method was to start with a empty fresh water tank, and open
the drain valve.  The 5/8ths vinyl tube fits snugly over the existing drain valve on the fresh water tank, and a hose clamp is used to keep it in place. This drain valve
is no longer intended to close.
Next the vinyl hose was routed to a convenient new drain valve location
(lower than any other point in the indicator system), and a tee fitting was installed with hose clamps. One end of the tee routes to the new drain valve (a fixture supply fitting). A single zip tie was used to keep the hose level on its way to the new drain valve. The vinyl hose is attached to the new drain valve at what was intended to be
a flare connection, I just pushed the hose over the external threads and clamped the hose down tight. A loose clamp will let this connection weep though those threads.
Vinyl hose is connected to the remaining end of the tee fitting (with a clamp again) and routed over to the intended location for the indicator. My frame had a 1 inch lip for the hose to rest on so it was easy to route the hose across the trailer and keep it level. Zip ties keep the hose from falling off this lip and drooping, I drilled on 1/4 inch hole in the cross frame for each zip tie. The hose must route level on its way, or an air trap may develop. Once the hose is over to the viewing location, the hose was routed up the frame at an incline to make the indicator more accurate. (see third picture). Once again I drilled several 1/4 inch hoses to allow zip ties to secure the hose. 
To calibrate the indicator most accurately, first fill the fresh tank with 5 gallons and empty it using the outside shower or another fixture. This allows the empty mark to the "end of the usable water", not just a dry tank. Now with the fresh tank containing only unusable water, add water at the desired increment and mark the level after each addition. I marked empty, 2 gallons, 5 gallons, 10 gallons and full.

 

The parts list for this job is as follows
5 hose clamps for 5/8ths vinyl hose
7 foot of 5/8ths vinyl hose
10 nylon zip ties
1 5/8ths plastic barbed tee fitting
1 3/8ths inch fixture valve (toilet supply)

 

Keep in mind that the clear tubing exposed to light can create a nice area for the growth of algae.  Both the hose and tank should be sanitized regularly to keep this under control.

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   Revised: May 08, 2007

 

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