Older RV in overgrown field - Health and Safety Risks of Living in a RV

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My family and I are approaching 2 years of living in our RV.  It’s been great for a lot of reasons: we’ve done so much traveling, it’s brought us closer as a family, and we’ve had a ton of flexibility in a very geographically transient season of our lives.

But, there are a few downsides that they conveniently leave out on those downsizing TV shows.  The biggest of which are the negative health effects & safety challenges of RV living.

If you’ve been considering transitioning into an RV, you don’t want to miss this article!  Today I’m sharing the top 11 health & safety risks of living in a RV, along with the steps you can take to mitigate them.

 

Jump Ahead…

1. Pest Control
2. Electromagnetic Fields
3. Unknown Water Quality
4. Excessive Dust
5. Battery Fire Hazard
6. Theft & Break-Ins
7. Car Seat Safety
8. Indoor Air Quality
9. Humidity
10. Hydrogen Sulfide
11. Carbon Monoxide

 

1. RV Pest Control

Y’all!  Keeping little critters out of an RV is hard.  Like really hard!  The two biggest reasons both have to do with slides.  Hint: If you’re new to RVs, slides are cutouts which rest on tracks so that they can come in and out, providing more room inside the unit when you aren’t traveling.

Cut outs, of course, introduce holes big enough for insects, spiders, and a variety of other creepy crawlies to enter through.  True story, in my bedroom slides just underneath my bed, I can easily put two fingers outside the unit. If your camper is outdoors during a bug’s mating season or near harvest time, you may wake up to find way more than you bargained for!  We have had both love bug and stink bug infestations inside our RV because of having our slides out during “season” (I’ll give you one guess which of these was the bigger nuisance)!

The slides also give your intruders a nice place to hide, because getting underneath or behind them is nearly impossible.  Hidden away from occupants and their swatting attempts, your uninvited guests can feast on the food crumbs that get knocked under and are so difficult to clean.

What to Do:

The foundation of natural pest control is removing the food source.  This means sweeping up food everyday, making sure the dishes are done before bed, keeping the trash can covered, and emptying it regularly.  If you are able, use a duster or or Swiffer-style mop to clean underneath slide.

Additionally, you may want to consider a nontoxic pest control solution such as sticky traps outside your slides (where most of your intrusions will happen) or essential oil-based repellents.

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2. Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) in a RV

RVs, like cars, are giant metal boxes which can act similarly to Faraday cages.  Cellular and WiFi signals from inside the RV can effectively get “trapped” inside the unit, bouncing around and causing more damage.  A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research showed that the use of a cell phone and Bluetooth device inside of a car, increased the intensity of radiation by 393%!

According to EMF expert, Sal La Duca, anything metallic that is exposed to electromagnetic fields can cause a secondary antenna effect.   This effect magnifies the strength of the existing field as well as the biological irritation that it can cause.

Source: International Journal of Environmental Research

What to Do:

Eliminating EMFs in an RV is difficult, if not impossible.  But a few steps can be taken to reduce exposure.  First, use cell phones, Bluetooth, and WiFi devices in the rig as sparingly as possible.  These devices are the biggest source of EMFs in the unit – so turn these devices off or in airplane mode when not in use and at night.

A few other tips:
  • Pay attention to where you’re traveling.  Many cities are already blanketed in dangerous 5G technology.
  • Don’t have anything plugged in near your bed, including digital alarm clocks
  • Unplug everything when not in use (this includes televisions, Blu-ray players, FireSticks, printers, routers, and gaming systems)
  • Park your RV as far away from cell phone and internet antennae as possible
  • Do not park your RV near high voltage power lines or under transformer boxes

 

3. Unknown Water Quality & RV Water Filtration

Water being pouredI typically recommend that everyone have their local water tested before purchasing a water filtration system. This is because everything from chromium, radon, and lead to high levels of pharmaceutical drugs and industrial waste can end up in your water, so it’s important to know what you’re dealing with when selecting a filter.  Frequent traveling in your RV makes this advice completely impractical.

As you travel to different municipalities, you’ll be dealing with different types of contaminants.   Every once in a while, a park manager may tape a note on your rig letting you know that a “boil order” is in effect, but for the most part, you’re on your own when it comes to determining water quality in any particular place.

What to Do:

There are so many variables when it comes to water filtration, including how frequently you use your RV, but here is my umbrella recommendation: Upgrade your dinky inbound water filter to a tankless reverse osmosis (RO) system that is small enough to fit in your RV, but powerful enough to tackle even the grossest water!

For drinking, brushing your teeth, boiling cooking water, and rinsing fruits and veggies in your RV or tiny home, this tankless RO system from Water Filter Warehouse is best and safest option for dealing with unknown contaminants.

Note: I advise against drinking or cooking with water that comes from your fresh water tank because of the buildup of biofilm.

 

4. Excessive Dust

If you’ve ever seen a standard RV air conditioner filter, you know it is a sad excuse for a proper filter.  Usually, it’s just a thin piece of see through foam. And while it may filter large particulate, it certainly doesn’t do the best job of keeping dust at bay.

I’m not sure why dust sort of flies under the radar when it comes to health risks in your home.  Maybe because it is associated with adorable little bunnies?  I dunno.  But what you should know is that dust contains thousands of microbes including bacteria and fungi and a whole host of chemical contaminants, including flame retardants and phthalates.  These chemicals can damage your hormones and reproductive systems.

Source: Environmental Science & Technology

What to Do:
  • Supplement your AC filter with a whole house air purifier with HEPA filtration  *Bonus points if your unit captures VOCs and other nasties as well
  • Avoid wearing shoes in your RV
  • Upgrade your RV air intake filter from the cheap one to a quality filter like the one from RV Air
  • Vacuum regularly with a sealed HEPA vacuum cleaner (we adore this Dyson which is cordless and small – perfect for the RV!)
  • Regularly dust your home with a damp microfiber cloth
  • Go outdoors to empty your vacuum cleaner bins & clean your dryer lint traps

 

5. Battery Fire Hazard

If you’re anything like me, your batteries are usually scattered among the other random items in your junk drawer.  I was surprised to learn that this is a major fire hazard in RVs!

You see, the vibrations that occur as your RV is in transit can cause improperly-stored batteries to short circuit and even catch fire!  This is the same reason the post office asks if your package contains batteries before they will ship it.  The photo above shows how an innocent weekend trip may have ended in complete disaster.  When the couple arrived at their destination, they realized these batteries in their junk drawer had caused a smoldering fire while in transit!

What to Do:

This simple fix just requires that you purchase an inexpensive battery organizer which will prevent your batteries from shorting out during travel.

6. Theft & Break-Ins in a RV

We had our RV for months before it was brought to my attention that almost all of the locks on RV storage compartments can be opened with the same key.  Even your door handle lock is typically a master key, purchased easily on the Internet.  The only thing unique about the lock to your RV door is the deadbolt, but apparently this, too, is easy for anyone remotely handy to tackle.

That said, there are measures you can take to protect your family and your belongings from intruders.

What to Do:
  • Always lock your door with the deadbolt
  • If you have a towable RV, keep a coupler lock (tow hitch lock) on any time it’s not connected to your tow vehicle
  • Change the locks on storage compartments or just don’t store valuable items in there
  • Park in well-lit areas whenever possible
  • Consider a wired security system (Wholesome Tip: the EMF emitted by wireless security systems are particularly disruptive to human biology.  Only wired security systems should be used in wholesome houses.)

 

7. Car Seat Safety in a RV

Of all of the risks on this page, I’m anticipating the most hate mail from this one, so let me apologize in advance if this upsets you.  Contrary to the laws in many states, I do not believe that it is safe for children to travel in RVs.  There, I said it!

First, the vast majority of car seats are not designed to be installed in side or backward-facing seats.  Second, in the event of an accident, everything not bolted down becomes a projectile risk (even some “built in” cabinets have come dislodged in accidents).  Third, RV seat belts in the rear cabin are not required to meet federal standards.  In fact, some RVs anchor their seat belts to particle board.  Particle board!

What to Do:

If AT ALL possible, allow children to ride in an appropriate car seat in a separate vehicle.  If this is not at all possible, there is some good information on how to best travel with kids in a RV on the Safe Rides 4 Kids website.

 

8. RV Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

RVs are literally full of chemicals.  Straight from the factory, RVs can contain high levels of urea-formaldehyde and other biological irritants found in glues, stains, and solvents. When we bought our camper I was so excited that, somehow, this little fact never crossed my mind.  As soon as we signed on the dotted line, however, I went into straight panic mode!

I just bought a box of toxins for my family to live in, WTF?!

What to Do:

I suggest a investing in a high-end air purifier that tackles VOCs, especially formaldehyde.  We went with a Rowenta 6020 and have been extremely satisfied!  The Rowenta model uses 4 stage air purification: prefilter (dust), sealed HEPA filter (allergens and other fine particles), carbon filter (odors and VOCs), and patented formaldehyde capture technology.

Also, ventilate the unit by opening windows and doors as much as the weather will allow.  Lastly, be extremely mindful of additional chemicals you bring into the home – to try to keep the toxic load as low as possible.

 

9. Humidity in a RV

This one is big for me, as it has been one of the biggest struggles for us.  We do live in the hot and humid Gulf Coast region, so maybe you’re more geographically blessed.  But humidity in a RV can be a problem for people in all climate zones because of how water vapor accumulates inside the rig.

Trust me when I say that humidity problems can literally turn from “Well, this is less than ideal.” to “Holy crap! My entire kitchen is fuzzy!” in one night.  Don’t ask me how I know.

The 3 biggest sources of humidity inside of any type of home are kitchen vapors, bathroom vapors, and occupant metabolism.  So, if your RV has people in it, you have a potential for moisture problems.  And if those people dare cook or shower in the unit, you better have a plan in place.

What to Do:

Always vent vapors outdoors when cooking and showering (be sure your range hood vents vapors outdoors, not into an upper cabinet facepalm).  Use an inexpensive hygrometer to monitor the relative humidity levels in your rig (ideal humidity levels are 40%-50%).  Supplement these efforts with dedicated dehumidification (this is similar to what we use) and all natural moisture absorbers in moisture prone locations, including under sinks, in storage compartments, and closets.

10. Hydrogen Sulfide in a RV

Hydrogen Sulfide is a gas that smells like rotten eggs and is caused by the breakdown of organic matter.  It frequently occurs in waste water tanks under anaerobic (oxygen absent) conditions.

High levels of exposure can cause rapid unconsciousness and even death.  In a RV setting, however, you are more likely to encounter low to moderate amounts of this toxic gas.  Side effects of low to moderate exposure include nausea, headache, difficulty breathing, fatigue, irritability, dizziness, and poor memory.

What to Do:
  • Replace your existing vent cap with a 360 siphon which will allow you to eliminate sewer gases without chemicals.
  • Treat your waste water tank with a nitrate-based solution which introduces oxygen and eliminates odors
  • Also remember to trust your nose.  If you smell sewer gases, you are being exposed to hydrogen sulfide and you need to take action

 

11. Carbon Monoxide Risk in a RV

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that is released by the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons.  In my humble opinion, combustion appliances have absolutely no place in a Wholesome House, but they are practically inescapable in standard RVs.

When it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning, you’re probably well aware of the risk of high exposure, but even low levels of carbon monoxide can drastically impact your quality of life!  Remember that a RV is just a tiny metal box, so let’s be especially mindful of deadly gases – even in minute amounts – floating around there with us, shall we?

What to Do:

Because of the inherent CO risk in propane-fueled RVs, your rig likely already has a CO detector installed.  That detector is probably certified by UL, however, which means that it will only sound an alarm at high levels.

Depending on your level of concern, you may want to plug in an additional unit that is more sensitive to low levels of CO.  The T40 Rattler is a portable industrial low-level (as low as 1.00 ppm) carbon monoxide detector which comes highly recommended among carbon monoxide survivors.

 

Summary

So there you have it.  The top 11 ways that RV living can affect your family’s health and safety.  If you found this article useful, the biggest compliment you could pay is to share it with a friend!  Thank you!