How to detect and resolve common RV plumbing emergencies.


The RV life is all about freedom, the open road, and the ability to change your scenery whenever you choose. The last thing you want is to be forced to drop everything and rescue your RV from a plumbing emergency. Life happens, though, so knowing what to do when these emergencies arise will get you back on the road sooner.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to the top RV plumbing emergencies you may encounter. Read up on these potential issues so you know how to spot them and what to do if they occur.

Line Leaks

Your RV’s plumbing system involves a complex maze of pipes within a compact space. This means there are a lot of turns and connections, so there are many opportunities for leaks to develop.

While it’s easy for a leak to happen, a small leak can turn into a major problem. It can cause severe moisture damage and mold depending on where the leaking pipe is, especially if the pipe continues to leak for quite some time before you discover it. The damage could be even worse if the culprit happens to be a pipe that’s carrying black water.

First things first: how do you know if you may have a leaky pipe? Sometimes, you’ll actually see the leaking water, but other times, the leak could be in a hidden area.

A helpful sign to watch for is your water pump cycling while you’re not running water. If you regularly hear the pump cycling while no one is showering or running a faucet, the pump could be cycling because water is coming out of the system somewhere else.

If you see signs of a leaky pipe, try to find the leak. If you’re able to find it, it could be a simple fix, though the safest choice is always to contact an RV plumbing professional. They’ll be able to make a repair in a way that holds up long-term.

Water Pump Failure

When you’re not parked and connected to an established water supply, your RV relies on your water pump to maintain water pressure for your shower, faucets, and toilet. When that water pressure is gone, you’re not able to use your plumbing effectively.

The good news is that when a water pump failure occurs, it’s rather obvious: you either have no water pressure or far less water pressure. The pump could fail entirely, or it could have other issues that only lower its function. Either way, you’ll notice.

If you have a drop in water pressure, the best choice is to contact an RV plumber. Water pumps can be too complex for many DIYers, and if you try to fix them yourself, you could make the issue worse. Depending on why your water pump is failing, an RV plumber will either be able to repair it or install a replacement. 

Black Tank Clogs

You may already be familiar with the wastewater storage tank system in your RV, but in case you’re new to RVing, we’ll go over a brief explanation.

Your RV stores wastewater until you can dump the wastewater at a dump site. There are two temporary storage tanks: one for gray water (anything coming from your shower and sinks) and one for black water (anything coming from your toilet).

One of the most dreaded plumbing emergencies is a clog in your black tank that leads to a backup and prevents you from flushing the toilet. That’s not anyone’s idea of a fun day.

There are a few ways this can happen, such as:

  • A clog in the pipes running from your toilet to your black tank, usually from flushing too many materials that shouldn’t be flushed
  • Leaving your RV sitting unused with material in the black tank so the liquids evaporate, leaving only solids in the tank, which don’t drain when you try to empty the tank
  • Leaving your black tank valve open while you’re parked and connected to a sewer, leading to a buildup of solids in the tank (sometimes known as a poop pyramid)

The cause of your clog will determine what the solution is. If you have a clog in the pipes, you may be able to fix the issue by snaking the toilet. If you have a buildup of solid material in your black tank, there are liquid enzymes you may be able to use to break down the hardened solids so you’ll be able to pump them out of the tank.

Broken Wastewater Valves

Both your gray water tank and your black water tank have their own valves that frequently open and close to allow or block the flow of wastewater. These small pieces of equipment are vital to your plumbing system’s ability to function properly.

Eventually, though, all that opening and closing can wear down the valves so that they break. If a valve breaks while it’s closed, your system won’t be able to drain wastewater. If it breaks while it’s open, you won’t be able to stop the flow of wastewater. Either way, it’s a problem, but an open valve is a particularly urgent issue.

When this happens, you’ll generally need a replacement valve. An RV plumber can make sure you get the specific part you need and install it properly.

Burst Water Lines

As we head into the colder months, burst water pipes will become more and more of a problem. This happens in RVs as well as traditional homes: water inside the pipes freezes and expands, eventually expanding so much that it busts the pipe open. This tends to lead to a large amount of water damage very quickly.

If this happens, contact an RV plumber immediately. Because of the amount of water, you’ll probably need the help of a remediation specialist who can dry out the area as much as possible and then replace any material that needs to be replaced.

Fortunately, there are ways to lower the chances of this happening. Winterizing your RV plumbing ahead of the bitter cold could save you a world of expense and inconvenience.

Keeping Your RV Plumbing Up and Running

Understanding your RV plumbing system and knowing when it’s time for a repair will help you keep your home comfortable and on the road so you can keep living the dream. Enviro Design Products is proud to supply many RVers, RV plumbers, and RV parks and campgrounds with the equipment they need for long-lasting solutions.

Hungry for more info? Read up further on your RV plumbing system.

By Jeyree Everly
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