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Old 09-11-2012, 03:39 PM   #1
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1978 31' Sovereign
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In over my head with pipe leaks 1978 Sovereign

This is my first post on the forum. I have visited several times and have found a great deal of useful information from others with similar questions. However, I'm posting to see if I can get some insight regarding my particular situation.

My uncle bought a used '78 31' Sovereign in the early 90's. It has been parked for about 25 years at our ranch. He gave it to my Dad who didn't keep it up and eventually bought a new trailer. It was handed over to me last year as neither of them had any interest in it. I'm in my mid 30's and not particularly handy. However, I'm trying.

The first thing I did was put in a new inverter. Went pretty good and I replaced the original lighting throughout. Instead of having 120v lights plugged into the receptacles, I now have hardwired 12v lights.

My next upgrade was getting running water. I eventually want to get the shower going, but for now I just would like to wash my hands and dishes in the sink. The pump is still good, but when I put water in the trailer it leaked from the hot water heater. I pulled the water heater and found a good size crack in the tank. I ordered a new Atwood online and put it in this weekend.

Like I said, I'm not too experienced and learning as I go, but I have gotten a few things done... Unfortunately, when I filled the tank and turned on the pump no water came out of the kitchen sink. I thought the line was clogged, and it may be, but then I noticed water started coming from a few different places and I have multiple leaks in the copper pipe.

The layout of my trailer: When you come in the front door the entertainment center is on the right and there are couches on both sides. To the left is the kitchen. The sink / stove is on the left as you walk to the back of the trailer, pantry and fridge on the right. Next "room" has twin beds on left and right. Then finally the bathroom is in the rear. Closets on both sides, shower to the left, sink center back, on the right is the toilet, water heater and pump.

The water was pooling up in the bathroom and appeared to be coming from behind one of the closets. Another pool of water came from under the sink in the kitchen and I could reach back and put my finger on the hole in the copper pipe. The final, and most discouraging leak, appears to be coming from behind the wall at the twin bed on the left (if facing the rear of the trailer).

If you were in my situation, how would you proceed? At first, I thought I needed to go in and repair the leaks. How the heck do I get to them behind the walls, closets, etc...? I've been reading other posts and PEX tubing and fittings are the rave. Perhaps I should replace all the pipes. How the heck do I get them out since they are behind the walls? I don't understand how I can get the PEX run from the pump to the kitchen with no access behind the wall. Do you use fish-tape like an electrician running wire?? Do the walls come apart and then back together...?

Anyway, I'm sure I'll keep running into things once I get the pipes fixed, but I'm starting to enjoy it...if that makes sense. I love the trailer and I'm determined to get it back up. I'm open to any and all advice on how to approach this.
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Old 09-11-2012, 03:54 PM   #2
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Sounds like you are being very systematic, and that's a good thing.
For ease of reference in future posts, please refer to "roadside" and "curbside" (instead of left and right) to help us stay oriented.
Sounds like your fresh-water system was allowed to freeze.
Instead of chasing leaks and only replacing broken copper tubing at the breaks, you should consider replacing all the copper H2O lines with PEX. Lot's of illustrated posts in these forums to guide you.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:06 PM   #3
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I'll second Alumaholic's vote for going to PEX lines. The challenge will be the lines to the shower, those are the last bits of copper in my Argosy and they'll be banished someday when I take the shower out for a refinish.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:23 PM   #4
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1978 31' Sovereign
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Curbside, that is where my leaks are. Get my terminology down first.

Okay, so full water line retrofit with PEX is my best option. I'll research more on removal and installation. If anyone sees this and could offer a quick overview of what I'm getting into I'd sure appreciate it. Hopefully I'll find a thread that explains the steps in a way that a novice can understand.

I appreciate your time and responses.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:41 PM   #5
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I recommend Zeppelinium's detailed "PEX in the Sovereign" thread (lots of pictures, similar trailer.)

There are many others with PEX info though.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:47 PM   #6
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Here's a link to your Service Manual:
1978 Airstream Excella 500 Manuals
Chapter 5 contains a diagram of your H2O system.
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Old 09-11-2012, 04:50 PM   #7
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Not sure it applies to your 1978 trailer. On my two 1988 models I do not think there is any plumbing actually in the walls. At least not in the exterior walls. Under the floor, yes. Through cabinets, yes. Up through an interior partition, maybe yes. I know I can get to little snatches of mine all over with a little effort.

The original system is a bit complicated. I do not find the low point drain down valves useful as I would rather blow out with air and use antifreeze than try to turn a 25 year old PB valve that I can not reach anyway.

One approach would be to start over with PEX but do not take the old out right away. A nice system with PEX would be to have a manifold near the intake with valves and an individual line to each fixture. That way you could put in the manifold with enough lines and valves or addable valves and then just run the lne to the individual fixture and disconnect the copper. Eventually you could get everything running and all the copper out without doing it all at once. However the pump would have to be connected in behind this manifold with a check valve for it to feed the system.

I like the PEX. Fairly easy to snake and bend into areas and very easy to make joints.

I have not tried to run a line across the trailer under the floor yet. Not sure how to do that. I have used the old PB line to pull in a new PEX in one area.

If you have a copper system that froze with water in it there is virtually no reasonable way to salvage it as is, in my opinion.

PEX with the SS crimp ring is so cheap and easy that you could run temporay lines where you can get to easily and get something working and then come back later and snake it through the openings. or whatever.

And you do not want to cut holes in the trailer to get to plumbing.

Neithe of my trailers is a rear bath. Those are probably a lot harder to deal with. Maybe there are water lines in the walls? I know on the other trailers Airstream is proud of the fact that if you run the heat the water will not freeze, so I assume all lines must be in the interior space somehow or in the duct with the heat under the floor.

Some posters use different color PEX for hot and cold water systems.
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Old 09-11-2012, 05:11 PM   #8
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Almost none of your lines are under the floor.
None of your lines are inside the walls of your trailer.
They were installed at the factory after the floor was installed, and before the built-in cabinets were installed.
On my 1976 Safari, I removed all the built ins before I attempted to re-plumb the freshwater lines. It will greatly simplify the process.
As DKB_SATX has mentioned, you will arrive at certain points where you just employ a coupling to mate PEX to copper; behind your bathtub/shower for example.
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Old 09-11-2012, 10:09 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tealgraham View Post
If you were in my situation, how would you proceed?
I was.

I left the inlet, rear drain valve, pop off, regulator, crossover, and shower faucet. I replaced everything else. I added a rear shut off valve, a crossover shut off valve, and a pump isolator valve. I used braided hose to tie in and pex for all the rest.

I'd advise fixing everything first and remodeling the interior last.

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Old 09-12-2012, 07:12 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Splitrock View Post
I was.

I left the inlet, rear drain valve, pop off, regulator, crossover, and shower faucet. I replaced everything else. I added a rear shut off valve, a crossover shut off valve, and a pump isolator valve. I used braided hose to tie in and pex for all the rest.

I'd advise fixing everything first and remodeling the interior last.

`
This is good advice. On my Argosy, the copper was patched with white water hose. First time I applied water pressure, the leak was behind the tub/shower wall in my rear bath. I bit the bullet, gutted the old stuff, and went pex/crimps including a new shower/tub faucet. I did the manifold for cold and one for hot water outside the trailer, then installed it. It was easier to crimp in my garage, then drag the whole assembly inside. The lines for the kitchen faucet go behind the tub.
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Old 09-12-2012, 08:18 AM   #11
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It's easier than it looks

Our Safari was in the same condition, with leaks in several places and stretched copper pipe everywhere else from freeze damage. We replaced it all with PEX, without removing any interior, except cushions, etc.

All the water lines are above floor level in our trailer, and I think in most Airstreams from what I've read on the Forums. Look for them around the outer edges of the trailer, right down against the floor.

First, figure out where they go, and how the system works. If you can get a schematic, great! I had to draw one, but found it fairly easy. Have a detailed drawing in hand (only you have to be able to read it) before you cut out any copper.

Cutting out the old lines takes a lot of crawling and some creative cutting with something like a Dremel tool, but most of it will come out. Leave the rest in place and lay the PEX over it.

I found a lot of places in the trailer where there wasn't enough room to operate the PEX crimper (there are other crimpers on the market now that take less space), so I built the system in sections. It was possible to rough out a section, then take the whole assembly out and crimp it together where I had space to work. I found places to connect the various assemblies together where there was room for the crimper.

I also had to re-design the system near the water pump, because the original copper fittings made tighter corners than I could duplicate with PEX fittings. Just keep in mind what each line does, and make something work in the space you have.

In total, the project was much more head scratching than it was working. That was three years ago, and the PEX hasn't given us a bit of trouble.

If an ol' lady like me can do this, you can. good luck!
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Old 09-12-2012, 12:00 PM   #12
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Yep, mimiandrews, and if a 73 year old man(me) can do pex, anybody can! LOL
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Old 09-12-2012, 12:59 PM   #13
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Hi, howdy, and to Airforums, tealgraham! Yep, this is the place for all those gazillions of questions you will/already have.

Since you didn't mention much, I am going to assume for the moment that you have a rear bathroom, and twin beds in the compartment ahead of it. Let us know if this is right or wrong, OK?

First question for you: when you were filling the fresh water tank, was this because you were not parked at a spot where you had "city" water? I ask since the "white water" tank is only needed to in the picture if you are "boondocking" (camping away from anything that hooks up to your trailer). If you can connect a garden hose, that's your water supply, the only tanks you will use then are the two waste tanks. So don't worry about the white tank right away. In fact, I would now empty it.

You will find that almost all of your copper pipes are on the curbside of your trailer. If you have the layout I described above, there's a lot of it under the rear sink area and the bath tub, then it goes through the closet, under the curbside bed and up to the galley. It's not really hard to get at. Well, "hard" in the sense that it's impossible; it isn't impossible.

Well anyway, you are fortunate to now have access to the Owners Manual, and the Service Manual, thanks to Alumaholic. Grab them quickly, and read read read.

OK, so I am now looking for photos of your rig! Lots of them OK?
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Old 09-12-2012, 03:23 PM   #14
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1978 31' Sovereign
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This forum rocks! Thank you so much.
Alumaholic – very cool you had the manuals and shared them. I’m going to use the diagram to help determine parts needed on my FIRST parts run tonight.
Bill – If I never get running water, at least I’ll now know what a manifold and check valve are!
Thanks to you guys I’ve got my momentum back. As you know, the water heater isn’t exactly cheap and when I saw all the leaks I thought I was done for. Especially the one that was coming from behind the bed. Aage, I’ll take photos for sure next time now that I know I have such an excellent engineering support staff to share them with.

Prep Work

Step 1: I’ve got to decide on which type of fittings. The below link is helpful and I’m a prime candidate for sharkbite.

PEX Fittings , PEX Plumbing Fittings , Plumbing PEX Fittings - PexSupply.com

However, I looked on homedepot.com and price checks show it could get a little more pricey than a guy with 2 in diapers has clearance from the wife for. I’ll have to compare total pricing of the sharkbite and the crimp style and see if the price difference is worth the convenience. I’ll be sure to deduct the crimp tool price from the sharkbite unless I can find a place to rent one on the cheap.

Step 2: Go buy the parts. I’ll use the diagram from Alumaholic to determine quantities of elbows, tee’s, couplings, etc. I’ll also get a check valve (qty. 1 to install just downstream of the pump – I think?) along with multiple stop valves and few copper to PEX couplings for those difficult areas. I’ll get two manifolds (one hot, one cold) outlet quantities based on the diagram.
Step 3: Assemble manifolds in my garage at home

Onsite at trailer

Step 4: Remove ad-ons to gain as much possible access to the water lines.
Step 5: connect pre-assembled manifolds and check valve
Step 6: run the PEX (I’ll leave the copper in place and use as reference)
Step 7: hook up toilet, b/r sink, shower and kitchen sink (I probably run the lines and only hook-up the kitchen sink for now to save time. I’ll close the other stop valves until I’m ready to make them a priority).
Step 8: Pull out the copper and recycle. Take the money to my wife and tell her how lucky we are to have all this diaper money.
Step 9: Replace ad-on’s (after everything is hooked up and running leak free)

Am I overlooking a step or misinterpreting anything?

I really do appreciate it. Posting on here was great decision and I'm light years ahead of where I was 2 days ago. Thanks again!!
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