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Old 11-23-2015, 08:33 AM   #1
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Inside Sewage Black Water Spill Nightmare

Yesterday we had a nightmare scenario unfold. We accidentally locked ourselves out of the Airstream (be careful not to accidentally put that upper interior door lock lever in the "lock" position when the door is open). As we are trying to figure out how to get back in, probably about 15 minutes, water starts to pour out the door from they inside. So we smash a back window, crawl in and discover the toilet overflowing. No apparent reason, never happened before. We shut off the water at the spigot outside and drain the black tank, mop up the sewage carefully, clean everything with a bleach mixture, and wait. Then two other leaks start happening outside under the trailer. The raw sewage had leaked through the floor into the Airstream's chassis underneath. We took the trailer for a 40 mile drive yesterday hoping to allow the jostling to keep the black water coming out. Now we are dealing with not knowing how much is still down there and how to remove it. There is a smell of raw sewage detectible all the time but especially when we turned on the furnace. Question: How do we flush out the black water under the floor? And will we ever figure out what happened to the toilet in order to prevent it from happening again? Help!
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Old 11-23-2015, 08:42 AM   #2
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You could raise one end of the trailer with the front jack, drill out enough rivets from the floor pan to enable you to stick a hose in and then flush the pan out.
Sounds like a terrible experience.
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Old 11-23-2015, 09:02 AM   #3
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Wow…talk about double whammy!!!!

Then there is the broken window!!! Then not knowing what's wrong with the toilet. So sorry

I was thinking that if you are washing that interstitial area, some liquid enzyme tank treatment, might help. If you have fiberglass insulation, it may be a issue trying to not get it wet. A fan and a hot dry day wouldn't hurt.
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Old 11-23-2015, 09:16 AM   #4
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Are you sure you didn't have the fresh water hose connected to the black water flush?
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Old 11-23-2015, 10:24 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by mojo View Post
Are you sure you didn't have the fresh water hose connected to the black water flush?
I also wonder if something was not hooked up correctly.

Our toilet valve (the one that allows fresh clean water to flush the toilet) has leaked once or twice and the bowl has nearly filled up with fresh water. Fortunately it has not overflowed and I've now trained myself to turn off the water supply when we leave the trailer for the day.

But your problem was apparently not fresh water overflowing but black water from the tank filling up (backing up) into the toilet. I agree with mojo - sounds like the shore water was connected to the wrong fitting on the side of the trailer. Our black tank flush is clearly in a different location from our fresh water entry. Newer Airstream trailers have the fresh and flush connections near each other.

It might be reasonable to cut a relatively big hole in the belly pan - say one foot square, near the back of the trailer and a similar hole in the front of the belly pan. Then using the idea posted above, tilt the trailer with front higher than the rear and try to flush out the sewage remnants. As somebody said above, insulation may be a problem if it's wet and contaminated.

The holes you cut in the belly pan can be covered with a slightly larger piece of aluminum and riveted back into place. Not elegant but it might work.

Good Luck!
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Old 11-23-2015, 10:36 AM   #6
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You are going to need to remove the belly pan, remove the old now wet and contaminated insulation, clean everything thoroughly, install new insulation and reinstall the belly pan. If you don't do this, you will be "haunted" by black tank smells for the rest of your ownership of this trailer.

As far as the cause, I suspect that you may have hooked up the city water to your black tank flush and not to the city water inlet. If that is not the case then you might as well replace the toilet since this one is no longer trustworthy.

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Old 11-23-2015, 10:59 AM   #7
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There were no black water flushes going on nor hoses for such in place. We were hooked up to a standard sewage drain at a campground. The valves were shut when the overflow commenced.
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:07 AM   #8
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Maybe the toilet water input valve stuck and it kept flushing until the tank overfilled. Was the water pump on?
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:11 AM   #9
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I think using the word nightmare is totally appropriate. This is the first time I've heard of this but if the toilet flush was stuck for some reason it would happen in our trailer too. Maybe that is a note to self - turn off the city water (or pump if not hooked to city water) when leaving for an extended period.
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:11 AM   #10
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Perhaps the campground sewer had a system-wide backup that used your trailer as a 'weakest link', i.e., filling your trailers' black water tank with community sewage?
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:19 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by AnnArborBob View Post
You are going to need to remove the belly pan, remove the old now wet and contaminated insulation, clean everything thoroughly, install new insulation and reinstall the belly pan. If you don't do this, you will be "haunted" by black tank smells for the rest of your ownership of this trailer.

As far as the cause, I suspect that you may have hooked up the city water to your black tank flush and not to the city water inlet. If that is not the case then you might as well replace the toilet since this one is no longer trustworthy.

Agree with AnnArborBob,

My 2006 Airstream did not have the difference between the flush valve and the water supply clearly marked - my 2012 does, but it is still possible to hook up to the wrong one if you're distracted - the hose fitting sizes are the same, and they're located within 10 inches of each other.

IF the system had worked correctly the seal on the toilet would have forced the water in the black tank out through the roof vent for the black tank. You might have had CaCa on the outside of the trailer but that would still have been better than what happened. AND you would have successfully pressure tested your entire black tank system.

The seal on the toilet flapper almost certainly failed in order to allow stuff to enter the trailer HOWEVER there are two other possibilities - the PVC vent from the black tank SHOULD be glued down onto the tank, and any elbows, etc. should also be glued all the way to the rooftop. There should also be a vent cover (that doesn't leak) around the top of the vent pipe. Unfortunately now and then it's been reported that the vent stack has been put together but not glued so that it comes apart when the black tank is overfilled. Your tank is below floor level and if it had failed there the mess should all be in the belly pan and on the ground. The "easiest" way to confirm that the toilet itself leaked would be to replicate the situation with all clean water, while observing - and stop the second you see water entering the bowl. Of course If you fill the bowl with water and it now leaks down into the tank that's a pretty good indicator too.

IF the toilet itself didn't leak and crap got inside, then the vent stack leaked somewhere above the floor level - unlikely generally. On your 2008 the vent stack will probably be in the corner of the toilet room behind the toilet itself - a 45 degree wall that's about 10 inches long. Carefully slit the wallpaper and it can be opened. (Still 95% that it's the flapper in the toilet itself.)

I agree you've got to pull the belly pan ASAP and get that stuff cleaned out. Unless a prior owner removed the fiberglass insulation - you've got it! Discard and replace after spray cleaning everything you can. Get it under cover in a garage if possible and once cleaned out, get it dried out thoroughly. You may want to call a flood and fire restoration company for a consultation - I doubt if your owners insurance will cover complete service for this.
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:24 AM   #12
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PS - yours is the second one this has happened to quite recently. I thought it was foolish to recommend before I heard your story - but perhaps it DOES make sense to shut off your water every time you leave the trailer unattended.

Feels like overkill, but compared to a flooded trailer - OUCH not a problem.

Sorry you've had such a rough trip. A fire/flood restoration company can recommend good odor killing chemicals - that they will sell to you - even though they'd prefer the big bucks of doing the work.

Paula
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:43 AM   #13
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First, this would appear to be a valid insurance claim.

As we understand your situation, this AS is not new to you.

You say this "never happened before" however, this is a situation where a new AS owner might accidentally connect incoming water line to the black water tank flush instead of the fresh water supply for human use and left the water valve open filling the tank to overflow.

Accidentally locking the only exit door from the inside, then exiting the AS and locking the door preventing access to owners is a rare accident.

There are only two ways to add fluids to the black water tank. Flushing intentionally or depositing whatever without flushing because there is no fresh water available, or attaching the fresh water line to the external tank flush input either intentionally or accidentally and turning on the fresh water supply tap.

It occurs to me that a third party might have created this situation. If your attention or presence was even momentarily removed from your AS, someone unknown to you might have locked and closed your door. Your door is locked and you have no key. You spend effort and time trying to open the door. Were other people present or nearby observing your situation? Is it possible that someone not known to you attached your fresh water line to the black water flush input, and turned on the water supply?

Unless your AS has substantially different plumbing than others, this mystery has no solution given the circumstances you describe.
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Old 11-23-2015, 11:57 AM   #14
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I always wear a door key to the AS around my neck on a ball chain. I keep an extra key to the TV in the kitchen drawer. I use a key ring with both around the campsite. Very low probability of lockout on either vehicle then.
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