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Motorhome service point construction
The Vicarious Guide to How to Construct a Motorhome Aire Stopover and Service Point
Chris Doree has provided this brief guide on how to build motorhome and campervan overnight parking and service areas. Chris and his partner Meli inspect about 1000 motorhome Aires each year on a rolling program, making them the world experts in European motorhome stopovers.
This article will help you to understand the main functions that a motorhome service and parking area should provide.
Most people can picture a parking area in their minds, but few non motorhomers will be able to picture a service point so this article starts with these first.
Motorhomes carry about 100 litres of freshwater and this becomes stored dirty water with use. A toilet cassette is also carried and needs to be emptied.
Motorhomes are normally large vehicles driven infrequently, thus minor accidents will occur during manoeuvring. The construction of motorhome service points should be simple and robust enough to withstand low speed impacts. As with all street furniture, consider maintenance, vandalism and visual impact. In France, it is common to see professionally manufactured service points. Unfortunately these are often in poor condition, especially when they are made of plastic. Often they are located where motorhomes or cars can come into contact with them. They sometimes require tokens, which are often only available from local shops during business hours. Consequently, token operated service points are often broken into. We assume this happens when motorhome owners arrive outside of business hours without water or they put in a token and the machine does not work. Some service points also accept euro coins, but these are even more likely to be broken into.
This Euro Relais Raclet service point in France charges €2 for 100 litres of water. Because this is coin-operated, it has previously been broken into and the council have secured it with a padlock and chain. We have inspected thousands of motorhome service points across Europe and can confirm this is a common problem and it is for this reason that we recommend that you do not charge for water.
Your council maintenance department or a local builder can construct a simple concrete service point that will be more resistant to damage and easier to use. A fresh water tap, drive over grid and a flip up grid for toilet emptying are all that is required. Ensure the construction is as robust as possible and in an open area, so that there is plenty of space for large motorhomes to manoeuvre as their water emptying points can be located anywhere under the bodywork.
Motorhomes carry about 100 litres of freshwater in an onboard tank. A second tank of a similar capacity collects the dirty water from the sinks and shower. This dirty water is commonly known as grey water.
This particular French service point is unnecessarily complicated as it has been fitted with a token water meter. This service point would be more successful without it as we have observed that pay service points put off potential visitors. Not only will simple service points be sturdier and easier to use, they will also cost less to build and maintain. Unless a service point takes a lot of money the cost of emptying and repairing it will negate what is collected.
Canterbury Kent Park and Ride has a simple service point included in the £2 for 24hr fee. The Canterbury and the French manmade metered motorhome service point above have lift up grids for toilet emptying, but both show evidence of toilet waste left high and dry. To prevent this, make it blindingly obvious where the toilet emptying point is. The Spanish service point has a square cut out of the grid for toilet emptying, and marking the toilet emptying point with a WC sign is all that is needed.
American motorhomes, known as Recreational Vehicles (RV's), are often as big as a coach and have big capacity onboard grey and toilet waste tanks. Normally a length of 3-4" bore hose is carried to direct the waste water, but the photo shows that the driver has managed to park directly over the drain.
In order to keep things as simple as possible, it is advisable to offer free services, but charge for overnight parking via a parking meter. We strongly advise against barrier-operated systems due to the chaos that would occur should a fire breakout behind the barrier. There is no point charging for parking in an undesirable area because motorhome owners will not stop there. Selecting the correct location and predicting the number of parking spaces needed is a job for an expert. It is extremely unlikely that motorhome or caravan clubs have anyone with sufficient experience.
Motorhome owners love to plug their vehicles into the mains, especially if it is free as it sometimes is at French Aires. The picture shows three unmetered electric sockets at a popular French Aire. One socket is shared by three motorhomes and two have been selfishly made un-sharable. It is our experience that providing electricity at motorhome Aires is detrimental for several reasons. People overstay their welcome, arguments breakout, users abuse it and use as much as possible, and overcrowding is common. If you put in pay electric points they will not be used unless the price is low. Having an inclusive parking and electric fee works well, but we recommend that 3-6amp circuit breakers are fitted and that the user is able to reset the breakers. Most UK campsites include 16amp electric points, but this is simply not necessary for overnight parking.
If you are planning on putting in several motorhome Aires in a region, consider providing electricity at the ones that are least likely to attract the motorhome visitors.
In Europe it is common for there to be a service point at each motorhome parking area. A practical option is to have a central service point for the town or district. Ensure there are signs indicating where motorhome parking is tolerated, otherwise it gives the impression that offsite parking ('wild camping') is allowed, resulting in motorhomes parking wherever they can find space. Designated parking directs tourism and trade to the area in which the parking is offered.
If motorhome owners were allowed to find their own parking, they would always park overlooking water, especially if boats are coming and going. Motorhome owners will happily pay about £5 per 24hrs to park at a desirable location, and up to £10 at an exceptional location, but will not stop at an undesirable or inconvenient location even if it is free.
Campervan owners also like to park near shops, restaurants, and tourist destinations. Canterbury Park and Ride in Kent has dedicated motorhome parking for £2 per 24hrs including the bus into town and a free service point. This UK Aire is popular with motorhomes and campervans and does not cause any problems for the council or car park attendants. Most motorhome owners are 50+ years old and many have mobility problems so the Canterbury P&R bus is perfect for them. The pub by the car park entrance serves real ale and good food. The motorhome parking is furthest from the road so is quiet at night. Well done Canterbury, Vicarious Books awards you 9 out of 10 for your motorhome Aire.
Canterbury Park and Ride offers overnight motorhome parking and the bus into town. Parking spaces should be a minimum of 6m long; most modern motorhomes are 7-9m long, but most large motorhomes have a long rear overhang behind the rear wheels, so it is practical to overhang over a low kerb. Providing parking spaces with overhang increase the size of motorhome that can be accommodated without taking up valuable car parking space.
Can any money be made from overnight motorhome parking? The answer is simple: Yes, but it is completely down to location. Large towns and the coast are always popular with motorhomers. Big tourist attractions, such as theme parks, across Europe normally have a pay parking area and service point for motorhomes. Rivers, canals, and marinas are a big draw, but the closer to town the better. The quality of the facilities is least important, but the ambience really matters; put overnight parking in the wrong location and no one will stop.
1) It is pointless building motorhome service points without overnight parking. It gives the impression that offsite parking (wild camping) is tolerated if no parking is provided. Also, if a motorhome is going to park in a campsite at night, then they will use the services there.
2) Service points should be as simple as possible so that they can be constructed and maintained by any builder/plumber. A tap, drive over grid and a flip up grid for toilet emptying are all that is required. Ensure the construction is as robust as possible and in an open area. Northern Ireland Tourism said they had had a situation where they needed a French company to carry out repairs on one of their French-made service points. Crazy!
3) Provide the service for free, but charge for overnight parking via a parking meter.
Speak to an Expert
If you are considering building a motorhome Aire and service point in your district, please call us on 0131 208 3333 and ask to speak to Chris.
Few councils in the UK have provided specific motorhome and campervan parking areas, but you can see comprehensive details of other UK motorhome Aire stopovers by clicking here.