Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.

The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

When I bought our twenty foot Jayco Lite travel trailer before our house closed in the spring of 2017, I figured we’d be living in it for a few months while we looked for a new home.

I was wrong.

We lived within the confines of it’s half-inch walls for almost two years.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was.

It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up crammed in for much longer than we expected. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time in our bunk at the rear or outside in our half-built shed. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. It was too cramped in the tiny house on wheels.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy. It became an art form to take a shower. We had to set the timer for twelve minutes exactly from the time we turned the hot water heater on. Whoever was taking a shower had to be ready to jump in at the mark or the water would boil out of the tank outside within a couple of minutes.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands with the canvas walls of the pullouts.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through the tarps we put over them too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There wasn’t much between the outdoors and us in a canvas pullout.

One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard a distinct scraping sound against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. We’ll never know what was out there. I took the outside position only one time and ended up on the inner side within minutes.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and he still lives in it.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Tinkham Campground

The last stop on our journey to a new life.

The summer we lived in a travel trailer between homes was memorable.

We spent the first month up the Middle Fork county road outside of North Bend Washington but there’s a two-week limit on how much time you can stay in the national forest. As a result, we were under pressure to keep moving. The county Sheriff patrolled the area regularly and didn’t hesitate to tell people to move on if they exceed their limit. It was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them and we became forest outlaws for overstaying.

One day the sheriff told us to move so we had to spend a week at a hotel at the pass to burn up the prescribed amount of time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower and the beds were comfortable.

When we returned, we opted for a pay campground to take off the heat. Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass was a nice place but the caretaker was anything but.  He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously. He would literally look at his watch when we came to pay.

After that, we camped in an undesignated area before checking into Tinkham Campground – another pay site. We lived there for almost a month before we closed on our property and left for our new home.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air. The hosts were super friendly and didn’t run the place an internment facility. It was located halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still living and working near our old home, we could commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. It was a beautiful drive.

Our spot was on the river side of the campground with our own semi-private trail to the river. Denny Creek fed into it a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

I spent a lot of time at the beach. We got our water there, prospected, or just played around. The leg-breaking terrain was littered with giant rocks that were difficult to walk on but someone had begun to build a trail from the tree line to the river’s edge.

I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks adding to the trail. It was like building a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, lay them in, dump sand between them and pack it down. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It was symbolic to me. The flattened walkway that threaded its way to the water might save someone a broken ankle and was an invitation to enjoy the river. I hoped people would use it for months –  maybe years ahead. I wondered if others would help to maintain it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were at Tinkham. When the sun fell into darkness, the shadows on the ground deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach. I took my camera and my husband brought three pairs of sunglasses to watch. I teased him about it.

I couldn’t get a good shot with my camera but the multiple pairs of sunglasses my husband brought allowed us to see it clearly. Go figure.

We went prospecting at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. By that time, I was beginning to realize gold is heavy.  It sinks to the bottom of the gravel and sand till it hits either bedrock or clay. You have to have the right equipment and experience to know how to get to it. Lesson learned.

We were able to stay for the rest of our time in the mountains at Tinkham because the hosts were cool. Being an older couple, they suggested we clean up the fire pits in exchange for some extra time. We spent three days cleaning up fifty or so campsites.

In mid-September, we closed on our property. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go – somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now a part of our pasts, most likely for the remainder of our lives – but a new adventure awaited us ahead.

 

DIY Solar – A Poem

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s been a couple of months since we bought our solar power system and we’ve noticed a big problem that seems to run across the DIY industry: the kits don’t have a built-in low voltage disconnect (LVD) for the AC part of the set up.

Solar kits run both AC and DC loads. The AC is the one you would use for your home. It’s strong enough to run the big appliances. The DC is stuff you run right off of your batteries like when you go camping.

With batteries, if you deplete them too much, they become damaged and their lifespan is shortened significantly.

Our solar power kit came with charge controllers that have a low voltage disconnect (LVD). It cuts the draw from the batteries at a certain voltage to protect the battery but ours only turns off the DC load – the part we don’t use.

The inverter that came with our solar kit turns off the load at 10.5 volts – way too late.

Because we thought everything was being monitored, our batteries ran well below fifty percent many times. We wonder if they’re ruined.

I bought a generic LVD from another company and installed it but it stopped working, possibly because it couldn’t handle the amount of amps going through it. I was warned that might happen.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. One option we have is to buy an inverter that is programmable but they’re super expensive.  We now have no way to monitor the batteries but we kind of don’t care. I’m tired of messing with this stuff for now. I need a break so we’re back to using the gas generators until everything is running smoothly.

Here’s another thing to be aware of if you live in an RV: when you’re adding up how many watts the various appliances use per hour, don’t forget  you’re charging the RV batteries also.

I had a ball trying to figure out how many watts it takes per hour to charge fifty percent of two batteries. I’d share the formula but I lost the paper with my notes on it.

The solar kits come with a battery thermometer that plugs into the charge controller. The temperature probe gets taped onto the side of the battery to let the charge controller know how much energy to use to charge the battery, depending on whether it’s super cold or hot. They’re not mandatory but they make charging more efficient.

There are a lot of variables that impact the functioning of a solar power system. If one part isn’t running or working well, there goes the whole thing until you track down the problem.

I believe a low voltage disconnect is the most important part by far. Batteries are expensive. Every DIY kid should have one built into the AC part of the system.

I love having solar but the truth is it’s been a huge pain in the but to set up properly.

This poem says it all:  Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

Hitting The Road

Picking up the trailer and we’re off.

pexels-photo-696680

The evening we picked up our temporary home – our new/used travel trailer – I hadn’t pulled one in years.

We had closed on our home were headed out of town and into the foothills of the Cascade mountain range where we would live until we found a place to set down anchor.

After a final inspection to make sure everything was buttoned up tight, I climbed behind the wheel and pushed on the gas. With a gentle lurch, we pulled forward and were on our way.

I was a little nervous hauling a rig for the first time in quite a while so both me and my son kept looking out the back window to make sure the trailer was still behind us. It became a joke to say “it’s still there”.

Out and away from town and into the foothills we drove – trailer still behind us.

There was a truck stop near the entrance to the county road that led to where we were camping. It had showers for only fourteen dollars a pop, a laundry, and a gift shop with everything a trucker might want to ease their travels – or us, ours.

We stopped to fill the water tanks then pulled out for the last leg of our day’s journey. It was getting dark and we wanted to get to the campground before late.

The county happened to be paving the dirt road out and had placed a billion red cones smack in the middle for the entire length of the narrow road. I had to maneuver the trailer carefully around every single one of them. We took a couple of them out – on accident, of course.

Then we came to the bridge.

It was also under construction and had been temporarily made into one lane. I slowly rolled up to it, sizing the situation up in my head. It looked like I would have about five or six inches to spare on each side of the trailer. Some skill would be needed – or stupidity.

What if we got the rig stuck halfway over the bridge? I didn’t want to think about it and rolled forward, my son cheering me on. Gritting my teeth, my fingers practically breaking the steering wheel, we moved forward at a moderate speed. I figured a little momentum would help if things got too tight.

Yes, speed would help us in a jam.

We “narrowly” made it through the tight squeeze without losing any exterior trailer parts and continued on to our destination. One more challenge awaited: backing the trailer up into the parking pad.

I’ve never been good at that. Turning the steering wheel right makes the trailer go left, or right, or something. The next thing you know, you have completed a two-mile per-hour jackknife.

Tonight, we got lucky. I didn’t take out any trees or picnic tables and we settled in without incident for our first night on the open road.

 

 

What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter

It was cold and it was solid and it wasn’t letting our dishes go.

25231901698.pngIt lasted for months; the block of ice that held most of our dishes captive.

I remember the day I was able to wrest the last utensil free of the icy tomb that had encased our pans, forks, spoons, spatulas, glasses, bowls and plates – almost everything we ate off of – in one huge chunk of ice.

The Dishberg.

We had recently moved to eastern Washington and were living in a trailer on raw land when it happened. As we were settling in, we met our neighbors and stories were told of winters in eastern Washington – temperatures of minus forty-degrees with snow drifts up to the eaves of your house.

When we mentioned we were from west of the mountains, we got the all-knowing nod of someone who has just learned you are from The Coast and they must break the news to you of the impending doom that is winter in Stevens County.

Incidentally, you are from The Coast if you are from anywhere west of the Cascade mountain range. It doesn’t matter how far from the ocean you live; you are from The Coast and are referred to as a Coasty.

The stories were almost true. We weren’t prepared and me and our son went to live in an emergency shelter for three months while my husband stayed in our trailer with the cat.

Occasionally, I’d come to take a load of dishes to the shelter to wash because the trailer’s pipes were frozen. One day I piled them up in a large Tupperware container to get them  out of the way and put it outside.  For some reason, it sat there for a couple of days filling with water. Before long the whole container froze solid.

The mass was heavy and there was no breaking it up because there were plastic and glass items embedded in it. It sat for a couple of months before it finally began to thaw. I remember when it melted enough to break into smaller pieces I could bring inside and run hot water over and by the end of March, we finally had all of our dishes back.

Now if we could only find the coffee pot lid I lost in the snow in February.