Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: Getting Ready for the Snow in an RV - from a couple of Floridians!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting Ready for the Snow in an RV - from a couple of Floridians!

We aren’t completely mad, I assure you.  We do know a little bit about cold weather despite having lived in Florida for many years.  I was born and raised in Colorado.  Until the age of 12, before my family relocated to Florida, I spent winters building snowmen and perfecting my ski technique.  Eric was born and raised in Pennsylvania and spent many winters doing the same, but on a smaller scale (and with a snowboard on "mountains" haha).  It wasn't until after high school that Eric left Pa and went to Florida for his Navy training.  

So true!
We both enjoy 1-2 weeks a year traveling to ski (even though I haven't been able to the past two seasons) and have always dreamed about spending a season at a resort.  But before full-timing, we never would have had the opportunity. Little did we know that we would be afforded the opportunity to do it this year’s season!  Early this fall we mapped out a plan that would include spending approximately 7 weeks in Whitefish, Montana (although it is before ski season, we will be spending time prepping with lots of hikes enjoying autumn and the turning of the leaves which doesn’t happen in Florida).  After Thanksgiving, we are planning a week and a half to travel to Colorado, possibly with stops in Big Sky, Montana and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (depending on snowfall).  We then plan to have about a month each in Breckenridge, Colorado and Park City, Utah finished by a few weeks at the end of February in Tahoe, California before a sprint back to Florida in time for the Runaway Country festival the third weekend of March.
We departed Florida in the middle of September in nearly 90 degree weather with all of our winter gear loaded in the RV along with a few items our research found (thanks google, grandma, and other bloggers!) that have already proven to be helpful for the cold.  Even though it hasn't dropped below freezing (our thermometer says it got down to 29 one night, but not sure)  I’m sure we will be adding as we go and discover tidbits from other RVers and through our first-hand experience.  

When we were choosing our new fiver back in February, we knew that we would eventually want to do cold weather living so we made sure we had a “four season” rig.  This can be misleading, as there technically isn’t a “four season” rig – rather more of a three season.  With right preparations, plenty of advice from those with experience and some of our own experimenting, it can be just as pleasant inside during the winter as a hot summer.  Most full-time RVers prefer to follow the mild seasons, not ever having to worry about such things as extreme temperatures and there is definitely something to be said for that, and I’m sure we will join them sometime in the future, but not this year!

As we departed Florida, already in our possession were two ceramic space heaters, a backup propane heater, foam door insulator, and 3m plastic window film.  

In our first three weeks, we have used only our on board furnace (with a vent cracked to help control humidity, ideally kept between 30-40% to keep from damaging condensation from forming inside).  An important note on our first three weeks: we have, so far, spent only on night on the cord as we discovered on our way that many parks such as Devils Tower and Glacier National Park are still open (and uncrowded) for primitive camping.  The days are still in the mid 60’s with the nights in the low 40’s (a few dipping down to the mid 30’s).  It’s been wonderful experiencing our first real autumn in years.  We both forgot how beautiful and colorful the trees got and how cold air has that crispness to it...

After a few colder nights requiring the use of the furnace, we did have our carbon monoxide detector go off in the middle of the night which was a little scary, especially since we didn’t know why.  We smelled some propane earlier in the day and being new at regular use of the furnace we didn’t think much of it (we had also just changed one of the tanks). Since we didn't want to take any chances and we were pretty sure the problem was somewhere in the furnace, we decided to shut it down and go with our Mr. Heater Big Buddy backup propane heater.  Since it was already late at night, it seemed like the best option for both safety and sleep!   The Big Buddy runs off of one or two 1lb propane cylinders OR you can get a hose with a quick connect (shown above in Amazon store) that allows the hookup of a 20lb tank - well worth the expense for the added peace of mind.  I don't recommend using the medium setting.  It doesn't seem to get any hotter than the low setting and it made a funny smell.  Low was perfect and put out a nice, even heat while high had no problem heating up inside the RV within a few minutes.  The heater doesn't come with a power cord, that part is extra,  but it can be run with 4 'D' cell batteries so that you can run the heater's built-in fan. This is a nice feature to help keep air circulating inside your rig.  It works just fine without, but for keeping condensation down and keeping temperatures even inside, we prefer using the fan. 

Typical RV Carbon Monoxide Detector
The next morning, after some investigating, Eric found that the furnace exhaust had been turned into a caked dirt mess by some bugs (we think probably mud daubers in Florida) at some point!  We don’t know if this happened before we purchased the RV or over the summer, but we are sure glad it was such a simple fix. We do have vent covers over them now, but we didn't have them until about two months after having the RV. Once we figured out the problem and cleared it out, we were back up and running in no time.  We were glad we had the backup propane heater since we were in Glacier and there are only three times a day that it is acceptable to run a generator (which we would have used to run the space heaters rather than freezing all night if we’d had to).  The only drawback we had with the heater is that we didn't have enough backup 1lb canisters of propane to run for more than then night.  We now have plenty of those as well as a connection to hook up the Big Buddy to a 20lb propane tank.  We've read stories of fellow RVers heating their rigs for days and weeks before having to change out the tank!

I would say the funniest lesson we’ve learned so far is just how much wood is in a half a cord!  As you can see from the picture – it’s a lot!!  We were having trouble finding firewood at a reasonable price (read: grocery stores charge $5+ dollars for 4-5 pieces of wood that burn up in 15 minutes!)  We saw a  truck full of wood alongside the road in Columbia Falls and thought we might be able to get a better deal.  Knowing we would be in the Apgar campground inside Glacier until it started to dip down to freezing temperatures, we figured we would be camping there for another week or two.  Going through 8-10 pieces every evening we wanted to save by buying more than just the bundles the grocery store offered so we decided on the minimum delivery amount, a half a cord of wood!  Holy Cow, half a cord is a lot of wood!  We have now started a wood sharing business LOL – our fellow campers now had their very own source of wood, for a donation of course ;-).

The preparations that we have already made include adding a weather station that has a remote temperature sensor that we will keep in our bays so we can monitor temperature - the last thing we want is for any of our pipes or tanks to freeze up!

We have also ensured that our door and basement compartments are completely sealed with foam tape.  When using foam insulation tape, it is important to make sure when choosing a size to not get it too wide or too thick.  The idea is for it to fit just right, with just some squishing for the ideal seal.  Too thick and your door won’t close and too thin you won’t have a seal to prevent not only the cold, but the wind, from entering.   We also will use foam board insulation on the inside of any of our exterior access compartment doors to help keep the warm in and the cold out!

Our next step was a thorough inspection of all the seals of our windows.  Being that our windows are single pane as I’m sure most older RV models are, while the seals are good, there is not really any insulation as most newer double paned glass offers (maybe a future upgrade?)  On a visit to grandma in Chicago last spring I saw installed a “plastic wrap” type material on her windows.  Since we had evenly flat aluminum frames around our windows, we were able to affix the plastic directly to the frames with the included double-sided tape.  It was applied fairly easily (we recommend removing blinds etc to made the job easiest) but was a little difficult to get in place at the top of the frames.  Once the plastic is in place and reasonably snug, any wrinkles can be ironed out with a hair dryer.  This product has allowed us not only fully seal our windows, but also to use the air between the plastic and the window as an insulator which is hard to believe just how much of a difference it makes!  It does take a little practice to install, as it does tear – but a few pieces of gorilla tape fixed those right up.  So far we have had it installed for a week and despite using the day/night blinds and having two energetic doggies, we have not had to replace any yet.

In the next few weeks, we will be purchasing a heated water hose.  Although our tanks are in our insulated and heated bays, we will prefer not to keep water in them this winter.  We will also get a PVC pipe that we will wrap with heat tape and insulation for our black and grey tanks so we won’t have any of the dreaded poopsicles   
we’ve heard so much about. Ewww…

Other things we are considering are heat blankets for the propane tanks (expensive so we may wait on these as the coldest parts of our winter we will spend hooked up directly to the campgrounds propane) as well skirting for around the bottom of the fiver to keep out the winter winds and the worst of the cold.  We have already some tarps, which we plan on trying first in the front of the RV where we have so much room below the tongue of the fiver.  On the suggestion of a full timer we met in St. Louis, we will also probably be getting 1in thick foam board that we can use to circle the rest of our RV including the slides.  He even suggested if needed, as he has seen others do before, to enclose each slide in the same foam board.  I don’t think we’ll need to go that far!!

RVing in cold weather is not for the faint of heart.  That's coming from two Floridians.  That being said, there is a certain sort of fun (some call it crazy) that you have from full-timing in the cold weather.  Besides, if you love any outdoor winter activity, there's no better way to get up-close and personal with the great out-of-doors than by setting up shop near your closest winter resort.

If any of you have any more suggestions or ideas for us, we would really appreciate your comments!  Don’t forget – we’re a couple of cold weather novices and it’s certainly going to be an adventure in RV living!!

Did we get it right? Do you have experience or knowledge about this post? Please make yourself heard! Comment below and we will respond as soon as possible. As always, thanks for following us! Disclaimer: We are not paid writers. We write for enjoyment and to share information about our travels with our families, friends, and our followers. The information that we provide is based on our experiences with the products, services, etc, that we write about. It is 100% non-biased!

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