Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: April 2016

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Final Wrap-up: What We Learned about Cold Weather RV Living

After an amazing winter of skiing and snowboarding Colorado, Utah, and California, we are back in Florida for a short while before heading back out on the road.  Looking back, it still seems like the last six months were something that happened out of a storybook.  It's still so surreal!  In the past few weeks, we've been spending most of our time thinking about what's next rather than reflecting back on where we've been.  After our last post on cold weather RVing, we've learned volumes more in knowledge!

There aren't a lot of RVs out there that are equipped for true 4 season living.  Granted, many manufacturers offer "Arctic" or "Extreme Cold" packages that include options like:  more (and higher) R-value insulation,  higher BTU furnaces, heated/insulated underbelly (basement), insulated pipes, heating pads for holding tanks - just to name a few.  Even with all of these components, the battle against the cold is best won by being proactive and taking steps to prevent freezing in the first place.

Snowcapped mountains of Colorado

We were pretty fortunate getting through our first season traveling and living in sub-freezing temperatures.  Despite many people calling us crazy (especially our next door neighbor in at Whitefish RV Resort) for towing through the Rockies in the middle of winter (we only traveled on dry, clear days Mom & Dad!), we had very little difficulties in either our travels or our stays.  To make it easier, we'll start off by telling you a few of the mishaps we had, then go into how we broke down everything to keep from freezing.

As funny as it sounds, our refrigerator stopped working after a couple of sub-zero temperature nights in Breckenridge, Colorado.  Our first thought was to just throw everything in the freezer in the cab of the truck and everything in the refrigerator into the Yeti cooler.  After a generous application of common sense and an equal dose of Google, we found that the fluid inside of the cooling system of the refrigerator froze.  Yeah, we thought the same thing - sounds crazy.  It was a pretty simple fix.  We simply put a small space heater and set it above freezing.  Within a few hours, the freezer was cooling down and back to normal.  Lesson learned...

Another was when we made the decision to start using our Mr. Buddy Big Buddy heater rather than the furnace in the RV.  Reason being is because the Big Buddy did an excellent job of keeping the RV warm and cozy all night while using a minimal amount of propane.  We set the Big Buddy on medium most nights and low others.  On average, we could run about 5-7 nights on one 20lb propane tank.  The only drawback was that we had frozen pipes going to the kitchen faucet a few times when the temps dropped into the teens.  Had we been using the RV furnace, we are pretty sure that if we had (since the ductwork heats the basement area of the RV) we would not have had any issues with freezing.   Also, keeping the cabinets doors (for the portion where the kitchen pipes were located) closed may have helped to keep those pipes from freezing up.  Since we didn't know exactly where the freezing point was happening,  it's hard to tell what would have been best, short of using the furnace.

Lastly, for the trials and tribulations of cold, our truck, while performing awesome, did give us issues one morning.  While it had a factory freeze plug installed, we had difficulty getting the engine block heater cord delivered as we had two different problems with availability through Amazon suppliers. We had zero difficulty starting the truck until one morning after we hadn't started the truck at all the previous day.  To add to that, the overnight low was a chilly -11 degrees fahrenheit!  These two things made it near impossible for the truck to start in the morning.  We managed to nearly kill the batteries trying to start it.  Fortunately our next door neighbors in Tiger Run let us borrow their truck to charge the batteries back up.  After about 30 minutes of trying, finally the engine kicked over and started up. Naturally, we let the engine warm up thoroughly before driving, a very important thing to do with diesel engines in cold weather.   Since diesel engines rely on heat and compression (they don't have spark plugs) for ignition, the block of the engine needs to warm up for proper fuel detonation in the cylinder.  You'll know it if you try to drive before it's warm enough!

She performed great this winter!
So, how do you break down cold weather camping?  I found it easiest to work from entry to exit in terms of hookups.  Starting with water lines, a successful winter RV camper will want to ensure that the RV park's water hookup is heated with electrical heat tape and/or insulation (if only insulation, make sure you add heat tape around the pipe and under the insulation to keep it from freezing).  If you have a water filter built into your rig, it should already be heated in its compartment.  If not, ensure that your water filter is also wrapped in heat tape then insulated, then wrapped with electrical tape to hold it all together.  You can do the same with the water supply hoses, or you can buy hoses with the heat tape already built in to the hose.  While expensive, these are the best way to go - we never had our incoming water freeze, even when the hose was covered by two feet of snow!  We did not insulate this hose, but probably will in the upcoming winter season due to the fact that the warmer the incoming water, the less likely a valve, etc, will freeze on you.

Next, you'll want to know if the incoming valves are heated and/or insulated.  Usually if the garage is heated and insulated, the valves will be, too.  Don't make the rookie mistake of forgetting that the furnace may heat the underbelly area via ducting, so if you do choose to use space heaters, Big Buddy, etc, ensure that you either put a space heater underneath our use a duct or register fan to pump warm air throughout the ductwork underneath.  They will also help to circulate the heat throughout the RV - both living area and underbelly area.  In the event that your underbelly is neither heated or insulated, you may want to consider having it done (or doing it yourself) prior to cold weather camping.  Skirting helps tremendously, too.  In our previous article about full time RV living in cold
One of Eric's first backcountry snowboarding experiences - can't do that in the summertime!
weather, we talk about how the application of skirting (and a space heater underneath if necessary) can dramatically increase both your floor and basement temperatures.  In our experimentation, we found that skirting (1" foam reflective insulation) with snowpack around it kept our basement temperatures 10-15 degrees warmer (when using furnace to heat) than without.  In retrospect, thicker foam board would be better because it is more rigid and offers an even higher R-value.  We went way overboard when we did the skirting in Whitefish.  The easiest thing we found was to simply lean the panels against the RV and secure them to the RV and to each other with reflective tape.  To secure the bottoms, the use of snowpack will give the best seal.  Use reflective tape liberally to ensure that the skirting is as airtight as possible.  Airtight and insulated means the heat stays where it's supposed to, under the RV!

Return of the Poopsicle!
By adding a space heater underneath the RV set at 40 degrees, we were able to keep our basement temps 20-30 degrees higher than without. This was key in those times when it dropped well below zero!  In addition to keeping your underbelly warmer, all of the exterior (under) pipes, valves, etc, will also keep from freezing.  We ran our sewer pipe inside our skirting and under our dining slide.  It didn't froze until the day before we were leaving.  This was, consequently, the day after we took the skirting off.  Doh!  This was the infamous Poopsicle we'd heard about from our neighbors!  One learned lesson and the cost of a new sewer pipe later, that was the worst of our problems in the extreme cold of Summit County, Colorado.

So there you have it.  Some funny stories and some great lessons learned.  Surely we've missed plenty, so please comment and let us know your experience and share your opinions.  Bottom line: Would we do it again?  Yep - already planning out next season!

On a separate note:
A great big THANK YOU to all of you who have followed us and supported our travels so far through social media and by reading our blog posts.  Without all of you, this wouldn't be possible.  We appreciate all of the comments and encouragement and will continue to keep everyone updated on future plans!

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!