Sunday, January 5, 2014

Winter In The Trailer

Winter in the trailer is so, so different than summer was. I may have complained a little bit about my "tin can" being a bit warm when under the glare of the summer sun, and now I feel like a complete heel for complaining, because the challenge of 1) keeping the trailer heated and 2) the water flowing has been a months-long learning experience which I've only just gotten the hang of. So, in case I forget everything I've learned over the summerm or in the unlikely event that someone else reading this finds themselves in the same situation and wants some advice... here's what I've learned.
First off, staying warm: the most important lesson I learned this year by far was that it's easier and more economical to keep the trailer warm than to heat it up. I made the mistake of trying to "conserve" propane/electricity early on this winter by keeping the thermostat low and set on what I wanted the temperature to be. The problem is, the thermostat doesn't kick on immediately when the temperature dips below - there's a 6-8 degree "lag" - so by the time it did kick on, the trailer was frigid and the heater couldn't compensate. (Plus, the thermostat is located in the kitchen right beside the stove/oven - ??? - so if I did any cooking or baking or even washed dishes with hot water, it threw the whole system off.) Now I keep the thermostat higher and the heater runs a few minutes every hour (as opposed to hours at a time when trying to heat it up) and in general we all stay comfortable.
I also stopped relying on my propane heating system to be my primary source of heat after doing some research and discovering that, at best, my heating system was losing 30% efficiency, and stole borrowed an electric space heater from my family. The good part about living in a trailer is that even a small space heater is usually good up to 300 square feet, and the trailer only has 216. Although I started out using the space heater just to keep the girls warm, I now use it as my primary heat source and run the propane only when the space heater is unable to keep up. (I also learned later that running an electric heater vs. a propane heater helps keep the moisture under control - who knew?)
I've learned that winter in an RV requires a different mindset, and I bought warmer clothes. For someone who was used to lounging around the stick-and-brick home in cotton sleep pants and a tank, even in winter, this was a bit of an adjustment. :) But a good pair of slippers or fuzzy socks, a comfy sweater (I bought one for $20 earlier this year that has become my go-to comfy/warm piece), and fleece pants goes a long way.
And finally, after thinking about buying one, and weighing the pros and cons, and asking other people (all of whom said "do it!") I won an electric blanket at our family's gift exchange game on Christmas. And I joined the ranks of all the folks who love their electric blankets. It's worth it. :)
Now on to the slightly trickier part - keeping the waterlines unfrozen!
I installed the heat tape on my water hose in November, with technical advice from Dad and practical help from Allen; first we laid the heat tape and hose out together, and then wrapped both in heavy-duty industrial-strength aluminum foil, which did a surprisingly good job of keeping the two together. Then we popped sections of 1-inch self-sealing foam insulation onto the hose and sealed it up.
The heat taped/foiled/insulated water hose

On the trailer end, I purchased a foam elbow to cover the connection, which I was told would do the trick, and totally didn't. It seemed to keep up fine until the temperature reached the 20's, and then froze solid.
After numerous times thawing it with a pitcher of hot water, I got desperate and wrapped it in a towel, and amazingly, that seems to have done the trick..
Kitchen towel = water.
When I get some extra time, I'm going to make a DIY connector-cover out of a cool whip container, and hopefully that will solve the problem a little more gracefully LOL!
Since the water lines run from my trailer to the faucet, which then runs exposed under the porch (ten feet) to the house, we actually used two strips of heat tape, one for the trailer to the faucet, and one for the faucet. They meet in the middle and attach to an extension cord running from the house (I can't WAIT until we get the permanent electric hookup installed. Just sayin'.) In the meantime, I covered the connections with a Rubbermaid I wasn't using, because apparently Rubbermaids are what RV'ers use to cover everything from sewer hookups to water connections. Again... why knew? :)
It really does do a great job of keeping everything dry, though - even after an incredible rainstorm and a few days of snow, whenever I check, it's dry underneath.
After I wrapped the trailer-end connection with a towel, the waterline froze again, so naturally I assumed my towel-fix had failed. Except when I unwrapped it, the connector was tepid, not frozen, so I rewrapped it and went down the line trying to figure out where the problem was. And this time it was the house faucet. We'd wrapped a couple of loops of heat tape around it when we were insulating, and figured that would take care of the problem - and it did, till the temps dropped into the 20's and below. So a new solution had to be found. I tried wrapping it in a towel (hey, it worked the first time! :)) but that didn't work, so in exasperation I pulled up some of my fav RV resources and began reading. After only a few minutes, I was reminded of something I'd known, but forgotten - work lights produce heat, making them an easy solution for frozen bits. Duh! (I'd actually written this down on my winter plan, but somehow overlooked it.) My dad had a work light with a metal shield, which made it perfect for heating the faucet.
I placed it, turned it on, and fifteen minutes later I had water. It managed to keep up all night (even though the temperature dipped at least into the teens and possible into single-digits) so I declared the problem solved.

From the faucet to the house - everything is heat taped/foiled/insulated.
I guess we'll see how well everything holds up; I get a break tonight and tomorrow morning, and then look at the forecast:
Eep! Needless to say, I am looking forward to the weekend. And to springtime. :)

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