Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Winterhoming

Most camping is done in the summer time, or at least spring or fall, but there are sometimes good reasons to use your RV in the winter too.  An RV makes an excellent chalet or base camp for skiing, snowboarding, and other snow based activities -- if is is properly equipped.  Most RVs made and used in the U.S. are not designed for winter use and most owners who live in cold country have to winterize their rigs and retire them until warm weather returns.  However, it is possible to upgrade many RVs for winter use.

While the comfort of the occupants is, of course, the major function of an RV in winter, the biggest problem is usually protecting the plumbing against freezing.  Sometimes an RV furnace may not be adequate to maintain a comfortable temperature inside.  If that is the case you either need to reduce heat loss or increase BTUs.  It usually isn't very practical to increase the insulation factor in an RV, but a lot of heat may be lost through drafts and through insufficiently protected windows.  I once had a Class B van conversion that, I found, had NO insulation at all and it was fairly easy to remove wall and ceiling panels and cut styrofoam panels to fit each space, significantly improving insulation.  But it is usually too intrusive and too expensive to increase the insulation in standard RVs. What you can improve fairly easily and cheaply is the insulation value for the windows.  First of all, make sure you take advantage of whatever window coverings you have -- close the curtains, drapes, or shades.  You can add reflective foam insulation similar to windshield sun screens between the window coverings and the windows.  Also install a cover or foam pillow to block the loss of heat through the roof vents.  Even when they are closed, the thin cover allows a lot of heat to escape.  Search for and seal off any drafts where cold air enters through the firewall of a motorhome or around plumbing and power cords or around doors and windows of any RV.  If after doing all of this your furnace still doesn't keep things warm enough, you may need auxiliary heat.  Options include electric heaters if you stay in campgrounds with electric service, a catalytic heater, adding another furnace, or upgrading the existing furnace to one with a higher BTU output.  Upgrading or adding a furnace can be an expensive proposition and is likely to require significant modifications for installation.  Catalytic heaters don't use any battery power since they have no fans and portable versions attach to 1-lb propane cylinders to they don't require any gas line attachments.  Keep in mind even heaters rated for indoor use will consume oxygen even if they don't release any toxic fumes, so proper ventilation is critical.

Electric heaters are an easy way to get extra interior heat -- if you have shore power or when you can run your generator.  A popular option among many RVers is an "electric fireplace" that not only provides heat but adds a kind of cabin-like ambiance.  I even have a small, 300 watt heater that runs on 12 volt DC I can use in my motorhome in a pinch, but I'm sure it would drain the batteries pretty quickly.  Auto parts stores sometimes offer 12-volt powered heater/defroster units that plug into the 12-volt receptacle (i.e., cigarette lighter) and can help clear fog or frost off the windshield.  These units will provide a small amount of auxilliary heat but would not be very effective in as room heaters.  If you have 120 volt power available you can also protect your holding tanks with specially designed heating pads and protect plumbing in exterior cabinets with a 100 watt incandescant bulb (if you can find one!).

Protecting exposed plumbing from freezing can be an onerous task.  Keeping the inside of your RV at 40° or better will normally protect all the inside plumbing, but exposed holding tanks, valves, and pipes are still vulnerable.  You will need electric heating pads and or heat tape to protect these components if you are camping in sub-freezing weather.  Heating pads for holding tanks are available in both 12 volt and 120 volt versions and some include dual power sources.  With dual power you can use your 12-volt system while traveling and power is available from the vehicle alternator.  120-volt operation requires shore or generator power.  You might run your generator while traveling to operate 120-volt heating pads.  It wouldn't consume any more energy than running your A/C on hot days.  If you have 12-volt heating pads you will want to carefully monitor your battery status.  They could easily run batteries down if they kick in at night when you turn off the generator.  One way to protect holding tanks for occasional winter use is to add enough antifreeze (marine/RV grade for potable water systems) to at least protect the dump valves and lower the freeze point within the tank contents.  If you rely on warm blankets or sleeping bags instead of your furnace to keep you warm at night, dump a cup or two of antifreeze into each drain to prevent the P-traps from freezing.  You don't need antifreeze in the P-traps if your furnace keeps the interior above freezing.  If your RV has enclosed holding tanks and the dump valves are in a cabinet instead of hanging exposed beneath the vehicle you may be able to keep the valves from freezing by placing a 100-watt incandescent light bulb in he compartment.  Finding a 100-watt bulb these days might be difficult as they've been phased out for environmental reasons.  Using a 60-watt bulb might be sufficient, but using two 60-watt bulbs would be more than equivalent to a 100-watt bulb.  Or you might use special reptile heat lamp available at pet stores.  In any case, if the compartment isn't insulated, insulate it.  Outside compartments often have bare aluminum doors that allow a great deal of heat to escape.  Glue some styrofoam panels inside or even use reflective foam insulation like Reflectix.  Check for drafts around electrical and plumbing connections or around the door.  Random openings can be filled with spray foam insulation or stuff with fiberglass batting.  Poorly fitting doors may benefit from the addition of weatherstripping.

RV skirts that surround the bottom of your RV can help keep the floors warmer and conserve heat.   They usually need to be custom made.  Vinyl skirts, made in several sections, can be carried on trips and installed when needed, but they can be pretty expensive.  Some people make skirts of plywood or styrofoam panels when the unit is parked in a fixed location for a while. 

Resource conservation will be more difficult when it is cold.   You ARE going to use more propane and use it quicker than in warmer months.  You might reduce how much you use for heating by dressing warmer so you can be comfortable at a lower temperature.  Sweaters and thermal underwear can increase you comfort level in a cooler environment without being too cumbersome.   But your furnace isn't the only appliance that will use more propane in colder times.  Your hot water heater will need to work harder to maintain normal temperatures when it is cold outside and you are likely to use more gas for cooking simply because you will want more warm foods and drinks in cold weather.  The one appliance that might actually use less propane in cold weather is the refrigerator, but probably not significantly less if you are keeping the interior around a comfortable 72°.  Always make sure your propane tank is full when you leave on a trip.  For extended cold weather outings you may want to invest in and "Extend-a-stay" system that allows you to connect to an external propane tank to supplement your on board supply.  For trailers with removable propane tanks you can just bring a long a couple of extras.

Winterhoming is cool!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Involuntary Downsizing

We recently experienced an accident that resulted in our 1986 Holiday Rambler being declared a total loss by the insurance company.  I spent a couple of months searching  the Internet for a replacement and couldn't find a single similar unit for sale anywhere in the U.S.  I found two in Australia, both had been converted to Australian Design Rules and completely renovated.  While that speaks highly of the quality of the original unit, it doesn't lend itself to replacing a wrecked motorhome in Utah.  Once we knew it was going to be totaled we began looking for an alternative.  We quickly realized that the 1986 HR we'd had for about 10 years was an incredible find when we bought it and that we weren't going to be able to replace it with anything even close.  Available units of a similar size and age had originally sold for about 1/4 the cost of the Holiday Rambler and lacked its features and quality.  So we reevaluated our needs and adjusted our expectations.

We looked at literally hundreds of online listings, inspected at least a half dozen local units for sale by owner, and visited about a half dozen dealers looking for something that would meet our needs -- and satisfy at least some our our wants -- and staying within a reasonable budget.  I found that lacking an exact replacement, getting anything close in terms of size, features, and quality, would cost 2-10 times the insurance payout!  A careful evaluation of our current needs showed we really didn't need such a big unit and that we'd be able to go more places and do more things in a smaller one.

We ended up downsizing from a 40' diesel powered luxury Holiday Rambler motorhome to a mid-sized 27' gasoline powered Class A.  It is a 1984 Southwind Eagle and, according to the dealer, was purchased from a legendary "little old lady" (which was confirmed by the current registration certificate found in the vehicle).   Given the condition of the unit, the story is believable.  It rolled over 42,000 miles on it as I drove it off the lot.  The appliances (stove, refrigerator) are like new.  The water heater was replaced just a few years ago and is also like new.  It has all brand new carpet.  Obviously it lacks the spaciousness and many of the luxury features our Holiday Rambler had, but it will be a very fun rig to use.  My initial intention was to purchase from a private party to get the best price but this little Eagle was advertised by a small local dealer, and at a surprisingly good price -- about 1/3 the average retail shown in the Nada Guide.  Moreover the dealer was exceptionally good to work with.  It is a small, family run lot in American Fork, Utah:  RVs of America.  It has been my experience that large dealers with a large sales force have a lot of overhead and there is usually lot of competition between the salesmen, often resulting in higher pressure selling than I like.  We found the folks at RVs of America (it is owned and operated by two brothers)  to be genuinely interested in  helping us find the right motorhome for our needs rather than selling us what they wanted to move.  By selecting a unit that was basically kind of under priced (buying in the November-December time frame might have had something to do with it) we had budget left over to add some of the premium accessories we'd come to enjoy in the big motorhome.

By carefully researching the available options we were able to find a unit that had at least some of the luxury features we'd become accustomed to in our Holiday Rambler, specifically, hydraulic levelers and an electric step.   I doubt if we'll miss the washer and dryer in the big Holiday Rambler which was so seldom used that the rollers in the dryer were flattened from sitting so long when I did want to use it.  One of the conscious tradeoffs we made was whether to buy a newer unit with fewer amenities or an older one that was better equipped.  Given our current station in life (semi-retired) we opted for more amenities.  When we were younger I probably would have favored newer units with higher potential resale or trade in value, but at this point I'm not planning to make many more trades -- and I've come to like my creature comforts.

Downsizing of this magnitude necessitates a reappraisal of what supplies and other items are really necessary.  With cavernous basement storage on the Holiday Rambler, we had room for lots of niceties that don't fit in the smaller motorhome.  I've even had to sort through and re-think my on board tool kit and buy a smaller tool box that would fit one of the compartments.  Fitting what you really need into less than 2/3 the space means reducing things by at least 1/3.  That means starting with the idea of setting aside one out of three kitchen items, one out of three extra items of clothing, one out of three cleaning supplies, and at the very least, one out of three gadgets.   The reduced basement storage on top of the significant reduction in overall length adds up to a lot more than a 1/3 reduction in cargo capacity.  Here is where selecting and stocking items with multiple uses will REALLY come in handy.  For example, bringing along a 3-in-1 shampoo/conditioner/body wash instead of separate solutions will save space in the limited bathroom medicine cabinet.  While the 3-in-1 may not yield quite the same results as more expensive individual products, it is adequate for occasional use for a few days in camp.  In removing all our stuff from the "old" motorhome, I found that I had on board cleaning supplies that I only use during winterization or spring cleaning.  It was convenient to have them on board when there was plenty of room.  However, those now become candidates to be left on the shelf in the garage since they aren't normally needed in camp.  Closets revealed even more stuff that didn't really need to be there.  Over the years we had accumulated clothing for multiple seasons, often carrying around parkas and a whole box of winter gloves when it was 90°+ outside.  Things like that can be easily added as needed instead of occupying a permanent spot in limited real estate.  Gadgets are often a source of a lot of fun for RVers and other campers, but when space is at a premium, it is worthwhile to only bring along what you actually use.  I am certain there were a lot of nice gadgets I had squirreled away in the big motorhome that I seldom used that will not migrate to the "new" smaller unit.  The late RV great Gaylord Maxwell described his downsizing from a 40' monster Class A to more modest 30' Class C.  His rule for the big motorhome was "If you think you might need it, bring it along."  The smaller rig requires a different mind set.  The new rule is "If you're not sure you're going to use, leave it home."  Those two attitudes pretty much sum up our situation as we migrate from a 40' to a 27'.  However, we keep finding things we "need" and have to make room for.  It is a never ending battle.

There were a lot of difficult decisions to be made as we tried to find space for all the "stuff" we'd gotten used to packing around.  It is amazing how creative you can become when you have to.  The more than ample cabinets in the big Holiday Rambler allowed us many options for dinnerware.  Realizing we no longer had to regularly accommodate a family of 8 let us significantly reduce the number of table settings and we decided we really didn't need Melmac, speckleware, AND stainless steel plates, but we still managed to find a place under couch to squirrel away some cafeteria trays in case we join a potluck dinner somewhere.  Overall it was amazing to discover just how much "stuff" we'd packed away in our old, bigger rig.   Needless to say, it was a bit of a challenge.

Unfortunately, we took delivery just after winter arrived with sub-freezing temperatures and had to have the dealer winterize the rig even before we brought it home so we haven't been able to take it out yet.  It is tucked away in our covered RV storage where we slowly take care of a few enhancements we wanted to make and go through all the stuff we took out of the "beast" and figure out what will fit and where in the smaller rig.

We are expecting our "new" and smaller rig will be less expensive to drive and will definitely be more maneuverable and will fit in Forest Service campgrounds that were off limits to the big, luxury motorhome.  Hopefully that means more chances to go camping and more choices of where we can go.

August update:   we took the Eagle on a 2400 mile trip this summer and pretty much loved it.  There were few if any of the features of the bigger motorhome that we really missed and the 27 footer was a lot easier and less stressful to drive.  But we're still looking for places to put more "critical" things in the smaller unit.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!