How to survive a million degrees below zero

This post was modified from the original on 2014-03-10.

Every so often my schedule contains immovable objects and we just can’t get the Airstream around it all.

So it was this week with a whirlwind tour of central timezone cities. We decided to leave the Airstream and streamer_j in Denver and I am doing my old routine of flying. Much to streamer_j’s chagrin I am writing this from a combination of the relative comfort of the Marriott in West Des Moines and somewhere in the air on AA2302.

The complication for poor streamer_j is weather. Highs in the 10s and 20s all week and lows in the negatives. Airstreams aren’t built for that. Frozen dump valves have plagued us for months. We have muddled through with lots of antifreeze down the toilet and leaving the grey water valve open, but it was still frequent work with the heat gun.

To more thoroughly address the problem of frozen drains I tried heat tape and insulation around the exposed drain pipes. This required removing the sewer hose storage tube (we keep the hose in the rear bumper anyway) which was in the way. Unfortunately this method failed. We woke up to frozen valves. I speculate this was due to improper installation of the heat tape.

So I decided to box in the dump valves with 1″ insulating polystyrene sheets and heat that box with a space heater. While awful-looking, it worked very well. No frozen dump valves and a very toasty box. I was particularly pleased with my tape-hinged door to enable access to the dump valves.

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Nonetheless as temperatures dropped and remained in the teens we started encountering frozen interior water lines, no matter how much propane we burned. Keeping cabinet doors open was insufficient because the water lines are routed under the floor. In our 28′ International this first manifested in the bathroom.

There are only two ways to deal with this: move, or skirt. As I mentioned, moving wasn’t an option this week.

As it turns out skirting is not difficult. There are companies that custom make good looking RV skirting but it’s not a last minute option.

So I went to Home Depot and bought three rolls of Reflectix reflective insulation applied as follows:

  • Tape a line all around the Airstream with non-marking heavy duty blue painters’ tape.
  • Fix the reflective insulation to the blue tape with Duck tape. Just go right around the rear bumper.
  • Use leftover insulation to patch gaps behind steps and under A-frame.
  • Put two 1,500W space heaters under the Airstream at either ends. Connect to 20amp outlets at camp spot electrical stand.

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We are using a temperature gauge with a remote sensor placed under the Airstream. As of writing these are the results.

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Units are in farenheight for temperatures and wind speed is in MPH. We are maintaining these temperatures with almost no propane since our oil-filled electric radiator is doing a great job inside. It’s not cool, but it’s working.

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– Anthony, West Des Moines, Iowa & in the air

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