19 steps to winterizing

Sunrise. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

Below are the steps I take to winterize after each trip. I perform these steps at the campsite before leaving.

I have gone through this routine about a half dozen times this season with only one failure – in one instance I forgot to purge and add anti-freeze to the toilet causing a small and inexpensive plastic valve at the back to break. Don’t forget the toilet!

I have this down to about a 20 – 30 minute process.

My instructions are below. For items that may benefit from a bit of visualization, photographs are inline.

1. Turn off hot water heater (switch probably in the bathroom).

2. Run hot water until cold.

3. Disconnect city water line.

4. Remove water filter (under the galley sink).

5. Open low point drains.

6. When low point drains stop flowing, close again.

7. Open faucet and turn to hot (nothing will flow). This prevents the hot water tank from “gulping” as you drain it.

8. Open hot water tank from the outside – stand to the side! Leave this open while being transported and stored.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

The 3/4″ drain plug can be difficult to wrangle due to its extraordinarily bizarre placement. I use pliars.

9. Once hot water tank is drained, close bypass valve and close faucet previously opened (step 7). This valve is located by the hot water tank which, in the 28′ International, is under the front couch next to the sink.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

Note the winterized and non-winterized position – it will be marked next to the valve.

10. Hook up air compressor – set to 50 PSI.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

In the photograph above you will see my Bostitch pancake compressor attached to my water hose using a Camco Blow Out Plug. This purges the hose as well allowing it to be stored safely in the Airstream.

11. Go back inside, open up all faucets (including toilet and shower) one by one and purge. Repeat as necessary. You’ll probably be surprised how much water comes out.

11(a). You may need to do this for the outside shower as well unless you have previously winterized this.

11(b). You should purge the black tank flush intake as well. Do this once at the beginning of winter and don’t bother flushing the black tank for the remainder of winter.

12. De-pressurize compressor & detach from Airstream.

13. Open faucets and de-pressurize the system.

14. Attach anti-freeze hose line to anti-freeze.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

In the photograph above you can see a cheap Camco 36543 winterizing kit installed. This is a one minute install. Just leave it in place forever once installed.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

15. Turn on pump. Run faucets (including toilet and shower) one by one until pink comes out. Do not forget the toilet!

15(a). Do this for the outside shower as well. We avoid using the outside shower in winter after it has been winterized.

16. Put a cup of anti-freeze down all sinks, showers and into toilet bowl.This prevents (in theory) the rubber toilet bowl seal from drying out and cracking.

17. Re-open low drains and leave open while being transported and stored.

18. Drain fresh water tank (pepcock between wheels on road side) and leave pepcock open while being transported and stored.

19. Dump black and grey tanks.

Airstream winterizing. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

You may have to shovel out the dump station.

A nice video on this topic here, showing location of the low point drains and fresh water tank drain pepcock.

2015-02-18 update – things you’ll need:

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

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389 days of highs, lows and propane

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The graph above shows the high and low temperatures we experienced in all 389 days we have lived in our Airstream, along with our average daily propane consumption.

Temperatures are plotted against the left hand axis. Propane consumption against the right hand axis.

The lowest temperature we experienced was on February 5th, 2014, in Colorado. The high that day was 0F, the low was -14F.

We experienced four days with lows below 0F, and 45 days with lows of 20F or lower. On 19 days the high did not get above 30F.

At the other extreme, the highest temperature we experienced was 100F, which was reached on three days in August, all in Kansas. On 34 days the temperature reached 90F or higher.

Propane consumption correlates to cold, as you would expect. The daily averages obviously aren’t precise – they are simply the refill amounts divided by the time between last refill.

Our average propane consumption has been 0.47 gallons per day. In the coldest part of the year we consumed about 2.4 gallons per day and in the hottest part about 0.25 gallons a day (cooking). So, when it’s very cold we go through propane ten times as fast as when it’s hot. This is entirely due to running the furnace.

Weather is a big deal in an Airstream. The weather category is the largest on this blog, with 21 entries including this one. This data shows that fairly difficult weather can be survived without damage.

The raw dataset can be found here.

– Anthony, Adel, Iowa

Cold Weather Roundup

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Spring is here and in Kansas that means Winter is nearly over.

This entry captures what we learned and shared in the 14 posts we wrote about being cold in the Winter of 2013.

  1. Move to the warmest place you can. If you can get above 32 degrees you don’t need to read any further. This is our go-forward plan.
     
  2. You should skirt if temperatures are going to drop to single digits or below for several days. Otherwise interior water lines will freeze under the floor. In the 28′ International this will first manifest in the bathroom. We found skirting raised the temperature under the Airstream by about 40 degrees.
     
  3. The furnace will keep the interior warm and at -15F we consumed a 30lb tank a day. For this reason we bought a 20lb back up tank to use when filling the other two. This removed the anxiety about running out of propane. Leave cabinet doors open when you can.
     
  4. The furnace will not keep holding tanks from freezing when temperatures remain in the 20s or below for several days. The only solution is skirting. The emergency tank thawing procedure is as follows: set up a hairdryer pointed at the drain; pour an enormous amount of salty boiling water down the toilet. This procedure may take hours.
     
  5. Inbound shore water can be kept flowing fairly easily. This requires a heated hose and insulating the faucet. We recommend the Piret heated hose. Insulating the faucet means wrapping it in heat tape and insulation and then covering it with something waterproof since insulation is ineffective when wet. We simply placed a trash bag over the whole thing.
     
  6. Waste water sitting in exposed drain pipes will freeze without skirting. This is biggest single problem with a three season trailer. The grey water valve can be left open provided the sewer hose has a nice uninterrupted incline to the sewer. Ensure there are no bends in the sewer hose run where water could stand and freeze. We did not insulate our sewer hose but if you are in one place for weeks at a time this might be a reasonable level of effort.

    For the black water the only thing you can try is a lot of RV anti-freeze, hoping it will settle in the exposed pipes since it is denser than water. This is an official recommendation from Airstream. Our experience showed this to be ineffective and every black water dump was an exercise (sometimes hours) with a heat gun/hair dryer to thaw the exposed pipe. In fact our bottles of -50F RV anti-freeze actually froze solid at one point.

    Skirting makes this problem go away.
     

  7. We strongly recommend both an electric blanket and an oil-filled electric radiator to supplement propane. If you are on 30amp power you must turn off the radiator when using a hair dryer.
     
  8. Do not tow in snow or ice. Snow is better than ice.
     
  9. Travel with your fresh water tank full. You never know whether water will be available at your destination. This is an all-season rule.

– Anthony, Pomona State Park, Kansas

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

Dust storm

Another driving day today – 360 miles from Amarillo, TX., to Colorado Springs, CO. Beautiful scenery: high plains, mountains, buttes, hills, even an ancient volcano.

Near Pueblo, Colorado, we drove through a dust storm before arriving at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. We have a beautiful spot overlooking Cheyenne Mountain (yes, the Cheyenne Mountain) through one window and the foothills and plains below through the other.

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There are only two other campers in the park, so we have the run of the place. We’ll be based here all month. Early start tomorrow. I’ll be working at the office in Centennial.

– Anthony, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Tough driving day

Impossible to walk on. Very bad to drive on. Nr. Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

I knew things were getting interesting when I tried to exit I-40 somewhere west of Little Rock and started sliding on the exit ramp. That’s bad with a 7,600 lb. trailer. Rain on ice. A lot of vehicles off the road.

Our goal was to get to Lake Fort Smith State Park. Getting up the mountain it was clearly dicey so we sent the scout vehicle up ahead before proceeding.

Impossible to walk on. Very bad to drive on. Nr. Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

Streamer_j had to abort after sliding to an uncontrolled stop on black ice. After traveling over 200 miles today, we came unstuck in the last mile. That seems to happen often.

Streamer_a then unhitched the Airstream by the roadside in order to retrieve streamer_j from the side of the road and the abandoned Audi from the middle-ish of it.

Impossible to walk on. Very bad to drive on. Nr. Lake Fort Smith State Park, Arkansas

With all people, cars and dog regrouped it was decided to attempt to backtrack down the mountain to the KOA in Alma for the night. The Ford F150 did an outstanding job in 4 wheel drive. Takeoff on black ice, with Airstream, was firm and the descent was controlled. Another gushing review of this truck.

The KOA in Alma has no running water. Incredulous — we are blizzard survivors! — I assaulted the spigot with the heat gun, but to no avail. Lots of exciting steam but no running water. This is why we always travel with a full fresh water tank.

The weather in Arkansas has once again prompted a change to our route plan. A previous ice storm in December had us trapped in Petit Jean State Park much longer than planned.

This time we will depart sooner. Rather than stay until Sunday at beautiful Lake Fort Smith Park, which we cannot get to, we’re going to press on instead and try to get to Tulsa tomorrow.

The video doesn’t do it justice. I need to invest in a Go Pro (please streamer_j can I have one?).

– Anthony, Alma, Arkansas

Egypt to Sardinia

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I sometimes wonder what the scale of our overland travel is in these United States relative to other parts of the world. So to help visualize that thought I found (stole) this map from Radical Cartography.

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I like this map because not only does it overlay Europe and North America but it does so true to latitude, with some surprising results that highlight the importance of ocean currents and landmass on climate. Short story: south isn’t necessarily better.

For example you can see that Des Moines, Iowa, is about as far south as Rome, Italy. Des Moines’ average low in January is 14F while Rome’s is 37F. Manchester, England is further north than Edmonton, Alberta. Yet Manchester’s average low in January is 35F, compared with Edmonton’s 5.4F.

What about distances? In 2013 we drove from New Jersey, to Rapid City to Denver and ultimately down to Dauphin Island, Alabama, and a lot in between. That’s equivalent to driving from eastern Turkey to the romantic city of Florence to the beautiful island of Sardinia and then to somewhere in the Egyptian desert.

Next week we will drive, over four days, from Dauphin Island to Denver. Equivalent to Egypt to Sardinia. We’d happily take the Sardinian cuisine and beaches!

The featured image (the one at the top) shows plant hardiness zones globally and was taken from The Plant Encyclopedia. As a general goal in winter, we try to spend as much time as possible above 32F to avoid having to deal with things like frozen water lines. For that application the USDA plant hardiness zone map is the perfect guide since the zones are based on low temperatures.

Our goal would be to spend all of winter in zone 10b or higher. In the US that’s basically South East Florida and the coast of Southern California.

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Unfortunately this isn’t possible for us, yet. The best we can consistently do for now is get to zone 8a which puts us in the southern half of Arkansas and lows of 10F. Right now, on Dauphin Island, we’re in zone 9a, with lows of 20F.

It’s important to point out that plant hardiness zones are based on lowest expected temperatures, not averages. Averages are generally well above that. For example in Little Rock, Arkansas, we can expect an average temperature of 39F in January with an average high of 49F and an average low of 29F. That’s good enough.

We’d still take Sardinia.

– Anthony, Dauphin Island, Alabama