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


20,049 miles of moving


The data nerding doesn’t stop . . .

year month mileage moves
2013 September 1,216 4
2013 October 1,876 7
2013 November 1,895 7
2013 December 1,639 6
2014 January 1,436 4
2014 February 1,947 7
2014 March 1,687 5
2014 April 1,463 6
2014 May 1,993 7
2014 June 1,020 5
2014 July 873 8
2014 August 1,703 8
2014 September 1,024 3
2014 October 277 1

Our towingest month was May of 2014, with nearly 2,000 miles of moving and seven moves. Our busiest months were July and August of 2014 with eight moves each.

Interestingly though, and without thinking about it at the time, the number of moves we made each month and distance driven each month were very similar. On average we drove 1,432 miles a month and made 6 moves. That seems to have been the natural cadence.

So on average we moved every five days and each move was on average 257 miles.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

393 nights visualized

Click here for interactive map.

Nerding out with CartoDB.

The bubble size represents how many nights were spent in a given location. You’ll see that Pomona State Park in Kansas was overwhelmingly our favorite location.

Hover over the bubbles to see the location and total nights spent. Click on the bubbles to see that location’s web site. Zoom in and move around for more detail.

Two locations were omitted: one, a storage unit in Orlando, Florida, where the Airstream spent a week while we rented a vacation home with our family. Two, an overnight in a Wal-Mart parking lot in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

One final note – the bubbles are drawn to zip code. As you zoom all the way, do not expect the bubble to represent the precise location.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

Airstream as winter cabin

Winter camping. Lake Anita State Park. Anita, Iowa.

Shortly after moving into our new house, Julie enrolled in a year-long course in therapeutic massage. This was largely inspired by her sister, already licensed in Iowa. Is it ever wise to go into business with family? We shall see what comes of this sister-sister conspiracy.

I have and continue to be a willing test subject until the course is complete in December of this year. Unfortunately the classroom time consumes several weekends, leaving me and Alfred to our own devices during the day.

Meanwhile our Airstream has been languishing in storage most of the time. Sad about this I have taken to using it on weekends throughout the winter, primarily at Lake Anita State Park.

Lake Anita is a gem in winter due to camping being rather unpopular this time of year. There are usually a few ice fisherman out on the lake. It’s 45 minutes from our house and they keep the power and water on.

I’m not sure what prompted me to start doing this – some mixture of refusing to let the Airstream dream die and feeling guilty about a very expensive shiny object sitting idle.

Having lived in this contraption I never thought of it as a weekend thing but I have surprised myself. I am developing a weekly corporate-unwinding routine. Running, reading, writing this stuff, catching up on the great photograph project, perhaps watching a movie and becoming immersed in a game I have played since 1991. I now understand why people buy cabins.

So you can do this in winter, in Iowa. Obviously the fresh water hose is not an option beyond filling the fresh water tank. I do have a heated hose and used to insulate the standpipe when we were full-timing but I won’t go to that trouble for a weekend.

The biggest issue, as always, is disposing of waste water which will freeze in the exposed drain pipes. Grey water can be eliminated by simply leaving the valve open provided you have a full hook-up.

If the temperature is forecast well below freezing all weekend then I leave the black tank valve open as well. This is not a best practice and should not be done long term since, well, you know. But you’ll have no trouble doing this for a few weekends and when it does get above freezing you can fill the black tank and flush it all out.

We are very close to purchasing a composting toilet which should solve this problem for good. I intend to have it installed by Airstream in Jackson Center. We’ll see how that goes . . .

It is also necessary to re-winterize after each outing. I do intend to write a “how to” on winterizing over and over again. Once you’ve done it a few times it’s a short routine.

If you’re wondering, the virtual fireplace pictured above is a fun iPhone app, “A Very Cozy Fireplace HD.” It streams to the Apple TV and even includes the fireplace crackling sound.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

What have we been up to?

Alfred. Lake Anita State Park, Iowa.

After 393 days in an Airstream we bought a house in a school district city called Waukee, which is a suburb of Des Moines. This is in the state of Iowa. It is forgivable that you may be unfamiliar with the city and state so to be clear, for domestic and foreign readers, this is in ‘Merica.

I described the house in my last note as a “nice new townhome with no exterior maintenance.” Riveting. We haven’t done a remarkable job of decorating or furnishing yet but it’s comfortable and we were able to pick out some last minute finishings – like having all the carpet replaced with hard floors throughout. I know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The neighborhood is in the new fashion of mixed home types with a nice trail system. The height of the art of these things might be Celebration, Florida. While unmistakably suburban, the mix of housing is nice. There aren’t sterile rows of townhouses resembling military housing, nor street after street of cookie cutter single family homes – jail for the overextended.

I get a few emails from people enjoying the candor of this blog. So in that spirit I offer an awful photograph of the house. This was featured on Iowa Realty’s web site (sorry I am breaking a copyright – please Sir, I bought the this hastily stapled together bunch of sticks nonetheless).


The good news is the skip – dumpster – has been moved a bit further away and the mud field to the right is now mid-construction, which is loud most of the time.

In other news, we have been:

More on these later.

– Anthony, Lake Anita State Park, Iowa
41°25’51.57″N, 94°46’18.88″W

393 days in an Airstream

Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado

We moved into our Airstream on September 17, 2013 in New Jersey after driving – #all3 – from Iowa.

Since that day we spent 393 days on the road, 78 of which were in Kansas, sold our house, overnighted in 19 states, moved 78 times, towed 20,049 miles and kept the water running between -14F (-26C) and 100F (38C). Despite my groans, it never went to a dealer for repairs, which is something of a testament.

On October 15th, 2014 we ended where we started.

Ended? Well there is some news. In October we bought a new home in Iowa, half a mile from our old home but very different: a nice new townhome with no exterior maintenance. No grass to water, no snow to shovel.

So without maudlin we have concluded the biggest adventure of our lives. I could go on about why we returned to home ownership. In the end I’d sum it up very plainly: this is an adventure best experienced without a “real” job. We reserve the right to restart again some time in the future.

What now? We will keep our Airstream, enjoying it rather like it was designed to be enjoyed. We hope for many more years of joy with it – recreationally. Meanwhile, our work and day-to-day life will not require worrying about frozen pipes, laundry or propane. Or having to wash dishes.

It is no exaggeration to describe our experience as life changing and I believe we may have found some peace. Never again will the aquisition of possessions matter much. Nor even the aquiring of experiences. Nor popularity, nor achievement. Not that these things are bad. I think it’s all quite a lot more simple. “Love is all you need.”

For now I don’t anticipate updating this blog. Continuing would turn it into a series of Airstream “how tos,” for which there are the Airstream forums. Or it might wander off into a general journal which was never our intent. There are posts I had planned but have not yet written. Data collected and not shared. Despite great temptation otherwise, I’ll let it be as it stands now.

I do plan to leave this blog online. Perhaps it will be interesting to others. The same with our Twitter feed. I suspect we will continue to update Flickr with new Airstream adventures.

If you’d like to reach out, please do. We’d love to meet you.

– Anthony, Waukee, Iowa

389 days of highs, lows and propane


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