Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cold Weather Camping

Happy Holidays!

We haven't gone anywhere in our motorhome since last September. As a result we have not experienced anything worth writing about. But that will change very soon. After the Holidays we will be heading out of town and into the Arizona desert country.

In the meantime here is a column we wrote about cold weather campng:

Dear Joe and Vicki: We are fairly new to RVing. Our experience has been limited to fair weather trips to the California coast and mountains. We would like to drive our RV from California to Virginia about mid-January but are a little apprehensive about driving conditions should the roads turn icy. Your thoughts on this and any cold-weather RVing tips would be appreciated.

Joe: In the past, our January/February speaking circuit at RV shows has taken us (and our motorhome) from Tampa, Florida to Atlantic City, New Jersey, You might say we have some experience with cold weather driving and camping. We do our best to avoid driving in snow and we absolutely refuse to drive on icy roads. We have been known to spend an extra night or two in a campground waiting for driving conditions to improve. That’s one of the advantages of having your “house” with you.

Prepare you rig as you would for any long trip. Check the condition of your tires and their air pressure. Be sure your engine coolant has the appropriate mix of anti-freeze. Fill your windshield-washer reservoir and check your windshield wipers. Engines demand more electrical starting power during cold weather so check the battery’s electrolyte level, clean the terminals, and coat them with petroleum jelly. If you begin your trip with new engine oil and filters you shouldn’t have to change them again before you return home.

You will want a set of tire chains if you intend to drive on snow or ice. Practice putting them on at home while it is warm and dry. Motorhome owners should consider the damage a broken tire chain could inflict upon the fiberglass body of their rig. It might be better to avoid roads where chains may be required.

Your RV's built-in space heating system should be adequate for keeping the interior of your coach warm. Remember, though, that a forced air furnace, in addition to consuming propane, will draw up to seven amps of electricity while operating. This could represent a considerable drain on the coach battery if electric hookups are not available. Obviously, an electric hookup each night will prevent your furnace fan from draining your coach batteries. It will also allow you to operate the engine block heater if you have a diesel engine. Many RVers who do a lot of self-contained camping use catalytic heaters. Catalytic heaters combine propane and oxygen over a platinum-impregnated pad. The chemical reaction releases energy in the form of radiated heat. It requires no electricity and utilizes propane more efficiently than a forced-air heater. Most catalytic heaters are not vented to the outside. They consume oxygen from inside the RV and should only be operated when open windows and vents can provide adequate ventilation.

Vicki: Once we are hooked up to electricity, it is our habit to warm the interior of our coach with our propane furnace and then switch to a portable electric heater. The electric heater maintains a comfortable temperature and minimizes the time the furnace has to operate. If you intend to do this be sure the RV’s electrical hookup cord and any extension cord to the heater have a sufficient amperage rating to withstand the wattage of the heater. Divide the heater’s maximum wattage by 120 (volts) to determine the minimum rating of the electrical cord. A 1,500 watt heater, for example, would require an electrical cord with a minimum rating of 12.5 amps (1500 watts divided by 120 volts equals 12.5 amps).

I’m going to assume your RV’s plumbing, fresh-water tank and holding tanks are located in enclosed, heated compartments. As long as your furnace runs periodically, you shouldn’t have any problem with frozen plumbing.

We have installed two drop cords in our plumbing bay. One is near the water pump and sewer outlet. The other is on the opposite side of the compartment near the water heater. Each drop cord has a 40-watt light bulb. The heat from the bulbs keep the interior of the compartment warm when our furnace is not operating.

Remember to disconnect, drain and store your water and sewer hoses when temperatures approach the freezing level. Rather than deal with stiff or frozen hoses we prefer not to hook them up when there is any chance of temperatures dropping below 40 degrees. We only connect our hoses long enough to fill our water tank and empty our holding tanks. The rest of the time they remain in the storage cabinet.

Windows can be insulated against the cold with heavy drapes or curtains. You can also create an insulating, dead air space inside the windows by covering them with clear, heavy vinyl. Some RVers have been known to cut sheets of Styrofoam or foam-filled poster-board to fit the interior of some of their windows as insulation.

Condensation occurs inside an RV when the warm, moist interior air of the RV comes in contact with the cool surfaces of the windows and walls. We exchange humid interior air with dry outside air by opening a window about a quarter of an inch at each end of our RV and operating the roof-vent exhaust fan in the kitchen at a very slow speed.

Joe has a pair of warm, water-proof, boots he slips on when the ground around our campsite is wet or muddy (and it usually is at that time of year).

I take along a few old throw rugs. They provide insulation on tile floors and protect the carpeting against tracked in dirt and moisture. When a throw rug gets dirty enough, I just toss it in the trash and replace it with another.

Try to camp in a spot that is open to the heat of the sun and, if possible, protected from the wind. You can minimize cold drafts by facing the RV into or away from the prevailing wind. Keep in mind that snow accumulating on overhanging branches may eventually drop off in heavy clumps or perhaps bring down the brittle branches. And don't let snow block the refrigerator roof vent.

We enjoy our winter travels. Traffic is lighter. Campgrounds are not crowded. The air is clean and brisk. Winter RVing is a little different but certainly not difficult. With a little experience you’ll soon find yourself enjoying your cold weather journeys.

One of our most memorable travel days was spent driving across the gently rolling farmlands of Kentucky on Interstate 64. A light snowfall persisted most of the day. Traffic was almost non-existent. The snow melted on the highway and, at the same time, laid a soft white blanket over the sleeping countryside. We stopped several times, turned off the engine, and stepped outside, just to experience the stillness. Not something we could have done on a Southern California interstate.

Learn more about RVs and RVing by reading our how-to e-books.

Our Alaska DVDs can still be ordered online. Most of our customers take advantage of the two DVDs for $35.00 special.

Return To RV Know How