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Old 05-01-2010, 04:39 PM   #1
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How cold and for how long before worrying about freezing pipes?

I am just curious about some real world experiences here. We live in the rocky mountains and this time of year, it can be very erratic in terms of temperatures.

It can be 50/60s during the day and dip down to right around freezing or a few degrees below at night.

If it dips down to 29-32 overnight would you be worried about the pipes freezing or is it really only when it gets down into lower 20s the you need to worry?

Any of you have actual experience with these temps overnight that could provide some insight?

Also - how would you know if your pipes did burst?
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Old 05-01-2010, 04:49 PM   #2
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I wouldn't worry until it gets down to the low 20s, and then for a good 10-12 hours or more. Mud puddles won't even freeze solid when it's 29-32 overnight.

To find out if your pipes have burst, just hook up to city water and see if anything leaks. If not, you're good. If it does, shut the water off and fix the problem.
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Old 05-01-2010, 04:53 PM   #3
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If it dips down to 29-32 overnight would you be worried about the pipes freezing or is it really only when it gets down into lower 20s the you need to worry?
Absolutely not. I haven't found the post in recent years but member bryanl posted about temperature readings he made inside his Airstream in early morning temps that outside dipped into the lower 20s. He was safe and generally above freezing. This equation could change if you were in prolonged sub-freezing temperatures through afternoon, evening & morning.

There is much more sensitivity to deformation and irreversible solder joint damage on older Airstreams' copper plumbing. Current-day PEX plumbing is much more resistant to deformation. My sense is that you'd not experience any damage if the interior temperature near the floor didn't dip below 25 degrees.

Please note that any low level furnace settings (40s? low 50s?) would render any such concerns baseless.
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Old 05-01-2010, 04:58 PM   #4
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The last question first—you will find you are towing a water park.

Living in the Rockies (although Longmont isn't in them, but is near them) is always a weather adventure and temps can be unpredictable.

It depends on how long it is below freezing, how warm it was during the day which would heat up the mass of the trailer, how well the trailer is shielded from radiating heat (i.e., is it covered?), how windy it is (blowing the heat away), etc. If the temp is predicted to go down to 29˚, maybe it will go down to 24˚. I don't think that a few hours a little below freezing is a problem, but the anxiety that goes with it isn't worth it.

My trailer thermostat goes down to 40˚ and I set it at that and turn on the heat (or heat pump which is supposed to switch over to the furnace just below freezing) whenever there water in the trailer. You may have a different thermostat, but maybe not since both our trailers are the same year. I don't like using propane, but I don't like fixing burst pipes and fixtures even more. Taking a chance and being wrong is very expensive. Or, bonginator, would you leave a favorite bong outside at 29˚?

It's supposed to be 24˚ here tonight.

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Old 05-01-2010, 05:11 PM   #5
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Thanks for the response

Thanks for the input - just got our airstream delivered and even though we asked for it delivered winterized, it showed up with full tanks (appears that antifreeze is in the toilet and shower drain so I suspect they put antifreeze in it.)

We had a brief dip down to freezing and a few degrees below for a few nights last week and I was very sick so could not get out and drain the unit. Hoping we are ok but was just wondering if others has experience to ease my worry.

Oh well -not much I could do about it so we'll have to see when we hook it up to city water.

Thanks again!
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Old 05-01-2010, 05:13 PM   #6
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Here in Atlanta, we had what is for us a cold winter. We had the trailer out for our maiden voyage, and ran out of propane at 0200 on the first night the temps dropped to 18f. Four hours later, everything outside was frozen, and by weeks end when the daily high headed above freezing, the bill for broken PVC pipe replacement had climbed as well ($1000). It was an expensive lesson in not trusting propane gauges, and making sure some heat stayed on. The heating ducts parallel a lot of the plumbing, so a little heat will keep things flowing. Especially if you leave the faucets opened enough to drip/trickle.
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Old 05-02-2010, 09:22 AM   #7
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Bong', I doubt the tanks are full of antifreeze as that would be very expensive. Have you tried to empty any of the tanks to see if they have something in them? Check the owners manual for info on the fresh water drains. Ours has one below the water heater that wasn't mentioned in the manual, so while the manual is useful, it isn't always up to date.

If you bought it at the Denver Airstream dealer, anything is possible as one person does not seem to know what another did there. Check things carefully.

Knowing when to summerize your trailer when you live in Colorado is a challenge because of the rapid changes in weather—winter to summer to winter to summer. We are leaving on a trip in 3 weeks, so summerizing has to start soon, but we had 1" of snow last night.

I hope you are well now and will soon be able to enjoy your new toy.

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Old 05-02-2010, 10:24 AM   #8
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There might be a major drain from your piping right near the HW heater as has been said -- but that won't drain the tank.

Fresh tank full? Gauges can be off. The black tank will be at the rear closest to the toilet. For conserving the plumbing runs, I'd bet the gray is in the middle and fresh is the more forward. At the side of the fresh tank there will be a white plastic valve for quick emptying. You should also find some stopcocks on the underside at one of the corners of the fresh tank. I really doubt they put antifreeze in that tank -- you'd not get it all out for ages!

Nothing burns propane faster (or battery power when boondocking) than setting the thermostat up where we'd keep our homes -- say 70 degrees or so. Besides, I like the furnace fan to stay turned off most of the time when trying to sleep -- so I set it at maybe 55 degrees overnight and first one up cranks it up before all get out of bed. Good bedding helps. I empty one propane tank completely and then fill it promptly while drawing from the other tank. When a 30# tank can last all summer, it can catch us by surprise when they only last a few days in cold weather.

IMO the conditions your are noting could not cause any freezing, to say nothing of freezing damage. Have a thermometer down at floor level near your water pump if you want reassurance next time.
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Old 05-02-2010, 10:34 AM   #9
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Ahh.. helps to read all the questions. Burst pipes? Leaking water would depressurize the plumbing and your pump would be cycling a lot! It may cycle infrequently in normal conditions.

One can get a skin of ice on an open saucer of water at 29 degrees (evaporation & radiative cooling at work). Set an unpressurized bottle of water outside in those conditions? I'll bet it would take forever to freeze. And it's not inside all the thermal mass of your Airstream.
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Old 05-02-2010, 11:39 AM   #10
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That drain under the hot water heater seems to drain a line that goes to the water heater and is good to know about since it's not mentioned in the manual. It won't drain a tank, but it is part of flushing the lines or telling if there's antifreeze in them. Good that Bob pointed that out; I wasn't very clear.

On our trailer there is a drain for the potable water tank and 2 for the potable water lines between the wheels. The latter two have stop cocks that look like those at the bottom of car and truck radiators. The tank drain is a plastic thing that rotates 180˚ and over time gets very hard to turn. I use a pliers or channel locks to turn it.

I too doubt there's a full tank of antifreeze, but there may be some in any of the tanks. It lubricates the seals and that's a good thing. Some antifreezes leave an aftertaste that lasts for months (the bad thing), but we've never noticed it. Probably has to do with either individual taste buds or cheapo antifreeze. Flushing out the system is tedious. It usually takes about 3 or 4 fillings of the potable water tank to get all the chlorine smell out after sanitizing.

There are two ways to distribute antifreeze in the lines. One is to install a bypass kit at the water pump and use it to directly pump antifreeze from the gallon jug it comes in. There may be one on your trailer and you'd have to look at the pump and see if there's a valve installed on the intake line to the pump. A clear plastic hose would be stored somewhere to attach to it. The other way is dump some antifreeze in the potable water tank and pump it through the lines.

Bob and I disagree over the likelihood of anything freezing. It's true the mass of the trailer will hold some heat overnight, but it depends how warm it was during the day and how much direct sun the trailer absorbed. If the temp unexpectedly drops a lot during the night, who knows what could happen? Colorado experiences microclimates where temps and weather can be very different a few miles apart. Therefore, what lows are predicted at DIA or downtown Denver can be very different from those in Longmont. Areas with lots of vegetation (lots of Colorado are high desert) and flatter topography tend to have uniform temps across a wide area. I have a electronic thermometer that has a remote for outside temps and humidity. We leave the remote in the trailer when it is not winterized to see what the temps are—the remote has a range of about 125', just enough to reach the house.

The concerns over freezing is very much an individual thing. Having forgotten to make sure I pumped antifreeze through the kitchen sink sprayer and toilet valve 1 1/2 years ago and then having them both freeze and break, I may be more sensitive about this than others. There's nothing like screwing up to make someone a pain in the butt about it ever after. The toilet valve is at the back of the toilet and requires removing the toilet to fix. I was fortunate that I wasn't charged to fix these two things, but it was my fault at not being careful enough.

Also, pump recycling often may not indicate leaking or burst pipes—if there's a lot of air in the water, the pump may be compressing air bubbles for a while. Spraying water or puddles surely tell you you've got a problem very quickly.

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Old 05-02-2010, 01:51 PM   #11
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Bob and I disagree over the likelihood of anything freezing....
Gene, we won't disagree about trusting any forecast that says, "Oh, it'll only get down to 29 tonight."

I still can't find the bryanl post about recording temps inside at floor level after a night in the low 20s. His result was that floor temp still was above freezing. Found this one post though. Looks like I'll just have to do my own measuring for posterity after I winterize this coming October. You'd think the under-cabinet plumbing spaces would fluctuate temperature differently depending if the lower cabinet doors were open or closed. Close them all and I'd bet it could cool off quicker.

Me being blase about an actual 29 degree night takes into account that his coach has forgiving PEX plumbing. Don't read more than that into my statements -- or we'll have copper-plumbed Airstreamers in big trouble -- especially older coaches with hard-to-access shower mixer valves on the outside walls. Yes, take care. From a night that only got down to 29 degrees -- you don't have to go back where you bought it fearing that they prepared it incorrectly and now it is damaged.
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Old 05-02-2010, 02:34 PM   #12
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I agree Pex is forgiving, but the toilet valve is not—the parts that come apart are PVC I believe. The kitchen sprayer is made of extremely cheap metal or plastic coated with something to look like metal and cracks very easily. And, Bob, as you say in the link, other valves and connections may be an issue. I sound like an old maid at this point.

We go through the same thing with our drip irrigation system for trees and bushes—when do we connect it and when do we disconnect it? Some of the piping has low spots and always cracks every winter, but at least it's on the ground and I can see the little fountains every spring and repair them. It's usually good down to 27˚ or 28˚, but the timers may not be. Hopefully it'll be warm enough by the time we leave to hook it up, but it can snow in May (and did).

I agree 29˚ is not a problem 99% of the time, more or less. If the weather reports were 99% correct, that would be great.

By now we may have beaten this to a pulp.

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Old 05-02-2010, 09:18 PM   #13
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Smile Thanks again...

Thanks for all of the great detailed information. It is very helpful.

I have to say that the airstream manual is a bit lacking in terms of detail on the plumbing, valves, electrical etc so this info is great.

We went by to check on the airstream today and turned on the pump to see if any water leaked below or insdie. Nothing that we could see. I guess the real test will be when we take it for its virgin run next weekend and hook it up to city water. We are taking it a few miles from home and doing an overnighter just to check everything out and get comfortable with it (and figure out what equipment we are lacking). I've also got a rancher friend coming by to give me towing lessons since he's hauled just about everything and is a very good friend.

I have a week long fly fishing trip planned in June in Southern Colorado with the AS so really looking forward to it.

Thanks again, everyone!

Sandy (aka Bonginator) - to dispel the myths on my alias, we had a great dane named Bongo and hence the name!
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Old 05-03-2010, 08:43 AM   #14
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Sandy (aka Bonginator) - to dispel the myths on my alias, we had a great dane named Bongo and hence the name!
Sandy, you will always have the "myth" associated with your Forum name. Happy '70's!

Seems like you are going about this carefully and seeking advice. Always a good approach.

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