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Old 03-10-2015, 12:10 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by callmedave View Post
I made my Original Post because of a desire to be able to dry camp or boondock without worrying about running out of propane or draining the batteries.
2013 was our first year with the FC28. Once we almost ran out of fuel, and another time the batteries were so low I had to shut everything down. In both cases the temperature was below freezing. Granted, had we been backpacking as we used to be able to do, we'd have been just has cold.
Also, I allow that these things were in part in part due to inexperience.
In any case we'd like to avoid them in the future.
Case in point, we're planning a trip to Newfoundland late July to September. Looking at threads about NF, I see that some of the campgrounds, like Gros Morne, have no services so I want to be prepared.
As we become more experienced ASers we hope to be able to do more camping "off the grid".
Hence the OP.
Dave
Dave. That's great, we do the same thing for the same reasons, knees aren't what they used to be.

There are a few things to keep in mind.

First of all, I don't believe catalytic heaters are safe to use in enclosed areas. True, many people use them without incident, but there have been tragic accidents also and many near misses.

I do not believe that the oxygen-depletion sensors are a sufficient safety feature. In a tightly closed room, these heaters can deplete the oxygen enough that the flame starts to run rich, leading to incomplete combustion and the production of carbon monoxide. That is the most common sequence of events in accidental carbon monoxide poisoning episodes, and the oxygen depletion "sensor" prevents that. It's nothing more than a pilot light that already runs a little rich so that it will go out completely if the oxygen level in the room atmosphere declines. Be aware that they are prone to false trips at altitude.

There are other mechanisms by which CO can accumulate, however, chief among them being obstruction of the burner venturi by foreign objects, insects, spider webs, dirt, etc. The cumulative deterioration of the pads on catalytic heaters also results in gradual increases in CO emissions.

Second of all, there are alternatives. (see next post)
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Old 03-10-2015, 12:31 PM   #30
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So, winter boondocking, the three things to avoid for safety are: using the range for heat, using a catalytic heater, and running a generator overnight.

There are all kinds of alternatives. Summarizing:

1) Use a sealed-combustion gravity vent heater
2) Use the existing furnace and upgrade the 12v system to support it for your chosen length of stay
3) Adopt a camping approach that makes minimal or occasional use of the furnace
4) Use a generator to charge batteries in the morning as necessary

So, I have a Cayo C-11 pickup camper that has a sealed combustion gravity heater. Provides heat, uses no electricity. A few older Avion trailers have similar setups, and the panel-ray heaters used in 1950s Airstreams are also similar (not sealed combustion though so perhaps not as safe). The Newport propane fireplaces are the modern equivalent, and a number of people on the forum have installed them. They are also popular in the tiny house movement.

The disadvantages of this approach are cost, space required, and the fact that in larger trailers the heat is not well distributed.

---

The second approach is to upgrade your 12v system. With the stock converter, under the best of circumstances it takes 24 hours to fully charge the batteries and in cold weather they will never charge completely. So if you want to run the furnace while boondocking the first thing you should do is get a better converter. Be sure you have a working charge line from your tow vehicle, and consider upgrading it to heavier gauge wire. That's fairly inexpensive to do, and it will give you fully charged batteries when you arrive at your campsite, as well as recharging them somewhat if you move the trailer from one campsite to another.

You can consider adding batteries or solar power. It is not unusual for people to add 2 batteries beyond the stock 2, for boondocking. Solar isn't much help in the winter in higher latitudes because of the angle of insolation and the short day length, but it will do something. Every little bit helps and if through a combination of means you can get enough power to run the furnace for 3 nights instead of 1 night your options open up.

---

3) so the thing here is that, for winter boondocking, you can at least consider leaving the furnace off (or turned way down) at night and during the day, and just run it in the morning and evening when you need it most. If temperatures are well below freezing then keeping pipes and tanks from freezing is a concern, but there are plenty of late fall trips where it's not.

---

4) finally once you have upgraded your converter you can consider getting a Honda EU2000i or the Yamaha equivalent and running it for a while each morning as needed to charge batteries. Typically it takes an hour or two a day to keep the batteries sufficiently charged. Don't run it overnight while you sleep, and locate the generator well away from the trailer so that exhaust doesn't accumulate.
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Old 03-10-2015, 12:50 PM   #31
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While I agree that you'd need to run the furnace occasionally to keep the tanks from freezing, I would think a cat heater conserves fuel and batteries. Having a vent and window opened a crack should prevent condensation and oxygen depletion.
Two things. On the tanks, it's important to realize that the furnace outlet in the tank area provides barely enough heat to keep them thawed in truly cold weather (0F and below). Supplemental heat is fine if you have nights down to 20F and days above freezing. Below that it gets increasingly risky as the temperature drops and the wind picks up.

The cat heaters do not in practice conserve fuel. While there is an efficiency gain due to the lack of a heat exchanger, keeping a vent and window opened introduces more than enough heat loss to make up for it. Condensation is indeed a concern, more so in an Airstream than a shop because the space is confined. Again this is more of a problem as temperatures drop. Setting safety concerns aside for a moment, the catalytic heaters are quite functional for trips involving extended boondocking at moderately cool temperatures, with overnight lows as low as freezing and daytime highs in the 50s. The condensation, while a problem, is manageable at that point. Below that, the heaters don't have enough output to keep the trailer warm, and managing the humidity is problematic.

Quote:
I've had a gas-fired infrared heater in my shop for 20 years without incident, and have been very comfortable. I can easily keep the the air temp around 65 which allows me to store my water-based finishes and glues out there. Also, I don't have to worry about power outages.
I'm thinking a cat heater for the AS would be similar.
Thanks,
Dave
You don't sleep there, cook there, or shower there, and it's a larger space.

In any RV, condensation is a problem in the winter even if you have shore power and can run the heat all you want. Catalytic heaters contribute further to the problem.

I have an unvented heater in my garage that I run when I have to work on cars in teh winter or when they're covered with ice and I'm trying to get it to melt. They're fine for that.

One of the facts to consider is that in a lifetime of Airstreaming there are inevitably going to be some bad days mixed in with the good. Imagine you're at the end of a 4 day trip, it's colder and windier than forecast, and you've come down with the flu or whatever and just want to get in bed and stay warm until you feel better. That's when people do dumb stuff like close all the windows and then turn on the oven because the catalytic heater isn't keeping the trailer warm by itself.
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Old 03-10-2015, 12:53 PM   #32
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Skater,
I'd like to hear more about your winter camping experience: your AS set-up, length of time out, temps while out, location, etc.
1995 30' trailer. We have also camped in winter in a 1991 B190 motorhome.

We've spent as much as 5 days camping in freezing weather in central Pennsylvania around Christmas and even in January (around MLK Day). We've been doing the Christmas trips since ~2009, first in the B190, then in the trailer since 2011.

The temperatures around Christmas are usually above freezing during the day but below freezing at night. We've gotten down into the teens on several occasions; I don't think we've hit single digits while camping. In this situation I have to refill one of our 30 lb propane bottles every third day or so, depending on temperature.

We have also camped without hookups in freezing temperatures. We had a cold snap in October during our installation rally a couple years ago (my parents that traveled from Florida were going nuts). I don't think the temperatures got much above freezing that entire trip. We arrived late Thursday, then we left Sunday. We did run our generator for a while during the day to ensure the batteries were charged, but I don't think it was necessary; our solar system probably had them recharged just fine. (Oh, and to run the microwave to make my wife's famous Buffalo Chicken Dip.)

Obviously our main source of heat is the furnace. When we have electricity we'll use the heat strip in the A/C to help us out during the day, but it's still primarily the furnace's job.

We did not do dry camping with the B190. Water tank and shower were too small. And given the size of the propane tank in it, we didn't stay as long as we do with the trailer. But the lowest temperature I ever hit with the B190 was 17 degrees outside.

Quote:
While I agree that you'd need to run the furnace occasionally to keep the tanks from freezing, I would think a cat heater conserves fuel and batteries. Having a vent and window opened a crack should prevent condensation and oxygen depletion.
First, does it use less propane per BTU?

There is a huge issue to your solution: You have a vent and window cracked open, with blazing cold air cutting through your camper. I don't know about you, but that's not something I like to feel as I step out of the shower, and my wife would never agree to it. Plus it just feels wrong opening a window when I'm trying to stay warm. I feel bad about turning on the exhaust fan when I take a shower.

Quote:
I've had a gas-fired infrared heater in my shop for 20 years without incident, and have been very comfortable. I can easily keep the the air temp around 65 which allows me to store my water-based finishes and glues out there. Also, I don't have to worry about power outages.
I'm thinking a cat heater for the AS would be similar.
A workshop is quite a bit different from your kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. That's really what we're talking about here. I wouldn't mind one of those big ugly ceiling-hung gas units in the corner of my garage, but I definitely wouldn't want one in my house.

I don't worry about power outages either. I've got propane for the fridge, furnace, and water heater; batteries for the lights and furnace fan; and solar and a generator to recharge the batteries as necessary.

I'm not saying you shouldn't install a catalytic heater - if you think it'll work for you, go for it and be safe. I just can't see it working very well for us, if nothing else because of the sheer size of the camper. We'd need two or three, plus fans, to come close to heating the camper evenly. But, I already have a device that does all of that, and it's out of the way and has few of the downsides of the catalytic heater: The furnace.
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