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Old 02-09-2012, 12:38 PM   #1
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New idea for winter camping - Aquarium Controller

Hi All,

I just set up my trailer in Breckenridge (Tiger Run Resort - Full hook ups). It gets extremely cold up there at night, and while I have never run water there in the past, I spent 10 days there last year when it got down to the single digits an below. Overall, I stayed snug in my 08 23FB.

Fast forward to this year - we are staying there for 2 months. I have decided to hook up water, and so I am making preparations. Based on many suggestions on these and other boards, I have skirted the trailer with insulation, insulated the sewer line, built a wire tape heated water line and insulated that, stuffed some areas with extra insulation (shower head area, put some insulation between the cold/hot water lines running from the back to the front for the main sink), and I have a small heater underneath the unit to keep the underside heated.

I started reading about how some people will put a remote thermometer under the underside of the trailer to monitor temperature remotely so they can react if it gets too cold down there and there is concern of freezing. But we are basically gone during the week, and would not know if the heater failed or if it just wasn't keeping up etc so we could get a neighbor or the staff to help in an emergency.

So here is my idea (perhaps someone has suggested in the past - but I havent seen it). I have salt water aquarium with an aquarium controller. The controller has numerous functions, but some of the major things it can do are:

* turn on and off power outlets depending on input from a thermometer, which can be set down to the 1/10 of a degree
* Turn on and off power outlets by timers (very sophisticated timing)
* Send out an audible alarm if there is any type of failure to meet preset parameters - such as temperature falling below or above a set range, short/failure of an outlet etc.
* Send out an EMAIL to a preset email account if any of the alarms go off, with details on what is going wrong
* Control lights, pumps - basically anything you can plug in based on your desired settings. So you could program your trailer lights to turn on precisely at 5:32PM, and go off automatically at 10:05PM, or turn on and off randomly, or even turn on and off different sets of lights at 8 different times to simulate someone living there (for security)


This is just the tip of the iceberg on what these can do. Any they cost about $400 fully loaded up with the network module and 8 programmable outlets.

So my thought is I could set this up to control my heaters to turn on/off at set temperatures, provide communication no matter where I am in the world if something goes wrong, switch over to a backup heater if the first one fails, control my trailer lights - I could even set it up to turn on heat tape around water lines if the temperature drops to a certain point. Very easy to program and designed to be extremely reliable.

Thoughts? One that I currently use is : Digital Aquatics


Happy to answer questions about any of this if you would like.
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Old 02-09-2012, 02:21 PM   #2
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I like the idea. A lot. First question: will it, itself, work in the temps being conemplated (what does manufacturer say)?
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:01 PM   #3
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Well, everything could be housed inside. You basically have a control unit, and a big power strip (or 2 or 3), and a network module. The controler and network module would be housed inside. The power stripscould be housed inside, but probably would be safer outside. They are designed for use indoors but obviously as they are for aquarium use can handle a little moisture. They would need to be housed at minimum under the trailer to stay out of the rain/snow etc.

The components are hooked together by 6 line phone cable. No issues there with weather. It's special cable though - with straight connections vs standard phone cable. Available through monoprice or through the manufacturer so you can make long runs without an issue.

One really nice feature I forgot to mention in my previous post. The powerstrips actually reset themselves after they are tripped. So if you have a temporary power outage/spike, they will attempt to turn themselves back on. Slick.
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:07 PM   #4
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Would it work? Probably. Would I want to rely on it? No. I'd rather pay somebody to check on the trailer every day, or partially winterize at the end of every weekend, or something.

I wouldn't run a space heater inside the skirt because of the risk of fire.

Your rig, your choices, but it's not the way I roll.
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Old 02-09-2012, 03:32 PM   #5
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I definitely understand your opinion Jammer. I know you post a lot here, and have read some excellent posts from you. RE: the heater under the skirt - yeah this does make me a bit nervous. On the other hand it has tip over and over heat shutoff, and is at least 4 feet from anything flammable and sitting on concrete. So I'm reasonably comfortable that the risk is very low. My unit is also 10 feet from a fire hydrant and is monitored by park staff.

Regarding the aquarium controller, again I respect your position. But food for thought: these things are designed to control parameters for Aquariums that cost thousands of dollars which can crash and kill everything living in them with one runaway or failed heater. If you think we obsess over our trailers - you have no idea when it comes to saltwater reef tanks.

And the only way I see it working having someone watch your trailer is having them stay in it. They could be 50 feet away in a neighboring trailer and have no idea that the furnace shut off, heater under the skirt failed, heat tape failed etc.

I'm not saying a controller is fool proof - but it would sure beat the heck out of what I have now - which is just hoping that nothing has failed when I return to the trailer this weekend.
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Old 02-09-2012, 05:04 PM   #6
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::shrug:: Yep, I've known some people with marine aquariums and I understand the mindset.

I've spent a lot of winters in Minnesota and have seen frozen pipes, jelled diesel, power failures in the storm, and so on. Have had pipes freeze 6' underground and seen jugs of pink RV antifreeze and blue windshield washer fluid freeze solid. Seen barns burn from space heaters.

So I guess, trying to explain my reasoning a little more, the lesson I've taken from all this is that nothing works 100% and the lower tech passive solutions work best as long as there's a generous margin for error.

In my opinion the very best thing you could do under the circumstances is set up your rig so that you winterize most it quickly and easily and then do it when you leave for the week. Have an air compressor on hand and set up a T on your water inlet and enough valves that you can blow out the lines easily. Include a valve in place of the drain plug on your water heater. If you do that, dump the black tank, and pour a little pink stuff into the shower drain you'll prevent any major damage from taking place -- you're hooked to a sewer line so there's no standing water in the tank valves to freeze, and if the place freezes solid you're just out a couple of cheap sink traps and maybe a sprayer or shower head or something if you didn't get them blown out quite all the way (which is common).

You'd just be out the money for the air compressor (unless you already have a suitable one) and 50 bucks worth of brass from the plumbing section at Home Depot.

The thing is that then you don't have all the myriad things that can go wrong with a monitoring setup, like it not calling your cell phone because the same storm that made the power go out also screwed up the microwave link to the closest tower.

Short of that, if you want backup heat, just stagger the thermostats. Set the main heat at 60 degrees and the backup heat at 50 degrees or 55 degrees or whatever. If you need more thermostats to make it work you can get the plug-in ones for $20 that are intended for use with "hog dog" heaters. They have a piggyback plug so you plug the thermostat in to the wall and the heater into the thermostat plug.

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Originally Posted by Nightwatch View Post
I definitely understand your opinion Jammer. I know you post a lot here, and have read some excellent posts from you. RE: the heater under the skirt - yeah this does make me a bit nervous. On the other hand it has tip over and over heat shutoff, and is at least 4 feet from anything flammable and sitting on concrete.
The fires with these usually happen because something causes combustible material to get too close to the heater or the heater to get too close to combustible material. Anything from a mouse building a nest to somebody walking by and pulling on the extension cord (why? maybe because they're 7 years old and wonder what will happen or maybe because they want to borrow it for 10 minutes so they can run the hair dryer to thaw the locks on their door -- who knows). These things are a hazard and should be regarded with great paranoia.

Much of the reason I have my electric heater in my trailer mounted in the wall is that, that way, it isn't possible for anyone or anything to move the heater close to anything combustible (without disassembling it and removing a bunch of screws anyway), and it's fixed in a location where combustible material won't tend to accumulate.
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Old 02-09-2012, 05:56 PM   #7
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Some great suggestions here. So regarding the compressor, luckily I already have one and the necessary fittings for winterizing/blowing out the lines. I think that is a great suggestion and I'll plan on doing that as it doesn't take long. Not sure why I need T valves though - can't I just screw in the fitting from the compressor into the inlet and go to town blowing it out?

The heater - yes your examples make me nervous. As the heater is out of sight and no one knows it is there under the skirt and snowbank, I highly doubt a kid is going to come dig under my trailer, find it, and borrow it. However - you made me think about the possibility of the insulation coming loose in a big windstorm, blowing into the heater, and then catching fire. I might reconsider my options due to this. I could build a little mount for the heater, with a mesh screen guard going around it to ensure nothing major could blow into it. I'll think that over.

I still like the idea of the aquarium controller though for many reasons. Yes it could fail in a power outage. But if I followed your suggestions AND I used the controller, I'd have redundancy and a far greater level of control than anything else out there could provide.

Keep in mind, it's not just about a fail safe device. As I mentioned, I could created sophisticated timers for lighting, control the heaters remotely, program the unit to kick on a space heater before I get home from skiing - I'm sure I'm not thinking of many applications. It's just such a powerful little device, and they have proven themselves in the aquarium industry. We have replaced light controllers, timers, powerstrips, pump controllers - you name it. And with the ability to log in remotely and see what's going on with your setup, or get email warnings or heck - even just the audible alarms when your sleeping in your trailer, I just think this gives a completely elevated level of control and communication vs what's being used currently.

But again - I do agree that simple = better often, and my first line of defense should be blowing out the system before leaving.
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Old 02-09-2012, 09:35 PM   #8
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It's good to explore all kinds of potential "fixes". My interest is in that I have recently viewed the trailers, coincidentally, of two oil & gas pipeline inspectors who take their Silver Streak and Avion trailers to remote sites in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado on several month assignments during the winter. A pair of catalytic heaters in each, with furnace also used, plus skirting, etc. As I could well wind up with similar work, I am all ears on subjects like this.
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Old 02-10-2012, 09:43 AM   #9
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Well I had another idea last night. In order to decrease heat loss - why not go through the same procedure you would when measuring a house for heat loss i.e. call the local energy company and ask for an efficiency study. Excel will do a house for $250, which I assume is subsidized so not sure what the cost would be to do a trailer - might have to pay a private party to do it.

But regardless - they put one of those fans on your door, pressurize the unit, and then view it through a thermal camera to see where the heat is escaping. Then you know where you have to seal up with spray foam, increase insulation, put plastic on windows etc.

Then the question becomes - any concern over sealing these trailers up too tightly? Carbon Monoxide and moisture are the two big concerns - but it would be nice to be able to control venting consciously rather than just allowing cracks and gaps to handle that job.
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Old 02-10-2012, 05:43 PM   #10
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'"The heater - yes your examples make me nervous. As the heater is out of sight and no one knows it is there under the skirt and snowbank, I highly doubt a kid is going to come dig under my trailer, find it, and borrow it. However - you made me think about the possibility of the insulation coming loose in a big windstorm, blowing into the heater, and then catching fire."

I think you pretty much answered your own question there. For the wind to blow insulation up under the trailer and block the heater it would have to be strong enough to move the snow piled up in front of it too.
IMHO I'm thinking it would take hurricane force winds to move built up mounds of snow that was compacted and most likely iced over. But for sure a guard could be placed in front of the heater.
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