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Old 12-12-2011, 07:42 PM   #1
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1956 26' Cruiser/Overlander
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Rural Massachusetts winter full-timing

We bought a 1972 23 ft safari used in May out of necessity so my wife, dog and I would have a place to live. We can put our airstream on family property in rural Massachusetts and only pay for power, sewage pump out, internet (for school), and propane.

Immediately, like peeling back the layers of an onion, we found more and more work that needed to be done. The project took longer then we really wanted. We remodeled it to suit our full-time needs and it is almost completed...mostly. We have been staying in it full-time while under major construction for months and that has been a huge , dirty, challenge. As it is mostly cosmetic stuff now and finish work we are getting ready to hunker down for winter. It is 18 degrees at night right now and we are toasty warm and comfortable but I am worried about continued below zero temperatures for days on end. We ordered a tiny wood stove as done by others on the forum. We hope it gets here before it gets really cold. Wood is something that is essentially free for us. Wood for burning and the wood to constrct the interior have been and will be readily accessible.

We put straw bales around the base as a skirt. We have shades and window coverings almost completed, all our lines sewer, gray water and fresh hook-ups are buried a few feet underground except where the water comes into the airstream. That 1.5 foot stretch of hose has piles of pink insulation stuffed around it. Frankly, I am afraid of heat tape and burning down our only place to be right now.

Then we put the entire rig into one of those hoop house green houses. We vented out the heater through the greenhouse wall and plan to do the same for the wood stove chimney. We have carbon monoxide detectors and a propane detector. Did I miss anything? I want to make sure we are going to give ourselves the best chance possible to make this work. Any advice and constructive critisim would be welcome. Thanks!
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Old 12-12-2011, 08:14 PM   #2
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This might help

Foxbrook,

It looks like you're north of Greenfield in the Berkshires -- might as well be in Vermont.

Speaking of Vermont, here is a thread about a couple who spent a good part of the winter there in an Airstream. I hope it helps.

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f462...ove-44907.html

Good luck,

John
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Old 12-12-2011, 08:15 PM   #3
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Fox...beautiful area, I fish the Green River late every spring from the Ten Mile Bridge down to Greenfield.

You will likely have a condensation issue because of the single pane windows, but that will just be a nuisance to deal with. Not trying to scare you and you seem to be very safety conscious but I would have several of the larger ABC type fire extinguishers on hand just in case.

You will need to keep a window cracked open with the wood stove so it has some fresh air and this will also help with condensation. Are you sure the water and sewer lines "a few feet below" are far enough below? If they are all "under the trailer" that has the hay bales surrounding it you are probably ok, just don't go away for a week so no one runs the water!!

I think you'll find that greenhouse will really help to keep you warm.

Good luck.
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Old 12-12-2011, 09:14 PM   #4
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Thanks!

NTRPRZ Thanks for the information. After Irene and our area getting hammered I wonder how your fishing spot faired. There were bridges that sustained major damage and some that we're washed away.

Does anyone know if the couple in VT actually made it all the way through the winter off grid? Wow. We have power and batteries and it can be a struggle.

Thanks John. Right, fire extinguisher. I'm sure I wouldn't have remembered until I needed one! That would likely be too late. The greenhouse is great during the day with the solar benefits and it really helps keep the wind from blowing around the skin. I hope the pipes are deep enough. We decided to keep our dump valves closed and to open them only when actively dumping.

Umm.... Any advice for the solids not emptying out of the tank? We dumped and the solids were stuck at the bottom. I fashioned a custom rod and churned the stuff up from the toilet bowl side, dumped hot water down and then it went on its way. Because we are parked for the season, nothing is churned into suspension. The sewer gas smell as a wrestled with the problem was revolting. My wife was not happy with this and she has been really cool about most things. If I didn't need to do that again she would be grateful. Thoughts?
Thanks!
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Old 12-12-2011, 11:46 PM   #5
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Black Water Tank

START with a gallon of water in the tank and add a tank treatment before the first use. Look for a tank treatment that contains enzymes to digest solids, not just a perfumy one. Standard septic tank chemicals work well in small quantities - add a tbsp. more once or twice a week.

Crud could stick to the bottom of the black if it's freezing there, so check the temperature under your tanks if possible. If it's very cold, you could put a warming blanket or even an ordinary light bulb under the tank to keep the stuff above freezing. Dumping? Top the blank tank off with HOT water dumped down the toilet right before it is drained. Hot s*** should drain more readily. Just filling the bowl and flushing hot water four or five times should also help the stirring up process. You could even continue doing this during the dump.

Another option, The old five gallon bucket with kitty litter for solid waste. Use the toilet for liquids only. Disposal? Deep woods - compost it.

Do not dump bleach, etc. into the black tank as it will kill the digestive action.

SOME stuff will remain in the tank no matter what you do. As long as it isn't accumulating from one flushing to the next, but remaining constant you should be fine.

Keep smiling, we're only 9 days from the shortest day of the year - so spring is on the way... just pray for March!

Paula
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Old 12-13-2011, 12:48 AM   #6
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Foxbrook

What you are attempting to do is a huge challenge, but I believe you will be successful because you are motivated and you are going about it the right way.
I am sure the straw bales are a great insulator, but they are not air tight. I would cover them with a house wrap material. This should keep the area under the trailer warmer and should help with the problems you are having with the black tank.
Another thought. 3" insulation is relatively cheap and if you buy it before 1/1/12 there is a tax credit available. I believe it may be 30% so this will save you 30% on the cost of the insulation. What you could do is cover the exterior of the trailer with insulation except where the door is and any windows that you want functional. The paper needs to be against the skin and then cover the exposed pink insulation with house wrap. It won't be pretty, but you will be well insulated (R14) and your heating costs should be significantly lower. I would say that you would not even need the wood stove. An oil filled electric heater might even be enough to keep the trailer warm. If you provide enough insulation and stop the air leaks, you will be amazed at how little it will take to heat the trailer because the volume is so small. You might even add 6" of insulation to raise the thermal insulation factor even more. This would solve your condensation problems, your black tank problems and reduce your heating costs tremendously. It would also be a lot safer imho. The more I think about this I would definately do this. Just don't cover the plumbing vents and the vents needed for the hot water heater, the furnace and the refrig(if running on propane).
Good luck and keep us posted. I am betting that you will do fine.

Dan
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Old 12-13-2011, 07:06 AM   #7
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A couple of thoughts

Foxbrook-

If you had the wood stove going when working on the black tank, you were definitely asking for trouble. Keep in mind that the chimney effect in the stove removes air from the Safari, causing a very slight negative pressure. Any opening in the trailer -- window or vent -- becomes a source of fresh air to make up for the air going out the chimney. If you open the toilet valve, makeup air to the trailer flows into your vent, through the black tank and right into the Safari. The best way to combat the negative pressure is to run a fan, blowing into the rig so that air wants to escape from your trailer rather than flow into it. If you don't have a fan, open up windows and the door so air comes from more pleasant sources!

To break up lumps, I've read that people find that fabric softener is effective, but I've never tried it.

Another thought -- we had leftover Reflectix insulation from our renovation. I cut some pieces to fit just inside the screens and it's really effective in retaining heat. A roll is about $20 at Lowes. By putting it inside the screens, you can remove it during the day and replace it on cold nights.

At the risk of being obvious, smoke alarm?

John
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Old 12-13-2011, 07:44 AM   #8
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Pretty area - Colrain; I used to travel out Route 2 to North Adams for college.

In the past, we used a Vermont Castings wood burning stove to heat a good part of our house and burned through 4-5 cords of wood in a season. While I recognize you have a ready (and cheap) source of fuel, and accept I am not familiar with the wood burning stove units that would be suitable for an Airstream, our wood burning stove threw off a LOT of heat!

Even knowing the weather conditions you are in, it would seem to me that a wood burning stove would heat the trailer very quickly. I just don't know whether there might be better options!?! Sorry, I don't have any. The other thought with the wood burning stove is simply real estate. You will need air circulation and a safety zone around the stove, so it will take up a fair bit of living space. Just a thought. I would have another wood burning stove in a heartbeat if the conditions were right, so you are preaching to the choir - just not sure if this is the right situation. Good luck whatever you do!!
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Old 12-13-2011, 09:32 AM   #9
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The key to not having "lumps" in the black tank is water and heat. A lot of water and some heat (a light bulb was mentioned before) will help the organisms defeat the lumps so to speak. Add some extra bugs using liquid Rid-X septic treatment. A little Rid-X in your small tank will go a long ways and the liquid is easier to start the culture you want than the powder kind. Heat will keep the temperature at the optimum for the digestive organisms to work. Another way to assist with the temperature in there is to pour hot water in several hours before dumping - that will help "melt" things. Try and be careful of what you put in there - if it's a combines black and grey tank then that is easier said then done. If split tanks then the black should be use for only that.

I am not familure with an RV wood stove but had a home unit for years in our prior home. It heated a 1500 sq ft home without issue and was very reasonable on the wood used. Of course I am in South Mississippi so I have no way to compare to the situation you will be in. But, I also agree with Brad - there is a real estate issue on a heat danger zone around any wood stove (any heater for that matter). It won't be as simple as turning off the gas on a gas stove. I do like the idea on a cost basis - we have tons of wood on my property here - wish I had one now.

Keep us posted on your progress, run the water when it's freeezing if you can or disconnect and blow out the lines (pita). A freeze in the water lines can be a difficult thing to overcome.
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Old 12-13-2011, 10:08 AM   #10
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Might have been less work to use the available wood to build a small cabin.

Would echo the caution on proper use of a wood burning appliance. Along with adequate ventilation be sure to check out the required clearances from walls and the floor.
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Old 12-13-2011, 11:15 AM   #11
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Being in Minnesota I have a fondness for not being cold also - I've got three small stoves, one each of solid fuel, diesel and kerosene waiting to compete for a spot in the interior portion of my trailer rebuild. I've even collected metal pieces of an alloy that laughs at oxy-acetylene torch heat to build my own firebox that will allow me to fortify wood with coal if my addiction to warmth gets serious.

Raw straw is just seeking to embrace a glowing ember - don't know what you have local thats free or cheap that won't either melt through or feed a fire itself but there is a fire-retardent mix of Borax, Boric Acid and water (2:1:12 mix, search the internet) that is used in theater sets, etc. that might make one sleep easier and not be too toxic by itself that you could spray-soak the bales with. There are spark arrestor 'smoke heads' available that might be gentler on the greenhouse plastic too, unless you have a huge godzilla-proof metal skirt at the chimney outlet...

The other minus is the plumbing roof stacks venting to common airspace :::sniff::: certainly is a code violation, be like venting the lines out to a front enclosed porch. The vents are needed but I'm not sure if you'd need the whole 1-1/2" rigid pipe scenario - maybe flex hose ganged together for one outlet above the greenhouse roof?
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Old 12-14-2011, 08:26 AM   #12
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This is a great help guys! Lots of good ideas. Thank you! I will report back as we get set up for the rest of winter. Smoke detector, we do have one but I do need an extinguisher. Thank you for the tips for getting the tank dumped. As a newbie, the learning curve here is rather large and it was my wife's one big issue with airstream living.

The wood stove hasn't arrived yet but it is one of those tiny ones they use in boats made by navigator stove works. They sent along an entire plan for heat shielding and such as the owner lived in an airstream in NY with one of these stoves for 3 years. We are hoping it will work but it if doesn't we will change it out for something else.

Venting... I have been thinking about a way to vent the black tank out of the greenhouse but haven't come up with a solution yet. Flex hose would give me more options for working that situation out.

I'll post some pics as we make progress sorting all these things out. I am sure we will look forward to rolling in the spring.
Thanks everyone for the ideas, help and support.
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Old 12-14-2011, 09:17 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 65CV View Post
Foxbrook-

If you had the wood stove going when working on the black tank, you were definitely asking for trouble. Keep in mind that the chimney effect in the stove removes air from the Safari, causing a very slight negative pressure. Any opening in the trailer -- window or vent -- becomes a source of fresh air to make up for the air going out the chimney. If you open the toilet valve, makeup air to the trailer flows into your vent, through the black tank and right into the Safari. The best way to combat the negative pressure is to run a fan, blowing into the rig so that air wants to escape from your trailer rather than flow into it. If you don't have a fan, open up windows and the door so air comes from more pleasant sources!

To break up lumps, I've read that people find that fabric softener is effective, but I've never tried it.

Another thought -- we had leftover Reflectix insulation from our renovation. I cut some pieces to fit just inside the screens and it's really effective in retaining heat. A roll is about $20 at Lowes. By putting it inside the screens, you can remove it during the day and replace it on cold nights.

At the risk of being obvious, smoke alarm?

John
John speaks truth about "negative pressure" drawing big stink into trailer, and how to prevent it.
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Old 12-14-2011, 10:00 AM   #14
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And - a smoke alarm placed in the greenhouse area?
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