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Old 12-23-2013, 08:45 AM   #1
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What I've learned Today...

So we all know that Winter livin' in an Airstream is at best......a chore. Daily, we battle Mother Nature and her elements, fighting to be just ahead of whatever catastrophe is lurking around the corner. Am I being dramatic? Ask someone who lives in an aluminum house in Winter, and they'll tell you, that is exactly what it's like!
So, in our quest for comfortable "quarters" this Winter we're actually doing pretty good. I was very worried about humidity and condensation, a problem we just haven't had to deal with. ( I must be doing something right!)
We're managing to keep the Airstream fairly comfortable using only the furnace and one of those quartz heaters. ( I must say....that furnace is earning it's keep. It almost runs constantly and I'm glad I have two 100 gallon propane tanks hooked up to it)
One thing that has been a "thorn" in my side has been the water supply. My first attempt involved heat tape, aluminum foil, insulation, etc.... The first sub-freezing night I found out that the heat tape was actually faulty from the manufacturer. So of course I then had a completely frozen supply system.
8 hours later I had completely re-done everything. In my quest to "never have this problem again" I go overboard with the heat tape using a longer tape and coiling it around the hoses leading into the water closet. This time the tape was working, working so good that after a week it got so hot it melted the hose and the tape itself! (it seemed like such a good idea at the time)
Third times a charm, right?
This time I follow the directions for the heat tape to the "T" , I even did away with the RV water hose as much as I could and ran copper pipe from the main INTO the water closet. Now I have just a short 12" piece of hose connecting the copper to the water inlet.
We get up this morning and......Yup, no water! Of course, I'm furious. Thank God it's my day off work and I actually have time to mess with it.
As I start to troubleshoot I'm surprised to see that everything is actually working as it should (expected failed heat tape again) I have water all the way up to the city water inlet on the Airstream. So I figure it's frozen somewhere behind the water inlet, but you cant see where the lines go from there. I notice the little metal wall, where the black tank flush fitting is located, has screws in it and looks like it can be removed.(the little wall was only held in place with 3 screws. The flush fitting is mounted to this wall and was only held in place with 2 screws) With the removal of these 5 screws, you can remove this little wall and see the lines behind and where they go. So right behind the water inlet is the built in water pressure regulator. The lines take a 90 degree turn, go about 6 inches, then straight up into the Airstream to where all the shut offs are. Seeing this, I immediately know THIS is where the line is frozen! The one place that is exposed to the elements and blocked from my heat sources. I point my heat gun in this little dead air space and within minutes, we have running water! YEA!
Then it hits me....What an awful design! I know these Airstreams aren't made to out in freezing weather, but why alienate such a small section of main water line ? You can heat tape and insulate all you want, but this area is going to freeze every night if you dont open it up and get some heat back there. Because I'm not familiar with other models, and how their water lines are plumbed I dont know if this is going to benefit too many people or not.

Our Airstream is a 2001 '34 Limited, and if your water closet looks like this one AND your stationary in a freezing climate, you need to take this little wall out and put a light bulb in there. (will keep the temp above freezing)
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:53 AM   #2
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Old 12-23-2013, 08:59 AM   #3
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Yes, and the plastic part where the water actually goes into the trailer contains the pressure regulator and check valve. If it freezes very hard, it will break, and then you have a real mess on your hands because the whole metal box will have to be remove to replace it, or at least I have to because I can't get my hands in there.

I know we don't have to deal with the low temps you are dealing with, but when we are camping and a freeze is expected, we fill the water tank, and disconnect the water hose so we don't have to deal with the hose freezing. But again, we don't have the temps you do, and don't do winter camping for very long.
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Old 12-23-2013, 09:09 AM   #4
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I spent one winter in mine in TN which is a lot milder. Used more propane in the AS than I did in a 14x70 mobile home the following year.
We found it worked better to run off the internal water system and fill when needed as apposed to the hose/heat tape thing.
I also placed 60 watt light bulbs in some of the areas on the inside that didn't get much heat and would slush up in zero weather.
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Old 12-24-2013, 11:48 AM   #5
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If you fear freeze up leave the water tap trickling in the sink overnight. The moving water will not freeze.
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Old 02-09-2014, 06:20 AM   #6
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My family too has had to spend the majority of the winter (at least the cold part!) since just after Christmas in our Airstream. Saying that winter living in an AS is a chore is putting it very nicely. It's kind of like having a second wife, actually.

Well, I too built my own heated hose out of a Valterra Ebonyline 25' drinking water hose and an MD Building Products 30' heat tape. Wrapped the heat tape around the hose and covered the entire concoction with 3/4" ID foam pipe insulation and duct tape. This has worked fine well into the single digit temps we've been getting here in Marylandistan.

Also, like above, I continued to have the freezing inlet issues despite the heated hose working so well. I tried the dripping faucet trick but almost had a disaster on my hands when my tank valves froze shut (the black water tank handle actually broke off in my hand but I can still dump the tank when warm enough).

Based on this thread and others that I've read, I tried the light bulb trick to keep the inlet from freezing and this has worked flawlessly! The only difference is that I didn't remove the panel in the water compartment. I bought a cheap work light from Lowe's and simply laid the device in the compartment and ran the wire down through the hose access door. This light has kept the inlet from freezing well into the single digits with nary an issue.

As for the freezing dump valves, there really isn't much one can do but to take advantage of the warmer daytime temps (if you have them) and dump when you can. We tried all the known tricks from dumping and back-flowing hot water down the slinky to doing the same with RV antifreeze and even windshield washer fluid. Nothing worked except a small Mr. Buddy propane heater that I placed under the valves. After about 40 minutes, I got movement in the valves.

So, thanks for the ideas. And I hope I passed a little confidence on to the next guy. Winter camping can be done, and done successfully in very cold temps. You just have to plan ahead, take advantage of the short warm-ups, have a few smart tools in your possession, and not think about the small fortune spent on propane.

Best of luck to all. My winter camping is about to come to conclusion as we get on the road to Kansas later this week. It's warmer there, right?
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Old 02-09-2014, 07:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kry226 View Post
It's warmer there, right?
Here in South Central KS we have a few more days of "cold"....Starting Tuesday a warming trend moves in and daytime temps to the 60's by next weekend. Sunshine and warm air.....Spring is just around the corner here!
Where in Kansas are you headed?
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Old 02-09-2014, 07:38 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by truxpin View Post
Where in Kansas are you headed?
One of my best friends lives in SC Kansas near Burden.

We are actually headed to Leavenworth. We've lived there before and know all about the winters. I already have my snow shovel badge with several campaign stars to boot. Definitely looking forward to the spring.

Hopefully we'll be in a house (finally) by the end of this coming week.
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