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Old 04-21-2003, 09:00 PM   #1
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Question Permanent home?

I just found this forum and thought I would ask a question which I have been thinking about for a while now. Is it practical to live in an Airstream trailer, or another make, as a permanent home? I would be thinking about at least a 34' long model. These conditions apply to this situation. I am single, retired, and currently own my own home. The area of the country that I have in mind is the Laurel Mountains of PA. Summer would be no problem, but winter can be a problem. This past winter, we had a total of over 17' of snow in my area. I realize that going from a house to a smaller living space would entail trimming my belongings down to just the essentials, but this would be a plus in my book. Don't know how or when I accumulated all of the stuff that I now own, but would not be heartbroken in getting rid of a lot of it. I am thinking of buying about 5 -10 acres of wooded ground and parking the trailer in the middle of it for privacy and seclusion. Yea, I have a little bit of hermit in me. Would a trailer be warm and snug enough in the winter, at 0 -10 degrees? How are they heated, would I have to install some type of oil furnace? Has anyone on this forum done this, or considered it? Any suggesions by those of you with experience in a similar matter would really be helpful. Thanks, DGR
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Old 04-21-2003, 09:13 PM   #2
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First off...welcome to the AirstreamForums DGR160! You will find a lot of information related to this subject in various threads on the forum. One that I recall as informative and entertaining is by Rubyslipper and gives great detail of her first winter spent in her Airstream. You may also want to perform a search of "winter living" or "full timing" to get additional threads pertaining to what to expect. Feel free to ask questions....you'll be sure to get responses from all different points of view & experience levels.

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Old 04-21-2003, 09:18 PM   #3
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You will be told, rightly, that an Airstream is simply not suitable for winter living in a Pennsylvania climate. The furnace will consume propane at a prodigal rate, and may not be sufficient for the most extreme cold.

Some other travel trailers and fifth wheels are more insulated, but even then it is pretty skimpy - even the "Arctic Pac" or whatever they choose to call their cold climate models.

But there is one possible solution - not without problems of its own, but do-able. There are people who have built simple shelters for there RV that incorporate things like sanitary sewer, hvac, water supply, etc., that compliment the RV. Since it is not necessary to duplicate the bathroom, kitchen, and so forth, the construction of such a building is far less than a house.

I know I saw a website offering plans, but have no idea how I found it.

Mark
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Old 04-21-2003, 09:21 PM   #4
 
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We have been living in our 1974 29' since 1996 full time. But: we have a big metal building where we keep years of acumulated stuff. We have our computers in there too.
The difference: we are in southern VA. We have been often to Sommerset, in the summer. Not in the winter
The coldest we had this year was 8 degrees. We had several days in a row well below freezing.
We have electricty, which makes a big difference (we use an oil filled radiator under the table to supplement the furnace, and at night in the bed room). We do not have to drive 15 miles round trip to get electrecity, so we conserve propane. We will look into having it delivered.
Look in our picture gallery for how we keep our water from freezing. I will look for a post I had about that tomorrow (11.23pm, time to make dinner). You can see about ice on our AS. You'll survive. We have until now.
I read somewhere about people fulltiming in Canada.
I will give more info tomorrow. Good night.
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Old 04-22-2003, 10:49 AM   #5
 
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In the coldest part of winter, we have been using about 40LBs of propane a week, for a 1974 AS, not very well insulated I believe. As I say, we use an oil filled radiator too, and always turn off the furnace a night and turn it on only when we are in the trailer. And, if it is too cold, turn on low furnace + radiator a few hours before going back in. Not fun to make dinner, when it's 40 inside, wearing a heavy coat, 2 pairs of pants, 4 sweaters,....
It gets cold fast, but it does not take that long to heat the place. We never ever use the stove top (smell, fumes,...), but we use the oven and microwave.
We have now added a 100Lbs bottle (limit of size we can put in the car. Not legal to carry them laying down, but our local (15miles) dealer says it's OK.

Previous years, with no heat at night, we had the temperature drop bellow freezing inside. Not this year. We have improved our insulation too:
plastic sheets covering walls in the front room, rather loosely attached with scoth tape. We just cranked very slightly the kitchen window for air.
From day one, we completely insulated the bedroom wall next to the bed, next to Mike. With 2 layers of aluminium blanket insulation, covered with a piece of cloth, wall to wall. Other window well blocked the same way. (see PIX)
We should have done that to to the front wrap-around window.
This year, we made a "screen door" with same aluminium stuff. Just used regular scotch tape, the 2" wide. Have to take it down soon, so no need to use anything better. It worked great.
Plus added heavy cloth (old velvety shower curtain), attached with a combination of paper binder clamps and small bungee cords, as a storm door.
We were able to keep the water hooked up most nights. How we did that, you can see my post: Winter In An Airstream

You can look at the pix of our water & sewer system, like the "Water hydrant in the freezer". Several of our early pix are about winter living. Go to page 2, middle of page

(we stopped several times in Somerset. Somebody should tell WalMart their parking lot is too small for us campers. We now camp at the one in Bedford, which is a real pain to reach).
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Old 04-22-2003, 11:23 AM   #6
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An 18' X 18' cabin, divided down the middle with a 2X4 wall for two sections, about 8'3" wide by near 17' each, would have more floorspace than my 34' (31' body). And that's even if it were built with thicker R-19 2X6 outer walls (on 24" centers). Not only would it have four times or more the insulation, but it would have 72' of wall vs 96' on my 8.5'X31' Airstream body. And even though the ceiling areas might be close, the cabin could have more than 8 times the insulation there, where most of the heat goes. It would use 10-15% of the energy for heating.

Not only that, but properly oriented, you could lay solar electric and water heating panels on a properly pitched roof.

For not much more money, you could double the floorspace with a basement, and have orders of magnitude more storage for water, supplies, batteries, etc.

An RV, ANY RV, is a comparatively poor choice for a hermitage that isn't going to be traveling.
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Old 04-22-2003, 01:47 PM   #7
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Mark's Idea makes the most sence.

While not cheap it would give you a lot of bennifits.

Build a 30ft by 30ft "Garage" or Pole barn. Rig up a way to make some vent extensions for the Black water vent, Furnace vent, Stove vent etc. Just getting the unit out of the direct elements will go a LONG way to helping make it more tollerable.

The radiated heat loss from the A/S will help keep the chill out of the rest of the area. You could put a wood burning stove in the open area and a picnic bench so when you need a little room you have it without being outside and be able to heat it cheap. Add a few doorwalls to the building and in the summer you could pull the A/S back out and use it as a sun room/screen porch. Put a covered parking pad next to it for the summer to keep the heat from the A/C from getting staginate in the building and alow freash air into the camper. The shade will help keep it cool inside as well as protect it from hail.
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Old 04-23-2003, 07:31 AM   #8
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RoadKingMoe is right, I was going to post the same conclusion. If you don't travel, at least occasionally, an RV doesn't benefit you. A mobile home is a much better idea. Less money and more space.

However, I think I would prefer to live on my own 5 acres in an RV rather in a house in the suburbs. It's not just where you live, but the location that matters. When you are surrounded by a forest instead of cars and other houses.
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Old 04-23-2003, 08:52 AM   #9
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Permanent home

Thanks for all of the replies to my question. They were all very informative. I forgot to mention in my initial post that the trailer will be located on my own property, that there will be electric to the site, there will be a permanent in-ground septic system, and I will have a permanent water well. This will be much the same as a set-up for a mobile home, but also allow me to disconnect when I choose to do so, and to travel with the trailer. It seems to me that the most concern has been expressed about heating the trailer. I believe that there is available a small vented oil fueled furnace or heater that could be installed to provide more heat and to lessen the expense of heating. I think it is made by a company named Perfection Schwank, ans is gravity fed, thus no need for electric to run a burner. This could be hooked up to a 275 gallon fuel tank, which also would be permanently installed on the grounds. One more thing that I am unclear about, but which was mentioned in some of the posts, was the problem with condensation inside of the trailer. I don't understand why this is a problem. Is it because the trailer is relatively air tight and there is no exchange of inside/outside air, or is it due to some other reason? Could a small dehumidifier be used to address the moisture problem, and as a by-product it would also provide some heat from the electric motor running?
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Old 04-23-2003, 09:02 AM   #10
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Condensation mostly comes from the people in the camper. Breathing is moist air. Since there are few drafts, and on my last trip we had four in the Bambi, we had some buildup on the windows. Cold windows came in contact with moist warmer air and sure enough the water formed.

To me this was typical of being in a confined space in SOBs as well. Although you might get some heat out of the dehumidiier, the noise might not be worth it.

I camped in our '03 Bambi a few times in Feb and Mar. It got down to near zero and it snow very hard. The furnace ran a fair amount. Even the '03, with possibly better insulation that the legacy models still is fairly cold inside if the ambient temp outside drops well below freezing. I found that the largest cold was coming from the windows as they are non thermopane. They are saftey glass, but the do allow a fair amount of cold into the camper themselves as the temps get down there.

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Old 04-23-2003, 09:02 AM   #11
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The condensation problem is caused by the uninterrupted transfer of heat or cold thru the outer shell. Just listen to a good window salesman who will explain the benefits of having a good thermal block incorporated into the framing material, especially if the framing material is aluminum. I agree that an A/S is a relatively poor choice as a permanent dwelling, not being used as originally intended. A mobile, or manufactured home, a garage kit transformed into a living quarters or even some sort of shack ala' Ted Kaczinsky would be much more to my liking.

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Old 04-23-2003, 10:09 AM   #12
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Since we may wind up spending the next winter in the AS here in Ohio, I've been trying to gather information on winter living in a trailer. The dehumidifier (i.e. sinktop one from CW) may help with the humidity, but doesn't with fresh air.

A trailer is a relatively small volume, so you need some form of air exhange just to breath healthy air, much less deal with humidity. And you need an air inlet and air outlet. This also lets water saturated warm air out and cold air in, which will be relatively dry when it's warmed up. Simply done by convection, this is a roof vent cracked open where hot air will escape and pull cold air in from another source, i.e. a slightly open window. Problem with this is the draft it can create.

Ideally, air replacement is done with an air to air heat exchanger which warms the incoming air with the heat from the outgoing. But this isn't practical in a trailer.

The cheaper, but less efficient, route I've seen for getting fresh air into homes is to run an air duct from the return air plenum to the outdoors, so this air is heated or cooled and dehumidified before being circulated in the house. Using this method, stale air escapes the home through the bathroom and range hood vents. The problem with doing this with a trailer would be that the duct would have to be run quite a ways from the furnance, where outdoor air would be contaminated with combustion products.

I've thought of an intake flue somewhere else in the trailer (away from gas appliances) with a light bulb in it, to warm incoming air in order to minimize drafts... and using this in conjunction with a partially open ceiling vent at the other end of the trailer, since the hottest air, holding the most moisture is at the ceiling.

There are obvious things you can do to reduce humidity, such as using the bathroom and range hood vent when showering or cooking, cooking with lids on pots, etc. And regardless of what you do to get humidity down, condensation on single pane windows is still going to be a problem (and result in water stains on curtains, walls, and furniture), so the plastic film over the inside of the windows is a good idea.

The water pipe and hose will have to be protected to down below the frost line with electrical heat tape and insulation, as will the drain valves for the holding tanks, the sewer hose, and sewer pipe above the frost line. Skirting around the trailer will protect the tanks and the bottom of the trailer from the effects of wind chill.

Anyway... these are a few lunchtime thoughts on wintering. I'm sure Femuse, as well as Rubyslipper, have more tips than this since they're experienced with FT living.
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Old 04-23-2003, 10:49 AM   #13
 
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Small "dumb" things that increase humidity in the air:

do not- ever- cook spaghetti in the winter. You can see see the hygrometer needle shoot up. Don't use the stove, use oven & microwave.
I have been using a pressure cooker made for microwave. When you open it, there is practicaly no steam left.
Small stuff like that make a big difference.
Mike likes to take hot -very hot- showers: that's not good.
Here is how I shower (PIX available on Halloween):
we have a bucket in the bathub, with a bucket seat from Sears. I pour water in a big metal bowl in the sink and use it to shower.
The difference: after Mike takes a shower, you cannot see a thing in the mirrors. Not so when done my way.
And when you do that at home, it's good practise when you have to boondock, like we often have to do at festivals. With a 25 gallons (I think) fresh water tank, for up to 6 days, that's a lot of plastic jugs to carry, sometimes on foot, up-hill,... Gives you great habits afterwards.

You learn little things like that over the years.

Again about oil filled radiators:
Mike's 82 years old mother decided late November to come and see an eclipse and meteor shower. We warned her about bellow freezing temp. we had had several nights.
She stays in our #1 (1971 25'). We have not used the furnace in there for years and did not want her to have bad surprises in the middle of the night. So, the only source of heat were 2 oil filled radiators. She ended up turning them way down at night. This is in a trailer which had very little work done to make it livable in winter. OK, it went down maybe only to 30 at night. But, basicaly, no drapes, leaky window seals,.....
You don't have to heat the "whole" place. We put one under the table and wheel it in the bedroom at night. Works fine and it's clean and 100% safe.
I am sure tips, small and big will come back to us.
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