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Surviving An Extreme Cold Snap in an RV...

It's been a rough few days here. RVs don't do well in extreme cold - not that much of anything else does either. Several stores in the area closed due to frozen pipes, draw bridges in the area froze, and stopped working, and friends in the area with "brick and mortar houses" were having their own issues too.


The forecast for last Friday night was for a low of -14° with wind gusts up to 50mph! Wind chills were in excess of -50°. Who in their right mind goes "camping" in that kind of weather? No one, really, unless you're full-timers like us and living in the Northeast - so, THIS is your HOUSE!


So far this winter, our Outlaw has done okay in the cold temperatures. Even when temperatures have dipped into the low 20s, we've been able to maintain 70° inside without too much trouble. That's been helped by hanging thermal curtains behind the cab area and at the sliding doors leading to the garage. Adding rubber backed floor mats has also helped keep the floor warmer by a few degrees.


But, last Friday, when the temperature plummeted into the low teens, the first signs of trouble started. While the water heater was on, water coming to the faucets was just luke warm. Our water lines in the coach run under the shower, dresser, and the stairs to the Sky Bunk (bedroom). I removed a dresser drawer, the access panel under the shower, and the floor to the storage bin under the stairs to get some air flow back there. I used a fan to blow warm air through that access area to help keep the water lines from freezing. I had previously added an electric space heater in the "wet bay" to try to help keep the pipes in the "basement" warm down there if we lost the furnace.


As temperatures dropped into the single digits, the furnace stopped maintaining 70°, slowly dipping into the low 60s. I isolated the kitchen from the living room by opening the bathroom door and turned on a space heater to keep the living room more comfortable. With the furnace thermostat in the kitchen, set into the 70s, the furnace ran almost continually, maintaining around 60° in the kitchen.


As the outside temperatures hit negative numbers, the furnace started to have trouble. It would occasionally sputter - as if we were out of propane - but we had plenty. The cold temperatures were reducing the pressure of the propane in the lines to the point that the furnace wasn't getting enough propane to consistently generate heat. The colder it got outside, the more the sputtering happened. Hot water was no longer flowing, but cold water was still available.


The low temperature recorded for the night was -17°F. The thermometer in the kitchen was reading in the low 50s. The furnace was barely working at this point, allowing the water line to the fresh tank to freeze. We had 80 gallons of fresh water in the tank, so that would take more time to freeze, but we were completely without running water at this point.


The other thing was that scary is that the trees above us were frozen in the extreme cold, and the high winds were occasionally causing tree branches to tear off of the trees. Large branches would loudly crack and thud to the ground. Thankfully, we didn't get hit by anything big.


Another item in the "good news" column was that we never lost electricity! The electric heaters were still working, and the electric blanket in the Skybunk kept us warm. The living room was also reasonably warm thanks to the electric heater in there.


Waking up Saturday morning, temperatures were still in the negatives but slowly climbing. As temperatures warmed up closer to 0°, the furnace started to behave again as the propane was flowing more freely. With the furnace working, the lines from the fresh water tank to the water pump eventually thawed, and we had cold running water again. Hot water was still not flowing.


I tried several things throughout Saturday to get the hot water flowing again, but to no avail. Outside air temperatures peaked at 7°, and eventually started to drop back to zero, but the temperatures never went below zero. The furnace worked all night, and the cold water stayed running.


Waking up Sunday morning, the RV was nice and warm. The outside temperatures had climbed into the high 20s, and the extra heat was thawing things out rapidly. The hot water was also flowing again!


So, the cold snap is finally over, and 37° now feels like springtime! So far, we haven't found any real damage to the water system. My biggest concern was the water heater cracking, but thankfully, even though the pipes to the water heater froze, the water heater itself did not.


My new project will be a way to deliver more heat to the water lines to the water heater. Getting in there to insulate them in a conventional sense appears to be problematic, as Thor kindly built all of the dresser, the stairs, and the shower around them. In order to gain access to pipes, we may have to remove all of these items just to access all of the water lines. Instead, I'm considering adding a dedicated heating system that can be turned on in extreme weather and adding vents so that the area can be warmed somewhat by ambient room temperature at other times.



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