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WINTER SLIDE SHOW
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 Surviving Winter P1 - Dealing with freezing weather, snow, ice and wind

Introduction

     If you've thought about spending the winter in your bus there are a few things you should know before venturing into winter's wonderland. Blurting into a winter season on a whim unprepared can have disasterous results. As I write, it's -6F and we are embarking on our third winter season (1 in NJ and 2 in UT). No that doesn't make us experts or experienced cold weather adventurists. I'm sure others have braved worse. Our stays have taught us a few things from the school of cold knocks that I think are worthy of sharing. In that spirit it is hoped the information contained herein will help make someone else's stay go smoother than ours did. The goal here isn't to turn a winter stay into an adventure, debacle or nightmare. It's more about intelligently anticipating the effects of what winter throws at you, perking up your bus and thus staying comfortable during the tough months. Knowing how to properly deal with freezing weather, snow, ice and high winds will also help you stay safe and avoid costly repairs. A good winter experience to include comfort and safety means pleasant memories and leaving the winter season door open as a destination option. And I like options. Yes surviving winter has its challenges and it isn't for everybody. I'd hazard a guess that most people would walk away from such a situation. But you are here reading perhaps as one of those few exceptions. If you find yourself wanting easy access to alpine skiing, nordic skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, etc on an extended stay basis you may find a few pearls of wisdom here.

     This is important! I'm not selling the concept of a winter stay by any means. Be warned that it's a dangerous proposition that can turn ugly with any sudden cold snap, bad storm, system failure or sickness. These cautionary notes are designed to make you think twice about a winter stay. If you have any reservations, please stay where it's warm and remain within your comfort zone. If you don't like winter sports there probably isn't much point in suffering through the cold. That said, if you do venture into winter's grasp do so at your own risk. Take full responsibility for that decision and also for any consequences that might occur. There are lots of things to think about and problems to solve. Many solutions exist leaving each one of us the freedom to create our own workable approach. Exercise that freedom with intelligence and in a responsible manner. That means if your dog knocks the cheap Walmart heater into the sofa and sets your bus on fire, blame yourself for being stupid. If you hurt others and/or destroy property that's also your complete responsibility. There's no fool more foolish than the clever fool.

     If you're looking for that click, click, bing, bang, boom, 1-2-3, easy, quick, cheap winter preparation list please stop reading now and move on. It isn't going to happen here or any other place for that matter. Good preparation takes time, effort and costs money. All three of these resources need to come together in just the right way. If any one is missing or short, you'll compromise the integrity of a good winter survival plan. And a good winter survival plan isn't easy, quick or cheap. I still can't understand why anyone would buy a cheap fire extinguisher. But knuckle heads do all the time. Some of us learn the hard way just how expensive "cheap" products can be. The safety decisions you make or don't make affect those around you. Look beyond the moment and become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be smart, be considerate and be safe.

Money, Cost & Quality

     Although a winter survival plan isn't cheap it is affordable for many budgets. It's up to the reader to scale the economics of a survival plan to meet their own budget. Save money in intelligent ways and don't compromise safety. Don't just run out and buy the cheapest stuff you can find. As previously mentioned, cheap can turn out to be very expensive. Cheap crap can endanger your life and the lives of those close by. Avoid purchasing junk! Watch out for products that are mislabeled or underrated. When safety is involved always buy the best. If new is too expensive try to find something used. Keep in mind that reducing heat loss saves heating dollars. Managing heat sources efficiently also saves dollars. Some of the initial cost of a proper setup will come back over time in energy savings. Plus doing your part not to waste resources is always a good idea.

Mythical Winter Rating

     As a rough guideline most buses will be comfortable between 35F and 85F with stock equipment. At the low end of this range nothing freezes so little if any attention need be paid to avoiding damage from freezing. True winter climates dish out temperatures far below 35F. For example, our winter stay in UT exposed us to temps all the way down to -14F. Days would go by not seeing anything above 0F. This kind of cold can and will cause problems. Some buses have been rated by the manufacturer for freezing temperatures. I've often said believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see. Even though our bus was rated for freezing weather operation, we've had issues. This will reveal itself as you move through the article.

What Is Winter?

      Aside from the two calendar dates that bracket a winter season, winter usually means cold for those in the snowy climates. In some northern areas cold means bitter cold. Also expect high winds, blizzards, ongoing snow, freezing rain, ice, power outages and drifting. Another complication of certain areas is a freezing/melting cycle. In other words, ice/snow freezes at night and melts during the day only to freeze again at night. Melting means water is flowing somewhere. This seems innocent enough except that water expands when it freezes. Water can enter a small crevasse then freeze causing a bursting effect. This freeze burst opens a crevasse wider only to allow even greater amounts of water to get in during the next melt. It's a vicious cycle that can cause significant damage. Unless a careful inspection is undertaken these little cracks may go unnoticed. It starts as drip, drip and drip. Then the larger cracks form. If let go until water stains, rot and mold are visible the repairs can get expensive. In really cold weather certain repairs may become impossible.

A Black Art

     Let's explore the concept of what "most people" are doing and how that drives markets and product availability. In the case of winter stays in your bus, most people aren't doing this. Hence forth, few if any dedicated products are available for those that find themselves staying the winter on wheels. Solutions to winter survival problems then come from improvising, innovating and adapting. Products never intended for a winter survival plan are pressed into service in unique ways. Living in a bus means you exist somewhere between home ownership and commercial vehicle operator but never really having a strong presence in either domain. Truck drivers hate us and Home Depot associates don't know what we're talking about. Many of the dedicated products we need to solve winter problems aren't available. It can be frustrating. Under the cover of innovative engineering, we purchase or acquire a "best fit" product(s) from the usual mainstream sources. Some of those products get pushed outside recommendations which brings up warranty, safety and liability issues. In some cases usage is deemed so dangerous no one wants to talk about it or recommend it. A lot of factors contribute to danger and the biggest one is operator error. Kerosene heaters were safe until ghetto inhabitants used them behind sofas. Hair dryers were safe until people started using them in the shower. I mention this to draw attention to thinking about safety when dealing with heat sources, combustable materials, water and electricity. A winter stay will find you dealing with all of these things. Also think about someone else's safety too. Closet innovations and junkyard engineered solutions can open the door for safety issues to arise. I hope this article will shed some light on important details, highlight dangers and improve safety along the way. The printed word can only go just so far, however.

Physical Requirements

     It's my opinion that life on the road is somewhat physically demanding at times. I've certainly found this to be true during our winter stays. Shoveling snow, breaking ice, climbing around on slippery surfaces, making repairs and getting snow off the roof of the bus isn't for the infirm. It also helps to have a second pair of able hands when the sledding gets really tough. For example, the high wind storm that ripped the canopy off our bus needed two people to effect repairs. It was one of those cold weather 12 foot ladder repair jobs that needed to get done quickly before the next storm. Sure you can call someone and write the check but outside repair services can't always respond quickly. If and when someone does show up, you hope they speak English. In some areas those services just aren't available at any price. In a pinch you pull the slide in and wait - losing living space in the process. I mention this because it illustrates what can happen during a winter stay. In our case, fixing some rotted thread (in warm weather) would have avoided the whole mess. We missed this one which caused an easy repair to become more difficult. It's a good idea to make sure you're up to these tasks before the weather turns ugly. Once you get it parked and the snow comes, bailing out to a warm climate may not be a viable option. We don't drive our bus in the salt and I suggest you don't either.

Winter Driving - It's A Bad Scene

     If timing and schedules permit, I strongly suggest avoiding driving your bus on salty roads. Aside from the obvious dangers of winter driving, salt spray and dust can do severe damage to wiring, seals, undercarriage, hose connections and just about every other thing it comes in contact with. Once the dust and spray penetrate it's very difficult to remove it. Detrimental affects occur slowly over time primarily as rust and corrosion. Very few of these vehicles are designed to resist the ravages of salt. Once exposed, a thorough washing of the engine compartment, body, undercarriage, roof, bay doors, gaskets, and any other affected compartments should be done immediately. In cold weather this task usually isn't practical or flat out impossible. It's just a lot easier to avoid this situation in the first place.

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Dug Out In Park City, Utah 12/8/2009 10F Degrees

 


Typical 4 Slide Layout On A 40' Bus


A Leak Led To This Floor Damage


Least Favorite Of Winter Tasks


Hydro-Hot Heating Unit


Puddling Water Will Turn To Ice


Window Washer on Long Pole Clears Snow


Possible Reason For Winter Stay


Tying Down A Topper Awning

 

Cold Affected Exterior Items
The table below lists a collection of items that are affected by cold freezing weather. Consideration should be given to each one to ensure that things will run smoothly throughout your winter season. Depending on your bus and installed equipment some items might not apply. In that same vein, a specific bus might need some attention paid to areas not listed. Be thorough, careful and complete. It's best to have a good working knowledge of your equipment, options and situation. Know too the affects cold weather will have on all of them. What's presented below will give you a general idea of the candidate winter problem areas. I'll go through each item listed below in reasonble detail below this table.
Water Connection(s) Fresh water freezes at 32F. Exposed hoses, valves, pipes and connections need to be heated. Freeze ups cause damage and prevent water flow. Leaks can create ice skating rinks under your bus.
Water Softener If you have one, it needs to be heated to avoid freezing.
Electrical Connection Protect service entrance cable from snow and ice. Metal blade shovels can cut into the cable's sheath. During shoveling, cables buried in snow are hard to see and find.
Waste Connection Sewage is mostly water. Your sewer hose will freeze preventing proper tank drainage. This hose doesn't need heating if it's drained completely. Snow shovels can easily punch a hole in this hose.
Slide Bottoms Slide floors aren't insulated. Insulating the bottom will help prevent that "slab of ice feeling" on your feet. It also helps save on heating dollars.
Hydro-Hot Intake Port If you have a Hydro-Hot unit, make sure its intake doesn't become snowed in. Other problems loom as well.
Topper Awnings These take a beating from snow and ice. Proper care and maintenance can avoid most headaches in the dead of winter.
Caulk Beads It usually starts with a few drips of water that go unnoticed. Most buses have hundreds of feet of caulked joints. Make sure they are all water tight.
Refrigerator Vent (Lower) Vents mean a place for cold air to enter. In winter, cold air can freeze the ice maker's water lines and control valve body. Freeze ups mean possible cracks, leaks and damage. In severe weather gas absorption units might not work properly causing possible damage to the refrigeration components.
Windows Windows can collect snow which melts in the sun. The melt water runs into cracks and joints causing a bursting effect when it freezes at night. These leaks are hard to find.
Cracks & Leaks On Roof Any cracks can allow water to enter. Water then freezes and expands the cracks allowing more water to enter. Even the smallest crack can become a problem during an extended winter stay.
Diesel Fuel Diesel fuel will gel in very cold weather making it difficult to pump. Make sure you use an additive or the local winter blend. Too much air space in the tank can lead to condensation, frost and water. Keep tank as full as possible.
AC Generator Make sure it starts and runs in cold weather. The genset will be your backup when utility power goes down. Being without AC power for more than an hour in cold weather can create problems. Especially if you are supplementing your heat with electricity.
Battery Banks They will freeze if not fully charged. Make sure your charging system is in good working order. Having an external battery charger as a backup isn't a bad idea.
Emergency Power Cord If utility power goes down your external plumbing heat will need to be powered from your genset. Install a circuit for this just in case. In really cold weather freeze ups can occur in an hour or less.
Service Entrance Ports Stuff these with glass insulation to plug air gaps. This keeps out cold, snow and vermin.
Engine & Transmission Start your engine and allow it to warm up once per month. Cycle transmission to allow fluid to run through it. Get it hot enough to drive off moisture.
Leveling The Bus Water that collects on the slide tops will follow a path down hill. Check your HWH level sensing board if your bus is so equipped.
Entrance Door Moisture can collect inside the entrance door and freeze the locking mechanism.
Water Lines Inside water lines that run close to an outside wall may freeze. Do you know where they are?

Water Connection(s)

Water Stand Pipe With Heater Installed

    Most people will require four utilities, three of which are usually made available where you are held up for the winter. Utility connections include water, waste and electricity. These days I refer to the internet as the fourth utility and it isn't covered here. Winter stay parks, resorts and campgrounds will make their water service available through a special heated stand pipe (see photo at right). When the valve on this stand pipe is closed, water drains down below the frost line. Make sure not to unplug the heater when drawing water. Make sure you deal with any extended power outages by closing the valve or providing an alternate source of power to the heater. You'll need to heat and insulate the water hose that runs from this valve to your bus. One method is to use a thermostatically controlled heat wire like the one Frost King manufactures. Run this parallel to the hose and cover both hose and heat wire with a length of pipe insulation (Frost King makes that too). Use the softer more flexible pipe insulation albeit more expensive. Spiral wrapping of the heat wire isn't necessary. Make sure the thermostat is exposed to the outside air. It's helpful to include a Y connection on the valve so an extra water source can be gotten without disturbing your main water connection. Make sure all exposed piping and fittings are heated and insulated from the cold. A typical setup can be seen just to the left of the stand pipe valve (see photo above). Some insulation has an adhesive to close the slit. In really cold weather this adhesive won't work. Some tapes won't work either. Try to get your water connection(s) setup before the really cold weather hits. Make sure nothing leaks and inspect it often. Fix as required. Make sure the insulation is tight and no plumbing is exposed to the cold. DO NOT bunch or pinch heat wiring. Make sure that heat wires don't touch themselves or touch any other heat sources. Check, review and inspect your work making sure not to cause any situation that might lead to over heating, fire and a melt down. Your specific setup, choice of products and any damages caused by poor judgement is your responsibility. The setup shown here has worked well down to -14F.

Using Plastic Trash Cans For Protection

     I've installed GFI outlets on the bus in both the driver side and passenger side storage bays. If the service entrance box is up to code it too will have a GFI outlet available. These provide ground fault protected AC power for outside loads where water might pose an electrical safety hazard. DO NOT run any power outside around water without GFI protection. In winter I plug an extension cord (15A rating) into the driver side GFI outlet for emergency power taken from the genset. This extension cord runs neatly out of the storage bay with the main service entrance cable. Some power outages have lasted in excess of 5 hours. In really cold weather at night things can begin to freeze within an hour. Plugging in the heat wires to the emergency power outlet allows them to run from the genset. Our refrigerator has an audible "no power" alarm should power go out during sleeping hours. You'll need to do a manual change over if your heaters are plugged into the utility box. Having a preinstalled extension cord makes that job easier. As a last resort, you'll need to shut off the water service valve and drain out your water connection(s). If power goes out when the bus is unattended you're SOL as they say. If you have a good battery bank and inverter, as we do, you can keep the heat wires plugged into your emergency power cord. The heat wires aren't more than a few hundred watts and our inverter can run them off the batteries for 3-4 hours. Keep in mind hooking things up in this way means a reduction in the total amperage available to your driver's side house outlet circuit. A toaster or hair dryer load on that circuit might well pop your 15A breaker. Also you can ruin flooded lead acid batteries by discharging them too much. Most inverters protect against this but make sure before you proceed. When running extension cords keep them out of water. If a connection gets water soaked it will pop the GFI breaker causing a loss of power. Lost power means no heat and no heat means freeze ups. And this can all happen without you noticing, that is until the water service freezes up and you lose water. If you freeze up the stand pipe and bust it the park, resort or campground might charge you for repairs. A water leak can also cause an ice skating rink to form under your bus. Be smart, safe and stay on top of things.

Water Softener - Optional

Improvising A Water Softener Heater

    As you move around, you'll find water quality will vary significantly. For example, Arizona had some of the worst water we've ever seen. In a couple of months it destroyed a good quality garden hose spray nozzle. A testimony to the damage caustic minerals dissolved in the public water system can inflict. On the other hand some states treat their water to avoid this. Our stay in Colorado found us with excellent water quality. Unless you purchase a hardness kit to test the water you may not have any idea of the damage index. Bad water can raise hell with brass fittings, valve seats, faucet seals, nozzles, clothes washer internals and the hot water heater to name a few. If you have a Hydro-Hot system, bad water can plug the heat exchanger which is a very costly repair. Our solution was to use a portable water softener (see photo at right) to remove the problem minerals. Perhaps using a specialized filter would accomplish the same purpose with less hassles. Pick what works best for you. If your solution includes a volume of water exposed to the cold you're going to need to keep it from freezing.

     The water softener needs to go between the water source and your bus. This means extra hoses, fittings, heater, connections, effort and expense. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on hooking up the softener and servicing it. What isn't in the instructions is how to keep the unit from freezing in cold weather. The best approach would be to put it inside your plumbing bay which stays above freezing. This wasn't an option in our case because there isn't enough room. Instead, I used a Frost King 60' single heat wire. Keep in mind this wire is designed for roof and gutter heating to avoid ice dams and not for what's shown here. Proceed at your own risk when devising a solution or implementing this one. It's important that heat wires don't touch themselves. If that happens excessive heating, damage and possible fire can occur. You'll need to wind the wire in a near perfect helix around the tank making sure space is left between each loop. I used a good grade of film wrap to hold everything in place. The goal is to avoid adjacent wires from coming in contact with one another during the installation and thereafter.

Make Sure To Heat Fittings & Valves

Make sure to leave some extra wire to wrap the connections and control valve on top (see photo at right). Do this in a way that you can service the softener without damaging the heat wires. The Frost King product used here doesn't have a thermostat. DO NOT run this heating system without a thermostat control as it will over heat. One option to solving this problem is a line voltage thermostat like the ones used to control baseboard electric heat in houses. Keep in mind these are for indoor use only so proceed at your own risk. Put the thermostat in contact with the wires and set it to 40-50F. Make sure all electrical connections are tight, safe and secure. It's also very important to leave a small air gap between the softener's heat wire wrapping and all insulated water connections. You want the heated softener to be standing in free air. DO NOT insulate the water softener. Make sure to place it under an upside down plastic garbage can for protection against the elements. You want to keep the thermostat out of rain, snow, ice and direct sunlight. You also want to keep the assembly out of the wind. Use a garbage can large enough in diameter to maintain an air space around the unit. Allow extra length on hoses so they comfortably exit out the bottom and aren't stressed, strained or pulled. Use two small cement blocks as a base to raise the unit up off the ground a few inches and keep it out of standing water. With the heater turned on, the softener's tank should be just comfortably warm not hot. Monitor this often for proper operation. Make sure all connections are tight and that no heat wires are overlapping one another.

     I've installed a Y connection on the outlet side of the softener. I also keep a short length of service hose connected. This comes in handy when backflushing and purging salt taste from a freshly recharged tank. In cold weather keeping routine tasks efficient means less time spent outside in freezing weather. How often you'll need to add salt depends on how bad your local water supply is. The more minerals the softener needs to remove the faster the salt charge will run out. Using more water also means more frequent salt replenishments. This system has worked down to -14F but requires monitoring and careful implementation. As of 11/2010 there is a product called the Thermo Cube which is a thermostatically controlled outlet which turns on at 35F and off at 45F. It's made by Thermo Cube, Inc. of Plymouth, IN. This might make controlling the heat wire an easier hookup. No experience or information is available with using this product, however.

     Shown at left are the water and waste connections running through access ports in the plumbing bay. Note the use of both pipe and fiberglass insulation to keep cold air out. A grommet is made from pipe insulation covering the perimeter of the hole. Then the space is filled with fiberglass insulation (pink and yellow) to make a tight seal. An optional drip pad has been included at 10 o'clock on the waste connection. Excess heat wire is shown continuing along the water hose. Less the pipe insulation, a spiral wrap keeps the heat wire with the hose. By varying the helix spacing you can easily adjust the path of the heat wire along the water hose. Closing up access ports is an easy, cheap and effective step in keeping out the cold. It also helps keep out destructive vermin looking for a winter shelter. Mothballs can be sprinkled around to further discourage an unwanted entrance by small animals. They can be highly destructive and difficult to remove.

Electrical Connection

Protect Service Entrance Cable With Pipe Insulation

    The electrical service entrance cable is relatively easy to setup for the winter. It isn't susceptible to damage from freezing and thus doesn't require heating. Even so the cable will get buried in the snow and can get nicked or damaged by a shovel blade or falling ice. Pipe insulation works well here (see photo at right) to protect the service entrance cable's sheath. If you hit into it with a metal shovel blade chances are good no damage will be done. Use the same insulation techniques described for water and waste to close up holes in the electrical entrance port. Orient the slit in the insulation down so water drains.

Waste Connection

     The waste connection drains both your black and grey water tanks. Although the connection on the bus side of the hose is standard, the other end can be anything from a nice screw on connection to a hole in the ground. The path from your bus to the site's waste connection will vary according to grade and distance. The ideal situation is to have the waste hose run down hill toward the site's connection in a straight decline. Connections on both ends should be tight and reasonably durable. Some places that offer winter stays will require a vinyl hose which is more durable. The Rhino hose has worked well for us but is delicate. A spare hose is kept just in case the active one craps out. Falling ice, brittle cracks from cold weather and shovel blades all represent potential hose failures. It's easy to step on the hose when it's buried in snow. Try to take into account all of the above when setting up your waste connection for a winter's stay.

     The waste hose doesn't require heating. Never leave gate valves open except when draining tanks. Make sure all water is "walked" out of the hose when the draining task is completed. This is especially true for those dealing with "uphill" sewer. Any water left in the hose will quickly freeze. Walking out water means carefully lifting the hose up at its source to create artificial height toward the drainage point. Water then flows toward the service connection and out of the hose. Move along as required to force all water to drain from the entire length of hose. This usually requires about 3 passes. If the hose is setup ideally, walking waste water out isn't required. Some people fashion a support from a length of vinyl drain gutter to accomplish a smooth steady decline. It's impossible to get all the water out and that's fine. Small amounts of water left in the hose will freeze in the bottom only to be melted with the next drainage cycle. If large full diameter water pockets are left inside the hose they will freeze and block flow. Getting a frozen hose thawed out in cold weather is no fun. Don't move the hose around with frozen water in it either as you can cause a leak this way. When picking up or putting down the hose, make sure no sharp ice will puncture it. Really cold weather will make plastics brittle and more prone to cracks. Work quickly while the hose is still warm from drain water. If you have to reroute the hose run warm water through it first. If you are careful managing a waste water connection in cold weather it will work fine and won't leak.

     This takes care of your water, waste and electricity. Factor in common sense when creating solutions and adapting products for use in areas they aren't designed for. Until dedicated products come on the market, solutions will need to be improvised. Above all always make sure your setup is safe and won't present any dangers to you or anyone else. Inspect everything on a regular basis and after any significant weather changes. Make adjustments, changes and repairs immediately as required. As a community member it's your responsibility to always maintain safety and avoid accidents, injuries and property damage. I've always said, "If you want maximum aggravation, just be lazy now."

Slide Bottoms

Using Foamular On A Slide Bottom

     Buses equipped with slideouts offer occupants increased living space and many conveniences. Those conveniences and added living space all come at the cost of leaks, mechanical problems, increased heat loss, plumbing problems, electrical issues and added maintenance. Our bus has four slides and we've dealt with all of the above first hand on multiple occasions. In fact, we're still dealing with issues. For slideouts that provide sitting areas such as a kitchen or work table, the slide bottom (floor) must remain thin. This allows for better blending with the main floor of the bus and avoids abrupt edges as walking spaces transition from slide to main floor. In this slide area it is likely you'll find your feet planted on the floor while sitting at one of the included tables. This thin floor is exposed directly to outside temperatures and doesn't have any insulation in it. In cold weather this creates a "cold slab" within the living space which reduces comfort. Especially if your feet are resting on it.

     Using 2" Foamular insulation board applied to the slide bottom (see photos at right) makes a HUGE difference in heat loss. This board is available in 4'x8' sheets at home centers and isn't expensive. Many home centers will cut the board for you which is a good idea. The saw chips are very messy, stick to everything and are difficult to clean up. Cut panels can be installed by press fit and sealed with a good quality outdoor grade of tape. The

Foamular Panels On Slide Bottom

difference these panels make in reducing heat loss is striking. They won't create a toasty warm floor but will significantly reduce temperature gradients. Most tape adhesives won't stick well if at all in cold weather. Keep that in mind when chosing your installation time. If possible, get this setup in warmer weather before the really cold temperatures roll in. These panels will prevent the slide from being retracted which might present problems for some applications. It's a good idea to post a reminder note on your slide control that warns of removing insulation panels before operating the slide. It's an easy thing to forget about after a long winter stay. Evaluate the use of this insulation board carefully before installation. It might not be appropriate for your bus. Make sure to consider water drainage, ice and snow to ensure these panels won't be promoting damage of any kind. Again this is one of those cut and tape solutions of a product never intended to function as shown.

 

The Hydro-Hot System

Hydro-Hot Heating & Hot Water Unit

     The Hydro-Hot unit is a 12 VDC device that maintains about 4 gallons of a heat transfer fluid at 190F using the German Webasto diesel burner unit. The heat energy stored in the heat transfer fluid reservoir is used to make continuous domestic hot water and also provides hydronic heating zones. It's kind of like a radiator in reverse. If your bus has been outfitted with a Hydro-Hot heating unit you should be aware of some possible issues with its operation in cold weather, snow and ice.

     If your bus has been rated for freezing weather operation, some means of keeping the plumbing from freezing must be present. Specific methods for accomplishing this vary by manufacture. On Hydro-Hot equipped vehicles, the plumbing, tanks and heating unit usually occupy the same bay. The radiated heat from the heating unit keeps one side of the plumbing bay above freezing. A heat exchanger, run from the heating unit, is installed on the other side of the plumbing bay to furnish heat there. In theory this is supposed to keep the plumbing bay above freezing. In really cold weather (like -14F) a temperature gradient of 30F can develop across the length of the plumbing bay. Cold spots might also be present. If the hot side is at 70F the cold side will be around 40F and so on. Usually a thermostat is installed in the coldest area to kick on the heating unit if temperatures fall below 38F. Make sure you understand how the cold side of the plumbing bay is kept warm. Verify that it is, indeed, doing its job. If you're supplementing the hydronic heat with propane or electric heat the Hydro-Hot system might not run enough to keep the plumbing bay warm. If the cold side thermostat isn't working things might freeze and you know the rest. Our bus has sensors (not alarms) at both ends of the plumbing bay to constantly monitor temperature. You need to watch these. If the thermostat is working in the plumbing bay there should be no issues with freezing. It never hurts to keep an eye on these things and check operation regularly. My experience with RV products and designs has revealed them to be among the worst you'll see. Trust nothing, watch everything and double check systems.

Cheap Tank Level Switch On Hydro-Hot Unit. It Broke And Shut Down The Heat.

     The Hydro-Hot includes a spray nozzle and turbine style diesel burner very similar to the oil heaters found in homes. Make sure the air intake and exhaust don't get blocked up with snow, snow drifts or ice. The burner has a light sensor in it to detect a flame. If the ignition can't light the diesel spray for some reason the unit will shut down. You'll need to clear the fault and manually reset it. Our $8K unit also included a cheap plastic tank level sensor (see photo at right) that failed just after the warranty expired. When this switch breaks your heat will shut down. Losing heat when the cold side of the plumbing bay is at 38F means it won't take long before things start to freeze. Keeping fresh water in your tank will provide some thermal inertia and help slow the cooling rate. Without any heat, freezing temperatures will eventually invade the plumbing bay with disastrous results. It's a good idea to install a backup heat source in the plumbing bay like a thermostatically controlled electric heater w/fan. If you do this just make sure it doesn't pose a safety or fire hazard. Getting a backup heating plan in place before the break down occurs makes life easier. And you know the break down will happen in the middle of the night when it's freezing cold out. Remember that Murphy was an optimist.

Topper Awnings

Acrylic Fabric Topper Awning Protects Slide Top

     These are the acrylic or vinyl panels that supposedly keep the weather off the top of your slides. In doing so it's hoped that water stays out of the interior of your bus. Designs and installations of topper awnings vary by manufacturer with varying levels of effectiveness and quality. Carefree of Colorado is a popular brand and this is what is on our bus. I can't say I'm impressed with the quality. Certain nickel and dime cost cutting measures taken by the factory have left us needing to make inconvenient repairs. In other cases we've sustained unnecessary water damage. All of it translates to aggravation.

     Panels roll up on a spring loaded drum much like a window shade. The drum is usually mounted to the top outside horizontal edge of the slide. A metal cover protects the drum and two outrigger brackets provide support for the whole assembly. The rolling drum allows the awning to be self storing when the slides are retracted as the material rolls up on the drum. Acrylic fabric is more durable than vinyl but its porosity needs to be treated with special chemicals to make it water tight. If the fabric leaks or bleeds, then water drips onto the slide top and puddles along joints. Wind can blow puddles through slide gaskets which results in water getting into the interior. Since there's a space between the topper awning and slide top - snow can blow in, melt and create puddles that will freeze at night. Fabric is soft and pliable so it's prone to sagging which creates places for water to form small pools. Using ribs and supports may help this

Weight Of Water Causes Sags And Pools

situation but it's almost impossible to avoid it completely. Raising the center will cause water to flow back towards the bus. This results in dripping water right at the slide entrance gasket. The best approach is for the awning to be pitched away from the bus in a severe enough angle to promote reliable drainage. The tension of the awning needs to be tight enough to avoid large sags under the weight of water, snow and ice. Owing to conflicting design parameters, getting everything optimal to include a tightly stretched awning isn't usually possible so something suffers. Once a sag begins it's somewhat of a vicious cycle as water weight continues to stretch the fabric.

     303 Products, Inc. makes a product known as High Tech Fabric Guard which is a water repellent. It's $25 a quart and marginally effective in my opinion. This is basically a wax compound dissolved in a petroleum distillate. The distillate acts as the vehicle to conduct the wax into spaces within the fabric thus creating a seal. It needs to be applied in hot weather so the wax flows into the fabric properly and completely. My experience with the product is it doesn't really seal out water and what sealing it does doesn't last long. As the treatment weakens, water soaks into the fabric. The entrapped water freezes which opens up porosity in the fabric thus creating space for more water to soak in. During the daytime frozen water melts and bleeds through causing puddles of water to form on the slide top. In cold weather (40F) applying additional fabric treatments isn't an easy task and in really cold weather it just isn't possible. I've treated our acrylic awnings with multiple coats and have been unable to get them completely water proof. But High Tech markets their product as a water repellent so they're sort of off the hook. On a more vertical surface where water runs off I think you'd be fine. But topper awnings are more horizontal as shown by the photo above. Scotch Guard might be a better option but the original formula isn't available owing to environmental concerns. A water tight rubberized UV resistant fabric might be the best choice here. In the meantime, try to keep the fabric sealed as best possible and remove water, snow and ice on a regular basis. Monitor any water that is bleeding through the topper awning and remove as required. Watch where the puddles go and remove them before the drip, drip, drip starts.

     Carefree Of Colorado sells the small replacement topper awning for $175. And that's just the fabric. They don't seal it particularly well and the thread they use for stitching the seams isn't UV resistant. Thread rots out in a couple of seasons allowing the fabric to pull out of its slot on the bus side. Making repairs is a pain in the neck and I think this penny pinching design strategy is in very poor taste. It's known from the beginning that fabric and stitching will be left out to the elements and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect proper materials to be used. Especially at those prices! This is just another sneaky way of transferring the building/fabricating costs to the eventual consumer.

Heavy Snow Weighs Down A Topper Awning

     Topper awnings take another beating from the wind in the form of billowing. The unsupported topper edges and air space between the fabric and slide top allow wind pressure to build up. Billowing fabric comes from wind pressure unrolling the small amount of extra fabric remaining on the spring loaded drum. High winds can tatter exposed edges and unroll the extra fabric off the drum. When the wind gust ceases the drum will abruptly retract the fabric with a bang. It's hard on the fabric, drum, spring, beading, stitching, seams and mounts. Wind storms can produce gusts over 70 MPH that last for minutes or days. Repeated abuse from high winds for protracted periods of time will certainly do damage. Ripped fabric, shreaded stitching and broken mounts are the most common forms of damage. If rain is present with high winds water can violate the slide gaskets of an unprotected slide top. It's a potential mess and damage that's best avoided.

 

 

Tying A Topper Awning Down With Rope

     Three options exist that will help protect topper awnings from wind damage. The first and most obvious one is to retract your slide(s) on the windy side of the bus. Make sure awnings and slide surfaces are clean. If you've insulated your slide bottoms the insulation boards will need to be removed. Plan on losing some of your living space with this approach. I rate this option as the least convenient of the three. Number two requires that your topper awning be loaded down with a heavy snow block (see photo above). This usually will keep everything in place during a wind storm. If your fabric seals out water well this "do nothing" option might be the best choice. I try to remove snow and ice from the roof and topper awnings on a regular basis. That helps keep water out but also leaves the fabric free to billow in high winds. Option three is to use a tie down rope which works very well. It's reasonably quick and easy to do. Nylon rope works well but I'd imagine just about any rope will do the trick. This approach only works if you have something to tie the rope to. I use the slide rack mechanism underneath for securing the rope ends. This has worked in 70+ MPH winds and keeps the fabric from billowing, slamming and banging. These are just some suggestions that may or may not be appropriate for your situation. If none of these translates into a solution perhaps they will provide some ideas that are helpful. Some topper awnings have been designed properly, made well and don't suffer from any of the previously mentioned problems. Some buses don't use topper awnings at all. That said, it's best just to keep an eye on things to spot problems early before damage occurs. This is especially true if your winter stay includes freezing and thawing cycles induced by hot sun and nightly temperature dips below 32F. Dripping, running and flowing water by day followed by nightly freezing will burst caulk beads, backout screws, loosen seals, bend metal and create holes. Careful inspection to find these problem areas early in the season is effort well spent.

Caulk Beads

Rubberized Caulk Sealing Slide Joints

     Buses are just loaded with seams, joints, screws, gaskets, flanges and mouldings all of which present places for water to enter and do damage. A variety of caulking compounds are used to seal these areas up. Over time caulking can loosen and deteriorate so it's a good idea to inspect these areas regularly. The bursting effects of freezing water can damage caulk beads. In many cases failed caulking leads to a drip, drip, drip that you won't notice until carpeting gets wet and moldy. You may notice a part of your wall is soft. Perhaps you'll smell something funny. In our case water ran in on one of the electronic lighting control push button stations. Once the circuit board got soaked the lights went nuts creating a flashing disco effect throughout the bus. Corroded grounds are another water related problem and particularly difficult to find. Damage to interior wall spaces is also hard to detect. By the time water damage shows its ugly head, expect repairs to be difficult, serious and expensive. Like cancer, early detection is your best defense against serious problems. If you can anticipate the most likely problem areas before water gets in you'll avoid headaches. Slideouts are some of the first areas prone to leaks. We've encountered a variety of these and are still dealing with problems in this area. Slide designs vary by manufacturer and none of them are completely water tight. If there is a gasket, seal, bead or joint left unattended it's going to leak. And slideouts are loaded with these. You might say "slideout" is just another name for water's welcome mat.

Weep Hole Drilled In Bottom Of Slide Angle To Detect Water. Tape Can Be Used To Close Hole.

Mouldings and flanges exist in many places on the exterior of the body. Long runs of caulk are used to seal out water. If cheap caulk was used it certainly will fail leaving you to figure out where and when. Improperly fitting parts slobbered with caulk to hide poor quality workmanship are another area that should be inspected closely. Repairing these areas means removing the old caulk and applying new. DO NOT use cheap caulking products or those under rated for the sealing job. Industrial and marine products are usually safe bets. Although the terms marine grade and industrial strength may appear on the label chances are a $3 tube of caulk purchased from Walmart is neither. Buy caulk from industrial and professional sources. GE, 3M, Dow Corning, DAP and Sikaflex are usually good products. Some companies make cheap home owner versions of their industrial grade products. Expect to pay between $8 and $15 or more for a 10 oz tube of good quality caulk. Make sure the stuff is fresh and apply it well above the minimum temperature stated by the manufacturer. Petroleum based caulks like DAP 3.0 roofing sealer can be applied in colder temperature. For spot repairs a hairdryer can be used to bring up the temperature and decrease the set time. The chemistry of sealants is very complex so do your research and make sure the caulk is designed to adhere to the materials it's being used on. U/V resistance is a requirement and most outdoor rated products can handle prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, heat, wind, freezing temperatures and rain. But in today's market where label deception seems all too common an occurrence, do your homework.

Examples Of Caulk Beads
Body moulding is usually caulked at joints. Shown in the photo above are 5 beads.
Slides are a maze of caulked joints and gaskets. The slightest gap or hole in the wrong place will admit water.
Topper awnings connect with beading inside a channel slot. Many places exist for water to collect, drip and run inside. Notice the 5 caulking beads.
On some designs lap joints face up and are almost impossible to seal. A good grade of tape really helps tighten these areas. Notice the rust bleed from the screw head.

     Each bus manufacturer has different designs and those designs can vary with models as well. The bus shown in this article is a 2006 Country Coach 430 Allure series. Owing to poor design and sloppy workmanship we've had to deal with a myriad of problems to include caulking related water leaks. Solutions to the water leaking problems are generally easy to fix and inexpensive providing you know about them in advance. Once the water damage starts, repairs become difficult, inconvenient and expensive so make sure to inspect everything carefully to avoid costly remediation. Caulking repairs are best done in warm dry weather when working outside is easy and pleasant. If you are the lucky owner of a "Friday Afternoon" bus, take extra care to inspect it thoroughly for problems. Sadly little correlation exists between price and quality. Caulking beads can be tricky to find where the leaks are. This is especially true if they haven't progressed to the "visual evidence of water" stage. Small pin holes and lifting of caulk away from the substrate usually can't be seen. If you suspect problems just redo the joints to be on the safe side.

Refrigerator Vent (Lower)

     Many buses are equipped with a gas absorption refrigerator which must vent to the outside. Air flows into this vent (located on the outside wall behind the refrigerator) then up over the cooling unit and finally exits out a roof vent. Refrigerators with an ice maker require a cold water feed, shut off valve, control valve and water line that supplies the ice maker's mold. If this is within the vented space behind the refrigerator (and it usually is) it can freeze.

Water leaking from the refrigerator compartment streams down the side of this bus. It stopped after the entire water tank was pumped out. The pump ran dry thereafter. Norcold didn't wrap the body of the ice maker water control valve properly. An angular vertical crack is seen on the bottom section of the blue body just left of center.

The pictures above show a failure on a neighbor's bus. I caught this one on my way out and was able to get in touch with the owner but not before all the water in their tank was pumped out. This is a Norcold 1200LRIM refrigerator and its controls are right behind the cavity vent. Although Norcold does provide a heated wire wrap it wasn't installed properly. The day this happened it hit -10F at night which easily froze the unheated portion of the valve body (blue plastic in right photo above). This is a very common problem. You can install a plug expander for plugging in a light bulb to provide heat. I use a heating pad controlled by a Thermocube.

Windows

     Windows are another place for water to collect, pool, freeze and burst. Most used in RV applications are of extruded aluminum construction. The outside bottom channels have weep holes with plastic covers. Inspect these to make sure they are draining properly. Depending on how you are parked, one side of the bus may remain in the shade. This means no direct sunlight so expect different behaviors from water, snow and ice. Again the message is to keep an eye on your windows both in day and night so as to observe the complete freeze/melt cycle. Do so in both really cold and milder weather. Also inspect after any significant storms of rain, freezing rain and snow.

Cracks & Leaks On Roof

     The roof isn't easy to see unless you climb up on it. Thus it's an easy thing to forget about. When snow and ice collect on the roof it isn't a fun job climbing around up there. Inspection should be done in warm weather prior to a winter season stay. Most likely leaks will be found in the caulk beads. Soil stacks, mouldings, cap joints, shower skylights, antennas, air horns, satellite domes, wind sensors, wiring, brackets and vent fans all have caulk and represent a potential leak. Inspect all of these and "touch up" the caulk as required. Removing snow and ice is a good idea so to let the sun dry the roof off.

Diesel Fuel

     Diesel fuel is used by the Hydro-Hot system and diesel generator if you have these accessories. Feeds are taken from the main fuel tank off of a separate dip tube. This dip tube is raised off the bottom of the tank to avoid running the tank dry. As for the Hydro-Hot and genset feeds, when your fuel gauge reads 1/4 consider the tank empty. Diesel fuel is basically oil and it can gel in really cold weather. Fuel dispensed in cold climates is "winter blended" to avoid this problem. If you have a load of summer fuel in your bus that winds up running you into cold winter months, you might have problems. In our case, we run through about 25-30 gallons per month. Less if the weather is warm and more if it's cold. I'll park the bus (early October) with about a 1/2 tank of fuel and wait for the winter blend to arrive in November. I have an Aero Tec Labs 100 gallon pillow tank which I use to transport fuel. It's much easier to bring fuel to the bus than it is to clam up the rig and drive down to the local truck stop. This gets the tank full of fuel rated for cold weather. It takes a little experience to judge how many gallons to transport based on what the fuel gage reads. Obviously it's better to error on the side of a little less fuel. You can always make it up on the next fuel transport run. When the tank hits 1/2 full, I'll do another fuel run and so on throughout the stay's duration. Try to keep the air space in your tank to a minimum to avoid condensation. You can fill a window washer fluid jug 1/2 full of your diesel fuel and leave it outside (in shade) to monitor the effects of cold. I've inspected winter blend fuel at temperatures as low as -14F and there hasn't been any issues.

     Before winter hits you can put a small amount of diesel fuel in a closed container and put that in your freezer. A freezer is usually around 0-5F and will be a good way to test if what's in your tank (or available at the pumps) will gel when old man winter hits. That said, it's just best to get winter blended fuel in your tank as soon as possible. The first winter blend "top off" mixes with what's already in the tank and I've not had any problems with this. This is why I let the tank run down as much as possible before the first "top off". As you replenish used fuel during the season, the winter blend concentration will continue to increase.

AC Generator

     Most of the larger buses have an Onan diesel generator on board ranging from 8-10kW. Ours is an 8kW unit that burns just under 1/2 gallon per hour at idle and .9 gallons per hour at full load. It's the most expensive way to produce electricity so use it only as a backup power source. The other hassle is trying to figure out what the coldest weather is it will start in. I've started ours in 8F and it takes a good hour to warm up completely. I keep the electrical loads light until it has a chance to warm up. I also start the generator about every month as a routine to keep fluids moving and drive out any moisture. It's never a good idea to let engines sit for long periods of time without running them.

     In a winter's stay we usually experience several power outages. The longest one lasted for about 5 hours with typical outages lasting minutes to an hour. The point is to have your backup system (generator) ready to go as required. Your biggest exposure is the electricity required to keep your external plumbing heat working. I also have an inverter in my van which is good for 2kW should I need that. A long extension cord can be run from the van to the plumbing heaters. The plumbing heaters will draw less than 500 watts. I also keep an extension cord available that is plugged into the driver's side outlet circuit. The plumbing bay heat is diesel and 12 VDC (Hydro-Hot system). The hydronic heat for the living spaces is also diesel and 12 VDC. Although this heat alone won't keep the bus comfortable it is adequate enough to keep pipes from freezing unless bitter cold sets in. Make sure you've got good house batteries and they remain fully charged. Your house batteries will need to provide 15-20 amps to cover all the hydronic heating loads to include pumps, fans, electronics and turbine motor. You can light a stove burner for some extra inside heat in real emergencies. DON'T EVER leave your stove unattended or fall asleep with a burner lit. Some may have an external propane cylinder and brick heaters inside which should be more than adequate for even the coldest of temperatures. If they need electricity, you'll need to consider where that ultimately comes from.

Battery Banks

Battery bay showing house (white) and chassis (black) battery banks. Inverter charger is in top right compartment.

     Buses have house and chassis battery banks both of which are exposed to outside temperatures. What's important is to make sure that all batteries are fully charged to prevent them from freezing. Your inverter charger will take care of the house batteries but unless you have an echo charger or some other device managing your chassis batteries they may become discharged and freeze. AGM batteries have a higher shunt resistance meaning they will self discharge about 3% per month. An extended winter stay of 6 months may put unattended chassis batteries at risk. January and February are usually the cold months and full chassis batteries should be able to stand freezing temperatures for 2+ months. But why take chances. A battery bay can have $3K worth of batteries in it all of which could be ruined in one freeze up in one cold night.

     You depend on just one inverter charger to supply the energy needed to charge house batteries. The echo charger derives power from the house bank to keep the chassis batteries topped off. If your inverter charger malfunctions during a cold snap, what happens? And think about what happens if you lose your 12 VDC supplied by the house batteries. For starters, your heating system won't work which keeps the plumbing bay warm. Also your refrigerator won't work either as its control circuits need 12 VDC to operate. Other systems include leveling controls, safety sensors and alarms. On large Class A rigs figure about 250 watts of 12VDC power just breaks even on low voltage loads. That's about 21 amps give or take a little. It's a good idea to have (or be able to get quickly) a backup battery charger available just in case your main inverter charger quits for some unknown reason. As shown in the top right compartment of the photo above, I have a Magnum Energy pure sine wave inverter charger. The brand new unit puked a control board shortly after I installed it. Magnum sent me a replacement under warranty but it still was a time consuming repair. Luckily it happened in warm weather. That same repair in 0F would be unpleasant to say the least.

Emergency Power Cord

     As previously mentioned, if you lose utility power on a really cold day your outside plumbing heat goes dead. Freezing up can occur in a matter of hours. I installed two GFI outlets in the small storage bay. One outlet on the driver's side and the other outlet on the passenger side. These parallel the existing driver and passenger outlet circuits in the circuit breaker box. What this accomplishes is to have easy access to safe protected AC power on both sides of the bus. Aside from running power tools and Christmas lights, an extension cord comes in handy for plugging in your outside plumbing heat. This allows running the plumbing heat from the generator during power outages.

Service Entrance Ports

Use fiberglass insulation to fill voids in service entrance ports. Note pipe insulation used to make grommets.

     The service entrance ports are the holes provided in the plumbing and electrical bays to allow hoses and electrical cables to reach their destinations without leaving bay doors open. If your bus is setup like this openings are always larger than the hoses and cables that pass through them. The resultant air spaces around these ports allow cold air to enter during the winter. Vermin can also get in through these spaces as well. What I do is run a bead of pipe insulation around the flange to protect the screw cap threads. Any remaining space is then plugged with fiberglass insulation for a tight seal (see photo at right). Drafts owing to air leaks can create cold spots that can freeze water on really cold days. If you don't have a temperature sensor on the cold side of the plumbing bay use a thermometer to make sure everything stays above freezing. A small electric heater with a fan can be installed to help keep things from freezing. Some use an electric light bulb. A Thermocube can turn a supplemental heat source off and on automatically to save energy. I say about 200 watts of heat is a good middle ground to start with. Adjust up or down as required. How much extra heat (if any) is required depends on outside air temperatures, bay insulation, air currents to name a few. Extra footage of heat wiring might just be enough as shown wrapped around the water hose in the photo.

Engine And Transmission

     Engines and transmissions are made to be operated on a regular basis. We find ourselves staying 4-7 months in locations at one time. Because we transport fuel in we never have a need to drive the bus before we leave for our next destination. To keep fluids flowing and moisture away I recommend starting your engine once per month. Let it run long enough to reach operating temperature which is around 180F. If you want, bring the engine speed up to 1000-1500 RPM for 5 minutes or so. The transmission can be put in gear (D or R) during engine idle to build up heat in the torque converter, cycle control valves and move actuators. Let the transmission fluid get to 120-150F to drive off moisture, frost, snow and ice that might have accumulated. MAKE SURE your vehicle is in park and secure before engaging the transmission. DO NOT rev up the engine while the transmission is in gear. I also cycle the leveling system too by entering drive mode than releveling the bus. As a safety measure entry steps will retract when the engine is started. Make sure no ice has built up on the top step which might jam the mechanism when it attempts to retract. Also make sure no shovel handles are underneath fender wells or slide bottoms. When the bus comes back down from drive mode you don't want to break anything.

     Opinions vary about idling and running diesel engines just for stationary interval warmups. If you believe them to be detrimental, it might be a good idea to include a short drive somewhere. Personally, I think salt dust from winter roads is far more of a concern than an interval idle. Whatever you decide, weigh the pros and cons carefully. A last option is to do nothing during extended stays. My school of thought is a periodic warmup drives out moisture and relubricates internal parts where oil drains away. The heat from the engine also warms up the engine compartment which drives out moisture. Ice and snow gets melted out of the radiator as well. The bottom line is do what you are comfortable with.

Leveling The Bus

     Slide tops and the roof depend on a level bus to drain properly. If you have an HWH system it should check leveling every 1/2 hour and make adjustments. But it's a good idea to keep tabs on this. A bus that isn't quite level means water might run toward the slide gaskets and run inside. This is particularly a problem if ice dams have formed under the topper awnings or roof. It's important to inspect these areas on a regular basis until confidence is gained. Pick a countertop or some other fixed surface to use as a guide. I made a test level jig just for this purpose. A spirit level is another good tool for this task. The important point is to just keep track of your leveling. Our shower door begins to open on its own when the bus isn't level. When this happens I know to do a releveling. It appears the HWH system will attempt leveling by letting air out of the bags coming off travel mode. Once leveling can't be achieved by letting air out, the high pressure air compressor is used to inflate bags as required. So the bus slowly sinks then slowly raises itself to maintain a level situation. On occasion I get an "excess slope" for no apparent reason. I need to reset and relevel when this happens. I usually combine this with monthly engine starting cycles.

Entrance Door

     This one is a bit of a sleeper and somewhat inconvenient when it happens. In winter humidity goes down outside which creates a gradient through the walls. Moisture then migrates from high concentration (inside) to low concentration (outside) by a process called osmosis and diffusion. Sources of moisture are the human body, showers, cooking and burning propane. Moisture can't be eliminated completely but it's a good idea to try and cut it down. In extreme cases a dehumidifier will help remove unwanted moisture from the air. Your entrance door is just another wall as far as moisture is concerned with one important exception. It contains the locking and latching mechanisms required to get in and out of the bus. The door also contains an enclosed cavity that traps a volume of air. In really cold weather the inside of the exterior panel is below freezing. Moisture diffusing through the door will freeze on this surface and anything else inside the door that's below freezing. If you are parked such that the door gets direct sunlight, frost will melt and recondense in other places. Those other places include lock tumblers, levers, latches, automatic entry systems and alarm controls. When that condensed moisture freezes at night it can bind your lock. If this happens after you leave and lock up during the day, you may find yourself unable to budge the lock. It's also easy to break a key off in the lock.

     Our first season in winter didn't find us dealing with this situation. However, the second season was a different experience owing to a different parking space and less direct sunlight on the door. A gazebo blocked all but an hour or so of morning sun. This hour of sun wasn't enough to melt ice, warm the interior of the door and drive out moisture. Thus it continued to build up and eventually froze up the locks on a cold winter night. Of course it happened in such a way as to lock us out. The solution was to get a hair dryer from a local store, plug it in and heat up the door locks and latch. It took about 15 minutes or so to melt the ice and free up the mechanism. This is something to think about and plan ahead by having a heat source available outside if you need it. Locate (or create) a place to plug it in.

Water Lines

     We hit this one during a cold snap of several days between -9F and -14F. During the day it didn't get above 5F. Our parking space finds us with only one side of the bus in direct sunlight. The driver's side is the cold (shaded) side. There is one set of PEX water lines that run along the driver's side wall to the bathroom sink. These lines are enclosed in a wooden box that runs along the floor. This box creates sort of a hose and cable raceway in an air space that isn't part of the heated inside air. During those really cold days, temperatures fell below freezing inside the box and froze up the hot water line. I suspect this line was near or against the outside wall. Luckily the frozen section wasn't severe enough to burst the line or any fittings. I applied heat from a hair dryer for just a few minutes and the line opened up. Some extra heat in the form of a small forced hot air heater put inside the cold end of the plumbing bay would have avoided this. That heat would rise to warm the floor just enough to keep this enclosed air space from falling below freezing.

Conclusions

     This completes Part I which deals with the outside issues one might expect to face during a winter season stay. It's by no means exhaustive or all encompassing. I hope the article will get you thinking about your specific situation by illuminating our experiences and the lessons we learned. I hope it will also help you evaluate whether a winter stay is for you. If you do decide to go through a winter, perhaps the information presented herein will help you get better prepared. The point of a stay is to have fun and enjoy yourself and not get hammered by old man winter. Staying the winter months in a bus clearly isn't for most people. It also has its dangers that shouldn't be taken lightly. There certainly are many reasons to avoid it. But if you like to be close to winter sports and are willing to undertake damage control measures the whole winter experience can work. For us, it beats hotels, crowds, airports and the single week vacation window. As for cost, it's much cheaper to stay in a warmer climate.

     In Part II I'll be exploring the winter stay from inside the bus. There are lots of little things you can do to save energy, cut costs and improve comfort. Some of these are obvious while others are less so.