Spending our first winter living tiny in Ohio has taught us some hard and fast lessons about surviving the snow and negative temps when your house is on wheels. This winter has had record breaking negative wind chills that were set back in the 1800’s. This is not a drill. We found ourselves in real-life survival mode.
In hopes that others will be better prepared for their wintry life on the road, here are four tips to staying toasty in the winter in a camper, RV, or tiny house on wheels [THOW].
Feature photo: Jenna Spesard of Tiny House Giant Journey
Heat Your Hoses
In the first two weeks of winter alone, we suffered frozen pipes, a frozen spicket, and frozen drainage hoses. This resulted in having no water at all for two weeks. Friends, we have two kids and a dog living with us so this posed an incredible challenge with daily temps hovering around -15.
We carried our water in, kept bottled water and gallon jugs on hand, made bath time fun after heating water on the stove, and learned to save even more water than we had been before. While this was an inconvenience, we did appreciate the lesson in conservation.
The frozen drainage hose resulted in an explosion that was a less than savory situation. This is where investing in quality equipment up front is worth the money. We only use THIS type of hose since then and they are our number one recommendation.
Before you have the same issues, be sure to keep water on hand and plan ahead. We bought a heated hose which was a total game changer. We tried to avoid the investment but since making this purchase we have had beautiful flowing water every day. They are available in 25, 50 and 100-foot lengths and arguably one of the best investments for winter on the road.
Insulate, Insulate, and Then Insulate Again
When building your THOW, you should consider insulation as a valuable expense during the planning stages. You can use everything from spray foam to fiberglass, wool to denim. Be sure to check the R rating on whatever you decide to go with because this will tell you what temperatures your house will be able to handle. You need to also ensure that the undercarriage is insulated or you will suffer from cold feet and freezing floors.
After you’ve chosen the right insulation in the walls, or if you are buying used, your pipes should be the next thing you protect. We went with a sturdy foam pipe insulation with a silver R-rated heat tape for our pipes. This allowed our water to flow freely.
The toughest thing to tackle is underbelly insulation. If you are on the road, the best investment is skirting because it goes on easily for when you park and comes off when you’re ready to ride again. However, if you are going to stay stationary for the winter months, using a more structured form of insulation is best. Many recommend hay bails or wood, but we were worried about the fire hazard involved. We used 1 1/2″ insulated foam board like THESE and measured around the bottom of our rig. These cut easily and can be affixed to your THOW or simply wedged underneath.
No Matter What, Stay Dry
Many THOW owners find a learning curve involved when it comes to proper ventilation and windows. If your tiny isn’t vented properly, condensation can build up inside single-paned windows or in between panels of double-paned. We ended up having to scrape frost and ice from the inside of our tiny before we learned how to prevent this.
Do not leave anything up against windows because that tends to attract more moisture. Additionally, be sure if your windows are not well-insulated, that you use insulated bubble paper to cover them (we did this on the inside and outside of windows that wouldn’t dramatically reduce our sunlight). This will drastically improve your ability to keep heat inside.
Once your windows are covered, you need to be sure your fridge isn’t working overtime. Whether your THOW runs from propane, electric, or solar, the winter can take its toll. So be sure you pay special attention to set temps correctly and not overfill a small fridge.
We ended up losing a freezer full of food to ours defrosting because of this very thing. We ended up storing our frozen goods in a cooler full of snow (because we’re classy) until it was fixed. This is an easily preventable trouble so avoid it if you can.
Optimize Your Heat Sources
When planning your build, consider your heat sources with the larger expenses. A heat/ac split can be costly but it may make a difference over time. We went with propane as our primary heat source but ended up with a slow leak that could have been very dangerous had we not caught it in time.
We also use small space heaters that are safe and efficient to not overwork our heating system. These heaters, paired with heating blankets (30% off HERE) on our bed and our kids’, have proved to keep us tucked in and toasty throughout the snow-covered nights. Click HERE to get the one we use for over 75% off!
Have A Plan B
Whether your alternative route includes showering at your gym or having an outhouse and a wood stove, you need to consider these things if you plan to live full time in a THOW during winter.
We didn’t have anything lined up so we had to come up with a plan B on the fly when we had frozen pipes and no heat. We did laundry at my folks’, showered at the gym, and bought extra space heaters while our propane was being fixed.
Brynn Burger lives tiny, loves big, and laughs always. Writing with honest hilarity and violent vulnerability about parenting, adulting, downsizing, living tiny, and raising an extreme child is her attempt to escape the painful isolation that comes from a life of hiding to instead connect with people who are raw and real. Check her out at www.themamaontherocks.com.