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Winter preparation for living in a trailer!

 
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Hey Ya'll,
Good friends of mine have recently left the city for their trailer on a few acres. They have now got out of their rental condo and are in the trailer full time. They have a few chickens and are rocking an awesome community garden as well as a few other fun things!
So here's the reason for the post. They want to live in the trailer full time. Winter will be apon us here in southern Ontario before we know it in all reality. What things can they do to help make the trailer more hospitable for the winter months? They are a family of 5, 2 teenage boys and a young daughter. I suggested strawbale skirting to keep the air from blowing around under the trailer. Any other ideas? I figured a 3 sided structure with a roof around the trailer to help keep the wind and snow off might help with the efficiency and heating factor. Figured I'd come here and see what you beautiful people had to say! Help me out and let's get these guys set up for the long winter ahead!!!

Thanks for any input guys and gals !! 😘
 
pollinator
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Your first ideas sound good.
I would have a good look at the underfloor and improve its insulation.
I cannot imagine doing what your friends have in mind.
Would strawbales stacked between your structure and the trailer be worthwhile?

This is interesting also;
living in a trailer in snow

And this;
RV in snow
PLEnty of supplies seems important.
 
gardener
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I grew up in Ontario and still have family there and winters have been getting crazier, so anything could happen.

1. I suggest they try to find out the prevalent wind and storm directions and try to get some protection up. A series of 2 or 3 snow fences to redirect snow and wind getting taller as it gets closer for example. Do they have time to build a nice big hugel? Are there trees already in good locations?

2. I agree with both the straw skirting and secondary roof and wall concept. They *need* to make sure their water lines and sewer lines don't freeze. I don't know how the prices for hay and straw are in Ont. these days, but I do know that some people have used bales to build winter housing walls for their animals and just added a roof (tied down of course). The bales would start decomposing in the spring, but if they're big on gardening, it will become soil and they either repeat next year, or have time to build something more permanent.

3. Another issue with storms is that most trailers don't have a good "air lock" into the home. Building an enclosed porch with windows for shaking off snow and to allow several people to gather before opening the main door would improve heating efficiency.

4. Make sure whatever changes they make that they don't block egress from bedroom/sleeping areas - fires in trailers get out of hand extremely fast if they happen.

5. Trailers tend to have issues with humidity build up, so they need to plan for that also. Five people breathing exhale a lot of water!

I wish them all the best. One of my friends once said that the kids who lived in trailers that befriended her kids were some of the nicest kids she met. Living in close quarters requires kids to learn good manners, and parents are usually close at hand, and the families seemed to have their priorities straight.
 
pollinator
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What sort of trailer are we talking about? A travel trailer or a mobile home?

It will be extremely difficult to keep the water lines thawed in a travel trailer in a Canadian winter, even the so-called four season ones.
 
master steward
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:It will be extremely difficult to keep the water lines thawed in a travel trailer in a Canadian winter, even the so-called four season ones.



So what is their water situation?  Are they hauling water in or do they have some sort of hookups? If they are hooking up to something the water lines could be buried or maybe stacking hay bales over them might work.

I suggest window film on all the windows, maybe even making curtains made out of towel type fabric for more insulation.

Using a product called "Damp Rid" will help with condensation problems.

Rugs on the surfaces without carpet.

They might consider getting some electric space heater to help with heating issues if they have electicity.
 
pollinator
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Hoop house! Over and around the whole thing.  Double poly with a blower if they are on grid, it keeps it warmer at night and stronger in the wind.  It acts as the airlock and a solar heater.

Extra propane tanks.  Maybe a woodstove in the hoop house.

Definitely echo that they take great care of their water and sewer lines.  I would build a sawdust toilet and plan the dry the water system for winter and bucket the water, too.
 
Anne Miller
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This post shows how one member build a cordwood structure around his trailer:

https://permies.com/t/80/32322/permaculture-projects/Camp#466056
 
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Hi there, I’m the Mother of the family who has moved into the trailer. Nice to meet you all and thank you for all of your suggestions.
Right now we have the straw bales for skirting, we are adding an insulated addition on the front as the air lock, plastic film over windows will be added and I’m making thick curtains as well. We have a dehumidifier and carpet to lay down on the non carpeted floors as well.
As for our water source we have a buried water line and insulated box for the pump which will also have a heat lamp and any parts of the lines will be insulated and we plan on having at least one tap on drip. We catch the grey water for gardens or anywhere else it can be used so no waist there. Our black water flows to a septic tank that gets pumped out but I do have a question about that...our trailers tank stays closed and we flush it every few days at the moment, come winter to avoid the trailer tank freezing I’m thinking to empty it daily. Does this sound right? For the calories barrier around the outside of the trailer...will this add to condensation issues? Building a 3 sided enclosure isn’t in the budget this year as we are already building the addition on the front.

Thank you all and any other advise is much appreciated!
 
Anne Miller
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Hi, Beth

Welcome to permies!

Sounds like you have most of your bases cover.

I can't remember how often to empty the black water tank in winter.  I do remember that some folks use a heater on the tank, either a tape or a pad.

Like this:

https://www.dyersonline.com/jr-30-x1-3-holding-tank-heater.html

 
gardener
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I am with Douglas, more information on the trailer would help. More information on the budget would help. The straw bale skirting is a good start. Take measures to prevent frozen pipes.  I would go after the roof next. The best bet would be to get it under a carport type structure. Insulate the roof from the outside with dense styrofoam,  or similar, insulation panels, secure them, and cover with 6 mil plastic.  The windows would get my attention next with caulk and plastic covering on the outside and inside.  If the budget allows, I would then build an entry way to serve as an airlock.   Finally, the walls would get my attention.  Certainly a wind barrier from the north and west at a minimum.  Wrapping the whole thing in insulation if possible.  Oh, I forgot, is the heating system adequate?
 
Beth Wilson
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My children and I have been in it since March so we did experience a bit of the end of last winter. At that time we hadn’t done anything to add extra insulation and our water was bucketed in, we also used a sawdust bucket for toileting and our furnace seemed to do well. This year with all the added insulation, addition, buried water lines etc we are hoping the furnace holds up again. We will also have a small pot bellied stove in the addition to help hopefully. Our budget isn’t much after all the addition things we have already done so any suggestion on insulating the roof of the trailer at low cost would be wonderful!
 
Douglas Alpenstock
pollinator
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Hi Beth. Glad to hear you have thought the matter through.

A few things I would contemplate in this situation:

- Having Plan B for toilet facilities strikes me as prudent. An outhouse may just save the day. (Hint: use a wooden seat, as they warm up instantly. Plastic, on the other hand ...) EDIT: I see you already have a plan.

- I don't know if you have outbuildings, but if you have a space out of the wind and snow that can be heated with a wood stove you may appreciate having an all-purpose work area and "personal decomnpression space." A trailer in a long, cold winter could become quite claustrophobic.
 
- Straw bales are excellent insulation, making them excellent mouse habitat. I would have a few traps set under the trailer at all times.

I would be interested in regular updates as your adventure unfolds.

Luck!
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Also: I hope you have a carbon monoxide and gas detector. Very important.
 
pollinator
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Can't really add more to what the others have already covered, but did want to know what part of southern Ontario.  As a Yank in northern Minnesota, I've gotten the impression that southern Ontario north of our border is quite a bit more severe on the winter than Ontario down by Lake Erie.....and this could make a BIG difference as you plan for water lines, insulation, etc.  In addition to the other comments, I would try to find ASAP others in your region who are living rural in trailer homes to try to get an "average" deployment of water/septic line engineering to see what has worked for them in winters past.  As for windows, that would be my last consideration as you can always hang insulated drapes across them by night or during particularly severe cold and wind.  Were I to approach moving onto a piece of land as you have done, I would also prioritize the erection of a steel post-and-beam structure for next year that could serve as a shelter for many things while getting a home structure in place, but each person or family does this differently with varying priorities.  Sounds like a challenging move....with hopefully awesome rewards!  Good luck!
 
Beth Wilson
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We are located by Lake Erie so not to far north in case anyone was wondering what part of Canada I’m in.
 
Beth Wilson
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And we also have carbon monoxide and gas detectors.
 
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Hello Beth, welcome :) My wife and I are in SW MI, living in an RV on our land while I build our house. Since I really mean "I build our house" it's taking a long time ;) We've been through three Michigan winters in our RV. The first year I tried strawbales. They aren't going to be enough ;) The problem is that the bales won't fit up against your trailer well enough to prevent air moving by them, at which point they aren't insulating anything. You want/need an effective barrier to air flow. Strawbales  behind that barrier will provide insulative function, but without it - it didn't work very well. The second year I did a plastic wrap instead, and for the third winter I did a better job of mounting a plastic wrap. My recommendation, if you can afford it, is to get a commercial skirt made for your model RV. You can back that up with strawbales, but by themselves the bales don't cut it.

Waterline - buried is good!. We've managed with a combination of gutter heating cables and heat lamps with our lines above ground, but it's a pain.

Blackwater tank - I would leave the valve open. Because if you have it shut, and the valve freezes in that position, you may find out when the toilet backs up and overflows. Yeah. Getting in under the trailer with a heater and a blow dryer (didn't have a heat gun and you might not want one anyway, I don't know how hot those pipes can get without a problem) in freezing weather to thaw out the blackwater valve and get it draining again - not a job I wish on anyone.  I might go so far as to recommend getting insulation around that drain pipe and valve. I haven't done it myself, but I probably ought to ;)

First year I put insulation on the ceilings and interior walls, just a foil backed foam taped in place. We did not keep it, I don't think it made enough improvement for the effort.

If you did go with a hoop house over the trailer, you would need to ventilate it. Especially if you also put an RMH in there. You're already running propane heaters, but they vent to the outside of your RV. Put it all under a plastic lid and you're venting CO into a closed bubble with you inside. You don't want to have that ;)

Have extra propane tanks and Pay Attention to what you have on hand and how fast you are using it. We have two 20 pound and two 30 pound tanks. Any time we're down to the last tank, it's absolutely time to refill the other three. It's really advisable not to get down to just the one.

Wear extra layers to keep yourselves comfortably warm, rather than trying to keep the entire triler space comfortably warm. We aim for about 66F in the winter. Bedwarmers, something to tuck in before you go o bed that takes the chill off of the sheets and that you can tuck down by your feet can be tremendous comfort enhancers. I hate trying to sleep with cold feet, but a hotwater bottle can fix that problem very simply.

Keep your home clean. Do the dishes right away. Put food into secure containers. Don't be offended, please ;) We are bad at this and it's an issue, not because of any sort of aesthetics (although when you're stuck living in the RV in less than a tiny home space for months at a time, "aesthetics" gets to be its own issue) but because your RV is Mouse Heaven in the winter cold. Mouse. Heaven. Every place that they can hide is an invitation. every scrap of food on a dirty dish, an invitation, unsecure storage, an invitation... They're going to find their way in. You might take some time and work on blocking entrances, but they will find their way in. You don't need to give them any more advantages  (free food!) than the warm safe space offers in itself.

Be CAREFUL on your steps! It's appalling how fast they become frictionless, domed, ice sheets and how fast you can hit the bottom!

Have a plan for getting snow and ice off of the RV. Ours has a streamlined nose behind the tongue - it builds up massive ice sheets, right over the area with the batteries and the propane hookup.  I make a point of checking that on a fairly regular basis, to avoid an ice fall damaging any of the hoses or wiring down there. The RV roof itself probably doesn't even have a snow load rating, so you likely want to be able to get as much as reasonably practical off of there when it shows up ;)

Plastic liners on the windows, check. Insulative curtains, check. Carpets on the floor? Maybe not so much? In our RV we have forced hot air ducts running under the floor. Carpet over those would hold heat OUT.  Extra carpet in the slideout sections I think would be a good idea. Our dining room table is in a slide out. You can feel the cold radiating from the steel legs holding up the table. Wrapping those legs, if your RV has them, in some insulation material is probably worth the effort. The slide outs are terribly exposed, with very hiogh surface to volume ratios. Disproportionate amount of heat loss is through the slideouts..

My top recommendations: Always have backup propane on hand; Do Not let the drain pipe freeze!; Have back up electric (we did the first winter with a generator, no grid power. ROUGH)


That's everything I can think of for now. Ping me if you have any questions :)
 
John F Dean
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Hi Beth,

There may be enough bacterial action that you won't have to worry about the blackwater freezing. In MN we had a composting toilet, so the septic only took gray water. Still, the snow over our septic would quickly melt.  However, I would error on the side of caution  and go with Peter's ideas. The fact is your black water will probably not be in the holding tank long enough to generate much heat.
 
Beth Wilson
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Thank you thank you thank you!! This is all extremely helpful!! 💕
 
Jay Angler
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Beth Wilson wrote:Thank you thank you thank you!! This is all extremely helpful!!

Rob Lougas has tapped you into a huge group of people who are into exactly this sort of thing. Once you've got your trailer sorted out, there are whole threads about plants, food forests, food preservation, cooking, animals, water conservation and Rocket mass heaters for very efficient wood heat. Lots of food for thought as you plan the next stage of your life!
 
pollinator
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Maybe put a temporary RMH underneath?
 
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