Monthly Archives: December 2009

RV House, the New Reality Show

Yeah, it’s a real Frontier House over here sometimes.

For the most part, we’re okay. We’re warm, we have working plumbing, I can have a hot shower when I want one, and we have a full kitchen. The RV is behaving. But, to keep it behaving, there are chores. These are the times when it starts to feel a little 1862 around here. I was explaining to a friend that we go outside and fill a cistern each day, and that I have to light a fire in the cabin each morning. She quipped, “You guys are out of your minds. Someone should film this for PBS.”

Starting a fire in the woodstove is pretty straight forward, and I really only have to do it if I want to use the cabin that day. My piano is in the cabin, and sometimes I like to sit out there with my computer. Pretty run-of-the-mill, and the draft on our stove is good, so it’s not that big a deal.

However, in the Water Department – Our water is down in a well. Quite literally, a lined three-foot-wide hole in the ground with a cap on it. (pictured) As is usually the case, the RV is completely self-sufficient, and has a 40 gallon water tank. The problem is, I have to get the water from the well to the RV tank. Can’t very well leave a line out there to freeze. So, I do it the simplest way possible.

Have you ever taken a shower while dodging a rolled-up  50 foot garden hose and a sump pump? I do it every morning. Our hose/pump contraption lives in the shower. We roll it up and keep it in the shower so it doesn’t freeze. Each morning, I drag it out in the yard, negotiate the snow, shove the heavy well cap off, and toss the business end of the thing down the well, making sure that the electric cord and plug for the pump stay on dry ground. I take the other end of the hose and walk it over to the water tank inlet, and stick it in. I go get an extension cord, go over to our electric pedestal, plug in the pump, and let the water flow. I can tell it’s almost full when it makes a gurgling sound. Then I roll up the hose and bring it back inside. That takes a while. Rolling up a fifty foot garden hose (with a pump on the end of it) in sub-zero temps … well, you can imagine.

It is at this point that you’re welcome to stop to think either, “That makes sense,” or “He’s completely out of his mind.”

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The Fortune Teller

There are two things in my future that I am quite sure of. More snow, and a new phone.

You might recall – My cell phone is somewhere in a snow bank on the side of a friend’s sledding run. I’d wanted to downgrade a little bit, and I suppose I achieved that with flying colors … downgraded myself right down into a snowy gully. Really, I just wanted a smaller phone with a decent camera. Christmas Miracle-wise, Verizon called us the next morning – contract renewal time – with a free phones offer! I shall have this thing in my hot little hands within a week. Six different resolutions, 3.0 megapixels. Maybe it’s okay. We’ll see.

Enough of this tech talk. Have I told you about my snow banks? The RV is positively buried! (That’s good – I had planned to bank the snow for insulation.) While we have had our challenges, the RV skirting and all the precautions we took to keep things from freezing has worked like a charm. Pump, pipes, water heater – all happy and working. (Pardon the backwards photo – long story.)

I’ve been shoveling for our height-challenged dog as well. Okay, okay. Besides for the dog, I like having a chunk of the yard cleared as well. It’s helpful for when we fill the RV water tank each day – a drama in itself. But that’s a story for another post. That’s a full-sized washtub in the photo, by the way.

I’m going to have to start shoveling the driveway starting at the bottom. I’ve been working my way down, and now the snow-cliffs on either side are five or six feet above driveway level. I suppose that fact in itself is fine. But lifting a shovel full of snow up that high? Yeah, I gotta start shoveling from the other end.

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Rate the Cold Quotient

I never realized why everyone made such a big deal of the wind chill factor. In moderate winter area, I pretty much found that cold-is-cold, and there’s not much difference between 15F or 2F with the wind chill.

Here in the Adirondacks, it’s different.

We had -24F last week, but no wind. Didn’t bother me a bit. Today, we had a mere -2F, but with some pretty rough wind. And it was cold. In this kind of cold, you don’t use adjectives like the quaint and charming, “Brrrrrrr! It’s cold!” No, my descriptives this morning tended toward things like,”&!@#$&#$! OW! It is SO @#!@#@&#$ COLD!”

I think I am holding up pretty well though. We’ll see what you think. I’m interested to see how my Cold Quotient compares to others. I have to qualify this with the fact that I, in fact, love the cold. Anyhow. Here’s the deets …

I am taking care of a neighbor’s two properties, so I had two long drives and a roof to clear off this morning. Temp was -2F, with a windchill of maybe -20F. (I’m guessing.) I was out for three hours. I was wearing a t-shirt, a flannel shirt, a lined flannel jacket with a hood, regular old jeans, snow boots, cotton socks, and light gloves. I lasted three hours. When my toes started hurting enough that I was noticing it, I went inside. Interesting to find that a solid chunk of ice had formed on my moustache and goatee! That was a first.

So, rate away, dear readers. Am I suited for the North?

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Calling All Woodstove Owners

Do I adore that woodstove? Oh, yeah.

I’ve learned quite a bit so far through reading and experience with the individual “personality” of my particular stove. Mine is a non-catalytic box stove with two cook lids. It takes 24″ logs.

I still have a few questions, and I still have a few theories, but I seem to be clinging to the edge of the learning curve pretty well. I’m lighting a one-match fire every morning, without issue. The stove comes up to temp nicely. With this post, maybe I can share some information, and bargain for an opinion or two.

Okay, woodstove users! Ready to share some information?!

I have been proceeding this way – I build a nice, hot, roaring fire and let the thermometer come up to “burn zone” temp. Then I close the vent some, let the fire calm down. It’s at this point that I’m not totally clear. There’s an ideal burn temp. I get that. Now, I certainly can’t keep a fire going at the ideal burn temp, or I’d be driven out of the cabin in five minutes and all the snow within a two-mile radius would melt. And the dog would spontaneously combust. So, I’ve been building up to the ideal burn temp, letting it rip for a bit until the big wood is caught, and then closing the vent some and calming the fire down. Slow burn for the rest of the day. Yes? Correct? Seem plausible?

Generally, once you have your wood going nicely, I understand that you should close the flue a bit. That’s what people say. But I haven’t found that to be true. I have an old-fashioned box stove, not a modern air-tight house-heating model, so maybe this falls into the every-stove-is-different department. My stove likes plenty of air. I have been leaving the flue fully open, but closing off the front-vent a bit once I have coals. If I close down the flue at all, I start getting thick your-house-is-on-fire smoke coming out the chimney like mad. The coals start to extinguish. So. I leave the flue open and just control the fire with the front vent. I’m chalking it up to a stove personality thing. Yes? Correct? Seem plausible?

What say you, Stovers?

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Adirondack Christmas Adventures (and Holiday Ephemera)

We had plenty of Holiday adventures, but I only have one photo to show for it. Know why? My camera/phone/PDA/thing is somewhere at the bottom of a snow-filled gully. Ah, well. At least we have the RV wreath.

With the whole phone thing – Sledding incident. I went off into a big ol’ ditch on the edge of the sledding run at a friend’s house – much laughter was had … especially when I repeatedly fell down while trying to climb back up. I survived, “laughing all the way,” as J. Pierpont might have said. I had fun, the phone didn’t. Live and learn. North Country Lesson #862 – No phones or anything in pockets while sledding. I wanted to go back to a plain old little phone anyway, so we’ll see how that works out. That was Christmas Adventure #3.

Christmas Adventure #1 is set along Kiwassa Road in Saranac Lake. Thought we’d go for a drive, take in the sights. We did indeed have a lovely drive, and in fact, I saw a tiny house that was just about my ideal. I insisted we turn around so I could take a photo. (I know it’s a little weird, but at least it was roadside.) We proceed to three-point our way around on the narrow road. The snow made it look like the road was a bit wider that it was. Sloosh! Half the Jeep down in the deep ditch. I mean, deep. If I had opened the door without a seatbelt on, I would have rolled out. It wasn’t a serious drop off or anything, just a deep ditch. Nothing dangerous. Anyhow. Four-wheel drive was already on. A little back-and-forth between the gas and brakes, and we climbed right out of that baby, no problem. Adrenaline! It was awesome fun! You go, Jeep.

Christmas Adventure #2 also involved a turn-around. Very turn-aroundy day. We had gone up the back road from town that comes out between Sarananc Lake and Raybrook. It’s a nice drive. For some reason or other, we decided to go back the same way. There used to be a little 1960s-style motel right there on Route 86. All that remains is the old sign and a parking lot turn-around. Seriously deep with snow. What the hell – Let’s try it. A Jeep is not going to be deterred by a foot or two of snow. We pulled in, did a little un-planned plowing, whooshed snow all over the place, and had tons of fun. Simple silly towny fun, I guess, but we loved it.

The holiday capper? Does this count as Christmas Adventure #4? Evidently, I was chosen as this year’s recipient by the The Magical Adirondack Angels Gifts-From-The-Sky Consortium. Things  I really needed just kept showing up today! I needed a cuff/adapter for my wood stove. It was fine without it, but I wanted everything right and proper. The neighbor said, “Oh, I have one. Just go get it out of the garage.” Past that, I knew I would be needing some more wood in a few weeks, and another friend piped up with, “There’s about half a face cord of birch from two years ago in the back. Grab it whenever you want.” And then? Then?!

Verizon called. We’re due to renew our contract. And we get free phones.

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Adirondack Yule Log Blog

Happy Christmas, friends!

I’ll be buzzin’ for a few days, so I thought it would be nice to leave a fun post here at The Pines. If you’re in Saranac Lake on Christmas Eve, stop by the Unitarian Church for A Victorian Christmas in Saranac Lake at 6:30, in the (newly restored) Trudeau Laboratory Building on Church Street. Adirondack Christmas stories and holiday songs. And people in old-timey costumes. Random coolness. I’ll be the one at the piano.

Of course, you’re aware of those DVDs (and TV stations) that provide you with a video fireplace/yule log – music and all. I thought that would be a nice post for the holidays. Here’s an awesome Yule video, Adirondack style. Even has good music. Enjoy the fire, and you have a great holiday!

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You’re Going to Live in That Thing All Winter?!

I suppose if I were in a more officious mood, I would have gone with Overwintering in an RV for a title, but one must take humor where one can find it. And the above is a phrase we hear fairly frequently.

As most likely know, we live in a 32′ fifth-wheel RV. (That’s really our RV in the photo. You can see the roof of the little cabin behind it. ) I did a lot of research concerning how it would be possible to tough it out in the camper over the Winter. I read for months, I read everything, and I have to say, we’re doing pretty well. In fact, I honestly don’t feel like I am “toughing it out.” Yes, there are a few extra chores that a lot of people would not put up with, and sometimes they are tough.

But we’re comfortable, and we are totally fine. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. We’d freeze. We wouldn’t be able to use the plumbing. Hasn’t happened that way. And it has already been 27 below zero. We’re fine, and we are indeed over-wintering in an RV. In the spirit of passing on information, below are a few tips and fixes.

We bought a fifth-wheel type RV, because 5ths (larger RVs that hang over a pickup truck) and Motorhomes (the kind you drive) are more substantial than Travel Trailers (the kind you two behind a car). Okey-doke. On to the issues …

Problem – Water Line to the RV is Frozen

Solution – Don’t use the hose to a pressurized faucet. It will freeze. We fill our tank each day, or ever other. This way, water doesn’t stay in the hose. In our specific situation, I take the hose out, connect it to the well pump, and fill the tank. When I’m done, I bring the hose in, so it’s warm. If you have a galley drain from a hose, or any need of hoses outside – no uphill stretches, only downhill.

Problem – Front Door is Frozen Shut

Solution – Hairdryer, on the latch, from inside. It’s not that the door is frozen shut, so much as the warmth from inside collides with the cold from outside, and the little pokey latch thing freezes. Sixty seconds and a hairdryer will fix it. If it continues to stick, use your deadbolt and key to open and close the door, rather than the latch. I have to tell you, this happens a lot. Warm inside vs. cold outside. Ice builds up at the bottom of the door – I’m always either hairdrying or ice-whacking.

Problem – Ice on the Inside of the Windows

Solution – Chances are, that shrink-wrap window stuff would take care of this, although we have not gotten to that. Propane gas (for your furnace and stove) releases a bit of water vapor, as does cooking. A little bit of ventilation goes a long way. During the day – Hatches open a little bit, heat cranking. At night, close the hatches. Haven’t had ice since we instituted this system.We keep a fan running in the bathroom.

Problem – Tanks Underneath the Coach, Open to Freezing

Solution – Buy yourself some of that one-inch foam insulation board, and start cutting. Skirted in tightly with that stuff, and with the seams sealed with metal tape and/or spray foam, you’re good. I also banked plenty of snow up against the insulation. We haven’t had a problem. We don’t even have a heater or a lightbulb under there.

Problem – Potential Freezing of Interior Plumbing

Solution – I had originally planned to put a small ceramic heater in the hatch near the pump and interior water lines. But I forgot. Ah, well. Down to -27F, we’ve just kept the furnace running at our normal 65/70F. It has heated the hatch and the interior plumbing enough that we’ve been fine. In fact, just the furnace seems to heat the hatches and skirted underneath enough that most mornings, the snow bank has pulled away from the skirting a hair. Now, to be clear, you must keep your heat on. And, we were very careful to buy an RV that has the plumbing and pump essentially on the inside. The hot air lines from the furnace are in the same compartment as our pump. If your pump is through a single hatch on the exterior, you’re going to have to take more precautions.

Problem – Filling Onboard Propane Tanks is a Pain

Solution – Call a bulk supplier. Same places that supply homes. Call around – prices vary wildly. I found that every place I called could come out and hook up a 100 gallon tank for us, hooked directly to the RV propane line. We’re using about 70 gallons per month. Not bad.

Problem – What to Do with Black Water

Solution – Hook a four-inch septic pipe to your dump valve, and run it right to the septic tank. Ours worked out nicely – It runs under the extended slide, inside the insulated underneath of the RV. I simply dug to find where to hook in, and went directly to the septic tank. Because the whole works is enclosed under the skirted RV, we have no problems. Do not leave the valve open. You still have to pull the valve and dump the tank. If you leave it open, you’re going to have a total PVC Poopsicle.

And on that savory note, I’m outa here. You have a great day too!


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