I made this post on another RV forum and thought those of you who don't read on it might like to see it also:
I was asked by a few forum members to describe some of the mods I have done to my camper to make it more winter capable. Instead of only sharing with them I thought I would post it here for everyone to read. Some of the things I did were from ideas I got off this forum (thanks to all), and others I discovered for myself. I am posting this to pass along information that I have learned in hopes that others may benefit and make their camping experience more enjoyable.
My intention for this post is NOT to create a “who makes the best 4-season camper debate” or have it turn to bashing the manufacturer of my camper or any other camper manufacturer for the way they made their campers. Please save those comments for another thread.
I believe there are many manufacturers making excellent 4-season models. I also believe, as with any product, that the consumer can find ways to make modifications and improvements to suit their own needs and circumstances in ways other than what the manufacturer may have intended. For instance I don’t know any truck camper manufacturer that advertises their product to live in full-time in the dead of winter but that’s what I do, and I am sure I am not the only one. That said my intention for this post is only to pass along what I have done and learned in order to make that a better experience for me.
Just a little background first for those who haven’t read any of my posts, I own a 2010 Arctic Fox 1150 dry bath. I chose to live in my RV to save money so I can buy some land and build on it someday in the future. My camper has a basement that encloses the tanks, it is insulated and heated which in my opinion is the key to being able to live in it through the winter and still be able to use the onboard water systems for cooking, cleaning, showering, toilet use, etc. The tanks are large so I only have to go dump the black/grey tanks and refill the fresh tank about every 14 days as I don’t have full hook-ups where I stay. I don’t use skirting of any kind as it would be a pain setting up and taking down every two weeks. I just leave the camper in the back of the truck all the time with jacks down (only when parked of course, although I have driven away with my slide still out once
Where I park there is electrical hook-up so I mainly use a 1500W bathroom type heater to keep the camper warm. I set it on low when I go to work and then use the camper’s propane furnace for one cycle per day when I get home to quickly warm things up. After that the electric heater does a good job of maintaining the temperature at around 70 F. Even when the temps approach 0 F I can keep it 70 degrees inside and the basement stays within 10 degrees of that.
I have a back-up electric heater, just in case my main one dies unexpectedly, that I will occasionally turn on in the cab-over bed area when it gets really cold. The coldest so far this winter has been -14 F and it has gotten below zero quite a few times recently. I made it through a blizzard over Thanksgiving week which was immediately followed by a sub-0 cold front. Through all of this I haven’t had any freeze-ups or damage so I believe all the work I put into this camper last summer and fall has paid off. The only problems I have had are the fridge not working well at really cold temps and the locks freezing on the doors.
Here are a few of the issues I had to deal with in my AF to make it more capable for cold weather. I have 5 large holes in my roof: 2 large skylights, the A/C, Fantastic fan, and the bathroom vent fan. The propane compartment behind the cabinet in the bathroom is basically just a thin plastic wall separating the inside from the cold outdoors. The large slide is very nice but drafty as there are some openings on the bottom that let the heat out. I knew a big key to retaining heat would be minimizing its loss through these openings.
Lastly is the basement itself, I wasn’t really expecting there to be issues here but I am the type of person that likes to take something apart just to see what makes it tick. I was interested in knowing how my camper was built to set it apart from the others that are not advertised as being 4-season capable. To me the basement was a very important aspect to this so just out of curiosity I started looking there with the intent of making improvements if needed. From there my mods and projects spread throughout the entire camper.
The goals for my modifications were to use less heat, retain that heat, and do it as inexpensively as possible with the main intent of keeping stuff (and myself) from freezing in the coldest temperatures I might encounter here in Idaho. At the same time I still wanted to be able to utilize the mods while out camping without electric hook-ups or having to use my generator all of the time either.
I will start with the basement as I consider it the most important, challenging and time consuming project that I did.
Here are a couple of things I discovered about my basement when I removed the lightweight bottom cover. It was insulated with a layer of fiberglass insulation between the studs on the bottom. No real surprise about that, however this is a pic of a gap in the insulation when I pulled the panel off, not very good insulating properties here I thought. There were two more places like this on the bottom.
After pulling out the fiberglass insulation I discovered how the walls were insulated in the basement. Here you can see the side walls are insulated by alternating 1” thick foam blocks with the plywood support structure. Looking closely you can see that the foam doesn’t tightly fit with the wood in places leaving gaps for heat to escape.
Looking at this basement insulation I thought, “Ok, maybe this is good enough if I want to constantly dump heat down here and lose it through the holes and walls”. It probably would be good enough to keep things from freezing but I wanted it to be better than that, I wanted to minimize heat loss for better efficiency as well as saving money. I started by filling in any gaps with the “expanding foam in a can” sealant.
After that I lined the entire wall area of the basement from front to back and side to side with reflectix. This took two evenings to complete as I dropped the fresh water tank for easier access to insure complete coverage. The idea is to reflect any heat pumped down here back into itself rather than allowing it to escape through the walls. I did not cover the bottom of the floor (ceiling of the basement) thus allowing heat to radiate back up through the floor into the living area to be recycled. It also keeps the floors warm enough to tolerate barefoot if I choose.
Another potential problem I noticed was how close to the bottom of the camper the outlet fitting and hose is for the fresh water tank. The board crossing the picture represents where the bottom panel of the camper sits. There is less than an inch clearance as you can see from this picture.
Once the insulation is crushed into place below the fitting I didn’t think there was going to be enough protection to eliminate freeze-ups on really cold nights. The water in the tank might still be liquid but if the water in this hose froze I couldn’t access it. I knew I had to do something here for sure. I installed a 12 V hose heater from Ultraheat link
around the joint and hose to prevent freeze-ups. I have never had to use it but I feel better knowing it is there. I have tested water flow at below 0 temps and have never lost it due to the insulating and heating upgrades I did to the basement but I am sure this heater would thaw it quickly if needed. I would recommend any one install this heater in their Fox for winter use due to the closeness of this hose to the outside and the lack of insulation thickness here.
The next problem I encountered after I finished insulating the sides, re-installing the fresh water tank, and adding the hose heater was how to get all that fiberglass insulation back in to place. I didn’t have enough hands, arms, legs and feet to hold the sections in place while putting the bottom on. As gravity was winning the battle I realized Northwood either turned the camper onto its top to install the insulation at the factory or perhaps they built the basement first, put in the insulation, added the tanks, and then set the rest of the camper on top of it or maybe they just had a lot of helpers. However they got it there was beside the point, and I had to get creative if I was going to get it back in. What I did was make a grid pattern out of string all across the bottom and I was able to hang the insulation back in place.
Once the fiberglass insulation was in place I completely covered the bottom of the basement with a single piece of reflectix and then reinstalled the cover. This will help minimize any downward heat loss through any gaps left in the fiberglass and around the studs.
For those not familiar with the Arctic Fox campers they place their furnace in their slide-out (not sure if all their models are this way but mine is and I know others that are as well). Because of this they cannot make a direct connection from the heater to the basement for heat. In order to get heat down there they utilize a fan placed in the rear of the camper under the bathroom floor to draw warm air from the living area and force it into the basement.
I thought that maybe this will work but I saw a problem with it. The floor length is 11’-6” so I couldn’t believe that single little fan was going to be sufficient enough to pump enough warm air all the way to the front of the basement to keep the fresh water tank, its outlet, and the water pump from freezing up when it got really cold. I held my hand in the opening above the front of the fresh water tank with the furnace on and expected to feel some sort of breeze that would assure me heat was making it up to the front but I felt nothing. I am sure it would have kept the dump valves from freezing, and probably the black tank as well but I wasn’t convinced it would keep the front of the basement from freezing especially on very cold sub-zero temps. Good, but not good enough in my opinion.
My solution was two more fans, with an airflow rating of 140 cfm they draw 0.95 amps and cost less than $5 each. fan link
I placed one in the front of the basement and one in the wall closer to the middle of the basement. I plan to add a thermostat in the basement to control them in the future but for now I just have a switch for them. They move a lot of air around, I can feel the draft they create under the kitchen and bathroom sinks so I know the heat is being moved around for much better coverage than it was before.
Here is the fan I added in the middle, there was already this opening in the wall for plumbing access.
Here it is with the cover on. The fan to the left side of the picture by the outlet is the factory fan. It still only runs with the furnace on but I can feel a good breeze coming out of it when the other two are on so I know the heat is moving back there even without it being on.
This is the fan I added for the front of the basement. It is in the front step next to the LP detector. There is already a hole and a grill here from the factory but no fan. Now I have a fan here so between this one and the other one I added there is plenty of warm air moving throughout the basement space.
On a side note I have drawn up plans to connect the camper’s propane furnace to the basement with the slide pulled out if anyone with an 1150 is interested. I don’t think I am going to have to do it now with the mods I did, which means no drilling holes in my floor (it would be a hidden hole through the floor inside the storage step to the dinette, but still a hole I didn’t really want to make).
Well that is my basement mod, $10 for fans, $35 for reflectix, and $50 for the hose heater. With the other misc items, wires, string, switches, staples etc, I did it for around $100. The question is how well does it work? So far it has been working quite well. I didn’t get any pictures of the -14 F reading (must have been sleeping soundly in my warm cozy Fox when that happened) but here is a picture I took of my thermometers before bed on a different night.
The white one shows an outside temperature of -4.5 F with an inside temp of 71 degrees. The grey one also reads the inside temp and the middle reading shows the basement temperature which is at 62 F. The black wire is the temp probe I have going down to the basement sitting near the fresh water tank. The LO% is the inside humidity reading which means that it is somewhere below 20%. All this is being accomplished with a single 1500W electric heater, and some other interior upgrades I have done in addition to the basement mods.
Some of the interior modifications I have done:
In order to reduce heat loss through the roof openings I got some foam and had some thermal covers made that Velcro over the openings.
Here is the skylight above the kitchen, I used 3” thick seat cushion type foam cut for a press fit into the frame and then covered it with the black thermal cover. I don’t have pics of the construction of the black thermal cover but basically it is a fabric type foil material sandwiched between two layers of light open cell foam all covered in a black duffel bag type material.
I cover the kitchen skylight, the Fantastic Fan and the bathroom vent fan with this method, the only difference being the foam thickness is about 1.5” thick in the fans. For the bathroom skylight all I use is the 3” foam so I can install and remove it quicker (less wear and tear on the Velcro every day). I also use the black thermal covers for the two windows that are in the back door and the one behind the dinette. I just use a foam block in the bathroom window and front slider window but will make some more thermal covers in the future.
When I am using the Fantastic fan I remove the foam and by only opening the Velcro just a bit or a lot I can control how much air/heat/humidity is sucked out.
The AC unit only has a thin piece of sheet metal separating the inside of the camper from the outside world. To insulate this I removed the inside control panel to the point where I could access the entire square hole seen here. This meant taking off the boot to the duct.
I filled this hole with another 3” foam block cut for a press fit.
I then covered with a piece of reflectix and reinstalled the control panel. The DC power wires are disconnected from the switch as well as leaving off the knob to remind me to remove this insulation if I need to use the AC next summer.
Most of the time I live with the slide pulled in when it gets really cold. This also decreases the surface area available for heat loss. When it warms up into the 20’s-30’s for highs I usually open it up to stretch out a bit. The other reason I keep it pulled in is so the snow doesn’t build up and require cleaning off to close it every time I need to move.
The other issue with the slide is that it has openings on the bottom that let the heat out.
To cover the bottom of the slide I use a piece of foil covered foam board insulation, it is a press fit and then I use duct tape to seal the gaps and keep the drafts from coming in the bottom of the slide. It takes over 15 min to set up so I only do it if I need to put the slide out when it is really cold which is not too often as I usually have enough room to do what I need with the slide in.
As I mentioned before the propane cabinet is just a thin but strong plastic box that sits in the space behind the bathroom cabinet.
That is all that separates the outside from the area behind the bathroom cabinet. The heat loss in the bathroom is very noticeable when it gets cold. I wrapped the entire box with reflectix from the inside of the camper behind the cabinet. Only the back wall wasn’t covered but it has insulation there anyway. I couldn’t get my camera in here too well but this is a pic looking across the top of the propane box from the opening left by taking out the drawer.
There are a few cabinets that, from the outside, open to the interior space, the rear one on the driver’s side where the dump valves are, the long skinny one behind the kitchen window, and the compartment in the slide under the dinette seat.
I covered all these openings with reflectix to help keep the heat in. I also did some extra insulating in the dump valve area completely enclosing this space with reflectix.
The long skinny cabinet behind the kitchen window is where the grey tank vent pipe goes up to the roof. I insulated this hole with foam and reflectix to keep heat from going up and out the roof here as easily. This area is also where the water pipes to the shower and bathroom sink go so minimizing heat loss and keeping it warm here is important.
I basically checked over the entire inside walls and cabinets looking for and sealing up any holes that led to the outside. There really weren’t very many. Just a few mainly around where the propane pipes passed through.
On the outside, underneath the sides of the camper surface that overhangs the pick-up bed rails, there were these little covers where the propane pipes went to the inside.
Taking them off I noticed there was only a thin plastic cover between the inside and outside.
I filled this opening with some of the dense foam used for the vents to help insulate these points.
Some other areas I spray foamed were where the shore power electrical connection, TV, phone, and satellite connections enter behind the stove. While I had the stove out I laid a layer of reflectix on the floor of the overhang here to help keep the heat in.
Also check the area behind the converter under the step, I sealed up around here due to drafts coming from under the front of the slide.
I unhook the outside shower and city water connection hoses from the main line and put a cap on the “T”. I leave the hoses connected at the other end and just leave them laying there for easy hook-up in the spring. This eliminates any water lines from being close to the outside walls. I also cover all my lines with the grey foam pipe insulation.
The battery box is similar to the propane box only much smaller so I decided to sacrifice some heat loss here by not insulating it in hopes that keeping the batteries a bit warmer would put less stress on them and perhaps help them last longer. Don't know for sure if it helps but I haven't been affected by the heat loss here as far as I can tell.
I only have the single pane windows. I looked into upgrading to storms or thermal pane’s but for the price and how well I have been doing without them I will probably pass. I did get condensation on them so I got a de-humidifier and it’s not really an issue any more.
I have also learned that the fantastic fan does great job at maintaining low humidity levels too. I just have to use it with a small opening on really cold days or it sucks out all the heat too quickly. It is Idaho after all so humidity isn’t that bad anyway, just a minor annoyance that I seem to have gotten a handle on thankfully.
I cover the cab-over windows and the dinette and kitchen window with a black towel. I might make some thermal covers to Velcro on in the future. I have found the towel keeps the heat in well enough along with pulling the shade. It allows easy access to the window and it also keeps it dark inside so I can sleep better during the day as I work late nights. It looks a bit tacky but it is quick to remove to let in the light.
I have read about people insulating the cab-over area but I haven’t had the need to do anything in mine yet. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the good insulation in the cab-over area or the memory-foam mattress and the down comforter.
My fridge/freezer weren’t staying cold when the temps dropped really low. From researching this forum I learned to insulate the vent covers on the outside wall to keep it warmer on the back side of the fridge. I use reflectix to cover the inside of the vent then I cut slits at the top of the vents to allow airflow. I put sections of the same grey foam insulation I used to cover my water pipes with to close off some (not all) of the vents. I close most of the bottom panel and leave a whole row open in the top panel. I place a thermometer in the wall next to the burner chimney to make sure I don’t get too hot and start a fire. With the set up I have in these pics things work great around 0 degrees outside and the temp inside the rear fridge compartment with the burner and coils is around 50-60 degrees, far less than it gets in the summer I am sure but still warm enough to allow my fridge to cool properly.
For my frozen door locks I keep a small propane torch that I heat the cylinder with to get the key in, it has worked every time.
Well that’s about all I can think of right now, sorry it’s so long but hopefully it gives someone some ideas on where to look or what to do to get the most out of their 4-season camping or living experience.