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Old 01-17-2018, 02:32 AM   #1
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Boondock in the sub-arctic

Imagine this scenario:

You are going to boondock for four days in a skoolie in winter in the Alaskan interior. The temperatures are expected to be around -20 degrees fahrenheit, but there is a chance they could dip as low as -40. You expect no wind, low humidity, but only 3 hours of daylight.

Let's assume that you have good insulation and good heat (with a backup). Those subjects are beaten to death, so please minimize discussion of them.

How do you keep your house batteries operational?
How do you ensure the engine starts when you want to leave?
What do you do with your fresh water, waste water, and plumbing?
Can you keep a propane system working (gas stove and/or as a heat source)?
What other design choices do you make?

So, McCandless wannabes, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.
Aurora.jpgCaribou.jpg
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Old 01-17-2018, 02:38 AM   #2
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To start, a cross-post from another thread:
A fully charged lead acid battery will not freeze until -76 degrees fahrenheit (or -92, depending on the source). A 40% charge will freeze at about -16 degrees, and a 0% charge will freeze at 32 degrees. If the batteries freeze, they are ruined.

A lead acid battery will provide about 50% power at 0 degrees. I could not find numbers for -20 degrees or lower, but I assume they are abysmal. So, a cold battery will discharge faster, then, once the little bit of heat created dissipates, they will freeze and be ruined.

It is recommended to charge lead acid batteries at temperatures over 50 degrees. Below 32 degrees does not work well and below 0 degrees is basically impossible. Charging at cold temperatures may also require a different voltage. Charging does produce a little heat, so using a battery blanket and charger would probably work for moderately cold temperatures, but not for extreme cold or when boondocking.

Many heating systems require DC power to run. No batteries = no heat! For this reason and others, I think it is important to have a backup heat system that requires no electricity.

What all this tells me is that house batteries should be inside a heated space if used in extreme cold weather (a box inside the insulated cabin vented to the outside may make the most sense). Additionally, if the heat is ever turned off long enough for the batteries to get cold, they better be fully charged.
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Old 01-17-2018, 08:54 AM   #3
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You've been taking notes. Everything is a trade off. You're discovering why so many of us look so ramshackle with our utilities setups.

A small few of us prefer generators when batteries won't work well. As you realize by now batteries aren't going to do a lot of good in freezing temps. Most of us go to simple propane heaters as our backup heat.

If you're looking at starting your bus in sub zero weather you're likely going to want a block heater. There are two types, plug in block heaters and diesel block heaters. Several hours with the block heater warming the engine and it should start right up. Many here are also using the heat from the diesel block heater to produce heat in the passenger area. Reported to burn less than a gallon of diesel overnight. The diesel block heaters are quite expensive, but worth it when you're off grid.
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Old 01-17-2018, 03:31 PM   #4
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Since my bus has a basement, I will be adding insulation and at least one if not two sources of heat. If I go the route of a diesel heater, then I will be looking to circulate some of that warm coolant through the basement compartments.
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Old 01-17-2018, 03:50 PM   #5
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Just remember, propane stops working around -42. If you store you tanks outside, water contamination in the lines, regulator, and tank will probably break them well before then. Diesel needs antifreeze additives to stay together at 32F... Wood on the other hand will burn Just Fine at those temps!
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Old 01-17-2018, 03:58 PM   #6
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The conditions described are normal everyday throughout the North so you build with every eventuality in mind to survive.
Diesel vehicles rarely shut down unless absolutely necessary at those extremes and cooling systems have to be in top shape with at least 60/40 antifreeze protection or better. My tractor uses a 70/30 mix.
Batteries will be fine while engine is running. Webasto a must if shutting down for any length so a huge fuel supply is necessary on board.
Plumbing will not be like home, go with empty tanks, use water minimally as pipes will freeze unless heat traced and then will be suspect at -40f.
Water from jugs would be my suggestion for cooking, toilet etc, showers, no way, you will be cold even inside. A dry type toilet will get you by.
Risky business without a woodstove and lots of dry wood.
Down filled clothing and dry clothing always, you will sweat and freeze if you stay in damp clothes and be miserable.
At least the bears are hibernating then so there is a silver lining to winter boondocking. Oh about the wolves, another day for that story...


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Old 01-18-2018, 02:25 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin97396 View Post
A small few of us prefer generators when batteries won't work well. As you realize by now batteries aren't going to do a lot of good in freezing temps.
It seems like generators would be hard to start in extreme cold temperatures. Most aren't rated anywhere near that cold - what considerations come into play for starting a generator in -20 or -40 degree temperatures?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin97396 View Post
If you're looking at starting your bus in sub zero weather you're likely going to want a block heater. There are two types, plug in block heaters and diesel block heaters. Several hours with the block heater warming the engine and it should start right up. Many here are also using the heat from the diesel block heater to produce heat in the passenger area. Reported to burn less than a gallon of diesel overnight. The diesel block heaters are quite expensive, but worth it when you're off grid.
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Webasto a must if shutting down for any length so a huge fuel supply is necessary on board.
I've been reading up on those - it sounds like you could use it as a heat source for the cabin, an engine block heater, a hot water heater, and it's all powered using the diesel you already have in your tanks. You still need battery power for the pumps to circulate everything. Glycol, particularly the propylene glycol that is less toxic, has less heat-carrying capability than water, but it looks like it would still function well in extreme cold. How much fuel does it really need? A "huge supply" or "less than a gallon of diesel overnight?" Use all your fuel, and you're not leaving!

If you don't use a webasto-style heater or keep the engine running your whole trip, are there other ways to get your engine started again (short of setting a fire underneath your bus)?

Quote:
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Plumbing will not be like home, go with empty tanks, use water minimally as pipes will freeze unless heat traced and then will be suspect at -40f.
Water from jugs would be my suggestion for cooking, toilet etc, showers, no way, you will be cold even inside. A dry type toilet will get you by.
If you have any water going down the drains into your grey water, isn't that a problem? Would you add anti-freeze to your gray water tanks if you planned to use your drains?

I think a few people put their fresh water tank inside the cabin, though it takes up more space than I'd feel comfortable with. Are there any other practical ways to keep a water tank from freezing? The 400-gallon Army Water Buffalo trailers have a heating element inside the tank - I've used them at -25 degrees, though we had problems with the spigots freezing.
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Old 01-18-2018, 06:58 AM   #8
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Brrrr....is anybody else shivering while reading this? I am ready to move back West.

We just had -17F air temp, no way my bus would even think about starting- even with the 2 block heaters.

The batteries are the big topic. I know the military has these little 24 v turbine generators to get started.... I'd be looking to the mil surplus world for some equip/ideas.

battery info link

And listen to the Canuck.

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Old 01-18-2018, 09:05 AM   #9
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That turbine is pretty neat. Not sure about the arctic weather and if you have any sun light. But In that environment I think you would be best of with the smallest water cooled diesel generator you can find or make and use the coolant to keep your bus / engine warm. The noise would be annoying. Carry another 20 gallons of diesel. There are some fancier TEG generators around that are quiet and have no moving parts but are not efficient.
TEG ( thermo electric generator) are used by the MIL of course but also pipe lines in the arctic use them to generate electricity for corrosion control and monitoring equipment. So you might find one by the road.

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Old 01-18-2018, 06:31 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biscuitsjam View Post
It seems like generators would be hard to start in extreme cold temperatures. Most aren't rated anywhere near that cold - what considerations come into play for starting a generator in -20 or -40 degree temperatures?


I've been reading up on those - it sounds like you could use it as a heat source for the cabin, an engine block heater, a hot water heater, and it's all powered using the diesel you already have in your tanks. You still need battery power for the pumps to circulate everything. Glycol, particularly the propylene glycol that is less toxic, has less heat-carrying capability than water, but it looks like it would still function well in extreme cold. How much fuel does it really need? A "huge supply" or "less than a gallon of diesel overnight?" Use all your fuel, and you're not leaving!

If you don't use a webasto-style heater or keep the engine running your whole trip, are there other ways to get your engine started again (short of setting a fire underneath your bus)?

If you have any water going down the drains into your grey water, isn't that a problem? Would you add anti-freeze to your gray water tanks if you planned to use your drains?

I think a few people put their fresh water tank inside the cabin, though it takes up more space than I'd feel comfortable with. Are there any other practical ways to keep a water tank from freezing? The 400-gallon Army Water Buffalo trailers have a heating element inside the tank - I've used them at -25 degrees, though we had problems with the spigots freezing.
"It seems like generators would be hard to start in extreme cold temperatures. Most aren't rated anywhere near that cold - what considerations come into play for starting a generator in -20 or -40 degree temperatures?"

You would want a genny with both electric and pull start capabilities.
That means battery power to start it at least once and then let it run basically the whole trip. You need some way to keep the oil in it thin to start, that might be hard but I have seen dipstick type heaters someplace, not recently though.
Depending on your wallet would you have an air-cooled or water cooled genny? gas or diesel? If gas prevent gas line freezing due to moisture in fuel,so methyl hydrate should be carried onboard and added at those temps. Too much is bad though.

A Webasto if plumbed in properly can do all of your heating needs. Mine would be running steady I guarantee you in those temps. What is your life worth in fuel costs for a few days boondocking?
Fuel used? For you to research but add an extra tank for such ventures or permanently. Snowshoes might get you almost home but not likely.
Straight water won't work as you say for heat carrying abilities, you want deep freeze protection or you aren't gonna make it out alive.

"If you have any water going down the drains into your grey water, isn't that a problem? Would you add anti-freeze to your gray water tanks if you planned to use your drains?"

Start with empty tanks and you can fill as required. They will freeze if not heated but no biggie there. You aren't going to be able to open the dump valves anyway. If the heat is on in the bus above 32f then gray water will flow to the tank. Just add antifreeze to the traps after every use to prevent freezing.

"I think a few people put their fresh water tank inside the cabin, though it takes up more space than I'd feel comfortable with. Are there any other practical ways to keep a water tank from freezing? The 400-gallon Army Water Buffalo trailers have a heating element inside the tank - I've used them at -25 degrees, though we had problems with the spigots freezing."

My fresh water tank is inside. Primary heat is woodstove, works just fine if the stove never goes out. Mine went out due to me falling on some ice and my shoulder bigtime. Stove was out for 4 hours and at -40f every bit of plumbing froze, pipe, valves, pump and 100 gallon main tank. Heat rises and all my pipe is close to floor level so not a hope in hades of thawing for a while yet,probably months. And then to repair the damage!

Other noteables
Carry a weapon, high powered rifle at all times when out.
Trappers use these areas too, ever opened a bear trap or any steel trap by hand? Do not know if you will be stepping into one either every step of the way, like a mine field. No place for kids, dogs, follow me?
Let some one know your plans and whereabouts when you arrive.
And don't forget avalanche possibility,
If you don't see any wolves, they will see you and have no fear when a meal is awaiting.
Maybe just do a dry run or two at home to determine if you should even bother. It won't be a picnic,no matter the scenery, stars and Northern Lights. I wired those by the way!

John
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Old 01-18-2018, 10:30 PM   #11
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I went snowshoeing in one of the Alaska State parks not long ago. I felt inadequately armed with my .357 when the government sign advised all visitors to carry a high-powered rifle. Although I was in cell range, the moisture inside my phone froze within minutes and wouldn't turn back on even when I warmed it back up.

I didn't consider bear traps in the wilderness - I can see how they would just disappear in the snow.

But, this raises another point - how do you maintain comms off the beaten track? My job requires me to always be reachable unfortunately. There is also the possibility of getting stuck, breaking down, or getting hurt. Even telling someone roughly where you're going and will be back is no guarantee that help will come in a timely manner.

Some of the people I work with use a GPS messaging device like this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00I6...OrL&ref=plSrch
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Old 01-18-2018, 11:07 PM   #12
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You can always get a sat phone.
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Old 01-18-2018, 11:12 PM   #13
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How big is the fuel tank on your bus? I would recommend that you leave the engine running the entire time at about 1000 rpm, high idle, and it will burn about a gallon an hour. At minus 20 your batteries will be next to worthless for starting the engine unless you have battery heaters on them
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Old 01-18-2018, 11:28 PM   #14
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I haven't filled up the tank yet, but it is takes up a huge part of the undercarriage and about 3 hours of driving didn't move the gauge much.
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Old 01-19-2018, 11:03 AM   #15
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If you can get the measurements, it's easy to calc how many gallons.
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Old 01-19-2018, 07:25 PM   #16
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How big is the fuel tank on your bus? I would recommend that you leave the engine running the entire time at about 1000 rpm, high idle, and it will burn about a gallon an hour. At minus 20 your batteries will be next to worthless for starting the engine unless you have battery heaters on them
??
No.. Just get enough battery. Pacific Alaska (all of Alaska is Pacific) is typically a warmer winter climate than mid northern continent (Minnesota, Manitoba, northern Ontario). Buy good batteries. 8d. Several of them. If it's mechanically sound then it'll start. Have a generator? Plug the block heater in for an hour or two.
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Old 01-19-2018, 11:29 PM   #17
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??
No.. Just get enough battery. Pacific Alaska (all of Alaska is Pacific) is typically a warmer winter climate than mid northern continent (Minnesota, Manitoba, northern Ontario).
Alaska is a big state with very different weather depending on the region. It's bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined.

The average low in Juneau in January is 24 degrees. In Fairbanks, it's -17 degrees, more than 40 degrees colder. Last winter, it got to -53 degrees. I wouldn't say Fairbanks is a "Pacific" weather pattern - it's >500 miles from the Pacific - that's the distance from Utah to the Pacific! It also has the 20,000 foot Alaska Range between it and the ocean, taller than the Rockies. (The Gulf of Alaska is closer st 350 miles, but that still ain't close). There are also other places in the state far colder than Fairbanks.

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Buy good batteries. 8d. Several of them. If it's mechanically sound then it'll start.
Wiring more batteries to the engine battery is an interesting idea to get more amps when it is super cold. You could definitely start at colder temps, but how cold? Your oil is still going to be sludgelike at -20 or -40 without warming. How many amp-hours worth of batteries would you need to turn over the engine at -20? -40? Would you need 4 engine batteries? More?

Quote:
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Have a generator? Plug the block heater in for an hour or two.
This is a straightforward if you have a generator that will reliably start in those temps - I'd be a little nervous unless I thoroughly tested it first.. I'm curious about exploring the other idea though. Is it feasible at all?
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Old 01-20-2018, 12:22 AM   #18
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Well, I can tell you that buses around the north of this province are still starting fine at -40. Their specced for it (lots of battery power). Same goes for the diesel equipment my friend operates on Baffin Island. They plug in when they can. APUs provide power when the expense is warranted, but a significant battery set gets most people by.

My experience is that the cold won't stop even the cheapest gas generators if they're in good shape. At -40 you may want a generator with electric start and/or starter fluid. I use a car battery to start my 8000w generator when the temperature is below -30C (-22F). Mine always starts no matter the temperature. The pull start gets annoyingly stiff when the temperature plummets. A proper oil weight might remedy that (0w30 instead of 5w30)
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Old 01-20-2018, 12:26 AM   #19
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Interesting. Do you know how many batteries they run?
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Old 01-20-2018, 12:39 AM   #20
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For the buses it depends on what engine their operating.
A good pair of group 31 batteries will typically get a T444e up and running fine. A third gives you all sorts of starting power.
I'd go for at least a pair of good 8d batteries for a 466, probably 3 to be safe. Can you fit 4? Perfect. Get 'em.

You can also jump off of your house batteries if you have them. I have a solar system that charges 455Ah worth of deep cycle batteries. I've jumped my T444e off of them in cold weather a couple times after realizing the glow plug relay was fried.

In a situation with dead batteries and deadly cold temperatures I'm provided a reasonable amount of survival time. I have a wood stove to stay warm and the panels will charge the batteries. Always carry food and water rations.

Webasto diesel-fired coolant heaters are a great idea in lieu of plugging in a block heater.
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