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Old 08-19-2013, 08:44 AM   #1
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Strategies for northeastern winters

Hi all, we have a 36 foot school bus conversion (not very well insulated and lots of windows) and I am seriously contemplating being stationary in Upstate NY (Ithaca) for the winter, where it can easily get -15F below.... and I'm looking for strategies to make things more comfortable.

Right now from experience in South Jersey (where it gets to maybe 10F once in a while, more mild), the bus warms up quickly with direct sunlight, maybe to 55F by 10am when it is 35F outside.... but lack of sunlight and night time,not gets cold quickly. We have a substantial woodstove and access to firewood, but no other heat and won't use propane. Various Strategies would be helpful, insulating from the outside, inside, above, below, and any sort of passive heating, ways to insulate windows, the door area, maybe a way to trap heat via some sort of greenhouse layer design or super insulating the north wall with strawbales and letting the sun in on the south.

This is a small space, 30 ft x 8 ft, so not much mass to absorb heat. My water is also stored purely in a 50 gallon tank inside, about 5 feet from the woodstove. I have three kids, 9, 11, 13 years old, as a single parent, so these have to be solid proven strategies. We are fairly used to roughing it in Jersey with layered clothing (in a house though) where heat only came on at 45 F (oil burner with thermostat). proven strategies welcome!

Likely we will often be in an indoor public place (library, YMCA, friend's house, etc), or outside with thick winter clothing and getting some exercise in the snow... But for nighttime and perhaps half the day, I'm hoping to make our motorhome comfortable.

Please, no discouragement. I know this can be done. People have been living comfortably in cold climates for a long time, and I'm sure there are natural approaches and scientific improvements that make it possible.
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Old 08-19-2013, 09:13 AM   #2
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Will the stove not heat it?

I realize it has "no mass" to heat and hold it

you could always hang thick blankets (away from the stove) to keep the heat loss from the windshield area at a minimum, since the floor will be cold, make sure your above the floor (so your bodies don't get the heat pulled from them

good luck with this.....moving would be easier
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Old 08-19-2013, 09:31 AM   #3
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

cool and good luck!

i'd start with some heat loss calculations from a site like this:http://www.builditsolar.com/Referenc...s/HeatLoss.htm

this is how i am sizing the furnace for my bus. conservation can only do so much. you are gonna have to generate a lot of heat. fill that chart out good, expected temps, r values, square ft....
that will give you a number to shoot for in sizing your needs.

i put a too small of a heater in a garage once.... it was quite aggravating to go and turn it on and freeze when huddled around it.

good luck!
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Old 08-19-2013, 10:14 AM   #4
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Thick blankets are an easy way to insulate. I have seem people here use magnets to hold them where they are needed.

I have seen people insulate the floor from underneath the bus. That will help and not take up any space inside.
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Old 08-19-2013, 11:20 AM   #5
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

I would say insulated skirting (possibly in the form of bales) will be an absolute necessity. Combine that with with blankets over the windows, and you are off to a good start. One thing that will really help is the fact that you are using wood heat. It will drastically reduce condensation.
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Old 08-19-2013, 11:26 AM   #6
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

I think Duckfoot mentioned I here somewhere that he created a wiremesh box around his woodstove to fill with stones. These stones became a heat holding mass. Try looking at his build, I think he was working through some of these same issues.
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Old 08-19-2013, 12:13 PM   #7
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomas_maly
Please, no discouragement. I know this can be done. People have been living comfortably in cold climates for a long time, and I'm sure there are natural approaches and scientific improvements that make it possible.
You wont get any discouagement until we get to know you, then your in trouble.
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Old 08-19-2013, 02:36 PM   #8
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Quote:
Originally Posted by wmkbailey
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomas_maly
Please, no discouragement. I know this can be done. People have been living comfortably in cold climates for a long time, and I'm sure there are natural approaches and scientific improvements that make it possible.
You wont get any discouagement until we get to know you, then your in trouble.
Lies. All lies. We harass everybody.

We wouldn't do it if we didn't love ya.

So.

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Old 08-20-2013, 06:32 AM   #9
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

The woodstove is pretty big - 24 x 24 x 24.... and is lined with 2 inch firebrick, for radiant heat. My main concern was minimizing heat loss. Would thick blankets on the roof help from above? I think floor insulation from below makes sense. Maybe interior thick carpet as well? Away from the stove I mean.

I was thinking of also getting 1 inch thick rigid foam boards which usually have R-6 put on plywood facing and tacked on outside over the windows and walls, like how storm windows get attached with hooks etc.

Thick blankets would also go inside. I already reinsulated the walls below the windows.

Straw bale skirting makes good sense.

I was also thinking it would make sense to create some greenhouse with clear plastic and temporary 2x3 framing? As a room on the south side, maybe trap heat inward onto the bus wall?
It would also be nice to have some extra space foe transitioning inside to outside.
I don't know if it would make sense to just have the north side be bales all the way up from the ground to the roof?

I know winters can be tough so I figured I could at least test it all out in the fall and try to avoid using the woodstove as long as possible, see how comfortable passive heating and heat retention can keep it.

Not sure what else there is to do. People on some RV forums have been discouraging, but our former house was an uninsulated 1750 square foot Victorian with 5 ft tall windows in every room and an oil furnace that still didn't help. We got used to wearing layered clothing 24x7, using hot water bottles in bed, several thick blankets (we also have sleeping bags now) and keeping the heat quite low.
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Old 08-20-2013, 06:57 AM   #10
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

plywood out side with insulation will not last long unless it is sealed very good, thick carpet or material on inside might work better and you could take it down during the day to let sun soak inside?

Thick rugs etc on floor will really help
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Old 08-20-2013, 06:58 AM   #11
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Lorna posted some stuff from Mother Earth news about building cheap solar heater things from old windows. that would mount outside and the radiant heat goes thru a duct, very interesting read

http://www.motherearthnews.com/renew...#axzz2cVfvZ4r3
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Old 08-22-2013, 10:51 AM   #12
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Brrr!! That's cold. I spent most of last week camping in Yellowstone in my bus; overnight lows were about 33 F and daytime highs were as high as 80 F. The first night in the bus was pretty chilly for a family who has been living in 70-100 F temperatures for the last few months of summer; subsequent nights I left our "Mr. Heater Big Buddy" running at its 9000 BTU setting. It was about 53 F inside when we got up at 7 am with that heater running all night (and one window open about 4 inches and another about 1 inch for air exchange). I suppose my bus is insulated better-than-average because it came with sprayed-on foam 100% coverage under the floor. Don't know yet what's in the walls or ceiling.

The metal paths from inside to out will sink a lot of heat; with the metal skin inside the bus you'll enjoy the sensation of being enveloped in a tube of ice. Anything to block that radiant heat loss will be a big help. Do whatever you can to insulate on the inside to block that -- rigid foam board, foam camping mats, etc. Stay away from fibrous insulation like cellulose, fiberglass, etc because they'll be constantly emitting fibers into the air you're planning to breathe.

If you can orient the bus long axis east-west and make the insulation covering the south-side windows removable, that'll maximize your opportunity for solar heat gain during the day. I'm not sure what to suggest for capturing the heat -- if the heat simply goes into the air then temps will rise quickly in the morning and fall quickly at night. If you can instead provide some mass for the heat to absorb to, whether tanks of water, stones, concrete, metal, etc it'll limit the temperature spike during the day and also help ease the cold at night.

If you're into building stuff, there are some fascinating plans and ideas on the Build It Solar web site for building solar water heaters on the cheap. Depending on your location (what you can place outside the bus, and how refined its appearance must be) you might consider building a drain-back solar water heater system to heat one or more water barrels inside the bus. Even if you don't use the water for consumption purposes, it could be a pleasant reservoir of heat to help you get through the night with little external energy need.

One thing to be wary of is condensation. It's likely that you'll have surfaces inside the bus which will be below the dew point. People, cooking, and combustion heating will all put moisture into the air and this moisture will condense on cold surfaces. You'll probably need to do something specific to ventilate and let moist air out, and also should look out for condensation on surfaces which would be damaged by standing water. Not to mention the mold and bacteria growth that can happen in moist places.. As another mentioned/alluded, if you have wood burning heat, the hot exhaust rising through its stack will also take with it air from inside the bus. That can help with the ventilation, so long as it isn't pulling too much air out, but remember that when the fire isn't burning it isn't forcing ventilation either.

It may take some creativity to get it done on a shoestring budget (assumed), but it sounds like you have a good idea of what you're in for and are willing to do what you can and cope with the rest. Good luck!
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:07 AM   #13
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

I used hay bales around the bottom of my first bus. I covered them with plastic as well. It certainly did help to keep the floor of the bus from becoming an ice skating rink.

A WARNING: I have seen a large pile of grass clippings (five foot tall) start on fire due to spontaneous combustion. It was in the middle of the winter. It almost started the barn on fire. I was also told that hay can do the same thing if it gets wet.

A safer way to skirt the bottom would be by using plywood, or plastic skirting used on mobile homes, or even old window frames which would let the heat from the sun during the day heat up the underneath of the bus.
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Old 08-22-2013, 11:57 AM   #14
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Accordion
A WARNING: I have seen a large pile of grass clippings (five foot tall) start on fire due to spontaneous combustion. It was in the middle of the winter. It almost started the barn on fire. I was also told that hay can do the same thing if it gets wet.
Well, yes. That's what happens when it starts to compost down to soil. Compost heats up when it starts rotting, s'why ya gotta take a pitchfork or rake or summat to turn it every so often.

I'm going to rip my walls down to studs on the inside and replace all that fiberglass crap with pink or blue board and reflectix, just like in a Liveaboard boat, for most of my insulation needs. Haven't figured out if I'll be insulating the floor from the top or the bottom yet, it depends on the Bus I get my grubby mitts on (if I can get a tall Thomas I'll just lay it on top, otherwise I figure out how to insulate the underneath. There's always the heated floor route, though). While I don't foresee my Bus being anywhere but the Southern States for the rest of my days, I'm not psychic to the point I can tell if a hurricane or family event will be pushing me back to the mountains (I'm also going to see what I can do about taking my Bus to the Virgin Isles when I finally get my scrawny butt to the Islands. I'm thinking biiiiiiiiiig pontoons! ).
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Old 08-22-2013, 12:25 PM   #15
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters


Das Mel sighted near miami in test runs for island hopper bus!!
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Old 08-22-2013, 07:11 PM   #16
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Quote:
Originally Posted by family wagon
. . . . The metal paths from inside to out will sink a lot of heat; with the metal skin inside the bus you'll enjoy the sensation of being enveloped in a tube of ice. Anything to block that radiant heat loss will be a big help. Do whatever you can to insulate on the inside to block that -- rigid foam board, foam camping mats, etc. Stay away from fibrous insulation like cellulose, fiberglass, etc because they'll be constantly emitting fibers into the air you're planning to breathe.

If you can orient the bus long axis east-west and make the insulation covering the south-side windows removable . . .
X2 on both. As far as insulation, trapped air is what blocks heat transfer. Ever been to a Home Show where the closed-cell spray foam guys have their little science project going that shows the air currents between the fiberglass strands, carrying heat from the warm side to the cool side? It will make you a believer in foam. (Cue the '60s hit by the Monkees.)

If you park so one long side is facing south, you not only have the maximum sun during the (short) winter days, you also are not taking the prevailing winds from the west broadside 24 hours a day.

The solar hot air collectors do work, I once was a member in a church (also in Upstate NY) that had the hot air collectors (Trombe Walls). Once the sun came out, they could bake you out of there if you hadn't set the shut-down limit to turn off the blowers.

One of the designs for hot air collectors on the internet, which may have been linked here, was to cut the tops and bottoms of soda cans off, join them into tubes (solder or duct tape I guess), paint them black, and put them behind a glass enclosure. Guess what? You live in a glass enclosure.

You could put columns of black soda cans, or cut lengths of black plastic well pipe, mounted vertical INSIDE the south-facing windows during the day. No need to open a window and make a wood-and-glass box outside. As the tubes heat up, the hot air flows out the top, sucking the colder air up from below. A fan can spread it around. But this really only saves a little firewood, as it only takes a few hours for everything to get cold again (maybe like around 6 PM on days when the sun goes down before 4:30).

So the best suggestions have been:
Insulate with closed-cell foam as much as possible, wherever possible
Cover over metal walls with ANYTHING that won't conduct heat away through the ribs to the outside.
Hang curtains or even better carpeting on the walls, floors, ceiling, and as dividers to keep the heat in the area being used.
Close off parts of the bus that won't be used.
And finally, lay in lots of firewood.
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Old 08-23-2013, 03:35 PM   #17
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Quote:
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Das Mel sighted near miami in test runs for island hopper bus!!
I'VE BEEN SPOTTED! DOWN BUBBLE 20 DEGREES! DIVE DIVE DIVE!
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Old 08-23-2013, 05:33 PM   #18
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

Drive it south?
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Old 08-23-2013, 06:47 PM   #19
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Re: Strategies for northeastern winters

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Drive it south?
"Drive South" by John Hiatt?
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