This is our fourth winter in Alaska, but the first living in our fifth-wheel trailer. Are we crazy? That is a question that I asked my daughter and she replied that she gave up thinking about that years ago. So, yes, she must think we’re crazy. This wildlife selfie perfectly describes our adventuresome life.
As the caretakers of the Cooper Landing Community Center, we were given the option of staying in the camp-lodging site through the winter. Our trailer came with an arctic package which means that all of our underbelly tanks are heated: the water, the gray, and the black. Also, parts of our underside storage units are heated keeping the area under our floors somewhat warm. So, why not try to winterize and do some very cold-weather ‘camping?’
In the summer, we have full hook-ups: electricity would continue through the winter, the ability to dump would be possible, but the water would be turned off. We knew the temperatures could drop into the negatives for multiple days so the main focus became staying warm and keeping the necessities from freezing. In July we began outlining what we would need to live comfortably during sub-zero temps.
The first step was ‘skirting’ our trailer. We have a beautiful Grand Design Solitude and I wanted it to remain looking that way. For our previous trailer, we didn’t want to spend too much money so we bought old billboard material and attached it using snaps. I didn’t want to do this again because the snaps were permanent on the trailer, and the bulky billboard material was impossible to cut to the right size. To me it looked like the shoestring job that it was, and it wasn’t pretty.
An internet search for other options enlightened us to AirSkirts. We considered the high cost, but felt the option better than hay bales or chunks of silver insulation. AirSkirts would allow us to maintain the visual esthetics of the trailer. We purchased the numerous tubes we needed to ‘wrap’ our 42-foot trailer.
The set-up for our fifth-wheel didn’t go as described on the website. First, the tubes didn’t fit around the stabilizers which meant they had to go behind them pushing them further under the trailer. Second, the tubes didn’t butt up to each other end-to-end like the photos so we had many open spots for cold air to seep through. Though the people at AirSkirts have been more than helpful with options to make our tube skirts work, AirSkirts would function better on a bumper pull or a fifth-wheel that is shorter. With the amount of money we invested in these skirts, they had to be used and work. With some small inflatable pillows given to us by AirSkirts, we could fill most of the gaps , but it’s not as streamlined as we had hoped. At the suggestion of the owner of AirSkirts, my husband also placed a small ceramic heater under the back end to keep the air warm when the temperatures fall below freezing.
Even with the Airskirts, there were slideouts and the front hitch area that needed to be covered. I found some black arctic vinyl at the fabric store that was rated to -40 before cracking. We skirted the the kitchen and dining room slides and the front around the hitch. The vinyl was flexible, easy to cut, and sew. My husband purchased a grommet kit and the vinyl was attached to the trailer with command hooks. If only I had invested in that company, I would be a wealthy woman! It is now December 18 and with some of the snow and ice we have had, a few of the hooks have fallen off, but they are easy to replace.
We have three other slideouts too high to skirt: two couch slides and the bed slide. We bought silver insulation board and cut pieces that would nudge under the slide bottom to add one more layer of insulation.
The next project involved making an small arctic entrance. This would keep snow off of the steps, act as a wind break at the door, and give us a place to store some winter necessities like ice melt, gravel, and a shovel. We used our older worn-out mat so that shoveling and sweeping would be easier with a ‘floor.’ My husband built it like a lean-to with a solid frame and clear roof to allow for the minimal daylight we receive and keep it from being a completely dark entrance. He wrapped the frame with a large tarp that seemed like a great idea, but next winter we will be enclosing it with more clear siding, a couple of windows, and a storm door. We are still grateful for the entrance which most definitely protects the entry to our trailer.
The last big time-consuming project involved covering all of our interior windows with 3M plastic and a hair dryer. Though all the windows shut, they do not seal. Since putting the plastic on the windows, we have come to realize just how ‘open’ the windows remain as there are times ice builds up between the plastic and the inside of the window from condensation. Had we not taken this step to insulate the windows, the interior of our home would be colder and draftier (we have no drafts at all), and the furnace would never shut off. We also have a large propane tank from a local company that is refilled automatically every two weeks so we do not have to worry about running out of propane.
The water was turned off mid-October. We are blessed to live right next to the community center. We can run a hose from the kitchen to our water tank which is about 100 feet. Our tank holds 80 gallons and we refill every eight or nine days. Most recently, we filled it and it was 2 degrees! It’s wonderful to be able to wash dishes and shower.
We were told that the sewer gets turned off, too. However, that is virtually impossible since the center is used throughout the winter –– people cook in the kitchen and use the restrooms. The concern was that we would keep our sewer hose out all winter causing the system to freeze, also not really possible. One mistake early on, however, and our sewer hose filled with water, froze, and broke into hundreds of pieces. We invested in a sewer hose that is supposedly good to -20, but it is still plastic. It is now housed in a garbage bag in the furnace room of the center and only used every two weeks when my husband dumps.
To keep from having to dump frequently, we use the center’s restrooms. We also don’t want to get sludge in the black tank because we cannot back-wash it out –– no water. When it’s time to dump, the warm hose is pulled out of the plastic bag flexible and ready for use.
As I write this, we don’t have a temperature. Just kidding. It’s zero. The electric fireplace in the living runs all of the time. We bought a smaller electric heater for the kitchen which helps keep the furnace from running too much. We learned through trial and error that when the little heater is on, we have to put the water heater on gas so we don’t trip the breaker. We also have to turn the little heater off to use the microwave. Some minor inconveniences that allow us to live in our home during the winter on the Kenai peninsula.
I believe we are living fine; I won’t ask my husband who runs out flip the breaker when it trips, shovels the roof of snow and ice, and gets the hose ready for water and dumps the sewer. But then again, I can’t ask him because he’s skiing at Alyeska resort while I sit here and write this blog looking at the snow accumulating on top of Mt. Cecil.
Oh, and next winter? We’re staying. The community club hired me to be the event coordinator at the center and my husband is the new CERT volunteer. It seems for awhile, we have a permanent place on Bean Creek Road, living and experiencing the Kenai River in the Last Frontier as a local.
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