Let’s look at a real-life example of that. Right now I’m at Quartzsite, AZ (400 feet elevation) and it is 95 degrees, that’s starting to get uncomfortably hot. But if I drive north for 200 miles I can be camped outside of Prescott, AZ in the Prescott National Forest at 5500 feet. Since the temperature drops by a little more than 3 degrees per 1000 feet, if I go up 5000 feet the temperature will be 20 degrees cooler so it will be about 75 degrees. That’s a big improvement!! Eventually though, it will get hot at Prescott as well, usually up to the mid 90s. When that happens I can just move another 100 miles to the Coconino NF outside of Flagstaff AZ at 7500 feet and the temps will drop another 6-10 degrees putting them into the 80s. But more importantly, I will be surrounded by huge Ponderosa pines so I can park in the shade and stay very comfortable. Moving with the seasons is your best choice, but what are you going to do if you can’t move? Many of us are tied to an area by obligations to jobs, family or friends and as the price of gas keeps going up, eventually many of us will come to the point where we just can’t drive long distances anymore. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to be as comfortable as possible if you can’t move with the seasons. Let’s look at them:
2) Cover the windows with Reflectix. With every vehicle I’ve ever lived in the first thing I did was buy a roll of Reflectix and cover the windows. Reflectix is two layers of a heavy duty aluminum foil-like material with bubble wrap sandwiched between them. It adds a small amount of insulation, but what it does extremely well is reflect the heat of the sun away from the van. If you cover all your windows with Reflectix, your van will be much more comfortable in both winter and summer. Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation
Here are four ways to install it:
- By far your best choice is to cut it a little large and simply press it into the window frame. It stays remarkably well.
- You can use two-sided Velcro to attach it.
- You can use magnets glued to the van and washers glued to the Reflectix to hold them in place.
- You can duct tape it in place but the heat may make it a mess.
4) Use weather-stripping and hang blankets to prevent drafts. As our vans get older the weather-stripping loses it shape and dries out and the van rattles things so they don’t fit as well. Chances are very good your van has quite a few drafts and they are going to make you feel much colder in winter. So replacing it or improving on it is a very good first step in preparing for winter. Another great idea is to hang a blanket over the entire side and back door. I have a tarp over mine to stop drafts and then an older wool blanket to keep the heat in. It works well.
5) Park to maximize or minimize passive solar gain or heat. The sun is always putting out some heat so you want to park in such a way so that in the summer you get the least heat inside and the heat that does get inside can escape. In the winter you want the opposite; to park so you get the most heat inside, and once the heat is in you want to store it by covering all the windows that don’t have heat coming in. Because the sun puts out the most heat at noon, you want the van to point either due north, or due south at noon.
- In the winter I park my van with my windshield pointing due south so the most sunshine can get inside as possible. I cover and insulate all the windows that are not being hit by the sun so the least amount of heat can escape through them. So in the morning the West windows are covered and the East are exposed to the sun, and past noon when the sun has shifted I reverse that. As soon as the sun goes down I cover and insulate all the windows to prevent heat from escaping through the windows at night.
- In the summer I park with my windshield pointed due north and cover and insulate all the other windows that have the sun hitting them. As soon as a window is not being hit by the sun I uncover and open it.
7) Paint your roof. If possible, you want a white van because white doesn’t absorb heat like dark colors do. But if you already own a dark colored van you might want to paint the roof white so it doesn’t absorb as much heat. This is the product I recommend and my friend used in this picture from Amazon.com: Kool Seal Elastomeric Roof Coating
8) Create shade and put out an awning. If possible you want to find shade to park under, but that rarely is possible, plus with my solar panels I need to be under the sun. So I create my own shade. The first thing I did was put a piece of plywood over the ladder racks that hold my solar panels which puts my roof in constant shade. The next thing I do when it’s hot is drape a tarp over the side of my trailer that is exposed to the sun so it’s always in the shade. The result is that the roof and wall are in constant shade, greatly cooling the van. Finally, I put out my ARB Awning so I can have someplace in the shade to sit outside. ARB Brown 8′ Awning
9) Install vents and vent covers in the roof: Having a roof vent to let the hot air escape will dramatically cool the van. This is the exact vent I bought from Amazon.com Heng’s 14″ White Universal Vent
I also strongly recommend that you get a vent cover to go over it so that you can leave the vent open in the rain and while you drive. This is the one I bought from Amazon Camco RV Roof Vent Cover (White)
Since mine are covered I open them when spring starts to get warm and never close them again till fall when it cools off. I don’t worry about rain or having them blown off by the wind blast as I drive because the cover protects them. You will want to get an insulating cover to put up into them in the winter so they don’t let all the warm air escape through the thin plastic lid.
Here is my roadpro fan from Amazon: RoadPro 10″ 12V or Battery Dual Power Portable Fan And here is my Endless Breeze fan made by Fantastic Fan: Fan-Tastic Vent Endless Breeze 12V Fan
10) Buy several fans. Everything else we’ve done is to keep the heat from coming in or to get it out, but a fan does more than that and actually makes you feel cooler, so it is one of the single most important things you can do!! You have two choices for a fan:
- A fan mounted into the roof vent. A powered roof fan can be set to blow outward and push hot air out of the van, or it can be reversed to pull air into the van and. Ideally you will have two, one pulling air in and the other pushing air out, that way you get a lot of air movement. But they are expensive so if you just have one that’s fine. The best powered vents are made by Fantastic Fan. They are expensive but they are very reliable and very powerful, they move a lot of air! The company is famous for its lifetime warranty on all its products. You can get them from Amazon here: Fan-Tastic Vent Vent with Reverse and Thermostat
- Another option is a 12 volt portable fan. If you can only afford either a roof mounted fan OR a portable fan, I recommend the portable fan. It gives you so much more flexibility it is mandatory in the heat. You can set it beside you up front while you are driving or take it outside and sit under the awning; when you go to bed you can set it next to the bed; when you are sitting at the computer you can have it beside you aimed right at you. This ability to move it as close or far away as you want it, aimed directly or indirectly at you makes it an essential item in the summer, no matter where you are. If you can afford to get both a vent fan and a portable, they work extremely well together. Set the portable fan in front of a window aiming at you and turn the vent fan on blowing out and you will have a wonderful cooling cross-draft in the van! Fantastic Fan makes a portable fan called the Endless Breeze which is their fan from the roof vent put into a portable housing. I own one and they are expensive ($65) but they are also extremely high quality! It should last you the rest of your life and if it ever fails they will fix or replace it for free! For a portable I recommend a O2 Cool 12 volt fan. They are fairly cheap but reliable and great fans. They rebrand them under the WalMart house brand, Ozark Trails and the truck stop brand Roadpro. They are all the same fan and highly recommended. You can get them at WalMart, every truck stop or at Amazon.com. I have a Roadpro fan I got on sale at Flying J for $20 and it’s a great fan! Make sure it is 12 volt, some aren’t. Nearly all of them will also work on D cell batteries also.
- Use Thermal Mass. While you are driving put several gallons of water in front of the heater vents in the van and let the water get really hot. When you stop it will radiate out its stored heat.
- Coleman Propane Stove. When you make a meal inside at night after dark the van will warm up and if it is well insulated it may stay warm the rest of the night. If it doesn’t you can turn it on later and warm up water for hot chocolate and get the van warm again that way. That’s usually enough as long as you are dressed for cold weather but if it is very cold I have even turned on my stove and just left it on low as a heater. I’ve done that literally thousands of times and never died once!
- Mr. Buddy Portable Heater. These are wonderful heaters used by the majority of vandwellers in cold country. They are highly recommended! You can get it from Amazon here: Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater
To save propane you are going to want to buy a bulk refillable bottle and an adapter hose to plug the Mr. Buddy to it. They make a filter that MUST be used whenever it is hooked up to a bulk bottle You can get the filter from Amazon here: Mr. Heater Fuel Filter for Portable Buddy and Big Buddy Heaters
- Coleman Propane catalytic heater. These are very good little heaters that also work well for us. But they are harder to connect to a bulk bottle so generally you are better off to get a MR. Buddy.
- Olympian Catalytic Wave 3 heater. This is by far the best of all heaters and it’s a low pressure device so it can only be used off a bulk bottle and does not need a filter. Because it is a true catalytic heater it produces much less carbon monoxide than any other heater and is the only one I would use at night while I was sleeping. The whole 6 years I lived in a van in Anchorage, AK I used multiple Olympian heaters and they ran 24 hours a day 7 days a week the entire winter. The only time they were ever off was when I changed bulk bottles. They are more expensive but they are simply the best, easiest to install and safest you can buy for the money! Get them from Amazon here: Olympian Wave-3 3000 BTU Catalytic Heater
Be sure to read and follow all your heaters warnings and rules and you can be confident you are safe. But, I also strongly recommend you have a carbon monoxide detector with you as well. If you are using a portable heater You MUST have one!!
My O2Cool fan has 3 options: standard is a 12v plug but it has a 110v adapter plus a base it can plug into that holds 8 D-size batteries. It also can either stand or hang–even magnetically though a tent/awning ceiling! It has been a real comfort to me many times in many ways.
I’m familiar with that model and it is a very good one! I’m a big fan of the O2 Cool fans!
Very helpful information…..thank you!
You’re very welcome Sunday!
Great information Bob.
Where did you buy the tarps your using?
Wayne, there is a vendor in Quartzsite that sells both of those. The white tarp is very unusual because it is extra heavy duty. They sell all sizes because they are what vendors use on their tents. The tan/yellow mesh tarp is available on Amazon and my next post will have a link to it.
Thanks Bob. That’s the one that caught my eye(white one). Don’t see those around in stores.
Wayne, you’re right they are uncommon.
This is a really good series. Very inspirational.
Thanks for the great information, Bob. I’ll come back to this one when I’m putting things together. In the end, each person’s choices will be personal but more information will make them all better.
By the way, the titles are showing up on the blog background again rather than having the same background as the blog text and comments. I noticed that the little space between the posting and the comments is doing the same thing. There’s some text there. It’s possible that this is somehow involved with my use of Linux (Pinguy 12.04, which is a Ubuntu distro) with Mozilla Firefox. I will come back to the blog in Windows 7 and let you know if this changes.
I generally read Bob’s blog on a laptop running Linux and Firefox, and I have had no problems, at least none that I’ve noticed. You may want to check some of the settings in Firefox to see if it is using a style sheet other than what Bob’s blog is using or some other setting that is causing the problem.
Most Linux users have far more technical expertise than I, which is why I use Pinguy. The help function came up with a few ideas I will try. I have Windows available, so if it ever becomes a more serious issue, I will simply bring the blog up with that.
That’s good Calvin!
Make you a flower pot heater. The best you will see folks.
Here is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzKbFzUEWkA
Martin, I know people with those and they really do put out a minimal amount of heat. Unless you just cannot use anything else I’d pass on it.
if you are going to be using a tealight for heat, you might as well harness it for lighting your LED lamp too:
When I get a camper, I am thinking of putting one or 2 of these in it.
The titles are right when I come in with Windows and Firefox. I assume it’s a Linux issue.
Bob, have you had condensation issues with your wave3? In both my 8×8 and 12×8 cabins, it would ‘rain’ from the ceiling (some, but not enough, insulation, more than I would expect a van to have).
I highly recommend roadpro’s “tornado” fan. It clips on, has multiple swivel joints, and infinitely adjustable speed. That and a damp washcloth on bare skin will get you through nasty heat!
CuriousNomad, yes, all propane heaters put out a lot of moisture including the Olympians. I had a lot of insulation so condensation wasn’t at issue until it was well below zero. And yes, I did have it “rain” inside the van but only after a sever cold snap at well below zero. All the condensation would freeze on the roof and when it warmed up it literally would rain inside. But, the choices were no heat at -30 or some rain afterwards. I chose the rain!!!!!!
This is a great series, obviously the results of years of knowledge, research, and experience.
Great to hear heating tips from an Alaska native.
Do you have any experience with the more expensive propane and diesel powered heaters, (Espar, Webasto, Airtronic, Propex etc. that use heat exchangers, and vent outside?
I get headaches at the drop of a hat, and feel they’s be worth the extra scratch to avoid a little (minimal) carbon monoxide, and condensation moisture (although a more humid environment is more comfortably habitable than an extremely dry one).
John, I don’t have any experience with them, they are all way outside of my price range. They are also a whole other level of complexity that I like to deal with.
I have heard of people using them that really like them.
I haven’t seen this mentioned.I discovered that when the pillow i was given to cushion my knees reflected heat, it was also very useful when you have cold feet.I just put the pillow in the bottom of my sleeping bag or rest my feet on the pillow and my feet are always warm.It has a sqush trade mark and is filled with polystyrene beads.I found some on Amazon and it’s available from Bed Bath and beyond. This worked even in 30 below weather!I’ve had mine for several yrs and is certainly a cheap way to be more comfortable in the cold.I love you Bob for posting such useful information for those of us who live free!
Margo thanks for that great tip! I’ll have to look into getting one of those. Do you use one for your head or just your knees-feet?
Thank you Bob, for such an interesting and informative post. I’m sure it will help a lot of people, I found lots to think about. Is the Mr. Buddy heater not the same kind of catalytic heater than the Olympian Wave then? Is it less safe?
Also, I am curious about the fact that you live in your trailer and use your van as storage, whereas other people live in their vans and use their trailer as storage. When you take off on long trips, you transfer your living quarters over. Can you explain the advantage for you of having your permanent living quarters in the trailer instead of the van?
Hi Ming, the Buddy heater is NOT a catalytic heater so it is NOT as safe as an Olympian.
The trailer is a high top and the van is a low top. I want to be able to stand up in my home. Also, the trailer was easy to insulate so it is heavily insulated and the van is hard to insulate so it is not insulated at all.
The van is all set to live in with a bed and shelves so I just swap out my personal things to move into it, like moving into a motel room.
It works really well for me!
yes, that makes sense. I recall too, reading that you moved from your truck into the trailer then got the van later.
You’re welcome Ming!
I’ve used tarps to cover loads in my truck and found the woven type tarps are far stronger and flap in the wind much less. They are more expensive, but make a lot less noise in the wind.
These are also frequently used for shade. It blocks a lot of heat and you can still see through it. There are differing levels of shade cloth, so be aware if you get the cheap ones that it won’t last as long in the weather. Some places also offer custom sizes, which is cool.
Here is a link for an interesting one. It seems like a great improvement on the standard woven tarp, but I can’t say how well it really works or how long it lasts.
Canine, I agree that for anything that doesn’t need to be waterproof the mesh tarps have a lot of advantages. Here in the desert they will work in the wind and still give you some shade, so they are a big plus! I have two, one is a dark green and the tan one.
I have a roof fantastic fan and a endless breeze fan mounted on a piano hinge sideways so I can draw the cool air in with the roof fan and direct it towards me with the sideways one…seems to be a good way to do it.
*Looking forward to your post on awnings/tarps…once I get out in nature that will be the last piece of my off-grid puzzle setup.
openspaceman, an awning really gives me a sense of “home” kind of like a front porch! Last summer during the monsoons an awning was essential to keeping my sanity during the rains that lasted forever!!
how do you handle the competing need for sun for the solar panels and shade to stay cool?
Hunter, I park in the sun for the solar, but I make my own shade with the plywood over the roof and the tarp on the south side wall. That gives me the best of both worlds.
I have an O2 Cool fan with a magnetic base. Moving air really helps me feel cooler. It got the test these past few days when it was in the upper 80s.
I also give two big thumbs up for an awning. I use spring clamps to hold the tarp to the van’s rain gutters. They’ve held in some fairly stiff winds. When I tilt my solar panel, the side door needs to face south. With the awning I can keep the door open without roasting inside. I can also open one of the back doors to scoop up any breeze there might be.
All good tips Al!
Bob I really like your shade room, cant wait for your post on it! You get credit for having a very well.organized rig, every one of your pics show a nice neat “home”.
Bill, I live this way to enjoy life not suffer, I like my comforts!!!
Hey Bob I also am seeing the header all squished and words overlaid.
Bill, I’m sorry I don’t have any idea how to fix it. It looks fine on my Windows 7 and also my Windows 8.1 laptops.
Bob-concerning the pillow-i think that some people use them for their neck, you can get different shapes and sizes. I personally use a buck wheat hull pillow it’s the same principal but is cool,even in summer. I’ve thought of finding a body pillow filled with the stuff in the other pillow or even connecting 2 or three together because they truly work well. the only thing is to many of them might be too warm!
Margo, it sounds like it would work great!
This winter I was fortunate enough to not need to turn on my Buddy heater. But, now, I need to figure out how to use the thing for the day I do need it. I’m honestly afraid of the whole long hose connection routine plus dealing with the fuel filter if and when it clogs. So, I’m seriously considering the Olympian Wave-3 3000 BTU Catalytic Heater! It seems reasonable enough. By the time I’ll need it, I’m sure I’ll afford it and will probably offer the Buddy at RTR or sell it on eBay or something. But, do you need to attach the Catalytic heater to the wall? If so, I”d have to do some rearranging in the van to accommodate it.
Hi Gloria, I hope all is well with you. I’m sure you are like me, cold is the least of my problems now with the temperatures hitting into the 90s!
The Olympian can either be mouted on the wall or put on legs to stand freely where er you put it. I’m sure you can find a place for it no problem in your van. Rochelle (Glorias dog) might be a problem but I think you could sit in top of something between the front seats and get it up so she can’t get up against it.
No doubt they are better, safer heaters.
I ‘m very disappointed of Deka AGM battery shorted out less one year old. I would not buy another Deka AGM battery and it ‘s so unreliable. I ‘m thinking to buy 6v flooded battery and put in back of mini van without venting. Any suggestion or help. Thanks in advance.
Patrick, the rules of safety are that any battery inside the van needs to be in a vented box. However, I think the risk is low so I have never done that. I have unvented batteries in my van right now. But I DO NOT recommend you do that. Do NOT do as I do!!
I’m just teasing and trying to protect myself from a lawsuit. You will have to make up your mind for yourself.
Thanks Bob for Advise. I don’t have the space to build vented box, so I will have to put in back of my van in open space. I have no choice, but I hope the risk is very low. I will open the windows when I drive. Any suggestion?
patrick, I think the risk is very low so I just put them back there and never gave them another thought. I’ve never had a problem. BUT!! I don’t want to be sued so I can’t recommend you do that.
While I am an avid reader but not much on posting, I just had to add my two cents in here because it wasn’t even mentioned, let alone recommended by anyone.
I have a high top, 1982 Dodge 15 passenger van… I have had very bad experiences using propane in vehicles. My sole fuel source for heating/cooking and some lighting is kerosene. I have a portable 3 burner cooktop which can be used indoors or out, and a 23,000 BTU kerosene heater which can be used for both heating and cooking. I also have kerosene lamps which I use for those long winter evenings.
My van is basically an uninsulated window van. Unlike with the propane, I have no moisture issues using kerosene, and even at -60f outside it is Hawaii inside my van.
I’ve been living in vans for the most part of 50 years now, and as far as I’m concerned kerosene is the only way to go. In real life tests, a propane heater of any kind will set off my carbon monoxide sensor and/or my low oxygen sensor within 20-30 minutes if my van is closed up tight. I can leave the kerosene heater run all day without either sensor going off.
Granted, I only did that when it was 60 below outside, normally you need windows open to control the temp or you’d cook to death.
In milder temps, unlike the kerosene heaters which are pretty much on or off, the kerosene cooktop can be adjusted for heat output. With a clay flower pot on top of a single burner you can adjust the heat to maintain a constant level of comfort.
The Aladdin kerosene lamps also can produce a lot of heat, and although they use a wick and are not pressurized, they can use a mantle similar to a Coleman lantern and put out a similar amount of light.
If you purchase kerosene in bulk, it’s can be cheap, I got my last 20 gallons at a fuel oil supply company for $2.73/gallon and that’s enough to last me a month even at 60 below. I’m heading South now, so that 20 gallons will probably last for many months.
Anyway, my apologies for the long post, but I think more people should consider kerosene. You can store 10 gallons of kerosene in the same amount of space as a small bulk propane tank, and get about 10 times the longevity of usage. Since it isn’t under pressure you don’t need to worry so much about leaks, and unlike propane, kerosene doesn’t seem to care about either altitude or extremely cold weather.
Thanks for all that helpful information Campervan_Man!! Like you noticed, I don’t talk about or recommend kerosene use. I think it is just like a lot of people with propane they had a bad experience and now they aren’t even open to the possibility of using it.
I had bad experiences with liquid fuels in the van and so I don’t recommend them. But I certainly have no problem with you sharing your experience. That’s something I can’t argue with!!
I’d like to hear about your bad experiences, after all knowledge is power…
They’ve occured over the years and would take too long to relay. I’m not to stuck on safety rules, but one I follow is no liquid fuels in the van. But that is just a personal decision. The only exception I may make is alcohol heaters but I don’t need it so I’m sure it will never happen. My van is so well insulated that I only need my Coleman propane stove for heat and it works perfectly for heat and cooking so I’m not in the market for anything else.
Love my buddy heater. It has some quirks but here in wv i cant live without it! Just want to mention, with my van locked upmy digi co monitor was at around 40ppm after 30 mins, but in just a couple minutes of opening the roof vent a couple inches it dropped to zero (bed height). The only time my alarm has gone off is while charging my batteries with vent closed. Once again venting fixed that.
I have one of those tornado fans and its nice…but extremely loud, think hair dryer. Even on lowest setting it has a whine. Still a decent trade off for its output and versatile clip mount!
Thanks for the reminder about the importance of ventilation DazerGaidin. Far better to have too much than to get sick or even die from too little!
I have a friend with a tornado fan and he like his too. You just have to have one in the summer!
Nice pics, Bob. I’m running Puppy Linux 5.28 here, and 5.7 on my netbook. I haven’t noticed any problems anywhere on your site with headers being squished together lately, but I have in the past. Updating to the latest version of Firefox, or whatever browser you use, may resolve that problem as it did for me. The only time my linux box has a problem with websites is when they use FlashPlayer, which is no longer supported in Linux. Just my thoughts and observations.
Looking forward to the rest of this. Thanks again!
Thanks Varmint. There are so many combinations of systems being used it’s hard to get everything to work for everybody. I’m surprised it works nearly as well as it does.
Bob, Could I use a Camco Olympian Wave-8 8000 BTU LP Gas Catalytic Heater in my well insulated home. I live in a 22 x 26 sq ft. area and I can’t find a 22,000 btu heater with the Catalytic system.
Ronnie, you could use it but I’d be concerned that the heat wouldn’t flow around well. It would be warm close to the heater but cool away from it. I think I would be inclined to use multiple smaller heaters around the house.