Data Sheet

#18 Winter touring in caravans and motorhomes

#18 #18 Winter touring in caravans and motorhomes
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2: Keeping warm


Keeping warm

LPG cylinders 2

Only propane gas (red cylinders) will carry on working while winter camping

Bottled gas

It is essential to note of the two types of bottled LPG (liquid petroleum gas) available, only propane will keep providing gas at temperatures close to and below 0C. LPG needs heat to “boil” to produce gas and while butane ceases gassing off as the temperature approaches zero, propane will continue to gas off down to -40C.

Safety First

It is also important to remember the potential of gas appliances to cause harm when you are concentrating on minimising the influx of cold air into your unit. So remember:

  • The factory installed drop-out vents in the floor at the back of appliances are essential safety features in the case of a gas leak.
  • Use of a gas oven and hob uses up oxygen and can create carbon monoxide so opening a window or roof light when cooking is essential. Never use a gas hob as an additional source of heating.
  • In a modern caravan all gas appliances, other than the cooker,web Approved Workshop Logo will have balanced flues or systems that provide an external air intake and also vent the waste gases externally. These intakes and exhausts should be checked to ensure they do not become blocked with snow.
  • A carbon monoxide alarm is highly recommended.
  • Ensure your unit has an annual service with an Approved Workshop, which will include a check on the safety of your gas system by a qualified technician.

If you are using gas for heating and therefore using a lot of gas, you may be tempted to consider the use of larger-than-normal cylinders. Although this is a more economical way of buying gas, the preferred size from the safety aspect is to use cylinders that fit into your unit’s gas locker. The Club has a policy on the use of external gas cylinders, which may be found on the Club website. Remember when moving to and from site always ensure gas cylinders are transported securely in an upright position  and the valves are shut off for travel.

Electric hook-up

Staying on a site with an electric hook-up can be very useful in winter to help conserve your gas supply and maintain your battery power, but there are limitations to hook-ups. Ideally, for winter use you should look for a 16A hook-up so you can use your heater and some ancillary equipment. A 2kW heater will use just over half of this capacity so be clear what your other appliances consume to avoid tripping your unit system or, even worse, the supply bollard. Refer to Data Sheet Electricity for Campers and Caravanners to check the notional power requirements of typical caravan and motorhome appliances. Check with the campsite manager how secure the supply is during busy, very cold spells. Sometimes you will be asked to go easy on your use of electrical power to prevent overloading of the campsite system at peak periods.

Space heating

The type of heating system will make a big difference to how comfortable you are. A single space heater without any distribution system can lead to cold areas within the unit.

A heating system where heat is distributed by blown air or circulating hot water should give greater comfort and help eliminate cold spots that are liable to cause areas of condensation. The downside of blown air or circulating hot water systems is the electrical power need to operate them, which will deplete your battery over time if you are not on a hook-up.

If going out for the day it is often better for economy and comfort to keep your heating on at a low setting rather than switch off only to put it on at full blast on your return. If you do not have a low wattage electric heater built into your unit or thermostatic controls it may be worth taking a small oil-filled electric radiator that can be safely left on to keep the unit reasonably warm and above freezing while you are out in the day or during the night.

Some of the latest caravans come with heating controls that can be adjusted remotely via a mobile phone, which can help greatly if planning a day out.

The right unit and insulation

Grade 3 insulation

A unit built to Grade 3 insulation standard is likely to be suited to winter camping

From about 1999 most caravans and coachbuilt motorhomes have been constructed to a grading system set by European Standard. If you intend to camp in winter check the unit you are buying complies with Grade 3 insulation to EN1645 (caravans) or EN1646 (motorhomes) standard. Older units were largely built to Grade 2 insulation standard. Grade 3 insulation does not mean you will not experience problems in winter, but it does mean it will be easier to maintain the water supply and easier (and generally cheaper) to keep warm.

Often manufacturers will also state their product is fully winterised and indicate the likes of tanks and water pipes are insulated. The term winterised is not a strict specification so ask for details of what is included. For cold weather camping, an on board fresh water tank is ideal to ensure a frost-free water supply, for example.

The vast majority of caravans and motorhomes have double-glazed acrylic windows, which provide a good degree of insulation although some condensation will form on them under severe conditions. The acrylic used in these windows exhibits hydroscopic properties, which means under certain conditions moist air will pass through the material. Hence when the air inside is warm and moist and conditions outside are cold (typical winter conditions), moist air is likely to be trapped between the glazed panes and appear as misting. In time given some warm sunshine on the window the misting should disappear.

Motorhome condensation

Condensation on a motorhome windcreen can be an issue

Motorhomes often have the drawback of having a large single glazed windscreen and side cab windows, which have the potential to lose a great deal of heat. It is therefore a good idea to insulate this glass area.

Insulated windscreen cover

An insulated cover for the cab windscreen can help keep a motorhome snug, external type shown

Insulated screens can be readily purchased to fit most standard cabs or can be made to measure. Two types are available, those that fit internally and those fitting externally. Internal fitted screens are convenient to fit and easy to pack away in a clean dry condition, whereas external screens can become dirty and wet in use and so more of a problem to stow away. However, loosely fitting internal screens while keeping in much warmth, can allow warm air to reach the inside face of the cold glass, which will result in considerable formation of condensation. External screens should fit snugly around the whole of the glass and with internal heating on the glass will become relatively warm, resulting in condensation. Campervans have problems of their own, sometimes with single-glazed side windows in addition to the cab glazing and even fabric raised tops. Insulation screens for such units may not be readily available but insulation materials can be obtained for DIY provision.

An alternative to insulation screens for windows is a good quality thick curtain to cut off the cab area from the motorhome habitation area, which will also reduce the volume to be heated. Curtains with thermal linings can also be a good additional method used in conjunction with double-glazed windows in all units.