Friday, October 19, 2012

Alaskan winter is here, off-grid survival begins!

Boiling water for coffee... only took 9 minutes to reach a rolling boil!

It's finally COLD & winter is officially here!  In Anchorage, Alaska, the temperatures are dropping into the single digits at night and the snow is beginning to fall.  In the past, I never paid too much attention to this fall-to-winter transition... but now I am!  Why? Because when you live in a traveling motorhome with no where to "plug-in", you are forced to find off-grid solutions to keep yourself alive in the cold.

34 F outside, but 81 F inside!

   I was forced to think "outside-of-the-box" to keep myself alive this winter, and my solutions are working really well right now!  There is one reason I am going to survive this winter in my little motorhome... the life-blood of my off-grid lifestyle, otherwise known as the "Kimberly wood stove."  This little gem provides all of my heat and does an incredible job at keeping my little home toasty warm.  I have also been doing the majority of my cooking on this Kimberly to avoid using my counter top propane stove (which causes excessive condensation in cold climates).

   Pretty soon I will have an add-on oven that will sit on top of the Kimberly, which will allow me to bake pizza, casseroles, pies, and all kinds of goodness.  I also will have a thermo-electric generator soon, which will sit on top of the oven and produce electricty from the fire's heat, this way I'll be able to charge my laptop/cell phone, power my lights, a fan, a vacuum, or charge the RV battery.  The owner is also creating a hot water coil system, where I can hook my sink & shower's plumbing directly to the little wood stove, start a fire, and take hot showers... pretty cool!

Wiring my solar panels (I actually electrocuted myself because the solar panels were in the sun!)
   The Kimberly stove is obviously my centerpiece, and I can't rave enough about it!  To help charge the batteries, I have two 30 watt solar panels (60 watts combined) that work very well, even with the minimal sunlight we receive up here in Alaska.  I basically try to park facing the sun every day (they are up on my roof and tilted towards the front of the Toyota.  Since the motorhome is my daily driver, the alternator on the engine actually charges my batteries after a few errands around town.

My home for the night, overlooking Cook Inlet with the Alaska Range in the far horizon.
   The one downside to living off-grid in a motorhome in a cold, winter climate... frozen pipes.  It just isn't feasible to keep my water "running" through the winter, as it will cause the water pump, pipes, and tanks to expand and crack open.  To avoid that carnage, I drained my drinking water and grey water (sink/shower) tanks completely.  I flushed the pipes with RV antifreeze (they say it's safe to drink, but I don't want to test that hypothesis) and shut the shower & sink down for the winter.  I just take showers wherever opportunities arise.

Practical functionality ain't got nothin' on attitude.
   For drinking/cooking water, I simply carry a 4 gallon jug and refill it about once a week (the water won't freeze this way).  I rigged my sink plumbing where my dish water in the sink falls directly into a 5 gallon bucket beneath the sink, & I can easily dump out the 5 gallon bucket as it gets full.  It's shocking how much fresh water people waste every day, and how little water you truly need to survive.  I connected my toilet plumbing to my waterpump, which flushes RV antifreeze down the toilet every time you flush (instead of water).  This allows me to still have a bathroom for the winter.  I also took toilet freeze-proofing precautions by applying a 12 volt heat pad and heat tape on my blackwater tank and piping, which I can thaw out if the RV antifreeze doesn't live up to its -50 F expectations.
Releasing thesis work stress via banjo.
Thesis work: Collecting data & modeling Alaskan Rivers. Gulp...
     It seems like there is no time to get "bored" these days.  I search for interesting new places to park my home every night (usually with an awesome view), and I have yet to experience getting kicked out of my parking spot for the night.  Alaska truly is a laissez-faire state.  Moving around is pretty fun, I almost feel like a modern-day nomad.  Whitewater kayaking season is wrapping up, so it's about time to stash the kayaks for the season.  Finishing off my master's thesis (creating a hydraulic isoscape for Southcentral Alaska) and playing the banjo currently fill my time up in the RV, at least until ski/speed-fly/snowmachine season come knocking at my front door.  That's the update, more soon enough...


Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to Build Over-cab Bed Supports

It's inevitable. If you own a Toyota motorhome, the over-cab bed area will begin sagging over time on the edges.  Eventually, the bed's plywood will sag to a point where you will not be able to open your doors (ie: your doors will make contact with the plywood bed).  This problem is prevalent in Toyota motorhomes because the truck body is narrow and the camper is much wider, making for a much wider over-cab bed overhang than other motorhomes.

There are 2 ways to fix this issue:

1) Replace the plywood in the bed area, which is extremely time consuming and very difficult to do without tearing something apart.
2) Built custom over-cab bed support rods!!!!!! YES!

Here's how to perform the latter option.

Step 1:  Buy some 1 inch DOM aluminum tubing, 1/4 inch aluminum plating, and 1/4 inch aluminum angle.

Step 2: Support your over-cab bed area to the desired height (make sure your doors can open... generally you want about 1/2 an inch of clearance from the door to the over-cab bed area)

Step 3: Cut a 2" x 1.5" piece the aluminum angle.  Open your door and set the piece of angle over the top FENDER bolt.  Mark where to drill the hole in the aluminum angle, then drill the hole!  Install the aluminum angle with the stock fender bolt.

Step 4: Cut your aluminum plating into a size that you feel is sufficient to support your over-cab bed area (I cut my pieces into 4"x8" rectangles).  Drill 6 holes (evenly spaced throughout the aluminum plating) in the aluminum plating.

Step 5: Hold your aluminum plating up to your over-cab bed area in the position you want the aluminum plating mounted.  Measure the distance from the aluminum angle to the aluminum plating, and cut the aluminum DOM tubing to this measurement.  Smash the angle iron side of the DOM tubing flat, so the DOM tubing can be welded to the aluminum angle.

Step 6: Hold the DOM tubing into place, and scribe the DOM tubing with a marker, measuring how much of the DOM tubing must be cut until you get it to sit flush onto the aluminum plating.  Cut the DOM tubing appropriately on the scribes until the DOM tubing sits flush on the aluminum plating.

Step 7: Once the DOM tubing sits flush, hold the tubing in place and "spot" weld the DOM tubing into place on the aluminum plating and aluminum angle.

Step 8: Remove the aluminum angle and plating, weld the DOM tubing strongly to each, and reinstall the one piece back into place.  Use 1.5" wood screws to secure the aluminum plating to the over-cab bed area.  YOU'RE DONE!  Now you can open your doors again!  This will also add a TON of support to your Toy home and keep the over-cab bed area from bouncing.  Enjoy!