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Discussion Starter #1
With four weeks to go until van delivery (knock on wood), my design work is getting more serious. I’d like to hear opinions about building a camper for limited use during the winter months.

My use for the next roughly five years will be trips from Pennsylvania out to the Pacific Northwest with stops in the Rockies to visit family. Some of these trips will take place in the winter. I would like to be able to spend a few days in sub freezing temps (Colorado, Wyoming) without draining the water system.

My plan is to have a fresh water tank in garage area under bed. Planning to install a Propex 2800 with a vent that can open to flow heat into the garage area to keep water system and Battleborn batteries warm. For graywater I plan to have a valve under the sink directing water to the ground or to a gray water tank. I want a permanent gray water tank instead of hauling 5-gallon water jugs around.

Is it a necessity to give up more interior space for the gray water tank? Ideally I would place the gray water tank under the van, but I’m wondering if this will cause me grief. I’d like to hear from folks who have experience with winter travel.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I know a lot of people are very happy with diesel heaters. I am also planning a propane stove and propane water heater. Planning for 7.9-gallon Manchester propane tank under driver's side of van. If I were going all electric with water heater and stove, the diesel furnace would be a tempting option for sure.
 

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My system is similar to what you've envisioned and is indeed primarily built for winter. I spend 3-4 nights per week all winter long in northwest Colorado. Nighttime temps -10F to +5F. I keep water in the van all year. From late October until April I disconnect my greywater tank which is outside the van. I then either let sinkwater fall to the ground (usually) or can easily install a hose to drain it into a 5 gallon jug I can store under the bed if I'm on a trip in an urban area.

I have two heaters - an Espar D2 (for the main heater) and Propex 2800, which is set to 45ish to keep the van from freezing when I'm in class or on weekends. I'm sure cold temps can be an issue with a propane, but I have used the Propex alone for a few weeks at a time in 0F weather and it worked fine. The one in my Westy sees 0F without issue for the last 12 years too.
 

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My concern with an under-mount grey water tank is having the drain (and tank itself) freeze up. It's not quite as bad as having the fresh tank/line freeze, but can still be a serious inconvenience. I thought about having a diverter valve as was mentioned above so that I can select undermount tank or something else, but then you still need to have provisions for where to catch grey water inside the van. In the previous van I had the grey go directly to the ground and that drain would regularly freeze and back the sink up. I'm going with 5 gallon jerry cans in the galley cabinet this time around, and it's not ideal, but much better than trying to chip ice off a frozen drain when it's 10 below outside.
 

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i built sprinters professionally, that were all diesel heat/water heat and induction cook tops etc etc etc. diesel heaters are not without fault. my transit i am building for me will have propane heat/water heater and propane cooking. fresh water going inside, grey water outside (in the winter to the ground more than likey). even one of my co workers didnt get it, electrical systems needed induction was silly, just to heat up water for coffee was a huge percentage of the battery bank (some had HUGE systems). my Four Wheel Camper propane system has been in many negative degree days and never had a propane issue. i usually put water in cans in real cold weather and not in the system just to be safe. hard to make a true 4 season in a tin can
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for the comments. After reading the responses from @ranchero and @abaccus I think the answer may be using the under-van tank 90% of the time and using a water jug attached to the ground drain pipe when in winter when you can't dump on the ground.
 

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With four weeks to go until van delivery (knock on wood), my design work is getting more serious. I’d like to hear opinions about building a camper for limited use during the winter months.

My use for the next roughly five years will be trips from Pennsylvania out to the Pacific Northwest with stops in the Rockies to visit family. Some of these trips will take place in the winter. I would like to be able to spend a few days in sub freezing temps (Colorado, Wyoming) without draining the water system.

My plan is to have a fresh water tank in garage area under bed. Planning to install a Propex 2800 with a vent that can open to flow heat into the garage area to keep water system and Battleborn batteries warm. For graywater I plan to have a valve under the sink directing water to the ground or to a gray water tank. I want a permanent gray water tank instead of hauling 5-gallon water jugs around.

Is it a necessity to give up more interior space for the gray water tank? Ideally I would place the gray water tank under the van, but I’m wondering if this will cause me grief. I’d like to hear from folks who have experience with winter travel.
A few thoughts. We have a 350, srw, ext, hr that we use four season. We spent 3 weeks in Maine and Newfoundland over Christmas and we were super comfortable despite -10F. Here's my thoughts:
  1. Get a Propex 2211 and a DOT propane tank. You can mount both under the van, saving floor space and keeping your propane **** outside. With good insulation, it keeps our van (which is the largest transit you can buy) super toasty.
  2. We have LiFePO4 batteries. We kept them in the garage for that trip, with no heat back there. The rear doors are a pain to insulate and it gets cold in the garage. We struggled to keep the batteries warm enough. That was super early in the build (we've been at it for 2 years), so we ended up routing a heat vent to the garage, BUT moved the batteries into the main living space. Super happy we did.
  3. We have never had a water tank nor a grey water tank. Done a gazillion trips and haven't felt a huge need. We just installed a 5 gallon self-made hot water shower/dishwashing setup pressurized with our airlifter air system. No grey water and no plans for one. We shower outside (unless it's freezing in which case we borrow a shower somewhere) and do dishes outside. Biodegradable soap and you're good.
  4. If you do a grey water tank outside and winter travel, it is 100% guaranteed to freeze, rupture, and cause massive issues.
  5. We've spent 6 weeks in frigid winter weather, all told. All of it with a propane system. Zero issues.
 

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You may not need to vent heat into your garage area. The Propex will be using that cold air to heat and blow into the living space. So that cold air will be replaced with warm air from the living area. You don't have to keep the water/batteries warm, just above freezing. As already mentioned, doors are difficult to insulate. Look for a used sleeping bag and hang it in front of the lower half of the rear doors. Might as well get 2 and hang one on the upper half. Just when it's cold.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Sounds like I'm going to have to experiment a bit with the garage space. This is the Propex Y connection that I found. They also sell a kit that comes with the Y fitting, an opening vent and some additional ducting. Y Branch for use with a Propex Heatsource
I do like the clean look of the builds where they have enclosed the water tank, electrical equipment, etc., inside a cabinet or access panel in the garage, but I wondered if that might increase chances of these things freezing. I'm hoping that running some heat directly into the garage space will make up for that.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
A few thoughts. We have a 350, srw, ext, hr that we use four season. We spent 3 weeks in Maine and Newfoundland over Christmas and we were super comfortable despite -10F. Here's my thoughts:

If you do a grey water tank outside and winter travel, it is 100% guaranteed to freeze, rupture, and cause massive issues.
Good to hear about your winter experiences. I'm sure you are correct about using an outside gray water tank in those temperatures. I think the best bet will be to go to ground, or divert to portable container under sink or attached to gray tank when you are in urban areas.

With a Manchester propane tank going on the driver's side my gray water tank will have to go under the sliding door. I ordered the power retracting running board, and I don't know exactly how much space that will take up under there. Will have to wait until the van is sitting in my driveway. If I can't find a long skinny tank I'm thinking about borrowing an idea from the Sprinter builders, who build their own out of 8-inch PVC pipes. PVC Gray and Fresh Water Tanks for RVs and Vans| OurKaravan
 

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I have a fabricated 14 ga. SS grey water tank in space next to the slider. Do not have a powered slider. The tank has a bottom inlet instead of a top fill to avoid the need for traps. Piping path creates a "trap". The drain tees off the grey water piping which is below the bottom of the tank so tank can remain empty. Have not used the van in below 20 degree temperatures.



Second link provides a PDF drawing of the tank.
 

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I do like the clean look of the builds where they have enclosed the water tank, electrical equipment, etc., inside a cabinet or access panel in the garage,
Check out Perforated sheet metal. Use it to cover vent openings in a cabinet. There are a bunch of different designs. Home Depot has a few. If you ever camp in hot weather it would also help cool down your electronics.
 

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I use my van for backcountry skiing and camp in sub-zero temperatures. My fixed 5g grey water tank is inside (under the sink) and so is the motorized ball valve that drains it (switched from one of the upfitter dash switches). The tank is big enough to be useful in campgrounds and cities. I use bio-degradable soap and with the dash switch it’s easy to empty frequently.

The shower just drains directly. I use a stopper to keep the water in the (6” deep) pan if I am somewhere where it cannot be immediately released. I also thought about a sump pump (like they have on sail boats) to pump it up to kitchen sink (and into gray water tank), but have never needed to go this route.

I would not want to go back to manually having to empty a bucket under the sink. I also would not want to have to place anything outside the vehicle.
 

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A grey tank can go under with a hydronic heater keeping it warm. Advanced RV does this, check out their video.
 

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Hi,
We have had some cold weather adventures in our van and learned a few things that might be interesting to you...

We have an under floor grey water tank we just let it freeze. So, for a few days of below freezing weather it just becomes a big ice cube, and then when you get to warmer weather it thaws. We have done this on two RVs with no ill effects (yet). I was concerned that the water expanding as it freezes might break the tank, and we are always careful to make sure the grey tank never gets full under these conditions. Your mixed use of an underfloor grey tank plus a 5 gallon jerry can also seems good to me.

One thing we have concluded about the fresh water system is that its nice to have a system where you can let the van go cold for a day without freezing up the water system -- this makes it possible to spend a day outside the van or a night in a motel without having to run and rely on the van furnace running all the time you are away.
The fresh water tank itself (inside the van) can be protected with just a little insulation -- it has so much thermal mass that it will take a very long time to freeze (numbers in link below). Its the plumbing that is the problem. So, we added a value that turns off the fresh water from the tank to the plumbing, and then a way to quickly and easily drain the plumbing and pump in the van. With our simple plumbing system we can do this in about 1 minute.
All the details here: Prevent Water System Freezing – Build A Green RV

The Li batteries add a new dimension to this, but it might even be possible to use the thermal mass of the fresh water tank to keep the Li batteries at or above 32F? Or, just wait until the van heats up to above freezing before charging the Li batteries.

A couple trips we did in cold weather:
Banff trip: Banff Trip – Build A Green RV
Really cold Banff trip: Camping in the van at -10F – Build A Green RV
One message between these two trips is that camping at -10F is a whole different deal than camping at +20F.

Gary
 

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Discussion Starter #18
One thing we have concluded about the fresh water system is that its nice to have a system where you can let the van go cold for a day without freezing up the water system -- this makes it possible to spend a day outside the van or a night in a motel without having to run and rely on the van furnace running all the time you are away.
The fresh water tank itself (inside the van) can be protected with just a little insulation -- it has so much thermal mass that it will take a very long time to freeze (numbers in link below). Its the plumbing that is the problem. So, we added a value that turns off the fresh water from the tank to the plumbing, and then a way to quickly and easily drain the plumbing and pump in the van. With our simple plumbing system we can do this in about 1 minute.
All the details here: Prevent Water System Freezing – Build A Green RV

The Li batteries add a new dimension to this, but it might even be possible to use the thermal mass of the fresh water tank to keep the Li batteries at or above 32F? Or, just wait until the van heats up to above freezing before charging the Li batteries.
Thanks for the examples and the link to your water system. You make a good point about being able to leave the van for a day or two without having the furnace running on low. The valve letting you drain all but the tank is a great idea. As for the Li batteries, I figure they can sit without charging until we are using the van and warm the interior with the furnace.
 

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I’m building a van right now with winter use a priority.

Water: Fresh water inside the van under my bed. Grey tank under-mounted outside, usable 3 seasons: I want to be able to hold my grey water until I’m at a suitable place to dump it. In the winter I won’t use it. My sink will drain straight into a 7-gallon jug in the cabinet below it, so it won’t freeze. Haven’t figured this out yet, but I would love to have a pump to send my under-sink grey water to my gray tank during 3 seasons so I don’t have to carry it outside to drain it. GaryBIS, I love your suggestion to make the plumbing quick to drain.

Heat: I currently have a Revel with diesel-fired Espar hydronic heater and I don’t like it, so my new van will have Propane heat (the wonderful Truma Combi). Diesel heaters don’t handle high altitude well: 6,000’ for normal Espar; 9,000’ with high-altitude kit. I think Webasto is similar. I camp and ski at elevations over 10,000’ and my Espar quickly gunks up running at those altitudes, so after a month or two it fails on me. Propane Truma doesn’t have this problem. And the Truma is so quiet you can hardly hear it, whereas my Espar wakes me up all night as it cycles on and off. .
 

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A grey tank can go under with a hydronic heater keeping it warm. Advanced RV does this, check out their video
My Revel does this, as does the Storyteller Overland MODE van. It’s a clever system. Storyteller says their heat and fresh water systems work in temps well below zero, while their gray tank works down about zero. My Revel plumbing has worked down in the single digits, but at 0º the fresh water tank uptake hose freezes (the hose that carries water from the fresh water tank up into the van’s inside plumbing).

The downside is you need the Hydronic Espar, which has turned out to be problematic for a lot of us Revel owners. From all the service techs and van owners I’ve talked to, word is that the AirTronic Espar is far more reliable than the Hydronic one.
 
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