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Archive for January, 2012

PostHeaderIcon A night in my off grid camper during a snow storm

A friend and I spent a couple days in my off grid camper during a heavy snow storm this weekend. Saturday night was also one of the coldest nights we have had so far this winter. It was a true test of the off grid camper’s abilities.


Off grid camper in the winter 

We had originally planned to get some work done on the property. But after about 8 inches of snow had fallen, that plan was scrapped. We ended up working inside the camper and set up some wiring for a fan to bring the heat down from the ceiling to the floor level. And I rewired some of the lights that had been removed for water damage repairs.

But first, the snow had to be removed from the solar panels and passive solar heaters outside. The under floor passive solar heaters were completely covered in a few inches of snow.


Cleaning snow from my passive solar heater 

After clearing off the solar heaters, the temperature started to rise inside the camper. It was 29 degrees outside, but about 65 inside with just the solar heating. The sun was shining brightly. It was also charging up my batteries nicely. My old homemade solar panels were putting out a good amount of energy.


Solar panes for my off grid camper 

These solar panels were originally putting out about 65 watts of energy. But due to a stupid mistake one day, breaking a couple of the cells, now they only produce about 45 watts. But it is still a fair amount of energy. Anyone who says that solar panels are useless in winter have obviously never had them. 45 watts is not much energy, but if you live sparingly, you can make it work. I use only 1.7 watt LED lamps in my camper. The original light bulbs were 15 watts, so I can run about 8 LED bulbs for the cost of a single one of the original incandescent bulbs.

After a full, sunny winter day, the batteries have enough power to charge my cell phone, laptop, run some lights and a fan. I do not yet have the fridge hooked up, so it is enough energy for my needs. Later when I finish my new homemade solar panels, I will have enough energy for running water and the fridge.

About mid day, we tossed some vegetables and chicken into my cast iron dutch oven to slow cook on the wood stove all day. In the evening we had an awesome meal! My friend smiling while waiting for his plate.


Cooking dinner on the camper wood stove 

During the night it got very cold. We had the stove fired up and burning hard to keep it warm. It was about 65 degrees throughout the camper with the fan circulating the heat. But the windows radiate cold. You cannot sit next to those huge bay windows at night. It just feels too cold. Later I will put up some foam bubble insulation with the silver foil on one side during the nights. I want to set up some way to place it over the windows at night and remove it during the day.

In the early morning hours, the wood stove went out and it got down to 45 degrees by the time we got out of bed. My friend had insisted on manning the fireplace and forgot his duties. But considering that it was 9 degrees outside, that is not too bad.

PostHeaderIcon Setting up free homemade camper skirting and passive solar floor heating

I have been working on my camper skirting using free materials I found laying around. I also made some free passive solar heaters under the camper using salvaged materials. Total cost for camper insulation and heating – $0.

South Side Camper Skirting and Solar Heating

There were some 40 ft long sheet metal pieces out in the forest that I dragged back to the camper to use for skirting. I also had the idea of setting up passive under floor heating with some old window frames I found. I dug up some old rolls of black roofing material that I laid out under the south side of the camper. Then I placed the old windows over the roofing material to make a free passive solar heater underneath my camper.

The idea was to have the sun heat up the space underneath my camper during the day to save on heating costs. The skirting will keep the heat in during the night and also prevent heat loss through the floor. It will also hopefully allow me to use the built in camper water tanks with no danger of freezing. This camper is fully off the grid, so electrical water heaters are not possible.

Below floor passive solar camper heating

I got the skirting on just in time too. Today it snowed. I still need to plug up gaps in between the metal sheets. And I need to frame in my passive solar heating underneath the camper. On the front side of the camper I will frame in the windows with hinges so I can put some vegetables under the camper as sort of a greenhouse.

I used tin snips to cut the metal sheeting to size and then used masonry bricks and cement blocks to hold the pieces in place. The back side looks very good.

Free DIY camper skirting

Even without framing in all the windows and plugging all the gaps in my camper skirting, the solar heating system is working very nicely. Today it was 29 degrees outside and a toasty warm 65 inside the camper with no other heating other than my passive solar heating system.

PostHeaderIcon Remodeling My Off Grid Camper

I just finished building a desk and a set of book shelves in my off grid camper. The camper originally had two twin sized beds in the bedroom. In all, it had space for 6 adults to sleep. Since I am alone, I figured the extra bed would not do me any good, so I removed it to make space for a desk.

The original bed frame was about 3 feet wide by about 7 feet long. I pulled the bed out and cut the width down to two feet so it would fit better with a chair in front of it and still leave room to walk through the bedroom. Then I remounted the frame to the wall at about 27 inches height using the original wood and hardware. I removed the cloth trim and then I had a nice looking desk.

There was just over 8.5 inches of wasted space between the cabinet door and the wall, perfect for an average sized book. I took more of the supporting wood framework left over from the bed, plus some pine wood I had laying around and made a set of book shelves. The shelves are built right into the walls and attached to the desk for stability. Underneath the desk is another shelf for a printer or some more books. The top two shelves are 8.5 inches deep and the next two are ten inches. It worked out quite well.

DIY homemade book shelf and desk in my off grid camper

In the summer I will stain and varnish it to make it match the surrounding wood. The stain emits poisonous fumes and needs a lot of ventilation and winter is no time for that.

Later I may put some pull out drawers on the far left side, under the desk for more storage.

PostHeaderIcon Passive Solar Window Heater For My Off Grid Camper

I recently made a passive solar window heater for my off grid camper. You can find the details here: Passive Solar Window Heater. It is simply a sheet of styrofoam with aluminum foil on one side, painted black. There are vent holes in the top and bottom to allow air to flow. The heater is kept away from the window about an inch to allow free air flow from top to bottom.

Heating camper with solar heater

On really sunny days this solar heater puts out so much heat that you can feel the hot air flowing out the top of the heater. On partly sunny days it still works though. Enough to keep the inside of the camper above freezing on very cold days. One day when I tested it, the temperature outside was 30 degrees F and inside it was 65. This morning it was 7 degrees F outside and in the camper it was about 30 degrees at 10 am. I have not been heating the camper for a few days while working on other projects in the house. I find these results impressive considering the fact that the only heat in the camper for days now has been the passive solar window heater and the temperatures are above freezing in the day. And also the fact that the living room and bathroom are both missing most of the insulation in the ceiling while I repair water damage.

Later in the day today it got up to about 30 degrees outside and 45 inside with no other heat source.

I will soon be installing another passive solar heater on the bathroom window, which faces south – south west. I will use an outdoor version which rests on the window sill and draws air from the interior of the camper, heats it up and then passes it back inside the camper through the window.


Another project I am working on is a passive solar heater under the floor of the camper. I have been putting skirting around the camper outside to help keep the heat inside during the cold nights. On the south side I am using some salvaged window frames and some old black roofing materials I found. I will post details when it is done.

PostHeaderIcon Winter Living In My Off Grid Camper

I have moved my off grid camper even farther away from the nearest house. It is about 1,000 feet into the forest, in a clearing all its own. I also have full sunshine most of the day now, which helps with my solar experiments.


I am staying out here in mid winter to see how hard it will be to survive fully separated from all utilities. No water, no sewage, no oil or gas and no electricity hookup. I have a wood stove for heat and solar panels for electricity. Fresh water for now is being carried in gallon jugs.  Waste water will be treated naturally with a composting method.


I am typing this post on my little netbook hooked up to a cell phone for internet. The netbook has an extended battery and lasts 9 hours on a charge, which is great for solar panel use.


For now I have a homemade 60 watt solar panel hooked up to two 6 volt, 100 Amp Hour golf cart batteries for power. I disconnected the camper inverter to save power and ran the batteries to the lights only. I replaced all normal light bulbs with LED lamps to save even more power.


My primary heat source is a little wood stove which sits only 2 feet high. It is perfect for a camper, but burns out fast.


Yesterday the sun was shining brightly and my passive solar window heater had it 65 degrees in here with no other heat source while it was 39 outside. Last night it got cold, so I fired up the wood stove and maintained a steady 70 in here. But when I went to bed, I got lazy and just stuffed the stove full and left it to go out. In the middle of the night it got really cold in here and I was happy to see the sun rise again. It got down to about 27 last night. This morning it was about 45 inside.


I brought in a lot of wood for tonight. The problem with a small stove is that it will not hold enough wood to burn all night. I either suffer or keep it going.


I will see how it goes.