Winter Tips for Living off the Grid (While in a Travel Trailer)

We first arrived on our land in September of 2015 and even though it was technically still summer, winter wasn’t far away. Despite our plans of having a timber frame barn built and dried in by the time winter arrived, we quickly realized that it was too lofty of a goal to achieve in two months’ time. We decided to rough it without a barn for our first winter and would like to share some tips we’ve learned in case you find yourself in a similar position on your journey.

In the videos below, we’ve outlined the best of our tips but read below for the full list with additional information! And as of right now, it seems that winter is over, so I think it’s safe to say that these tips have helped us to survive if not thrive!

Watch this short video series on our winter tips and / or keep scrolling to read the blog post!

Off Grid Tips for Surviving Winter on Your Property (While in an RV)

#1: Get your travel trailer covered and protected.

Our biggest concern with the winter weather was having adequate protection for our travel trailer. While we heavily caulked our trailer, it was prone to leaking when we bought it, so coverage was essential.

We ended up purchasing this ShelterLogic Garage in a Box (see our review here) and it has worked wonders. We did build a little platform for it so it had some weight at the bottom, and it has withheld high winds, rain, and snow. The shelter has had no problems and helps to protect our investment.

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#2: Keep cupboards open on cold nights when propane heater is on.

One of the big risks to living in a travel trailer in cold climates is freezing to your pipes, tanks and water pump. When it’s especially chilly outside (under 25 degrees or so), we will turn the propane heater on while we sleep and keep cupboards open in the rv. This allows the warm air to circulate around the pipes (bathroom and kitchen) as well as the area above our water tank.

#3: Don’t buy an RV with in-floor or hidden plumbing.

For the reasons above, try to not buy an RV with in-floor or hidden plumbing. This will make it very difficult to keep things from freezing!

#4: Find a way to heat your RV structure on extra chilly nights to keep tanks and pump from freezing.

The inside heater of a travel trailer will only go so far. It won’t keep your outside tanks from freezing in low temperatures. For this reason, you’ll want to find a way to heat your RV structure.

We settled on building this cabin addition to the end of our Garage in a Box that we heat with a wood stove. We use these air movers (when our generator is on) to blow the hot air to the front of our rv shelter. By circulating warm air around our rv, we’re able to keep the inside of the structure above freezing and that’s all we want!

If you can’t manage to keep the inside of your rv structure from freezing (maybe if it gets to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit), one option may be to use a propane heater aimed at your water and septic tanks. We didn’t have to resort to this but do keep the idea in the back of our heads if we get in a pinch.

#5: Insulate your RV structure.

In addition to having adequate protection for your travel trailer, you’ll want to be sure that it is insulated. If you simply have an un-insulated shell for your RV, then you won’t be able to retain any heat.

We insulated our carport with simple R-30 fiberglass insulation. Most of it we picked up second-hand for pennies. Some we gathered from a demolition for free. We also bought a few bales new to finish the job, but overall, this was a very cost-effective strategy.

inside3

We didn’t insulate every last inch of our structure – we simply insulated until the inside of the structure stayed warm enough.

Even when we don’t run the wood stove, heat comes off of the travel trailer and the insulation seems to hold it inside the structure. It’s always warmer in the structure than it is outside.

#6: Have thermometers outside and inside your RV structure.

We like to know what’s going on with the temperature at all times as it helps us to understand our travel trailer and our shelter. We keep one by the front door both inside and outside, as well as one at the front of our structure as the temperatures are always lower there than at the back of the structure where we keep the wood stove.

#7: Keep some antifreeze on hand and add to your tanks when they’re empty.

We had our septic tank freeze on Thanksgiving day, which was the same day that we had problems with our wood stove! This was not a pleasant experience and resulted in heating a lot of water to dump down the toilet. Eventually things thawed over time, but this is a situation best to avoid.

While not ideal for our septic system, we dump a little bit of antifreeze into the black and gray water tank before we fill them up again. This is enough to keep things from freezing, but not enough that it would do damage to our septic system. We only resort to this option when it’s maybe below 20 degrees F for a sustained period of time.

#8: Only dump your tanks when they’re full.

This is probably a no-brainer for experienced RV’ers, but only dump your tanks when they’re full. Full tanks are less prone to freezing. Because we can dump directly into our septic system from our shelter, we thought that we could leave the tanks open but this was a terrible idea. Just learn from our mistakes!

Our RV dump. We have since extended it to INSIDE of our structure.
Our RV dump. We have since extended it to INSIDE of our structure.

#9: Have an extra set of propane tanks.

Because propane can be critical in the winter, it may be best to have an extra set of filled propane tanks on hand. We would frequently run out of propane in the middle of the night, or during a time when we really didn’t want to drop what we were doing to go get propane. Having an extra set of propane tanks meant that our propane needs were always met, and we could fill up the spare set of tanks on our own time rather than when we were forced to. Also, if driving conditions were extremely poor and we ran out of propane, we had extra. Extra fuel is generally always wise.

#10: Keep water jugs near wood stove.

Our travel trailer only holds about 28 gallons of water when it’s full and that’s only enough for 3-5 days of water usage. We decided to use these 6-gallon water jugs to bring in additional water so that we wouldn’t have to move our RV throughout winter.

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In cold weather, these do develop some slush which makes it difficult to dump into the RV water tank. To solve this problem, we simply keep the water jugs near the wood stove. Not too close and not too far… just keep an eye on them to see what the ideal distance is from the wood stove.

#11: Tarp your outside possessions.

If you are in an area that will get any wet weather over winter, then it’s a great idea to tarp your outside possessions. Lumber and firewood first come to mind, followed by things like four wheelers and anything else that you might need to find in the snow.

#12: Put a marker where your septic system is (or other critical systems).

If you think you’ll end up plowing any part of your property, it may be a good idea to put a flag or some other sort of tall marketing where your septic system is, or anything else that you’d rather not drive over. We knew where our septic system was, but our neighbor did not and he was the one plowing our driveway the first time. Luckily, we were there to point it out to him but I could see a situation where it would be good to simply have it marked for everyone’s benefit.

#13: Think about where you will push your snow to when plowing.

When we laid out our property, we did give some consideration to the plowing of snow. It turns out we had a decent amount of snow our first winter on the homestead and ended up plowing about three times. We had a couple different areas where we could push the snow that was both out of the way and easy to access.

plowing

#14: Invest in a snow plow for your truck or ATV, or buy a snow shovel.

This is something we didn’t do because we ran out of time, and we never found a good deal. Having a snow plow attachment for your truck or ATV could be a lifesaver. Worst case, invest in a quality snow shovel. We actually bought a snow shovel but it is currently in use by Jesse’s sister!

#15: Keep an eye on weather when you’re doing property development.

We arrived on our property in September so we knew that we had a good month or two of dry weather. That said, we didn’t start on anything too large. If a project can’t sit for months under snow, untouched, then you might want to think about your building strategy and time important projects for warmer weather. While is is possible to do construction in cold weather, it may not be the best option for rookies such as ourselves.

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#16: Run your generator in a truck camper with the window propped open.

We’ve found that our generator isn’t the biggest fan of cold weather. However, if we run the generator in the back of our pickup truck with the camper window propped open, the camper heats up nicely while still allowing the generator to breath. This just makes it run a little bit better.

Don't run it like this... close up the tailgate and prop open the window just a little bit!
Don’t run it like this… close up the tailgate and prop open the window just a little bit!

#17: Dress in layers and dress warm.

This goes without saying, but if you’re off grid and fuel for heat is limited, dress appropriately! We keep the inside of our travel trailer heated to about 65 degrees when we’re in it which is warm, but it’s not t-shirt warm.

Here is a post on how to dress warm in winter.

This jacket was the the best investment of the winter!

#18: Find firewood early and stock up.

When we arrived on our property, we had no time to think about firewood – there were too many other things to be done! Lucky for us, we were able to find someone with rounds leftover from their timber framing and they let us have them for $50/cord. We were able to cut them up right in their yard which was really helpful.

We probably had about 4 cords of wood in the end, and we burned through A LOT of it, quickly, because we weren’t used to our wood stove yet. Here is a video about our rocky start to using our wood stove, but we have since been successful in running it extremely efficiently, and we probably could have gone through 2/3 less wood than we did!

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Our neighbor also shared a nugget of gold with us and that was that we had a fire log producer in our area and they sold “seconds” (fire logs that aren’t good enough for retail) for a significant discount. Watch a fun video about that here… we were able to pick up a large pallet of them for cheap.

firelogs

All of that said, we hope to be on the lookout for firewood this year so we are more prepared… now that we have the time.

Wrapping it Up

Those are some of the most important winter living tips we want to share with you all. Really, this winter wasn’t a big deal at all. It did take some time to work the kinks out in the flow of things, and there was a small learning curve to operating our wood stove, but we survived and that’s really all we had hoped for!

If you are moving to your property just before winter, or will be spending winter on your property in similar living conditions, then we hope that these few tips will be of use to you. We may add to this post over time, but regardless, feel free to share your contribution!

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. Megan says

    Glad you guys made it through all right! Love all the details you guys give. It’s so much nice than just a gloss over that other sites give. If you guys had to run the RV to run the heat inside, how did you vent the RV so the exhaust didn’t get to you? Keep up the good work.

    • says

      Glad you like our details! We try to be as informative as possible :-) We are actually in a travel trailer not a motorhome so there was no exhaust from the travel trailer. If that wasn’t what you were referring to, would love if you could clarify!

  2. Bill Iannuzzi says

    Would like to know where you bought your seconds on fire logs. We currently buy them at full price and finding them cheaper would extend our budget. Thanks.

    Bill Iannuzzi

    • says

      I would start with doing some research on if there is a fire log producer in your area or even within driving distance, then give them a call to see if they have seconds available :-)

  3. Wanda Gillis says

    Enjoy seeing the videos and updates. Thanks for sending them.

    Just wondering when is the targeted completion date for the homestead itself since summer will be here soon. I’m hoping you will make good progress during the summer months. Do you plan to get help when it’s time to start building it? Also, what style home will you build and how large? (i.e., Log cabin, style).

    Thanks.

    • says

      Glad you’re enjoying the updates! I don’t know that the homestead will ever be “completed”, but we hope to have our barn finished within the next couple of years. Initially we thought we’d get the framework up and dried in by next winter (end of this year), but I’m not sure that it will since we have a lot of loose ends to tie up and we still have a hefty amount of research ahead of us. Regardless, we will make progress on our journey this summer and year. We foresee that both our barn (with an apartment upstairs) and a house will be built with a timber frame since that that seems to be the most resourceful option. The barn will be 24×36 (so the apartment will be just over 800 sq ft I believe), and our home will probably be in the 1500 sq ft range? Certainly not huge but we will aim to maximize space!

  4. says

    Great advice on winter survival. Living in West Yellowstone this makes it very relevant. Glad our new cabin is already done but need garage and rv set up so good stuff.

  5. Graeme Smith says

    Keep up the good work, your experience is a real blessing to me, as a low income person, I am really interested in how well your budget works. It’s a bit spendy for my income, but not for yours. If you can make do on it, I should be able to, with a lot more pain and suffering, squeak by with mine. As I am so interested in your budgeting, I noticed the bottom line on the new years budget report is not reflecting your monthly expenses, not a criticism, just noticed that it didn’t update for februaries budget. It would be nice to see an average expenses line to give an idea of what the base budget should be for each category. Have you considered an intermediate stage where you build a smaller building than a barn in order to have a place to park your trailer for the next year? I thought that a garage package was probably a good intermediate step, relatively unexpensive, and yet well within your energy budget for a single year. The dry rot in your trailer concerns me, if it spreads you lose your investment in the trailer, however since you have already paid out on it, your trailer probably doesn’t owe you anything. Living in it for 7 months already you have made back your investment 2 times over. A garage is a good investment since it will give you a place out of the weather to work, and it will give you a place to park your vehicles once you are no longer living out of it. The garage in a box was a good stopgap solution, but it really won’t stand up to high winds without breaking it’s alignment with the cabin. You can park your truck inside the garage in a box if you invest in a double wide garage package, and reduce the amount of snow clearing you need to keep it roadworthy.

  6. PattyNA says

    Graeme that is a good idea. My parents did similarly, built a shop/garage w/a bathroom that had a shower & small kitchenette, lived in it for a year while they built their home. Then he used the shop later for regular shop work.

    On the winterizing list, I always make sure about mid-September to begin stocking up on cold/flu supplies, tissues, etc. Plus don’t forget the hot chocolate!! Some of the first things bought when we moved to our place was a metal bucket w/metal lid for ash clean out and wood-stove tools. And I painted the kitchen a light color & bought brighter wattage light bulbs as what was here was depressing during the winter. It was cold, no need being depressed on top of it all.

  7. Peter L says

    Hey since we did just the same thing I was trying to see if I could be of any help since you have helped us so much:
    -Snow plow: I made a “red neck” snow plow and it worked fairly well the one chance I got to use it. Look up red neck snow plow on the internet.
    Two other ideas you probably already thought of but, just in case:
    -Wind heaters: We also have a lot of wind. I just thought of using small, affordable, wind generators that would hook directly to a space heater. Haven’t completely researched it yet but, when the wind blows then it would create heat.
    -Induction fan: Looks like you have an air circulation solution but, just in case, just using a wire to your wood stove and one to a cold source (is the way I think it works) creates a circuit to run a fan. Lots of people here have them but bought the expensive pre-made ones that you just set on your wood stove. A guy in England did it with a regular fan that cost 5 pounds about $10 american.
    Sorry this was so long

  8. Ty Tower says

    I have only seen snow a few times and only ever frost where I live . Guess you guys know what you are doing with propane burners on while sleeping and generators running inside vehicles etc but what do you know about carbon monoxide poisoning or propane gas if the flame goes out ?

    Hope you know or find out about these and other hazards ,as its no good being self sustained if one or both of you accidentally die . Where is your closest hospital , ambulance , nurse etc and what first aid courses can you do now to be ready.

  9. Mechelle says

    You guys have the best videos. I don’t have any plans to go off grid. And I probably didn’t even say that right. But I so enjoy watching the videos on the blog.
    I could be wrong about this, but I got a real kick out seeing your beautiful cat relieving him or herself while you were talking about the septic system. It was as if to say, “It’s actually very easy, this is the way you do it.”
    Keep up the great work and keep the videos coming!

  10. Terri Schulte says

    I so enjoy reading about your dream journey! Living off the grid is much different than living an hour from city life. The city has now reached our area and it is no longer country living but now suburbs.
    Reading your blog and seeing your journey in pics is such a pleasure. Keep going, your journey is an inspiration to us all! Blessings and may the up coming winter be a beautiful experience for you both with little or no hardship!
    P.s. Love the canning and the hot tub!

  11. T. Lane says

    Great common sense info! I grew-up in Michigan (the SNOWY part of Michigan, right along the lake!) so I know how to survive winter. A couple questions: How do you like your generator and would buy or do anything different now? How much was your land in Idaho? What is your feeling about the political/ social attitudes in your area? Do you have jobs or are living from savings? What is your internet connection? How about radio and TV? I am a news junkie, I literally could not live with no connections to the “outside world”. Thanks, keep up the good work!

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