Condensation Conundrums

Condensation conundrums. Sounds like a great band name right?! Sorry, couldn’t help myself!

The last two weeks have been pleasantly relaxed. I’ve gotten to know my little Airstream better and better and I feel like I have an almost 6th sense now when it comes to my battery charge and propane tank levels. I’ve spent a lot more time getting back to life as usual and a lot less time worrying about freezing pipes, dead batteries, and all the other things that could go wrong when living off-grid in the winter in an RV. 

Of course, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this new lifestyle, it’s that every time I feel confident and think I’ve solved all the problems, I encounter a new one. Early on when I was researching tips for winter RV living there seemed to be a common issue that came up frequently: condensation. 

I hadn’t yet experienced much trouble with condensation. Then last week with lots of snowfall and overnight temps dipping back into the teens, I noticed some new condensation issues in the back of my Airstream. It wasn’t bad but the walls around my bed definitely seemed a little damp. 

Ice, ice baby.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving turned into a beautifully clear night full of incredible stars. It was also bitterly cold. Indeed, at 4am I woke up and was curious enough to check my weather station readout. It was 10, the coldest night I’d had yet in the Airstream. 

At least the furnace and batteries were up to the task and kept Hudson and I warm all night, though I definitely burrowed a little deeper under my blankets. Finally around 7am Wednesday morning I emerged from my cocoon and peeked out my bedroom window. It looked like a kaleidoscope. The inside of my bedroom windows were coated in ice. Even worse? So were the walls. Yikes. 

Luckily it was going to be a beautifully sunny day which would warm the Airstream fast once the sun peeked over the mountains. I knew I was going to have to get to the root of this new condensation issue, but first, I cranked up the furnace and fixed my breakfast.

Usually in the evening I turn my solar panels slightly to the east so they catch the sun first thing in the morning. As I sipped my coffee and looked outside I realized I had forgotten to do so. I threw on my jacket and boots, stepped outside, and was met with a bristling arctic blast of air. Holy shit it was cold!

I quickly walked over to move my solar panels and failed. They wouldn’t budge! What the heck? I realized pretty quickly they were completely frozen to the ground. 

This was a first. 

I tried everything and couldn’t move them. I thought about trying to chisel them out but I didn’t want to damage them. I finally gave up and decided it best to wait for the sun to warm the ground. Once it did, I scrounged up some plywood to put between the panels and the ground, hopefully solving that problem in the future. 

I sort of laughed to myself. Oh you know, just a typical winter morning in Twisp with my solar panels frozen to the ground. I might have wondered again what in the hell I’m thinking. 

Once the sun was up, the ice on my bedroom walls and windows started melting fast so I got to work mopping it up. I thought the condensation might be the result of a bad seal on the emergency window or the exterior storage hatch but both seemed pretty tight. I couldn’t pass up such a gorgeous blue bird day so I made the decision to ski first and investigate the condensation later on Thanksgiving day.

Though Wednesday night was nearly 10° warmer, which practically felt like summer, I still woke up Thanksgiving morning with a lot of condensation around the bed. After fixing some coffee I started poking around.  I don’t know what made me think to look under the mattress, but I did, and quickly discovered the problem. The plywood under the mattress and the underside of the mattress itself was all damp. 


No wonder the walls had so much condensation. What was going on?

The bed war.

Luckily the mattress was only slightly damp, but I needed to get it out to dry. Since I have the corner bedroom model of Airstream, I had a hell of a time trying to get the damn mattress moved. Somehow despite folding myself like a pretzel I suffered no injuries and managed to wrestle the mattress into the small space in front of the kitchen.

In hindsight, I wish I had gotten my GoPro and filmed myself trying to wrangle a mattress inside a 19′ Airstream. I’m sure it was worse than a clown car comedy skit.

The plywood under the mattress has a few access holes into the external storage compartment below. With all the cold air sitting under the bed and no airflow under the mattress I guessed it was a perfect recipe for condensation. No wonder the plywood was damp. I grabbed two battery operated fans I had used over the summer and fired up my Mr Buddy propane heater to dry things out. While they were working I did some online searches about RV bed condensation. 

The best solutions focused on getting airflow under the mattress, so It dawned on me that I needed to figure out a way to elevate the mattress off the plywood. Hmmm. My old bed frame was in storage in Brewster and with it were my old IKEA slatted bed bases. I knew the queen sized slats wouldn’t match the size of this bed but maybe I could figure something out.

I didn’t want to go another night with a damp bed so I left the fans running and made a quick trip to Brewster. I spent the rest of the day using some leftover rigid foam to cobble together what I hoped would be a good enough elevated bed platform to fix the problem. 

If I thought getting the mattress out of the corner was bad, getting it back in on top of this platform I had made was ridiculous. Somehow after a mighty struggle that resulted in me trying to crawl under the mattress and between the slats—oh yes, don’t even try to picture that—I was successful.

Now is a good time to say that after this experience, I may never ever own another corner bed Airstream. While it’s a brilliant layout, it’s already been nearly impossible to get the fitted sheet and suspenders back on. Moving the mattress completely? It requires some serious Cirque du Soleil skills.

Dealing with condensation.

Has my solution worked? Well, I haven’t completely eliminated all the condensation but so far it’s much improved and now that the bed is elevated I can look under it and make sure it isn’t damp. I also stuffed some dehumidifying crystals under there. I sure hope I fixed the problem because I don’t want to try to move that mattress ever again!

So far most of the condensation I’ve had has been limited to the windows and I simply wipe them down in the mornings. I crack ceiling vents and windows when I can to circulate air, especially when cooking, and especially on clear days when the sun turns the Airstream into a nice warm greenhouse. 

I’ve also discovered that the reflectix I’ve been using in between my screen and exterior door and a few windows as insulation was causing a lot of extra condensation. I quit using it and started hanging a blanket inside over the front door instead. The Airstream blackout curtains work really well to keep most of the windows insulated so I now only use reflectix on the ceiling vents. 

Living in an RV in a cold winter climate definitely seems to be a balancing act between insulation and air flow. Too much of either is bad, too little of either is bad. So far it seems that staying warm is the easy part! Who would of thought?

Luckily I think I’ve figured out how to mitigate condensation and solved the damp bed platform issue at least for now. I was able to enjoy a long Thanksgiving holiday break with a lot of gratitude. This year more than ever I’m so grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have finally taken a big step in making a long time dream come true. I’m grateful for this tiny little Airstream that has turned into an incredibly cozy and reliable little home. I’m grateful that I could see my folks this year and share my dreams with them. I’m grateful that I’m already often a loner, which has made this crazy year of Covid probably more bearable for me than most. Most of all, I’m grateful for every day that I get to spend on this beautiful little planet with an equally grateful doggy partner!

Oh, and I’m certainly grateful I got that damn bed back into the corner!