Internet Coolers and Thermostats

The last two weeks have been slowly falling into place after several weeks of winter preparation and unexpected challenges from Mother Nature. This whole off-grid living situation has become a lot more fun and a lot less stressful. I’ve learned so much already and have slowly adapted to a new normal.

Last week was pretty much the week to sit back and see what Mother Nature was going to send my way. By late Sunday, the threatening snow forecast was scaled back significantly. Any new snow on Monday would apparently turn to rain quickly with “little or no accumulation”.

Monday morning I indeed woke up to snow. As I worked from the comfort of the Airstream, the snow didn’t turn to rain. In fact, it kept falling harder and harder. By midday it was clear the forecast was very wrong and snow was accumulating rapidly. I drove to town that afternoon to pick up the battery and WiFi router I had ordered and there was over a foot of snow in many places. So much for little or no accumulation!

By evening, the snow on my property was as high as my boots and I’m sure it was at least 10″ deep. My friends up valley in Mazama reported nearly 30″! This was not only a huge snowfall for Twisp any time of the winter, but also for the Valley as a whole. Nothing makes me more giddy than a huge snowstorm and this was incredible. 

I snowplowed my “driveway” by driving my truck around it and then grabbed my Hoks. Hudson and I spent the afternoon playing in the snow and skiing all over my property. It was ridiculously stupid fun.

I also laughed that clearly, I wasn’t towing the Airstream out of here anytime soon. When I joked over the weekend that I was digging in my heels I guess that wasn’t an exaggeration. Instead of being nervous or worried though, I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time. Maybe it was because I simply had no choice in the matter. It was clear I was going nowhere.

Many friends told me to pack up and head to Arizona for the winter. I admit, part of me thought it was way more logical than a winter in the Methow in an Airstream. On Monday however, watching the snow fall all around me, there was simply no other place I wanted to be. I love winter and all this snow was glorious!

Internet in a cooler.

Last Monday turned out to be exciting on many fronts. First, gobs of snow, then….internet in a cooler! 

My life is riveting I tell ya. 

That evening I excitedly unpacked my cheap $20 router, plugged it into my new battery, and tucked them both into a small cooler I bought at the hardware store. I set the cooler outside, plugged in my NCI wireless satellite and voila! For the first time since moving onto my property I had high speed internet!

Putting all the gear inside a cooler actually worked and it worked well. Heat from both the battery and router kept everything warm inside the cooler despite freezing temperatures outside.

Though my little Skyroam hotspot had kept me working and connected for the last few months, my bandwidth limitations virtually nixed any kind of movie streaming. That evening with my internet in a cooler, I curled up with a hot chocolate and watched a movie on Netflix.

It’s amazing what feels like luxury these days but oh, my, god. A movie and hot chocolate. That night before bed I went outside, unhooked the satellite, and brought my little internet cooler in for the night.

Off-grid living sure has its moments, that’s for sure!

Tales of terrible thermostats.

Obviously I’ve been running the furnace quite a bit more since temperatures have dipped into the 30s and below. One of the things I like least about the Airstream is the god awful stock mechanical thermostat. Why oh why do they install these things!?

First off, because it’s mechanical, it makes the loudest twanging noise whenever it turns off, which scares me awake all night long. I live in the most quiet, peaceful place except for the loudly twanging thermostat all night long. Ugh!

It’s been so irritating in fact that I’ve been going to bed with the furnace off. I set an alarm for 2am, turn on the furnace to keep the Airstream from freezing, then turn it back off an hour later when the silly thermostat turns off and scares me awake. Obviously this isn’t sustainable.

The second issue with the thermostat? The lowest temperature setting is 50. While 50 may seem cold it’s in fact, way too warm for many reasons. I prefer to sleep cold and have tons of warm blankets. For me, even if I was on full shore power, 50 is just way too warm at night for this little space. Especially for nights that are really cold, like in the teens, keeping the Airstream at 50 is horribly inefficient. The temperature difference creates a lot of condensation and the furnace blows through propane and battery power trying to keep up.

It’s also a waste if I’m gone for the day to set the furnace to 50. On sunny days I can leave the furnace off and get by with solar heating. Even on days when it’s below freezing the sun warms the Airstream nicely to 55-60°. On cloudy days though? Without the furnace the Airstream drops to freezing or below in a few hours. While the pipes likely wouldn’t freeze that fast it’s not super fun coming home and walking into the arctic.

Most of the week, overnight temperatures stayed right at freezing or above so I opted to not run the furnace and save myself the thermostat headache. The Airstream stayed around 40 every night and it was the perfect temperature. I slept so good without that silly twanging! I needed a solution quickly, especially with colder temperatures returning end of week.

After reading some RV forums online I read that someone replaced their mechanical Airstream thermostat with a simple $20 Honeywell heat-only digital version that could be set as low as 35. I immediately ordered one and picked it up on Thursday.

The game of risk.

Temperatures Thursday night were on track to dip back into the 20s. After enjoying a few nights without that awful thermostat noise I couldn’t bare to go back. I decided to play a game of risk and install my new Honeywell thermostat Thursday evening. If I screwed something up? Well, I might be putting my furnace out of commission exactly when I’d need it. 

Hey, what could go wrong…. right!?

Turns out replacing the Airstream thermostat has been one of the easiest projects I’ve taken on! I disconnected the batteries and unscrewed the old mechanical thermostat from the wall. Sure enough, there are only two wires that have to be disconnected and reconnected and it’s nearly impossible to get it wrong. There is an “R” (red) and “W” (white). Of course, they’re not color coded, but there are labels on the thermostat. You just have to pay attention which one is connected to the R and which one is the W and not get them crossed.

I hooked the wires into the new thermostat and carefully put a new screw hole in the wall for the backplate. Naturally the existing screw holes didn’t line up. I snapped the cover on and everything seemed ok. I held my breath, flipped the batteries back on, and turned the switch to heat.

Voila! My furnace fired up and everything worked!

The last few nights I’ve been able to set the furnace at 40, which seems to be the perfect overnight temperature. I’ve slept so good without that obnoxious twanging and the furnace only runs a few times overnight. The lower temperature also creates a lot less condensation by morning. Already I’m seeing a big improvement with both battery power and propane consumption.

It also feels really nice to leave for the day and set the furnace at 38 or 40. I no longer worry about blowing through my batteries or propane while I’m gone. A big key to off-grid living is smart power consumption and this thermostat has been an easy, cheap upgrade with huge payoffs. I only wish I had done it sooner! 

I believe in you.

As I rolled into yet another weekend and passed 30 days of off-grid living on my land, I couldn’t help but feel like I solved another step in a Rubik’s cube. This week I had reliable high speed internet again and it sure felt great stretching out at night to watch a movie. I laugh every night I pack up my “internet” cooler and bring it inside. I also managed to install my new thermostat, which was a huge win for power reduction. 

The last bit of awesome sauce last week? I got a visit over the weekend from some very dear friends who are full-time Airstreamers. I’m being very selective and abundantly cautious about socializing right now with Covid exploding again but my two friends I consider my extended family. It felt so great to see them, show them my land, and swap fun stories and tales of Airstream living. As we laughed over a glass of wine, my friends told me they had unwavering faith I’d be just fine this winter. Boy it feels good to know that someone believes in you.

And all of this beautiful snow! It’s been one of the best early season snowpacks we’ve had in years! Hudson and I spent our entire weekend ski touring on the Hoks in fantastic snow on perfect low-angle slopes 10 minutes from home. Both of us had big smiles from ear to ear and with the new thermostat, I didn’t worry once about leaving the Airstream.

I stepped outside late one evening to take in the beauty of the dark starry sky. Ok, maybe it was only 5:30pm but it felt like 11pm. Welcome to winter. It was 28° out, which somehow didn’t seem all that cold anymore. All the worry I’ve had about whether I could live in an Airstream over the winter seemed like a distant memory. I mean sure, I know I’ll face some challenges still to unfold and a mechanical issue with batteries or my furnace would be a big deal.

That evening though, as I sat under the stars, I felt proud of and empowered by everything that I had accomplished thus far. Whatever happens, well….. I knew I’d be able to figure it out. Spending the winter here with all of this fantastic snow? As crazy as it sounds I wouldn’t trade it in a million years for a warm sunny winter in Arizona.