We put a lot of thought into this attempt to live in a camper. But still with all the reading of blogs, and web pages and watching YouTube vids and asking solar gurus we were still very naive. This was not at all the image we had in our minds. The stress started pretty much in day one, the day we bought the camper.
We lived in a shared home with an awesome room-mate but her lease was up and we had to leave. We decided that we could go into another shared home but we have done that before and it is very hard to get an awesome room-mate. So, the camper is what we did. We have been searching for a camper that will fit our size of life style we wanted to live. We searched the internet in our area and it was a river of RVs and campers. There were a lot, and it made me think that we should find something awesome. We looked and looked, months went by and winter was closing in and we had to move back into our car if we didn’t find something soon. Desperation took over and we took one that we hoped would be a good one. It is a 32 ft 5th wheel. The owner said he would deliver it to where we wanted for us, since I drive a small car it would have been very hard to move a 5th wheel. He said it was a 92, he lied. It’s a 89. He said it had no water damage, he lied. I almost fell through the loft floor the water damage was so bad. I didn’t notice this as I didn’t take steps that far up into the loft area to have this happen when looking at it. Silly me! He said the water heater didn’t work, he told the truth. He said it was winterized, another truth. He said it was sealed just this summer start. he lied. When I went up to the roof after I got hold of a ladder, the sealant looked to be 5 years old. Then of course before I could seal it up fully, it rained. Oh did it rain, inside and out.
My daughter and I ripped out the loft and discovered that lofts do not have support across the front, oh no, it’s the bed that holds everything together. what a crappy way to build anything. I learned there that building a camper is as cheap as can be and is not worth those very large price tags. After we found someone with a powerful drill to drill in some 2×6’s into the frame so we can have a temporary fix of support and no falling through the floor we insulated and boarded it up. I even added some plastic to help with weathering. This process took two full weeks and a lot of elbow grease.
Then we moved in. That’s when we discovered the lie of the leaky roof, windows, walls, and vents. Oh yes, it all rained down on our sleeping heads. That was a long night I don’t mind sharing. Next morning up, up I go to the roof top. I see very crusted, pealing weathered caulking. Gaps, and even holes that looked like nail holes. So off to Home Depot again. A few dollars later and two days later, I hoped it is all sealed and ready to go. Just in time as it rained and hailed that night. So, was it sealed up tight now, water tight? Hell no!
The window where the awning pulled out was leaking. I looked with a magnifying glass and could not find a single hole. So I decided it was probably the awning itself some how it may be leaking into the wall and coming out the window inside. So I caulked that like it was a gingerbread house and voilà! No more leaks. Only now I am positive the walls are water damaged from years of leaks. I am sure of it. Our goal with this camper was to live in it this year, and when the weather warmed up we would rip off the camper from the frame and build our own tiny home. so the weather damage inside the walls I decided to not put more money into it now since it was going to be torn off in 4 or 5 months.
I bought a solar panel. Hooked that puppy up and thought it would charge my 12V marine deep cycle battery so it could run the fridge. HA! I thought it was working but the battery was just running down and two days later, no fridge. lost all our freezer stuff and some of the fridge stuff had to get tossed out but we learned. So learning about solar power is not as easy as we thought it would be. But I am strong, independent, I can make this happen. Well I discovered that is an expense at this time I am not willing to put out for. I have seen some very complex solar system set ups and I just want a simple one. I don’t want this adapter and that adapter, I have seen some simple ones and those are still pretty pricey. I am up to getting some 6V Gulf car batteries, since they are a bit cheaper. The other solar panel will have to wait until summer, or later, that will depend on money.
For now we are getting into the cold weather so we can put stuff in the fridge just because it is damn cold in the camper. For now we eat a good deal of raw vegan foods that can sit on the counter and the food that is cooked is the dry foods that can be stored, such a lentils, dried mashed potatoes, rice, quinoa, that type of stuff. This is not so bad as we used to be raw vegan for 10 years. This type of eating is easy and familiar. One trick with this is we have no electricity, so no smoothies, no blended ingredients to make nut cheese, or sauces, or cakes, or any of the typical raw foods. We are officially eating raw foods that you chop and / or mix in a bowl with a spoon. We have had to be very creative with our meals and in doing this I am writing a cookbook for this type of living.
As far as heating the camper we have used candles and the shared body heat under the blankets to stay warm through the night. I am waiting for a paycheque to buy a propane heater such as the Big Buddy or Mr. Heater type thing. I did look into the tiny wood stoves and since I grew up on wood stove for heat I am wanting to get that put in our unit we build. For now, we will use the propane heater.
I have plastic up around every window and spray expanding foam in nooks and crannies to seal out the sold drafts. I still need to skirt the unit and a blanket to Velcro to the door frame. I have the Velcro around the door, just need to sew the other half of the Velcro onto the blanket. Then I hope that is all that is needed for that.
I have a fire detector, and carbon monoxide detector, only now I need to get a gas detector. The camper does have one, only it is electric. It only works while plugged in.
Toilet. I am sure you may be curious how we can go the loo without using the toilet and flush system. This is where the compost toilet comes into place. I started with an electric compost toilet that we purchased. It would work awesome if it were plugged in, however our solar panel didn’t do what we thought and we can’t use that electric compost toilet. I searched around and found a non-electric compost system. Inspired by the lovable loo system I build my own. We love it. I was very amazed at how easy it is and how well it works. There is absolutely no smell in our camper. Even after those very smelling deposits. I watched some people’s posts in YouTube about this type of system and we tried saw dust. We did not like that at all. We tried hamster wood chips, that was the same as the saw dust. Then we tried the peat moss. This stuff is the best. I bought I hope enough to last the winter since I can only buy it here during the summer garden season. I really hope I bought enough. I bought those large bails that take two people to lift, for $5.00 each. Super store and Wal-Mart sell them usually, we looked at garden stores and they wanted $26 for a 3 Kg bag. Absolutely ridiculous price when one $5 bail is the size of my cars back seat. How does compost toilets work? After you make a deposit of #1 or #2 or #3 in the Boove’s case, you just take a scoop (like a pantry measure cup scoop) and scoop up some peat moss and cover the deposit. The rule of thumb is the same amount you deposit is the same amount you cover with. I find that urine is not a needed covering in most times but BM’s are covered for sure.
Water is not running either. Yet. I found a propane system that runs on battery to make water run and heats the water. I will get this in a few months as well, only right now we go to our local recreation facility and go swimming and shower 4 or 5 days a week. We wash our clothes at the local laundry mat. For the other water needs I pour out water from a 20 gal jug as needed. I heat water on the stove in a kettle for dishes and teas. The rest is just poured from the jug as needed. The two of us drink about 3 to 4 liters of water each a day and cooking is about another 2 liters/day plus dishes so we are using the 20 gal jug up in about 2 1/2 to 3 days when we are home over the weekend, and during the work week we use up the jug in about 3 to 4 days since we are not home for most of the time.
Here’s a tricky part. Charging our phones, tablets, and laptop. I am here at the library writing blogs, building a cookbook, typing stuff, answering emails, etc. All the while our units are charging it the library. At my work I plug in my phone and our batter bank charger so we have emergency power for our units if they run out before we get to the library or work. This has been frustrating at times. We used to charge the phones in the car but it was draining the battery to fast and it wasn’t able to charge fast enough, so now we just charge one phone at a time if we really need it.