It’s hotter than…

16 Jun

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When working on something like an Airstream, you realize how much effort goes into either heating something up or cooling something down. Refrigerators, freezers, ovens, air conditioners, fireplaces, water heaters….we are pretty finicky creatures! On this post I want to talk about the most important, and arguably least important of the lot: the fireplace, and water heater. (Ok, I will be the first to admit, I am not going to do cold showers for a year, but I did say “arguably!”)

Let’s start with the water heater. You have a number of options in RV water heaters. The usual sort is a 6 or 10 gallon traditional water heater. Most of these are either electric or propane powered. These have severe disadvantages though. The chief of which is that you would only potentially have 6 to 10 gallons of hot water, and then also that you are constantly heating that water even when not in use. This sort is fine if you are using the Airstream as a traditional camper, because you expect not to have much hot water…if any, and won’t keep the water heater in use for long periods of time. But if you are living in it full time, you will need more. That’s where my friends over at Precision Temp come in. I opted for the RV-500:

It is a tankless or “on-demand” propane RV water heater that instantly heats the water whenever you turn on the hot water faucet. The beauty is that propane is only being used when I turn on the hot water, and I have as much hot water as I want. (Well as long as I have enough propane and water…) It is so efficient that a standard 20 lb tank of propane will give you over 60 –  10 minute showers! All for the cost of about $20 a refill of propane. If you are an Airstream owner, then you can request an pre-painted aluminum door that will polish up quite nicely. Here are the pictures of the install:

If there are many options to heat the water in your Airstream. there are even more on how to heat the cabin on a frosty night. I took my advice on this matter from personal sailors who often brave cold nights out on the ocean in a cabin not much smaller than an Airstream. Actually many of the appliances and strategies of small living are the same between Airstream’s and sailboats. After all, that is why Airstreams were termed “Land Yachts!” On a boat you have to have great efficiency from a heater and one that holds up in rather extreme conditions. After reading many user-reviews from sailors, and also seeing them also installed in “Tiny Houses,” I decided the Dickinson propane marine fireplace was for the Cruiser. It has a 12-volt fan that helps circulate the hot air created by the fireplace. It is also a “direct vent” design” which means it pulls air from outside for combustion so the fire is sealed off from any air inside the cabin. You want that because of safety issues, especially in such a small cabin.  Did I mention it was efficient? A 20 lb of propane will get you well over 100 hours of heat.  And its all stainless steel to boot:

I promise to get more pictures of the fireplace once we get to the final reveal, but I can say that the Precision Temp works like a champ. It is nice and constant hot water, whenever you need it. I am almost looking forward to winter now with all of these new shiny appliances!!

4 Responses to “It’s hotter than…”

  1. Kevin June 17, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    I have no doubt that the appliances are efficient, but what if you continually heat your Airstream? Will you have to change your propane tank every 4 days?

    If so, I know what I am getting you for Christmas!

  2. Kristy June 17, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Cool! — AND Hot!

  3. Andrew June 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    That’s actually a very good observation. Currently I am only using a 15lb “swapout” propane tank that you can swap out at nearly 20 places around town. I got this one for the ease of use, and in emergency type situations. This will be fine for summer use, with just the water heater and cooking. But as winter approaches you are correct. In a Tennessee winter I suspect there would ever be a max of 1 or 2 weeks that I would have to run the fireplace constantly. What I want to do is for my next propane tank is to get a 40lb tank and get it refilled at Uhaul or somewhere else. I have two lines going into the Airstream and a switch between the lines. So the 40lb would last me almost 10 days with a constant fireplace. Then with the 15lb I would have a grace period of a few days to get it refilled.

    All that to say, I haven’t mentioned that my AC unit is also a Heat Pump. This is why I bought the 12000 btu unit instead of the 9000. I wasn’t worried about the cooling power, instead I was more interested in having plenty of heating btu’s. So I doubt I would have to run the fireplace non-stop unless it was below 20 degrees for a majority of the day. You might ask why I bought the fireplace then? Well it would probably get somewhat unpleasant in the dead of winter with just the heat pump, but with both; I think I could survive a winter in a much more northern climate. So hopefully I won’t have to constantly run for propane!

  4. Kevin June 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    In our last apartment, the heat pump ran the entire time during the very cold part of the winter. I think it is very smart that you have both heaters. I am sure together they will make your home very toasty, and I bet they will come in quite handy when you want to take a shower during the coldest of days! Plus, since you don’t spend all of your time in the airstream, you probably won’t have to run them continuously. Nice job!!

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