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Old 04-07-2020, 11:50 PM   #1
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Boise, Idaho
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Prevent frozen water pipes (Part 1 of 2)

As so many of us learned the hard way, the standard SMB factory build was not meant for cold weather camping. I’m not talking -40°F while driving Yukon’s Dempster Highway up to see the Arctic Ocean either. No, mere overnight lows of 25°F are enough to freeze the lines, especially if it is windy.

Many other have threads have been posted on various ways to insulate a van and keep it warmer. But in this long two part post are a few things I have done to keep the pipes, tanks, and water pump from freezing up. The colder the night the more you will need to run your heat on its lowest setting. But with this set up we once made it through a -17°F night in Thermopolis, Wyoming with no problems, with the thermostat on its lowest setting.

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Here is the build in our 2010 Ford E-350 EB-50.

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Normally we keep our kitchen towels on the little shelf under the sink. Bad idea in the winter, as they help insulate the pipes from the warm air in the cabinet space.

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So be sure the pipes are exposed. I also tucked a little chunk of foam between the pipes and the wall. Had SMB left a little more space between the outside wall and the pipes it would have been way better. I think this was the weak link in the whole system, the spot where the cold water line freezes first.

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This is the underside view where the pipes from the sink pass through the little shelf, turn 90°, and pass between the shelf and the wheel well. I tucked another little piece of foam in here, and also plugged foam into the little hole where the wiring harness passes through the back wall. The air in that low storage compartment behind the wall gets very cold and no doubt leaks through.

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Normally the white counterweight and the flexible faucet hose lay right against the outside wall. At night be sure to tuck them up onto the little shelf where the air is warmer.

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Pulling the faucet hose out on the counter helps keep it warm. I only do these last two steps with the faucet hose when it is extremely cold, like below 0°F.

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Turn on your hot water heater if you have one. When it is extremely cold I leave it on all night. Otherwise I run it just before bedtime. Sometimes the cold water line is a bit frozen in the morning, but once the hot water starts running through it warms up the cold pipes and they begin to flow too. This also leaves a nice reservoir of hot water back behind the water tanks, helping to warm up that under-the-bed area I figure. Also is should keep your hot water heater from freezing, which would be a disaster. I’ve never heard of one freezing, but it seems like a possibility.

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Now for the big stuff. Big at least by my standards. I am not a major project kind of guy, but more of a tinkerer and refiner. I couldn’t bear to cut holes in the factory cabinet door, so I found a piece of laminate particle board to make a “temporary” custom door. Five years later the crappy door is still in place. One unforeseen benefit of this door is that we can access the cupboard under the sink even when we leave the bad in the folded down position. Just stick your hand through the holes to get what you need.

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But here is the primary reason for the holes. I used a length of flexible dryer duct pipe to conduct hot air from the furnace vent to the cabinet space underneath the sink.

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I also cut a hole in the duct pipe so that some hot air is forced through the little water pump access door. This keep the water pump, tanks, pipes, and whole under-bed-area warm and toasty.

This ends Part 1 of this overly long post. I did not realize that the Forum rules limit each post to 10 photos. I have 9 more to go. Move on to Part 2 to see the exciting conclusion to this series.

2010 E-350 4x4 Sportsmobile "Moby" for the backroads
2109 Sprinter Pleasure-Way XLTS "Pequod" for the highways
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Old 04-08-2020, 09:22 AM   #2
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Prevent frozen water pipes (Part 1 of 2)

Yes, while there are photo limits to each thread post, instead of starting a new topic each time, just follow up with a new reply in the same thread. After you make the post, hit the reply, that way it’s at least all together.

Admin: any way to bring over part 2
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Old 04-08-2020, 09:26 AM   #3
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REF, thanks for the tip.
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2109 Sprinter Pleasure-Way XLTS "Pequod" for the highways
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Old 04-08-2020, 11:49 AM   #4
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Useful and thoughtful information.
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Old 04-09-2020, 12:50 AM   #5
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Ichuker, thx for the tips! I did have a water heater freeze on our maiden voyage in '14 to Alaska. We were on the haul road and heading up to Prudoe Bay and spent the night off the road in teen temps. THe water heater is in a sink/cabinet that sits in front of the short door of the two swing outs. Our builder did not put a bottom on the cabinet, so the bottom was open to the step bay..coldest part of van...hence freezing and blowing it out. It was a serious drag, but SMB North replaced and fixed cabinet at no charge. It hasn't happened since but now we do run the furnace with reckless abandoned (lol) when we cold the tip on the exposing the line on the counter! Well done sir!
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