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What’s It Like? ~ Part 4

August 8, 2014

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I apologize for the interruption of this series, but we are trying to get back into the festival and market business.  They do provide extra income for us.  Now, back to the question of what it’s like to live fulltime in an RV.

Air conditioning and heating in an older RV require a learning curve.  Unfortunately, the learning takes place when it’s really cold or really hot outside.  RVs are not insulated as well as sticks-and-bricks houses.  Cold air comes in around doors and windows in the winter.  It seems to escape through the same places in the summer.  The last two winters were spent in Rockport, Texas.  The winter of 2012/13 wasn’t too bad, weather-wise.  But 2013/14 was a rough winter all over the country.  Even down on the Texas Gulf Coast, we found ourselves struggling at times to stay warm.  We even started considering moving into an apartment before the next winter comes.  But we know we wouldn’t be happy, so we will find a way to adjust to the winter.

megunticook5

We spent the last two summers travelling in the northeast, so while we did use the AC occasionally, we tended to leave windows open and run fans a lot.  That kept us pretty comfortable most of the time.  The photo above was shot in July 2013 at Megunticook Campground in Rockport, Maine.  You’ll notice the open door.  This summer (2014), we are stationary in Houston, Texas, where the temps are currently headed into the high 90s and triple digits.  And the humidity envelopes you as soon as you step out the door.  It took a visit from an RV tech to teach us how to stay comfortably cool inside.  The two motorhomes we have had as of this writing have both had 30 amp electrical systems.  With a 30 amp system, you can’t run two AC units, a coffee pot, an electric water heater, a microwave and a hair dryer all at the same time. The next rig we live in full time will be 50 amp.  And maybe it will have one of those electric fireplaces.

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We did put some UV-blocking film on a couple of side windows, and had snap-on sunscreens installed on the windshield and driver and passenger side windows.  It’s not cheap, but the exterior sunscreens block a tremendous amount of heat while allowing us to still see out the windows.  They can be unsnapped, rolled, and put away until the next time they’re needed.  We may remove them when the temperatures cool down again, and then try them in the winter to see how well they hold heat in.

There are folks around us who keep all their shades closed and even put insulating foam in their skylights.  Some of them have the aluminum-backed insulation in their windows.  I’m sure it works great, but a) we like to see out our windows whenever possible; and b) we just don’t like the way it looks.  So we pay a little bit more for electricity.

The type of RV you are living in, and the east-west orientation of the site has a huge bearing on heating and cooling.  In a motorhome, the bedroom is at the rear and the living area is at the front.  The windshield is a big picture window that looks out on the world in front of you.  If the motorhome facing west, it’s going to be cool in the mornings, but in the afternoon, the sun will pour right in the window, bringing sun in your eyes and heat into the space.  At our present location, the front window faces directly west.  In Houston’s summer heat, even though we have the exterior sunscreens, we still must lower the front shade (or pull the curtains) to block out as much of the glare and heat as we can in the afternoon.  In a sticks-and-bricks house, this would be like having the mini-blinds closed and the drapes drawn over them.

Fifth wheels are laid out exactly opposite.  The bedroom is at the front and the living area, in general is at the back.  Depending on the east-west orientation of the site, the living room windows create the same heat/glare problem as the motorhome’s windshield.  Sunscreens are custom made for every RV, so they can be installed on any window on any RV.

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The actual view out the windows is most often a moot point in an RV park, because you’re going to be looking at other RVs most of the time.  But in a camping situation, we’ve discovered that most lakeside and riverside sites are back-ins, which means the fifth wheel wins the prize when it comes to views from inside the RV.  For example, the photo above shows our site at Trace State Park outside Tupelo, Mississippi in September 2012.  This would have been a great spot for a fifth wheel trailer, with the living room at the back with wrap-around windows.

Living in an RV park is very different from a campground.  A lot of campers and weekend RVers don’t necessarily follow the same rules of etiquette, written and unwritten, that fulltime RVers live by.  Having said that, all fulltime RVers don’t always abide by the rules, either, just like that nuisance neighbor down the street in your subdivision.  The good news is that the fulltime RVer can always move, either within the same park or to another park.  In fairness,  camping is a fun experience for families as well as couples.  Kids are supposed to be able to use their outside voice, and no one can control which way the breeze blows the neighbor’s campfire smoke.  If one can’t accept those things, one should avoid campgrounds.

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There are lots of tradeoffs.  For example, sites at state parks have some space between them, and even some trees and shrubbery.  RV parks are quieter, but the sites are much closer together.  When we’re travelling, we like to mix it up between the two.  When we’re sitting still for an extended period of time, we much prefer the amenities of an RV park and are willing to accept the closer quarters.

Outside noise isn’t a major issue in a good RV park, unless you’re next to a railroad, a racetrack or a water area that has air boats.  In my opinion, highway noise comes under the heading of “white noise” when you’re inside.  Most parks have “quiet hours” between 10pm and 7am, and RVers in general are pretty considerate of their neighbors.  Motorcyclists will generally get out of the park quietly before revving their engines, and the folks who work full time leave quietly in the mornings.   We have been surprised at how well the RV walls block out the noise.  Of course, it’s inevitable that someone next door will have a gathering of friends.  When that happens, plan on staying up for a while and reading or watching TV.  The layout of most parks dictates that the neighbor’s patio and table are right under your bedroom window.  We have found that the AC duct in the living area creates a nice white noise that also helps block outside sound.  Of course, when the temperatures get into the 90x, there’s not a lot of outside activity anyway.

That brings us to the idea of surround sound.  Since we are both becoming a bit hard of hearing, the AC white noise also blocks the sound of the TV, which is located at the front, above the dash.  Far from being a luxury, surround sound speakers placed toward the back, behind the overhead AC unit, puts the sound where it needs to be.  Of course, it doesn’t need to be true surround sound.  Just so there are speakers aimed at the seating areas.

tailgater

And speaking of TV, most good RV parks will at least have basic cable.  We have been in places that didn’t have it, and we bought a Tailgater satellite dish for those places.  There is even an app for your phone that helps you locate the satellites for aiming the dish.  We haven’t used the Tailgater a lot, but it has come in handy.  I suspect when we get back to travelling a lot in a smaller RV, we’ll use it often.

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Coming up:  Living inside, privacy, weather and awnings

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