The MLK Day Ice Storm: Part 1 – Life in a Popsicle

January 17, 2007

1/16/2007 12:31 PM (belated posting)

Laluna is not built for winter. The Airstream Corporation (yes, they’re still in business and still making aluminum trailers) claims in the original promo literature that our 1984 International is a four-season vehicle. In fact, it would be very difficult if not impossible to live in it full-time in any place that has real winter weather. I bring this up now because Austin is in the midst of an ice storm, with daytime highs staying below freezing. While it’s not uncommon to have ice storms in central Texas every couple years, statistically the January lows/highs in Austin are in the 40s/60s, so we rarely have to deal with this type of cold spell.

With aluminum skin on the outside and inside of the walls and aluminum struts providing the wall structure, the mere 2” fiberglass wall insulation doesn’t reduce heat loss very effectively, compared with a regular house that has 4” or 6” insulated exterior walls. And these aluminum struts are excellent heat conductors, meaning that inside heat is transmitted readily through the struts. This is obvious when you see an Airstream after an ice storm – there is ice build up over the entire exterior broken up by vertical lines of bare metal where the struts are located.

Nonetheless, we’re staying pretty comfortable. We’ve got two small electric space heaters, one at each end of the trailer. It’s 34 feet long – nominally it’s a 34-footer, but when you subtract the hitch and bumper, it’s more like 30 feet of living space – and one space heater can’t handle it. We don’t use the central heat (propane furnace) much except to bring it up to temperature after we’ve been away for a period of time (of course, we don’t leave the electric space heaters running unattended). [Note:  We changed our ways after a notice was put up in Pecan Grove to curb electric heater usage.] But when it’s this cold we have severe problems with condensation on the inside of windows. It just occurred to me today that running the furnace some might remedy this problem, as it will eject moisture-laden air through the furnace exhaust in the side of the trailer. Since I’m a former HVAC engineer (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), you’d think I would have snapped to this sooner.

Duh.

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