Life below zero

by | Oct 23, 2020 | Diaries, Europe, Norway

It’s not only tricky driving on ice. At temperatures below zero – we had down to -6 in the last two nights – we face different other problems, which test ourselves and our Iveco’s systems.

We are OK with that, we will survive and we already enjoy arctic clima. But we have light, energy and cold management to face, three interconnecting elements since we always live in a camper moving outdoors. 

What about electric power? 

There is space only for two AGM batteries (by Standard) underneath our vehicle, capable of 200 Ah in total, plus the 110Ah engine battery on the left side, which supports the starter, front cabin’s electric systems (12V outlets, GPS, LED lighting etc.) and the Webasto water heater for engine and camper supply.

All three batteries are charged by the two solar panels (200W total), by the engine’s alternator and from a 220V outlet.

With daylight so limited during winter in the arctic, battery charge is critically low when the Iveco stands still while power consumption is continues from the fridge and the Webasto heater. Plus, when we are busy working, we need to charge our MacBook from a 12-220V inverter, which absorbs a lot of energy from the batteries.

Even if it’s still October, we have 6-hours daylight maximum and it decreases every day. So we need to keep the following procedures to keep our batteries healthy – which means keeping voltage above 12V. 

  • We keep moving in daily basis and while we stand still turn on the engine for about 2-3 hours during the day to charge the batteries.

  • We control the solar panels to keep the clear of snow. During the first snowfall last week, the panels were completely covered by snow an thick ice, which was impossible to remove. We managed to clean them in Alta, only when temperature rose above zero.

  • We turn the inverter on only with the engine on. Practically we charge MacBook and cameras’ batteries while driving. Drone and tablet batteries can be charged directly from the 12V outlets in the cabin.

  • Starting from Rovaniemi we look forward outdoor 220V outlets to connect the Iveco. Those are used in Lapland to support car heating systems. But in Norway we haven’t found free charge so far, except in Kautokeino, which were not operating.

  • In the evening, we turn off interior LED lights and sometimes we use a portable USB light.

  • By night, before getting to sleep, we start the engine and heat the living room with the Webasto. While sleeping, we keep the heater in low, so that it doesn’t start too often in the night.

    We have found a balance: we wake up with interior 15-160C temperature instead of 19-200C, while exterior temperature is between -2 and -60C and so far we have kept battery voltage above 12,0V. When indoor temperature is lower, the fridge needs to start up more sporadically during our sleep subsequently decreasing power consumption. 

Cold management

The biggest issue so far is managing the freezing temperatures and it will get worse during winter. Read the problems we have faced so far and the means we use to resolve them. 

  • Water from WC and kitchen has frozen in the exposed tubes leading to the evacuation box underneath the vehicle. Below -2 we haven’t found a solution to unblock water (hot water or alcohol in the sink?), which means we can’t wash dishes or our faces. And forget any thoughts about a shower. 
  • Driver’s cabin freezes during the night due to the convertible design and insufficient insulation. In the morning, the cabin has the same environment temperature. If we leave the passage to the living space open, this lowers the average temperature and makes the Webasto work overtime.

    So we seal the passage either with a wooden foldable door, or with a fleece blanket. In the morning, the driver’s is frozen and full of moisture. 

  • Below zero, cabin doors as well as the capsule’s door were blocked by ice built on the insulation material at the opening surfaces. The only solution to unblock the doors is by waiting the interior temperature to rise and melt the ice.

  • The coldest area of the living space is our child’s bed because it is far from the Webasto heater (there is an air-vent but is not enough), and closer to the driver’s… cabrio cabin. So, since we keep the heater as low as possible by night, we moved Anastasia to our bed and we sleep together all three. The ladies from one side and Akis from the other. It’s great and keeps us warm.

  • By night we close the windows’ blinds for even better insulation. But thanks to the double windows, living space heat is well insulated.
  • In order to protect the batteries from freezing temperatures, we covered them with glass wool insulating material despite a local told us that they don’t care: “freezing will arrive to the batteries in anyway” he told me.
  • When external temperature is close to zero and below, in the morning, before starting the diesel engine, we turn on the Webasto water heater for 10-15’. Which also consumes battery energy for a while.
  • While driving, we now keep the living space Webasto heater on, so it remains warm for the evening we will stop to have dinner and sleep.
  • The engine’s thermostat is wide open, so radiator liquid temperature rarely reaches 800C even in summer. Only uphill when the turbo works hard.

    Wintertime, engine temperature barely goes over 500C, so now we almost never turn off the engine at stops. In the morning, the engine needs 25-30’ to warm and heat the cabin and demist the windscreen. Cabin A/C doesn’t work, so condensation is hard to move from windows.

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