Four-Seasons Caravan Touring Technology
You can tour in comfort in a British winter in your caravan. Gary Blake looks at the tech that makes it possible
By Gary Blake
Determined to find out whether ‘four-seasons' caravans could live up to this claim in the British winter, we decided to lay our bodies on the snow-line. In mid-January 2012 we took an Autosleeper Kensington caravan to Holgates Silverdale Caravan Park at Silverdale Morecambe Bay near the English Lake District in the hope of snow and to enjoy winter activities by day while keeping cosy at night.
Holgates have hosted Christmas Rallies before. These had proved so popular that they have extended their opening season and are now a full four-season site. Facilities include a sauna, so if the caravan failed us, we knew where we’d be heading.
We equipped ourselves well for outside activities: ski clothes, boots, thermal underwear, foul-weather walking gear, and the car prepared with de-icers, scrapers and sprays, snow shovel and snow mats for wheel traction.
The caravan (length: 5.6m body, 7.25m overall) included Whale gas and electrics 2kw gas and electric under floor space-saving heater plus a 13-litre Whale gas and electric storage water heater. We added winter duvets, kettle and two hot-water bottles in case the heating couldn’t provide enough heat for our liking and took along an extra 15kg propane bottle.
For caravanners, matching ‘home-from-home' warmth has been the most challenging issue of all. And having had heaters from paraffin ‘stand alone' (mind you this was yesteryear New Zealand), paraffin Taylor wall heaters, diesel fuelled Eberbspachers (in yachts), liquid gas for catalytic heaters and Carvers ducted heating systems, I have welcomed the innovations to help combat the cold.
As the caravan industry developed, caravans have evolved from little more than a tent on wheels, through the early 1920s’ 'tin can tourists', to today’s luxury models, providing more than just a place to sleep, and containing several rooms with all the furniture and furnishings and equipment of a home. Naturally, the prices have risen too, so we have come to expect even more use from our investment.
The first line of defence is the caravan’s skin and its insulating properties. Manufacturing methods and materials have improved, with factory pressed laminated/sandwiched panels of combined materials, e.g., aluminium or GRP (outer skin), a 37 mm foam core and GRP or plywood inner skin.
These are designed to increase the caravan’s longevity through protection from adverse weather conditions and giving its walls better thermal qualities. Together with double-insulated acrylic windows, double seals around windows and doors, an underside GRP membrane sheet, plus marine plywood for the base, it all adds up to, potentially, a hot box indeed.
In theory, this should result in potential four-seasons use once you’ve got the heating sorted out.
(The text below is interpreted from Louise Wood of the NCC)
The National Caravan Council (NCC) explained the four seasons approval process, thus:
The accreditation for four-season use is the Grade III Classification of Thermal Insulation (EN1645-I) certification. The accreditation is part of the National Caravan Council (NCC) Approved badge to ensure it's safe and legal to use.
To achieve this, the NCC makes up to 600 different checks to ensure a leisure vehicle complies with the relevant British and European standards including the habitation health-and-safety standard for touring caravans.
Part of the BS EN 1645-1 relates to thermal insulation and some manufacturers will choose to use a facility such as Millbrook Proving Ground to test this.
There, a temperature-controlled 'cold chamber' can lower the temperatures to minus 15°C, and then measure the time it takes for the leisure vehicle interior to reach +20c. The power requirements needed to sustain an internal temperature at +20°C for two hours with an outside temperature of -15°c can also be measured.
Many manufacturers now include the BS EN 1645-1 thermal insulation grading for each of their models under the technical specifications – and some use the marketing term ‘suitable for four season use’.
Four-season caravanning has long been popular with the Swedes who cope with very hard winters and expect their vans to match the high standard of Swedish centrally-heated homes.
They insist on radiator-type central heating, a wet system ducted in pipes. Alde’s ‘wet’ central heating is the preferred 'ultimate’ system for European caravanners and motorhome owners in snow (skiing) camps but has only recently arrived in the UK market, with Alde setting up a headquarters at Wellingborough.
(Richard Godbe, Technical Director at Truma, verified the text below)
Liquid gas is the most efficient method of providing heat in extreme conditions, delivering up to 6kw, 20,472 BTUs, compared with electricity, where a typical system only goes up to 2KW, 6824 BTUs (using an 8.3 amp feed – site fuse boxes can be as low as three amps).
In extreme conditions, electricity is used mainly for additional heat, as with Truma (German) which had been manufacturing caravan heating systems for 50 years, and in the UK for ten years.
The first Truma caravan heater not only made caravanning warmer and more comfortable, but it kick-started winter camping. Thanks to Truma’s experience and innovation, it has become an expert in heating and hot water in caravans and motor caravans. Today it has a broad range of gas, combined gas-electric and diesel heaters for all vehicle types and needs.
(Stanley McFarland, Engineering Director at Munster Simms Engineering Limited verified the text below.)
But, entering the heating market in 2010, came Whale, from Northern Ireland, Well known for their water pumps, they now offer an innovative 2kw underfloor space-saving heater featuring a blown hot-air system using both gas and electricity. And this was what we had in the Kensington.
Before we set off for a day’s exploring, we’d set the Whale’s wall-mounted control dial on low, using electricity only (output of 500 watts), which gave a temperature of 15 degrees (it was four degrees outside)
After a day of enjoying Lake District activities, we could look forward to returning to our snug van in the afternoon. Sunset was 4 pm, so we only had short days.
The Whale system heats up the air quickly, which then heats the walls and fabric of the caravan, so a comfortable 20 degrees C is achieved rapidly from cold.
The first thing to do on returning was to bump up the ducted blown heat setting to maximum on the control dial and the electrics to maximum to get the full 2KW of heat yet only consuming 8.8 amps.
Calculate your amperage draw
Service posts on pitches with an electrical supply, have an absolute maximum output defined in Amps. Each gadget or appliance you use has a specific amp rating. If the ‘draw’ of all your electrical items in use together exceeds the maximum on the post, you will blow a fuse or activate the trip-switch cutting off the power supply.
You’re always dealing with Amps, Watts and Volts. In the UK and Europe, there is fixed voltage at 220-230V, so the calculation is simple:
One Watt is one Amp of current delivered with a ‘force’ of one Volt.
Amps x Volts = Watts
which is the same as
Watts/Volts = Amps
So, a 2KW (2000Watt) heater at 230Volts draws a current of 8.7 Amps.
With caravan site amperage ratings varying from a very low 3amps to 16 amps max, you can see that running the heating, while watching TV and using the microwave is likely to exceed the limit of the post and cut off your supply. End
The large rear bathroom stretching the full van width was a sheer joy and the large bathroom space a ‘must’ for winter caravanning. In our case, we could either shower first to warm up or just change from bulky outdoor clothes into lighter indoor clothes stored inside the bathroom wardrobe, with a double access door with one in the main cabin.
This rectangular shower, twice the size of most caravan showers was hotel size, with space to dry off and heated by a duct tube inside. The 13 litres of hot water from Whale’s water heater proved sufficient for two showers.
On re-filling from the cold water source (i.e., via the outside Aquaroll) using both gas and electricity the water heater took 26 minutes to bring it up to 70°C.
We also tested the ability of the van to retain its heat. We turned the heating off with the van at a cosy 20°C, but by 4 am the temperature had dropped to 8°C. It was just 4°C outside, so not a bad performance, and thanks to quality insulation, draught proofing and winter duvets, we would have been okay.
However, we felt that extra heat during the night with the electric heating setting on low, giving 15°C, would be a desirable luxury.
I always recommend electric heating at night, as I still feel unsafe with gas.
But when it comes to electricity every caravanner has to remember their schoolbook physics. You have to make calculations if you use the kettle and microwave and everything else at the same time.
The pitch trips at Holgates were 16 amps, more than on some European sites, where they can be only three amps. Use careful control, so as not to pop the site’s trip switch, which you may have to reset outside on their fuse board at 6 am (like us!).
The latest Whale Wireless iVan smart controller coupled to their new 4KW space heater, as seen at the Excel Caravan and Motorhome Show is simplicity personified with a large, full-colour touch screen.
Moreover, it gives the calculated amp draw for each setting and combination, e.g., gas plus 230Volt AC for water heating and central heating, and advises if the selections made will exceed the available power (previously set in options) thus significantly reducing the risk of popping the site trip-switch.
The 4KW space heater adjusts the use of gas and electricity efficiently to get the full 4KWs and at an only 4.4Amp draw since the 4KW is made up from 1KW electric and 3KW gas. Th e heater design is smart indeed when you realise that a full 2KW of electric heating is still available on the maximum electric-only setting.
Apart from our one pre-dawn blunder, we managed to avoid overload errors and felt thoroughly snug in our warm-air cocoon. The ability to dry towels in our van was a particular bonus. If laid out in the bathroom overnight with the heating on low and the duct open it would take out the moisture, and with further hanging out during the day while we were out, this gave us bone-dry towels when we returned to our home.
If needed, Holgate’s has a laundry room with washing machines and tumble driers inside the warm central complex. As an alternative to the caravan’s showers, Holgates provide superb warm ablution blocks with piping-hot water. But we were so delighted with our caravan facilities, and we only sampled them out of a sense of duty!
Our seven-day test was very enjoyable, and with the experience, we realised we could imagine making a foray to the snow camps of Europe next winter to see how we cope with cold conditions.
- Had the temperatures fallen below zero, we would have had to have taken more precautions, i.e., water standpipe feed pipes taken off, drained down and stored.
- Cap the pitch water standpipe with a golf club cover to insulate it.
- Lag all waste pipes underneath with B&Q split foam pipe lagging and gaffer tape it on.
- Straighten external pipework to make sure it is running downhill to avoid build-up of water
- Cover internal freshwater tank with a water jacket.
- Carry 12-volt water heater to drop into Aquaroll to keep temperatures above freezing while filling the van.
- Carry a small tool kit - screwdrivers and torch proved useful for the outside fuse board.
- Extra car type fuses advised for the caravan's DC supply. We blew one on the first day at 7 pm with no spares. Raiding the tow car's fuse spares is possible in an emergency
- A four-season awning that covers the doorway makes a proper airlock, and a radius roof lets the snow fall off.
- A caravan site with sauna and indoor swimming pool is perfect to heat your inner core if you have been out all day, wet maybe, and still feel cold, despite 24°C inside as we had achieved.
- It’s worth noting that in the European snow camps, the ablution blocks have heated ante-room entrances in the showers blocks, with hangers and racks to dry ski boots and clothes in sauna-like temperatures. If the UK continues to have hard winters I could imagine these installed to attract the four-season caravan users.
Was it a good caravan for the winter?
Yes. The refinements list: shower-steam extractor, hairdryer, pop-up television. It's also the first caravan to have a power mover as standard, confirming that the Kensington aims to cosset its occupants. The caravan is one of the most high-spec tourers made in Britain
If buying new though, we would like the 4KW Whale as seen at the Excel show. This extra heat would guarantee warmth in constant minus conditions in European snow camps.
Towing in The Winter.
Matching the innovations inside the caravan is the undercarriage technology.
We now have galvanised chassis, swing ‘v’ tech axles complete with built in ‘ABS-type’ braking systems for anti-snaking as well as built-in friction pads in towing hitches, chassis-integrated, remote-controlled caravan movers, for maximum ground clearance and independent wheel control for manoeuvring out of mud and snow.
Caravans have now become ‘go anywhere’ vehicles, at least for most European conditions.
The towcar-weight-to-caravan-weight ratio is critical, and various calculators can be used to obtain this, www.whattowcar.com/ www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/ and www.caravanclub.co.uk can offer advice, but the recommendation for caravans only is that the total caravan weight should not exceed 85% of the car’s kerb weight for an inexperienced towcar driver.
Trailer Stability Systems like (ATC) will help on ice on a single axle caravan weighing up to 1800kg, as this safety feature detects and corrects any tendency to sway.
Snow and Ice
- Decrease speed
- Stopping distances are increased so leave a significant amount of distance between yourself and the car in front. Brake and manoeuvre much more slowly and carefully than you would normally.
- Braking gently will help to minimise skidding, if the wheels lock when braking, ease off the brake.
- Have your lights on all of the time
Winter supplies for your vehicle
Prepare yourself for difficult conditions by having these essentials in your vehicle at all times and especially if you are taking a long journey.
- First Aid Kit
- Blankets and warm clothing
- Non-perishable and high-energy food, e.g., nuts, dried fruit and sweets
- De-icer and ice scraper
- Maps of the area
- Torch and spare batteries
- Mobile phone
- Spare tyre, wheel wrench and jack
- Towing ropes
- Tool Kit
- Jump leads