Saturday, 1 April 2017

Van Damp

As you may have gathered by now, we rather like living in a camper van.  We also really like the South Island.  The thing is, at some stage it is going to get bloody cold.  It's cold enough when you live in a house with a roaring log fire or nice toasty heating!  But when you live in a van?  Picture what it's like on a frosty morning when you jump in your car to go to work.  It's freezing, there's ice on the windows... at some stage we are going to have to LIVE in that.  Not yet, but we need to be prepared.  It doesn't matter whether you're in Whangamata, Wellington or Wanaka; they all get cold. This we know.  And we're fine with that, it's the life we have chosen and just like any lifestyle choice you can't expect things to be perfect or smooth sailing all the time.  What we didn't expect - and what we're already dealing with - is the DAMP.

This ran the length of where we sleep

And this was right behind our heads, meaning freezing cold and
soaking wet pillows every morning!

Actually, damp is the understatement of the century.  You ain't seen nothing until you've seen van damp.  You've heard the term 'crying windows'?  I reckon ours have been having a nervous breakdown.  Obviously when you live in a confined space there is going to be some degree of condensation, even in summer, but we never could have predicted just how severe it would get and how much damage it could potentially do.  I mean, we're only a month into Autumn!  The temperature is still reaching the mid-twenties!  But, being in the deep south as we are, the gloriously high daytime temperatures are also matched by teeth chattering lows.  It hasn't hit zero yet, but we haven't been far off.  Still, much as the damp came as a shock to us both, we're extremely glad that we've had the luxury of time on our side to deal with it now, before the weather gets really bad.

We first noticed it in little things, like jackets and towels.  We'd go and grab our jackets off the hook by the door to put on and find they were a bit damp and felt really cold.  Or we would go to get dressed in the morning and find our the neatly folded piles of clothing we had laid out the night before were also really cold and distinctly on the damp side.  The colder it got, it wasn't just the windows that were crying but the walls and door surrounds too.  Wherever there was metal was literally running with water, right next to our heads and under the windows alongside where we slept. Closer inspection showed mould was starting to form on and around the windows.  Worse still however, although we religiously turned our foam mattress squabs every day, the undersides of them were becoming increasingly damp just from us sleeping on them, and in turn, the timber benches, which also serves as our bed frame were also damp, with dark spots of mould starting to form on the tops.

The bed might look cosy - but the damp mattress underneath
and mouldy bed frame certainly wasn't!

As you can imagine, this was really not good!  Apart from not being very nice or comfortable to live in, living in a damp, mouldy environment is really not good for your health, especially when your immune system is as crap as mine.  Seeing the mattress and bed frame like that put us into a mild state of panic.  What were we going to do?  It wasn't even winter yet!  Besides, we loved our van life, we didn't want something like this forcing us to have to give it up so soon.  We immediately started researching the problem and hunting for solutions as much as we could.

One thing was for certain - this was a very common problem, particularly in the South Island and there were a lot of people who had dealt with far worse than us.  At least Ken's ceiling was insulated thank goodness - we read of people who had endured freezing cold water from the ceiling dripping on their heads and soaking their bedding as they tried to sleep.  All we can say is thank you to Hannah and Ollie for having the foresight to think of this when outfitting Ken!  But we still had the windows and walls to rectify, the mattresses and bed frames - mercifully to our relief all our clothing and items stored underneath the bed did not seem to be affected - but it was only a matter of time.  Our bed wasn't the only one which was affected either.  The vinyl floor where Minnie slept was cold and wet each morning, which in turn made her bed and blankets increasingly damp.  Being the old girl she was and not in the best of health, she was literally shivering at night and we ended up having to share our bed with her just to try and keep her well too.  Whilst indeed it was considerably warmer with her rather sizeable presence, she snores like you wouldn't believe!

Really technical anti-mould spray.  A few drops of clove oil in a bottle of
water is all you need!

First things first, we had to try and get rid of the mould and prevent it from coming back again.  This part at least was easy.  I went to the chemist, got a bottle of Clove Oil for a few dollars and shook it up with a spray bottle of water.  I learned that from Simple Savings years ago and figured it was much nicer and safer than any chemical anti-mould sprays.  'It smells like Christmas in here!' I beamed as I washed and scrubbed everything down.  Gareth was far from enamoured with the scent but there was no denying everything felt a lot fresher and cleaner afterwards.  Unfortunately in the process of emptying everything out we uncovered more problems.  Just the day before I had watched a video of an American chap demonstrating how the damp had got so bad in his camper, it had even got into his pantry and soaked all the food.  The poor bloke!  I couldn't possibly imagine anything being that bad.  As it turned out however, it already was.  To my horror I emptied out our little pantry to find that all the tins were wet and the labels were peeling off, even on items which had only been there a few days!  OK, now this was seriously not cool.

Thermal bubble wrap stuff.  We know what it looks like, 
now we just have to find it!

We continued with more thorough research into how others had solved the problem, as well as prevented future issues and read of this stuff which goes by several different names such as Reflectix but is basically a double layer of aluminum coated thermal 'bubble wrap' (for want of a better description). It's not too expensive at around $11 a metre and is brilliant at providing both heating and insulation.  We read of a lot of people using this stuff to cover windows and walls of their vehicles with great results.  The only problem is, despite much online hunting, you don't seem to be able to get it from everyday stores in NZ; only insulation specialists.  It's not easy ordering products online when you have no address to deliver to!   But we are working on an answer to that, as it would also be brilliant to line the pantry and our under-bed storage with.

Our saviour, Chuggaboom the dehumidifier!
Now our 'house' is warm and dry.

The quick-fix answer was rather unexpected but made total sense as soon as we read it.  If you had a problem with damp in your house, you'd get a dehumidifier, right?  That's just what people do in their motor homes too!  So off we toddled to the Warehouse and picked up their smallest, cheapest model on special.  We plugged it in and left it running overnight in fear and trepidation.  What if it didn't work and turned out to be a giant waste of money?  We woke up the next morning, reached out to touch the wall behind our heads and to our surprise found it was dry.  Tentatively we peered behind the curtains - and the windows were dry too!  Windscreen, floor, everything was bone dry.  We were seriously impressed, I mean this was no ordinary damp issue.  I've lived in a lot of damp, old houses over the years but had never seen anything like this before, yet this little machine made light work of it.  We also got some draft excluder stuff from Mitre 10 - sort of like a thick spongey tube and Gareth fixed this around the passenger seat window so that when we are using an external power source (dehumidifiers are power hungry little suckers on an inverter) we can run the cable through the window 24/7 and it is completely draft proof.

In typical Gore style, we only needed to run the dehumidifier for two days before the weather changed dramatically again, as happens in this crazy place and the last couple of nights have been the most sweltering yet!  But at least we are prepared for anything now.  Even so, we'll be staying in Gore until we can work out a way to get our thermal bubble wrap to us, just to be on the safe side!

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