The simple plan would be to live out of a truck. Except we have dogs. We can't leave Tybee and Tyki in the truck while we go out for day-long mountain bike rides during the summer or go snowboarding for the whole day in the middle of winter. We tossed around a variety of ideas and it turns out moving into an RV is the answer. Initially, we weren't in favor of living out of an RV. We felt (and still do) that traditional RVs have a large carbon footprint and the image RVs conjured up for us wasn't the lifestyle we wanted. But the more we talked about it the more we realized how much we could do with an RV if we remodeled it into a home that matches our priorities. Choosing the right RV to suit our modifications and new lifestyle was an important consideration.
In our everyday lives we try to be as eco-conscious as we can. We're not perfect and we're probably not even great, but we believe every little effort counts. Most RVs are designed to rely on abundant grid-electricity and propane - which is a fossil fuel. So we decided our trailer would be fully solar powered - this means no propane and no generator. This allows us to power our lives consuming minimal fossil fuels - with the goal of being totally fossil fuel free one day.
One of the biggest downsides of traveling in an RV is fossil fuel usage. We hate the thought of driving around the country burning diesel at 10 mpg. So we decided that our truck would have to be converted to burn waste vegetable oil (WVO). We did this for over a year until we realized it wasn't doable on the road. This post explains why we stopped using WVO.
Picking the right RV and truck was difficult. We had a lot of specific requirements.
- 5th wheel - for stability while driving, and (relatively) better maneuverability for access to smaller spots
- No bigger than a 30' in length - more accessibility to smaller spots
- One slide - one slide makes a huge difference but a second one introduces more reliability risks than we wanted to deal with
- Comfortable layout
- Good price - below $10,000
- Good condition - we kind of failed on this one
- Enough storage - living in it full time with plenty of outdoor gear!
- Passable inside decor - because we were looking at older RVs, the interiors would be dated or too fancy for our tastes
- Read this post for an informative overview about rebuilding our RV, the Toaster
- Matched to trailer size for safe towing
- Supercab - the extra half doors make it a lot easier to put the dogs in the truck, and the backseats fold flat so the dogs can ride comfortably with us
- 4wd - for access to fun places when not towing (and sometimes when towing)
- Diesel engine - for the conversion to burn WVO
- 7.3 Powerstroke - because of its legendary reliability and ease of converting to WVO
- 1999 - we got a one-owner used truck, with low-mileage for its age, in very good condition. The price...reflected the truck's excellent condition.
- This new-to-us truck is definitely a nice upgrade from our initial 1991 Ford F250, which looked its age, but we loved that truck and it got us from NC to WA.
- This post explains in detail why we got the truck we did.
We ended up with a 2001 24-5P Fleetwood Prowler (25' long from end to end). It was rebuilt into our rig now referred to as the Toaster.
The Toaster's Sustainability Features
- Four 305-watt solar panels on the roof, totaling 1,220 watts. We don't need or have a generator!
- 1,000 Ah of lithium batteries.
- Composting toilet by Air Head. Regular toilets use a lot of water, RV toilets use a lot less - composting toilets use zero.
- Two electric mini-tank water heaters. The bathroom has a 6 gallon tank and the kitchen has a 2.5 gallon tank. RV water heaters use propane when off-grid. Because we installed our new water tanks right underneath the kitchen sink and bathroom sink (and a short two steps from the shower) the hot water doesn't have far to travel and loses less heat in the process which means less water is wasted while waiting for the hot water to come out of the faucet. We can also turn each water heater off separately when not in use to minimize electricity use.
- Extra insulation in the entire RV, and the bedroom got more than double the original amount of insulation. This keeps the RV cooler in the summer and warmer in the winters, allowing us to use less power to heat/cool the place.
- Three 75-watt floor heaters. This helps heat the RV while using less energy.
- A foot pedal to turn on and off the water in the kitchen sink. This helps us use less water.
- The AC and microwave were removed, as they are unneeded electricity hogs.
- The furnace and water heater were removed along with the propane tanks. In place of the furnace we use an electric space heater. The mini-tank water heaters mentioned above replaced the original RV water heater.
- The propane RV stove/oven was removed and replaced with an induction cooktop and toaster oven.