Last Update: 10/21/2016

Greenhouse for Winter Van Life Warmth

Sketch of winter van life greenhouse garage to park van in to live down by the river — sketch by Vanholio!
Ol’ Vanholio was trippin’ ‘round the northern Rockies and got to thinking: What if I wintered here? How would I keep fucking warm? How could van life be more bearable in that cold? My genius idea was parking the van in a greenhouse, down by the river.

Greenhouse Winter Camping Proven Tech


If you’re stuck in a cold place this winter, this idea is damn solid. Ain’t never heard no one do it with for van life, but it’s been done for survival. Even by a guy who lived in a greenhoused tent through the Minnesota winter!

3 Methods for a Van Life Winter Greenhouse


1. Good Greenhouse Method – Go Simple


The most dead simple way’d be to park your van in a regular greenhouse. Don’t know someone with a greenhouse you can park in? You can buy a cheap portable greenhouse. (It’s a little short, but you can modify.)

Another easy option is to make a simple greenhouse tent with a clear, reinforced poly tarp. Hell, if you wanted to go cheap, I saw 4 mil 9x12 poly tarps at the Walmart pain area for $9.87! Duct-tape ‘em together! You could string them on rope or cable between trees, use some poles, or any other way you’d do a homemade tent.

Whatever setup you do, the inside air will be 10-20 degrees warmer on a sunny day (or more). And your van, as a big thermal sink, will be a tad warmer through the night.

2. Better Greenhouse Method – Add Mass


The greenhouse will be collecting all that good radiant sun heat through the day. But you want to keep it. To do that, you need mass. Now, the van itself will heat up and re-radiate some heat through the night.

But you can go a step further by putting black, plastic containers of water in the greenhouse with you. The sun’ll heat up that water in the day, and the water will slowly radiate back heat at night.

And if that’s unrealistic, put a bunch of dark rocks on greenhouse floor around the van. Let them bake up during the day.

A third option is making a south-facing cliff one of your greenhouse walls. That huge rock wall will collect a whole lotta goddamn heat and radiate back at ya through the night. Plus being on the south side of a cliff’ll keep you out of the north wind. Hell, it worked for Anasazi cliff dwellers!

3. Best Greenhouse Method – Add Reflective Wall


Your sharpest option is to make a van-size Kochanski Super Shelter. That’s the picture at top. Your south-facing wall is clear plastic. But your back wall is a reflective tarp. That’ll keep the sun’s radiant energy bouncing around in the greenhouse. It’s like an echo chamber for light.

If it’s super cold or cloudy, you can replace the sun’s radiant warmth with a fire outside the greenhouse. You can see that in the video below.

I’d also put a small reflective tarp, tin foil, or a rock or log wall beside the fire, opposite the greenhouse. That’ll bounce all the heat straight into your greenhouse tent. And do put in some black plastic water jugs or rocks in the greenhouse to keep that heat all night.

Hey, Beer Vanholio! He works hard on this blog.

Also See ...

Acclimatize for Warmth in All Weather
Live in a Greenhouse (Insructables)
The 2 Warmest Survival Shelters Anyone Can Easily Make (Survival Gear Authority)

7 comments:

  1. Don't forget some kind of ventilation.

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    1. And, unlike in the video, you'd probably want to set it up where you can get as much sunshine as possible.

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    2. I think you called that right. No. 1 comment I got on /r/vandwellers and the Cheap RV Living forum was concern about moisture buildup. My sketch was real simple.

      And yeah, I'd set the greenhouse/Kochanski Super Shelter with good south sun, only using fire as a backup at night or in cloudy conditions.

      Another comment people gave me was worrying about the greenhouse getting too hot. I'm talking about doing this in Canada or Minnesota or something, not Quartzite on a 40 degree day. :-)

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  2. A Happy Camper24.10.16

    Greenhouses are great, but not very portable, and not very good for parking in, unless the vehicle is remaining stationary for a prolonged length of time. For an easier and more portable version, perhaps an EZ-Up style canopy with greenhouse style walls could be used. I do exactly this when van camping and I want extra enclosed space. I don't park in it though.

    After many years of experimentation, my conclusion is the best solution is to drive a vehicle that is a mobile greenhouse. To this end, I have a large skoolie, and a 15 passenger all window van, both of which have been converted into campers. Much like a greenhouse they provide a lot of power free heating, cooling, ventilation, and light, especially during the day.

    Greenhouses are an almost perfect example of a simple & cheap, yet extremely energy efficient design, taking full advantage of mother nature instead of trying to defeat her. Taking advantage of all my windows in both my bus and my van, using them much like a greenhouse, and never trying to cover them up or insulate them saves me a fortune in both heating and cooling costs and headaches.

    Greenhouses are also brilliant in their ventilation design, requiring zero power to keep the inside temperature down to no hotter than the outside temperature, and requiring very minimal power to cool it to lower than the outside temperatures when needed. My bus and van aren't quite as efficient, but with the addition of a $20 fan, and very minimal power, they certainly come close. Even at places like burning man or slab city in the summer, they are so easy to keep cool inside, even on the hottest days and with no shade. Of course I prefer shade in the summer, but it isn't always available.

    More people need to study the genius of greenhouses and other older technologies. Many of them are far better and more efficient than the newer technologies, especially for vehicle dwellers where things like heating, cooling, and refrigeration, can be major hurdles to overcome, yet long before electricity, all of these problems were solved without it.

    I wouldn't want to give up my cellphone or my laptop, but there is still a lot to be said for the older technologies.


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    1. Wow! Thanks for your kickass and detailed comment. Great to hear from someone who's played with passive solar and greenhouse ideas for vans. Totally agree on paying attention to older tech from the days before we could throw shit tons of energy at problems. Everyone's like "how am I going to heat my van?" How about putting on a sweater!? Check out http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/

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  3. Replies
    1. Tell me how it goes if you try it. Sure enough, I'm warm along the Mexican border and ain't tryin' this out this year.

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