My family and I have recently moved into our newly built house from the caravans we lived in for a year and a half while our house was being built. My husband, me, my large dogs (and my son and his girlfriend during university holidays and some weekends) lived in one caravan and my daughter and her partner lived in another.
The caravans were “retired” holiday park models, probably about 20 years old. They were each around 11 metres long by 3.5 metres wide and one ran entirely off electricity whilst the other had hot water, cooking and fire running off bottled gas. We connected the vans to mains electricity which already served the derelict house on the site and also to mains water which was available in the corner of the field we parked them in.
My husband works mostly from home and needs internet access. The mobile signal here is pretty poor so, although we had to rely on it for ‘phone, this often involved wandering around the site trying to get a signal and certainly isn’t good enough to carry internet. So we had to get satellite internet. This was a pig to set up, super expensive and only worked intermittently and not at all in certain weather conditions. Every time we had a high wind (pretty frequent here on our blustery hillside) we had to recalibrate the bloody thing.
Sewage was the biggest issue. One of the biggest lessons we learned, and it was a salutary one, was how much water even a frugal and environmentally responsible family uses and how much “waste” they produce. For sewage we had to rent very expensive 500 litre temporary septic tanks. We were astonished how often these needed emptying…. I have a minor (ok, a pretty major) obsession with “waste” and how it is dealt with which will become very evident elsewhere in this blog as time goes by! If I was going to do this again I would definitely build a composting toilet …. it would have saved us a fortune.
Space, or lack of it, is probably the first thing people would expect to be a problem in a caravan, especially when you are used to living in a house. I know that I found the lack of space challenging in some ways but unexpectedly liberating in others – so little housework!
Lack of space in the kitchen drove me crazy at times. Another obsession which will become very obvious on this blog is with making food from scratch rather than buying it….partly because it’s usually cheaper, better for the environment and tastier and partly because I’m a weird obsessive! Making bread and cheese in a tiny space is awkward, not to mention dressing the odd pheasant or duck. By the way, making yoghurt in a caravan is impossible because it wobbles too much and won’t “yog”.
I like having friends to stay and feeding people and there isn’t a lot of room for that in a caravan, but we did it anyway. People’s expectations of your hospitality are pretty low when you live in a caravan so they are pleasantly surprised. We had 15 family over for a Christmas party and it was fine as long as everybody didn’t decide to get up and move around at the same time! In fact, we had some great times with family and friends all through the year which will be some of my best memories of this time in our lives.
You can’t keep a washing machine in a caravan because there just isn’t room but the nearest laundrette is 5 miles away. Caravans suffer very badly from damp and condensation so you absolutely can’t dry clothes in them. Also, there is really no space for all the muddy boots and coats that we have. We got around these problems by parking the vans parallel to each other and building a deck between them which we covered over with heavy duty, translucent, weather-proof plastic. This gave us an area to keep the washing machine and the muddy coats and boots. It also gave us a sheltered seating area. I dried a lot of our stuff in the polytunnel too.
There was very little storage for clothes, but that isn’t a huge problem for me as I don’t have a great many but I can imagine it would drive many women crazy. I would have happily traded some wardrobe space for a bookcase. I missed my books. Most of them had to go into store. I also missed having somewhere quiet to read or write in the evenings when the rest of the family were watching tv.
Keeping warm was not as much of a problem as I thought it might be. We are used to living in big old houses which were impossible to heat adequately so at least we didn’t have such a volume of space to heat. We prevented the pipes from freezing and kept out some of the cold by closing off the gap under the caravans with straw bales. We used dehumidifiers to help deal with the damp. We kept our feet up off the floors, which were freezing, when we were relaxing in the evenings and I had a selection of throws to wrap ourselves up in.
One of the biggest problems with bad weather was the sheer noise! Even a light shower sounded like thunder and in a gale the whole caravan felt as if it might lift off.
The biggest advantage for us was being able to live here on site with all our family and animals while our house was being built. We were able to supervise every step of the process, troubleshooting any problems as they arose and it was such a privilege to watch it go up. I feel a greater intimacy with every detail of this place having watched its progress so closely.
If I had the time over, I wouldn’t change the choice to live in the caravan. I wouldn’t want to do it my entire life but it was the greatest fun while it lasted.