Winter Van Dwelling: Electronics

There’s a trick to keeping your cell phone and laptop alive and well in subzero temperatures. A few tricks, actually.

Your stuff is probably fine with the normal intermittant warming that happens in your van when you drive around a couple times a day down to about ten above. Around zero degrees, just an your of exposure will leave your cell phone foggy screened and render your laptop unusable. Don’t try it, either, it could warp your hard drive – always make sure your laptop is warmed up (and don’t heat it quickly, that could damage it too) before you turn it on. Even though these things should happen at thirty degrees, I don’t really experience them until ten. This might be different in a place with higher humidity.

It is fine to use your laptop in cold temperatures as long is the laptop itself is warm when you start – it will keep itself warm. However, every few days your screen will get all foggy with frost. I assume that this frost is also happening inside the laptop, so I take it inside a nice dry coffeeshop to dry out right away.

If you are using a feather bed, it’s easy to shove your phone under the feathers by your chest and your laptop down by your feet where you won’t roll over on it. They’ll stay thawed and you’ll barely feel them. Even the princess couldn’t feel a pea through a feather bed. I am not a princess, and I assume you aren’t either, so you and I should be just fine with phones under our feather beds. If it helps you feel less silly, pretend that you are a van dwelling princess.


  1. I find it amusing to read this after reading about dreams that are even peripherally related to bringing down civilization. I’m not trying to be petty, I think it’s an interesting dilemna. I hate society, but not techonology. I use technology for a couple of things, not the least of which is keeping in touch with my friends and I’m pretty sure we’re a society.

    It’s not just temperature or time, but a little of both. Newton’s law of Cooling depends on both time and the temperature differential. If it is hella cold, it will take little time for your toasty laptop to cool down below it’s design parameters. If it’s just at the lower limit of said design parameters, it will take some time for the laptop to get there. Phones are a different story as they don’t have the mechanical component (the hard drive). Sudden changes in temperature is bad for any electronics, but only because heating up a bad solder joint (or circuit board trace) may cause it to go from sort of working to completely failed. One part heats up faster than the other, expands faster than the other and sever the connection. Now there’s no electron flow and your phone (or laptop) is a brick.

    Another thing to consider is the battery temperature. All batteries are little chemical factories that liberate electrons from the more negative piece and they race through your electronic device to the positive piece. These chemical processes are also temperature dependent and happen more slowly at lower temperatures. If you find that you’ve let your phone get too cold and you need it badly, pull the battery and warm it separately from your phone. Maybe put it under one armpit and the phone under the other.

    sorry to be such a comment hog

  2. I think I hate this format. I use line breaks to separate my thoughts (you know, paragraphs) but they all get shoved together. Makes it hard to read, I’d imagine.

    Oh well, very little is perfect.

  3. Bob: I understant the time component, but when you live in the van you start it up and run it until it’s warm two or three times a day, at least, the time variable is rather stable – 8 to 12 hours.

  4. Right on, I wasn’t trying to one up your advice. Just trying to point out that it doesn’t have to be really cold for your electronics to be affected. Just cold enough, long enough.

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