Posted by: Mark Polk | 2016

Cold Weather RVing Tips & Tricks

snow driving RVIf you’re like me you enjoy using your RV as much as possible throughout the year. This includes taking RV trips during the colder winter months so you can enjoy the beautiful winter scenery and activities like, snow-skiing, ice-fishing and snowmobiling. Winter RV trips are lots of fun, especially when you and the RV are prepared for the cold weather.

When winter approaches each year I get asked lots of questions about using RVs in cold temperatures. To answer some of these questions would require more than just a short article, and there are no guarantees that your RV can or will be completely protected from the harsh winter elements. With that said I can offer some cold weather RVing tips and tricks that would be helpful if you plan to use your RV during the cold winter months.

Note: These tips and suggestions are for short-term winter camping in your RV. If you plan to take extended RV trips in cold weather there are many other precautions and measures that need to be considered, like using insulated skirting around the bottom of the RV to help protect items from freezing. This article is intended to offer tips on how to protect your RV during cold-weather camping, but it is extremely important that you also understand how to protect yourself and other campers with you from extreme cold temperatures.

One of the first considerations is if you will be traveling in temperatures below freezing. If this is the case, and there is water in the RV water system, your plumbing lines or water heater tank could freeze, resulting in costly repair bills and ruining your winter wonderland RV trip. To help avoid this we travel with the RV water system winterized. It is much easier to winterize an RV than most folks think, and it’s not that expensive. I have winterized and de-winterized our RV three or more times in one winter.

The good news is it is still possible to use the bathroom facilities when you are traveling with the RV winterized. We take 1-gallon jugs filled with water to use in the toilet. If your holding tanks are not heated, you can add some RV antifreeze to the holding tanks to prevent the contents from freezing. Add the RV antifreeze through the toilet for the black-water holding tank and down the shower or tub drain for the gray water tank. The antifreeze will also protect the shower or bathtub P-trap, which is usually located below floor level.

Note: The amount of RV antifreeze required for the holding tanks will depend on the size of the holding tanks, and the amount in the tanks. It will be necessary to add more RV antifreeze as waste-water accumulates to prevent the antifreeze from being too diluted. During cold-weather camping do not allow the holding tanks to fill completely before emptying them (unless the holding tanks are heated). This will reduce the chance of freezing, which can damage the holding tank and tank plumbing components.

When the RV is winterized take bottled water along for drinking and other needs like cooking and brushing your teeth. We fill a 5-gallon jug with tap water from our house for our pet’s drinking water and other uses like washing up. This extra supply of water comes in handy when the RV is winterized.

When we arrive at our winter camping destination I try to select a site that will be exposed to the sun throughout the day, but also where there is some type of wind break available. Position the RV on the site so the front or rear is facing the brunt of any wind, not the sides of the RV. In lots of our winter camping scenarios, once at the campground, we use the water system on the RV. All of the water lines in our RV are in a heated space, so we don’t need to be too concerned about the water system freezing as long as the RV has heat. We leave the water heater turned on whenever the water heater tank is full so there is no chance of it freezing. If we have an electric hook-up we operate the water heater on electricity, if not we operate it on LP-gas.

It’s important that you know where all of the plumbing on your RV is located. Some RVs have heat ducts going to the basement storage areas where the water system is exposed to outside temperatures, but many RVs do not. If part of your RV water system is below floor level, in areas that are not heated, it is possible for it to freeze and damage the plumbing system.

Note: If you are hooked up to an external water supply one option is to leave a faucet in the RV dripping to help keep the water moving and decrease the possibility of water lines freezing. A better option is to use a heated RV drinking water hose.

If it is extremely cold outside and the possibility exists that the outside water supply could freeze, or if the campground water supply is shut off for the winter, I try to fill our fresh water holding tank and use it for all of our water requirements. Again, keep in mind where the fresh-water holding tank is located; ours is in a heated space. If the campground shower facilities are still open it’s a good idea to use it to avoid the RV gray-water holding tank from filling so quickly. In this situation it might be in your best interest to keep the RV winterized and just use the campground’s bathroom and shower facilities.

The best source for heat is to use the RV’s forced-air furnace. There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when you use the RV furnace. First of all, it will consume more LP-gas than any of the other LP-gas-fired appliances in the RV. The LP cylinders or tank should be full prior to leaving on your trip, and you will need to monitor the LP-gas supply carefully during your stay. Second, if you are not plugged into an electrical source the furnace fan can quickly drain the auxiliary battery(s). Batteries that are not fully charged can freeze in cold temperatures, rendering the RV furnace unusable. I recommend that you plan your stay where you have access to an electrical supply when camping in cold weather. When we are connected to electricity we set the forced-air furnace on a lower setting and supplement the heat with small thermostatically controlled ceramic space heaters. These heaters work extremely well and you don’t need to be concerned about a fire or carbon monoxide.

If you will be camping where you don’t have access to an electrical connection one option is to use a generator. A generator can keep the RV batteries topped off and allow you to use the RV furnace. You will need to have a sufficient supply of fuel on hand for the generator. If it’s a portable generator make sure the exhaust is directed well away from the area where you are camping. Regardless of the type of generator, always make sure the exhaust system is in proper operating condition and the carbon monoxide detector is working properly.

Caution: Carbon monoxide is deadly. You cannot see it, taste it or smell it. Never use your range burners or oven as a source of heat. If your RV is not equipped with a carbon monoxide detector you should purchase a battery-operated model designed for use in RVs. Always test the carbon monoxide detector for proper operation before each trip and check the CO detector expiration date.

You also need to be aware of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscular twitching
  • Intense headache
  • Throbbing in the temples
  • Weakness and sleepiness
  • Inability to think coherently

If you or anyone else experiences any of these symptoms get to fresh air immediately. If the symptoms persist seek medical attention.

Here are a few more cold-weather RV tips and tricks in no particular order:

  • Do not store any water hoses with water in them. If you need to use the hose it will probably be frozen. You can take the hose inside the RV to thaw out if need be, or use a hair dryer to speed up the process.
  • Covering the windows can help hold some heat in. It helps to cover overhead vent openings too.
  • Leave cabinets or drawers open where water lines are located to let the heat to circulate around the plumbing lines.
  • Try to avoid opening the entry door as much as possible.
  • Don’t forget to pack the electric blanket, it can be a lifesaver at night.
  • If you haven’t purchased your RV yet, and you know you will be using it in cold weather, see if the manufacturer offers an arctic package option. Some packages include higher R-factor insulation values, enclosed underbelly, heated holding tanks, dual pane windows and more.
  • When your winter camping trip is over and you head back home, don’t forget to winterize the water system again if you expect freezing temperatures while you are traveling.

For more cold weather RVing tips read my Top 5 RV Cold Weather Maintenance Tips article

Happy Winter Camping,

Mark J. Polk

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