Do you want to use your RV or Motorhome during the Freezing temperatures of Winter? Got Questions: How do I keep the pipes from freezing in my RV? What can I do to stay warm inside the RV? Can I keep my walls from icing over? Will my fuel freeze?
To be perfectly honest we’ve learned how to RV during the winter from experience….BAD EXPERIENCIES! So please learn from our mistakes and heed my warnings.
The majority of RV owners do one of two things for Winter:
1. Head South to warmer weather (i.e. Quartzite, Lake Havasu City, Yuma, Gulf Shores Alabama, Orlando, etc).
2. Winterize the RV and take it to storage for the season.
We RV a little different! Being a little crazy we know there are tons of adventures waiting in the snow filled mountains. Honestly the best time to be in a ski town is January – February, there’s less crowds, the snow is better, and the town is filled with mostly locals.
To enjoy the snow and successfully endure the freezing temperatures there are a few things you need to know BEFORE you go on a Winter RV Trip:
As a general rule of thumb if its freezing outside you don’t want to be boondocking. Sure you can run your generator, and use propane to heat the interior, but you’re gonna spend $20+ per day anyway so you might as well plug in at an RV park.
Let me setup the situation:
01/11/2013 – High 22 Low -9 We did not freeze
01/12/2013 – High 22 Low -5 Tank froze till noon
01/13/2013 – High 29 Low 0 Tank froze till 2pm
01/14/2013 – High 30 Low 6 Tank froze till noon
I followed all my own directions as notated in this original post below EXCEPT for skirting. I don’t have a skirt for our Windy, and there was no snow on the ground so I couldn’t make an impromptu skirt. So today we’re a little more wise and humbly we offer a few new points on preparing your RV for Winter:1. Skirting – Anytime the temperatures will be sub 30 for more than a half day adding a skirt is the BEST way to keep your RV from freezing. If we would have skirted our Motorhome this wouldn’t have been an issue. That’s what I get for being lazy!
2. The 12 volt tank blankets will not keep a full freshwater tank from freezing. Granted they will help thaw the tanks, but when the temp drops near zero don’t expect those little heating pads to do much of anything.
3. Frozen tanks don’t unfreeze easily. If you’re not skirted then any warmth that is generated under your RV will simply blow away. Also when the sun comes out the bottom of your RV (where your tanks are likely located) is still in shade. So unless the temps go over 35 degrees for an extended period of time you’re tanks won’t unfreeze.
4. Turn off your Water Pump. If your tank freezes your water pump will burn up trying to run, so don’t risk it. When you go to bed turn off your pump.
5. Keep on your electric water heater. Don’t blow up your water heater with freezing water. Keep the electric heater on in order to keep your tank from bursting with freezing water.
6. 30 Amp Sucks! The campground we’re at only has 30A hookups. When I’m using my 2 space heaters, the electric water heater, refrigerator and the engine block heater we’re pulling 29 amps. That means we must remember to turn off the heaters when using any other appliances. If you’re RV only has 30A, I’m sorry cause that is a major pain!
7. RV’s aren’t air tight. I don’t care if you’re in a $2,000,000 bus or a $5,000 trailer your RV is not sealed like a bricks and sticks home. Cold air leaks in under the slides, permeates through the walls, and seeps through the windows. If you plan to stay in freezing weather for an extended period of time locate those drafty areas and throw a blanket over them. For our Windy it’s amazing how much cold air comes in through the entry door area, so I cover the stairwell with a piece of board and my rug at night.
8. Use the propane furnace. I don’t care how many space heaters you have going, if it’s 0 degrees outside those little heaters won’t keep the entire coach warm. We set our furnace to 55 degrees and we’ll hear it kick on throughout the night. Our philosophy: a $30 propane bill is much better than a $300 busted pipe bill!
9. Suck it up and do the walk of shame. When the pipes are frozen, don’t expect them to thaw anytime soon. Pack up your dop kit, and throw on your coat, cause you’re walkin’ to the shower facility to drop that morning constitution!
If you’re like me and not willing to do either of these then here’s what the past month has taught me:
1. Arizona Does freeze, it may be rare in the valley but it does happen (and it happens often in the higher elevations).
2. An overnight freeze will not burst your pipes, however multiple freezes without thawing can.
3. The RV tank heating pad does not work for a full tank of water.
4. Skirting your RV is the absolute best way to protect your RV from freezing.If you can’t skirt your RV here’s the formula that has worked for me in temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and temperatures in the 30′s during the day.
1. Fill freshwater tank to 1/3
2. Disconnect water hose
3. Empty Black and Grey water to 1/3 or less (but not empty)
4. Remove sewer hose and close any openings in bays
5. Turn on RV tank heating pads (assuming you have pads on each tank)
6. Turn on mini wet bay heater
7. Set propane furnace to 55 or higher (depending on your preference)
8. Turn on the strongest, warmest space heater you can find
9. Cuddle up under a nice thick, warm blanket and enjoy the snowThis simple formula worked for us for several nights in a row of sub-freezing nightly temperatures. Each day it warmed up in the high 20′s or low 30′s, which is still freezing but we were able to keep all our pipes from freezing using these simple steps.
If none of my tips make any sense than I suggest you read the main part of the post below, we’ve stayed in freezing temps for years now, and we absolutely love the solidarity of cold weather camping. Also if you want to learn a little more our friend Tom Conces left a very detailed comment in the comments section that you absolutely must read.
Keeping the Inside Warm:
1. Space heaters are your friend! If you’re plugged into shore power why waste your money running the propane furnace inside your RV? For sub-freezing temperatures we typically run 2 space heaters inside: 1 near the front, and one near the bedroom.
2. Mini Space Heater in bay – Typically there is one main bay that holds your black/grey/fresh tanks, your sewer connections, water pump, water filter, etc. This is the MOST important bay to keep warm. I purchased a tiny 200 watt (1.8 x 4.3 x 6.1 inches) ceramic heater and leave it running in the bay during freezing temperatures. It pulls about 5 amps and keeps all my pipes warm (exterior temp 20 degrees, inside bay 50 degrees). Some people recommend hanging a work light in the bay: I tried this and the bulb melted the plastic bay, and my water still froze so I don’t recommend this option.
3. Fresh Water Hose - Your water hose WILL FREEZE! Do not leave your water hose connected during freezing temperatures. There are special water hoses you can plug in to keep warm, you can also make a heated water hose using heat tape. During extreme freeze your ‘heated’ water hose may still freeze. Numerous times I’ve seen people in the bathroom trying to thaw their heated hoses. Save money and save hassle, just fill your fresh water tank and disconnect your hose, repeat when necessary (it’s really not a big deal and it will save you money and you won’t have to store a bulky winter water hose all year)
4. Insulate your pipes – It might not do much, but why not. Go to the hardware store and purchase the pipe insulation. Wrap any and every pipe you can find with the insulation. It’s easy to do, inexpensive, and maybe it’ll help keep the pipes a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer?
Keeping the Bed Warm:
Invest in a heated mattress pad, it will be your friend during cold nights. We purchased a dual climate heated pad (not a heated blanket) because one of us is always colder than the other, it works like a champ. Best part is the preheat function warms the bed quickly then continues with your original setting. We chose a heated mattress pad because heat rises right? The heat is nice on our backs, then as the warmth rises its captured between the sheets and creates a nice oven effect. Love it! Although we’ve heard a heated blanket can mess up your core temps we still use one on the lowest setting when it’s sub-freezing outside.
Skirting your RV:
If you have an RV without insulated bays, or a trailer, you will need skirting in extreme weather. The majority of RV’s are not made for extreme cold so chances are if you plan to be in consistent freezing temps you should look into investing in this. In some cases if temperatures drop below 0 degrees you will need to run a space heater under your coach (inside your skirting) to keep it warm. I stay away from propane heaters and use an electric commercial heater under our RV.
We had to skirt our first RV and it worked like a champ. The image above is from the Miller family aka Guru’s of skirting: http://www.rvskirting.com/ These guys helped us get set for a last minute freeze in Breckenridge, CO. Most manufacturers and dealers don’t understand skirting so make sure you give these guys a call if you have questions about winter camping.
If you plan to be in an area with snow you can try the poor man’s skirt, it works pretty well: Take a shovel and pile up snow all around your coach up to the bays. Pack the snow well and it can last for months. During an extreme freeze put a space heater under your coach, don’t worry it shouldn’t melt the snow…I call this the Igloo effect!
RV Tire Chains:
Legally you must carry chains to drive most mountain passes. If you don’t have chains on board and you get busted it’s a hefty fine. We’ve spent winters all over the states, and fortunately we’ve never had to put our chains on. Of course we watch the weather religiously before we plan to drive anywhere. If you’re flexible like we are and you know a storm is coming you have 2 options: 1. Bust out of there ASAP before the snow or 2. welcome the snow with open arms and extend your reservation a couple more days.
Keep your engine from freezing:
Diesel can freeze! Make sure you fill with winterized diesel which you can find at most truck stops. If you can’t find winterized diesel you need to purchase an additive that will keep your diesel from freezing (you can find this at auto part stores and truck stops). Before you depart your destination you should plug in the heating element found in your diesel engine (most diesel engines have a heated core that you can plug into a wall to keep them from getting too cold) to warm up your engine at least 6 hours before taking off.
Winter RV Campgrounds:
Don’t assume a campground will be open, make sure you contact the resort before you plan a visit. Many campgrounds close during the winter, especially in areas where it snows.
In the winter you’ll notice condensation accumulating on the windshield, on walls, etc. Condensation is your enemy. I know it sounds contradictory but you need to crack a vent or a window at all times. Condensation can build up, get in the walls, etc and cause mold. You do not want this! Simply crack a window and turn on a fan to circulate the air, if you’re already using a space heater with built in fan you don’t have to worry about running a separate fan. You can also put the dehumidifier pellets (you can purchase at most stores) in the areas that seem to draw the most condensation.
For the Lazy or the Budget RV’er:
Last but certainly not least there is always the option to winterize your RV before you hit the cold weather. Whether you’re lazy, cheap, or you just plain don’t want to deal with all this crap I’ve rambled on about above, this option works like a champ. Before you hit the road purchase a couple 10 gallon jugs of water for drinking. Shower & use the toilets in the facilities at the campground (they’re usually heated during the winter). Of course this means when nature calls you have to high tail it through the freezing weather to use the jon, but at least you don’t have to worry about your pipes freezing! If you decide to go this route make sure you stay in the site located closest to shower and bathroom facilities, you’ll thank me later.
If you have a Monaco Vesta like us make sure you read our article on How to Prepare your Monaco Vesta for Winter
Do you RV in the Winter? Have some of your own tips? Share them with the world below in the comment box.
Are you curious about RV’ing in Winter? Then watch some of our winter RV adventures
If you are a fellow Vesta owner, see our post on how to prepare your monaco vesta for a winter trip.
Please know these tips are just that: Tips. I cannot guarantee that your RV won’t freeze, or that your vacation will go perfectly. That said enjoy the cold!