Can you RV during the winter months?

Considering our latest experience of RVing during the Polar Vortex, we thought we would share a few tips on how to survive in your RV during the winter months.

Summer may be the most popular time for road trips, but that does not mean you have to pack up your rig at the first site of a snowflake. RVing in the winter is a great way to experience a wide variety of outdoor activities, from skiing and snowmobiling to simply meandering around in winter wonderland, cup of hot cocoa in hand.

You may be wondering, however, how to keep a RV warm in the winter. After all, even the best-made rigs on the market have significantly less insulation than a sticks-and-bricks home. And just like your sticks-and-bricks, RVs have a variety of items that can be damaged by the freezing temperatures.

RV winter living is all about one thing: preparation.

If your not prepared, you will experience big problems. Your RV’s pipes can burst just like the ones at home, and the cold weather is killer on your RV batteries. Even though many four-season RVs come with thermal packages, which include extra insulation, it’s still not enough for extreme cold weather RVing in sub-zero temperatures. If you’re camping in extreme cold, put your RV in a skirt! Skirting the RV will keep the battery bays, plumbing, and other important components warm. We spent a winter in Iowa and put a skirt around our RV but also placed a small heater under the RV to keep it above freezing.  If you don’t have a skirt, you can pack snow around the RV bays.  We do not suggest hay or straw bales being placed around your RV because of rodents and it’s a fire hazard.  But if you travel for work like we do, do you best to keep the furnace running to keep that RV belly warm so the pipes don’t freeze. 

Some of the most important items in your RV is deep in the underbelly: the tanks, batteries, and plumbing. While skirting can help, you’ll also want to wrap your pipes in heat tape and invest in a heated RV water hose, so as to avoid having your water line freeze if you’re hooked up to a city water connection. If you don’t want to upgrade to a heated hose, you can also add insulation or tape to your existing water hose or fill your onboard freshwater tank and use that as a water source instead.

RV windows lose a ton of heat, no matter how insulated the manufacturer claims they are. There are several ways to insulate them: foam insulation boards, relectix, bubble insulation, solar blankets, etc. For extra warmth, line your windows with heavy-weight thermal curtains. You may also want to go over your RV windows and doors with a layer of RV sealant or caulk, just to ensure they’re nice and weather-tight.

There’s one major area of confusion many RVers face when RVing in the winter, and it’s all about the HVAC system. Many rigs have both a “heat pump” that’s built into your AC unit and an onboard furnace that uses propane. We feel the heat pump can be used UNTIL you are experiencing freezing temperatures.  You need the onboard furnace to run during these times, so it heats the belly of your RV, keeping the plumbing warm and toasty.  Now with that said, we use the heat pump and furnace to keep us nice and toasty inside however, we do run the furnace to ensure the belly temperature stay above freezing.  While your furnace does utilize propane to burn, it’s more efficient at warming a space quickly. Which means that if you’re planning on living full-time in an RV in winter, you need to ensure you’ve got plenty of propane. When you’re out of your rig for the day, be sure to leave the thermostat set to switch on your furnace if the RV reaches a certain temperature — it can be pretty cool, if you don’t have pets waiting, but you don’t want your pets to freeze inside while you’re away.

Now that we’ve covered the basics for keeping you and your RV warm, let’s talk about what RV is best for RV living.  Although many RVs are advertised as four-season or insulated, not all rigs are created equally when it comes to living in an RV for the winter.  The best RV for winter living is one that’s fully self-contained and as insulated as possible, perhaps even with some extra, after-market insulation added. Large motorhomes and trailers may be constructed out of sturdier, more weather-proof materials, but on the other hand, a smaller motorhome or trailer may be easier to heat, since there’s less internal living space.  In today’s RV market there are particularly large, luxurious RVs — offer fireplaces, which can be a welcome addition for those planning on extreme cold-weather traveling. And no matter which rig you go with, you’ll want to ensure it does have an onboard furnace, since, as discussed above, the HVAC heat pump or fireplaces won’t cut it below freezing.

Here are some more quick tips and tricks for winter RV camping

Many RVers drain their freshwater tanks completely for the season. That means bringing bottled water for brushing your teeth and doing the dishes.  However, if you’re a Full-Time RVer this may not be possible so we suggest installing tank heaters for those freezing temps.

The bay that holds your tanks must always be kept above freezing. Mini space heaters are inexpensive and use very little amperage. Buy one and stick it in the bay.  Just be safe!  They can easily cause a fire.

Use RV antifreeze in your plumbing and gray/black tanks. You can do this by flushing antifreeze down the toilets and pouring it into your drains. That said, you do not want to introduce RV antifreeze to your freshwater tank or water heater!

If you do choose to use water hookups, make sure you insulate the pipes with heat tape. You’ll also need to insulate any connections and exposed piping.

Never allow your black tank to freeze unless you want to deal with a disgusting mess. Use a PVC pipe for your sewer hose – it’ll have less chance of freezing than a regular hose. If you plan on leaving the tank hooked up, add a layer of insulation around the sewer pipe. However, it’s a good idea to keep your tanks closed until it needs to be dumped.  Don’t leave your black or gray water valves open if you’re camping in a spot where you’re connected to the city sewer. Why, you ask?  Poopsicle!

Your never too dry.  Even if your hair sticks up when brushing your hair

Cold and wet is bad. Not just for you, but for your RV, too. All that heat in one confined space can lead to humidity and condensation, which can cause mold in your walls.

Vent covers are great for two things: they help prevent condensation, and they keep you warm. Lots of warm air escapes out the vents in your RV. A cover adds an extra layer of insulation. The best part is, you can still open the vents even if there’s snow on the roof.

We hope you learned a few things in this post. So get out there.  You’ll see some beautiful, unique sights along your winter RV trip. There’s nothing quite like being in the solitude of a winter campsite, watching the snowfall and blanket the land around you. Make sure you follow the tips we’ve included here to stay safe during your winter adventure. Remember, warm and dry, not cold and wet!

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