“Are you crazy? You plan to live in your RV during the winter?” We’ve heard that question many times. My response is always the same, “You bet, we’re full-time RVers. Where life takes us may be uncertain, but the changing seasons are predictable.”
You may be wondering, however, how we live in our RV in the winter, while experiencing freezing cold temperatures. I’ll be the first to admit there can be challenges because RVs are not made or insulated like a sticks-n-bricks home. Even “four-season” or RVs that have the arctic package are not immune to the effects of extreme cold weather.
While we prefer to spend our winters in parts of the country with more mild winter weather, we’ve experienced extreme cold, snow, and paralyzing ice in these areas as well. We’ve also wintered in the Midwest and spent weeks in sub-zero temperatures and managed to survive to tell the tale.
Throughout the years, we’ve made our fair share of mistakes, experimented with different winterizing techniques, and learned some valuable lessons that you might find beneficial for living comfortably in the winter. It just takes preparation.
Top Winter RVing Tips
Manuals. First, read and familiarize yourself with your RV manufacturer’s and RV component manufacturer’s manuals so that you understand how your RV’s systems work. Then you can take steps to overcome or cope with your RV’s deficiencies and limits.
Batteries. Cold temperatures are hard on RV batteries. Make sure your batteries still have a useful life and are charging properly.
Windows. Insulate your windows at night or during extreme weather events. RV windows lose a ton of heat, regardless of how insulated they claim to be. There are several ways to insulate windows: foam insulation boards,Reflectix aluminum foil insulation, solar blankets, or heavy-weight thermal curtains. You also want to check the weather stripping around the windows to make sure nothing needs to be replaced or caulked. Don’t forget to check your door window.
Skirting. Put your RV in a skirt when parked. We prefer using rigid pink foam board insulation sheathing. This product typically has an R value of 3.6 to 4.0 per inch of thickness. Use the thickest material you can find as it not only provides the best thermal performance, it is stronger and less likely to break or blow away. The material is virtually impervious to moisture penetration, lightweight, durable and easy to handle and install. Keep your vehicle and generator exhaust pipes clear of the skirting and snow accumulation. You want your RV exhaust to blow outside, not underneath.
Pipes. While skirting can help prevent freezing, you will need to wrap your pipes with heat tape and use a heated RV water hose if connected to a water source. If you don’t have a heated water hose, limit use to your RV’s onboard fresh water tank. A standard water hose will freeze and crack.
Roof. Inspect your RV’s roof and all seals before the cooler temperatures arrive. Look for cracks or broken seals and make repairs or caulk. During the winter, keep the roof clear of snow, ice and debris. Icing and melting can cause cracks in seals and then leaks.
Hatch vents. Lots of warm air can escape through the roof vents in your RV. A vent cover made of a piece of foam can add an extra layer of insulation. Be sure to close your AC vents.
Ceiling fans. Use your ceiling fans by switching to reverse. This will push the warm air down to your level.
Furnace. Service and inspect your furnace regularly. Make sure it ignites and functions properly.
Heat pump. Some RVs come equipped with a heat pump as well as a furnace. A heat pump should not be used when it’s less than 40 degrees.
Doors. Check the weather stripping on every exterior door, including the entry door, basement areas, and access panels. Replace if necessary.
Indoor plumbing. For added protection for your indoor plumbing, you may want to open your cabinet doors in your kitchen and bathroom to expose the pipes to the interior heat. You may also want to turn your faucets on to drip, especially at night.
Tanks. The bay that holds your tanks must always be kept above freezing. If your RV doesn’t have tank heaters, buy some. Mini space heaters in the bay can also help prevent freezing.
Propane. When living in your RV full-time in the winter, you need to ensure you have plenty of propane. If you’re away from your RV during the day, be sure to leave the thermostat set high enough to keep the RV warm and to prevent the pipes from freezing or any pets from getting too cold. A propane tank gas level indicator that can be read by your smartphone could be very valuable.
Utility space. Placing a drop light in the utility space can keep the space’s temperature above freezing.
Portable heaters. Use portable heaters with extreme care and caution. Never leave a space heater unattended or when you’re sleeping. Keep them out of reach of children and pets. Make certain the area around your heater is kept clear of rugs, blankets, and combustible materials. Never use a portable heater with an extension cord. Portable heaters safe for RV use include: a ceramic tower, electric, or oil-filled radiator. Exercise extreme caution to prevent carbon monoxide build-up and always use a carbon monoxide detector inside your RV.
Fresh water tank. Many RVers drain their freshwater tanks completely during the winter. Of course this is the safest approach because it prevents the tank from freezing; however, it also means you will need to switch to supplying your own potable water for drinking, brushing your teeth, doing dishes, and cooking. And, plan on using public restrooms. In our experience, having indoor plumbing in the winter is a must, so draining and winterizing is a last resort.
Holding tanks. Never allow your holding tanks to freeze. Keep your tanks closed until they are full and need to be dumped.
Extreme sub-zero temperatures. Ideally, if you’re planning to live in your RV in the winter you don’t want to fully winterize it or it becomes impossible to utilize your water and plumbing systems. However, if you are going to stay in your RV in a region with sub-zero temperatures for an extended period, you will need to fully winterize your RV. The fresh-water tank and hot water heater must be drained. The grey/black tanks should have RV antifreeze added. You can do this by flushing antifreeze down the toilets and pouring it into your drains.
Location. In the summer, RVers hunt for the shadiest spot to stay cool. But in the winter, you’ll want all the sun you can get. Look for possible areas of direct sunlight. Avoid tree branches that might break under the weight of heavy snow. We also recommend a site with a concrete pad. With fluctuating temperatures and freezing and thawing, your RV can settle or sink into the ground without a pad.
Generator. Having a generator saved our lives during a major ice storm that took out the park’s electricity and made it impossible to travel to another safe location. Be sure to perform all preventative maintenance on your generator before winter arrives. Make sure the generator runs properly and you have plenty of fuel for it. Test your generator at least an hour each month.