Brrrr…..Tips for Surviving the Winter in Your RV

“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.

Is The The End? Living in a RV during the Arctic Blast

The arctic blast in Texas this February was very dangerous with treacherous road conditions, power outages, no running water and LP & gas shortages. Yes we were uncomfortable, grouchy and just not happy to be without running water for 6 days , we also realize that thousands of people in Texas are enduring much much worse situations.

The brutal temperatures, ice and snow caused millions of people in Texas to lose power. When the power grid failed, it affected water treatment plants. As temperature begin to rise, people are facing frozen pipes and are concerned even more pipes will as they thaw. The State of Texas announced that they will be working to renew plumbers licenses, and the plumbing board is coordinating with out-of-state companies to bring more to Texas to help with the recovery.

Sadly, dozens of deaths have been tied to this week’s storm, but many say the death toll is likely far larger. Deaths were traffic related, people trying to stay warm in their homes and succumbed to carbon dioxide poisoning or hypothermia.

Lets all take a minute and pray for everyone that has been affected by these horrible storms.

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!