Winterizing an RV can mean one of two things – either you want to prepare your RV for being parked up over winter, and want to avoid nasty surprises like burst water pipes come spring, or you want to prep it for colder weather whilst you continue to live in it or use it for wintery camping trips. There’s nothing like a road trip through snowy landscapes, before snuggling up in your RV with a cup of hot chocolate!
Before conducting any winterizing, you should make sure to first consult your RV’s manual, as there may be instructions or features specific to your make and model. Most of the equipment required to winterize your RV should be available to purchase at your local RV parts store or hardware store. However, you should only attempt to winterize your RV yourself if you feel confident to do so. Otherwise, take it to the professionals – that’s what they’re there for.
With this in mind, here are two step-by-step guides for how to winterize your RV, whether you’re tucking her in to hibernate for 3 months, or braving the cold and heading off on a wintery adventure!
If You’re Putting Your RV in Storage Over Winter
- Drain the water tank and lines
Plumbing is the biggest problem RV owners face during winter. Not winterizing your plumbing system can lead to the water in your tank and pipes freezing, which in turn causes it to expand, and leads to cracks and breakages. To avoid this, and the resulting hefty repair bills come springtime, you need to drain the water from your RV before putting it in storage. To do this, you first need to open the petcock on your fresh water tank and drain both the black and gray holding tanks. If you don’t have a system for flushing the tanks, you can use a wand and a specific cleaning product.
Next, open all water faucets in your RV, including taps and the shower. Flush the toilet several times to remove lingering water. Once all the faucets are open, attach a compressed air adaptor to the water intake fitting, and use a standard air compressor to pump air through the water lines (you should be able to find both of these items at your local hardware store). This will remove any remaining water from your system and prevent your antifreeze from becoming diluted. Once done, close all your faucets, replace the petcock and detach the compressed air adaptor and compressor.
- Add antifreeze and drain the water heater
Once your water system is clear, the next step in winterizing your plumping system is to add antifreeze (it is important not to drain the water heater until after doing this). You’ll need approximately 2-3 gallons of pink, non-toxic RV anti-freeze for this step – providing you have a bypass kit installed for the heater (which most RVs do), otherwise you’ll need significantly more. First, turn your bypass kit on to ensure no anti-freeze is pumped into the heater, only to be wasted when you drain it. Next, take the line that connects the water tank to the pump and attach a tube to lead it into a bucket of your RV antifreeze. Switch on the pump and allow it to pump the antifreeze around your fresh water system.
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Turn on each of your faucets separately until antifreeze appears, then shut off. Repeat with your bathroom sink, shower, toilet and any other faucets, until they’re all running pink with antifreeze. Replace the bucket of antifreeze as needed. Top it off by pouring around 3 cups of antifreeze down all your drains and the toilet, before reconnecting the water line to the water tank. Come spring, when you want to use your water again, you will need to flush the system with clean water to remove the antifreeze – however because you’ve used the non-toxic variety, any remaining residue won’t harm you.
Finish this step by removing the plug to drain the water heater (now you can be sure not to waste gallons of antifreeze!) Be sure only to do this when the water heater is cool. Finally, if you have any other water based appliances, such as an ice machine or washing machine, consult your RV’s manual for instructions on how to winterize them too.
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- Cover all vents
Cover any vents in the chassis to avoid birds, small animals or creepy crawlies getting in and making themselves comfortable over winter (they’ll be looking for somewhere safe and warm, and your empty RV seems like the perfect place!) Make sure all doors and windows are closed, and check your RV for any other cracks, gaps or holes where small critters might be able to enter. You can purchase specific vent plugs for your RV, or simply craft your own out of a rigid insulating material. Ideally, vent covers should still allow air to circulate, to prevent mold and mildew from forming.
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- Clean and turn everything off
It (hopefully) goes without saying that if you’re parking up your RV for 3+ months, you’ll want to give it a good clean beforehand. Remove any leftover food or drinks and clean all surfaces thoroughly to get rid of any crumbs that might attract mice, bugs and other unwanted houseguests. Turn off the refrigerator and stove, and give them a deep clean, to keep them in the best condition and avoid the hassle of having to remove embedded grime come springtime. Leave the refrigerator door open for a few days to allow any remaining moisture to evaporate.
Clean the bathroom and remove any leftover toothpaste and toiletries. Strip the beds, wash all linen, towels and curtains, and store them in sealed bags to prevent mold and musty smells from developing. Mop and vacuum the floors, take out all rubbish and fix anything that’s broken – your future self will thank you! Turn off everything else, including propane tanks, heaters, lights, pumps and all electrical appliances – make sure they’re all switched off and unplugged. Lastly, make sure to remove anything valuable that can be removed, to minimize the risk of theft or damage, and don’t forget to lock the door!
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- Check under the hood
Before you leave your RV parked up for several months, do a basic service and make sure it has enough water and oil. It’s a good idea to do an oil and filter change at this point too, to prevent acids from accumulating in the oil, which can in turn lead to corrosion of the engine’s bearings. Ensure that all caps are secured to prevent water, snow and debris from entering the engine. Leave any engine compartments which hold liquid full to decrease the chances of it freezing. The FMCA recommends leaving your RV with a full tank of fuel, to prevent condensation forming in the tank over winter, and you can also add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel, to help prevent it from breaking down and leaving deposits in the tank.
- Put it on blocks
If you’re definitely not going to be using your RV for a while, consider resting your trailer on concrete block supports. Taking the weight off the tires will stop them from weakening over winter, and ensure they’re in tip-top condition when spring rolls around. To do this, you will need to build block pilings at the front and rear and use the correct size jack stands (two under each axle) to raise the chassis onto the pilings. Then, add more pilings at each corner, using hardwood shims to make up the height if necessary, and ensure the chassis remains level. If you don’t want to put it on blocks, you should at least make sure all your tires are in good condition and filled to the maximum pressure.
- Cover with a breathable material
Finally, when you put your RV to bed for winter, make sure to tuck her in with a nice blanket (aka. a breathable tarpaulin cover, or similar). This will help prevent weather damage to your RV from snow and rain, as well as act as another barrier against rodents and bugs. The cover should be breathable so as to ensure that no mold or mildew develops.
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If You’re Continuing to Use Your RV Over Winter
- Get it serviced
We can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Of course, you should be getting your RV serviced regularly anyway, but it’s particularly important in winter, when road conditions are worse, and freezing temperatures can exacerbate existing problems. Book your RV in for a full mechanical tune-up that includes all the usual checks, such as oil, water and tires. Checking that your tires and brakes are in good condition is especially important as you’re likely to be driving in rainy and icy conditions, which will make it harder to stop. You should also make sure your battery is in tip-top condition, as it will be under more strain than usual in the colder weather, and won’t hold its charge for as long. A flat battery in the sleet and snow is definitely something best avoided if possible!
- Plumbing system
Again, even if you’re continuing to use your RV over winter, you’ll still want to address the issue of plumbing. If you wanted to, you could follow the above advice for leaving your RV parked up (draining the fresh water tank and adding antifreeze), and just use bottled water to wash, cook and brush your teeth. This would eliminate the risk of water freezing in your tank over winter, potentially causing pipes to burst, and an expensive repair bill – but it’s probably not the most convenient option. If you still want to run your water system over winter, make sure to properly insulate your pipes, to reduce the chance of them freezing. Also, pour some antifreeze down your drains and toilet, to get it into your gray and black water tanks.
- Insulate your water heater
As well as insulating your pipes, you’ll also want to insulate your water heater. This will not only help prevent freezing of the water in sub-zero temperatures, and the aforementioned potential damages, but it will also make your RV more energy-efficient, by enabling your heater to keep your water hotter for longer. To insulate your water heater, invest in a good water heater insulation blanket. These can be made from fiberglass, foam or similar insulating material and are generally fairly easy to install with adhesive tape – they fit around your water heater like a cozy padded jacket. Using a specific water heater insulation blanket such as this will help keep your water warm – so you can look forward to a nice hot shower at the end of a cold day exploring!
- Insulation, insulation, insulation
If you want to remain warm and toasty when staying in your RV during winter, it is essential to look at your general methods of insulation. If you’re happy to make an investment, additions like wood cladding and foam insulation boards can help your RV to retain heat, making for a much more comfortable experience during winter. Add plastic films to the inside of windows to create a double-glazed effect and minimize the amount of heat lost through the glass. Thick rugs and thermal curtains made from polar fleece are also an easy way to increase insulation, and don’t involve any major DIY work. They may seem like small things, but the floor and windows of your RV are two of the biggest areas where heat escapes, and covering them properly can make a huge difference to the temperature inside. Doors are also problem areas when it comes to insulation, so treat them as another window and hang a thick, full-length curtain behind them.
- RV Skirt
Another highly effective method of insulating your RV is with an RV skirt. For those not in the know, this is basically a barrier that surrounds the underneath of your RV, to keep out wind and cold air. An RV skirt is a worthwhile investment if you want to keep your RV as warm and comfortable as possible. As well as reducing heat loss, it will also help to prevent your trailer from being buffeted by the wind. RV skirts can be made from a variety of materials, including vinyl and plywood. Once installed, most RV skirts can be detached using Velcro or a zipper, meaning that you can easily remove it come spring and the warmer weather. Don’t be tempted to use hay bales as a skirt, as these will attract rodents, and present a fire hazard.
- Slide outs
If your RV has slide out sections, make sure to periodically remove any snow from the top of them. This is because as the snow melts, ice can form, creating a dam and causing damage. You can also help to prevent this by insulating the slide out with rigid insulation – just make sure to angle it in such a way that the water on top of the slide out drains away from your RV.
Winter can be a damp time, as well as dark and cold (but don’t let that put you off!) To improve winter living conditions inside your RV, purchase a dehumidifier to draw the water out of the air. This will not only make for a drier and more pleasant environment, but also prevent condensation, which can lead to mold. It’s also a good idea to install vent covers, which will insulate vents and stop heat from leaving your RV, whilst still allowing moisture in the air to escape, again helping to prevent mold. Living in a moldy space can present a whole host of health concerns, so it’s best avoided if you can!
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- Portable heater (and plenty of spare fuel!)
No matter how well insulated your RV is, if you’re using it in freezing temperatures, you’re going to be losing heat fast, and you’re more than likely going to want some sort of portable space heater, powered by either electric or propane, to stay warm. If you’re going to use a gas heater, make sure it has suitable ventilation, and that your RV has both a flammable gas leak detector and a carbon monoxide detector. Additionally, place the heater in a secure location, away from any flammable materials. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of propane, or whichever fuel your heater requires, in stock and ready to use on your RV. This may require some modifications to allow your RV to hold more fuel than usual safely – but it will be worth it not to run out when you’re facing those sub-zero temperatures!
- Thermal sleeping bag and clothes
Another one that might seem pretty obvious, but if you’re going to be living and sleeping in your RV over winter, you need to make sure you’re prepared for it to be cold. Even with the best insulation and a heater, you’re bound to have a few nights where you just can’t get warm. On such nights, it pays to have a good quality, thermal sleeping bag, as well as some thick blankets on hand. Choose a sleeping bag with a hood, that is designed for low temperatures (lower than you’re actually likely to be experiencing). Make sure you also pack plenty of warm clothes that you can layer up and remove if you get too hot (fingers crossed!) Thrift shops are a great place to stock up on warm clothes if you haven’t brought enough from home, and have the added benefit of supporting a good cause.
For those cold winter nights in your RV, another top tip to warm up quickly is to do some exercise. We’re not talking about a marathon, but you’ll be surprised how much a few jumping jacks or a quick couple of laps around your RV will get your blood pumping and raise your core body temperature.
- Use the environment to your advantage
If you’re camping in the snow during winter, and staying in one place for a few days or more, use the snow to your advantage. Get a shovel and bank the snow around the base of your RV. This will then function similarly to a RV skirt, in that it will prevent cold air and wind from blowing underneath your RV, and entering your RV through the floor. You can use plywood or a similar material to pile the snow against if necessary. If the weather is sunny, make sure to open the curtains during the day though to allow sunlight in, as this will help to warm your trailer, even in winter. When it comes to parking your RV, try and choose a site with natural protection from the wind, such as a tree or hedgerow, and park facing north, to minimize the surface area of your RV that comes under attack from cold north winds.
- Cook inside
And finally, our last tip to remain warm in your RV in winter is to cook inside. This is probably something you already do anyway, especially when it’s raining or snowing outside, but cooking a meal on the stove, baking a cake or even just boiling some water is a highly effective way to increase the temperature inside your trailer – not to mention a hot meal is a great way to warm yourself up! Leave the stove door open after you’ve finished to let the maximum amount of warm air out into your RV. Bear this advice in mind the next time your significant other asks if you want to go out for dinner!
So, there you have it. Whether you’re taking your RV off the road for winter whilst you plan next summer’s adventures, or you’re braving the cold and hitting the (icy) open road for some wintery escapades, if you follow these steps on how to winterize your RV, you’ll be well prepared for everything the snowy season throws at you (snowballs excluded!)
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