Winter camping is usually enjoyed only by a small part of the RVing community. Many campers drive their rig to southern states during the winter to avoid the cold and snow. However, RVing in the winter does have its perks, as long as you do it properly.
Freezing pipes are a very real danger when using your RV in cold temperatures. To prevent pipes from freezing you must take proper precautions, perform maintenance, and warm them. We will get into the details below.
If you have always wanted to try out winter camping then you’re in luck. This post will show you how to take care of your motorhome so you can enjoy winter wonderland campgrounds.
Why Camp In the Winter?
There are a lot of benefits to camping in the winter. Once crowded and noisy campgrounds are nearly empty. This means you can relax and enjoy the serene landscape without all the hustle and bustle.
There are still plenty of outdoor activities to participate in the winter. And while you are outside enjoying the snow, there won’t be any bugs or pests to annoy you! So while the snowbirds all flock to the warmer weather campgrounds, you can prepare your RV for a cozy winter camping trip.
How To Protect Your Pipes
Keeping your pipes from freezing in the winter is a vital task. If your pipes freeze, very real plumbing problems may ensue. Just like in a home, water in the pipes expands when it freezes. This expansion results in cracked or burst pipes.
Insulating them is perhaps the most important step you can take to prevent freezing. There are a few ways in which you can insulate your pipes.
The first is heat tape. Heat tape is generally thin and flexible. It can be found in many hardware stores and is usually marketed for home plumbing. It is used by wrapping it around pipes to protect them from the cold.
In your RV you may not want to wrap the tape around the pipes in the way you would your home. Instead, you can run the tape down the pipe in a parallel fashion and then secure it by taping it on.
There are different kinds of heat tape, and you will want to make sure you have the right kind. Roof heat tape is rigid and cannot be wrapped around pipes. Heat tape designed only for metal pipes could melt PVC.
It’s important to note that while heat tape helps to insulate your pipes, it may need to be used in conjunction with other measures. Additionally, in very cold temperatures heat tape might not be enough to keep your pipes from bursting.
Another common prevention method used in homes is allowing for a small drip from faucets. Turning on your taps just slightly will keep the water flowing through the pipes and hopefully result in less freezing.
While inside you can also keep the plumbing warm by increasing air circulation. This may be done by opening storage areas and cabinets inside to allow the warm air inside your camper to reach your plumbing.
Heaters in different forms may also be used. Some RVs have built-in methods to supply heat to the plumbing system. The pipes and water tanks may be located in an area that receives heat or in a heated channel.
This often means that a duct from the forced air furnace is routed to the plumbing compartment. When the furnace turns on periodically to heat your RVs interior, it should also warm the pipes and keep them from freezing.
But if your RV is not set up this way you may need to use a heater, such as a space heater. However, this can be tricky. You must be very careful that you do not overheat any nearby components and practice safety precautions.
Be wise about your tank usage. Sometimes, it is better to use your internal freshwater tank rather than hooking up your lines. If you rely only on your freshwater tank then you can put away your freshwater hose and not have to worry about it bursting. Before you store them thoroughly empty out any remaining water.
Similarly, you must make smart choices regarding your waste tanks. They should only be purged when they are full and when you are not dumping be sure to keep the valves closed.
If you think the holding tanks will freeze, then it is best to just empty them. You can drain the water system and use compressed air to blow through the pipes and clear out any remaining moisture. Non-toxic, biodegradable antifreeze may also be used.
Just a tiny amount in holding tanks can protect the valves from ice and freezing up. Each tank may only need a couple of quarts. Additionally, you can pour some down the shower drain that leads to the gray water tank which will protect the shower drain pipe. Top up the antifreeze as wastewater fills the tanks.
The type of antifreeze you use is important. Automotive antifreeze should never be used as it will contaminate your RV water system. There are three common types of RV antifreeze; ethanol, propylene/ethanol, and propylene glycol.
Ethanol is alcohol-based and the most affordable. But it does have disadvantages. It can lead to bad tasting and smelling water because it taints the water supply. The alcohol is also harsh on valves and seals, drying out the rubber, resulting in cracks and leaks.
This type of antifreeze is limited to quest and pex water lines. It is also highly flammable because of its alcohol base. Overall this is not the best choice for RV antifreeze.
Next is a propylene/ethanol mix. Because it does use alcohol it can result in bad tasting and smelling water, even though it is non-toxic. The alcohol may also lead to the drying of seals and valves and is flammable. Though sold in RV stores this may still not be the best choice.
Finally, propylene glycol is usually exclusively for RVs. It is not flammable and won’t make your water taste or smell foul. It is non-toxic and safe for nearly all RV plumbing systems. As an added bonus it also works as a lubricant, conditioning your valves and seals.
If you know you will be camping in extremely cold temperatures, it may be advisable to completely winterize your RVs plumbing system. You can carry drinking water with you in your RV and use campground or local restroom facilities. Just be sure to check in with your host to make sure showers and toilets will be operational and accessible.
By taking a few or many precautions in winter conditions you can protect your water lines from freezing and have a safe and enjoyable camping trip. But your plumbing system isn’t the only thing that needs to stay warm during a winter RV trip.
How To Insulate Your RV in General
When camping in frigid temperatures of course you will want to stay warm too. Therefore, you should take steps to insulate your RV.
The first step is sealing your RV and sealing it well. This means that each fall you need to perform a close inspection of the seals and caulking around all of your doors and windows. If any are cracked, weak, or missing they should be repaired or replaced.
Window coverings and RV skirting are also helpful in keeping your RV warm. Because cold air can circulate under your RV and cool plumbing while sucking out heat, consider using RV skirting. This will help block chilly drafts and protect equipment found under your RV. Foam boards on the underside will add another layer of protection.
Window coverings can help prevent drafts too but primarily work to deflect the cold and reflect the heat back in. These foil panels or films are reflective in nature and highly customizable. You can cut them to fit your exact window shape to receive the best level of protection against the cold.
Covering vents and your A/C unit will help to eliminate drafts. As you won’t be using your A/C unit you should securely cover it. This will prevent snow, ice, or rain from getting inside and keep cold air from reaching your interior.
Protecting your vents from drafts and precipitation shouldn’t be overlooked either. You want the vents open for air exchange, especially if you are using a portable heater, but you don’t want snow or ice accumulating in them.
Finally, your interior decorating may also prove to be insulative. Heavy curtains and drapes keep out any cold air leaking in through the windows. They also help to prevent warm air from escaping the interior. If you want to cordon off your living space from the cockpit, making it smaller and easier to heat, you can purchase large insulated drapes to separate the two areas.
Foam boards or flooring can insulate the floor and fend off chilly feet. Heavy rugs may work just as well though and can be less expensive. Insulating your RV properly will ensure the heat you are pumping into your rig stays in and the cold stays out.
Heating Options for Your RV
In many cold conditions, your RV furnace should be sufficient in keeping your motorhome warm. The furnace is also the safest option and provides the bonus of keeping your plumbing system warm. But on some occasions, the furnace may not be enough. In this case, you will need to use a type of heater.
There are a few kinds of space heaters, they come in many different sizes and types. Typically, the best types of space heaters are those with built-in safety features to protect you and your rig. Safety features are things like an automatic turn off should the heater tip over, a thermostat, and a timer. Additionally, some have an automatic turn off when they sense they are overheating.
It isn’t advised that you leave your space heater on overnight while you are sleeping even though the night often brings the coldest temperatures. However, there are certainly a handful of campers that do so, against recommendations. If you are planning on leaving your heater on overnight, investing in one with a multitude of included safety features is all that much more important.
- Ceramic Heaters
These heaters are compact, easy to transport, and are widely available. They are not high-powered but can usually easily heat up smaller enclosed spaces, such as if you separate your cockpit from your living space.
Ceramic heaters work by way of ceramic plates, wires, and a blower. Internal wires conducting electricity heat up the internal ceramic plates. A fan then blows over the plates to push warm air out and into your space.
- Tower Heaters
Technically, tower heaters are classified as ceramic heaters. They use the same method to heat your space with ceramic plates and wires. The difference is that they are taller and less compact. Because of this, they can often provide more heat at a faster rate than a small, portable ceramic heater.
Both tower heaters and ceramic heaters are good for occasional use when you are winter camping. They are not very durable or built to be run constantly, but excellent furnace additions. But because of these limitations, you should inspect them for wear and tear each time you plan to use them.
- Rolling Fireplaces, Built-ins, and Inserts
Many RVs may already have these as an upgrade option. If your RV does not include them you can also find rolling fireplaces online or in some stores. A few models are ceramic heaters built to appear as a wood-burning fireplace. Others use an infrared system to produce heat.
These heaters can pump out a pretty good amount of warm air and are ideal for larger spaces. In addition, they are made to stand up to prolonged and frequent use.
- Infrared Heaters
These heaters use infrared light, a light spectrum invisible to the naked eye, to direct warmth towards our bodies. Similar to how the sun shines on the pavement on a summer day and heats it up, as these heaters emit the infrared light, we absorb it and in turn heat up.
Some have fans and others do not. They work best when they are placed near to your person so that you can receive the full amount of infrared light.
- Fuel-burning Heaters
Most campers will not opt for a portable fuel-burning heater over an electric one. This is because keeping propane or other flammable fuel substances in your RV to power a heat source is not ideal. However, in the case that there is no electricity, a fuel-burning heater would provide a great back up. Just be sure to vent your RV and have a working carbon monoxide detector.
If you have insulated your RV well and purchased a heater that’s types and size is sufficient for your space, you should not have a probably keeping warm in even the most frigid temperatures.
Other Cold Weather Tips
Heaters and insulation go a long way in protecting you and your rig from the cold. But, there are still additional measures you can take to stay warm.
Entering and exiting your RV as little as possible is essential to limiting the air exchange. Try to assemble everything you need for your trip outdoors prior to opening the door. This way you can quickly exit your motorhome without letting out too much heat.
You will also need to dress warmly not only for outdoor activities but for sleeping. Many layers, thermals, and even a hat are great for keeping your toasty while you sleep. It’s not advisable to use your space heater during the night, and a furnace can be noisy. Therefore, you should try to dress as warmly as possible.
Sleeping bags or electric blankets can make your slumber more comfortable as well. Electric blankets with a timer are advisable as you shouldn’t leave them on all night long. Try to heat your sleeping space with your portable heater before bed, and then turn it off when you turn in for the night.
Aside from packing clothing and blankets, don’t forget a few essentials for your rig. Snow shovels are important but often overlooked. They will help immensely should you need to dig your RV out or just clear snow from your plumbing. A blow dryer can also be useful in quickly warming cold or frozen pipes.
Tire chains are beneficial for icy and snowy terrain, especially when trying to move a massive motorhome. Back-up propane tanks and fuel sources are other good items to have on if you plan on bringing a portable heater and/or using your furnace. A good rule of thumb for winter RV camping is to never be caught unprepared.
Winter Camping, Worth the Minor Hassles
It’s no secret that using your motorhome in the winter comes with a few more headaches and hassles than warm weather use. Still, many campers find winter use worth it for the serene landscape, empty campgrounds, and thrilling outdoor activities.