Wintering in Your RV
Copyright - 1998 - Les Doll - All rights reserved
Wintering in an RV in cold weather is possible with adequate preparations, iron-willed fortitude and a good sense of humor. My wife and I have survived three winters and have several suggestions for you:
Sub "0" weather RV'ing is not only possible but it can even be pleasurable ... the act of surviving very cold weather in an RV is an accomplishment to be proud of. Thinking of new and innovative ways to thaw out frozen pipes (inside your RV !) stimulates the mind and invigorates the soul.
Skirting is essential - we have used 2" styrofoam in 4 X 8 sheets, cut to fit between the ground and the trailer. I screwed them to a 2" X 2" strip that is hung on brackets fastened below the trailer walls. With this method you get lots of fun and exercise collecting the various pieces of styrofoam that are scattered all over the campsite after a windstorm. We now cover the insulation with 1/4" OSB (oriented strand board) that is waterproof and inexpensive. However, if you move to a new location chances are the custom fitted pieces will no longer fit. Probably a better long-term solution would be that quilted vinyl material cut to fit generously, with snaps to fasten to the RV sides. Come spring you would simply unsnap, roll up and store until next year.
Holding tanks - as our tanks hang below the floor and between the tandem wheels of our trailer a permanent enclosure is not practical. There are heating panels available that you can attach to the tanks that are electrically powered (120v or 12v). I just use fiberglass batting to build a "cave" surrounding the tanks and including the dump valves. A small 40 watt light bulb supplies enough heat in any weather we've encountered to keep things flowing.
Dump Valves - ALWAYS keep your blackwater valve closed and only dump when full. If left open the liquids will drain off leaving only the solids (they become very solid after a short period of time). In cold weather we close both valves and dump when full as a trickle of grey water can freeze and build up a dam in the sewer line totally blocking the flow.
Sewer Line - the coiled plastic hoses are best kept in their storage space in the winter. Just one frosty night and they are brittle and full of cracks. Buy 3" PVC solid sewer pipe that has one flared end ($7.50 for a 10 ft. length), cut a 1 foot length of your plastic hose leaving the trailer connection in place and insert the other end into the flared end of the pipe and tape securely. Cut the pipe with a hacksaw to the correct length to reach your sewer dump and then install an elbow fitting on that end. Insulate the whole thing with fiberglass batting (15" wide will wrap around the pipe nicely) and cover this with poly sheeting taped in place. This all may seem a bit of an inconvenience but try dealing with a 12' long "poopsickle" at 20 below zero some night for comparison.
Water Connection - install a heat tape the same length as your hose by taping it to the hose barbershop pole fashion. The instructions say to put the thermostat on the coldest part of the hose, but since that part is not heated it will be sure to freeze. I leave the thermostat just hanging out in the air and have never had a problem using that method. Cover the hose and the heat tape with those insulating foam tubes for pipes and tape securely. Where the water supply enters the trailer wrap some fiberglass batting around the hose, cover with plastic and tape to hold it on. We keep our on-board fresh water tank full just in case all these measures fail. Good luck and pray that you have water in the morning.
Condensation Problems - during extremely cold weather, water vapor will collect and freeze on the cold metal skin directly above your overhead lights where the insulation has been cut away at the factory. When you turn on the lights, the heat generated melts this condensation, causing more grey hairs to appear on your head. Pull off every overhead fixture and stuff the hole in the ceiling panel with insulation.
Roof Vents - make a box 18" X 18" X 12" high to place over every roof vent. Drill three 1" holes in both sides of the box to allow for air circulation. Leave your roof vents open about 1" at all times to vent excess moisture. The box helps to keep cold air from cascading down through the vent. Or your can buy the maxi-vent style of vent cover that is permanently mounted top the roof vent to do the same thing. Try this - it works.
Storm Windows - unless you want to view Jack Frost's creations in all their drippy splendor, you should install storm windows of some sort. Ours are sheets of plexi-glass cut to fit each window that install on the inside with plastic L-brackets every foot or so. Foam tape supplies a seal to the window frame. Plastic storm windows that you heat shrink into place work well, too, although the tape used can be messy to remove. If you leave them in place all through the year, the heat in the summer will make them brittle and explode them.
Storm Door(s) - most RV doors have little or no insulation in them and are a prime heat loss area. Also the aluminum frame conducts the cold into the unit whereupon the moist inside air condenses to form frosty strips down the wall. Our solution is a door blanket, made of a nylon quilted material similar to a sleeping bag, that snaps on over the opening at night.
Inside Plumping - through necessity (and just to generally make life miserable) inside plumbing pipes are routed through the most inaccessible parts of the RV and that is exactly where they will freeze first. Merphy's Law. Insulating foam tubes are fairly inexpensive and will help here.
RV Coach Battery - take care to check your coach battery regularly in the winter months - you are using your 12v lights, furnace, etc. more than usual, and your converter may or may not be keeping up to peak demands. Your battery fills in on those occasions, then gets recharged. That means more water loss and more wear and tear on this often neglected device. A discharged battery will freeze easily and at a higher temperature than a fully charged one.
Phone - Every RV park that we have wintered in have had phone hookups available at their monthly sites. Cost to hookup is $25 to $30 hereabouts.
Snow Shovels - don't even think about buying one ! The reason we are living in an RV in the first place is to get away from all that lawn mowing, painting ,landscaping, property tax-paying kind of mind-set. If the snow gets too deep to kick away with your boots then -hook'er up, head'er south.