The RVers Corner
Home Maintenance Articles RV Salvage Free RV Manuals More +

  Wintering in Your RV       

     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 more than 10 Canadian winters in an RV 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. Another method is to tape the isulation panels to the side of the RV with cold weather HVAC tape.

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. Here's a good wbesite showing how to skirt in a trailer with plywood ...

    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. Combined with the skirting, this worked very well.

An RV with an "Arctic Package" or a 4 weather rating usually means that the holding tanks are enclosed and heated via a duct from the furnace. Some manufactorers do this very well, others not so much.

    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. Ask me how I know!

    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 along its length. 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. There are factory heated hoses available for sale if you prefer to go that way. We also 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 roof material 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. The aluminum frames of the windows and doors also collects moisture. Double pane windows are a big plus but if your RV does not have these see the section below on making storm windows. A dehumidifier helps tremendously to keep excess moisture under control.

    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. Leave cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate. Are we having fun yet?

    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.


More Insights from people who "have been there" 

This post is from John Harrelson and contains some good info!

  Well it's that time of year again and trying to be a good neighbor in our RVing community, I thought I would once again post my thoughts on getting through the winter while living in an RV..

Please remember that this is not necessarily the right way nor the wrong way ... it's just my way of getting through winter..

I live in my 1995 30 foot Prowler 5th wheel all year 'round and have absolutely no problems with cold weather.

Here in northern Nevada, the winters are about average for the middle USA. Temperatures range from 10 below to 30 degrees above at night and range from 20 to 60 degrees in the day. Moisture is fairly high because of the snow we get.

I have never had any problem with moisture or frozen pipes. I do use a heat tape on the water line and I have the trailer under-penned with a canvas skirt to keep the cold winds from blowing under the trailer.

I use only the trailer's forced air furnace to heat with , except the little space heater in the bathroom when I take my shower.. but I turn it off as soon as I'm out of the shower.

Electricity cost to much to try and heat the whole trailer with space heaters. My electric bill runs about $35-45 per month during the hard winter months. (13.5 cent per KW)

During the worst part of winter .. December, January and February, I used about 1 gallon of propane per 24 hour day.. during the milder months, my propane usage was less than a gallon per day..

Last winter propane was $2.75 per gal and cost about .(+-). $80/100 per month for everything...Furnace, Water Heater and Baking/Cooking.

On many RVs, the furnace heating ducts run along the same path as the water pipes.

Plus many RVs have the heating ducts routed into or through the basement storage areas where the holding tanks are located.

You should never use a space heater of any type, electric or gas, as the only source of heat in an RV.

It may not push enough heat into those places behind the wall where the water pipes are or down into the basement where the tanks are.

Remember the RV furnace is properly called a “FORCED AIR FURNACE”

I keep the inside temperature at about 67 degrees when I'm up and about, like watching TV or working on the computer. I turn it down to about 60 degrees when going to bed.

As for using a heat tape on the water line that feeds the RV,, here is the reply I made to someone else's question about using heat tapes on garden hoses.

Maybe it will answer any question you have on that subject....

Folks in the RV community know that a "Heat Tape" is a long plastic ribbon that is attached along a garden hose to keep it from freezing during winter time.

It works just like an electric blanket does on your bed. It cycles on and off to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees on your water hose so the water won't freeze during the winter.

Contrary to what some people think... a heat tape that is Properly installed cannot and will not "Melt" a garden hose..

simply because a heat tape has a Pre-Set thermostat that keeps it at about 40 degrees F... and I have never seen or heard of a garden hose the will melt at 40 degrees..

Heat Tapes must be used in combination with some type of insulation.
Trying to use a heat tape without insulation won't work very well..

Try to get the heat tape model with "clear plastic bubble" on the end that has the plug on it.

When the tape is plugged in, a little red light will glow inside the clear plastic bubble and you will know that it's working properly.

Last year this type of heat tape were sold at Wal-marts and during my monthly shopping trip to Wal-mart last week, I asked if they were going to have them this year and was told they were on order..

Heat tapes come in different lengths, simply measure the length of your water hose First.........

and then buy the length of heat tape recommended on the back of the heat tape package for that length water hose.

Heat tapes cost about $15 to $25 depending on length. But they will last for 20 years if taken care of properly. Most hardware stores and places like Wal-Mart carry them as well as the insulation..

In my opinion, the best insulation to use are the "Foam Tubes" (about 99 cent each) with the split down the entire length and are designed to simply slip over the water hose.

Most people then wrap some type of tape around the insulated hose about every 6 inches, so the wind won't blow the insulation tubes off.

Very Important Notes:....

# 1. Use only plastic "Electrical Tape" to secure the heat tape to the hose and also to secure the foam tubes to the hose..

DO NOT use things like Duct Tape or plastic wire ties....

The reason is that every time a faucet is opened and closed inside the RV, the water hose will expand and contract a little bit ...

Electrician's tape will expand and contract with the hose.. but Duct tape and wire ties cannot and couldwear a hole in both hose and heat tape over time..

#2. Be sure to lay the heat tape flat against the hose... do not let the heat tape overlap itself or make contact with itself at any point ...

and be careful to not "kink" the heat tape or make 90 degree sharp bends around corners..

Either of these things could cause a "Hot Spot" in the heat tape and melt the hose and insulation and could cause a fire..


I would not worry too much about getting through the winter folks, just use good old common sense and you will be alright..

My 5th wheel is as warm as any "house" I have ever had and a heck of a lot cheaper living..

and again... Please remember that I am NOT an expert on these things... and have never said that the way I do things is the only way or the correct way... it's just my way..

Some of the stuff I have learned over the years, I've learned right here on the RV forums from other people like you.. and other things I learned the hard way... just like you did..

RV Maintenance

RV maintenance is a subject that every RV owner can relate to! These articles will help you "do-it-yourself" with confidence and with a logical place to start! Each catagory has a list of articles relating to that area. Enjoy! Read now!

RV Tips

RV tips to make your experience more enjoyable! Read more ...

Used RV Parts

RV Salvage yards listed by State and Canada

Information presented on this site is for educational or entertainment purposes only. You are responsible for your own actions should you use any information found on this website.

Disclosure: Advertisements are placed on this website to offset the cost of maintenance and to keep this site free for everyone to use. Owners of this website will receive compensation for products and services purchased through featured advertisements. All claims of actual user results should be considered atypical.

Website © Les Doll All rights Reserved