Answers to questions about RV Repair and Maintenance from RV expert Dave Solberg, author of the “RV Handbook” and the managing editor of the RV Repair Club. This column appears Monday through Saturday in the RV Travel and RV Daily Tips newsletters. (Sign up for an email reminder for each new issue if you do not already receive one.) Today Dave discusses how to winterize the RV to still be able to use it part-time during the winter.
We live in Long Island and want to use our motorhome part-time during the winter months. Is there an alternative to going through the winterizing process? —Walt
There are a growing number of RVers using their rigs year-round, and many that specifically use them for winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, and even ice fishing. There are several things you can do to protect yourself and your RV’s water systems.
The first thing I would advise is to locate your water lines, pump, and fresh water tank. If they are above the floor, then they will typically be protected from freezing by the furnace. However, keep in mind there are “pockets” in RV floor plans that may not get heated very well, so at times you might need supplemental heat.
Use a catalytic heater when you RV in the winter
I always travel with my catalytic heater as it helps save precious propane and battery power. Also, I can put it in the living room during the day and bedroom at night and not heat the entire RV to 70 degrees. I have also used it in the service compartment of a few basement models as the fresh water tank and pump were located under the floor with a heat vent. However, a strong cold wind underneath has frozen the lines on a few occasions.
Another option is to winterize with RV antifreeze and put additional antifreeze in the fresh water tank. Then carry a few gallons of fresh water for drinking and some in the bathroom for the toilet. We have traveled to Colorado several times in the winter with the lines all blown out and had several gallons of water handy. We had the ability to get more at grocery stores, campgrounds, or other outlets.
You could also use a heated water hose when you use your RV in winter. This connects to the campground faucet and will heat water through the system … to a point. That is, of course, if you are at a campground with water and electricity.
I spent three years on the road training dealers and would take units out for 4-6 weeks and learned the hard way how to keep warm. The coldest was -10 degrees in Fargo, ND. I could not wait to get out of there!
Insulate your RV in the winter
Another tip is to skirt the underside of your rig, if possible. At the recent Hershey, PA, show, I came across a vendor that sold an inflatable undercarriage device called Airskirts that looked pretty unique. Another good product to carry is Reflectix for insulating windows.
As you can see, RVs are not just for the fair-weather minded, and with a little preparation you can use them year-round. I know we will get a lot of tips from creative cold-weather campers, so check out their comments below. And please add your tips for RVing in the winter.
Read more from Dave here.
Dave Solberg worked at Winnebago for 15 years developing the dealer training program, as marketing manager, and conducting shows. As the owner of Passport Media Creations, Dave has developed several RV dealer training programs, the RV Safety Training program for The Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation, and the accredited RV Driving Safety program being conducted at rallies and shows around the country. Dave is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club.
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You can also use temperature regulated heat tape on the water lines
I too am curious about why the water tank, if empty, needs antifreeze.
Use cheap 100proof vodka dilute one to one with water add a touch of red food coloring for fresh water tank. You can reuse the mix for the next time. Have used this for years on both boat and RV
A catalytic heater is considered an open flame and can put out a lot of heat but please, please remember that it also produces carbon monoxide and also moisture. I would definitely not use one without cracking a window and using a carbon monoxide detector in each area it is used. Moisture in the RV can also be an issue with freezing water on windows and other areas where there could not be much heat. Also do not use around combustible materials and keep the area around it clean and not pointing at furniture!
I have used a Mr. Buddy propane heater in my small garage workshop and RV for several years now. I installed CO monitors that never sounded off. (Tested and worked). I watched a You Tube video produced by a fire dept to test the Mr. Buddy in a closed RV. Using remote CO monitors it never registered any significant CO accumulation. Between that video and my own personal testing I have no concerns about using it in my RV.
If the water tank is empty why would you need antifreeze? When I lived in the Chicago area I simply blew out the water lines starting at the farthest water outlet and working my way toward the city water connection where the air hose was, just remember to keep the air pressure under 45PSI.
I agree – never put antifreeze in the Fresh tank. Gray tank, black tank, okay. The Fresh tank would take too much flushing to get the antifreeze taste out of it.
Even if there is some water in the tanks, freezing will not hurt anything. The water has room to expand since the tank is so large. Almost impossible to get all the water out of the tanks. It’s like using an ice tray. The water freezes and expands but does not crack the tray.
But, do leave the fresh water drain open. The water in the drain tube may freeze and crack the tube.
Last fall I had all the water drained out of my fresh water tank. I pulled the travel trailer out of my back yard and up my driveway which was up hill and parked on the road. I was surprised at the amount of water that came out of the fresh water drain. Pulling up the driveway and parking on the side of the road. Which was also sloped slightly also. Never had any trouble with tank freezing in winter.