Monday, September 26, 2022


Company wants to certify new RVs as good enough to live in during cold winter

Ever winter-camped in your RV? With below-freezing temperatures, not too many RVs on the market today prove particularly comfortable. Now an industry player is offering RV manufacturers the ability to certify just how good their rigs are for winter use. Call it the RV winterization test, and it’s now available. A kind of “Field of Dreams” question is, since they built it, will they come?

How the test works

Test chamber. Courtesy Truma.

How does the winterization test work? Imagine pulling just about any size RV into a thermal chamber. A team of professionals swarms the chamber—and the RV. The rig is examined inside and out, and all systems are evaluated for “Go”. A network of 22 temperature sensors are scattered throughout the RV. The team scrambles out of the chamber and the switch is flipped. Air chillers pump cold air into the chamber, inundating the test subject with at least 10 hours of a frigid blast, ensuring the RV inside temperature matches that of the thermal chamber.

Now, as they say, “the heat is on.” The RV subject to the winterization test has its heating system fired up. At least four hours tick by on the clock, allowing the rig to warm up to a given test standard. Here’s the trick: Some units will start at 5 degrees Fahrenheit, others at 32. The question is, is the “desired” temperature reached within those four hours—or does it take more?

Certification standards

The goal point to be reached to meet certification standards in four hours or less is 63 degrees Fahrenheit. In this winterization test, the top tier winner starts at a bone-chilling 5 degrees and hits 63 in four hours or less. Reaching those standards earns a “Gold Standard” award. Those that start at 32 degrees and hit the mark within four hours are in for a “Silver Standard” award.

Factoring into the evaluation is a test of the RV’s heat vents. Is heat being distributed evenly throughout the rig, or will you broil in some areas, while freezing in others? Graphs of heat distribution, and other high-tech stuff like thermal imaging, are used to evaluate the rig’s heating (and heat-retaining) efficiency. All the data is passed back to the rig manufacturer.

Will they come?

This winterization test idea is the brainchild of Truma, an Indiana manufacturer of RV combination furnace/water heaters. The company has been around a while, having built the first portable heaters for RVs in Europe back in 1961. With their headquarters in Elkhart, they’re at the RV manufacturing capital of the U.S., and that would make it easy for RV manufacturers to send rigs in for testing and certification.

Since they built it, will they come? Will RV manufacturers embrace the idea of a winterization test? We weren’t able to find out what the typical cost to have a unit tested by Truma would be. But considering the complexity of the matter, it’s not likely cheap. One could easily imagine that entire classes of motorhomes and trailers, typically “entry level” and designed for weekender use, would probably never see the chill of the thermal chamber.

On the other hand, with campgrounds bursting at the seams in summer, and even into the “shoulder season,” winter camping may become more attractive. Imagine a “winter holiday” trip, firing up the rig, and spending a week or so in a northern state RV park. Few crowds, icicles festooning the trees. It does conjure up a somewhat desirable image.

Could there be hesitation for manufacturers—and park owners?

But, hang on. If too many RVs receive the “Gold” standard of winterization, might there be that much more attraction to turn an RV into a full-time home? The RV industry skates a thin line, urging customers to spend more time in their RVs. At the same time, they’re careful to maintain the public line that RVs are designed only for temporary use, not full-time occupancy. That “temporary use” caveat keeps manufacturers away from having to conform to the much-higher standards of design and construction that are visited on “manufactured homes.”

If winter RVing took off in a big way, it might—or might not—be a boon for RV park owners. Those who now shut down come Labor Day due to cold nights, might be able to extend their seasons, perhaps making them year-round. But that, too, will come with additional costs.

Instead of simply shutting off the campground water supply and draining the system, new plumbing would be in order. The colder the winter, the deeper the frost line. One could imagine having to dig up the supply lines, planting them deeper, and adding freeze-proof hydrants. Then consider the additional costs of keeping park roads plowed, the labor for de-icing walkways, etc. One can only imagine the number-crunching that may already be going on.

More to consider

Provided your RV received a winterization test and passed with flying colors, there are still some things to consider. It’s one thing to be snuggled up tight with a glass of your favorite hot beverage in a toasty RV. But it’s another thing to get the RV to the RV park. How confident are you about driving a motorhome—or towing a trailer—through snow, maybe even ice?

And even if yours is a certified “Gold” model, will that prevent a buildup of snow and ice on your rig roof? Not only can damage be done to your rig if a significant amount piles up on your roof, there are other hazards. Roll down the highway and dislodge that stuff onto a following motorist can make you liable for damages in some jurisdictions.

How about you?

How about you? Does your RV lifestyle yearn for a winterization-test-certified rig—which might cost you more? Fill in the form below to respond, and include “winterization test” on the subject line.

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Carson Axtell
4 months ago

Winter/cold-weather camping will become more important the more crowded warmer-weather camping becomes. When the demand for “elbow room” gets high enough manufacturers will begin to build more cold-weather rigs and maybe even spring for the cost of certification.

5 months ago

We bought our Excel fifth wheel in part due to its “10 degree below zero guarantee”. (There’s a large sticker on the outside wall by the door attesting to the claim)
Double pane windows. Fully enclosed, insulated and heated underbelly. We’ve not tested the 10 below zero but we got down to 4 degrees this past winter and it was as toasty warm throughout as you would want. 2 small electric heaters did the job well but it’s necessary to use the furnace in order to heat the underbelly.
We also have a 30’ Holiday Rambler travel trailer that we store at the lake. The furnace will keep the inside air temp warm but the walls and windows won’t stop the chilling effect. Needless to say we don’t use it in the winter.

5 months ago

I live in a restomodded ’77 Komfort 20 footer year round. It’s easy actually. Dual heating cord and pipe insulation on the water hose, electric heat with propane backup. No big deal.

5 months ago

We intentionally ordered our 2012 travel trailer and 2016 fifth wheel with thermopane windows, tank heating pads, heated basements, and enclosed underbellies so we could cold-weather camp. We rarely camp during the crowded summer tourist season because we live in Colorado. However, we do enjoy RVing in spring, fall, and winter, especially when the aspen are changing. In 10,000′-high mountain campgrounds, nights can get below freezing in August, but it’s pretty hard to winterize the RV every night. Even at our house at 6,000′ in the Denver area, we have had below freezing nights and snow on both Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. So, to take advantage of our spectacular scenery, we had to have RVs capable of cold-weather camping.

The coldest temp we have camped in was 18 degrees in a FHU state park campsite. My only mistake was forgetting to disconnect the water hose. The next morning we had to shower in the restroom and put the unbendable hose in the truck bed!

5 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Pour hot water through that hose and it unkinks/unfreezes instantly. Been there, done that. 😁

5 months ago

We have stayed in our son’s farmyard in VA in temperatures down into the teens. Our first coach was a Fleetwood Southwind (gasser) and we burned a lot of propane to stay warm. Our current coach a Phaeton DP also burns a lot of propane at those temperatures, but we stay cozy inside and we have not had a problem with frozen pipes (we do take the hoses in). Both have double pane windows and reasonable insulation for motorhomes. Upon leaving we have always headed SOUTH.

5 months ago

One has to remember that cold does not necessarily mean snow. Cold-weather camping can be done. You could stay for several days and then go to a campground 2 use electricity. We lived in Asheville during the winter in our fifth wheel. We were pretty comfortable.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago

Regarding the Lead-In picture, skis leaning against a 10,000 pound, two wheel drive rig, with street tread, in a snow covered parking lot. Sure it was staged for the article’s topic, but if you think for one minute, your driving that unit to a ski resort, and return in one piece, good luck!

Michael Galvin, PhD
5 months ago

People do that.
We have a Navion similar to the one in the photo. Have been in lots of cold; record is one degree above zero.

5 months ago

I doubt that people who travel a 1000 miles to get out of the snow want to camp in it enough to spring for the cost of a new, certified RV. Maybe the younger crowd. Still, I applaud any effort to instill quality back in to the RVs by the industry and people with the $$$$ will go for it because more insulation carries a benefit in hot weather as well.

Ralph Pinney
5 months ago

I’d be worried more about frozen pipes than internal temperature.

5 months ago

I believe the Cherokee Summit has already been certified, and I expect that the Winnebago Ekko will likely pass this as well. I’m not sure this test is adequate though. Certainly all plumbing should be internal and the waste system must be accounted for also. For example, would you really go camping in the snow without a heated waste gate (valve)? Only relatively high end rigs will ever pass the test. Windows should be double pane, whether glass or acrylic. If a motorhome, attention must be paid by the manufacturer to insulating the cab area or isolating it with a thermal partition. If the rig has lithium batteries, care must be taken to keep them warm, either by putting the batteries inside the coach or with a battery heater. Cold weather rigs are doable, but most current rigs will never qualify. It adds a lot of cost. Triple E (LTV) used to make a great winter-ready motorhome but discontinued it after 2013. Hopefully, when the current market cools, they will bring it back.

5 months ago

I think the main question is “Why do I care?” I don’t think there are masses of people yearning to camp in snowy freezing conditions. Why do you need your rv to withstand that?

5 months ago
Reply to  Drew

You may not care, but there are many of us who do like to camp year-round, even in snow. Better to know before you buy, if the trailer can deal with cold effectively.

Bill T
5 months ago

Bring lots of propane and hope you keep the solar panels clear to power the thousands of dollars in after market battery upgrades or else you will be cold and powerless in the morning.

5 months ago
Reply to  Bill T

I use 2 6v batteries, and my 320w of solar do fine in Dec and Jan in eastern Colo. A 20lb bottle lasts me 4 days, so not a bad performance.

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