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Some basic tips for winter RVing

By Greg Illes
Winter can be cold, rainy, snowy and miserable. Many of us choose to “run and hide” from the winter, fleeing into more temperate zones. But even if you’re snowbirding in the South, occasional wiggling of the jet stream can still drive those temperatures well below the comfort zone. So what’s a sad, shivering RVer to do? Here are some basic tips for winter RVing — and some caveats.

VEHICLE

Make sure your antifreeze mix is right, and that your windshield washer reservoir is filled with cleaning mix and not water. Check all your RV weather seals for good integrity — no air gaps, please.

HEATING

If you’re hooked up and plugged in, it’s a no-brainer to use electric heaters as much as practical. They’re quiet, don’t use propane, and one or two of them will keep the average RV livable down to around 30 F outside temperature.

If you’re boondocking, there’s no substitute for a catalytic or ceramic heater. These appliances are absolutely silent, don’t use battery power, and are much more efficient users of your precious propane than the forced-air heater. A typical forced-air heater will put only 70 percent of the propane’s heat into the cabin — the rest is exhausted outside. But a catalytic or ceramic heater will put 100 percent of the propane’s heat just where you want it — inside your RV.

PLUMBING

Some RVs have enclosed plumbing, and others have exposed pipes and holding tanks. Still others have heating provisions. You’ll need to fully understand your configuration to know “how low you can go.” Exposed pipes should not be subjected to temps below 30 F for more than a few hours. Frozen plumbing means cracked pipes and fixtures. Covered plumbing can last longer, and heated plumbing can last indefinitely. Of course, heated plumbing needs a hookup for all that power, or a generator — but who wants to have a generator running all night long?

The other alternative to frozen pipes is to either empty them, or add antifreeze. Either choice means that you will not have your usual amenities: shower, toilet, sink, drinking water. Some folks make this work using bottled water for drinking/cooking and public facilities for the rest.

If you are hooked up in freezing weather, don’t leave your hoses out. Work exclusively from your holding tanks, and dump/fill them as needed. Those hoses will just freeze up anyway and be useless.

BATTERIES

All batteries work worse when they’re cold. Make sure yours are fresh and strong — both the coach and the chassis batteries. If you’re running solar panels, know that the winter sun is a wimpy fellow and you’ll be lucky to get 1/3 of the panels’ specified output — even with full sun, which is not guaranteed. A reliable generator is a must if you will be doing any boondocking or dry camping.

INSULATION

Look for places where air leaks in/out of your RV and plug ’em up. Cut some rectangles of Mylar bubble wrap (heater duct insulation found at Home Depot, etc.), and fit them into your windows and vent openings. This stuff is light, slim, easy to store, and very effective at keeping the heat inside your RV.

Check to see if wind is coming through your stove vent. If so, rig up a cover for the inside or outside of the vent that you can easily put up or remove. Velcro can be handy here.

CLOTHING

Layers, layers, layers. Vests, sweaters, a good rain jacket, gloves, wool caps, good boots. Long johns if you’re really sensitive to cold. Extra blankets or a comforter for the bed(s).

OUTLOOK

Know that you won’t always be perfectly comfortable, and just accept it. Using these basic tips for winter RVing will help get you started. And just remember that you’ll have fewer crowds, more campsites to choose from, and very different scenery to appreciate.

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.

RELATED INFORMATION:

RVelectricity: Avoid space heater danger: What you need to know – Part 1.
RVelectricity: Avoid space heater danger: What you need to know – Part 2.
How to use your RV toilet even in winter.

##RVDT1478

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Charlie Hart, Hartford CT
11 months ago

A couple Gallons a day of bottled water for coffee & washing and a gallon a day of pink antifreeze to flush. $3 – $5 per day, cheaper than frozen pipes.

Gene Cheatham
11 months ago

Many RV’s heat the under floor plumbing areas with small duct work off the furnace. Curious to hear if the cat / ceramic heater users have had an issue in effect shutting of the heat to the areas under the floor.

Too, I agree totally with the amount of humidity propane burners put in the air. My wife, fireplace, heating stove and BBQ grill sale pro extraordinaire, cautions her vent free fireplace customers about this. Vent free fireplaces, and I imagine the catalytic heaters alike, burn whatever is in the air, hence the tendency to get complaints of “stinking”. Air fresheners, pet hair/dander and the like burn with the combustion air and will smell.

Steve Barnes, Kamloops, BC
1 year ago

18,000 btu Mr. Buddy works great. We plumbed ours to onboard, outside, 30# tank. It does bring lots of moisture in. You must wipe window frames down twice a day. Do not allow moisture to migrate from windows to walls. It might disintegrate the particleboard. You can minimize if not eliminate moisture by running ceiling or table fan 12/7. It also circulates the heat.
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NEVER operate while sleeping or heavy drinking. Always have window open at least an inch.
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Our Mr. Buddy from Canada warns approved for use in Canada and Maine only. Go figure. Guess you will all aspire to be like Maine.
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Approved for use in tents and open spaces. This scares many off so if for your closed RV, take extra, extra precaution.
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Stay safe!

Dennis R.
1 year ago

Been using any combination of 1,500 btu to 9,000 btu catalytic heaters (Coleman “Sport Cat”, “Black Cat” and Mr. Heater “Portable Buddies”) for 22 years now. I heat the bedroom as cheap as 2.6 cents per hour with the 1,500 btu “Sport Cat” ($7.50 for 20# propane tank fill specials, 3.5 cents per hour with the standard $10.00 tank refill) with absolutely minimal condensation. I close all day/nite shades, keep the accordion door closed. I use a small teflon squeegee with a towel placed below for heavier condensation conditions. I’ve been out in -22 deg. F with my 30′ class A. I also outfit this rig with 6x Goodyear G-622 RSD snow tread tires. Vehicle is an absolute “beast” for winter camping in northern Michigan.

Scott R. Ellis
1 year ago

Catalytic and ceramic heaters may put 100% of their heat into the living space . . . but they also put 100% of the water vapor that is a byproduct of propane combustion there. No, thanks.

Last edited 1 year ago by Scott R. Ellis
Dan
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

You are so right about those propane heaters. I used them in my business trucks because they heated the inside of the trucks so much better than the RV style heaters that came with the trucks. But, they put so much water vapor in the air that I actually had to scrape the frost off the inside my windshield if I was parked for very long. And, I NEVER used one of those when the truck was moving.

Irv
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Agreed! Plus the instructions for most if not all catalytic and ceramic heaters warn that you have to crack a window to let fresh air in. That partially defeats the purpose.