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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.