You live in a house in winter. An RV is basically a house on wheels. So why not RV in winter? Camping in freezing temperatures in a motorhome, or fifth wheel can be fun… if you do it right. A hot RV breakfast after a cozy night is awesome – but frost on the walls and a frozen toilet can be a nightmare.
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Today, a lot of modern RV’s have specialized winter packages and options that make winter RV use, well… not easy, but MUCH easiER. But even if your travel trailer or motorhome doesn’t have a built-in winter system, you still have the option of cold-weather camping.
Following is a list of great tips collected from experience winter RVer’s and manufacturers. Stay warm! And have fun!
RV Insulation Winter Tips
- If you can, start your winter RV preparations in the summer. It’s just easier. Wherever you have access, or can create access, fill gaps and cracks in the floor. Pay extra attention to where wires and plumbing penetrate the floor. Expanding foam works well BUT… only used a “closed cell” foam (since open cell foam can act like a sponge and collect water) and know where the expanding foam will expand to! You’d hate to pump in foam from underneath and then find out it filled the space in the bottom of your fridge, or leaked onto some carpet.
- Wherever you can (preferably everywhere) install foam insulation over plumbing pipes to prevent freezing. These come in lengths of 3 to 10 feet, have a inside diameter to match your pipes, and a long slit down the length so you can pop them on. Cut custom angles to make sure elbows and T-fittings are covered as well. If you can’t find a perfect fitting pipe insulation, go one size bigger rather than one size smaller – some extra airspace inside the insulation is preferable to a gap in the insulation.
- Insulate any overhead vents in the roof of your RV bedroom. You can buy special “vent cushions” or you can cut pieces of foam insulation to fit snugly.
- Just like your house, light fixtures and outlets in RV’s are notorious for too little or no insulation behind them. Remove light fixtures and outlets and carefully sneak in fiberglass insulation. You can do a little at a time and pack it LIGHTLY (if you cram it in too lightly it loses its insulating effect) with a pencil or piece of vinyl tubing if you need to work around corners. Reinstall the RV light fixtures and outlets, making sure the insulation is clear of the wiring connections.
RV Winter Windows?
- I really doubt your RV has triple-pane high-efficiency windows. Some have dual-pane, but most have single pane. So, just like older homes, it helps to install some winter storm windows on your RV. If it’s a long-term winter stay, you can cut Plexiglass or acrylic sheets to fit over the window and held in place with brackets. If it’s a short winter stay, or you’re trying it for the first time, you can use the shrinking plastic kits used for regular homes. If you’re not worried about natural light, or want some extra insulation at night when it’s dark anyway, you can cut flexible foam panels to fit the inside of your RV window frames – pop them in at night and out in the day.
- Just like your RV windows, your motorhome or travel trailer door is usually poorly insulated. A super simple tip is to hang a thick blanket on the inside of the door. Set it up at night so that it’s not in the way during the day. Because it’s just hanging, you’ll still be able to get in and out if need be. Installing a curtain rod or expanding rod above the door and hanging the blanket from shower rings makes things easy and removable for summer. If you can, have the side facing the door covered in nylon fabric. In case frost makes the blanket stick to the door, a felted finish will make a huge mess when you remove it.
- Whenever you can, keep your blinds, curtains, drapes closed. If your winter camping in a motorhome and rarely or never using the driving area, set up a dividing curtain or blanket.
RV Holding Tanks Winter Tips
- Talk about winter and RV’s and water is sure to be discussed. Many of today’s motorhomes and fifth wheel come with heating panels for the holding tanks. These are electrically powered by the 12-volt or AC system. To save energy, they only keep the water above the freezing point. If your RV didn’t come equipped with these, they can be bought and installed on most units.
- Ever hear of something called a “hot box”? A lot of people with crawl spaces or sheds will build an insulated box with a couple of incandescent bulbs in it. The box stays warm enough all winter that they can store paint and such without risk of freezing. You can do the same with your holding tanks. Build an insulated enclosure for your RV holding tanks and dump valves using either fiberglass or Styrofoam panels for insulation. The outer layer can be just about anything durable enough to withstand any travelling you have to do. At some place in the enclosure, you need exposure to the holding tanks and valves – in other words, insulated from the outside, but not from the tanks and valves. In this air pocket, install two 40-watt bulbs. If you can wire in a temperature controlled switch. Make sure the bulbs are well clear of anything that could and/or ignite. You should also have a wired or wireless temperature sensor so that you can monitor it for overheating or freezing from burnt out bulbs. As with any of these tips, we’re not experts, and only reporting what others have done. It’s up to you to decide if a homemade hotbox is the solution for you.
- If you’re hooked up to a sewer dump, you’ll need to take insulating precautions similar to above. You may also want to consider a hot box for your sewer hose and connection.
RV Water Supply Winter Tips
- Your RV winter water supply will depend on the kind of camping you want to to and how long you plan to do it. If you can get by bringing drinking water with you for a weekend, or getting a fresh supply every few day, the easiest thing is to winterize your motorhome or travel trailer and use the water you carry in.
- If you plan on using a water hookup and/or your RV holding tanks in winter, it’ll take a little more work and planning. Begin with the pipe and holding tank insulation tips above. Then you have to insulate your water hose from the supply outlet to the RV. This is best done with an electric heat strip (heat tape) covered with insulating foam tubes (the same ones we mention for your pipes, above). Keep the heat strip plugged in at all times, even if you leave the RV. You may also have to wrap insulation around the water supply itself.
- You may have heard that you should always leave a water tap open slightly to prevent water from freezing in the pipes. Don’t do this. In cold weather, the amount of flow needed would fill your grey tank in no time.
- Try to avoid metal when it comes to water pipes, connectors, fixtures, and tanks. Plastic has more give in case something goes wrong and things freeze.
- If you’re far away from civilization, always keep a backup gallon or two of drinking water handy.
- If something water-related freezes in your RV, be careful when you thaw it out in case there’s a crack or hole that’s plugged by the ice you’re about to melt.
RV Skirting for Winter
- Skirting your RV means building an enclosure around the base to insulate the underside. Obviously, this is a challenge if you’re in a motorhome and using it to drive to and from the campsite. But if you’re using a travel trailer in winter, skirting can make a big difference – keeping your floor warmer and reducing the chance of your holding tanks freezing. The skirting can be made from fabric, plastic (corrugated plastic is quite strong), vinyl, wood, corrugated fiberglass sheets, or sheets of metal. For insulation, you can use fiberglass batts, but finding a way to contain them is a hassle. A better choice is Styrofoam. You can cut it to size with a handsaw or even an electric knife.
Miscellaneous RV Winter Tips
- Always pack your RV with enough blankets and warm winter clothing so you can easily deal with a furnace failure or weather conditions stranding you. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
- Always pack your travel trailer or motorhome with enough food so you can easily deal with winter weather conditions stranding you. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
- Even if the ground is level, park your RV (and tow vehicle) on boards. The boards will keeping your tires from melting into and freezing onto any snow or ice. If the snow builds up or drifts in around the tires, clear it. If you’re using leveling jacks, put boards under those as well.
- In the summer, you’re looking for shady places to park your RV. In the winter, you want to park your RV in the sun. It’s surprising how much a little sunshine can warm up your RV.
- If you have access to AC power, or you have enough fuel to run your RV generator, turn down your propane furnace at night and use electric blankets. Don’t use heating pads when you sleep though – they’re capable of causing third-degree burns.
- Leave at least one RV window available to be opened for ventilation, especially when cooking, to keep humidity down.
- To keep humidity down, don’t shower, sponge bath or use wet wipes. Keep your wet wipes in a resealable bag under the blankets when you sleep and the morning wipe will be a lot less of a shock.
- Another way to reduce humidity in your RV in winter is to leave least one roof vent cracked open about 1-inch. To keep snow from falling or blowing in, buy and install vent covers, or build a cover to fit on top temporarily. Use a ladder and set the temporary cover on without going on the roof.
- Stay off your RV roof in the winter. It’s a lot less flexible and far more prone to cracking and other damage in cold weather. That goes for all the plastic fittings on top as well.
- If you’re still dealing with excess humidity – even your breath carries a lot of moisture – you can buy desiccant and leave it in containers in out of the way places.
- Make sure you start your motorhome engine, or towing vehicle engine, or towed vehicle engine now and then to keep the battery charged. And keep a set of jumper cables handy in case you need to start your vehicle with the RV battery.
- Solar panels will help keep your RV’s battery topped off in winter, and a small panel that fits on your dashboard and plugs into the cigarette lighter will keep your vehicle engine’s battery in shape.