RV Winter Camping
How about full-time RV camping in the winter? Can it be done?
Absolutely! You can live in your RV in winter weather. You’ll need to take some extra steps and precautions, but camping even in below-zero environments is doable.
Winter camping is not for everyone, so before you launch yourself into the winter wonderland, make sure you wouldn’t prefer a snowbird winter down south. And, just because the manufacturer of your rig installed four-season capacity or an arctic package, don’t be deluded into thinking that you are truly winter-ready.
For the hearty souls that don’t mind a little ice and snow, go for it and enjoy the experience. The main thing is to be prepared.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. If you’ll be camping for several months in sub-zero temperatures it is advisable to put wide planks beneath your tires and jacks to prevent your rig from sinking as the ground thaws.
2. In sub-zero climates, or even consistently below-freezing temperatures, it will be absolutely essential that you put skirting around the bottom of your trailer. If you don’t, you will have to probably tow your RV to Mexico and wait a week or two for those frozen blocks – that used to be your holding tanks – to thaw. If your tank is relatively full, there is an excellent chance that a hard freeze will rupture it.
3. For persistent below zero climates there are several possible ways to insulate the bottom of your trailer. First, you could construct a frame and attach insulation to the inside and outside of the frame. At a minimum, you could use 2 X 2 lumber and staple or screw on the best insulation you can get locally. Try to get the insulation slightly below ground level to prevent drafts. Seal all possible openings to prevent cold air seepage. You could also attach snaps to the bottom of your trailer and make a snap-on curtain from heavy-duty waterproof material. Buy enough loose fiberglass batting to fill the cavity beneath your trailer. Leave an empty spot beneath your holding tanks and put a heat lamp or high-wattage bulb to generate heat. I wouldn’t advise putting an electric heater there because of the risk of fire and the fact that it will burn too much electricity.
In areas where temperatures fluctuate between zero and below freezing for much of the winter, you may be able to do just fine with foil-faced insulation board that comes in 4×8 foot sheets and can be cut with a box cutter to fit around the bottom of your RV. Use a high-quality tape to secure and cover the cut joints and attach to the frame of the RV. If there are high winds common in your area you may need to dig a small trench to fit the board into or stake strips of wood to the ground and secure the bottom of the insulation board to the brace you’ve made.
4. Remove all interior fixtures and stuff with insulation where it is missing. If temperatures are going to be well below zero for a long time, you will want to either cut and install foam insulation board over windows, ceiling vents, and doors or make some type of insulated blanket and attach over them. Tape up seams along windows and ceiling vents. You may want to leave one vent or window available to open for venting.
5. You are going to have to deal with condensation. In freezing weather, you can find a sheet of ice on your walls and ceiling. Since this is probably not a good thing, you may think about getting a dehumidifier to ease the problem. Too much moisture and you will get to cope with massive mold growth in your RV.
6. Go to your local discount or hardware store and buy electrical heat tape designed to be wrapped around water hoses. This will help keep your water hose from freezing. Be certain that your inlet to the trailer and also the outside water faucet is wrapped with heating tape. If you leave the heating tape thermostat hanging outside and don’t wrap it, you will get a continuous source of heat to help prevent freezing. Add a couple of layers of insulation over the heating tape and then wrap with plastic sheeting to waterproof. Finally, secure all of this with overlapping wraps of tape.
Another popular way of avoiding a frozen outside water hose is to buy a self-heating hose that plugs into the 120-volt outlet at the electric box. These hoses can be very expensive but do eliminate a lot of labor involved in taping and insulating a water hose.
7. If the area you’re staying at has freezing, but not extreme cold, weather then you should leave cabinet doors open in the kitchen and bathroom so that warm air can circulate around the water pipes.
In extreme winter environments, interior plumbing should be wrapped with insulation. Sometimes access to the pipes is impossible. In that case, where possible, place 40-watt bulbs along interior compartments by your plumbing. Put a couple of bulbs in the compartment with your dump valves. If you are using your fresh water holding tank instead of city water, make sure you put a bulb in the cabinet with your water pump. Otherwise, winterize your freshwater tank with the proper antifreeze and be certain that the solution is also in your water pump before turning it off.
8. If outside temperatures are consistently in single digits or below zero keep your gray water valve closed until you are ready to dump. During extreme temperatures, gray water constantly allowed to drain will eventually form an ice dam in your sewer hose and water will back up into your RV and flood onto your floors. As an alternative, you could also try insulating and wrap heat tape around your sewer hose if you want to leave the gray-water valve open. In any case, be absolutely certain that your sewer hose is at a steep angle where liquids drain rapidly and are not allowed to stand.
The gray and black-water valves will freeze shut if they aren’t enclosed by skirting, and you may still want to wrap heat tape and/or insulation around them, otherwise, the rest of your efforts will be in vain if you cannot open the dump valves and empty your holding tanks.
9. Keep a couple of extra gallons of fresh water in containers in case all else fails and your waterlines freeze. Plan on enjoying inventing new ways to thaw your water pipes.
10. If you plan on using a catalytic heater it is mandatory that you provide a source of ventilation unless you want to risk dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.
11. An extremely cost-effective way of keeping the heat trapped inside your RV and the cold outside where it belongs is to attach clear plastic window film to all interior windows. This creates a dead-air pocket that inhibits the cold from penetrating directly through your glass windows and blocks drafts that are common with RV windows. Once you’ve covered all your windows you’ll notice an immediate difference in the amount of heat retained inside and lower fuel consumption. This type of window film comes in kits or rolls that are inexpensive and easy to find at your local Walmart or online. Duck Brand Shrink Film Window Kit is an example of a popular window treatment product and comes with the tape you’ll need to secure the film to your window frame.
One tip that can save you a lot of grief if you’re trying to install window film in very cold weather is to have a hairdryer handy to heat areas of your window frame where the tape refuses to stick. If the metal is very cold, or damp, wipe with a paper towel to remove condensation and a few seconds of hot air directed at the problem area, and the tape will stick with no problem. Even if you’ve already put the tape on and it is trying to fall off in some areas, hot air from your dryer will make the tape stick.
12. Inspect outside slides for gaps leading directly to the interior of your RV and stuff insulation into gaps.
13. Crawl beneath your RV and look to see if there are exposed drain valves. Once a pressurized drain valve begins to freeze, the ice will invade your interior water lines and block water flow. In addition, the expanding ice will over-pressurize water lines and cause connections to leak. Heavily insulate any exposed drain valves beneath your RV and check for a drop-down cover around your freshwater tank. It isn’t unusual to find a flimsy, uninsulated flap beneath freshwater tanks that permits an unchecked direct flow of frigid air into your freshwater plumbing and often right into the interior of your RV’s living area.
At winter campgrounds we’ve personally witnessed far too many “Four-Seasons” Arctic Insulated RVs that had frozen interior plumbing as soon as outside temperatures dropped below 20 degrees for an extended period of time. Don’t trust the sales hype. Insulate and protect your rig.
Next Chapter – Ideas to protect and maintain your RV.
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