Wintering in an RV. Dealing with frozen RV pipes. Handling an inconceivable amount of RV condensation. We have officially entered the more difficult side of RVing.
Looking for my best RV winter advice? WINTERIZE! And live in a home. We even have a Free RV Winterization Guide to help you!
Or you can head South with the snowbirds. Or grow a second skin. Or build some sort of bubble to encase your RV completely that serves as a greenhouse, and you can patent it and make a fortune. There are a lot of ideas flying around, but the main point here is…find ANY WAY POSSIBLE to avoid living in your RV during the winter in a cold area. That’s it. My work is done, you are welcome, Reader. Read no further.
But, (I knew this was coming) what if it is not possible to avoid staying in a cold area in the winter, Jen? I get it, Reader! Because Chris and I find ourselves in that exact position right now with a RV that is not a four season model, a dread of Pennsylvania winters that precedes our fulltime RVing years, and blood in our veins detrimentally thin from our sultry months in Alabama. Clearly, we have a lot to overcome.
Let’s tackle the common RV winter problems together and keep Aunt Glady…well…glady!
How to Avoid Frozen RV Pipes
The main thing to plan for here is the water hose. It is completely exposed, and unless you have this one, it is not ready for the cold. We went to a local hardware store and purchased what we needed to diy heat our regular water hose: heat tape, insulation and plastic. The heat tape and insulation were located together in the store, and the plastic came with the insulation. It cost us around $55.00 for the entire project. Here are the steps to heat your hose:
- Heat tape is actually a cord. Apply the cord to the top of the water hose. Use electrical tape to secure the cord to the hose about every 12 inches or less.
- Wrap the entire length of the hose with insulation. Start at one end, and duct tape the insulation to the hose. Then, wrap in a circle, overlapping about a half inch as you go. The insulation is about 3″ wide and is specifically meant for heat tape. Ours came in a 25′ length. You will need more than you think, because of the overlapping. For a 25′ length hose, we went through almost two 25′ rolls of insulation. Chris recommends doubling the length of hose when figuring your insulation quantity.
- Finally, you need to cover the insulation with the plastic. Again, use duct tape to secure the plastic over the insulation. You do not want the insulation to get wet, so spend some time and make sure you cover it completely with the plastic. Chris tried a bunch of different methods, but what worked best was to install it just like the heat tape – to wrap it overlapping. He also found working with all 25′ at once to be a hassle, so he cut it into pieces about 6′ long each.
The pipes that run under and inside the RV have more protection. Using the RV furnace is a key to keeping these pipes from freezing, since the piping often runs near the heat ducting. Also, you can open cabinets as needed to make sure that warm air is circulating around the pipes appropriately (some of our base cabinets have water pipers running through the base of them).
Also, make sure you have a good hook up for your water hose. Where we are staying, we had to move spots in order to be at a RV site with water piping that goes below frost depth.
While we are on the subject of pipes, what about the sewer lines? I can’t see how this would be a problem, as long as you are properly sloping your sewer line from the camper to the hook up. That should be something that you are doing all the time. It will keep your sewer line clear, so a block would be impossible. To get a proper slope, use this support. We have stayed in only two campsites where the sewer was uphill from the RV – in both cases, our line leaked. Disgusting, but true. It was too uphill even for the support. That line is meant to slope and clear itself, make sure it does that. And if you need a new RV site, ask for one.
What to do with Frozen RV Pipes
In a perfect world, all of your preparations to avoid frozen RV pipes will work perfectly, thus never creating the circumstances in which you will have to deal with frozen RV pipes. Since we know this is not a perfect world, we need a plan for dealing with frozen pipes too. We show you how we handled it in our frozen RV pipes video…
Our basic steps to remedy our frozen RV pipes were…
- Locate the frozen areas.
- Use a hair dryer to thaw the areas.
- Do a better job of insulating!
RV condensation can be a problem anytime of year and for a lot of different reasons. Humid climates will obviously add to condensation. But simple daily living like cooking and showering can create condensation problems too. The fact that RVs are a small space does not help the situation, and even human bodies can create condensation in the tiny area by water loss through our skin and breath. Condensation can lead to water damage and mold, both things we want to avoid.
In the winter, the problem can be even trickier. The sharp contrast in air temperature inside the RV and outside can lead to condensation, especially on the windows. There is not too much you can do about the contrast. Add to that the fact that burning propane also adds water to the air and that it is difficult to open windows, and winter can lead to a condensation mess.
How can we reduce winter RV condensation?
- Open a window when cooking or use your hood fan to vent outside.
- Showers should not be hot – good news for the RVer, since that hot water is going to go even faster in cold temps. It is a better wellness practice too – comfortably warm, not hot. Crack your bathroom window after showering and use your fan to remove that humid air.
- Try to supplement your heat during the day with an electric source – it will save you money too, if electric is included in your site fee.
- Open a window daily, in the warmest part of the day for a half hour or so. If it is too cold, then try for less time. It is always a good practice to have more fresh air circulating.
- You can try a dehumidifier. It is hard to find the space for one, but this option is nice and small. The downside is that you will be emptying a small one frequently, so it is a trade off.
RV Winter Skirting
In terms of adding some insulation, RV skirting is a possibility. The idea here is to protect the undercarriage of the RV from wind and help to add insulation beneath the RV. There are lots of ways to achieve this goal, and they all have pluses and minuses.
Hay Bales – Stacking hay bales under the rig (but not under the propane tanks) is a cheap option. Hay bales have good insulating value. Plus, they can easily be given away at the end of the season, without creating a lot of trash or something you have to store. The downsides are that they may attract critters, and there is some consideration for their flammability. With hay bales on the ground in winter, theoretically, I think there would be enough moisture in them to reduce the flammability, but that is my theory for PA, where the ground stays damp.
DIY RV Skirting – There are a lot of material options for creating your own skirting for the RV. Styrofoam boards seem to be fairly popular. Price will probably determine which you would want to choose. Remember, the season will end at some point, so have a plan for all of that unneeded, rigid material. Also, consider the wind factor in terms of how you will complete the install.
Skirting Designed For RVs – There are also specialty skirting options and even custom skirting is available. The cost would be greater, so it is probably not the best idea if you are only planning a short winter trip. If, however, you plan to RV in the winter every year, then it may be worth the investment.
There are other ways to add insulation to the RV as well. One is to create insulation panels for the windows. Honestly, we have seen this more for keeping heat out than keeping heat in. When we stayed in Lake Havasu, I think every RV there except Aunt Glady had insulation on the windows 24 hours a day! It was 115 degrees at the time, it cooled to 100 degrees over night.
You can create insulation panels for cold weather too, but my problem here is that we obviously have a ton of windows on Aunt Glady. Her insulating value is not her strong point. I don’t want to live in a cave. I want to have the sun shining in and my window shades open during the day. So, where would I put the panels during that time? I can assure you that with our amount of windows, it would be impossible to find space to store the panels.
We do, however, have vent panels, which we purchased more for the ability to block light at night, but they are coming in handy now.
RV Furnace – The upside of the RV furnace is that it will help to avoid frozen RV pipes, since the duct work runs below the camper. The bad news is that it runs on propane. Burning propane actually adds water to the air, which may increase the condensation factor. If you are interested, you can read all about how water is a by-product of propane combustion here. We are using our RV furnace, and it does do a good job of heating the RV. The exterior surfaces and items in my cabinets are cold, but we are otherwise comfortable. We are going through propane a lot quicker now, about one 30 lb. tank every 7-10 days or so. Our temps are in the mid 40s in the day and low to mid 30s overnight.
RV Space Heater – We do have an electric space heater that we keep on board Aunt Glady. Most of the time we have it stashed underneath, but there have been several times that we have used it overnight in places like Montana and Wyoming. We also used it during our winter in Florida. Right now, we are using it constantly. It has a thermostat, so we just set it and forget it. It does help to dry the air out too. We have an older version of this space heater. Ours is 10 years old, and still working great!
The Sun – Do not underestimate the power of the sun! Around here, on sunny days, our RV furnace kicks off around 8:00 am and does not restart until after dark. Even our space heater will kick off for the majority of the day. Aunt Glady’s lack of insulating value actually works in our favor with the sun, since it will heat us right up. I open my blinds, and that warming sunlight pours throughout our camper.
Hardcore RV Winter Living
If you plan to do a lot of RV winter living, then you should really take that into consideration when you purchase your RV. You can buy a four season model that comes with wintering features such as a heated underbelly, heated tanks, insulated hatch covers and more.
Additional RVing Winter Tips
- A hair dryer can save frozen RV pipes.
- Dripping the water in extreme cold will help too. Moving water is less likely to freeze. Just remember to keep an eye on your tanks.
- Ask your campground hosts/workers. They know the area, are familiar with the temperatures and can give you the best information. Lean on them, that is what they are there for.
- Take a look around the exterior of the RV and fill any holes, cracks or areas where cold air may enter.
- Get yourself a cute pair of slippers, like these…
- And a cute set of camper-appropriate flannel sheets, like these from Walmart…
The extent to which you will need to prepare your RV will depend on the extent of the winter conditions. We are just in Pennsylvania, and there are a lot of places where the weather conditions will be much more trying in the winter. We only need to last in the RV until the end of January (hopefully), and we do not plan to do cold weather camping again; so we are limiting the investment we make in to our preparations.
We hope some of these practices will help you to avoid frozen RV pipes and keep you warm in the winter! Or that this article convinced you to winterize instead!