How To Keep RV Pipes From Freezing While CampingAnthony Day
If you’re trying to figure out how to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping, you’re definitely not the only one.
A frozen plumbing system can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars in a single night, if you’re not careful, but there are plenty of ways to keep this from happening to your RV.
You can keep your RV’s pipes from freezing by installing a good insulation system, or using protective methods like water tanks, heat tapes and internal heaters. You can also protect your pipes by taking care of the engines and valves.
Protecting your RV from cold temperatures is a vital step in taking care of it. Without adequate protective systems in place, your RV runs the risk of damage. Being a large investment, you would want to make sure your RV is safe and running smoothly.
We spent quite some time researching on the topic and asking other RV owners about their experiences with frozen pipes, how to prevent the problem and how they resolved it if they did find their pipes frozen over.
What Happens If Your RV Pipes Freeze?
The most glaring issue of frozen pipes is the fact that your piping system doesn’t work the way it should be, and you won’t be getting water in your taps when you need it. This is terribly inconvenient, especially if you don’t have any other source of water while you’re on your trip.
But besides being inconvenient, frozen pipes could prove to be quite damaging to the piping system itself. When water freezes, the shape of its chemical structure changes slightly and the resulting solid form makes the volume of water expand by about nine percent.
RV pipes are generally designed to take a bit of expansion, since all materials do expand and contract with different temperatures and pressures. However, when water freezes and stays within the pipes, it increases the chances of a line failure. This can cause your plumbing system to start leaking.
This isn’t just true for RVs, but for most plumbing systems. But since RV plumbing is made of PVC and not metal, the risk of damage is much higher than, say, in houses or buildings.
Leaks can actually be very damaging to your RV, not just because of the leak itself, but because you probably won’t even notice that there is a leak for a while. The leak itself is happening behind the walls, so until the damage has spread enough to be visible from the other side, you wouldn’t even realize there’s a leak at all. This could take weeks or even months at a time.
By the time you do notice, chances are that the damage would have only gotten significantly worse.
Another problem that comes with frozen pipes is that if the water does expand, it ends up ruining the water motor. When the water freezes, it’s obviously not running through the pipes anymore. The motor will keep running to push the water through, but in this case, it’d be running dry. This will strip it of its bearing, until the motor gets damaged and doesn’t work anymore.
This is bad news, because even if you do manage to unfreeze the water in your pipes, if the motor is damaged, you won’t be able to use your plumbing system anyway.
The purpose of understanding how to prevent water from freezing is to avoid getting to this point. While leaks are bad news, they are still much cheaper to fix than all the seals, gaskets and the motor that comes as part of the plumbing system.
What Temperature Should You Start Worrying?
We know that the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees C) but the water in your pipes doesn't necessarily get affected at this exact temperature. It is true that your RV pipes run the risk of damage when the water starts to freeze, but there is always a difference in temperature outside and inside your RV.
When the temperature outside hits 32 F, chances are that the temperature inside is still a bit higher, so your pipes are safe – for now.
Heat tends to spread to places where there is less of it, so even if your RV is warmer on the inside, it won’t stay that way for very long. So, while your pipes won’t freeze over the second it hits 32 F outside, they are very likely to do so if the temperature drops much lower, or if you have to stay in such temperatures for very long.
Even if you’re standing at 32 F for about an hour or so at night, your pipes are probably going to be safe, and you don’t have to worry about your plumbing. If it bothers you too much, you can check every once in a while, to make sure the water is still running.
Most likely, though, it’d take a number of hours at freezing or below freezing temperatures for the water in your pipes to actually freeze over.
RV pipes don’t actually freeze over that often, since it takes low temperatures, and a decent amount of time in those temperatures to cause freezing. But the damage caused by frozen pipes can be very costly, so it is always best to make sure you take measures to prevent this from happening.
Protecting Your RV Pipes From Freezing Over During Camping
When you’re camping, it’s not just inconvenient to not have running water, it can make your camping trip outright miserable. For one thing, you don’t want to have to keep rushing to and from any local bathrooms – if they exist at all – in the freezing temperature, and you need water for all sorts of things. From bathroom usage to cleaning your dirty dishes, having running water is necessary.
Most of all, though, you don’t want to deal with the costs of having to fix the RV once you get back.
There are plenty of ways you can protect your RV pipes from getting frozen over. Let’s consider some of them.
Cabinet Doors Allow Heat Circulation
You might think there’s only so much difference cabinets can make, but you’d be surprised. One cabinet or two may be negligible, but RVs will have a number of cabinets to provide storage space.
Given the size of the RV itself, you can assume that the cabinets do take up a significant percentage of the interior. This means that if you keep the doors of your cabinets closed, the heat can’t circulate as well as it would if you keep them open. You may even find a noticeable difference in temperature if you open them.
The wall closest to the outside of the RV will be much colder, and the interior wall will be warmer, due to the insulation. Cabinet doors work much the same way. When you keep these doors open, the heat from the inside of the RV can move in and warm up any pipes running in the wall and the cabinet walls. This keeps the water in them from freezing.
Of course, these temperatures may not be drastically different; just a couple of degrees or slightly more than that. But the effect they have on how fast your pipes freeze over is significant.
Installing Insulation Systems
The most obvious solution to the problem of cold weather would be to install a good insulation system. Not only is this an effective solution, it is also a very simple one.
Proper insulation will make sure that many different components of your RV, not just the pipes, are protected from the freezing weather. It also has the added benefit of making your RV warmer and toastier during winter months.
Sealing Windows & Doors
By sealing off the windows and doors of the RV, you can keep the cold air out and prevent it from messing with your pipes and other parts. Check the seals and caulking in the windows and doors to find any missing or weak areas. By replacing these, you can keep your RV warm. You can also replace the weather stripping in the doors from the outside to keep any cold air from getting into the vehicle.
One very simple and affordable insulation method is to get window films or reflective foil. In summers, these are used on the outside to keep the heat from the sun from getting into the RV, thus keeping it cool. In cold temperatures, you can flip it around and use them on the inside of the RV to keep the heat from escaping it. Reflective foil will serve a similar purpose by reflecting any heat back inside, rather than leaving.
Just like you wear thick fabric in the winters to stay warm, thick fabric can also keep your RV warm. Heavy drapes will block any cold air from entering through the windows and avoid any warm air from leaving. You can also use curtains to create separations within the RV to make smaller spaces that need heating.
Not everyone can afford foam board flooring, but this can do a pretty good job of insulating the flooring and keeping any cold air from entering from below. The alternative is to use carpets or heavy rugs to do much the same thing.
Sometimes, when wind blows underneath the RV, the water tanks can freeze and any heat contained in them can get sucked out. By installing skirting around the base of the vehicle, you can keep the cold winds from causing any kind of damage to the different vehicle components.
Most insulation systems require very little maintenance and can sometimes work in both summers and winters for the opposite reasons. You can keep these installed throughout the year for this reason. For some parts that are winter specific, removable parts are available that you can install in the colder parts of the year and remove when you don’t need them anymore.
Manage Your Water Tanks
Another step to keep your pipes safe is to manage your water tanks effectively. For one thing, you can avoid dumping when they are full and must be dumped to reduce the risk of freezing. Larger amounts of water will take a longer time to freeze over, so by keeping your tanks full, you can keep them safe. It is also best to keep your waste valves closed when the tank is not in use.
You can also choose to use the internal freshwater tank as your primary source of water, rather than connecting to any external sources. When connecting to external sources, you have to leave your hose in the cold, which can make the water in it freeze up. By using the internal tank, you can prevent this from happening.
Adding a small amount of antifreeze in your holding tanks can also keep the valves from freezing and keep your pipes safe.
A great way to keep your pipes safe from getting frozen over is to wrap them up in heat tapes. Heat tape is plugged into a socket and the electricity that flows through it is converted into heat to keep your pipes warm. Consider it a sort of heating pack, but for your pipes.
Of course, you won’t be able to wrap all your pipes with heat tape, and it can be quite expensive too, but you can wrap up your essential pipes to keep them safe.
You can also opt for extra protection by covering up the heat tape with insulation. This gives an added layer of warmth and does a great job of preventing the water in the pipes from freezing. In very low temperatures, this is a very helpful and effective resource, and does a very good job of keeping your pipes warm.
Using Internal Heaters
Sometimes, your RV may come with internal heaters that you can use to warm up the interior of your RV. This can spread through to the walls and pipes to heat them up and prevent the water in them from freezing up.
If you don’t have a dedicated heater, some air conditioners also have the option to raise the temperature and turn them into makeshift heaters. However, you’d have to check this beforehand to make sure you know whether you’re going in with a heater or not, so that you can take any other measures if necessary.
However, even if you don’t have an internal heating system, you may have a portable heater lying around. If you do, it is worth putting it near the motor if you think the pipes run the risk of getting frozen over.
The most expensive component in the system is the motor. As we mentioned earlier, the pipes are actually much easier and less expensive to repair than the motor, so keeping the motor safe should be your top priority. If you have a heater, place it near the motor to make sure that it doesn’t get frozen.
Storage bays in your RV will often contain pipes, water lines and electronic devices and components that can easily get affected by cold weather. Many RVs that are used all year round will actually come with a heat duct that lets you pump warmer air into the storage bay whenever the furnace of the RV runs. These keep the bays at temperatures above freezing, so that any damage to the RV can be reduced.
If your RV does not have such a duct, you may want to keep a space heater in the storage bay. Again, storage bays have many parts that are fragile and can easily get damaged if exposed to cold temperatures, and you don’t want to risk ruining them.
At the same time, remember that leaving a space heater unsupervised can be dangerous, so if you place any space heater inside the RV, you should make sure you’re keeping an eye on it. This is also true for any heaters you place near the water pump.
Sometimes, you may find yourself in an emergency. Your pipes are on the verge of getting completely frozen over and you don’t have many options. You can use a propane torch or plumber’s torch to heat the metal parts of your RV’s plumbing to warm them up and melt the water inside.
This is not a permanent solution, by any means, but it does provide quick relief and reduce the chance of your pipes from cracking or leaking.
When using this, however, make sure to keep an eye out for any flammable materials around the parts you’re trying to heat up. You don’t want to accidentally set fire to your RV in an attempt to warm it up. That would be a bit too warm for anyone’s taste.
Move Somewhere Else
A very basic solution to the problem of cold temperatures is to simply leave the cold temperatures. RVs are called RVs for a reason, and while it isn’t as easy as getting into the car and heading out for a drive, you can move your RV to a warmer location.
This doesn’t mean that you should head down to Florida, but you can move from a place where temperatures are much more likely to hit the freezing point, to a place where it is still relatively cold, but your pipes don’t run the risk of getting frozen over.
This is a clear benefit of RVs – they give you incredible freedom around your location, so you should use it to your advantage while also keeping your RV safe.
Besides, would you want to spend your camping trip huddled up in a blanket? Probably not.
Keeping your RV’s piping system warm during cold weather is important, but it’s not actually that hard. In the first place, it takes quite a bit for the pipes to get cold enough to freeze. If you have any kind of heating or insulation system in place, you’re probably good to go.
Still, it is best to keep an eye on the weather if you’re planning on using your RV in a location where temperatures get very low. The last thing you want on your winter camping trip is to be stuck with frozen pipes.
About THE AUTHOR
Hi, my name is Anthony, and RVs are what I'm passionate about. I bought my first RV when I was 21, and I've been hooked ever since. I'll guide you on how they work, how they can be used in different environments, and how they fit into our everyday lives.Read More About Anthony Day