How To Keep Your RV Pipes From Freezing While CampingElijah White
Stopping RV pipes from freezing isn’t just for preventing the inconvenience of water not flowing. A bursting pipe can cause thousands of dollars in damages.
Whether you plan to store your RV over winter or continue living in it preventive measures against frozen pipes is a must. There are many ways to keep your pipes and water tanks from freezing in cold temps but doing nothing will inevitably lead to pricey repairs.
If you plan on storing an RV in cold weather it is a good idea to either winterize it or store it in a heated bay or garage. If you plan on living in the RV year round you can purchase an RV with winterized accommodations or consider following warm weather.
There are a lot of things cold weather may affect on an RV, but most noticeably water pipes and tanks are at risk of freezing and becoming damaged. Below I will discuss how best to avoid this and other common problems the cold may cause.
As an RV goer myself I avoid colder weather even though my rig is prepared well for it. However, avoiding the cold forever is not entirely viable and having a plan to combat the cold is an important part of preparation for RV life.
What Causes RV Pipes To Freeze
The answer might seem obvious: if water in a pipe or tank gets cold enough it will freeze into ice and the expansion may cause the pipe to burst. Rather than avoid taking an RV into cold weather entirely, it is possible to prepare an RV to withstand cold temperatures and prevent pipes from freezing.
The location of water pipes, level of RV insulation, materials used in construction, and airflow within the RV can all contribute to whether a pipe freezes or not. If an RV is in use during winter different measures will need to be taken than if you plan to store your RV over winter.
Can Any RV Be Used in Winter
Most RVs can be modified for use in cold climates, but initially buying one that is built for all seasons may be easier in the long run. RVS built for winter use will have all of the plumbing installed internally so that nothing is exposed to cold outside temperatures to begin with.
How To keep RV Pipes From Freezing
Will Insulation Prevent RV Water Lines From Freezing
If the walls of an RV are insulated well a simple heating system like a propane furnace or wood stove may keep the temperature of your RV warm enough on its own to protect the pipes from freezing.
Not all RVs are rated to be used in cold temperatures. If some of your plumbing is mounted outside you may still be vulnerable to frozen pipes, and if your RV is not insulated for cold weather at all it won’t just be the pipes that freeze in winter.
Just as a house is more likely to experience frost damage in the crawlspace or other non-temperature controlled areas, an RV is unlikely to have issues with frozen pipes if everything is installed in warm areas of the motorhome.
You may need to add airflow vents or remember to open cabinets and storage areas periodically in some RVs if you notice any cold spots that are isolated from heated areas.
How To Store Your RV in Winter
Even if you plan to stay in a traditional home over the winter your RV still needs to be properly stored over winter and protected from the cold. This can be as simple as emptying out all of the pipes and water tanks and waiting until it is warm before sanitizing and refilling the tanks.
There are other things to consider if you choose this route, like the RV frame sealant and tires deteriorating under snow and ice. For this reason, you may consider storing your RV under a tarp or in a garage.
Winterizing An RV
In the RV community to “Winterize” your RV usually means to prepare it to sit over winter, not that you’re making the RV mre capable of being lived in during cold weather.
To winterize an RV, begin by draining the fresh water tank and flushing out the gray and black waste water tanks. Next, drain the hot water heater and close off the bypass valves for the fresh and hot tanks.
If you do not anticipate extremely cold temperatures it may not be necessary to use compressed air to blow every individual water particle out of the pipes or run specialized antifreeze through the lines. However, both of these methods work to further protect water lines in winter.
Storing your RV in a Warm Place
Other areas of your RV may also be vulnerable to cold weather other than your water lines. The risk of water damage and expensive repairs to flooring and water line replacements is an immediate threat that tends to take priority, but areas such as tires and frame sealant are also vulnerable to the cold.
If possible it is a good idea to invest in an RV cover or at least tire covers if a garage or storage bay is not available. Propane appliances also may not light in cold weather so if you plan to be in the RV making repairs or upgrades over the winter it may be necessary to store it in a temperature-controlled area or heat the underside with an appropriate heater.
How To Stay in a Warm Location All Year in an RV
Affectionately referred to as “SnowBirding” the method of many RV goers to avoid cold weather is simply to utilize the advantage of living in an RV and driving somewhere else.
If you plan on living in your RV full time you’ll have to choose between preparing for and staying in cold climates or planning to stay in states that do not experience harsh winters. Both are viable options and the choice will depend on your personal needs and lifestyle.
Usually, Snowbird RV goers in eastern states plan to stay somewhere in the southern “Sun Belt ' states of the Carolinas, Georgia, Gulf of Florida, Alabama, and the coast of Texas. Southwestern states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California are great destinations for those that love to spend most of the year in the breathtaking Pacific Northwest like myself.
If your RV is not rated for all-season use it might be necessary to chase the sun and stay where it is warm. If you purchased a travel trailer that turned out to be for summer use but you have no choice other than to stay where you are for winter check out some of the biggest tips I could find for weather-proofing your RV yourself.
DIY Ways to Keep RV Pipes from Freezing
If your RV is built in a way that makes it vulnerable to the cold and avoiding cold weather is not an option there are still some things you can do yourself to help keep your pipes from freezing.
The most viable solution will depend on your situation, but all of these tips or a combination of them may get you through a bout of cold weather.
Is It Worth It To Put A Winter Skirt On An RV
Adding a skirt around the bottom of your RV can be a great way to help keep the cold out. An RV skirt can be made or purchased and they can be constructed from wood or steel, but most types are made from a vinyl canvas and zip or snap onto a liner you install onto the RV.
RV Skirts are a great way to insulate the underside of an RV with exposed plumbing pipes. If you have an RV that is suitable for use in the cold, adding a skirt and having a reliable heat source inside might be all you need to stay somewhere over winter.
Adding Insulation to an RV
RVs built for all seasons are usually insulated well because it helps as much in the summer heat as it does in the cold of winter. If your RV walls are thin or have cheap insulation installed it could be beneficial to upgrade to something more robust.
Insulating the windows with cold weather graded window covers can do a lot to keep the cold out as well. Glass windows are some of the worst culprits when it comes to letting cold air in and allowing heat built up in your RV to escape.
Using Heat Tape on RV Pipes
Heat tape or pipe insulation is a more niche solution to frozen pipes. This may be a good option for someone that has one particular trouble spot where a section of water line does not have access to enough of the available heat to stay unfrozen.
Heat tape needs to be manually installed over all sections of pipe you would like to be covered, so adding it to all of your existing plumbing might be a time-consuming task. If you have sections of pipe that continually freeze this is a great way to cover them without adding an entire skirt to the underside of the RV or running a heater beneath the vehicle.
Installing Heating Pads
Heating pads can be used to keep everything from pipes, floors, water tanks, under cabinets, and even windows from freezing in cold temperatures depending on their design and intended use. You’ll need to make sure you buy a heating pad made specifically for the use you intend with it.
Some heating pads can be used to wrap a fresh or waste water tank and prevent it from freezing. Others can be installed under flooring or behind walling to help heat pipes more directly.
What Freezes on an RV Other Than Pipes
The water pipes in an RV lead from one of two places. Either from the fresh water tank (or fresh water hookup) to a faucet, or from a faucet drain to a waste water tank. Additionally, you’ll need a fresh water hose and a sewer hookup hose in use as well.
If any of these components freeze over it causes the same or more damage than a water pipe freezing over making them equally important to keep warm.
How To Stop An RV Fresh Water Tank From Freezing
Fresh water tanks are not always in use. If a water hose is connected to RV directly then the fresh tank can remain drained and not be at risk of freezing and cracking. Fresh water tanks are usually found inside where they remain warm, but if you do experience freezing issues a warming pad or blanket and adding additional insulation will most likely be the best solution.
Stop a Water Hose From Freezing
If you plan to bypass the fresh water tank and use a continuous supply from a hose you may want to consider burying the hose or adding heat tape to prevent it from freezing as well.
How To Stop RV Black and Gray Tanks From Freezing
A busted waste water tank can cause just as much of a mess outside as a busted pipe can inside. Waste tanks are also almost always mounted outside which puts them at risk of freezing.
For long term solutions an RV skirt or a holding tank heating pad can be a good choice. Another option that is flexible and full proof is to keep a specialized antifreeze for waste tanks available to use. This is a great choice for anyone that experiences occasional temperature drops at night and does not need a heavy-duty solution like skirting.
You’ll need to shop for a septic-safe antifreeze formula for this method and continually add it to the tanks when they’re emptied, but this is a fast and low-cost solution that can be kept in storage and used on cold nights when needed.
Do Rv Sewage Lines Freeze
During winter it is wise to not leave your sewage line hooked up to the RV to prevent freezing. Otherwise, you’ll need to add insulation or heat tape to prevent damage.
About THE AUTHOR
My wife and I bought a broken down 1984 Chevy A-Class 26ft RV and restored it back to working order. Now we both work remotely and live in it full time with our pet cats with the freedom to explore.Read More About Elijah White