How to Cold Weather Camp in Your RV

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As the weather gets colder, campers start putting them RV's away for the winter. But not so fast. There is so much to see and do during the winter season and enjoying these activities from the comfort of your RV can be a refreshing experience.

Here's how to prepare your motorhome, travel trailer, toy hauler, or 5th wheel to ensure you have a pleasurable, safe, and protected cold-weather camping experience.

* Examine your RV's plumbing to determine what measures may be needed to prevent damage from freezing temperatures. Some RV's have plumbing exposed to the outside elements. In this case, you should wrap the exposed plumbing with heat tape and foam pipe insulation.

* Part of the plumbing system includes the holding tanks. Some RV's have enclosed holding tanks that are heated by the RV's furnace through heater ducting to the holding tank areas. As long as the furnace runs occasionally, the tanks will not freeze unless it's very cold (below 20F).

* For those tanks that are not heated and / or enclosed, tank heating pads can be affixed to the bottoms of the tanks. These are very easy to install, thermostatically-controlled, and come in both 12-volt DC and 110-volt AC.

* Yet another part of the RV plumbing system is the holding tank piping and dump valves. Some higher end RVs have these pipes and valves enclosed and heated from the factory. For most RVs though, they are exposed to the elements. As with the plumbing pipes, these pipes and valves can be protected by wrapping them with heat tape too.

* You should keep your gray and black water valves closed until you are ready to dump your holding tanks. If gray water is constantly allowed to drain, it will eventually form an ice dam in your sewer hose. As an alternative, you could also try insulating and wrapping 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 quickly and are not allowed to stand. Using a sewer hose support will help with this.

* Another area subject to freezing is the fresh water supply hose. You can use a heated water hose to prevent freezing. This is a good option if you are in a campground with full hookups. They run on either 12 volts DC or 110 volts AC.

* To reduce drafts and heating requirements, you can insulate the RV's windows against the cold with heavy drapes or curtains. You can create an insulating dead air space inside of the windows by covering them with clear, heavy vinyl. You can even cover the interior of the windows with sheets of Styrofoam or poster board but these are a little hard to see through.

* The roof vents are an area where heat can escape. There are foam type pillows specifically made to be placed in the vent openings. These fit snugly and greatly reduce heat loss in these areas.

* If you have a motorhome, hang a heavy blanket or privacy curtain between the driver's compartment and the rest of the motorhome which will block the cold radiated by a motorhome's windshield. This works very well wherever you have a Class A, B, or C type motorhome as they all have large windshields.

* Any compartments that open into the inside of the RV need to have good weather seals. Adding some inexpensive foam tape or weather stripping to the compartment opening and doors will really help seal those air leaks.

* Now that the RV is sealed tight from air leaks, we have the problem of condensation to deal with. Moisture from cooking, washing and just our breathing raises the humidity inside the RV. As it gets colder, this moisture condenses out on cooler inside surfaces like window frames and doors. This can lead to mold and mildew, water stains or even worse. The best way to prevent condensation is to avoid introducing excessive moisture into the air. A good practice is to always use the range hood vent when cooking and the bathroom vent when showering. This will draw most of that moisture out of the rig. It may be necessary to keep a roof vent open slightly to provide some ventilation and keep condensation in check. Insulating exposed surfaces that tend to collect moisture will also help. A small dehumidifier or some of those little tubs of desiccant crystals may be necessary, depending on the RV and how many are staying in it.

* Finally, we need to consider how the RV is going to be heated. Portable electric heaters are a great supplement to the propane furnace. This method of heating does not add condensation to the air and allows the propane furnace to run considering less, saving a lot of propane. Catalytic heaters are another popular way to provide assistance to the propane furnace but require fresh air ventilation to avoid oxygen depletion in the RV.

Here are some more tips on how to help you cold weather camp in your RV:

  • If you do not want to spend the money for a heated fresh water hose, simply disconnect the normal hose from the RV and the water spigot when the temperature is going to fall below freezing. Empty the hose and store it. You can then use the RV's fresh water tank to supply water.
  • Some cold-weather RVers winterize and then do not use their plumbing system at all. Instead, they carry containers of drinking water inside the living area of ​​the RV and quite completely upon the campground's restroom facilities. Call ahead to the campground if this is your plan. Some close their restrooms during the off-season and others may only have electrical hookups available.
  • During the evening, leave your cabinet doors open slightly. This will help some heat reach the plumbing that runs through the cabinetry and along the cold walls.
  • If possible, empty the holding tanks if they will be subject to freezing and pour a couple of quarts of non-toxic, biodegradable antifreeze into each holding tank. This will protect the dump valves. Pour in more antifreeze as wastewater fills the tanks.
  • When using any type of chemical heater in any inside area, provide a fresh air opening of at least three square inches. This is necessary because this type of heater consumes the oxygen in your RV. If you do not replace the depleted oxygen through ventilation, you stand a chance of not waking up the next morning.
  • Although the methods explained in this article will help substantively reduce the potential for plumbing and holding tanks from freezing, they can not guarantee it. Once the temperature gets low enough, little can be done to keep up. Unfortunately, we all have to stop camping at some point!

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