With a few adaptations to your RV it is possible and even fun to RV during the winter. Many folks however prefer to store their RV for the cold season and take a break from camping. Whichever group you are in, here are ten “must do” tips for Wintering in your RV, whether you plan to park it for the season, or continue to use it – even infrequently.
If You Decide To Park It
Even if your RV will be stored indoors in a climate-controlled environment all winter, you still need to winterize it in case the power goes off, and to prevent moisture, rodent and insect problems. This means draining all the water, cleaning out the black and gray water tanks, draining your hot water heater if you have one, removing all food – even canned and dry items, cleaning liquids and making it cold weather ready. If you think you might use the RV even once and don’t want to winterize it follow the list in “Use it” instructions. Here’s a basic checklist of the five “must-do” for winter:
- Rodent Control
- Insect Control
- Tires and Suspension
- Clean and Cover
You can’t just drain your water lines. Even small amounts of water in your faucets, bends, elbows, drains and other areas will freeze. You have two choices of how to take care of protecting your plumbing – either blow out the lines with compressed air (most RV owners don’t have the proper equipment to do this effectively), or fill the lines with RV antifreeze.
- Drain and clean gray and black water tanks
- Drain and disconnect your refrigerator’s ice maker line
- Drain water from hot water heater.
- Fill your RV’s water system with RV anti-freeze – important!! RV antifreeze is non-poisonous antifreeze formulated especially for RVs. It is pink. Do NOT use regular vehicle antifreeze in your water system.
- Add enough antifreeze to both your black and gray water systems to protect the valves.
- Get enough antifreeze in your water pump to protect it as well.
- Make sure each water trap, and drain (shower, sinks) has four-to-five ounces of antifreeze in them to protect them.
- Preparing your plumbing for winter takes more than just what we’ve outlined here. Get a complete list specific for your RV from your dealer. If you’ve never winterized your plumbing before, ask your dealer to show you how, or find more detailed instructions in your owner’s manual.
- Remove any removable propane tanks and fill any permanent tanks. Cover any propane line openings – either with a screw-on cap, or plastic wrap sealed tightly. There is a chemical added to propane that attracts spiders and they tend to leave little fuzzy cocoons filled with eggs inside your propane lines, pilot light openings and Venturi’s. Cover them well with plastic wrap and secure with twist ties.
Remove all foodstuffs from your RV, even canned and unopened packaged items, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, and even spices. Critters, like mice, squirrels, birds, ants and other pests will smell it and attempt to get to it. Eliminate the temptation. Canned foods can freeze and swell or explode, leaving a nasty mess to clean up come spring. Besides, next year who wants to eat year-old food?
Cover or block all possible entrances into your RV. All a mouse needs to gain entrance to your unit is a hole big enough to let you put your pink finger in. Yep. That small. Squirrels don’t need much more room. Once these creatures are in your RV they will generally nest and have babies – since that is why they seek out a warm, dry spot to begin with – so they can reproduce. They will chew up mattresses, curtains, carpet, couches, anything they can to feather their nests. They will also mess, mark their territory with urine and generally ruin your RV. Moles, shrews and other creatures – even raccoons and possums will take advantage of an entryway if you let them.
Insect and Spider Control
Rodents are bad, insects and spiders can be worse. Bees, hornets, mud daubers, ants and spiders love your RV almost as much as you do. Spiders love the smell of propane and will next and lay cocoons of eggs inside every propane line, pilot light or stove opening they can find. Cover every possible propane line opening with plastic and a twist tie. Make a note on an index card of every location that has been covered or sealed, punch a hole in the card and tie it to your propane tank valve so you can go back and remove every cover in the spring, or the next time you use it.
Ants are a year-round problem, but can be worse if left to nest over the winter. Place ant traps around the kitchen counters and shelves. Wipe down all kitchen and hard surfaces with distilled white vinegar. Vinegar is a natural acid and will remove any tracks or traces of ant trails any ants may have left over the summer or fall. Use Borax or an ant poison like Amdro Ant Block outside your RV. Simply sprinkle it on the ground around your tires. It’s effective on most varieties of ants. The ants simply take it back to the nest and feed it to the colony, wiping out the queen and brood ants, which effectively kills the colony.
Bees and hornets can’t really be stopped from getting in your RV, or under an RV cover or shed unless you remove traces of their nests as soon as you see them. Be careful. Once they start building they will defend their nest and attack you if you try to remove it. You can eliminate any attractive nesting options by sealing up any holes under your rig with brass wool (it doesn’t rust), or a can of “Great Stuff” which will expand to fill and block any opening it is sprayed into. Watch for signs of nesting such as bees hovering around your rig or flying in and out from under the trailer.
Mud daubers like to build in places like your furnace exhaust ports and around your refrigeration exhaust, and in sewer vents and your bumper as well. If they block your exhaust ports this can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your rig. Blocked exhaust vents can also cause heat buildup and start a fire. They can build at any time of the year, so if you are parked long-term at a campground, make sure you check your ports and RV for signs of mud and nests before starting your furnace for the winter.
Moisture is a problem both inside and outside of an RV. When you cover your rig for the winter with a tarp, you might keep snow, ice and rain off, but moisture from the elements will still get underneath the tarp. If you can park your RV under an overhang, shed, or inside an “RV tent” you can save yourself a lot of hassles. Because moisture under a tarp can’t evaporate mold and mildew tend to build up. That can rot, weaken, or discolor your roof and get into vents and other small openings you can’t see with the naked eye. Mildew and mold in your RV not only smells bad, it’s all but impossible to remove and can severely hurt your resale value.
If you must cover it, use a breathable fabric especially constructed for RV covers. Wash down the roof well with an anti-mildew soap and allow it to dry thoroughly before covering.
You have four options for keeping moisture out of your RV over the winter.
- Use it where it is parked in your driveway or yard as an office, spare room or guest room, and keep the furnace on when using it, or have a small heater you use and turn off when you leave.
- Use a chemical absorbent such as Dri-Z-Air (available through Camping World or many RV dealerships) or Damp Rid. Most chemical “moisture removers” are made from Calcium Chloride, which is the same stuff you melt ice off your sidewalk and driveway with. There are instructions for making your own moisture traps online as well.
- Use a small dehumidifier and empty it regularly. This means running power to your RV during the winter and is an added expense.
- Keep a small heat source, like a light bulb or lamp, on all the time. This also means running power to the RV all winter. There are hazards to this – such as the light overheating, electrical shorts in the wiring, or something coming in contact with the light and starting a fire. If you’re not in and out of the RV daily something could go wrong with this system quickly. It’s not recommended, but some people do it. We mention it so we can also mention it’s not safe and we don’t advise it.
Tires and Suspension
Tires will dry rot whether they’re hanging on the wall or sitting on your RV. It’s up to you how you prefer to deal with them. Some people believe removing the tires prevents flat spots on the tires, but there’s no proof of this. If you’re worried about it, move the RV once a month or so.
Do make sure your RV tires are resting on a concrete surface – not on bare ground. If the ground gets wet, the RV could sink into it, creating problems with the suspension and with getting the RV out in the spring. If you park your RV in a field or yard, place concrete pads or pavers under each tire and you should be okay.
While you’re checking on the tires, get out a can of WD-40 and spray the bushings on the suspension. The WD-40 will keep the rubber body mounts and bushings soft and supple and prevent dry rot.
Scrub your awnings down well with a soft bristle brush, hot soapy water and an anti-mildew cleaner, then rinse thoroughly. Allow awnings to dry thoroughly before retracting and storing them for winter. Cleaning the awnings before you store them will help cut down on mold and mildew over the winter.
Clean, lubricate, close and block your slides from the inside. Leaving them open only gives winter weather a chance to find its way inside where moisture can freeze, rust and swell unprotected wood. Open slides also become an opportunity for insects and rodents to gain access to the rig.
- Remove any valuables, including flat-screen televisions, chairs, camping gear, sporting gear, solar panels, and anything thieves might find attractive. If you’re using your RV as an alternative safe place for household storage, it’s generally not a good idea unless you’re already in a safe area. Rent a storage unit for those items. Even if thieves don’t find your stuff attractive, mice, insects and other animals might – and besides, you’ll just have to move it all come spring.
- Make sure all your vent covers, latches and panels are secured and locked so they don’t fly open in a storm and rip off. Secure your awning and your slides if you have them. Make sure the slides are blocked level for the winter. Don’t leave them open as this just gives weather more opportunities to find its way inside and create leaks and dry out gaskets. If you’re having problems with your room slides, now is the time to fix them.
- Close all windows. Turn off all appliances. Block open your refrigerator and freezer doors to allow air to circulate during the winter. Latch and secure everything that can be latched, and lock everything that can be locked.
If you are storing your RV in a public storage facility this is especially important as sometimes people simply walk through such facilities trying doors to find an unlocked coach they can rob or just sleep in. Locks won’t keep people out if they truly want in, but they will deter crimes of opportunity.
Clean and Cover
After you’ve removed any valuables, including flat-screen televisions, solar panels, and anything thieves might find attractive and have locked it up, cover your rig with a breathable fabric cover and secure it so it doesn’t fly away in a stiff breeze. Don’t just tie it and forget it. Swing by the facility or check on the rig weekly or at least monthly to ensure it hasn’t been vandalized, the cover torn, or that other issues haven’t come up.
If You Decide To Use It
If you’re going to use your RV during the winter months you’ll still need to protect your pipes and plumbing from freezing. If you thought busted pipes were a pain in a home, you don’t even want to see how much damage a busted RV pipe can cause to your vehicle. So, before you do anything else, get RV pipe wrap – an electrical pipe wrap that allows you to keep your pipes heated throughout the winter, and apply it. Test it and follow all instructions for using it.
You can, as many do, opt not to use the shower or toilet during the winter, and go ahead and add antifreeze to your plumbing system.
Flush your radiator and beef up your engine for winter with a good vehicle engine antifreeze, not the same stuff you use in your pipes.
Adjust your tire pressure for winter demands. The proper tire pressure for cold weather use should be located in your owner’s manual.
Prepare For The Cold
Stock up with plenty of blankets, quilts, and sleeping bags – whatever you would need to stay warm if your heat totally went out and left you without a heating system.
Invest in a back-up heating system even if you have a good furnace. Something like a “Mr. Buddy” that can be used indoors with ventilation is good.
If you don’t already have them, and you should, install both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your rig. If you already have them, put new batteries in your alarms. Winter camping and cooking means closed windows and doors and less fresh air. A generator or other malfunctioning device, or an exhaust leak could mean a silent death to you and your family without detectors to alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide.