Winterizing Your RV- Stuff You Should Know

Old motorhome
Frost Damage

Fall is just around the corner or maybe for some northern regions it has already arrived. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler, the leaves are beginning to show their fall colors. Soon Jack Frost will be laying his white blanket on the landscape.

The south is probably happy to see the summer heat and humidity fade. When the thermometer hits the boiling point there's no escape, no matter how many clothes you shed, it doesn't help.

autumn

In the north winter is fast approaching and freezing temperatures that can cause problems in your RV if you are not prepared. RVs are especially vulnerable  to freezing.

It is a good idea to take care of this annual chore sooner rather than later. There is nothing more unsettling than bolting up in the middle of the night when your realize you have not winterized  your RV and the thermometer is going to dip below freezing.

The weather seems to be coming more unpredictable every year as we found a couple of years ago when the temperature in early October dipped to -18, causing extensive damage to many of our neighbors cottages who hadn't winterized. Water pipes froze and one poor family had water running out their main floor windows from a burst water pipe in the second floor bathroom.

RVs are more susceptible to freezing temperatures more so than houses or cottages. Probably due to minimal insulation in the floors although many modern RVs now include insulated floors as standard. Although I am not sure of the thickness or quality of the insulation, our new trailer is difficult to keep warm.

frozen

Probably the most important system for winterizing is the water system. This system needs special attention to be sure all the water is removed. Damage from freezing temperatures can happen to the water tank, water pump, hot water tanks and water lines. Faucets can even be destroyed if the system is left pressurized.

Damage can be extensive or subtle, affecting your entire system or specific areas. A large leak like a burst pipe or broken fitting can flood your entire rig, damaging flooring and any wood product that may absorb moisture and swell. In worst cases, water can cause compressed wood to disintegrate and will need to be replaced.

RV rot

A small leak can cause even more problems if not identified and repaired. Slow leaks resulting from a loose fitting or small crack can cause mildew and rot, and extensive damage. A good indication of a slow leak is if your system will not stay pressurized and the water pump cycles on even when all the taps and outlets are off.

An outside shower or sprayer is often overlooked as happened to my brother. Even though he was diligent in doing his winterizing he missed the pressurized sprayer. The damage was not evident until he pressurized the system on his first winter trip south from Canada.

The sewer system is also vulnerable to frost damage including the toilet, gray water tanks, black water tank and all pipes, valves and vents. The tanks can crack if not drained and the drain valves can be damaged if left closed where water can accumulate.

If your area is susceptible to very cold temperatures for extended periods of time, many other items can be affected by freezing. RV batteries can freeze and even crack causing acid leakage, that  in turn can cause corrosion. Battery  replacement is not cheap, especially if you have several.

Any product that contains liquid can freeze and crack, including canned goods, cleaners, etc. Your RV hoses if not drained can also freeze, but usually no damage will occur to the hose itself, it will expand. The fittings are more susceptible to freezing.

Winterizing

Most people probably know how freezing temperatures cause damage, but I will provide a brief description, for those who are unsure.

Once temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 Celsius water begins to freeze. As water freezes it expands, the colder the temperature the harder the water will freeze and the more it will expand, to a point. The expansion is what causes the problems.

I have seen many issues caused by frost, extensive damage to RVs that cause substantial costs, from broken water lines to ruptured hot water tanks and split faucets, just to mention a few.

The winterizing procedure is not complicated, but being diligent will prevent damage from frost.

Before you get started there are a few items you will need to have. These items can be found in most RV parts stores:

anti-freeze

Non-toxic RV antifreeze (The amount depends on the layout and length of your plumbing lines. Two to three gallons will normally do).

  • A water heater by-pass kit, if not already installed.
  • A wand to clean out holding tanks.
  • A water pump converter kit, or tubing to connect to the inlet side of the water pump.
  • Basic hand tools to remove drain plugs.

  1. Locate all water system drain valves, hot and cold water lines as well as the fresh water holding tanks.They should be indicated in your owners manual, if you cannot find them call your dealer. Water system drain valves could be under your RV or inside a lower cupboard with the end of the lines protruding through the underside of your rig. Once you have located the drains open them and open all your faucets. Your faucets need to be open to allow air into the system so the water will drain properly.
  2. The hot water tank needs to be drained as well, do not attempt to drain the hot water tank if it is hot or under pressure. There should be a large nut (metal or plastic) located inside the exterior hot water tank access panel. Remove this nut and allow the tank to drain. Sometimes the pressure release valve at the top of the hot water tank will need to be opened to help air enter the tank.
  3. Some RVs are equipped with water filters. These may be located in several places, under the sink, an exterior storage compartment and sometimes the fridge will have a water line. Remove water filters and drain.
  4. Toilets are becoming an issue as I discovered last winter. There is a small cavity just behind the flush pedal mechanism where water stays if the pedal is not depressed after the water pressure is relieved. I discovered this in the spring to the tune of $75 for the part, lucky I replaced it myself or the cost would have been double or worse. A side note, I didn't discover the problem until I pressurized the system and found water on the bathroom floor, so remember to pressurize your system and check for leaks before you head out in the spring.
  5. Now that your water system is drained another step to insure all the water has been removed is to blow out the system with compressed air.
  6. Another precaution to prevent frozen pipes etc. is to pump RV anti-freeze (CAUTION DO NOT USE REGULAR ANTI-FREEZE) through the water lines. There is often sags in the water lines that prevent water from draining completely. This can be done a couple of ways, close the drain valve on your fresh water holding tank and pour RV anti-freeze through the fresh (potable) water filler tube, or if you can access the RV water pump, the inlet line can be removed and a hose end can be attached to the water pump and the other end of the hose placed into a jug of RV anti-freeze. Turn on the pump to pressurize the system, open each faucet one at a time, start with the closest. Let the water flow until RV anti-freeze flows for a couple of seconds. Close the faucet and repeat the process at each faucet including the shower and toilet.   If you use this method a hot water tank bypass system should be installed otherwise you will need  6 or more gallons of anti-freeze.
  7. Once RV anti-freeze has been pumped through the system shut the water pump off and release the pressure, this will insure that if some water has mixed with the anti-freeze it has room to expand if a hard freeze happens. Go outside to the city water inlet. Remove the small screen over the inlet and push in on the valve with a small screwdriver until you see antifreeze. Replace the screen.
  8. If your water heater has an electric heating element make sure it is turned off. This will protect the element if the unit is plugged in while being stored.
  9. Consult your owner manuals for winterizing ice makers and washing machines.
  10. Gray and black tanks need to be drained and flushed, it is not necessary to add anti-freeze to these tanks as long as the dump valves can be left open. If your RV doesn’t have a built in tank flushing system clean the black tank out with a wand, or use a product like Flush King that allows you to clean both the black and gray tanks.

    Lubricate the dump valves with WD40. If you leave these valves open attach drain cap to the end of the pipe to prevent critters from building nests. If you prefer to close the dump valves pour a few cups of anti-freeze into your toilet and sink, this will flow to the drain valve preventing damage from any residual water that may accumulate.
  11. The drains need to be protected as well, there is a "P" trap below each drain including sinks and the shower. The "P" trap is a "U" shaped bend in the drain pipe that stays full of water to prevent gases from the grey tanks from coming up the drain and into your RV. To prevent the water from freezing and cracking the drain pipe pour a cup of anti-freeze into each drain.
  12. Now that the water and sewer systems are ready for winter its a good idea to leave a couple of windows or a window and a vent open to allow air exchange to prevent dampness and mildew . A dehumidifier may be an idea, electric or leave heat on ( low will do) if possible, especially in a humid climate. Warmer air absorbs more moisture than cold, also warm air rises so this will help facilitate air exchange. Consider installing a vent cover.

Now that the inside is ready for the winter we can move to the exterior. The outside is less complicated than the inside, although there is still several items that need attention.

Lubricate all latches, locks and hinges with a light  oil, this will help to prevent rusting and seizing. Lubricate slide out gears, wheels, tracks and rubbers with the appropriate product.

 

Wash your rig thoroughly and wax if necessary, waxing will help prevent decals from fading and peeling. Apply tire treatment and cover the tires, this will help prevent dry rot and will extend their life.

Check the exterior around windows & doors and roof of your RV for loose and cracking caulking, remove, clean and replace for a weather tight seal.

Finally, if your RV is not stored undercover a good breathable cover is essential to protect your investment. Let's face it, you spend thousands of dollars on your RV and for a few hundred more you can have it protected from the elements. A good cover lessens your work in the spring, it should keep your RV clean and maintain the integrity of exterior sealants and caulking. Click here to check out RV covers for your rig.

I have tried to cover most aspects of RV winterizing and storage, however, your specific unit may have its own special features that need attention before storage or winterizing. like a generator or a solar system.

I hope you have enjoyed this article I am sure this will help with your winterizing chores.

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2 thoughts on “Winterizing Your RV- Stuff You Should Know”

  1. Great tutorial, Gord! I heard you can also buy a bypass kit instead of running antifreeze through the water heater. How much antifreeze do you usually use the normal way? That site also says that the bypass kit would save you money and time, but I don’t know how significantly it would change this whole process.

    1. Hi Sam thanks for your comment and visiting my site, you can sign up for regular updates, check the left side of the page on my site.
      You are right a by pass kit is available, a good idea if you have easy access to your hot water tank from inside your rig. If you do not use a by pass 7 -10 gal of anti-freeze will be necessary. Or use an air compressor to blow your lines and drain your hot water tank. Most RVs have a low point drain on both the cold and hot water lines.
      There are several methods to use depending on your preference. If your search my site for winterizing you will see more ideas.
      Thanks Gord

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