Tips for Living in Your RV During the Winter
Winter is coming…
Ok, so depending on where you live it may have already arrived.
We recently left the freezing temperatures behind us, but before we did we learned some tips for living in your RV during the winter.
Keep in mind that all RVs are different and while these tips worked for us, things may be a bit different in your rig. If you haven’t purchased an RV yet and plan to spend a decent amount of time in the cold, you may want to look into models that have an “Arctic” package included.
There are 5 main steps we followed in order to stay warm during freezing temperatures. With this being our first winter in the RV I’m sure we’ll continue to learn as we travel and experience different challenges. In this post, I’ll go into more detail on the tips we’ve learned so far on winter camping, but be sure to check out some of our favorite resources at the bottom of this post.
Tips for Living in Your RV During the Winter
1: Disconnect Outside Water Line
2: Get a Smaller Propane Tank
3: Insulate Plumbing Lines
4: Portable Space Heaters
5: Add a Skirt Around Your RV
Watch the Video:
Check out our video on tips for living in your RV during the winter below:
- Pipe Insulation
- Space Heaters (we purchased 2)
- Pipe Heating Cable (if you choose not to disconnect your water line this could work)
- Smaller Propane Tank (Amazon has them but you can get them most places propane is sold)
Tip 1 – Disconnect Outside Water Line
The first tip we can give is to disconnect your outside water line. This tip made it’s way to first on the list because it’s where we noticed our first problem. Eeeek!
As many of you may know we were up in Wisconsin for quite some time visiting with family. The good news about the length of our stay was we were able to experience all different types of weather in the RV.
We had hard angled rains that pushed their way in through our seals, extreme heat which tested our AC, strong winds that felt like they were going to pull us right off the ground and last but not least bitter cold to test our ability to keep things unfrozen.
The first night it dropped below freezing I was on the way to the store while driving I noticed the temperature outside said 31 degrees. As I drove I thought to myself, there is no way a few hours at 31 degrees will freeze the water or harm anything in the RV.
Turns out I was right about not harming the RV, but I wasn’t right when it comes to freezing in general. That first night when the temperature dropped we left our outside water source plugged in. While it didn’t completely freeze I did notice icicles hanging from our basement water area the next morning. I’m glad I noticed them because it kicked me into high gear on making sure we didn’t fully freeze.
That’s how we got to our first tip, disconnecting the main water line.
That morning when I noticed the icicles on the waterline I filled up our freshwater tank to 2/3 and disconnected the city water supply.
You don’t have to disconnect your outsourced water line if you’d rather not. However, if you decide to leave it connected you’ll want to have it protected from the cold. We were considering this option but ultimately decided to disconnect instead.
Tip 2 – Get a Smaller Propane Tank
This second tip actually ended up being a time-saving tip for us versus keeping the RV from freezing tip. However, it does involve keeping the RV warm so we figured we’d include it.
Before you spend any time RVing in freezing temperatures you should know that you will likely need to use propane and it can get expensive!
Getting a smaller propane tank helped make our lives much easier, although it wasn’t necessarily cheaper. As with many RVs out there we have a built-in propane tank that is larger than the standard tanks you pick up for grilling. The only problem for us was in order to fill the large onboard tank we would’ve needed to drive 45 minutes one way to get it filled. Knowing we were only going to be in Wisconsin for 3 more weeks we decided to get a smaller tank.
We had to get the smaller tank re-filled more often (every 3-4 days) but it ended up being a lot easier. Not only that but it also helped Katie and me in knowing we had less gas to work with, which made us take a more conservative approach to the gas we used for the furnace and stove.
This step is not 100% necessary but we’re glad we did it.
Tip 3 – Insulate Plumbing Lines
One of our biggest fears while camping in the cold was that our lines may freeze and burst. We knew we’d be in for a large bill if we let that happen. I wanted to do everything we could to stop that from happening, what we came up with was insulating our plumbing lines.
We rushed out to the store and purchased pipe insulation. I found 1/2 foam pipe insulation which was perfect for the pipes running throughout the RV.
A quick heads up, placing the pipe insulation on the pipes can be a pain, stay patient and keep moving forward.
As I was putting the insulation in place I noticed the heating ducts for our gas furnace ran right below the pipes. This made me second guess the need for insulation on the pipes. Mainly because we ran the furnace quite a bit and that meant hot air was flowing right by our pipes.
We went ahead and continued with the process, better safe than sorry right?
If you are looking to camp in the cold you may not need to take this step. I would say use your best judgment for your rig to determine if this step is right for you.
Tip 4 – Portable Space Heaters
This tip may seem obvious but it was huge for us, especially when used together with Tip number 5.
We soon realized the holding tanks underneath the RV were quick to freeze, by taking this step with the portable space heaters we were able to combat the freezing.
We placed two of the portable heaters underneath the RV nearest to the Black, Grey, and Freshwater holding tanks.
The fact that they’re only 250 watts helps because they don’t drain enough power to flip breakers (that is unless you have a lot of other things going).
By taking this approach in combination with the skirting we were able to create an enclosed space that would be heated by the two space heaters. The ultimate goal here was to make sure the air surrounding our tanks remained above freezing, and it worked, Yay!!
Always use safety precautions when using space heaters!
Tip 5 – Add a Skirt Around Your RV
I can’t say enough about putting a skirt around your RV during the winter. This step alone will help combat most of the problems that come along with freezing temperatures.
If you have seen our video on youtube regarding our tips for living in your RV during the winter then you may have seen our homemade skirting. We were lucky enough to be on my family’s farm and they happened to have full sheets of insulation lying around, so we scooped them up.
Originally we were going to cut the insulation down to create a better seal against the cold. That didn’t end up happening because we knew we’d only be there a couple more weeks. At the same time, I didn’t want to cut up all the insulation just in case my uncle could find a use for it later.
We went ahead and created the best seal we could around the RV, and it worked. Well, at least for a while, we went about three and a half weeks with temperatures between 10-30 degrees. During this time period, we noticed no ill effects, and all of our water stayed flowing.
The trouble crept in about four days before we hit the road when the temperatures dropped to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. During this time our fresh, grey, and black tanks began to freeze though we couldn’t tell at first.
Over the next couple of days with the extremely cold temps, we noticed our grey tank would fill extremely fast, and the freshwater in our tank would last half as long as it used to. These two things are what made us realize they must be freezing up.
Even knowing we began to freeze toward the end, I am still a big believer in skirting your RV to protect it from the cold. I feel this way because I’m certain if we had skirting that was better sealed around the entire RV we could have kept a lot of the cold air out. But, since we were using the full sheets of insulation we had a few cracks for the cold air to sneak in.
There are several posts out there about how to create DIY skirting on a budget, or you can get fancy with it and pay for professional skirting kits. Keep in mind how long you’ll be staying in cold temperatures and if you’ll need something you can take on the road with you, or if you only need to use it temporarily. I say this because while some materials may be cheaper, they may not be as easy to store later on.
Additional Tips For Staying Warm Inside Your RV During the Winter
Most of the tips listed above are to help in keeping your RV operational during the cold winter months. But we wanted to share a couple more tips that’ll help with staying warm inside your RV.
First up is getting space heaters inside your RV. We used a combination of two space heaters, one being our fireplace and the other a small space heater we picked up. For those of you who winter camp you probably already know the cost of propane can add up quickly if you are using it as your only source of heat. With space heaters, you’re able to generate heat without burning propane. By using space heaters you’ll be able to go longer in between propane fill-ups, saving you money and time.
We would run the fireplace heater in the living area of our coach while running the small space heater in the bedroom. This allowed us to turn the gas heat down to around 53 degrees. If the temperature in the coach were to get that low the gas heat would turn on and keep it livable.
One thing to note with the small space heaters is that they can take up a lot of power. You may end up tripping a couple of breakers as you figure out how the power flows through your RV. If you flip a breaker take a second to note what you have plugged in and where. By doing this you’ll gain a better understanding of what you can run at the same time, and more importantly what you can’t run at the same time.
You may end up having to compromise on what you use and when, but for us, it was well worth it.
While we were in our RV during the winter we didn’t take any extra precautions with our windows, although we changed out the lighter curtains upfront with heavier ones. We also noticed a drastic difference in the inside temperature of our RV when we had all of our shades closed. The shades acted as an added barrier for the cold to fight through.
If you are looking to add even more they have plastic wraps you can put on your windows to help give that extra bit of insulation. We didn’t try this knowing we were going to be heading out of the cold pretty quick, but I know a lot of people in Wisconsin that take this step with their sticks and bricks home.
Slowing Down The Cold
So living in an RV I’m sure you’re aware of the different locations where outside air can sneak in. Some of the common places are around doors, windows, fans, and slide-outs. We combated the pesky cold air by using blankets to cover our slide-out gaps and the stairwell by our entry door.
This most certainly helped us keep out some of the cold air and keep it nice and cozy.
There is a silent attacker you may not be aware of, it’s named, Humidity. Humidity is already an issue in RVs, which is why we use our dehumidifier a few times a week. However, as the temperature began to drop outside and we ramped up the heaters on the inside we noticed our windows began to develop a crazy amount of water on them, which would then begin to freeze. This left frost on the inside of our windows so we made sure to wipe the windows down and run our dehumidifier every day.
Overall we’re extremely pleased with the way the tips above helped us stay comfortable during a month of freezing temperatures. Next time we hit the road in cold temperatures we will take what we’ve learned and added to it. Do you have any tips for living in your RV during the winter? If so we’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Our Favorite Resources For RV Winter Camping
Winter RVing Facebook Group – We highly suggest joining RV Facebook groups, especially if you’re a newbie. This specific group was recently created specifically for those who are going to RV during the winter.