RV camping in extreme cold temperatures can wreak havoc on your RV pipes, water lines and sewer system. In fact, keeping your RV pipes from freezing is one of the biggest challenges of winter camping. But, with our comprehensive list of effective ways to prevent your sewer and water lines from freezing, you won’t even be thinking about the frigid temperatures.
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How to Prevent Your RV Pipes from Freezing in Frigid Weather
Winter RV Camping Plumbing Tips!
We’ll never forget our first year as full-time RVers. Literally days before we were to launch into full-time travel status in Kentucky, we were hit with a frigid ice storm that made it’s way into the Ohio Valley.
And there we were, our fifth wheel toy hauler was almost all packed up and ready to go. But, we were stuck in a little State Park. And when I say ‘stuck’, I mean we were literally frozen to the ground. (photo above)
But that’s not all that was frozen. Everything was frozen; including our hydraulic lines to our slide, our holding tanks, our water lines and all of our RV pipes.
It was an incredibly difficult thing to go through as new RVers. So bad, that I remember Dan’s teeth-chattering mumble, “Did we just make a $100,000 mistake?”
That was 9 years ago almost to the day of writing this blog article. The things we’ve learned by difficult experiences. One of which was how to never allow our RV to freeze solid again.
So, bringing our own admission of failed experience to the forefront, we put this together so you don’t have to endure the ass beating we took.
How to prevent your RV pipes from freezing BEFORE you go winter camping
Insulate exposed water lines
In our former Landmark fifth wheel, we noticed that our water line was exposed to the outside elements when our slide was deployed. This caused great concern for those frigid nights in the high desert of Nevada.
So, we carefully wrapped the water lines using foam pipe insulation tubes and heavy duty tape but not to impede the operation of the slide. I guess we could have used pipe insulation tape or install heat tape to our RV pipes. But neither was available at the time.
When using heat tape, make certain it’s thermostatically controlled. Otherwise, you risk damaging your RV’s pex tubing.
Remember though, RV heat tape is to get your water lines warm before your RV incurs freezing temperatures. Heat tape is meant to prevent your RV pipes from freezing; not thaw them after they become frozen.
Some important tips when using heat tape on your RV plumbing:
- Wrap your heat tape diagonally over your water lines; never overlapping.
- Never install RV heat tape over insulation.
- Keep tape away from propane gas lines, flammable and combustible materials.
- Always plug the heat tape into a GFCI receptacle
- Never plug heat tape into an extension cord.
- Inspect your heat tape at least annually; checking for wear or damage.
- Inspect your plumbing to ensure the RV heat tape hasn’t damaged any plastic pex tubing or fittings.
Install tank heaters
Speaking of tanks, if you’re winter camping where the temperatures dip below freezing, your RV black tank stands a chance of becoming a frozen poopsicle. And if you know anything about science, water expands as ice forms. Thus, causing your tanks to split or crack.
So, the best solution to keep your tanks from freezing is to add tank heaters. Now, some of the most recent models of higher end RVs may already come with heated tanks.
However, if your camper or motorhome doesn’t have them already and you have intentions of winter camping in freezing temperatures, get them installed beforehand.
Insulate your RV’s basement and storage compartments
Some sewer and water lines are accessible through your RV basement storage. But, it’s also where the cold air hits first due to lack of insulation.
Also, if you see air gaps or air holes leading from the outside, plug them up using expanding foam insulation. This will also help keep pesky mice from coming in from the cold as well.
Winterize your RV
Winterizing your RV even before going camping does kind of sound like an oxymoron. However, it may be your best option to prevent your RV water lines, sewer lines and holding tanks from freezing.
To winterize your plumbing, simply evacuate and replace the water from all of your water lines with RV antifreeze.
Just bring refillable water jugs of water from home for drinking and cooking. If you need more water, you can refill them water fill stations.
How to prevent your RV pipes from freezing WHILE you’re winter camping
Run your RV furnace
One of the ways to help minimize your RV pipes from freezing is to keep your RV warm inside; especially the floor where your RV plumbing runs underneath.
While the warm air will help heat the inside your RV, the furnace ducts will warm your water lines and plumbing.
However, this isn’t totally without failure in frigid temperatures. You may need additional warming methods to keep your RV pipes and plumbing from freezing.
Now, if you’re thinking of running space heaters inside your RV, realize they won’t do much good as they’re only heating the inside of your RV and not underneath the flooring.
Heat your RV’s underbelly
If you find yourself in extreme cold temperatures, you may need to heat the less-insulated underbelly where your water lines and sewer pipes are.
While space heaters are great for keeping you and your family warm in the winter, they’re only safe when used properly and need constant monitoring, kept away from combustibles and fuel sources; especially your propane system.
With intense discretion though, you may want to run a space heater in one of your storage bays to concentrate warm air to your RV’s underbelly. This may help prevent your RV pipes from turning into blocks of ice.
A good way to get warmth to the pipes or tank areas further away is run a fan direct the heat to your vulnerable plumbing.
I can’t say this enough, never sleep with space heater running or while you’re away from your RV!
If you’re going to run a space heater in your RV, either inside or its’ storage bays, post a watch.
Another FYI, some RV parks and campgrounds may ban the use of space heaters due to fire hazards and high energy usage.
✰✰ RELATED ✰✰ 8 Best Space Heaters for RVs, Boats and Small Spaces
Hang a warming light in your storage bays
If you feel uncomfortable using a space heater, try plugging in a shop light with a 100 watt light bulb in the underbelly or storage bay close to where your RV pipes are prone to freezing. The warmth of the incandescent bulb will provide even a little heat.
Use a heated water hose
If your camper is going to be hooked up to a water spigot, a regular RV hose won’t last long in freezing weather. Not only will your water hose freeze solid but the ice can travel up into your RV’s water pipes and cause costly damage to your RV.
A viable solution to minimizing a frozen water hose is to instead, get a heated water hose. A heated water hose keeps the water from freezing on its way into your RV.
Heated water hoses range from $100 on up to $300 depending on length and temperature rating.
Another tip, look for a hose rated for -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures colder than that still stand to damage the water hose and/or your RV water pipes and plumbing.
Close your tanks
Just like your water, your sewer hose is vulnerable to freezing. Thus, causing it to split and crack because of expansion. Once it thaws, you’re left with a huge biohazard mess that you’ll be responsible for.
So, to alleviate freezing sewer hose mishaps, simply disconnect it from your sewer outlet and close off the tank.
but, if you’re needing to head to the dump station or hook it back up to the sewer system to let ‘er rip, just hook it back up. Don’t forget to unhook and close off your tank again after you empty your tanks.
Open your cabinet doors
If you ever lose power in your sticks and bricks in the winter, you’re advised to open your base cabinet doors and drawers where your water pipes are accessible.
The same concept applies to RVs. In fact, especially for RVs because your sink plumbing and drains are typically located on the outside walls of your RV.
Especially at night, when the mercury drops further, open all of your base cabinets and sink base up before going to bed.
By doing this, it allows the warmer air to circulate in the compartment otherwise closed off from the internal heat.
✰✰ RELATED ✰✰ Keeping Your RV Warm in Cold Weather
Install skirting around your RV
RV skirting around the bottom portion of your coach will help insulate its’ underbelly and help minimize the possibility of your tanks and RV pipes freezing.
Now, there are a few different skirting methods or options. But be aware the DIY RV skirting is time consuming for planning and installed. They are also used for more permanent solutions such as at long-term RV parks.
Just an FYI though, some campgrounds and RV parks may prohibit unsightly DIY skirting.
Lastly, let’s not forget concerns of heavy winds and blowing snow. Some materials may not be appropriate for blustery winter weather.
In other words, most homemade RV skirts aren’t typically used for weekend winter camping or even periodically moving around from place to place. Plus, you’re going to need a few tools, lots of building materials, a bit of engineering knowledge and a whole lot of patience. You may also need an extra set of hands to install.
You can use an array of materials found at home improvement and hardware stores such as foam insulation boards, plywood, canvas, vinyl, canvas, and hay bales.
That said, if you don’t want to deal with building your own barrier to protect your RV’s underbelly and sensitive plumbing from the freezing cold, there’s a few RV skirting companies to help prevent freezing pipes.
RV Skirting Manufacturers
AirSkirts is an inflatable skirt that creates a pontoon barrier around the bottom of your RV. It insulates and protects your RV’s undercarriage from frigid temperatures and helps to save money on energy costs year-round.
EZ Snap Skirting provides a vinyl skirt that wraps around and snaps onto the bottom edge of your RV.
RV WindSkirt protects the underside of your RV from the damaging effects of sun, wind, rain, moisture, and cold temperatures. Instead of snaps, they use velcro to adhere the skirt to the RV.
So, go ahead, take your RV out even when the mercury drops below freezing! These simple strategies will help keep your RV plumbing from incurring damage that could cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars.