How to Insulate a Travel Trailer for Winter Use
For most people, RVing is usually a summer affair. However, whether you live in your RV full-time or you appreciate cold weather more, you need to know how to winterize your rig. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your travel trailer if you’re not careful, so be sure that you plan accordingly.
Today, we want to go over the best practices on how to insulate a travel trailer for winter use. Whether it’s your first winter RVing or you just want some pro tips, this guide should help you have a warm and cozy season.
Insulating Your Trailer - Problem Areas
There are numerous areas of your RV that need to be winterized. We’re going to break them down, piece by piece, so that you can make sure your rig is ready for snow and ice. Also, if you know that certain parts of your RV are already good to go, you can focus instead on the areas that need more attention.
More than anything else, windows are a significant pain point for winterization. This is true both for RVs and homes. The fact is that window panes are not as well insulated as the wall, meaning that heat can escape quickly, and cold air can seep in. Not only that, but the edges of the window can develop cracks and spaces over time, further exacerbating the problem.
Fortunately, you can do a lot to prepare your RV’s windows. Here are our suggestions.
Caulk the Window Frame
Before getting ready to winterize your rig, you will want to do a thorough inspection of the window frames. A good way to figure out if air is leaking through is to blow a fan on one side and have someone else on the other. If you can feel the wind coming out, you need to caulk to it.
Overall, it’s good to replace the caulking around the windows every season, just to be safe. If you don’t use your RV very often, though, you can probably go longer between inspections.
Use Plastic Film
Many RV stores sell plastic film that will stick to the surface of the window. We recommend buying enough to insulate both the inside and out, so you get maximum warmth. This film can be transparent, or it can be tinted, based on your preference.
Another option is to get reflective film for the inside. This material is not clear (it’s more like aluminum foil), but it works well at reflecting heat and keeping it inside the RV.
Buy Insulating Drapes
Since heat will escape through the glass pane itself, one of the easiest methods of insulation is to cover it with drapes. Thick, heavy curtains will not only keep cold air out, but they will trap more heat inside the RV. The added benefit of this is that you can keep the interior warm without having to use so much energy or fuel.
Cover Windows With Foam
For the most part, you want to keep your windows mostly usable during the winter months. Nothing can be as dreary as sitting inside an RV with no view. However, that doesn’t mean that all of your windows need to be accessible.
For example, if you don’t plan on spending much time in the bedroom beyond sleeping, those panes can get covered with foam insulation. Simply cut out the right dimensions and tape the foam along the edges.
Upgrade to Multi-Pane Windows
In some RVs, the windows are only a single pane of glass. Unfortunately, this kind of setup is not ideal for winter weather, as it will become even more of a heat sink.
If you plan on spending a lot of time in cold temperatures, it may be worth it to install multi-pane windows instead. This way, you don’t have to work as hard to insulate your travel trailer, and you can probably avoid covering them with plastic film.
While your RV’s windows are one of the most significant hurdles for insulation, at least you can keep them closed. Your roof vent, on the other hand, has to stay open. However, here are a few ways that you can mitigate the drain it will have on your heat.
Unfortunately, you have to keep your vent open all the time, particularly if you’re cooking or using a space heater. A little bit of a draft is much better than passing out because you can’t breathe.
Vent covers are a quick and easy way to prevent cold air from blowing in (too hard). They’re also perfect for ensuring that snow and ice don’t make their way inside either.
While you can’t block the vent when you’re inside, there’s no harm in plugging the gap while you’re driving or out of the RV. Simply cut some foam to the right dimensions (make it a teeny bit larger so that it will stay in place), and then insert it whenever necessary.
One area of your RV that usually doesn’t come with extra insulation already is the floor. Slide-out portions are even worse, as they don’t have anything like carpet to help prevent cold air from seeping in.
When trying to keep your floors warm, it helps to buy sections of foam and affix it to the bottom of the RV. You don’t want to use the foam inside, as you can damage it as you walk on top of it. Also, if your RV does have carpet, that will be better than foam anyway.
Like windows, doors can be another pain point for insulation. Be sure to inspect the door frame and add insulating foam to the edges. Also, it may help to hang a thick blanket or curtain on the inside, just as you would with the windows.
Depending on how cold the weather will get, you might have to worry about your tanks freezing. Here are a few tips on how to manage your plumbing system in winter weather.
Use Heat Tape
Any pipes that will be exposed to the elements need to be wrapped with heat tape. Even if you plan on skirting your RV (more on that later), the tape can help prevent damage. The problem is that metal shrinks in the cold, which can lead to cracks, particularly once you reach warmer weather.
Cover Exposed Plumbing
Again, a skirt will help here, but sometimes you want to go a step beyond. Building a small insulated box to cover pipes and other outdoor plumbing systems can go a long way toward keeping everything running smoothly in winter.
Add Antifreeze to Your Holding Tank
There is nothing worse than having a frozen black water tank. To avoid this problem, feel free to dump RV antifreeze into the mixture. Remember that the RV kind is pink, not green like it is for regular cars and trucks.
Leave Cabinets Open
Pipes and other plumbing connections on the inside of your travel trailer are not usually insulated. An easy way to keep them warm during the season is to leave the cabinet doors open so that heat can circulate.
Empty the Tanks Only When Necessary
In some conditions, leaving your tanks connected to a drainage dump can let cold air inside much faster. Instead, you’ll want to keep the tanks closed as much as possible, only opening them for dumping.
Insulate the Tanks
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to add heat tape or foam insulation to the exterior of the tanks themselves. Again, having a frozen water tank can make life much more challenging in the winter, so it helps to take as many precautions as possible.
Skirting Your RV
If you plan on staying in one location for a while, then skirting is highly recommended. Even if you’re only going to be around for a single night, a skirt can make a huge difference. Fortunately, RV skirts are really easy to find - just buy the one that matches your rig model.
One thing to keep in mind with skirts, though, is that rodents may choose to nest in the dark and dry areas underneath your RV. Be sure to monitor the skirt to see if there are any holes in it, and place rodent traps if necessary.
Additional Winterizing Tips
Overall, we’ve covered every aspect of insulating your travel trailer for winter use. However, there is a lot more to winter camping than insulation. Here are some of our top recommendations to make sure that this season is as enjoyable as spring or summer.
Use Wood Blocks Under the Leveling Feet
When you park your trailer, you’ll need to put down the stabilizing feet so that you don’t sway from side to side. Unfortunately, these feet are made of metal, which means that they are susceptible to freezing and sticking to the ground. This problem is even worse when you’re parked on asphalt or concrete.
Thankfully, the easiest way to avoid sticking is to place a wood block underneath. This is enough to allow you to pull the feet up and get on the road, rather than waiting for them to thaw.
Use a Dehumidifier
One of the side effects of having such good insulation in your RV is that condensation can accumulate really fast. Because the water vapor has nowhere to go, the walls and ceiling of your travel trailer can get wet easily. Unfortunately, this condensation can lead to mold and mildew growth, which will pose a whole other set of problems.
An excellent way to alleviate this issue is to run a dehumidifier regularly. This way, you can trap most of the moisture in the air and avoid having “sweaty” surfaces. We highly recommend keeping the dehumidifier close to the kitchen whenever cooking and close to the bathroom whenever you take a shower.
Use an Infrared Space Heater
Having a heater inside your RV can be wonderful when the temperature drops, but you need to make sure that you avoid a fire hazard in the process. Typically, infrared heaters are an ideal solution because they warm the air without getting scalding to the touch. In many situations, infrared models can struggle to heat large spaces, but they are perfect for RVing.
Bring Extra Propane
If your travel trailer uses propane for heat and cooking, then you need to bring some extra for the winter season. The fact is that propane burns faster in colder temperatures, which means that you’ll run through more in less time. Ideally, you should bring a full-size secondary tank, depending on how long you plan on staying in one place.
Winterize Your Tow Vehicle
Since we’re talking about insulating a travel trailer, that means you’ll need a vehicle to bring it to and from your campsite. However, don’t neglect your pickup truck or SUV. It requires just as much care and attention as the trailer itself. Here are a few winterization tips to follow.
Inspect the Battery - if it’s been a while since you replaced the battery, you might want to do so before heading out. A non-starting vehicle can be a huge problem, particularly in areas with heavy snowfall.
Tarp the Hood - if you’re planning on camping out a while, you want to keep snow and ice from freezing the engine. An easy way to prevent this is to place a cover over the hood.
Bring a Tire Inflator - unfortunately, cold weather can cause tire pressure to drop, which can lead to a flat if you’re not careful. Having a small air compressor ensures that you don’t get stuck. This is also true for the trailer’s tires, so it’s a good idea no matter what.
Bring Extra Fuel - while you’ll likely need fuel for your generator, it helps to bring some extra for the tow vehicle as well. In winter conditions, some gas stations may not be open, which could mean that you have to drive longer between fill-ups.
Bottom Line: Get Ready for Winter, Before It’s Too Late
RVing during the coldest part of the year can be a lot of fun if you’re ready for what’s coming. The right preparations and installations can make winter camping much more enjoyable and comfortable, so be sure to get a head start and plan for everything.