Living Fulltime in an RV in Winter
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For many people, RVing is such a fun-filled and exciting time that they don’t want it to end. However, being a full-timer is not something you should take lightly. It requires sufficient planning and preparation to RV all year round, particularly during the colder months of the year.
Fortunately, you don’t need to scour the internet to find the right information. We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to living full-time in an RV during winter. Follow these tips and guidelines, and you’ll be enjoying the season as much as any other.
How to Prepare Your RV for Winter Travel
For this article, we’ll assume that you plan to spend the season in places where it’s cold. Snow-capped peaks are gorgeous at this time of year, and if you love winter activities (sledding, skiing, snowman-building), then this is the time to enjoy it all.
Better yet, most campgrounds will be empty, so you never have to worry about crowds (or bugs!). Overall, there are plenty of reasons to love RVing at this time of year.
That being said, you need to make sure that your rig is up to the challenge first. Most modern RVs are built to withstand freezing temperatures, but not every piece of your motor-home is created the same. Here are our top recommendations for preparing your RV for the season.
Upgrade Your Insulation
Typically speaking, RVs are made for spring or summer travel. Because of this, airflow is usually not a big deal. However, when temperatures drop, you want to make sure that as much of the heat stays inside your mobile home as possible.
Before heading out, be sure to inspect and insulate these critical areas.
Most RV supply stores sell vent cushions, which you can simply push into place. These cushions are also great because you can pull them off whenever you need to vent the interior, like when you’re cooking.
Vent covers are another option, particularly if you plan on running a space heater inside your RV. Blocking the vent entirely can trap carbon monoxide, which can lead to a bunch of problems. Vent covers allow you to keep them open without worrying about snow or ice getting in.
Besides your roof vent, the windows are going to be the primary source of heat escaping. If your RV is new, then the caulking around the window panes should be okay. However, if there are any cracks or missing pieces, be sure to fill them in immediately.
Another way to trap heat inside is to use reflective tape or foil on the inside. This film will keep warm air from getting outside, and you can just peel it off when the weather gets nicer.
Finally, thick insulated curtains may be the way to go for the coldest months of the year. These pieces are particularly useful at night so that you don’t have to run a heater throughout the whole RV.
Unless your motorhome is covered in thick carpet, cold air can easily seep in through the floorboards. One of the easiest methods to prevent this is to lay down area rugs around the RV. Or, if you want something a bit more efficient, you can buy foam floorboards instead.
One issue that you’ll run into during winter is that various pipes, pumps, and other machinery are not insulated from the cold. In some cases, these components may be exposed to the frigid temperatures directly.
To ensure that these elements continue to work correctly, an RV skirt can do wonders. Simply attach the skirt as soon as you park for the night. These products can prevent cold winds, as well as snow and ice, from killing your RV.
Protect Your RV’s Plumbing
One of the worst things to experience when RVing during the winter is a frozen water tank. Not only can you not do normal things like wash dishes, cook, or go to the bathroom, but that probably means that your holding tank is frozen as well.
To prevent this kind of nightmare, be sure to go through and protect all of your various plumbing materials and components.
Add Heat Tape to Pipes and Connections
Before you head out, wrap up your pipes with heat tape. Make sure to focus on connections and valves, as these places are the most susceptible to freezing. To add even more insulation, cut out some foam insulation to put underneath the tape first.
Open Your Pipe Cabinets
Chances are that you’ll be working hard to keep the inside of your RV toasty warm, so your pipes should be too. Opening the cabinets in your kitchen and bathroom can help them stay cozy throughout the season.
Before going out and buying a gallon of the stuff, be sure that it’s rated for RVs. A good way to tell is that it will be pink, not green. Automotive antifreeze won’t work well enough. Adding a small amount of antifreeze to your holding tanks can help prevent ice from forming. A frozen black water tank is by far the last thing you want to take care of on your trip.
Inspect Your Engine
Just as the various components keeping your RV running smoothly need to be insulated, so does your engine. Typically, you will run into the most problems when you plan on staying put for days on end in freezing or below-freezing temperatures. Here are a few preparations to avoid a dead RV.
Check the Battery
If you replaced your battery within the last six months, you should be okay. However, batteries that are about half full or less will likely die in cold weather, so now is the time to swap it out for a new one.
Buy an Engine Block Heater
Realistically, this product is only necessary when you’re parked in subzero temps for extended periods. So, if you plan on doing that, an engine block heater is a must. For it to work properly, you need to turn it on for about four or five hours before starting the engine.
Add Antifreeze to Your Coolant
During the summer months, water is sufficient to cool down the engine. In winter, you will want a mixture of about half water and half antifreeze. Remember that this stuff is different than what you’ll put in the holding tanks.
Top Off All Fluids
Before heading off on your winter adventure, make sure that everything is full. Oil, windshield wiper fluid, brakes - all of it. When these reservoirs are full, they are less likely to freeze or develop condensation inside.
Other RV Winter Tips and Tricks
Preparation is going to give you the greatest peace of mind, but there are plenty of situations you want to be ready for out on the road. Here are some things that you want to think about before leaving.
Bring Wood Blocks for Stabilizer Jacks
In many cases, the feet on these jacks will freeze to the ground overnight. To prevent this from happening, all you need to do is place a small wooden block under each jack.
Let Your Faucets Drip
It may seem like a waste, but as long as water is moving through the pipes, there’s less of a chance it will freeze.
Use a Dehumidifier
Trapping heat inside your RV is great until it gets humid. Your body heat, as well as your breath (and most space heaters), will generate a lot of condensation, which can lead to mildew or corrosion. If you have the power for it, run a dehumidifier regularly. Otherwise, you’ll have to vent your RV periodically to let the humid air out.
Cover Your AC
As you can imagine, air conditioning is a moot point during winter travel. Covering it will not only protect it from the elements, but it will prevent any cold air from coming in (or warm air from escaping).
Keep Your Drain Hoses Warm
Frozen hoses are much more likely to crack, particularly when decoupling them. You don’t want that to happen when draining your black water tank. After dumping, rinse out the drainage hose and keep it inside and insulated.
Only Dump Holding Tanks When Full
If you keep your holding tanks empty throughout the season, they are much more likely to freeze and crack. Fortunately, cold weather should keep your black water tank from stinking too much, since you’ll likely go longer between dumps than average.
Propane Burns Faster in Cold Weather
If you use propane for anything on your trip, be aware that you’ll run through it much faster than usual. Either bring extra tanks with you (as long as they are secured on the road) or be prepared to refill them more regularly.
Plan Your Itinerary Carefully
Part of the fun of RVing is that you can go wherever the road takes you. In winter, however, that can be much more of a challenge. Instead, you’ll want to check weather reports for areas you plan to stay in so that you know what to expect. In worst cases, you can cut your trip short if a storm is coming in.
Another reason to plan ahead is that many campsites or RV parks close for the season. You don’t want to pull up somewhere for the night and realize that you can’t get in.
Fill Up More Often
You’ll be running your engine a lot more during winter travel, either to keep it warm or to operate various parts of your RV (remember, nights are longer this time of year). You never want to park overnight on a quarter tank or less. Ideally, you’ll always have at least half a tank before settling down anywhere.
What to Bring for Winter RVing
Traveling during this time of year requires a whole different set of items and supplies than you’re used to for summer, so you need to plan accordingly. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it should give you a decent idea of what to expect.
Chains - don’t skid on icy roads
Emergency Flares - just in case you get trapped in a snowdrift
Flashlight w/Batteries - in case you need to conserve power or your generator dies
Extra Blankets - for obvious reasons
Insulated Sleeping Bag - it’s better to use this on your bed than regular sheets and blankets
Waterproof Gloves - both for playing in the snow and for working on RV maintenance
Snow Shovel - you don’t want to get boxed in because it snowed overnight
Extra Water - in case your pipes do freeze or if you get stuck somewhere for longer than expected
Blow Dryer - this item can work wonders for thawing out pipes and/or water tanks
Solar Charging Panels - even in winter weather, solar panels can still work
Overall, plan for the worst. This way, you’re ready for almost anything.
Where to Visit During Winter
Once your RV is ready to go, it’s time to figure out some destinations. Here are our top recommendations for both hot and cold-weather lovers.
Where It’s Cold
Hocking Hills State Park remains open during winter, and you can get some stunning views here. You can stay at an electric or non-electric site, depending on how much you plan to “rough it.”
Most parts of Oregon get cold, but not snowy. However, Central Oregon can typically get flurries up to a few inches. The KOA near Redmond stays open in the winter, allowing you to get the usual amenities.
Colorado is already a winter lover's paradise, so be sure to visit if you want the best snow activities and hiking around the Rocky Mountains.
Where It’s Warm
Not only do the keys stay hot during the winter months, but they aren’t as crowded, either. Best of all, each key is unique, so you can get a beautiful blend of cultures and activities.
Theme parks are always fun during winter because they are decked out for the holidays. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about snow ruining your good time.
Texas Gulf Coast
Places like Corpus Christi are beautiful for most of the year, especially during the winter. Plus, it’s not as crowded as other coastal areas, like Miami or Venice Beach.
Bottom Line: Don’t Let Winter Leave Your RV in the Cold!
Living full-time in an RV during the winter can be an excellent way to experience all that this country has to offer. As long as you plan accordingly and get into the right mindset, RVing in the winter is just as fun and exciting as summertime.