Cold weather can be hard living for full-time RVer’s, but there are some ways to help keep your rig – and your RV plumbing – warm and cozy in the winter. Note that while many RV manufacturers advertise a “polar package” or “arctic package,” that doesn’t necessarily mean the trailer or motor home can withstand sub-zero temperatures without at least some modifications. As my 15-year-old son put it, “Does that mean it’s supposed to feel like the Arctic inside?” Thoroughly research how your rig is built before even considering braving extreme temperatures. We recently spent three weeks in temperatures below freezing at night in several locations across the western U.S. We held up surprisingly well, with only a minor sewer hose freeze one morning that was promptly cleared up by a hot shower in the RV. It also helped that we had mostly warm, sunny days and temperatures rose above freezing for at least a couple of hours nearly every day.
Anyone considering spending the winter months in their RV outside of the sunbelt should first make sure they have the best possible protection built in. That includes a completely enclosed and heated underbelly, as well as the highest R-rated insulation as possible.
If you decide to do the same, be warned that some campgrounds in colder climates close for the winter, and others aren’t staffed. Instead, they are “self-serve,” with an envelope and drop box for payment (much like when you arrive after-hours). You aren’t likely to run into many other hardy souls, either. We were the lone rig parked at a few days before Christmas at the KOA in Green River, Utah, where temperatures were in the teens at night.
Here are some tips from our cold-weather RV’ing lessons learned so far, as well as others we sought advice from:
- A heated water hose can be very useful, but be aware that many campgrounds won’t let you hook up to their water when the temperature is below freezing. Some even turn it off altogether in the winter months. We bought one, but haven’t used it yet due to campground rules. When it’s cold outside, we fill our tanks with enough to wash dishes, brush teeth and flush the toilet, and then unhook our water at night. One tip we heard from another full-time RV’er was to put a bucket over the campground water spigot if you are hooked up to water when it’s below freezing.
- Adding insulation anywhere you can is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to warm up your interior and prevent underneath storage compartments from getting too cold. We put a layer of reflective insulation inside each of our storage compartments, as well as underneath and behind our couch on the inside. There are countless other places you could insulate to include cabinets and closets, underneath beds and under dinette seating areas.
- Skirting around the bottom of your rig can be a huge advantage in colder temperatures. Anyone who’s spent any time in campgrounds at this time of year has probably seen all kinds of skirting solutions, from kits made specifically for that purpose to DIY foam board, reflective insulation or plywood. We heard that a few campgrounds have rules against this, but we didn’t encounter any. We’ve also heard of some parks that actually require skirting in the winter, but that seems to be only in very extreme climates. In the end, we decided not to install the skirting material we bought because we were moving around so much. We would definitely reconsider that choice if staying in one place for more than a week, though.
- Space heaters are key to warming areas of your RV where the built-in heat might not reach. For example, we have a rear bunkhouse with no heat vents. We pointed a space heater at that area for an hour or so every night before bedtime. We also used it occasionally in the mornings to take of the chill overall. Space heaters can also be used (with care) inside your skirting or to heat up underneath compartments. Just make sure your rig’s power grid can handle them – we blew a fuse the first time we plugged ours in.
- Temperature sensors are another great tool. We bought these from Amazon and placed one outside and two in underneath storage areas. You can set them to alert you at a certain temperature so you will know if it’s below freezing and you need to heat up your compartments. None of our compartments ever got below 45 degrees, and the ones that are heated stayed above 60 degrees.
- Clear plastic sheeting over windows helps cut down on drafts, although we found the improvement to be minimal. What did help was thermal insulated curtains, which we attached to our existing wooden valances with plastic clips.
- Throw rugs are an easy way to keep the floor a little cozier. You could also add a layer of reflective insulation or a pad underneath them.
- RV tank heating pads are a common add-on accessory to ensure holding tanks don’t freeze. We don’t have these, and didn’t need them since our underneath is enclosed and heated (and we weren’t in sub-zero conditions).
- We’ve heard of people going through a 30-pound tank of propane in 24 hours when it’s really cold out. This wasn’t our experience, but again it was above freezing nearly every day. We ran our furnace liberally, but kept our hot water heater on electric-only except when taking showers. We did see several full-time RV’ers in the campgrounds where we stayed who had semi-permanent, larger propane tanks. In many areas, propane companies will deliver these and then send a truck out to refill them as needed.