Lately, many RV owners have taken up winter camping, especially cross-country skiers and backpackers. However, each season brings its challenges. One of the major drawbacks with winter RV camping is the water in your RV pipes and tanks can freeze, leading to damaged plumbing. Therefore, keeping your RV water pipes working while camping in freezing temperatures is essential.
Although running your heater is the easiest way to warm your RV and prevent your pipes from freezing, there are other methods you can also incorporate to protect your pipes. From your water hose and faucets to your internal plumbing, each area of your water system will require different solutions.
Below we will explain the best ways to keep your RV pipes from freezing and answer some of the most commonly asked questions.
Tips to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping
The best way to avert repair and replacement bills from fixing your frozen RV pipes is to protect them from freezing in the first place. So follow the tips below to protect the pipes and prevent them from freezing.
Winterizing your RV
Winterizing your RV means preparing it to withstand cold weather conditions. You have to winterize your RV water pipes before storing your RV for the winter or driving to freezing temperatures.
If you don’t winterize your camper, any remaining water in the water system can freeze, expand and break connections, valves, and water lines. Read your RV owner’s manual to know if there are any model-specific winterizing instructions. If not, continue with our guide.
- 2-3 gallons of non-toxic antifreeze(usually orange or pink, never use the blue windshield waster antifreeze)
- Water heater bypass kit
- Water pump converter kit
- Black tank cleaner
- Basic hand tools
- Remove and bypass all in-line water filters inside the water system. It prevents the winterization chemicals from damaging the filters.
- Drain all the wastewater from the black and gray water tanks and clean them. It also prevents bacterial and mold growth.
- Switch off the water heater, allow it to cool down, then remove the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve to empty the water heater.
- Locate and open the low-point drain lines for the hot and cold water. Next, open all the faucets, showers and flush the toilet to remove all the water from the lines.
- Bypass the water heater to prevent the antifreeze from flowing into the water heater. If your RV has no bypass, install one.
- Set up the water pump converter to pour the RV antifreeze into the water.
- Turn on the water pump to pump the antifreeze throughout the system.
- Open all the faucets starting with the one nearest your pump until the antifreeze comes out. Repeat this procedure on all faucets, showers and flush the toilet. Then pour a cup full of antifreeze down each drain in the sink and shower.
- Pour antifreeze in the toilet and flush to prevent any remaining water in the holding tanks from freezing.
Refill your water tanks
Keep your camper winterized until you get to your RV campsite. First, expel all the antifreeze from the system, then refill your fresh water tank.
- Fix a hose to the water outlet and open all the faucets to drain the antifreeze.
- Allow the water to run through the RV water system for at least 10 minutes to remove any antifreeze residue until the water runs clear.
- Connect a hose to the water inlet and turn on the water pump to refill the RV tanks. However, do not fill it. Remember, water expands when it freezes, so you need to allow room for expansion if it freezes and avoids rupturing the tank.
- If your freshwater hose is not heated, fill the tank, drain and store the hose. Do not also leave your RV connected to the municipal water since your water hose is at risk of freezing.
Use heat tape for RV pipes, valves, and hoses.
Heat tape is a resistive heat-conducting wire that uses electricity to prevent metal and plastic water lines from freezing. Wrapping your RV water lines with heat tape will insulate and add warmth to keep the water in them from freezing.
- Run the 12 volt RV water line heater along the length of your water hose and plug it into a power source to stay warm throughout.
- Don’t also forget to use the heat tape around the water filter to prevent freezing.
There are a variety of heat tapes in the market. Most even have a thermostat that allows you to set the heat level, detect low temperatures, and automatically turn it on to produce heat.
Insulate the water pipes in the RV underbelly
Wrap the exterior water lines and heat tape with foam insulation tubes for additional protection. It helps maintain a constant temperature and keeps water away from the heat tape.
- Split the foam pipe on one side and cover the whole hose.
- Wrap the exterior of the foam with pipe insulation tape, which has a foil-like exterior and prevents heat from escaping.
- Run the RV pipe insulation tape along the length of the water hose, overlapping each piece to cover any gaps. You can also use aluminum foil and secure it in place with duct tape.
Skirting your RV
Use skirting around your recreational vehicle once you park it. The skirting helps trap any ambient heat under the RV, keep the cold air out, and reduce the temperatures. Insulating the underbelly of the RV also helps to keep the floors warm. Finally, it promotes thermal efficiency; therefore, your RV furnace uses less propane to maintain a specific temperature inside.
We recommend using vinyl skirting since it is easy to install and flexible in different terrain and ground levels.
Install a space heater
Use a heat lamp or space heater to keep the water valves in the underbelly warm and prevent ice from forming. However, this method requires fire safety and ventilation. In addition, even the most efficient propane heaters produce a little bit of carbon monoxide that will need to be vented out to keep the gases from accumulating and infiltrating the interior of your RV.
Also, be cautious about placing the heater near anything flammable or combustible. Check the heater and its surroundings periodically and switch it off when not in use or before sleep.
Prevent your interior water pipes from freezing
While your interior pipes are the most protected from freezing conditions, they can also develop ice if the RV is not well insulated.
- Look for an electric hookup at your RV campsite for your electric heater. An electric heater is energy efficient as it will help you save both propane and furnace time. It’s important to get an electric heater that shuts off if it tips over for safety purposes or an oil-filled electric heater that has reduced fan noise at night.
- Keeping the cabinet doors open allows the heat from the RV furnace to circulate through the entire RV interior. The heat from the RV will enter your cabinets, warm the walls and prevent any pipes behind them from freezing.
- Turn on your RV water heater constantly running to prevent it from freezing. If you want to save on your power supply, drain the water heater and bypass it until warmer weather above freezing comes around.
- Slightly open your faucet at night to keep a constant trickle of running water. The water should also be at room temperature for better results. Ice can still form if you run water in the pipes when the temperatures are too low. Admittedly, this method is best applicable if you’re camping at a four-season RV park where you easily access a constant supply of fresh water to avoid compromising your water supply on a long camping trip.
Insulate your RV
Adding extra insulation to keep your RV warm and prevent it from losing internal heat will help keep the water pipes warm during winter trips.
- Check the sealing around windows and doors. Replace any weak or missing weather stripping around exterior doors and window sills. It prevents cold air and water from seeping in.
- Install window film and reflective foil covers to insulate your camper windows. The foil-lined reflective insulation can also reflect heat into the camper.
- Insulate the floors by installing foam board flooring to block cold air into the RV cabin.
How long does it have to be below freezing for RV pipes to freeze?
Typically, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit(0 degrees Celsius) without any insulation. But Longevity and low temperatures are necessary for the RV pipes to freeze. Water in the RV pipes will start freezing at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit(-6.7 degrees Celsius).
Once it gets to 20°F, it has to stay that cold for about six hours consecutively for your pipes to develop frost. So if the temperature is more than 20°F but less than 32°F, it will take about 24 hours for the pipes to freeze.
If the RV underbelly is enclosed or heated, the pipes may not freeze for a while longer. Likewise, if the RV is well-insulated, the water will take longer to form into ice. Therefore, any measures you incorporate to protect the RV pipes reduce the chances of freezing no matter the outside temperatures.
Signs that your RV pipes are frozen
It’s very easy for first-time RV owners to ignore signs of frozen RV pipes if they do not know what to look for. One can get away with not protecting the RV pipes for one winter season, but repeatedly letting the pipes freeze will cause irreparable and expensive damages. So here are the tell-tale signs of frozen water pipes in your RV pipes.
- Inadequate water. Dribbling water from the hose or faucet dribbling is the first sign that there is ice in the water pipes.
- Bulging pipes. Water expands when it freezes to ice. The ice puts a lot of pressure against pipe walls and makes them bulge out.
- Gurgling sounds. Banging or gurgling sounds in the pipes when you open a faucet means ice is moving through the pipes.
- Condensation and cracks. A layer of condensed moisture on the pipes or small surface cracks is an indication the pipes are freezing.
- Smelly water. Sewage odor from your faucets indicates freezing exterior sewer lines because wastewater is not flowing out.
- Loose pipes. Often the RV pipes cannot withstand the expansion and contraction of the water when it freezes and thaws. It results in the twisted or glued connections warping and bending until they can’t anymore. Eventually, the pipes crack, disconnect and need replacement.
- Damaged water pump. You will notice water pump issues that result from frozen water pipes in your RV. When the water expands, it ruins water pump components such as seals, gaskets, and motors. If the pipes freeze, the motor runs dry, strips the bearings, and grind against each other until it breaks down completely.
How do you keep a gray and black water tank from freezing?
Any part of your RV’s plumbing system that has water is prone to freezing during the winter, including the holding tanks. The black water holding tank hold all the human waste and wastewater from the toilet in your RV, while the gray water tank holds all the wastewater from the shower and the sinks in your RV.
- First, you need to locate your gray and black water tanks. If they are above floor level, they are less likely to frost up because the heat from the furnace will ward off the cold. On the other hand, if the tanks are in the RV’s underbelly, they will freeze much faster.
- Take your RV or camper to a dump station and drain both holding tanks.
- Clean the black-water and gray-water tanks with a liquid tank cleaner, empty the tanks then close the valves.
- Pour two quarts of non-toxic antifreeze down the toilet for the black water tank, then add the same amount of antifreeze down the sink or shower drain for the gray water tank. The amount of antifreeze you use will depend on the size of the tank.
- Then add more non-toxic antifreeze as the tank slowly fills again since the wastewater will eventually dilute the antifreeze.
- Do not allow both tanks to fill more than halfway before draining them, and then repeat the process.
- Holding tanks that are not heated and insulated will require insulation. Install skirting around the base of the RV to keep cold air from getting underneath the RV and freezing the tank. It also maintains warm air underneath the RV to prevent frosting.
Use a space heater
- Place a space heater in the wet bay. The wet bay is the storage compartment holding the water lines and outflow valves. Install a thermostatically-controlled outlet in the wet bay, then plug a 250-watt space heater in the wet bay.
- When the temperatures drop below the set temperature, the space heater will automatically start to keep your RV’s gray tank from freezing. Use an outlet that turns 35° F and off at 45° F.
Install a heated tank pad
If you’re going to extremely cold places, installing a heating pad at the bottom of your gray-water and black-water tanks is the best option. These heating pads adhere directly to the water tanks. They also have a thermostat to turn on the heating pads when the outside temperature drops to about 35°F.
Check this too: How to Dump RV Waste at Home
How to keep RV pipes from freezing while driving
It is good to protect your RV pipes from freezing if you drive your camper through cold weather. However, while the driving motion can keep your RV pipes from freezing, the presence of water in the lines could freeze even while driving. Below are a few things you can do to ensure the pipes do not freeze while driving.
- Drain all the water from your RV’s system before starting your trip. It removes any water that could freeze and leaves room for expansion if it gets cold enough for freezing to occur.
- Keep the RV furnace on while driving. If the RV lines are not insulated, you can also use a space heater.
- Allow the faucets in your RV to drip. It prevents water from pooling in the water pipes.
- Insulate pipes exposed to the outside temperature with foam or rubber pipe insulation.
Prevention is the best solution for keeping your RV pipes from freezing while camping. Now that you know all the possible ways to prevent your RV pipes and water tanks from freezing while camping, you can plan to ensure you have all the necessary supplies. Consider combining several options mentioned in the article to protect your RV water pipes from freezing in cold climates for better results.