When you’re the proud owner of a camper, it can significantly change your way of life and allow you to explore the world around you. However, while all-year-round camping might be possible in some locations, winter camping is not ideal for everyone.
So, what should you do when the weather forces you to suspend your camper adventures?
If you’re new to owning a camper, you might think it’s okay to simply park it in the garage for winter storage. However, it’s not the ideal option if you don’t take certain steps before tucking your camper away for its winter hibernation.
Why Do You Need to Winterize Your RV?
When you're winterizing your RV is means you're getting it prepared for any freezing temperatures coming your way. It’s a crucial part of camper and travel trailer maintenance, especially if you plan to store your RV for several months while the temperatures are too low for travel.
The most important part of the RV winterizing process is protecting the RV's plumbing system against damage. We all know that water expands when it freezes, which is a disaster for any kind of plumbing system. RVs aren’t particularly well insulated, which makes freezing climates even more of an issue.
Furthermore, winterization is essential If you plan to live in your travel trailer during the winter.
What Happens if You Don't Winterize Your Camper?
If you don’t winterize your camper, the water in its tanks or pipes could crack connection points and the pipes. Then, when winter is over and temperatures increase, it could leave you with a costly repair bill.
How Much Does It Cost to Winterize a Camper RV?
The cost of winterizing a camper RV isn’t going to break the bank and is less than possible repairs might cost if you don’t make an effort.
You can expect to pay between $130 and $170 (£95 and £125) for a basic winterizing package from an RV dealer. The actual cost will depend on the size and class of your vehicle.
It’s a relatively simple job. Even the most DIY shy person out there should be able to handle it with the right tools. Do it yourself and you could be paying a minimal amount of $25 (£20), plus the cost of automotive antifreeze or non-toxic RV antifreeze.
What Tools Do You Need to Winterize Your Travel Trailer RV?
To winterize your RV correctly, you’ll need the following tool and supplies (for the anti-freeze method):
Cordless power drill with #2 square tip driver bit
Socket wrench and 1-1/16” socket
Screwdriver or needle-nose pliers
Plastic plug or new anode rod
3-4 gallons of antifreeze
A set of open-end wrenches or two crescent wrenches
Siphoning kit, unless your pump already has one
Water heater bypass kit, unless your RV is already equipped with one
If you’re going to use the compressed air method as opposed to the antifreeze method, you’ll also need the following:
A tankless air compressor
A blow-out plug
An adjustable water pressure regulator
How Do You Winterize Your Camper?
When the temperature starts to fall, it signals that it’s time to winterize your RV. It’s a simple job you can do yourself, but there is always the option of getting a dealer to do it for you if you don’t mind paying a much higher price.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll know it’s time to winterize when:
Temperatures are consistently at 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 degrees Celsius) or lower
You can’t heat and insulate your RVs underbelly
You don’t have heated tanks
When you’re boondocking and will be running your furnace only at certain times
One vital thing to do before starting is to read the vehicle's owner’s manual. In this article, we’re looking very generally at what you need to do when winterizing your camper van.
However, owner’s manuals will look at more model-specific things you must consider and talk you through various essential specifications.
For example, it might discuss where and how much pressure your water lines can handle or how you can bypass the vehicle's hot water heater. Or maybe any additional steps you'll need to think about when winterizing travel trailer or camper RVs for winter.
How Do I Winterize My RV Water System?
Here's how to how to winterize a travel trailer or RV. There are two preferred winterizing methods. One involves using antifreeze, while the other uses compressed air. It’s a little more time-consuming and requires additional equipment such as a tankless air compressor, blow-out plug, and an adjustable water pressure regulator.
Step #1: Draining the RV’s System
This is the first and most basic step. You'll need to consider it whenever you want to store your camper or RV for any length of time, regardless of the conditions.
Drain all the tanks in your RV. First, disconnect and then drain the fresh water hose. Next, turn the water pump off. Empty and then flush through the gray water tanks and holding tanks through a sewer hose connected to a sewer dump.
If your camper doesn’t have a built-in holding tank flush, you’ll need to use a flush nozzle or cleaning wand, making sure the tank's inside is rinsed clean.
To let all the water drain from the fresh water tank, you’ll need to open the low-point drain lines. Then, close it when the tank stops dripping and is empty.
Now you should turn off the water heater's heating element and allow it to cool completely before moving to the next step.
Step #2: Draining the Camper’s Hot Water Heater
When the electric heating element and the hot water tank have cooled completely, drain the tank. Don’t attempt to do it before, or you run the risk of getting scalded.
It’s also essential to check that it's not a pressurized system. You can do this by disconnecting it from any water supply, turning off the water pump, then opening the hot water faucet before draining it. Together with a pressure relief valve, this will ensure the system is no longer pressurized when it comes to draining it.
To drain the hot water, first open up the pressure relief valve. You can then remove anode rod or drain plug, whichever the hot water heater contains. Make sure you stand back because the water should drain out very quickly.
At this point, it’s also a good idea to check whether the anode needs replacing and to clean the hot water tank with a vinegar solution or tank-rinsing wand.
As soon as the water has completely drained, you can reinstall the drain plug or anode rod, but first, wrap fresh PTFE or plumber’s tape around the plug threads.
If your RV has inline water filters for your drinking water, remove them and turn any valves to bypass the lines before moving on to the next steps.
Step #3: Draining All Interior Lines
Check that the dump valves of the gray tank are open and also the cold valves, then turn on all faucets, both hot and cold, which will drain the interior lines. Remember to include the toilet, external shower, and kitchen wand.
Find any low-point water drains and open them. Force out any water using the water pump. there may be some still left in the lines. It’s important not to run the pump for more than several seconds. Any longer and you run the risk of damaging the pump.
Now that all the RV's water lines are entirely drained, you can close all the faucets, recap all the drains, and close the valves on the gray tanks. You can then disconnect it from the sewer. Finally, rinse and store the sewer hose.
Step #4: Bypassing the Water Heater
Many RVs already have bypass kits installed. You’ll find out whether your RV has one by reading the owner’s manual.
There will be a diagram to follow, and you’ll be able to access the kit by removing a panel inside the RV. It might be located towards the rear of water heater or in the basement.
Bypassing the RV's water heater is a critical step if you don’t want to fill the 5-6 gallon tank with large amounts of antifreeze. It’s completely unnecessary, very wasteful, plus you’ll have to rinse it out as and when it's time to head out on your first camping trip next spring.
Step #5: Bypassing the Fresh Water Holding Tank
If your RV has a preinstalled winterization valve, turn it to the correct position so that you're bypassing the fresh water tank. You’ll find out what that position is by looking in the user manual or on a diagram you might find near the system. The system will include a tube you can place in a jug that contains antifreeze.
Should your camper not have one of these water valves, you’ll need a water pump converter kit. Alternatively, you'll need to disconnect the line that runs from the RV's fresh water system to its water pump. Once disconnected, you can use tubing to replace it and run it from the camper's water pump inlet to a large jug that contains RV antifreeze.
By performing this step, you draw antifreeze directly into the water lines but not into the fresh water tanks.
Step #6: Flushing Your Water Lines Through With Antifreeze
Now you’ve bypassed the fresh water tank, you can turn the water pump on which pressurizes the system. The antifreeze will be drawn into the lines.
If you open all the faucets in your camper, individually, it will pump antifreeze throughout its water system. Make sure you do this with all the valves, both cold and hot, to ensure both lines are filled. As soon as you spot some pink antifreeze coming out of the faucets, you’ll be able to shut the valves off.
Step #7: Pouring Antifreeze Into Each of the RVs Drains
The final step is to pour antifreeze into each of the drains to protect the P-traps and stop them from freezing. You only need a cup full. In the toilet bowl, you should pour a couple of cups and then flush the antifreeze into the toilet's holding tank. This will stop any water left in the tank from freezing. Next, pour one more cup into the bowl of the toilet. There's nothing wrong with leaving it there as it will provide protection for the valve.
With all seven of these steps completed, your RV is ready for the coming winter months. This is one of the best ways to get your RV ready because it’s so quick, easy and will have your RV prepped fort the cold weather if you’re pushed for time.
Blowing the Water Lines Out with Compressed Air
Step #1: Draining the RV’s Plumbing System
Follow the same process as the previous method.
Step #2: Draining the Camper’s Hot Water Heater
Follow the same process as the previous method, but you shouldn’t put the anode rod or drain plug back in your water heater this time.
Step #3: Blowing Out The Camper's Hot Water Lines
Remember to leave the drain plug open, close the hot water heater's pressure relief valve. Then, connect the air compressor hose assembly to the city water inlet. To ensure you don’t over pressurize your water lines, you should use a pressure regulator or an air compressor you can adjust.
Turn on the air compressor. Now pump compressed air into the water lines. As the hot water lines completely drain, you should notice water coming out of the plug. Once this is done, you can replace the drain plug or its anode rod.
Finally, make sure you shut off the water heater. Now the lines are ready to be stored.
Step #4: Bypassing the Water Heater, plus Any Filters
This step is the same as step 4 above, but you must also remember to remove and then bypass any water filters that are inline.
Step #5: Blowing Out the Water Lines
Before starting this step, check that you turn off the water pump, open the low-point drains. Then you should turn all the faucets to “warm”. As soon as all the water has drained out, you’ll be able to close the drains. Finally, you can shut the faucets.
Once this is done, you can open the faucets individually, both cold and hot. Then blow compressed air into the system. Continue to do this until no more water is escaping from the faucet. It’s much easier to do this if you’ve got someone helping you.
If you’ve got to do this step on your own, half a minute of compressed air in each of the faucets will be more than enough. Only open one faucet individually, not forgetting to include the showerhead, toilet, outdoor shower, and kitchen sprayer.
The water pump also needs to be drained. You can do this by turning on the shower nozzle outdoors. Now you can turn the water pump on. Only leave it running long enough to drain the water system and then using compressed air, clear any excess water from the line.
Step #6: Pouring Antifreeze Into the Drains
The final step is to pour antifreeze down the drains to protect the P-traps and stop them freezing (follow the instructions in step 7 above).
Dos and Don’ts
Regardless of the method you use, there are some important Dos and Don’ts to bear in mind:
Things you must do include:
Turn your water heater off.
Switch electric and propane switches off. Make this is done well before draining the water. This will allow the water plenty of time to get cold.
Close the faucets, low-point drains, and dump valves.
Remember to winterize the shower outdoors, as it is the line that’s exposed to the weather most of all.
Things you mustn’t do include the following:
Forget about any additional appliances you have that might use water, such as ice makers, washing machines, and dishwashers, if you’ve got them in your camper. You’ll find out what to do about winterizing them in the owner’s manual.
Never put any antifreeze into the tank where you get your fresh water from. It might not be toxic, but it's not something you'll want to drink.
Don’t forget about releasing the pressure relief valve. if you don't do this when you drain the camper’s water heater you won’t be able to drain it completely.
Winterizing The Interior and Chassis
Wheels and tires: Cover the wheels to protect them from the elements. You can purchase tire covers in a range of different sizes, but a simple piece of plywood fitted over the tire works just as well. If possible, park your camper on wooden blocks or raise the tires completely off the ground or paved or concrete surface in some way.
Propane tanks: Turn the propane system off to prevent any leaks from propane tanks. Also, turn off any propane appliances and store any external propane tanks inside.
Refrigerators and freezers: Block these open if there isn’t a built-in latch for keeping them open. Clean interior surfaces with a damp cloth.
Window shades: Pull these down to prevent UV degradation of the upholstery.
If you’re storing your RV for the winter, you must make sure you leave it sparkling clean. As well as a general clean and sanitization, remove all clothing and blankets, lift couch cushions and mattresses, and prop them up against each other or walls. Remove any leftover food and beverages.
If you want to minimize moisture damage, run a dehumidifier a few times throughout the winter or leave moisture-absorbing materials inside the RV for winter.
Winterizing The Exterior
Exterior shell protection: First, completely clean the exterior and check for split seams or cracks. Patch areas that need repair and then apply a good quality wax or protectant formula compatible with the composite of your RV’s exterior shell.
Awning: Clean and dry the awning. To prevent mold, check that the awning is completely dry. Do the same for any pop-up or fold-out trailers you might use as well.
AC filters: Clean the exterior of any air conditioning units you might have. Remove, clean, and replace the air conditioner’s filters.
Locks and hinges: Lubricate all locks and hinges to ensure they’re working well in the spring.
Cover: For complete winter protection, consider using a breathable camper cover designed for winter weather.
Making sure your RV is sparkling clean and in good repair before winter means you’ll have one less job to do before you head out for your first camping trip in the spring.
Winterizing The Engine, Power Supplies, Batteries, Electrics/Electronics, etc.
Batteries: The best course of action is to charge them completely and remove them from the RV. Store them in a warm, dry area on wooden blocks. Never leave a battery for extended periods on a concrete floor. When disconnecting the batteries, always remove the ground (-) cable first. You can leave batteries on a trickle charge all winter, but make sure you’re using the right kind of system and regularly check the water system. If you’re going to leave the batteries in the RV, disconnect the positive (+) cable.
Oil changes: Now is the best time to do any scheduled or unscheduled engine oil changes on both the engines and generators. Check air filters and replace them if necessary. Check that the engine coolant is a good antifreeze mix.
Gas tanks: To prevent the gas from going bad, you must add a protectant. After you’ve added it, run the engine to make sure it is dispersed completely. If your RV runs on diesel, you won’t need to add anything over winter.
Electronics: Disconnect all electronics such as TVs, stereos, coffee makers, small electronics, water pumps, and anything else you might have plugged into the outlets.
Fuel: Add fuel stabilizer to the fuel tanks before topping up.
Follow these steps, and you won’t have to worry about any extra expense when spring comes around.
Taking Care of Pests During The Winter
Vents: Cover all vents such as awnings, exterior refrigerator cavities, bathroom, refrigerator, or furnace vents.
Roof: Get out a ladder and check the roof, particularly around vent fans, antennas, wiring, exhaust pipes, and air conditioners. Check for leaks and apply lap sealant if necessary.
Doors and windows: Check the edges of all the doors and windows in your camper. Any existing seal might have started to erode and need resealing with lap sealant. This will prevent water from leaking inside and pests from getting in.
Pests have a habit of finding their way in through the smallest of holes. After all, they’d like somewhere warm to stay during the winter. To prevent this, you should check for any gaps or openings through which they might enter.
Most Common Mistakes When Winterizing a Camper or RV
Forgetting to winterize the outdoor shower units.
Not closing off low-point drains and wasting antifreeze.
Not thoroughly flushing water lines.
Forgetting to bypass the hot water heater first when adding antifreeze.
Not replacing water heater anode rods or drain plugs.
Not draining the hot water tank.
Leaving it too late to purchase antifreeze and finding most RV parts stores have run out.
When you know how to winterize your RV correctly, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle and expense. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you’ve got to replace some burst pipes in your RV, but avoiding such damage will make your first trip in the spring much smoother.
1. How cold can it get before I have to winterize my camper?
When the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk of the water freezing in the water heater, tanks, and pipes increases. This could result in severe damage, so it’s time to consider winterizing your camper.
2. How long can a camper stay winterized?
Some owners have found that their campers can stay winterized for as long as two to three years.
3. How long does it have to be below freezing for RV pipes to freeze?
Generally, the temperature has to be below freezing for approximately 24 hours for the RV pipes to freeze.
4. Can you park your camper outside during winter?
Theoretically, you can park your RV in a shelter or under a roof for the winter, but this is simply not possible for many owners.
5. Can RV pipes freeze in one night?
No, they can’t because, in general, it takes longer than one night for RV pipes to freeze.
6. How long does it take to winterize a camper?
If you have everything you need close at hand, the entire process of winterizing your RV should take no longer than a few hours.
7. How much antifreeze do I need to winterize my RV?
Winterizing RV campers and travel trailers takes three to four gallons of antifreeze, depending on the size of the RV.
8. Do you put RV antifreeze in the freshwater tank?
No, you should never put RV antifreeze in the fresh water tank to run it through the pump into your water system.
9. Is RV antifreeze bad for a water heater?
No, RV antifreeze won’t hurt your water heater.