Cold weather RVing no-nos

Cold weather RVing no-nos

By Steve Savage, Mobility RV Service

With winter now upon us, it is time to toss out a couple of things that are not good ideas, if you’re using your RV this winter.

Most folks try to save money on propane by using electric space heaters in their campers. Electric heaters also give some respite from those noisy furnace blowers. Yes, I know, furnaces are propane pigs, often going through something in the area of a gallon of propane per three hours of run time, and you sure don’t need to tell me how noisy they are. It’s like sitting next to a miniature jet engine in many RVs.

So what’s the problem with electric cube heaters or something similar? Two things: First, many campers, even those four-season models (a misnomer if there ever was one!), are designed with ducting that heats water lines and dump tanks. With no furnace heat, water lines can freeze and dump valves can ice up. In a worst-case scenario, in one instance I had to replumb water lines when the furnace quit and the owner switched to electric heaters for several days. If you are going this route, try to use the furnace some to help keep things from freezing and open cabinet doors to allow heat to reach water lines.

Second, to revisit a point I covered in an earlier post, placing high draw loads on wiring can be a sure-fire way to melt things. I spent part of today installing an inverter to replace one that had burned out a couple of days ago. The owners, like so many of us, did not give thought to what might happen if the inverter had to transfer power to a large microwave, an electric space heater and a coffee maker all at one time. No, the breaker did not trip. Breakers have only one job and that is to keep wiring from starting on fire. They do not protect anything that is on the line that is getting hot.

In this case, a very large diesel motorhome had every shore power item in the RV except the air conditioners and the washer/dryer running through the inverter. The load was large and long, meaning the transfer switch in the inverter got very hot. So hot, in fact, the inverter reeked of burned circuit boards when I removed it and installed a new one.

Now, if you are thinking, “Why on earth would a manufacturer route every receptacle in the coach through the inverter,” the answer is simple: The engineer who designed it was attempting to make sure there was power everywhere, all of the time, but gave no thought to what might be plugged into those receptacles and drawing power at the same time.

One final point: The term “four-season” has no real meaning when it comes to RVs, and can mean anything from tank heaters to more insulation and all points in between. If you ask a manufacturer what it means with their models, the answers you will get are likely to be all over the map and generally means the RV is suitable for use until temperatures reach about freezing. How much lower you can safely go after that varies widely, with very few rigs suitable for below-zero temperatures.

My wife and I winter camp and have done so in cold and even below-zero weather at times, but doing so requires you understand the construction of your RV and make adjustments accordingly — or, as one RV owner said to me one time, “Sure, I winter camp — just not where it’s cold!”

photo: hslphotosync on flickr.com

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