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How to enjoy your RV in the Winter
Chris Dougherty

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RVing in winter isn’t the taboo thing today it was in years past. Some of today's RVs are built to take the cooler weather in stride. For any RVer, here are a few tips to make Winter RVing more enjoyable. Oh, the reason I know quite a lot about this, is because I am a full time RVer who lives in Upstate New York!

Most RVs can handle some winter use, especially if the water system isn't used. The biggest non-plumbing issue RVers face while attempting "arctic" camping is with condensation, in my opinion. RVs will use quite a bit of fuel attempting to keep the unit warm, and the better insulated RVs will handle this better. But, because the unit is closed up, and we, the people and pets, are respiring within, the moisture content in our breath, not to mention cooking etc., will condense on the cold surfaces, including windows, and anyplace where metal framing touches the interior wall paneling in units so equipped.

Winter RVing at Scotties RV Park & Campground in Creston, BC.
To fix this, I have found that a dehumidifier is a pretty essential piece of equipment. I have found that wood cabinets have a tendency of holding quite a bit of water. They swell in the summer months, and shrink in the winter when I use the dehumidifier. Running the dehumidifier for a few days prior to going on a winter trip will help dry the air, and make your trip more comfortable.

Construction wise, I have found a couple of factors that help make an RV Winter friendly. First, thermo-pane windows are a tremendous help… what an invention! I rarely have condensation problems on exposed thermo-pane windows. There will be some in the morning when you open the drapes, but that will pass quickly as the inside pane warms.

Not to push any particular brand, but I have found the multi-layer aluminum frame style of construction to work well for insulation. Here’s why: air and a vapor barrier. I have found that the air space contained with the fiberglass insulation, combined with the vapor barrier and the Styrofoam insulation, is superior to other forms of wall construction. With other forms of construction, the metal framework which is touching the interior paneling causes condensation and frost to form on the paneling, especially in places like closets. Wood and fiberglass are also good insulators, but, again, preferably with a vapor barrier.

Folks have asked me on numerous occasions about air conditioner heat strips or heat pumps. These are both useful options but have their limits. Neither is intended to work when the weather gets too cold, but in temperatures down into, say, the forties, they'll help keep the RV warm without using the furnace. Both are intended to take the chill out of the air, but once it gets too cold, you'll need a good furnace to warm the RV.

It's not too hard to keep the RV plumbing serviceable in cold weather. I installed Ultra-Heat ultrasonic tank heaters on my coach's tanks, and a small AC electric heater in the sewer/water compartment. This combination works excellently. The plumbing, wherever it runs, needs to be kept warm. This is largely a matter of common sense. Look at all the plumbing, and make sure that it has enough warm air flow around it to keep it from freezing. This can be accomplished by the use of fans (like computer fans, for instance), or keeping cabinet doors ajar.

It is very difficult to keep water hooked up in sub-freezing weather. I have a 100-gallon water tank in my coach, so I fill it and use it instead of an outside hookup. Electric tape heaters can be quite dangerous from a fire prevention standpoint, and while I'm not totally opposed to using them, their use and installation should be done with extreme care. The sewer connection should be kept closed and opened only to drain. If you are staying in one place for a longer period of time, it is worth assembling a PVC rigid pipe for this. An RV sewer hose must be heavy duty, and must be drained thoroughly after use. Most of the RV sewer hoses will become brittle in the cold, and will crack when flexed.

Adding skirting to the bottom of the RV can help to keep the rig warm, especially if it doesn't have a basement. Using foam board insulation, or just mobile home skirting can help keep wind from radiationally cooling the underside of the RV. The down side to this is that it creates an environment which is hospitable to rodent infestation.

Slides are usually a little less insulated than the main body of the coach, especially the roof. I have put foam board insulation on the top of the slide on a couple of occasions, but that caused a water backup which leaked, so I removed it. I have since done fine without it, and don't intend to replace it. I do, however, like to clean the entire roof of snow load after a sizeable snowfall. The bottom of the snow will melt, and can result in ice backups just like with a regular house. Since it is a flat roof, snow will not just melt and slide off on its own.

The refrigerator, as long as it is kept on, should not require any special consideration, even if it is equipped with an icemaker. Keep an eye on it, though, because if the refrigerator fails for some reason, the lack of heating will cause the icemaker line to freeze, and the electric icemaker valve will fracture. See the small wire around the line? That’s actually a small electric heater, to help keep the line warm.

The chassis and generator may require some changes for very cold weather use. I always run the fuel level down towards the end of the season, and then I put additive in the fuel tank and refill it to the top. This is especially important for diesels, as the fuel will likely gel if no agent is added. A gasoline additive, like Sta-Bil, will prevent the gasoline from becoming stale and causing varnish to form in the system. Make sure everything runs for awhile after the additive is poured in, so that it gets into the engines. The genset may have temperature and elevation controls on it, so check your manual for proper settings. Also, the weight of the recommended motor oils may change for cold weather. Again, check your owner's manuals for recommendations.

I am a firm believer that there is no reason to put an RV away for the winter season… use it and have fun! Until next time, I'll see you on the highway!

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