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Taking your RV on the road in the winter is an exciting experience especially if you are a die-hard ski bum. It lets you explore places when they are less crowded and gives you a different perspective. But with a different season comes different challenges, like keeping your water pipes from freezing.
You can keep your pipes from freezing by insulating/heating your water hose and storage tanks, getting an RV skirt, opening the cabinets with interior plumbing, and only dumping your gray and black water tanks when they get full.
From your water hose to your internal plumbing, there are several different places that the cold can creep in and cause you problems. Each vulnerable area of your water system will require a different solution, but there are definitely ways that you can keep your pipes from freezing without having to winterize your camper.
If you want to learn how to fully winterize your RV, read our article How to Winterize Your RV.
Keep Your RV Water Pipes from Freezing while Camping
In order to keep your water flowing freely, you’re going to need to take some preventative measures. So let’s work from the outside-in.
Insulate or Heat Your Drinking Water Hose
Your water hose is the most exposed part of your system to the outside elements, and keeping your pipes from freezing starts with this critical piece.
To start, you can try using regular foam hose insulation. To install it, simply slide the hose into the open insulation sleeve. You can then seal it shut by removing the tape that’s covering the adhesive on the open sides and sticking them together.
- Blocks heat loss or gain to save energy
- Use on hot or cold pipes
- Stops condensation on cold pipes to prevent water damage
One thing to keep in mind is that unless you want to take off the insulation every time you go to store your water hose and then reinstall it, this is going to make your hose a lot more bulky and may present some storage challenges.
While this will work well for short periods and temperatures closer to freezing, you’re going to want to use something a little more heavy duty for colder conditions.
Heated water hoses are another possibility to consider, and you have two main options for a heated hose: making one or buying one. There are several different heated water hoses that you can purchase specifically for RVs, or you can make your own with some pipe tape and a heat cable.
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Heat cables plug into a power source and provide a steady source of heat to your hose. Many will have thermostats that allow you to set the heat level, and all you have to do is wrap the heat cable against the hose using insulated pipe tape. You’ll be able to turn on the cable when the temperature drops and turn it off when Mother Nature is being a bit kinder.
If you would rather not mess with trying to keep your water hose from freezing, you can always take it out of the equation altogether by running off of your storage tanks. You can pull out your hose to fill the tanks as needed and store it in between.
Use RV Skirting
Once you’ve figured out how to insulate RV water hoses, now it’s time to look at your internal plumbing. You’ve probably seen skirting on many of the full-timers at various campgrounds, but this is actually a great way to keep your camper insulated on the go as well.
Skirting keeps cold air from being able to get to your undercarriage and your pipes. Vinyl skirting is the best material for travel, since the install is relatively easy and it can adapt to differences in terrain and ground levels. Hay bales are another option with minimal work involved, but they tend to attract other creatures that are trying to stay out of the cold like mice.
The other great thing about skirting is that you can use it in the summer as well to keep your RV cooler, and it shouldn’t take up too much of your precious storage space to travel with.
- It also meets new campground requirements for skirting your entire RV
- Keeps the wind and debris from blowing under your RV and into your socializing area
- When storing your RV, you can use them to cover and protect your tires
Freshwater Tank Heating
To keep your fresh water tank from freezing, skirting will help but you may need to take other preventative measures as well. Some RVs will come equipped with heated tank compartments but most won’t. You can get a tank heater that sticks to the bottom of your freshwater tank.
You also want to make sure you don’t fill your fresh water tank up completely. Remember water expands when it freezes so should the worst happen you want room in the tank for ice.
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Preventing Your Interior Water Pipes and Water Heater from Freezing
Your interior water pipes are going to be the most well-protected from freezing conditions, but even they can fall prey to the elements. You’re already using your liquid propane furnace to keep you warm, so you may as well put it to work keeping your pipes warm too by opening the cabinet doors that expose your plumbing.
As for your water heater, having that freeze would be absolutely catastrophic and would almost definitely result in a high-dollar replacement. To keep that from happening you have two options: keep your water heater constantly on, or drain it and bypass it until warmer weather comes around.
This judgement call is entirely up to you. The safest route is definitely draining your water heater, but when it’s already below freezing outside the last thing I personally want to do is take a cold shower or trek to the campground showers. If you’re like me and you do decide that creature comfort is worth the risk, just make sure you keep both the gas and electric heaters on at all times.
Keep your RV Sewer Pipes and Tanks from Freezing
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for keeping your pipes from freezing: keep a constant trickle of water running. It’s also the one thing you should never do with your sewer line in freezing weather.
But what’s so wrong with having the gray water tank open and running a small, steady stream through the kitchen or bathroom? Distance is the answer. At home your waste water has a lot less ground to cover (pun intended) and is much better insulated as it joins the sewer or septic system well underground.
When you’re camping, the water has to make it all the way down the sewer pipe which is completely exposed to the outside elements, and spoiler alert: it won’t make it. What will happen is you will progressively freeze more and more water until the entire sewer opening is frozen over and blocked, and then you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.
Instead, you can keep your sewer hose flowing by insulating it with a pipe insulation like your water hose, you can use a heat cable, or you can buy a “freeze-proof” sewer line that is made specifically for winter camping. The other big thing you can do to prevent poopsickles is to only dump your tanks when they are completely full, and let the water go down at full-speed.
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As for your holding tanks, you can try putting a very small amount of antifreeze in the tanks directly (except your freshwater tank, DO NOT put antifreeze in your drinking water), or you can get electric heating pads that attach to the bottoms of the tanks and heat them up from the outside.
Preventing Your RV Water Filter from Freezing
It’s a small part of your overall water system, but you’ll definitely want to know how to keep RV water filters from freezing on you. In many cases, you can get away with using foam insulation and heat tape to shield the water filter from the outside cold just like your water hose.
Sometimes, however, it’s not worth the hassle or you’re going into areas that are too cold to beat with foam insulation. In these cases you can fill up your freshwater holding tank by running the water through the filter, then you can drain the filter after to keep it from freezing.
How to Prevent RV Water Pipes Freezing while Driving
If you’re considering this possibility of cold weather camping for the first time, it’s probably a terrifying prospect. Some RV forums recommend keeping your furnace running while you’re on the go to prevent your pipes freezing while driving, while others say that it’s not something that’s likely to be a problem.
Beyond keeping the furnace on, there’s not much else for how to keep RV pipes from freezing while driving and I wouldn’t worry about it unless you’re going to be spending lots of time in subzero temperatures.
I would however drain as much water as possible from your pipes before hitting the road. Just disconnect the water supply and ensure your water pump is off. Then open all your taps and flush your toilet until nothing comes out. This will leave some room for expansion should it be cold enough for freezing to occur.
How cold does it have to be for RV pipes to freeze?
Water itself will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 deg Celcius) without any insulation or protection, but the water in your RV’s pipes generally won’t start to freeze until it gets down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.7 deg Celcius).
Once it reaches 20 degrees, it has to stay that cold for about six hours consecutively for your pipes to freeze. If the temperature is closer to 32 degrees then it will take about 24 hours.
What to Do if Your Water Pipes Freeze
If the worst should happen and you find yourself with frozen pipes (hopefully not poopsickles), there are a few things you can try to get your water flowing again. First turn off the water supply and inspect your pipes for signs of damage. You want to be prepared if the ice has frozen enough to burst a pipe.
One way to unfreeze your pipe is to take a hairdryer to the connections and frozen sections of the pipe. Just keep in mind a hairdryer uses a lot of current so you’ll want to be plugged into shorepower.
You can also try placing a propane space heater by the affected areas, but you have to keep an eye on the heater and it’s less mobile if you have large stretches of hose or pipe that have been frozen. Another option is to try using heat tape or a heat cable pressed against the pipe to help it thaw out.
Your biggest worry if your pipes freeze is making sure that none of the lines are cracked or otherwise damaged. Pretty much any external heat source will be able to get the water unfrozen inside, but replacing the pipes is going to a costly venture.
Prevention is definitely your best friend when it comes to how to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping, and as long as you have a prevention plan for each area of your RV’s water system then you’ll be able to sleep easy knowing your pipes are nice and toasty.