Owning an RV is always a rewarding experience. You get to enjoy the joy and freedom that comes with being able to bring your home with you on your adventures. That said, just like any other valuable possession you have, RVs need to be properly taken care of if you want them to last long. This is especially true when the weather gets chilly in winter.
RV winterizing is the process of tuning up and protecting your RV to ensure it is able to withstand the adverse effects of winter. It is usually done on the plumbing system and on the RV interior and exterior, including the chassis. Water lines, holding tanks, propane tanks, tires, and pop up campers all have to be winterized.
When winter temperatures drop to freezing levels, the performance of the RV as well as the quality of life you’ll get to experience inside it can be affected. This is because RVs have a lot of places and spaces where moisture and water can freeze in to form ice. This ice can break and destroy your fittings, compromising the performance of your RV. This is why you have to winterize your RV as the weather starts to get cold.
How to Winterize RVs?
RVs have four holding tanks that need to be emptied; the fresh water tank, the grey water tank, the water heater tank, and the black water tank. To drain them, you need to do it systematically following a step by step process to ensure that you properly drain all the water and moisture, especially in the lines connected to these tanks:
- Any inline water filters should first be removed before connecting a bypass hose, which is used to remove the water.
- You should empty the freshwater holding tank first before draining the black and grey tanks. Be sure to drain all these tanks in an appropriate place because they contain bacteria and can lead to contamination. The fresh water tank is the easiest to drain because it only holds sink and shower head water.
- Next, dump the black water tank. The black water tank holds water from the toilet. It should be dumped before the grey tank because this way, it is easier to flush out the sewer hose.
- Drain the grey water tank last. The grey water tank contains run off water from the kitchen sink and shower. It should be drained in a park or in an open area.
- Finally, thoroughly flush out all the tanks.
Caution should be observed when draining the water heater tank. The water should never be drained when it is hot or under pressure. When no water is connected to the RV and the water pump switched off open the hot water faucet to relieve the pressure. After the water has cooled, you can now drain the water when the valve is open.
After draining the tanks, the hot and cold-water taps should be opened and toilet flushed in order to ensure all the water from the plumbing system has been completely emptied. The outside shower should also be drained and low water drain line emptied by opening the drain plugs. Afterwards close all the taps and plugs.
The next stage is the winterization process. Once completely drained of water, antifreeze should be introduced to the plumbing system. Use the water heater bypass for extra efficiency as it reduces wastage of anti-freeze. If your RV has no bypass kit, fill the water heater tank completely with anti-freeze. Doing it this way may use up to ten gallons.
Use a water pump converter to introduce the RV anti-freeze in the plumbing line and water system. Once the pump is activated, it pumps the anti-freeze throughout the system. The taps should be opened systematically from the closest to the pump that is furthest. Ensure that the pink anti-freeze comes out of every tap.
Flush the toilet a couple of times until you see the pink anti-freeze. Also, ensure that some is left in reserve to prevent any water that is left from freezing.
You should also gush your sink and bathroom drains with antifreeze. Then drain everything and close all your taps tightly.
What about your propane cooking tank? Well, the steps to conserve it over winter are also quite simple:
- Ensure your gas line is off.
- Take apart the cooking parts so that you can clean them thoroughly.
- Get rid of any grease or food that may have been left. Grease can corrode some of your parts and attract pests during the winter. To remove the grease, use a grill brush and some grill cleaning foam.
- Next, coat the burners, gas pipes and grill surface with cooking oil. Spraying some of it on these metal parts will help repel moisture from coming into contact with them, preventing rust.
- Next, remove the igniter battery to prevent it from bursting or causing corrosion. This simple action will actually keep the igniter sparking for even longer.
- Lastly, remember to cover the grill for an added layer of protection against the harsh winter weather.
If left uninsulated during winter, RV water lines can get damaged by cracking or bursting. This often happens when ice expands inside them. To maintain your water lines before winter, you need to wrap your hoses with heat strips to keep them warm and prevent freezing.
Warm up the internal plumbing too by leaving your bathroom and kitchen cabinets open. This way, the trailer’s heating will keep the plumbing warm. Another way to do this is to use a small space heater that prevents freezing.
Another way to reduce the risk of freezing is by using the freshwater tank. Fill the internal freshwater tank with water and use it as your main water source instead of connecting the RV to external sources. This will greatly prevent freezing as it allows you to detach the freshwater hose and store it safely. RV antifreeze will also do the job, but just be sure to use it in small amounts to reduce the risk of contamination.
Finally, dump your tanks wisely: dump them only when they are full to reduce their risk of freezing, and keep valves closed when you are not using them.
What about the tires? Well, first, the tire pressure should be checked before parking the RV. If the pressure is high, it will cause excessive stress on the tires. If the RV will be parked on the dirt or asphalt, the tires should be removed or covered with heating insulated covers.
If the battery is not taken care of it will freeze in the low winter temperature. This is because when the battery discharges it loses sulfuric acid and only water remains.
The battery should be removed from the RV and the battery water levels checked. It should also be charged before being stored in a warm place.
For outdoor pop-up campers, you should close any holes on the underside in order to keep out water and animals. Also, remove the camper’s battery and charge it throughout winter. Cover furniture and fittings using plastic wraps, and remember to lower the tongue to prevent snow and water from getting in.
What Happens If You Don’t Winterize Your RV?
The plummeting temperatures that are experienced during winter causes water to freeze, forming ice. Just like regular houses, the fittings in an RV like water systems and water storage areas have to be protected during winter.
If the RV is not winterized and the water remains in these systems, it can lead to extensive damages that will be very expensive to repair. This is because the frozen water in the systems and tanks expand when the temperature rises during spring, resulting in metal fatigue and breakage in the fitting lines.
What Temperature Should You Winterize Your RV?
If the weather forecast predicts a temperature drop of below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours, it is time to winterize your RV.
32 degrees is the freezing point of water. If these temperatures are experienced over an extended period of time, the water in your RV will turn to ice. Damage will then occur as the ice thaws and expands when temperatures rise again.
However, if the temperatures only plummet once in a while and even out at other times, there is no reason to pour antifreeze into your mains.
How Much Antifreeze Do I Need to Winterize My RV?
Depending on the size of your RV, you’ll need anywhere between 2 to 5 gallons of RV antifreeze to properly winterize your RV.
Is it Safe to Dump RV Antifreeze on the Ground?
If you care about the environment, you should always be careful about how you dispose of any chemicals.
There are two types of RV anti-freeze. The most common type contains Ethylene Glycol, which is poisonous and should never be dumped on the ground. Plus, the compounds that make up this antifreeze have a sweet taste, which attracts small mammals. Once it enters the digestive system, it is impossible to digest, killing the animals.
The second type of antifreeze contains Propylene Glycol. This compound is not poisonous in small quantities, so it can be dumped on the ground. However, too much of it is also harmful to the environment and to small animals.
At What Temperature Do RV Water Lines Freeze?
Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this only happens when it is left exposed. The water inside the main lines of your RV will therefore need much lower outside temperatures before it can freeze. This is typically in the lower 20’s degrees.
Another factor that causes water to freeze is consistency in temperature. Outside temperatures have to be low consistently for an extended period of time.
You can prevent the freezing or even slow it down considerably by insulating the pipes. When you do this, you will not have to drain the pipes and pour in the antifreeze every time.
Should I Put Antifreeze in My RV Water Lines?
It is completely fine to put antifreeze in your water lines. When antifreeze is consumed in small amounts, it is not harmful at all. If you have to use it, go for the type that uses Propylene Glycol and use it in small amounts.
Does Antifreeze Hurt RV Water Heaters?
Even though RV antifreeze is not harmful to your water heater, it is important that you remember to flush it out before the next time you fire it up. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to run fresh water through the system using the water pump. You need to open all the faucets, hot and cold, then run fresh water through the water system until you are sure the flow is clear.
That said, the hot water will likely smell and taste like antifreeze for a while. If this bothers you, you can pump in a mixture of water and vinegar in the same way as you did the antifreeze, then let it sit overnight.
Alternatively, you can also add a box of baking soda to your system. Do this by either sprinkling it directly or dissolving it then pouring it down the drains. Let the solution sit a couple of hours before letting the fresh water run through.
How Long Does It Have to be Below Freezing for Pipes to Freeze?
In controlled environments such as the inside of a freezer, water usually takes three to four hours to freeze completely. However, in the pipes and with atmospheric temperatures acting as the catalyst, this process can take as long as 6 hours.
You can further increase this time by insulating your pipes. There are many homemade solutions as well as commercially available insulators that you can use.
Is RV Antifreeze Corrosive?
RV antifreeze is used to protect the RV’s water lines from freezing and cracking during winter. Propylene Glycol antifreeze will also protect the piping system from rusting and corrosion.
Most antifreeze solutions come with phosphate as the main corrosion inhibitor. However, they are not designed to be long-term anti-corrosion solutions as they can only be used seasonally.
Does RV Antifreeze Evaporate?
RV antifreeze rarely evaporates. If it does, it will happen at a very slow rate.
Ethylene glycol antifreeze will not evaporate even when placed in an open container. It is also hygroscopic, meaning it rapidly absorbs water. However, it can be absorbed by the cellulose found in wood.
On the other hand, propylene glycol also does not evaporate at any significant degree. However, unlike ethylene glycol, it cannot be absorbed by wood at any rate, unless heated.
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