Prepping to Live Full-Time in an RV over the Winter
One of the most amazing parts of RV Living its overall flexibility. Some RVers are weekend warriors, while some travel for long trips, and others live in their RVs full time. Most RVers prefer to travel with the seasons, sticking to mild temperatures to ensure they don’t encounter extreme weather, especially considering that RVing in the winter is no easy feat. Most RVs are not well-insulated, and water pipes can freeze and cause damage once the temperatures drop too low. However, whether you choose to RV in a cold climate or get stranded at some point, it’s important to know how to prepare yourself and your RV. Get cozy as Harvest Hosts covers all the ways to prepare your RV for a deep freeze.
Keeping your RV stationary during a hard freeze is a different experience than actively traveling during one. While stationary, you will most likely have access to hookups and will have significantly more ways to prepare your RV. Planning ahead for freezing temperatures in your stationary RV is non-negotiable!
Protecting Exposed Parts
RVs are built to be as compact as possible. This can mean that many parts are located outside, in storage bays, or under the RV. Regardless, these areas need to be protected from the elements in the event of a hard freeze. A best practice is to utilize several of these methods in conjunction with one another for best results.
If you’ve ever seen long-term residents at an RV park or campground, you’ve most likely seen an RV skirt. These wrap around the base of your RV to keep snow out, protect the bottom of the RV, and help raise the temperature. Skirts can be made of foam and other hardy materials to help insulate your RV. A heater or two can also be used under your RVs skirting. Please be sure that any heaters placed under the skirting are suitable for use outdoors so that there’s no risk of any electrical shorting.
Heat tape for Pipes
Heat taping your pipes will take some time, but will be well-worth it. To accomplish this, you must locate all the water pipes outside of your RV and wrap them in heat tape. Be sure to follow the directions so that your tape can be plugged in safely.
It would be no fun to live in a winterized RV. For those that don’t know, one part of winterizing your RV is adding antifreeze to all of the inner pipes, including the grey, black, and water tanks. However, actively using your RV in the winter can be more comfortable with adding antifreeze to the grey and black tanks only. This will prevent any wastewater from freezing and bursting any pipes. It’s important to note that an RV should not stay hooked up to a sewer connection during freezing temperatures. Stay disconnected and dump whenever necessary.
Running water is one element of RVs that make them feel most like a home. However, keeping the water flowing in your RV all winter long doesn’t need to be a challenge with some careful planning.
The first investment here will be a heated hose. They can either be purchased, like this Camco brand hose, or DIY-ed using heat cable and insulated foam.
The best practice for winter RVing is to fill your water tanks using your heated hose and then pack up the hose. It can be too risky for the spigot to stay connected at all times, and parts of it can still freeze, even when using a heated hose. If you plan on using your freshwater tanks during the winter, be sure to utilize tank heaters (they work and look similar to heating pads) and you may even wish to use a little space heater if your water pump is in the same area outside.
Heating the Inside
You would think that heating the inside of your RV would be a no-brainer. After all, heating your home is usually pretty easy, right? However, most RVers know that RVing isn’t always that simple.
Furnace vs Heat Pump
Most RVs are equipped with two types of heat: furnace (propane) and heat pump (HVAC). While it may sound expensive, using the furnace is better for your RV in the frigid cold. The HVAC is not meant to heat the RV during extreme temperatures and can even break when trying to do so. Thankfully, most heat pumps will automatically ask the furnace for help if the job feels too big.
Keep Propane on Hand
As we stated above, propane should be the primary source of on-board heat used in the cold, and it’s essential to keep the onboard propane tank full. For a larger RV, this involves having a truck come to you and fill your tank, or using the Camco Extended Stay attachment. Having your propane refilled on-site is often expensive due to the convenience. The Camco Extended Stay attachment allows for a small twenty-pound tank to be hooked up to your RV’s propane regulator and bypass the on-board tank. The twenty-pound tanks can then be taken to be refilled at a propane fill facility. Smaller RVs are usually equipped with a twenty-pound tank that can be removed and swapped out.
In addition to using the on-board propane heat, small space heaters can also be used to help keep your RV warm. There are numerous types of heaters on the market, ranging from ceramic to fan, infrared, oil, propane, and more. Be sure to do your research to figure out what type of heater will work best for your space and power consumption. Keep in mind that you should never bring a propane tank inside to use with a propane heater.
Insulate the Windows
You don’t need to do a complete RV renovation to get extra insulation, insulating your windows can make a big difference. Insulating your windows will not only keep it warmer in your RV but will also reduce the electricity bill. RV windows are really not meant to insulate well, as their primary purpose is just to stay intact while driving down the road. Window insulation usually comes in thin plastic sheets to help keep the warmth in. There are also other insulating materials that can be made to fit into your windows specifically.
Thermal curtains are a great DIY project that can keep your RV warm without losing any decor points. These heavy-duty curtains are designed to keep the heat in while still allowing you access to open your window if desired.
With all of this heat pumping in your RV, it’s imperative to keep your RV dry. Interior moisture and RVs don’t mix well at all. In the winter months, it can be easy to accidentally grow mold due to moisture build-up. Depending on the size of your RV, one or two dehumidifiers will be absolutely essential.
These tips and tricks are absolutely essential when preparing for a frozen winter. Be sure to plan ahead, and be prepared before it gets too cold!
Traveling during an unplanned snowstorm or experiencing a hard freeze on the road can be a struggle. Most traveling RVers rely on quick overnight stops that may not have hookups, which can greatly impact your options.
The first step to traveling in the winter is to ensure that you have first taken the proper safety precautions. Harvest Hosts has already covered how to drive safely in winter weather, but we’ve recapped a few points below.
Be sure that your RV tires have proper tread and that they are not outdated. Smaller RV tires tend to wear similarly to passenger vehicle tires in that the tread will be visibly worn. A larger motorhome’s tires can still have plenty of tread, but be outdated. Worn or outdated tires both pose serious safety risks while driving. Tire chains may be necessary in some areas for safety.
Always use your best judgement and err on the side of caution when driving through winter weather. Go slow and pull off if you need to. Keep in mind that bridges freeze before roads, and always be vigilant for black ice.
Plug in Whenever Possible
In order to stay warm and comfortable, try to plug into electric whenever possible. This may mean stopping at a campground for the night or paying extra at certain Harvest Hosts locations that offer an electrical hookup. Even just a 30-amp hookup can make a big difference in your RV.
No matter how you RV, solar is always a good investment. This can provide power to your rig for a short overnight stay or even when you pull off the road to have lunch. However, unless you have powerful panels and beefy batteries, you probably can’t run a heater off of solar power. Still, solar can be extremely helpful, especially in emergency situations.
There are a few products that can really help out RVers traveling through a snowstorm or in an area with winter weather. These aren’t necessary, but can make a huge difference.
Mr. Buddy Heater
This portable heater runs off of small propane canisters and doesn’t require any power to run. These invaluable heaters are well-known in the camping and RV community and are very safe for what they are. You will need to ensure you have proper ventilation when using these even though they have built-in safety mechanisms surrounding oxygen depletion. Be sure to read all of the instructions before use.
As we stated above, skirting your RV is a must in the winter. With the launch of the Air Skirt in 2020, the game has changed. These are portable, easy to set up skirts that inflate to fit snugly under your RV. They are weather proof and help regulate the temperature underneath your RV. They set up in about thirty minutes and store flat. Even RVers that are stationary during the winter may want to check out this product, since it doesn’t require any holes drilled into your RV’s body.
Plan Ahead when Possible
Of course this goes without saying, but plan ahead. Check the weather forecast on your journey to avoid snowstorms or hard freezes whenever possible. Be sure to carry your emergency supply kit and have extras of water and non-perishable food. Always have a backup plan as well!
RV Living in the winter can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. With some careful planning and consideration, you can ride out the cold temperatures and keep your RV working smoothly.
Have you camped in your RV during the winter? Have you ever been caught in a snowstorm? Tell us about your adventures in the comments below!
Learn More About Harvest Hosts
We promise not to spam you!
I just purchased a class c motorhome. I am heading out to try living my dream, do some winter camping, travelling etc. I had a motorhome once before but never did the winter camping. Does anyone have any advice/tips etc. to make it successful? Some time will be off grid, and some time in a park where I can plug in.
Thank you and happy RVing
Thank you, Sam! We’re brand new to living in a fifth-wheel and your article was very helpful.
Wondering if you recommend getting your vehicle off its wheels if you plan to live in it?
I read that if you live in a fifthwheel for an extended period of time, the wheels can get a ‘flat spot’ so it’s best to prepare for this. I just don’t know the best way!
The Mr. Buddy Heater is a game changer. Thanks for sharing that tip. My husband and I joined the full-time RV gang last year. We bought a 1987 Chevy Lindy, fixed up everything, and even brought in a cabinet refinisher to make the kitchen feel more like home. But we were so unprepared for the winter. I thought I had frostbite at one point when my fingers went bone white but it turns out I just have poor blood circulation and a disease known commonly as Raynaud’s syndrome. I was so scared we would have to stop RVing but turns out the cure was the Mr. Buddy Heater. Now we just need to find a way to help my husband pass kidney stones more comfortably in the RV, any tips for that?
Do you have a guide to where Harvest Host sites are? and how doI obtain it?
I moved from Texas to Maryland many years ago. I couldn’t immediately afford an apartment or house to I bought a 21′ RV. I lived in it through a stormy winter. Coming from Texas it was definitely different. I insulated everything I could, wrapped my water hose in one of the heated wraps and I was very comfortable the whole winter. Preparation is paramount.
I’d like to add a very important item to your list for winter travel in an RV. We got caught in the Texas ice storm and had to make an unexpected stopover for three days. Fuel in the south does not have additives to prevent freezing and our diesel fuel gelled. Now, we travel with HOWE’s anti gel additive to prevent that AND 911 fuel treatment (just in case we forget). A cheap preventative.
I was surprised by how little area needed to be open to provide safe usage of a propane heater. I have a Ford E350 Econoline van and all I need is 1/4 inch on the two front door windows, or flip out either one of my side windows.
As a relatively novice RVer I found your article “Prepping to Live Full-Time in an RV over the Winter” very informative. The only thing I would stress would be more information about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning when using fossil fuel type heaters inside and the importance of installing a Carbon Monoxide Detector(s) in your RV.
Thanks again, Frank