While many people view RVing as a warm weather pastime, cold weather RVing can be a lot of fun too. Even if you don’t plan on RVing in cold weather, it can sometimes sneak up on you. Being prepared for cold weather surprises will help ensure that your RV trip is as enjoyable as possible. Here are some cold weather RV tips that will be helpful on those long-planned trips in the winter, as well as the occasional shivery spell while you travel.
Have More than One Way to Get Heat
Most RVs are equipped with a propane furnace, a heat pump/AC unit and/or an electric fireplace. Use what comes with your RV to stay warm. Before each trip, or before the expected cold weather settles in, you will want to test your heating systems to make sure they work properly. There’s nothing worse than watching the outside temp hit freezing while your furnace tries and fails repeatedly to ignite. While you are testing your furnace, double check your propane supply. Your furnace is a hungry critter which will quickly empty low tanks. As the temperature drops, the pressure in your propane tanks will also fall. Having more propane in your tanks increases pressure and flow to your furnace and other internal appliances. If you are having issues with your furnace failing to fire, always fill your tanks, reconnect them and open the valve slowly. This will solve many issues where low propane pressure or flow are preventing proper furnace operation.
If your RV is equipped with a heat pump/AC unit, test it as well. Also, make sure you clean or replace your filters. This will improve air flow and allow your heat pump to work more efficiently.
Portable heaters can be propane or electric and are great to have on hand as back up. These provide an excellent way to stay warm when you have access to shore power. Don’t expect them to keep up if your RV is particularly large or if the outside temperatures drop much below 32 degrees F. You can use them as supplemental heat in those circumstances. Choose a heater like Mr. Buddy that is designed for small spaces and has some safety features (automatic shut-off, for example) in place.
There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Insulation
If you plan on camping in the cold for a prolonged period, you’ll likely need to consider adding insulation. If you camp in the cold routinely, when you purchase or rent an RV look for a 4 seasons unit or one with a polar or arctic package. These RVs have much better insulation than standard RVs. For less frequent cold use, insulation can be added to any RV which will help keep it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The easiest insulation to work with is the reflective insulation you can pick up in rolls at the local big box store. It looks like silver metallic bubble wrap and it is easily cut to the shapes you will need. Use it to line the exterior walls inside of your cabinets and cupboards. It can also be cut to cover your windows and fill the open spaces just below your skylights and roof caps. Adding insulation in these spaces greatly reduces heat exchange with the outside.
Another thing to consider for long term cold temperature camping is the addition of an enclosed underbelly and side skirting. Cold air passing under your RV is one of the most significant areas of heat loss. If you are shopping for a new RV that you plan use in cold temperatures, make sure that an enclosed underbelly is included on the RVs you are looking at. With the enclosed underbelly, your water tanks and plumbing are insulated and separated from the outside air. Your furnace ducting will also add heat to the space which will also help prevent freezing of vital components. Side skirting hangs from the side of the RV down to the ground , preventing cold air from blowing under the RV. RVs parked for long stays during the winter often have rigid skirting, but similar benefits can be achieved using soft side skirting kits that can quickly attached to any mobile RV. There are many suppliers of these kits and they vary by their materials and how they are attached to the RV. An internet search “Soft RV Skirting” will yield lots of options. Adding skirting can easily raise the temperatures in your unheated RV compartments by 20 degrees or more, making them a great addition for cold weather RV use.
Keep Water Where You Want it
Keeping your water from freezing is crucial in cold weather. The best way to make sure your outside water lines don’t freeze is to avoid using them. If you expect a freeze, fill your internal tanks and disconnect the shore water lines. As long as you keep your RV warm, those tanks should not freeze. If you must use the shore water connection, leave the water dripping at an inside faucet and make sure your grey tank valve is open. The slow flow of water will be enough to keep the lines from freezing as long as it doesn’t get too cold for too long. Heated hoses work too, but they are expensive, heavy, require an nearby outlet, and take up additional space when you don’t need them. If you cold camp a lot they may be worth it, otherwise the drip method works.
Finally, remember that when it’s cold outside, it will likely be wet inside. As the outside temperatures drop below 50 degrees F, you may start to see water droplets condensing on your windows or walls. This is a sure sign of indoor humidity problems which can lead to RV damage and personal health issues. Your first line of defense will be to open a window slightly. While this lets cold air in, you may find it an economical trade-off that solves the humidity problem. If that doesn’t work, try a dehumidifier. A thirty pint or larger condenser humidifier is a great choice for most RVs. These are a bit bulky and a little noisy, but they do an excellent job keeping the humidity levels at the ideal 35% all the time.
Always have a backup plan. Carry supplies, multiple extra blankets, and the ability to build a fire where possible. If all else fails, you will have that to keep you warm. By using some of these tips you should be better prepared to handle colder temps that sneak up on you during your summer trips, or help you extend your RV season for year-round fun.
Or if you prefer staying in ideal temperatures, check out the article about RVing in ideal weather.
These cold weather RV tips were provided by our awesome friends over at Outdoorsy, who connect RV owners with other campers, like them, who want to experience RVing without ownership.
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