OK, in case you couldn’t guess, we’re not great fans of cold winters. But the sad reality is that not everybody can become a snowbird and head off with the birds before the snow flies. For all you folks who are stuck in the cold, here’s our annual treatise on making your rig safe for the ravages of Ol’ Man Winter.
Let’s start with an area that can hurt you the most: water. RVs are full of water, both in the fresh water systems and in the back end, too. If you don’t get the water out, expansion can break pipes and create misery.
Get The Water Out: First, shut down the gas and electricity to the water heater. BE SURE THE TANK IS GOOD AND COLD BEFORE YOU START THE NEXT PROCESS: Open the drain cock (or remove the plug if no drain cock is available). To make the water drain quicker, open the pressure relief valve to break the vacuum. After the tank has drained out, close the drain cock and safety valve.
While the water heater is draining, locate and open the fresh-water-tank drain valve. It too should be drained completely, and then the valve closed. By now you’ll have also disconnected your fresh-water hose, drained it, and stored it away.
Antifreeze Method: Next, you can either inundate the entire water system with RV antifreeze, or blast water out of the lines with air. The latter is effective and less expensive. To use antifreeze, pick it up at your RV parts store—NEVER use automotive antifreeze, which is toxic.
Set your water heater bypass valve to “bypass,” or you’ll need a whole lot more antifreeze to unnecessarily fill the heater. Now you can either dump a couple of gallons of antifreeze in the fresh-water tank, or you can buy and install a special plumbing connection that allows you to pump antifreeze directly out of the jug—ask your parts guy, he’ll be happy to sell you one.
With antifreeze at the ready, turn on the RV water pump. Move through the RV and open each water fixture and run it until the pink stuff flows out. Don’t forget the shower, toilet and the outside shower. Start at the fixture closest to the pump and work out. If you’ve got a washing machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing it, too. Once you’ve got all the lines thoroughly “pinked up,” shut off the pump.
For Air Heads: The method we prefer skips the antifreeze and doesn’t require a water heater bypass. Instead you equip your “city water” inlet with a blowout plug that allows you to pump pressurized air into the water lines and blast the water out. Blowout plugs are another RV parts store item.
If you can set your air compressor pressure, set it for 40 pounds to keep from blasting your plumbing lines. If not, it’s best to have a helper available to disconnect the air line between fixture visits. The idea is to open each fixture and pressurize the line until all water is driven out of the line.
The Drain Has Pain When Frozen on the Plain
Be sure to dump both your gray- and black-water tanks. Some RVers find this an advantageous time to use a tank-cleaning wand to clean out any of the more disagreeable memories of summer from the black-water tank.
Be sure to dump a few ounces of RV antifreeze down each of the drain traps, and leave a bit spilled in the toilet as well.
Feed the Bugs?
Finally, a few other areas of concern. In terms of the electrical system, make sure your batteries are fully charged before you “put up” for the winter. A discharged battery can freeze, expand and break. A “smart” battery converter will keep the house batteries properly charged, and not overcharged. Older converters may allow batteries to overcharge—consider shutting the converter off.
Leaving edibles like cereals, crackers, breads and cookies may attract pests. They’re likely to get pretty stale too, so take them out.
Now is a good time to change the oil, too, in motorhomes and generators. No need to leave old oil with possibly corrosive properties floating around in the crankcase. This bit of preventative maintenance will help to keep you from becoming a crank.
Is humidity an issue where you live? If you can afford it, a mechanical dehumidifier will help. In our case, we bought several chemical dehumidifiers and left them around the rig, and left a small fan running to keep air movement up. If you do use the chemical type, make sure they won’t “overflow” in such a way they’ll create a problem.
Finally, speaking unofficially for the Southwest Tourism Bureau, remember, if you snowbird, all this will not be necessary!
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.