Is Your RV Black Water Tank Frozen? Here’s What To Do
For outdoor enthusiasts, winter camping can be a lot of fun. Ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, and tobogganing are all fun winter activities. They are even better when you have a cozy RV to warm up in at the end of the day.
Winter is a great opportunity to go camping and enjoy nature without the crowds you find in the summer. While this is all very good, having a frozen holding tank can really chill all the fun.
So, what should you do when your RV black water tank gets frozen? In this article, we’ll look at what you should do if your black water tank gets frozen and how you can keep it from happening again (without heading south).
How to thaw an RV black water tank
If your RV black water tank is frozen, here’s the step-by-step process to get it thawed out.
Note: When your holding tank valves are frozen, leave them alone. Never try to force frozen valves open. Plastic plumbing fittings become brittle when frozen. The last thing you want is a broken valve pull, especially if your holding tanks are frozen.
Instead, we’ll start by thawing the holding tank and get to the valves last. For this job, you’ll need a headlamp and a hair dryer or heat gun.
Thawing an external RV black water tank
- First, put your headlamp on because you’ll be going under the RV.
- Starting at the top of the black tank, use the blow dryer or heat gun to gently warm the black tank. Keep the blow dryer/heat gun in constant motion to avoid melting the tank. Tanks melt fairly easily, so you’ll need to be careful.
- Work your way down the tank until you are sure it’s thawed. Then work on the termination valve, being sure to avoid overheating the plastic.
- Now you should be able to evacuate your tank.
Thawing an internal black water tank
You’ll need to thaw your tank gently and slowly. Putting a light in the basement area closest to the tank is the best method.
Prevent your black water tank from freezing
You probably won’t want your black water tank to freeze again after you thaw it out. Dump a gallon of RV antifreeze into the tank via the toilet to help keep it from freezing again.
There are a few simple things you can do to keep your black water tank from freezing in the first place. Here is what I recommend.
1. Use RV skirting
There are some great commercial RV skirting options that will help stop cold air from getting under your rig. For example, AirSkirts offers an excellent option that will do the job while looking great.
But, you can also DIY your own RV skirting out of just about anything that will block the wind and keep warm air underneath your RV. You can use plywood sheeting, foam board insulation, straw bales, and even snow to help protect the underbelly of your RV from freezing air.
2. Install RV holding tank heaters/heating pads
RV holding tank heaters are heating pads that stick directly onto the tank with adhesive. They are hardwired into the RV’s DC electrical system.
Tank heaters are available with a built-in thermostat, so you don’t need to install a switch for them. They turn on by themselves when temperatures approach freezing, and then they turn back off when it warms up. Tank heater installation is an easy DIY project for anyone with basic RV electrical skills.
3. Put a light or small heater under your insulated RV
You can sometimes avoid frozen tanks just by having a little bit of heat under your RV.
Find great spots for winter camping
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Lynne lives, travels, and works full-time in a Forest-River R-Pod 180 with her 2-pointers, Jolene and Annabelle. Lynne has been an enthusiastic RVer for over 35 years. And then one day in 2019, she began full-time RVing as a lifestyle experiment. She quickly fell in love with the convenience, freedom and minimalist lifestyle offered by full-time RV living. Lynne is a professional writer and has been a professional dog trainer since 1995. You can read about her travel adventures on her R-Pod Adventure blog, R-podyssey at: http://www.rpodaventure.com
…in all these kind of posts, I have never ever read about solutions when one does not have shore power available…like at dry camping… that would be an interesting post then…
Eugene Severns says
Great advice for RVers that don’t have tank heaters. I. Have tank heaters so I have one less stressful item to worry about.
Steve Hericks says
(Former RV plant engineer) Typical RV tank heaters do have thermostatic controls but because they are part of the heater itself, they switch at temperatures far from what you need or expect. As such, they will waste a LOT of electricity if not controlled by an external thermostat (such as an STC-1000 or 3008). Most turn ‘on’ at 45F and ‘off’ at 68F. This means that if you are in a cold weather area, they will turn on too soon and likely never turn off.
Jeremy Wills says
I recently got an incinerating toilet installed in mine and got rid of the black water tank. It’s pretty amazing and I definitely recommend it if you’re tired of the black water maintenance. I got it from Ecojohn in Arkansas, and they were very helpful.