Winterization

Travel Trailer Winterization Guide

travel-trailer-winterization-guide

As winter approaches, it's time to begin preparing your travel trailer for cold weather and invading creatures — a process known as winterization. In this guide, we'll show you the steps to winterize your travel trailer and provide additional tips so when spring rolls around, your trailer is in the same condition that you left it.

Steps to Winterize Your Travel Trailer

The most important aspect of winterizing your travel trailer is protecting its plumbing system from freezing weather. If your tanks or water lines freeze, this can lead to cracked or broken pipes, fittings and tubing. As you can imagine, repairing this issue is costly and stressful.

There are two main ways to protect the water lines in your travel trailer — with antifreeze and with compressed air. The antifreeze method involves filling your water lines with antifreeze so they don't freeze, and the compressed air method involves blowing out your water lines using compressed air. Using antifreeze is considered the best way to winterize a travel trailer and will better protect your pipes than the compressed air method, as the air cannot blow out all of the water in the pipes. However, if you're storing your travel camper in a warmer region or inside, the antifreeze method may not be necessary.

We'll go over the steps for each process below.

1. The Antifreeze Method

When winterizing a travel trailer with antifreeze, start by completely draining your black and gray water tanks and disconnecting your travel trailer from its outside water source.

How much antifreeze you'll need depends on how big your water system is, but you can expect to use 2 to 3 gallons. Be sure you use non-toxic antifreeze made specifically for RVs and travel trailers.

When winterizing a travel trailer with antifreeze, start by completely draining your black and gray water tanks and disconnecting your travel trailer from its outside water source. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Take out and bypass your inline water filters: Newer RVs often come with pre-installed bypasses, but if your camper doesn't have one, you'll need to get a water filter bypass hose, which you can install when the filter is out.
  2. Bypass the water heater: There is a good chance your RV has a factory-installed bypass kit. However, if yours does not, you can buy and install an aftermarket bypass kit for the water heater.
  3. Open faucets and flush toilet: Open all of the faucets in your travel trailer and let the excess water drain. Remember your shower and tub as well. You should also open all the low-point drains on your trailer to let out the water. If you can't locate them, you should be able to find out where they are in your owner's manual.
  4. Drain the fresh water holding tank: You will do this using the low point of the tank drain.
  5. Drain your water heater: Never drain your water heater while it's still hot or pressurized. So before you drain it, open the pressure relief valve, which depressurizes the tank, and leave it open. With the appropriate wrench, take off the anode or drain plug and let it drain out. Use a rinsing wand to flush out any sediment. Then, close your pressure relief valve, loosely reinstalling the anode rod or drain plug for safekeeping until it's time to de-winterize.
  6. Connect the pump converter kit:Once you've connected the water pump, put the tube into the jug of antifreeze, opening the kit's valve. If your travel trailer doesn't include one, you can install an aftermarket bypass kit.
  7. Turn the water pump on to let the antifreeze pull into your water system: Open the cold and hot valves at the faucet closest to your pump, and when you see antifreeze, close the valves. Repeat this process with every faucet, starting from closest and ending with furthest. Be sure to flush the toilet as well. Then, turn off the pump and open a faucet to let off the pressure and close all your faucets.
  8. Pour antifreeze into the drains: Pour a cup of RV antifreeze into all your shower and sink drains. This lets the antifreeze protect the drain traps, and it flows into your gray tank. Pour 2 cups of antifreeze into your toilet bowl, letting it drain into the black tank.

Refer to your owner's manual for detailed, specific instructions on winterizing your ice maker, dishwasher and washing machine. While you need to protect all of these appliances, each one requires different procedures.

2. The Blowout Method: How to Winterize a Travel Trailer Using Air

If you're not crazy about the idea of putting antifreeze in your plumbing system, winterizing your travel trailer with compressed air is an alternative to consider. Winterizing a travel trailer with air requires a blow-out air compressor, a blow-out adapter and a gallon of antifreeze.

Again, you'll first want to drain the gray and black water tanks, then disconnect the camper from the outside water source. Then follow these steps:

  1. Connect your blow-out adapter to the correct water inlet: Ensure that you're connected to the right inlet. Fresh water tank inlets often look similar to the inlets of tank flushers, but they may get damaged if compressed air is applied. Adjust your compressor to a maximum pressure of 30 pounds per square inch (psi) to avoid damaging your pipes.
  2. Connect the compressor hose to your blowout adapter: Turn the compressor on and have it run. Then go from one fixture to the next and let out the air, running each of your faucets, toilet and shower for around 15 seconds. End with your low-point drains.
  3. Turn your compressor off and disconnect your blow-out adapter: Remove leftover air pressure by opening any faucet.
  4. Add antifreeze: In your shower drain and each of your sinks, pour a cup of RV antifreeze to protect your drain traps. The antifreeze will flow into your gray tank. Then, pour two cups of antifreeze in your toilet bowl and open up your toilet seal, which will let the antifreeze drain into your black tank.

Winterizing the Interior of Your Travel Trailer

Leave your fridge and cabinets open: This will prevent mold growth and unwanted odors.

Rodents and other critters like to take up residence in your travel trailer when you're storing it over the winter. To keep these destructive creatures out of your camper, follow these steps:

  1. Inspect all seams and seals: Walk around the exterior of your trailer and inspect all its seams and seals. Use some steel wool to plug up all the places rodents could enter, including the exhaust pipe.
  2. Take out all food, clothes and valuable items: If you would like to store some clothes in your travel trailer, make sure to use mothballs.
  3. Inspect your floor: Look closely at the floor for soft spots, which can indicate water damage. Step down firmly on the floor in your kitchen where it meets your cabinets — if you come across a soft spot, let a professional know right away.
  4. Leave your fridge and cabinets open: This will prevent mold growth and unwanted odors. If moisture is a concern, consider placing a dehumidifier in your trailer's main area.
  5. Set some mouse traps: If mice do gain entry, this is a great way to stop them quickly.

Winterizing the Exterior of Your Travel Trailer

Inspect your trailer's roof for any cuts, holes or cracks where water might come through and seal them using the correct type of sealant.

Before storing your trailer for the winter, you'll also want to make sure your exterior is in top condition. When you winterize your exterior, take these steps:

  1. Apply a protective coat: Start by thoroughly washing and waxing your trailer. Once dry, apply silicone spray to waterproof your trailer and fix any possible leaks. This type of spray can be applied to wood, metal and plastic surfaces.
  2. Coat the roof if needed: Inspect your trailer's roof for any cuts, holes or cracks where water might come through and seal them using the correct type of sealant. If you're not sure, speak with your travel trailer dealer or manufacturer. If the roof appears to be aging, applying a coating of liquid rubber is often recommended. You should inspect these sealants once a year. You should also inspect stink pipe vent covers, vent caps and AC shrouds for any damage. You should also remove any wasp or bird nests.
  3. Inspect your trailer's body seams: Inspect the body seams and seals around windows and doors. Take a close look at TV antennas, air conditioners and any other openings for discoloration or soft spots. You should also look inside overhead cabinets to examine the top corner where the ceiling and wall meet.
  4. Inspect the furnace and water heater: If you notice any damage on these appliances, have them looked at by a professional.
  5. Clean your awning: If you have an awning, clean it using an RV awning cleaner and remove any mildew. We advise against using dishwashing detergent, as this can dry out your awning.
  6. Pest-proof: Spray your doorway using a natural bug repellent. You should also close the vents to your water heater and furnace and install bug screens on them.

Storing Your Travel Trailer During the Winter

Inspect your tires: Take the weight off your tires by jacking the axle up and inserting support blocks, which will allow you to inspect them.

After you winterize the exterior and interior of your travel trailer, it's time to decide where and how you'll store it. First off, it's good to know your trailer's exterior is meant to handle the weather if you have to store it outside. However, the best storage space is an enclosed garage with temperature regulation. If this is not an option for you, the next best place would be a covered steel structure, which will protect your trailer from the harsh elements but not freezing temperatures.

After you've found a space to store your travel trailer, follow these steps:

  1. Inspect your radiator clamps and hoses: Look for any soft spots or wear, and replace them if necessary.
  2. Inspect your heater clamps and hoses: Make any replacements if needed.
  3. Take out the propane tanks from your camper: Top off your propane tanks, shut them off and store them away in a safe location somewhere else.
  4. Inspect your air filter: If it's dirty, consider replacing it now so you can enjoy fresh air once you use your camper again in the spring.
  5. Check your lights: Inspect any lights inside and outside, including headlights, turn signals and bright lights, if applicable. If any bulbs are burnt out, now is the time to replace them.
  6. Turn off your circuit breakers: Turn off the breakers for heat, electricity and AC.
  7. Disconnect the battery: Store it in a dry, warm, safe place.
  8. Inspect your tires: Take the weight off your tires by jacking the axle up and inserting support blocks, which will allow you to inspect them. Examine the casing quality and tread depth and inspect the sidewalls for weathering. If the tread depth on your tires is less than 6/32 inches, you might have to replace them to maintain safe traction. If your tires are in good condition, inflate them to the right pressure, which will avoid flat spots. Cover them using tire covers.

Storing Your Travel Trailer Outside

If you plan to store your travel trailer outside, make sure you cover it with an RV storage cover made out of breathable materials, which will prevent mold and mildew growth.

If you plan to store your travel trailer outside, make sure you cover it with an RV storage cover made out of breathable materials, which will prevent mold and mildew growth. Ensure that all windows and roof vents are covered. Getting the right size cover for your travel trailer is important, and your owner's manual may be able to provide information.

When storing your trailer outside during the winter, you may want to walk through it every several weeks. During this walk-through, you can take a quick look at everything and check your mouse traps.

Mistakes to Avoid When Winterizing Your Travel Trailer

Make winterizing your travel trailer easier by avoiding the most common mistakes:

  • Forgetting to close low-point drains and wasting antifreeze
  • Not flushing the water lines adequately
  • Not bypassing the water heater before adding antifreeze
  • Neglecting to drain the hot water tank
  • Waiting too long to buy antifreeze and the supply runs short
  • Failing to replace the water heater's anode rod or drain plug

When Should You Winterize Your Travel Trailer?

It is highly recommended that you winterize the plumbing in your RV before storing it, as it will prevent damage.

If you're wondering when to winterize your travel trailer — or whether it is necessary at all — it is recommended in two situations:

  • If you're storing your travel trailer during the winter months
  • If you're camping in very cold weather

If you only camp part-time or on the weekends, there's a good chance you'll be storing your travel trailer during the coldest months of the year. If this is true for you, it is highly recommended that you winterize the plumbing in your RV before storing it, as it will prevent damage.

Even if you're a snowbird, winterizing your travel trailer may still be necessary, which will depend on how you travel, where you're located and how cold the temperatures are.

Generally speaking, even if you plan to use your travel trailer, you should still winterize if:

  • The temperatures will be consistently under 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • You cannot insulate and heat the underbelly of your travel trailer, or you don't have any heated tanks.
  • You're boondocking and are limited as to when you can run the furnace.

Checklist for Winterizing Your Travel Trailer

Checklist for Winterizing Your Travel Trailer

To winterize your travel trailer for storage, be sure to acquire all of the following essential items. We also recommend consulting your owner's manual for more information on how to winterize the specific model you have.

  • Non-toxic antifreeze: Antifreeze prevents your trailer's pipes from freezing and, more importantly, from rupturing. Pipes can burst in the winter months because the water in them expands as it freezes, causing a pressure increase. While the amount of antifreeze you need will depend on your model, generally speaking, 2 or 3 gallons should suffice. Just be sure that the antifreeze you're using is non-toxic and made for RV use.
  • Water pump converter kit: Once you install these kits, you can use them year after year. They let you bypass your fresh water supply line and allow you to use your water pump to fill your fresh water lines with antifreeze. These kits include a siphon hose, a three-way valve cap, pump adapters and Teflon tape, and you can easily install everything with an adjustable wrench.
  • Wand for cleaning the holding tanks: If your trailer doesn't come with a built-in tank flushing system, a wand will be necessary to clean your holding tanks out completely. To make this job easier, we recommend using one with a spray nozzle and shut-off valve. This will help you eliminate unpleasant odors, keep the tanks sanitary and clean tank sensors if they're reading incorrectly.
  • Water heater bypass kit: If you don't have one of these, the water heater in your camper will fill up with antifreeze before traveling through your water lines. This will be a major annoyance and waste lots of antifreeze. Installing these kits is easy, and you can easily remove them in the spring when you reconnect the system.
Silicone spray: This is extremely helpful to keep on hand, as it can lubricate slideouts and eliminate squeaking noises.
  • Silicone spray: This is extremely helpful to keep on hand, as it can lubricate slideouts and eliminate squeaking noises. In the winter, you can also use it to waterproof the exterior of your trailer, minimizing rust. Silicone spray works on most surfaces, including metal, wood and plastic.
  • Sealer to repair cracks: If your trailer's roof has cracks, you should repair them as soon as possible. Often, all you need is a clear, flexible sealant. Also, if your roof looks like it's aging, put on a coat of liquid rubber — the thick membrane it provides will protect your roof for five years or more.
  • Mousetraps, mothballs and steel wool: These items are all highly recommended for keeping rodents from living in and damaging your trailer.
  • Bug repellent and bug screens: Bug screens will prevent your trailer from being infested with cockroaches, ants and other insects over the winter. Spray doorways with pest repellent and put in bug screens over your water heater and furnace vents.
  • Dehumidifier: If you live in a wet region like the Pacific Northwest, it's a good idea to leave a dehumidifier in your trailer to help absorb some of the moisture in the air. We recommend investing in a model that draws in moist air through the bottom, heats it up to dry it and then releases it back out through the top. The dehumidifier should also have a thermal cut-off switch, which makes it safer.
  • Storage cover: You'll want to cover your trailer so it can look just as nice when you use it again in the spring. Trailer covers come in a variety of sizes.

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Camper Winterization Guide

RV and Motorhome Winterization Guide

Winterizing is a critical part of RV ownership as it protects you from frozen pipes and rodent infestations, both of which are problems that can cause thousands of dollars in damage. In this guide, we'll take you through the steps to winterize a camper for winter living when away from home.

Why Should I Winterize My Camper?

Winterizing your RV camper is important for several reasons, including:

  1. To prevent pipes from freezing: Water expands when it freezes. If water expands in your pipes, it will have nowhere to go and burst out the sides of the pipe. Burst pipes are costly and can also leak slowly in places that are hard to detect, such as under a sink. If these leaks go undetected for long periods, they can cause extremely costly damage. 
  2. To prevent tanks from freezing: If water is left in your grey, black and freshwater holding tanks, it will also freeze and expand, and this expansion may crack the holding tanks, which could create thousands of dollars of damage.
  3. To keep out rodents: If your RV isn't protected against rodent invasions, mice can gain entry and destroy your wiring, furniture and other sensitive items. In many cases, unchecked rodent invasions can cost thousands.
  4. To prevent your battery from dying: If you fail to winterize your RV, your battery may stop working due to freezing temperatures. For this reason, it is recommended that you finish the winterization process by taking out your RV's batteries and safely storing them in a safe place that doesn't get too cold or too hot.

When Do I Need to Winterize My Camper?

Winterization is important no matter where you are in the US — even in Southern Florida. This is because freezes do still happen, and all it takes is one freeze to destroy sensitive pipes.

If you're wondering when to winterize your camper, the answer is fairly simple — if you're going to store your RV over the winter, you should winterize your RV. Winterization is important no matter where you are in the US — even in Southern Florida. This is because freezes do still happen, and all it takes is one freeze to destroy sensitive pipes. 

If you're planning to do some camping in the winter, you'll have to consider a few other factors when figuring out if you want to winterize your camper: 

  • The temperature will drop below freezing for over 10 hours: In some parts of the US, such as Northern Arizona, the temperatures may drop below freezing at night, then warm up during the daytime. In such climates, winterizing is often not necessary. Instead, you can heat your camper at night and get your water from a heated water hose. This should allow you to camp in your RV in the winter without having to winterize it. 
  • Your camper is four-season: True four-season campers feature amenities like thick insulation, a heated underbelly and heated tanks. If your camper is four-season and you want to use it in the winter, winterization is usually not necessary — just make sure to keep your heat on and keep the tanks heated. 
  • You're open to "dry camping": Even if the RV you have was not designed to handle the winter, camping in it is still possible — you just have to winterize your pipes and not use water as you usually would. 

If none of the above situations apply, it's probably best to store your camper in the winter. 

What Do I Need to Winterize My Camper?

When winterizing your camper, you'll have to gather: 

  • RV antifreeze: You must purchase the non-toxic version of RV antifreeze. RV antifreeze can be found at any RV store and is pink. Under no circumstances can you use car antifreeze to winterize the water lines in your RV because it's toxic, and running it through the water lines in your RV can be harmful, sometimes even fatal. When buying your antifreeze, confirm with the store that you purchased the right type. You'll need about two or three gallons of antifreeze to winterize a camper, depending on its size.
  • A helper: Although not a strict requirement, winterizing your camper is much easier if a partner assists you while putting antifreeze in the water lines. 
  • Water pump converter and winterizing kit: The water pump on your RV helps run antifreeze through the pipes, thereby winterizing the RV. However, to accomplish that, you need an adapter. 
  • Air compressor and RV blow-out plug: If you opt to blow air through the water lines before adding antifreeze, you'll need an RV blow-out plug and an air compressor. Blow-out plugs can be bought at all RV stores and are designed to connect the city water to your air compressor, allowing you to deliver air to the pipes in your RV. 
  • A wrench: This might come in handy when taking off the drain plug from the water heater.
  • Rodent traps and repellents: Buy whatever is necessary to keep these unwanted visitors out of your camper. 

How Do I Winterize My Camper? 

How Do I Winterize My Camper?

The two best ways to winterize a fifth-wheel camper or motorhome are: 

  • Option 1: Filling the water lines with a non-toxic antifreeze
  • Option 2: Blowing out your RV water lines using air, then filling the lines with a non-toxic antifreeze 

We'll take you step-by-step through each method: 

Option 1

This option involves winterizing your RV without having to blow air through your water lines. The steps to winterize your camper with antifreeze alone include:

1. Find the Winterization Instructions in Your RV Owner's Manual:

Even though we're taking you through steps to winterize your RV, the exact procedure varies from camper to camper. For instance, some campers have water filters, ice makers and other devices requiring special techniques. Make sure to consult your owner's manual for any special instructions on how to winterize a camper.

2. Take Out or Bypass Inline Water Filters

RVs often come with built-in water filters that you'll have to take out or bypass before beginning the winterization process. This is because antifreeze may destroy your water filters. Check your owner's manual to find out whether you have inline water filters. If so, learn how to take them out or bypass them during the winterization process. 

3. Drain the Water Pipes and Tanks

To drain the water, begin by disconnecting from the city water and shutting off the RV's water pump.

Even though this process doesn't involve blowing air through the water lines, it is still important to drain as much water as possible. To drain the water, begin by disconnecting from the city water and shutting off the RV's water pump. Then, ensure that your grey, black and freshwater tanks are empty. RV freshwater tanks usually feature a valve on your RV's underbelly next to the tank of fresh water, which is meant to drain it. If you're unable to locate this valve, consult the owner's manual.

4. Drain Water From Your RV Water Pipes

Next, drain as much water as possible from the water pipes in your RV. To begin, open up all your RV's faucets to ensure the system is depressurized. Then, close the faucets up again.

5. Locate Your RV's Low-Point Drain

While the location of this drain varies from RV to RV, it is always, as the name suggests, at a low point in the water lines. It's typically found on your RV's exterior in the form of a valve that can be opened. Opening this valve allows the water to drain from the lines. If you're having problems finding the low-point valve, consult your owner's manual. Once you locate it, open the valve up and close it up again only once you see there's no more water draining out. 

Although this is an important step, it's important to note that the system will still have residual water even after draining water through the low-point valve. It is precisely for this reason that we winterize to keep the pipes from freezing.

6. Drain the Water Heater

Before beginning this step, your water heater must remain off for a minimum of three to five hours so that the water in the water heater is completely cool. Draining your water heater of hot water could cause serious injury. 

Once the water heater has been turned off for this time and you are sure the water inside it cool, open up the water heater's external panel. Here, you'll find the drain plug for the water heater, which you should unscrew with a wrench. When you do this, water from the water heater should start gushing out. Once the water heater finishes draining, put the drain plug back on with your wrench.

7. Bypass the Water Heater

The water heater in your RV must be bypassed before the winterization process because, otherwise, the antifreeze would fill the water heater tank up before filling the pipes.

Water heaters on RVs tend to hold between five and 10 gallons of water. The water heater in your RV must be bypassed before the winterization process because, otherwise, the antifreeze would fill the water heater tank up before filling the pipes. While the antifreeze won't damage the water heater tank, you will end up wasting some antifreeze. Furthermore, when it comes time to de-winterize, having to dump between five and 10 gallons of antifreeze will be a pain.

To avoid this situation, you must switch a valve that will bypass the water heater. Doing this will cause the antifreeze to flow around the water heater, going only into the pipes. Refer to your owner's manual to determine whether your RV includes a bypass around the water heater. If you don't, you'll have to either install one or fill up your water tank with antifreeze.

8. Connect a Converter to the Water Pump

A pump converter can pull antifreeze from a container through the water pump and into the water lines of the RV to winterize the camper. These systems are fairly simple, and you can check the instructions if you have any questions. Basically, you will attach a tube to the end of your water pump that goes into the antifreeze container. 

9. Winterize the RV With Your Water Pump

Now that you've hooked up the antifreeze container and water pump, begin by making sure the valves on your low-point drain are closed. Also, make sure that the water heater has been successfully bypassed. When these steps have been completed, turn the water pump on so your water lines will be pressurized.

As the pump pumps antifreeze through the water pipes, you'll notice the antifreeze level going down. When your pump stops, this means that the water system in your RV has been successfully pressurized with antifreeze. If it continues to run after a minute or two, turn your pump off to confirm there's not a valve open somewhere. 

10. Ensure the Antifreeze Goes All the Way Through the Lines

Assuming that the pump stops, you should then go to all the faucets around your camper and turn them on — both hot and cold settings — until antifreeze starts coming out of the faucet. The antifreeze needs to go all the way through the lines, both cold and hot.

Remember to run the kitchen faucet and wand, toilet and any other items that are easy to forget.

Remember to run the kitchen faucet and wand, toilet and any other items that are easy to forget. Note that the pipes that go into the toilet are particularly susceptible to freezing, so it's important to confirm that antifreeze is running through them. Once you see antifreeze coming out of every single faucet, both cold and hot, close off all the taps and shut the water pump off.

11. Pour Your Antifreeze Down the Drains

Now that you've finished winterizing your water lines, there's one last step you must take to ensure your drain pipes won't freeze and rupture. To do this, you'll want to pour one to two cups of antifreeze down every drain, including all the sinks, the toilet and the shower. When adding antifreeze to the toilet, start by flushing one to two cups in the black tank, then adding an additional one to two cups in the bowl.

Option 2

The second winterization option involves blowing air through your water lines. Although not a requirement, you can opt to winterize your RV by blowing air through the water lines before pumping in antifreeze. 

Although not a requirement, you can opt to winterize your RV by blowing air through the water lines before pumping in antifreeze.

To perform this winterization method, you should follow steps 1 through 7 above, then do the following: 

  1. Attach your air compressor to the city water line: This can be done with an RV blow-out plug. However, if the air compressor you're using doesn't include an adjustable automatic shut-off valve, you should get an external pressure regulator. Never add more than 50 psi of air into the water lines to avoid damaging them. 
  2. Blow each water line out: With someone to help you, turn the compressor on and have your helper in your RV open one faucet at a time until the air comes out. Make sure that all faucets are opened, and if you have an outdoor shower, turn it on. You should also spray out your kitchen wands and flush the toilet. Turn each faucet to both cold and hot, which will ensure that air gets through all the lines. 
  3. Put antifreeze in your lines: Once you've completed the two steps above, continue with steps 8 through 11. The goal of blowing out the pipes first is to work all of the water from the system before putting your antifreeze through. By taking this extra step, your RV will receive the maximum possible winterization protection.

Winterizing the Interior of Your RV

In addition to preparing your pipes, you'll want to do a couple of other things to winterize your RV's interior. Once the weather gets cold, the relative warmth your RV offers will attract critters like mice. 

Keeping out rodents is a critical part of the winterization process. When these pests invade, they can cause thousands of dollars in damage by eating furniture and wiring. To protect against these little invaders, take measures such as: 

  • Cover holes: With steel wool, you can cover any holes where rodents might enter. You can also spray fiberglass in nooks and crannies. 
  • Set traps: Set mouse traps and baits around your camper.
  • Remove food sources: Take out all food and drink to keep them from attracting pests.
  • Remove all clothes: Clothes and soft materials can also attract pests, so take out all your clothes. If the clothes must stay, put mothballs in your closets.
  • Open up cabinets and fridge: This will prevent odors and mold.

Winterizing the Exterior of Your RV

Winterizing the Exterior of Your RV

Another important part of this process is winterizing the exterior. While, in a perfect world, you could just store your RV in a garage or cover it with a tarp. However, this is usually not an option for camper owners, as covered storage is hard to find and pricey. Instead, you will likely have to winterize your exterior, which you can do by performing the following steps:

  1. Wash and wax the camper: While washing your RV will make it clean, waxing it will help protect it against harsh winter elements. 
  2. Seal any areas of concern: Seal up any places that you suspect are leaking. If you've noticed any water leaking into your camper, now is the perfect time to check your door seals, window seals and roof for indications of leaking. If you notice any, you should patch these areas by using a waterproof silicone sealant. 
  3. Cover openings: Next, you should clean and cover up any exhaust pipes, RV ports, drains and so forth. To winterize the exterior of your RV, you will need to cover up openings like drainpipes and furnace vents. This will ensure that no critters can gain entry to your camper. Don't cover up the furnace exhaust with a solid object — instead, use screens, which will allow your furnace to continue properly exhausting once you're ready to use it again.
  4. Clean your awning: You should also open up, clean and dry the awning on your camper. Before you store your camper in the winter, you'll want to ensure it's clean and dry so it doesn't attract mildew. 
  5. Spray repellent: Spray your window seals and doorways with natural pest repellent. You will save yourself lots of headaches by keeping out critters now.

Additional Steps for Motorhomes

Here are some extra things you must do if you have a motorized camper.

If your camper is motorized, lots of extra components will need to be winterized other than the "house" parts of your RV. Here are some extra things you must do if you have a motorized camper: 

  • Check for generator or engine fluid leaks: If you find any, have them repaired.
  • Add fuel stabilizers to your generator and engine: This will prevent the gas from going bad.
  • Check the transmission fluid: If the fluid appears to be low, dirty or discolored, ask a mechanic to take a look. 
  • Check the engine oil: If needed, top it off. 
  • Check other fluid levels: These include fluids like brake fluid and power steering fluid. Make sure they're topped off.

If you notice that any fluids are abnormally low, have a mechanic look at your camper before you store it away. 

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RV and Motorhome Winterization Guide

RV and Motorhome Winterization Guide

Owning a recreational vehicle (RV) or a motorhome lets you take trips you've only ever dreamed of, exploring the East Coast, West Coast and everything between. But when you're storing your motorhome or traveling in it for the winter, you can't forget about RV maintenance and winterization.

Winterizing your motorhome or RV is critical to avoiding damage and ensuring it will be ready to be used again in the springtime. Below, we'll go over why winterizing your motorhome is so important, how to winterize your RV or motorhome and when it should be done.

What Does It Mean to Winterize an RV? 

Winterizing refers to preparing your RV for the cold weather that typically accompanies winter in most places in the U.S.

As the name suggests, winterizing refers to preparing your RV for the cold weather that typically accompanies winter in most places in the U.S. In most cases, an RV is winterized before being stored for several months when the weather is coldest.

There are many things you can do to prepare an RV for winter storage, which include closing vents and windows, cleaning the fridge, shutting off everything and storing your battery properly.

However, generally speaking, winterization refers to the process where the plumbing system is drained, which protects it against damage that can occur during the coldest months. 

Why Winterize Your RV? 

If you've had water lines or frozen pipes in your home, you're aware that when water freezes, it expands, which is bad for all kinds of plumbing, including the plumbing in RVs.

If you've had water lines or frozen pipes in your home, you're aware that when water freezes, it expands, which is bad for all kinds of plumbing, including the plumbing in RVs. Motorhomes are especially susceptible to winter damage, as they're not as well insulated as most brick and wood homes. If the water in your water lines or tanks freezes, it can crack connection points and pipes, which can lead to expensive repairs when spring rolls around. 

When Should You Winterize Your RV?

When Should You Winterize Your RV?

Here's when to winterize your RV:

  • When storing your RV during the wintertime
  • When camping in very cold weather

If you camp on the weekends or part-time, chances are you'll be storing your RV during the winter. If this is the case, make sure to winterize the plumbing on your RV before you store it. This will prevent damage. 

However, even if you camp full-time or are a snowbird, winterizing your RV may still be necessary and will depend on where you are, how you're traveling and the low temperatures in the region. Even if you're using your RV during the winter, winterization is generally a good idea if: 

  • Temperatures are consistently low: If temperatures are consistently below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, consider winterizing your RV.
  • You're unable to heat or insulate the underbelly of your RV: You should also winterize if your RV doesn't have heated tanks. 
  • You can run the furnace only at certain times: This is common when you're boondocking. 

Winterizing an RV is also easy, and you can do it yourself. Depending on which method you use and your rig's size, the process shouldn't even take an hour. Whereas dealers could charge hundreds for winterizing your RV, doing it yourself can cost well under that.

How to Winterize Your RV 

How to Winterize Your RV

Here are two common methods for winterizing your RV. 

Method 1: The Antifreeze Method

The easiest, simplest way to winterize your RV's plumbing is with antifreeze. You've likely come across those gallon jugs of pink, blue, purple and other colors of liquid in a local auto store. But antifreeze for RVs is a particular formula that includes propylene glycol, which makes it less toxic than other antifreeze options. This formula is typically pink.

Since this antifreeze will be going through drinking water lines, buying nontoxic is absolutely critical. Under no circumstances can you use any other kind of antifreeze. 

What Do You Need to Winterize Your RV? 

What Do You Need To Winterize Your RV? Method 1: The Antifreeze Method

To use this method, you will need certain materials. Our RV winterization checklist is as follows: 

  • RV antifreeze: You will need to buy two or three gallons of antifreeze, depending on how large your rig is. The larger your camper, the larger amount you'll need.
  • Water heater bypass kit: Some RVs have these pre-installed, in which case you won't need to buy one. 
  • Nozzle or flush wand for black tank: Some RVs already have these pre-installed, as well.
  • Common hand tools: These will be used for removing and reinstalling the drain plug on your water heater. 
  • Converter kit for the water heater: This or tubing must be used to connect to the water pump's inlet side. 

Before starting this method, you should also take a look at your owner's manual. While we go over the general steps needed for winterizing your RV, your owner's manual will include important specifications you must take into account for your specific RV. These include considerations like the maximum pressure that the RV's water lines can withstand and how the water heater must be bypassed. 

Remember to consult your owner's manual first and throughout the process. But the general steps involved for this first method are:

1. Drain the System 

This first step is very simple and should be done whenever storing your motorhome, no matter what the weather is like. It involves draining all the tanks in your RV, which you do by disconnecting and draining the freshwater hose, then turning off the water pump. 

While connected to a sewer dump, empty out and flush the black and gray holding tanks to ensure they're prepared for storage. If your motorhome doesn't have a black tank flush built in, rinse the tank's inside out with a flush nozzle or cleaning wand.

Open up the freshwater tank's low-point drain, which will allow all the water from that tank to drain, too. Once finished, close the valve again. As you won't be adding antifreeze to the freshwater tank, when it's finished dripping, that's all you'll have to do. 

Next, turn your water heater off and wait for a couple of hours before you move on to the next step. 

2. Drain the Water Heater

It is critical that you turn off your hot water heater several hours before proceeding to this step. When you take off the drain plug, several gallons of water will rush out. To prevent getting burned, be absolutely sure that the water heater has been turned off and given adequate time to cool. 

You must also ensure your system is not pressurized. To do so, disconnect from any water source, turn off the water pump and open up a hot water faucet before draining. Along with the pressure relief valve, those measures will make sure your system isn't pressurized when draining it. 

The next step involves opening your pressure relief valve and removing the anode rod or drain plug. This will cause the water heater to quickly drain out, so make sure to keep your distance. If you have plans to clean out the water heater using a vinegar solution or tank-rinsing wand, this is the best moment to do this. 

After the water heater has finished draining, wrap plumber's tape around the drain plug's or anode rod's threads, then reinstall it. If your RV has any inline water filters, make sure to take them out. Turn the valves necessary so these lines are bypassed before continuing. 

3. Drain Your Interior Lines

With the dump valves from your gray tank open, the next step is to turn on all your faucets, both hot and cold. Remember to turn on all the faucets, including the toilet, kitchen wand and outdoor shower. Find and open up any low-point water drains, as well. Then, force out any water remaining in your lines by using your water pump. Run this pump only for a couple of seconds — once your system is dry, you'll want to turn your pump off quickly to avoid damaging it. 

The next step is recapping all your drains and closing all your faucets. Then, close the valves on the gray tank and disconnect it from the sewer. Rinse your sewer hose and store it away. 

4. Bypass the Water Heater

RVs often come installed with a bypass kit, and you can find out whether your RV has one by checking in your owner's manual. If so, your manufacturer will likely provide a diagram. In most cases, this bypass kit can be accessed when inside your RV and is usually behind your water heater, behind a removable panel or through your basement. 

Bypassing your water heater especially important step, as you won't want to fill your tank with antifreeze. If you do, you'll be wasting antifreeze, and cleaning it out in the spring will be an unnecessary hassle. 

5. Bypass the Freshwater Tank 

In this step, you'll be running antifreeze through the water lines with your water pump. The objective is to draw antifreeze into the water lines of your RV directly but not into the freshwater tank. There are two options here, depending on your RV:

  • You already have a winterization valve: You may have a pre-installed winterization valve, which would be located in your freshwater system. If you do, turn the valves to the necessary position to bypass your freshwater tank. There should be a diagram located either close to this system or in your owner's manual. If your RV comes with a winterization valve, it should also come with a tube you can put into a container of antifreeze directly. 
  • You need to purchase a kit: If your RV doesn't have this type of system pre-installed, you should get a water pump converter kit. Another option is disconnecting the line connecting the freshwater tank and water pump, then replacing it with tubing running from the water pump inlet into a gallon jug of antifreeze. 

6. Run Antifreeze Through the Water Lines

With your water pump inlet tube inserted in the jug of antifreeze, turn your water pump on, which will pressurize your system. When doing this, you'll notice the antifreeze level going down as it travels into the lines.

Next, open every faucet up in your rig one by one to run antifreeze through your system. Do this with both cold and hot valves so both valves will be filled. Keep these faucets open until pink antifreeze begins to come out, then close them. 

Run your antifreeze through all your lines, including the kitchen sprayer, drinking water taps, showers and toilet flush. Once you've finished, turn your water pump off. 

7. Pour Antifreeze Down Your Drains

Keep the P-traps from freezing up by pouring one cup of RV antifreeze down each of your drains.

You should also pour roughly two cups in your toilet bowl, then flush it into your holding tank, which will prevent freezing of residual water. Next, pour one or two more cups into your toilet bowl and leave it there, which will protect the valve. 

Once you've done that, the winterization process is complete. This method is popular because it's easy and can be done very quickly. 

Method 2: The Compressed Air Method 

What Do You Need To Winterize Your RV? Method 2: The Compressed Air Method

This second winterization method, which involves the use of compressed air, is more thorough but also takes more time. It still requires RV antifreeze in addition to several other gadgets. 

What You'll Need

If you'll use this method, add these items to your winterization checklist:

  • Tankless air compressor: Look for an oil-free compressor that includes a built-in air filter. This will help ensure that no contaminants end up in your freshwater system.
  • Blow-out plug: This serves to attach your air compressor to the freshwater system. 
  • Adjustable water pressure regulator: This attaches with your blow-out plug, which will protect the system from overpressurization. When setting the regulator, consult your owner's manual. 

Start this method by following steps 1 and 2 from the method above, which involve draining your system and water heater. Disregard the instructions about replacing the anode rod or drain plug.

Once you've accomplished that, move on to these steps:

1. Blow Out the Hot Water Lines

Continue by closing your pressure relief valve located on the hot water heater. With your drain plug open, the next thing you'll want to do is connect the air compressor assembly — specifically the blow-out plug — to the freshwater inlet. Ensure you're using an adjustable air compressor or pressure regulator to avoid overpressurizing the water lines. 

Next, turn the air compressor on and pump air through your lines. You'll notice that more water is coming out from the drain plug as the water is draining from your hot water lines. When finished, replace the drain plug or anode rod and ensure your water heater has been shut off for storage. 

2. Bypass Your Water Heater and Filters

RVs often come with a pre-installed bypass kit, so check your owner's manual to see if this is the case for you. If you do have one, your manufacturer should provide a diagram. You'll most likely be able to access this system from the inside of your rig, and it is often located behind your water heater or behind a panel you can remove. 

You'll also want to take out and bypass your inline water filters, as well. 

3. Blow Out Your Water Lines

In this step, your water pump should always be turned off. Start by opening the low-point drains, then open all your faucets to their warm settings. After water is no longer coming out of the low-point drains, close these drains and shut your faucets off. 

Next, open your faucets one by one on both hot and cold settings. Blow the compressed air through your system until it's just air coming out of your faucets. Doing this is much easier if you have a helper, but if it's just you, blowing air for around 30 seconds through each faucet should be enough. Just make sure you open just one faucet at a time, and remember not to forget the showerhead, kitchen sprayer, outdoor shower and toilet. 

When draining your water pump, turn on the nozzle to your outdoor shower, then turn your water pump on. Don't run it for too long, as your freshwater system is now dry — the only thing you want to do is drain it. Compressed air can be used to blow out water from the line. 

4. Pour Your Antifreeze Into the Drains 

Now it's time to pour antifreeze down each of your drains, roughly a cup each. Doing so will prevent the freezing of your P-traps. 

Then, pour about two cups of antifreeze in the bowl of your toilet, then flush it into the hold tank. Pour an additional cup or two in your bowl and leave it to prevent your valve from freezing up. 

Close the low-point drain on your freshwater tank, close the gray valves and ensure the sewer hose you were using has also been drained. Store it away. 

Other RV Winterizing Tips

Other RV Winterizing Tips

Regardless of the method you choose to use, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Always turn the water heater off: This should be done even if your RV's propane tanks have been removed for the winter.You should also make sure your electric and propane switches are both turned off. Do this long before draining your water heater, as it will give the water time to cool off. 
  • Close all dump valves: You'll also want to make sure you close all low-point drains and faucets. You should also turn your water pump off before storing it. 
  • Winterize the outdoor shower: This one is easily forgotten, as it's an outdoor line. However, as this line is most exposed to the elements, it's extra important to winterize it. 

Do You Have to Winterize Your RV?

Just because you're going to be camping in a place with freezing temperatures doesn't mean you necessarily have to winterize your RV.

Just because you're going to be camping in a place with freezing temperatures doesn't mean you necessarily have to winterize your RV — many factors will determine if and how the lines will freeze. 

For instance, if you're camping at a campground with hookups that allow you to run your heater overnight, and your RV's underbelly is heated or insulated, you'll be okay even if temperatures dip below freezing. If the temperature will be at or below 27 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period, all you need to do is disconnect your freshwater hose from the spigot. Otherwise, you'll have to wait for your hose to thaw before using water in the morning.

If temperatures stay below freezing for extended periods of time, one thing you can do is fill your freshwater tank and disconnect it from your spigot. 

Follow these steps to winterize your RV while living or camping in it when it's cold:

  • Warm your hose up: If your RV park provides a freshwater connection, get a heated water hose. If you're not moving around much, we recommend that you buy heat tape and wrap the connection between the spigot and the hose, which will prevent the connection point from freezing. 
  • Skirt the RV: Skirting refers to covering up the gap between the ground and your RV's underbelly, preventing cold air from flowing underneath it. You can purchase custom-made skirts or build your own from materials like plywood. 
  • Run your heater: Once your skirt is in place, place an electric heater in the space under your RV, which will prevent your underbelly from freezing.
  • Leave your water running: On nights when it's particularly cold, we recommend leaving one of your faucets open, which will allow some water to move through your system constantly. However, if you're in an area that is experiencing a drought, you should avoid letting your water drip.

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