How to live in an rv in the winter
Living in your rv during the winter months can be a challenge. RVs are made to be super-insulated and cozy for summer RVing, but the interior of an untrimmed RV can feel like a freezer in sub-zero temperatures. When temperatures drop to freezing or below, you should consider putting up a skirt if you’re spending significant time parked somewhere.
Staying warm during winter will be your main objective, and then your secondary priority will be to maintain a comfortable climate.
What is a skirt?
A skirt is a barrier that traps air between two solid objects, which improves the insulation value of an RV. Skirting effectively reduces heat loss from hot water tanks, propane tanks, engines, storage spaces and other openings in an RV. It can even prevent condensation from forming on those surfaces. In cold climates, skirting also adds protection against wind chill as it covers the gaps between the RV and site amenities such as picnic tables, lawn chairs or outdoor play equipment.
Skirting takes some time and effort but it’s super-easy to take on and off when you need to do something to your RV outside the skirted area. We recommend using skirting that rolls up to allow access to anything underneath if you need to fix it.
Using skirting may not always be ideal for your RV spot so it’s good to have a Plan B in place, such as melting ice with a gas-powered deicer or electric heater or using an automatic propane tank opener. It’s also essential to protect the exterior of your RV with a layer of insulation and make sure there is no condensation on any interior walls (you can install plastic wall protectors and insulate the inside of cabinets). If you leave some windows open while cooking on the inside, make sure they are securely closed afterwards to keep all heat trapped.
How Can You Live in an RV in Winter?
There are many things you can do to make living in an rv during winter easier. Below are just some of the ways to help you live successfully in an rv during winter.
- Get A Heated RV Water Hose - A heated water hose will come in handy when temperatures go below freezing. It’s not a bad idea to have two: one for the winter and another for the summer. A regular water hose sits in temperatures well below zero and will freeze up quickly, so it’s important that you use a heated outdoor water supply line with an internal thermostat. The internal thermostat helps maintain water temperature in temperatures down to five degrees Fahrenheit (-15 Celsius).
- Keep Your RV Batteries Warm - With extreme cold comes extremely low battery power. Even if your RV came with a factory-installed thermal package which includes battery warmers, you may want extra protection from cold weather battery failure. The most common solution is to use a battery insulation kit, which provides an additional layer of defense between your batteries and sub-zero temperatures.
- RV Propane Heater - If you’ve got the RV propane furnace on the fritz, then one of the best options for heating up your rig is using a catalytic heater. They work by pulling air across ceramic honeycomb catalyst material which combusts any hydrocarbon gases present in the air with oxygen molecules to produce heat without producing harmful fumes or soot. Catalytic heaters are very safe because they do not emit carbon monoxide. This means that they need no ventilation whatsoever, making them ideal for enclosed spaces such as RVs or tiny homes.
- Get A RV Electric Heater - There is no doubt that a forced air heater is the way to go for heating up your RV. Forced-air propane heaters are pretty efficient, but they usually take some time to get the interior of the RV warm. Electric forced air heaters are very easy to install just about anywhere in your rig. You can even attach them right above the doors so that it blows warm air into the room when you open it.
- Insulate your rv - Insulation is key when you want to live in an RV during the winter months. Use insulation to cover all the windows, both inside and out. This is one of the most important things that you can do for your RV when it’s cold outside. You can also place some insulation between your roof panels, under your flooring if possible, and around any exposed pipes. Insulating all these different parts of your rv will ensure that heat gets trapped and stays in the RV. This is also a great way to save energy and prevent too much heat loss.
- Cover your windows with rv blackout shades - Use winter-specific window coverings that will block out any sunlight or wind from entering your home. Try vinyl “barn” style covers, as they go over the entire window and can withstand extreme cold temperatures without breaking down. If you just need to cut down some on the drafts, install inside drapes which you can open and close depending on how much you want to let in.
- Close off spaces where cold air may be entering – Check each door and make sure they are shut tightly to stop any air leaks between them and the door frame. Use weather stripping around your doors, and especially along any cracks or seams you find around your entryway.
- Keep those vents closed – Just like the drapes over your windows, you can make simple additions to keep cold air from getting in through other holes as well. Use foam gaskets around any vents where cold air might be able see daylight, just remember that some vents are needed for proper ventilation.
- Protect your RV roof – If you’re going to be living in a cold climate, make sure that you insulate your roof. Not only will it keep the insulation more effective and efficient, but many RVs roofs actually have less surface area than traditional homes due to storage compartments and such. Be sure to cover these areas with heat shield material, which is designed specifically for roofs with high surface area/heat loss.
- Get outside and stay active - It’s a common misconception that it gets colder outside in the winter, but actually, you can get a sun burn like sensation due to the lower angle of the sun. Don’t be afraid to go outside and enjoy yourself. It won’t kill you to take your dog out for a walk.
- Build an outdoor fire – This isn't advised if weather conditions are dangerous (heavy rain/snow), but if there's no natural threat outside, make sure you build an outdoor fire pit to keep warm. You can also cook on them (if legal) or even start up your grill for some tasty lean cuisine if space allows.
- Charge batteries daily - No matter how much insulation is in your RV, cold weather can drain the life from your RV batteries. You will need to start this process before you leave to be sure you have full charge by the time you need it. While in the winter, always use a generator or solar panels when available to maintain a full charge on your batteries during cold weather camping because a dead battery is no fun in freezing temperatures. You want to know that your batteries will be able to start your rig in a hurry if need be.
- Keep an eye on your water - Use drinking water if necessary for cleaning and cooking, but let the shower/toilet water just drain away. Losing any kind of hot water can quickly lead to expensive repairs. Inspect all faucets, valves, and drains daily for possible leaks or drips. You should also go through everything twice a day because even though nothing shows, they could be leaking slowly enough to not cause suspicion on first inspection. You do not want to have any type of leak in sub-zero weather because it could cause serious damage quickly.
- Warm up your water - Remember that you want to keep things as warm as possible without wasting fuel, so the more insulated your rig is, the better. If you have any type of automatic propane heater on board, make sure it has a good supply of fresh batteries before an extended cold spell hits. Know how to operate your hot water tank's heating element if need be, watch YouTube videos for step by step instructions. If not, shut the tank completely off during periods of extreme cold so no water will flow anywhere unless manually turned on. Try to limit all use of appliances or devices that increase propane consumption, this means don't heat food in the oven if you do not have to.
- Winterize your plumbing system - Winterizing your plumbing system is easy with the correct equipment, it's cheap and can be done very quickly. If you are knowledgeable about basic plumbing work, winterizing your RV may not seem difficult for you at all, but if you are unsure or do not have proper tools this is something you should seriously consider hiring a plumber to do for you. Winterize your black water tank by completely covering the sewer drain access port with a rubber plug and tape it down well so that cold air cannot get in. Winterize your grey water tank by pouring approximately 2 gallons of antifreeze into each compartment after removing the screen from the drain valve at the bottom of each compartment, open one compartment at a time and close it immediately once the antifreeze is in.
- Use a laundromat for washing - Once you are settled into your winter campground, stop at a laundromat and use their washers/dryers. It costs just a small amount for every load which is well worth it if you don't have access to any cheaper alternatives. When you use a laundromat, you will be saving water and money.
- RV Park Membership - If you travel all winter long, consider getting a membership with one of the many RV resorts that offer discounted monthly rates over the colder months. There are several memberships out there that offer a variety of perks and discounts. Even if you only plan to winter in a certain area, memberships can help you save money.
- Buy extra socks - If you are not used to living in the cold, your feet will get very cold during the day unless you do something about it. Buy several extra pairs of socks each winter season before leaving on your trip so that you can rotate them often between days when they get wet or damp with sweat since it takes time for them to dry.
How cold is too cold for an RV?
Any temperature in the range of -19ºF to -25ºF is very dangerous. Frostbite may occur and your hands and feet may numb up. -20ºF to -29ºF is cold enough for frostbite to occur within 30 minutes. You should stay indoors or at least move around every hour so that your blood circulates and you don't lose fingers or toes.
Any temperature below -40ºF can cause death in just a few minutes depending on how physically active the person is when they are exposed to these kinds of temperatures. For example, a person who is exposed to a temperature of -40ºF for a couple of minutes will likely survive, but a person exposed to a temperature of -40ºF for an hour or longer definitely won't.
Will RV holding tanks freeze?
If you do not prepare your rv for the winter, there is a possibility that your holding tanks will freeze. It happens because water in tanks freezes at 32ºF. After time, ice accumulates and clogs the fill pipe preventing sewage from emptying into the dump site pumper truck or septic tank. When this happens, you end up with sewage all over your rv's floor.
RVing is a great way to explore the country, but it can be difficult during cold winter months. Living in your rv during the winter months can be a challenge because RVs are made to be super-insulated and cozy for summer RVers, not sub-zero temperatures. When you have freezing or below temperature conditions outside, there are some things that will help keep you warm like adding insulation under an existing skirt (if one exists), getting out of the vehicle as much as possible throughout day and night, using space heaters inside if needed; also make sure that all windows are shut tight at night so exterior windchill doesn’t come into your living area when trying to stay warm.