Winterize RV

"You can do it yourself"

Deciding when to winterize your rv and knowing that your camping season is over can be a tough call - the "Indian Summer" days are my favorite time of the year - warm days with the fall foliage turning bright yellow, orange and red! But the nights can get quite cold with freezing temperatures. Our 5th wheel trailer is okay at 20 degrees, but anything colder than that would mean that the pipes would probably freeze and break. So we usually winterize our trailer the end of September - if the forecast is for nights less than 20 degrees, we do it earlier.

When you decide that it's time to winterize your rv to prevent freeze ups, you have the choice of doing it yourself or taking it to an rv dealer and paying $75 more or less to have it done. It really is quite simple to do yourself - just follow these steps:

  • Buy RV antifreeze - never use automotive antifreeze! RV antifreeze is non-toxic and automotive antifreeze is poisonous - you certainly don't want that in your fresh water pipes. Two or three gallons should be enough to do the job.
  • Completely drain all the black, gray and fresh water tanks - go to an RV dump to do this
  • Drain the hot water heater - most of them have a drain on the bottom of the water heater outside - open the pressure relief valve first, then pull the plug and drain it completely. Put the plug back in when it is drained thoroughly.
  • Open up all the faucets, drain the toilet by flushing until no more water comes through, and drain the outside shower if you have one - immediately turn off the pump when water stops going through.
  • Turn the valves to by-pass the hot water heater - there is no need to fill the water heater with antifreeze because it is completely drained.
  • Turn the valve to close the fresh water inlet pipe to the pump - use the clear pipe that isn't connected to anything except the pump to put in the gallon jug of antifreeze
  • Go to the farthest away faucet (usually the bathroom) and turn the pump on. Open the faucet and watch until the pink antifreeze appears. Do this with all the faucets and the toilet. Don't forget to do the outside shower if you have one. Replace the jug of antifreeze as needed - don't let it go dry. It is helpful to have 2 people doing this!
  • When antifreeze is in all the pipes, turn off the pump.
  • Pour a cupful of antifreeze in each drain and a couple of cups in the black water tank to protect the valve.

Consult your owners manual for ice makers and washing machines. It is also a good idea to read in the manual for something that might be different for your particular model, but this is the basics for winterizing your rv to prevent the pipes from freezing.

It doesn't work by just draining the lines to winterize your rv - there will be small amounts of water trapped in places like the water pump, faucets and drains and they will freeze and probably break.

Winterizing Your RV - Some Other Important Tasks

Remember to shut off the electric power to the hot water heater and also the gas pilot light if there is one.

You can install a valve on the water pump inlet pipe if you don't have one so you can draw up the antifreeze from the jug to winterize your rv. These are available at all RV parts stores.

You can also install a bypass for the hot water heater if there isn't one. This allows you to turn a valve to bypass the hot water heater so it doesn't fill with antifreeze.

To freshen up your holding tank - put 1 cup of laundry detergent in the toilet and flush - then add 10 gallons of water. Put a bag of ice cubes in the tank (not crushed ice) and drive around for at least 20 miles going around corners and up and down hills. The ice will help clean the sides of the tank and the sensors. Do this before you winterize your rv.

Your fresh water tank could probably benefit from a small amount of baking soda put into the tank. Again, do it before winterizing.

Cover vents to prevent critters from coming in - look for even tiny holes that could be an access for mice and cover them with duct tape. RVs in the winter make a perfect dwelling place for mice - they are dry and wind proof. I keep D-con and ant traps in our trailer over the winter and I don't have any problem with either.

Check your roof and vents for any potential leaking problems and fix them.

Some people like to put their trailers on blocks over the winter so the tires aren't supporting any weight. There is a theory that tires sitting in one spot all winter long will lead to flat spots on them.

It is usually not recommended to cover your rv for the winter because moisture will get trapped under the cover - even just a tarp. The result would be mold and mildew and you certainly don't want that!

Remove all food from your rv and anything that might be damaged by freezing temperatures. Two things that are often overlooked are dishwashing soap and shampoo - a real mess if they freeze and break!

Our trailer has 5 valves on the pipes - 3 for the hot water heater and 2 for the pump. I simply just turn all 5 in the opposite direction - works for deweinterizing in the spring too.

These are basics for winterizing your rv so you don't end up with frozen pipes.

Happy camping!

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