10 Cold Weather RVing Tips for Water Management

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….aaahhhh! Not so fast, but days are getting shorting and cold weather is approaching.  This marks the start of a series of cold weather RVing tips, in the form of a “top 10” list based on my 11 winters in an RV–including temperatures approaching -30°F, and seeing just what it’s like to break an 1891 record for the number of days without getting above freezing.  Here’s the list:

1. Head South

Duh.  If you can, that’s obviously the way to go if you have no interest in winter.  But it’s also cheating–this list is about surviving cold weather, not avoiding it.

2. Skip the heated hose

First of all, they’re expensive, whether you make your own or buy one pre-made.  You end up using energy unnecessarily, and can’t keep the hydrant or the inlet to your RV un-frozen in colder temperatures.  There are other cheaper, more effective ways to get by.

3. Use your on-board plumbing

This might seem obvious, but in my experience is one of the most effective ways of dealing with moderately cold temperatures.  In most of the country, you can find a day above freezing once a week or so to fill and drain your holding tanks.  Even if your holding tanks aren’t heated, getting below freezing at night, or even a few days without getting above freezing isn’t a big deal.

If your RV is built with PEX plumbing, it’s relatively tolerant of occasional freezing.  A hose connected via the water inlet is a lot less tolerant, and freezes a lot sooner.

4.  Keep your freshwater hose inside

When you go out to fill your tanks, the hose will be a lot more flexible and easier to maneuver.  You’re also less likely to crack it, and you’ll be sure there aren’t slugs of ice inside.

5. Leave your sewer hose connected, but make sure it doesn’t have any low spots

If you’re in cold enough weather, that sewer hose isn’t very flexible and is prone to cracking.  The less you have to handle it the better.  Make sure you don’t have any low spots, or trapped water will mean a lot of hose to thaw–especially if you leave your grey water valve open, or your tank valves leak.  So…

6.  Make sure your holding tank valves don’t leak

If you expect temperatures to periodically rise above freezing, whether you leave the grey water valve open or not isn’t too critical.  But a small leak will allow ice to build up inside the hose, eventually making it impossible to drain.  You don’t want to be trying to thaw 15′ of sewer hose with a heat gun in freezing temperatures.

7.  Avoid dripping faucets

This is a waste of water, to be sure, but also runs the risk of creating a bigger problem.  If the water cools and freezes on its way through your sewer hose, you have a problem.  If your grey tank valve is closed, you have a problem sooner–that dripping faucet won’t turn itself off in the middle of the night if your tank is full and starts backing up into the shower.

8. Get your fresh water a little movement every now and then

No matter how nice the RV, there’s inevitably a plumbing run somewhere that isn’t well protected.  It may only be a few inches of pipe, but with water not flowing, it can certainly freeze and block flow.  A little bit of movement to keep the cold spots from rejecting enough heat to freeze is pretty easy, and takes very little water.

How you do this depends on your particular RV, but generally speaking, what you want to do is briefly (15 seconds or so should be plenty) open the faucet that flows water through the biggest portion of your plumbing system.  You can guess a little, or explore a little to understand how your plumbing is laid out.

Figure out the plumbing…

In the Grey Ghost, the water pump and water inlet are both toward the rear on the driver’s side.  The cold water line runs across the back and up the passenger side to supply the shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, and water heater, and forward from the pump to supply the washing machine, bathroom sink, and toilet.  The hot water line runs from the water heater at the front of the kitchen, back alongside the cold water pipe on the passenger side, around the back, and forward on the driver’s side, ending at the bathroom sink.  This means that opening the hot water on the bathroom sink runs water through all of the hot water trunk line, and through all but a small section of the cold water trunk line.

Recirculate…

Since I don’t like wasting water, and since it required only a very short length of pipe, I installed a valve from the bathroom sink’s supply line to the line that fills my freshwater tanks.  Opening this valve circulates water as needed, but deposits the water back in the fresh tank, instead of a waste tank.

And Automate…

I went a step further and automated that process, with a timer circuit and solenoid valve.  It’ll eventually be the subject of its own how-to.  As a bonus (since I trigger it with the bathroom light), the water in the shower is hot almost instantly when I turn it on.

As a double bonus, on the edges of the winter season, that timer circuit gets used to keep the freshwater hose from freezing.  It allows me to leave the hose hooked up in temperatures down into the mid-20s, without wasting water.  Running of of my tanks, it kept pipes from freezing at -25°F that otherwise froze overnight in temperatures around 0°F.

9.  Don’t panic if you do end up with a frozen pipe

It happens.  You can do everything right and still end up with a frozen pipe.  Most often, you’ll figure it out when you get up in the morning.  Don’t panic–your RV should be just fine when things thaw out.  If you aren’t going anywhere, crack open the faucets/fixtures that aren’t working.  As soon as a trickle starts to get through, it’ll be just moments before you’re back to full flow.

Just make sure you don’t leave with a faucet open.  Tape a note to the door or something so that you don’t forget.

10. Don’t forget about the campground facilities

Still not comfortable with keeping things working? You can always manage cold weather by using the restrooms and showers at the campground, if available.  It’s less convenient than the stuff on-board, but can come in handy if the shower is all frozen up.

Go back to #1…

Cold weather isn’t for everyone.  Especially if you’re a full-timer, not pinned down by other obligations, think about where you really want to be in winter.  When you’re trying to thaw a sewer hose full of frozen $#!t, think about all of your fellow RVers.  Specifically the ones in the Rio Grand Valley, southern Arizona, and Key West.  They’re smiling every day not having to think about all of this stuff!!

There are certainly other ways to deal with cold weather–these are just my own preferences and insights.

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