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How to Unfreeze RV Pipes

The pipes in my RV froze once. After a sudden cold night, the water in my system made the collective decision that it no longer wanted to be fluid. So it turned into ice.

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but it felt like the end of the world. I had to stop everything I was doing to cater to this issue. I couldn’t work because not having water was far more important. Plus, I didn’t want to risk any further damage by leaving them frozen.

I made the mistake of not winterizing my RV soon enough, so by the time the cold hit, my water tanks, and pipes froze. If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late for you. Luckily, I’m here to help.

Here’s a step-by-guide of how to unfreeze your RV pipes:

  1. Determine where they are frozen
  2. Examine for cracks to determine severity
  3. Turn on your faucet to a tiny drip
  4. Utilize heating tools

Frozen RV pipes can be a nightmare, costing you hundreds of dollars in repairs. Luckily, given that your pipes are still intact, unfreezing them is usually pretty easy. Here’s what you need to know:


Why do RV pipes freeze?

The freezing of your RV pipes will depend on how long they are in the cold, as well as the temperature outside. RV pipes freeze when they reach temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for extended periods of time.

RV pipes also freeze due to a lack of proper insulation. This can even be a problem if the water lines of your RV are widely exposed on the underbelly.

More on how to fix that later.


What parts of an RV are prone to freezing?

Without proper insulation, any part of your RV that holds water is prone to freezing, such as your septic tanks and pipelines. This is especially true if any part of your plumbing system is exposed to the outside world.


Are my RV pipes frozen? (signs that they are)

There are several ways that you can tell if your RV pipes are frozen or not. The first thing you need to know is that your RV pipes cannot freeze under 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If your pipes aren’t working, but the temperature did not fall this low – you may have another issue.

Here are some signs that your pipes are frozen:

  • pipes have frost on them
  • water doesn’t come out of RV faucet
  • strange smell from RV sink

However, please note that a blocked pipe can cause odd smells in your RV as well. Therefore, you have to examine your pipes to determine the true culprit.


How to unfreeze RV pipes

Here’s a step-by-step guide to unfreezing your RV pipes:


1. Determine where they are frozen

The first thing you need to unfreeze RV pipes is to determine where the pipes are frozen. This step is crucial because it helps you narrow down the work you need to do. Once you find the areas that are frozen, you can plan on how to tackle the issue or hire an experienced contractor to handle the work.


2. Examine for cracks

When water freezes, it expands, which can cause pressure on the pipes, making them break. Burst pipes can be a nightmare, especially if you’re out camping without a surefire way to fix them. If your pipes are damaged, you’ll need to replace them immediately. I recommend consulting with a professional if you’re not experienced with this.

Be sure to turn off your water supply in the meantime – this can cost you a ton of money in leaks.

Cracked pipes can be a huge inconvenience, which is why I advocate for winterizing your RV before these problems arise. If your pipes have not cracked, continue reading on how to unfreeze your pipes:


3. Turn on your faucet to a tiny drip

If you check clearly and find out that your pipe is intact despite it being frozen, you need to be careful and turn on the faucet to a tiny drip. This will allow you to do two things. First, you’ll be able to see if you missed any cracks (if the water leaks), and, two, it will slowly melt any ice in your pipes.

If your pipe is well intact, you’ll likely be able to handle the situation yourself, so you’ll save on the cost of hiring a professional plumber. However, be careful and don’t make any drastic changes unless you’re sure that it will fix your issue.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could damage your RV, which could cost you more in repairs.


4. Utilize heating tools to defrost your pipes

Here are some of the best tools for defrosting RV pipes:


i. Heat tape

Heat tape can come in handy during cold weather where water pipes are prone to freezing. The winter season brings its own costly damages, and it’s essential to find ways to prevent or deal with them.

There are several types of heat tapes on the market that you can buy such:

  • self-regulating cable tape
  • thermostat-controlled cable
  • heated water hose


ii. Camper or space heater

Another alternative is a camper or space heater. Unfortunately, many RVs don’t come with the best insulation, which is why opting for a heater can be a great investment.

RV space heaters are usually compact and portable, so you can easily plug them in almost anywhere. I recommend the Mr. Heater F232000, the Lasko 755320, and the Camco 57351 heaters.


iii. Plumber’s torch

A plumber’s torch is a torch used in the plumbing industry to solder, braze, and even weld pipes and fittings. The reason why a plumber’s torch can also be an ideal option to use for defrosting your RV is that it heats up to 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is made of durable steel and has a slim design, which makes it quite lightweight and easy to carry around. I recommend holding the flame close enough to warm the pipes, but not enough to actually touch them. It melts any ice pretty fast.


iv. Heat gun

Heat guns emit a stream of hot air that ranges from 100 to 550 degrees Celsius, which is approximately 200 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Some hotter heat gun models can emit up to 760 degrees Celsius, which is about 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you happen to be camping in your RV during the winter season, it’s important to consider having one in the event of emergencies.


v. Piping hot machine

A piping hot machine utilized low voltage, high current electricity to warm your pipes. It’s normally built with heavy gauge steel and thermal overload protection. It’s conveniently-sized, lightweight, and efficient. It’s also one of the safer methods on this list.


vi. Hairdryer

Don’t have any of this in your RV? Try a hairdryer. It’s something that most people already have in their houses. This is not my ideal choice for a few reasons:

  • You have to avoid standing in water.
  • You have to keep the dryer and cord completely dry.

However, if you’re in an emergency and need to melt them quickly, this may be the perfect solution for you. Again, please be careful!


How to prevent them from freezing in the future

As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” Therefore, the best way to handle a situation is to try and prevent it as much as you can. This also applies to your RV’s pipes. It can be quite beneficial to prevent the pipes from freezing in the future, in case you happen to go camping during the winter season.

Therefore, here are some simple hacks on how you can do that:


1. Drain your water tanks

The reason why RV pipes freeze is due to the availability of water in the water tanks. Therefore, the first thing you should do to prevent them from freezing in the future is to drain all the water inside the tanks, so that when the cold temperatures hit, there won’t be anything to freeze.

When you have dry water tanks, it saves you from having to go through the processes of preventing your pipes from freezing.


2. Install a tank heater

Another thing that can help you prevent your RV water pipes from freezing in the future is a tank heater. Most RV owners who camp during winter seasons normally use a tank heater to keep the piping system from freezing.

Once you warm up the ambient temperature, you can drain the holding tanks and then turn off the heaters. Keep in mind that you should use a tank heater only during cold temperatures. You shouldn’t use it to heat up any water in the summer.


3. Cover your holding tanks

Another way to prevent your RV pipes from freezing is by covering your holding tanks. It adds a little bit of extra insulation to lower the chance of them freezing. This method is quite easy to implement, which is why it’s popular among RV owners.


4. Invest in a heated fresh water hose

A heater water hose provides a constant water supply in your RV, in case of any breakdown. It’s suitable if the pipes freeze because it will ensure you have a consistent flow of water for cleaning, drinking, and bathing.


5. Leave your faucets running

It is a proven fact that running water can help prevent water pipes from freezing. When cold temperatures hit below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – if you don’t have any other heating measures in place – you’ll need to leave at least one faucet running.

However, don’t leave them on at full force – that’s a huge waste of water.  A small drip is all you need to keep them from freezing completely.


6. Add antifreeze to your system

Here’s how to add antifreeze to your system:

  1. Clean and empty out your black water tank.
  2. Do the same for your grey water tank.
  3. Close your water valves completely.
  4. Use the directions on your bottle of antifreeze to determine how much you’ll need to pour.
  5. Once you’ve measured the correct amount, given the size of your tanks, pour the antifreeze into your system.

You can pour antifreeze down your shower drains or sinks, or directly into your tanks, if possible.


7. Insulate your pipes

There several types of RV insulation that are efficient for keeping your pipes from freezing. These include bubble insulation, foam insulation boards, and solar blankets, among others. For extra warmth, line your RV windows and doors with caulk or sealant.

If you normally enjoy camping during the winter season, consider installing closed-cell spray foam insulation for maximum efficiency.


8. Keep the interior of the RV warm

When the inside of your RV is warm, it will keep your pipes warm. Therefore, if you have an electric heater, it may a good idea to leave it running at night. On top of this, consider installing high-quality insulation in your RV to prevent any heat from escaping.


Final thoughts

There are many ways to keep your RV pipes from freezing, which means you shouldn’t worry too much about how you’re going to camp during the cold or winter seasons. Therefore, make sure to implement some of the methods we’ve discussed in this post and you’ll be good to go!