How to Winterize an RV (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Winterize an RV (Step-by-Step Guide)

10 min read

The winter season can be harsh to both man and machine. Thus, over the years, people have slowly begun to understand the importance of making sure that their equipment or machines are adequately protected. This is particularly critical if you own a recreational vehicle. You have to ensure that you do the necessary plumbing to make sure that there is plenty of space for moisture and water to hide.

Winterizing your RV is a mundane task, and it is critical in ensuring that, after the winter has passed, you will not have to spend a lot of money in restoring your RV.

Here’s what you need to do to winterize your RV:

  1. Remove or bypass the water filters
  2. Drain the black and gray water tanks
  3. Drain the water heaters and water lines
  4. Bypass your water heater
  5. Add antifreeze to the system

This article will look at the ways through which you can effectively and efficiently ensure that your RV is safe and ready for the winter season. Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know!

 

When to Winterize an RV

At what temperatures should you winterize your RV?

Once the winter temperatures start hovering around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your RV is immediately at risk of being damaged by freezing water in the tanks, pipes, and water heater. The damage could be so severe that you might have to replace the said entities entirely.

There is a common misconception that you have to wait until there is a full day with temperatures under 32 degrees Fahrenheit. In truth, however, it only takes a couple of hours for the water in the system to freeze and begin to expand.

To avoid all this, it is recommended that you make sure you winterize the RV way before the winter season officially begins. Do so even before the weather is forecasted to fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

How long does it have to be below freezing for RV pipes to freeze?

Anything below 32 degrees Fahrenheit will damage your RV. There is no set temperature below 32 degrees Fahrenheit where the water will begin to freeze and thus expand. In fact, in some areas, the water may freeze some degrees above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thus, it is much safer, for both you and your RV, to winterize the machine when the season is beginning. This will ensure that damage is mitigated, if not eliminated.

 

How to Winterize Your RV

Winterizing your RV isn’t a single task, but a group of objectives that you have to accomplish. It is better to start prospering your RV for the winter a couple of weeks before the cold season begins. This is so that you will have adequate time to conduct the process. Below are the steps you need to take to winterize your RV:

 

1. Remove or bypass the water filters

The first, and probably most important, thing you have to do is to remove the water filters in the RV’s plumbing system. The chemicals you will add to the system to make sure that the vehicle is ready for the winter most often damages the water filters.

Thus, before you add these winterization chemicals, it is essential to remove the water filters. Another advantage of removing the water filters is that you will have a chance to make sure that they are up to date and that they have not been damaged over time. If you find that they are old, you might need to replace the water filters entirely.

 

2. Drain the black and gray water tanks

Another important thing you have to do to prepare your RV for the winter season is to drain the water tanks in the RV. It is paramount that you not let water sit and settle in the tanks over a long time. This is because the said water can act as a breeding ground for all kinds of harmful bacteria. Additionally, if the water freezes, it might cause a lot of damage to the plumbing system.

You have to drain both tanks in the RV, starting with the black water tank followed by the gray water tank. Once you have completed this task, you have to clean the black water tank. There is a myriad of cleaning products that you can use to do so.

 

3. Drain the water heaters and water lines

In addition to draining your water tanks, you also have to make sure that the water heater, and the water lines, are completely drained. To drain the water heater, you first have to turn it off, and then let it cool for some time. All this should be done while it is not under pressure.

Thereafter, you will remove the drain plug, then the pressure relief valve. This will ensure that all the water in the heater is removed. It is vital that you net drain the heater whilst it is hot, or while it is still under pressure.

Once you have drained the water heater, you can then proceed to drain the water lines. Open all the faucets and taps, both hot and cold, to do so.

 

4. Bypass your water heater

To make sure that the antifreeze chemicals you use will not enter the water heater, you should make sure that the water heater is bypassed. Most RVs have a bypass system already installed. However, if yours doesn’t, you should contact a professional.

 

5. Add antifreeze to the system

To add the antifreeze chemicals into the system, you need a water pump converter kit. If you don’t have one, you needn’t worry. You can simply connect the inlet side of your water pump to the source of the antifreeze. Make sure all the faucets and taps are closed. Afterward, you can pump the antifreeze through the entire system.

After you make sure that the entire water system has antifreeze, you need to open the faucets one by one, until the antifreeze starts to run out. Start with the hot water ones. Once you have completed this task, you can close the pump.

Afterward, go to the city water inlet and then remove the small screen inside. Then, using a screwdriver, you can push in the valve till the antifreeze starts to come out.

The last thing you need to do is to add some of the antifreeze chemicals into the drain of all the sinks in the RV. Double-check to make sure that the water heater is off, and that all the taps are closed.

 

Can I winterize my RV myself?

Yes, you can winterize the vehicle all by yourself. Especially with the more recent RV models, the winterizing process isn’t as arduous as before. You have to make sure, though, that you follow all the instructions to the letter, and that, after you are done, make sure that the antifreeze is in every single part of the plumbing system.

That being said, it is better off to have licensed professionals, with years of experience, to do it for you. Though you will part with some money, you will have peace of mind through the winter season that you have the best people on the job, and that your machine is safe.

 

Can I leave my motorhome plugged in all winter?

Freezing will reduce the battery life and the voltage of the battery. The voltage that batteries have can be lowered by extremely high or extremely low temperatures. Thus, if you are planning on tacking your RV away for winter, then you should remove the batteries and store them somewhere cool and dry.

Additionally, if you keep your RV plugged in for a long time, it will drain away from the battery’s wet cell’s water level, and thus the efficiency of the batteries will suffer. It is better if you remove the batteries and store them elsewhere, while you wait for the winter to pass.

 

What should I remove from the RV for winter?

To make sure that the long-term efficiency of the batteries is maintained, you will be better of removing the batteries so that they will not freeze. You can keep the batteries fully charged when you have stored them.

You should also remove your AC filters, and replace, or repair them, depending on the extent of the damage.

It is important that you also make sure that you keep the tires of the machine fully inflated at the recommended maximum pressure. You must make sure that air inside the RV doesn’t stagnate. Thus, it is recommended that you leave the rooftop vents open so that there is free circulation of air.

When recreational vehicles are stored for the winter, it is not unusual for squirrels and mice to make their homes in the vehicles. These rodents can ruin your RV by chewing through the rubber, wiring, and plastic components. You, therefore, need to take measures to prevent rodents from accessing your RV.

This is challenging because they can get into the vehicle through some small openings. You should therefore inspect the underside of the RV for holes and gaps. Use expanding foam or silicone to fill them. Also, remove all food items from the RV and clean them to eliminate any remnants of food that could attract rodents.

Additionally, repair all the tears, and cracks in the body of the RV.

 

How long can you leave an RV winterized?

In essence, RV antifreeze cannot go bad, that is to mean, it cannot expire. Thus, in essence, you can use the antifreeze and leave the RV for as long as you would like to. The only thing you have to make sure you do is to ensure that every single step has been followed and that there is no leak in the system.

If the steps are followed to the letter, then the antifreeze can be used for between one to five years. However, it is advisable that you regularly, annually if possible, to change the antifreeze, if the RV isn’t being regularly used.

 

Winterizing an RV: Costs & Time

How much does it cost to winterize an RV?

If you decide that you want licensed professionals to winterize your RV, then you need to make sure that you get the best. That being said, you need to part with some amount of money. The costs of winterizing RVs range from as low as 90 dollars to 200 dollars.

If you have a lot of equipment that uses water, like washing machines, ice makers, and dishwashers, then the price will automatically go up, because more labor will be required. The size of your RV will also influence the cost of winterizing it.

 

How long does it take to winterize your RV?

To spend as little time on winterizing the RV, you need to make sure that you have all the required supplies on hand when you start. You don’t want to start moving around looking for this or that once you’ve started the process.

If you do so, you will spend as little as 20 minutes winterizing the machine. However, as is the case most of the time, people often waste time looking for this or that item, thus spending numerous hours on such a mundane task.

 

Using Antifreeze on Your RV

What happens if you don’t antifreeze your RV?

It is paramount that you winterize your RV adequately. This fact is accentuated if you live, or if you store an RV in, an area whose temperature can drop to below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

The reason behind this is very simple. Water, when it falls to temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, freezes and in doing so, expands. Once it expands, t can cause a lot of damage to the water lines and the RV’s plumbing system as a whole.

Antifreeze doesn’t expand or even freeze in cold winter conditions. Thus, your water system will remain intact, and you can use it once winter is over.

 

Do you have to use antifreeze to winterize an RV?

People often look for other means to winterize their RVs without using antifreeze. There are some ways through which you can winterize your RV. One of the ways to do so is to simply make sure that there is no water in the plumbing system. You can use air compressors to pump out the water.

That being said, antifreeze is the best thing to use. The only reason why people try and avoid antifreeze that after winter, they will have to again remove the antifreeze chemicals from the RV. However, in the grand scheme of things, it may be advantageous, since you can make sure that your RV is in a safe condition.

 

How many gallons of RV antifreeze do I need to winterize?

The size of your RV will influence the amount of antifreeze you will need to winterize the machine, as will the number of pipes and water-using machines. The average amount of antifreeze needed to cover your RV should be about 3 gallons.

 

How long is an RV antifreeze good for?

As with any product, there are a plethora of brands that produce antifreeze, with each type of antifreeze having a different lifespan. That being said, antifreeze, irrespective of type or make, has a lifespan of between 1 and 2 years.

You should note that antifreeze does evaporate, though it does so at a much slower rate than water does. As you would expect, a certain amount of antifreeze will evaporate in the summer.

Thus, to ensure the best outcome, it is advisable that you use the antifreeze chemical for two winters, and then replace it. This will ensure that your machine is in the most conducive of states and that any of the antifreeze that evaporates is replaced adequately.

 

Do you put RV antifreeze in the freshwater tank?

It is not advisable to add antifreeze to your freshwater tank. It will require a lot of antifreeze, and thus it might not be so efficient. Even when the tank is drained fully, there will remain some amount of water at the bottom of the tank. The said water isn’t so harmful. This is because, even if it freezes and expands, it will have sufficient space to move into.

Additionally, the water that remains at the bottom will dilute the antifreeze when the antifreeze is added and thus reduce its strength and efficiency. This will mean that the freshwater tank will have lesser protection.

Thus, generally, it is not efficient, both in cost and in protection level, to add antifreeze to the freshwater tank.

 

Can you dump antifreeze on the ground?

There are different forms of antifreeze you can use on your RV. Notwithstanding the type that you use, you should not dump the antifreeze on the ground. The reason behind this can be traced to the chemical components of the antifreeze. As it constitutes different elements, dumping them straight to the ground will harm the plants and the environment in general.

To dispose of the antifreeze, you can simply drain the liquid into a bucket, and find the proper out into the sewer system.

 

How do you winterize an RV without antifreeze?

You can winterize the RV without necessarily using antifreeze. You need to follow all the steps of the process. First, drain all the water from the freshwater tank, and then drain both the grey and black holding tanks. Follow this up by draining all the water pipes, by opening the hot and cold faucets.

Afterward, you can then use the air compressor to pump out additional water in the system. Ensure that you adjust the pressure of the air so as not to rapture the water pipes. The pressure should be between 30 and 50 pounds per square inch. Once you ensured that all the water has been pumped out, your RV is ready to take on the winter.

 

Final Thoughts

Winterizing your RV is not a difficult task, though it is extremely important in the winter months. It can prevent a boatload of damage. From frozen pipes to dead batteries. Save yourself the trouble and protect your RV from problems before they start.

If you found this article helpful, check out my other articles about RVs. I write about making money on the road, as well as how to manage to live in such a small space.

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.