Jan 092010

Hon Dah snow 2 webRVs and wintertime do not mix well. Trust me, I know. Years ago when Miss Terry was being treated for cancer, we spent several weeks in Traverse City, Michigan during the winter, when snow piled up several feet deep around our motorhome, and the temperature dipped into the single digits every night.

At the time we had our Pace Arrow Vision, which we came to call the Motorhome From Hell, and it showed many of its shortcomings during that ordeal. We went through huge amounts of propane just trying to stay warm, and the best we ever managed was to take off the worst of the chill inside the RV.

Of course, the best way to deal with cold weather is to get as far south as you can go, before the snow falls. But just in case you find yourself stuck in cold weather, here are some tips that can make it more comfortable.

RV furnaces are notorious energy wasters. Just stand outside your RV the next time you have the furnace on and feel all of that heat blowing out the exhaust. That is wasted propane that you are paying for. Small electric cube heaters help a lot to ward off the cold, if you have sufficient electrical power to run them. We found that catalytic heaters such as the Olympian brand are great in an RV. They use much less propane than an RV furnace, and do not require 12 volt power to run a heater fan. 

In a motorhome, the windshield conducts a lot of cold to the interior of the rig. Keeping the windshield covered with bubble foil can help reduce this. Foam inserts in the roof vent openings also helps keep the cold out.

Hon Dah snow fiver 2 webUsing some type of skirting material, be it plywood, plastic tarps, or even bales of hay to surround the bottom of the RV helps insulate from the ground up and makes a big difference inside.

The low temperature was not the only thing we had to contend with. In an occupied RV during cold weather, condensation quickly builds up inside, and it can create a real mess. Keeping a roof vent or windows open to circulate the air isn’t an option unless you want to freeze. We found that products like DampRid, which can be found at WalMart or Camping World, help a lot, but you can never completely eliminate the condensation problem. We spent a lot of time armed with towels, wiping down every glass or metal surface, and the interior walls of our motorhome.

Many RVs are supposed to have “winter packages,” which include heated plumbing bays, but in reality, a lot of them don’t come anywhere close to being able to handle really cold weather. We found that a clamp-on utility light with a metal reflector, which you can find at any hardware store, fitted with a 25 watt bulb, can keep a closed utility bay toasty warm and prevent pipes from freezing.

None of these ideas will make your RV feel like a sauna inside, but hopefully they will help keep you more comfortable if you have to spend time in very cold weather. But remember my own personal motto, and consider adopting it as your own: When it snows, Nick goes!

Thought For The Day – A bad worker always blames his tools.

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Nick Russell

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  11 Responses to “Cold Weather RVing”

  1. Nick,

    Does a catalytic heater need to be vented? We do not need any aux. heating, but I am curious to know.


  2. We actually do keep a ceiling vent open, in fact, it is open almost every day we are in the unit. It is open less than 1/2 inch. Yes, sometimes it lets in some cool/cold air, but, we rarely fog up. Here in Gulf Shores we have been down to 25ish and there is very little fog on the windows with that vent open. The wind was blowing hard IN that vent the other night and we made silly decision to close it ALL the way. Next morning, lots o fog.

    Now, if you are really gonna do serious winter camping, the vent 1/2 inch open probably won’t do it ! LOL But down to 20ish to 30ish and all points above that the open vent keeps us pretty much fog free.

    All other tricks/hints should be utilized as well!

  3. Nick to make you feel better today outside of St Louis in Illinois on the Mississippi is is 9 BELOW we also have 4 inches of ice and snow covered roads. an RV would not be the place to be today. happy trails

  4. Nick,

    We have stayed in SC longer than planned due to some unanticipated issues. This is the south, but not far enough! We have had many nights in the 20’s or low 30’s. Here are a few other things I have done:

    In addition to the bubble foil at the windshield, we also put it in all the windows. I cut them to fit inside the frame. This makes a huge difference. In the morning we roll them up and set them in the shower.

    I placed plastic on the screen door to create a “storm door”. It is the type plastic designed to use as inside storm windows that you shrink with a hair dryer.

    I am leaving the 12v lights on inside the bays. First I took off the plastic covers to be sure they did not get too hot and melt.

    I wrapped the outside fresh water hose. Most is covered in the 6′ foam “noodles” designed to cover water pipes under a house. The 1″ size fits our fresh water hose. However this is too thick for the point where the hose comes through the rubber sleeve into the service bay. The hose froze at this point the first night in the 20’s. So I wrapped this section in a rubber foam tape tape I found at Lowes. It is designed for wrapping pipes. I used the extra left over tape to wrap on top of the foam noodle for that section of water hose that goes from the bay down to the ground. That section is the most exposed to the cold air.

    Finally I placed a plastic container over the outside water bib and put a shop lite with a 40w bulb under it. Since doing this and wrapping the water hoses, we have not had any more problems with frozen outside water lines. Our only problem is that the campground cuts off all water from 8pm until 8am on nights when the temp is in the 20’s. So we just used the fresh water tanks during those night.

    Hope these additional ideas help.

  5. Nick, you wait too long! If we see frost we know it is time to go.

  6. How far south?

    We are in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and it is about 40 degrees today. Last night I disconnected our water hose and left the faucet dripping slightly. There was ice in the hose this morning. Maybe Mexico City or Panama would be better.

  7. I am right now stationary in northern Virginia and this is my second winter.

    Last winter I was refilling my tank every 7 to 10 days. This time around my last tank lasted me for 27 days. I did some major insulating on a very small budget.

    Straw all the way around the outside and two layers of the large (.5″) bubble wrap on all windows (except on half the kitchen window), including wrapping my screen door with the stuff. Last year I didn’t even know that the furnace would cut off by itself, it ran so much. Now, I will run the furnace for 5 to 10 minutes, block off the bedroom when I’m not using it, and the small electric heater will keep the temperature up.

    Outside I have wrapped the water hose in foam tape and then wrapped that up in more bubble wrap.

    BTW…love you blog 🙂

  8. George,
    We kept a window cracked open in the living room, and a roof vent open about an inch in the hall to provide an air flow.

  9. We are currently in Elkhart, IN with the motorhome just up the road getting a facelift. There is snow on the ground and tonight they are calling for it to be -10. We feel our motorhome is in good hands with Michele Henry.

  10. Thanks for all the tips!

  11. What do you suggest for the gray and black water tanks. Long time ago we had a 84 Pace Arrow. The tanks and the drain plumbing froze up. They were not in a heated bay in that model, they hung underneath the motorhome.

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