RVing stories talk about the wonders of camping in sunny, warm weather
but situations change and for numerous reasons - whether by choice or
beyond your control - you may find yourself setting up in sub-zero
temperatures. We did it and found out that it's not really that
Granted, driving an RV during winter storms is not much fun, but imagine waking up to a fresh blanket of fluffy white snow shimmering in the winter sunlight. Since some campgrounds are open year-round, the best part of your adventure may be trails that are only a stone's throw away.
Today's RVs are well insulated and, if your unit has a basement, it is even easier to stay warm and toasty. Some models include a specialized winter package to help keep the cold outside. If your RV doesn't have this luxury, there is still much that can be done to make yourself comfortable for the winter.
If your coach isn't well insulated or doesn't have a basement, it may be a smart move to add skirting over some form of insulation. This will help keep you warmer plus it can lessen the chance of your grey and black tanks from freezing.
Our RV is our primary home and, since 1993, we've spent several winters in Ontario. Personal commitments of the past few years kept us in the cold from January to march (in 98/99 we spent the entire winter in Canada at the full service campground in Milton Heights Campground just west of Toronto, Ontario).
However, before we trekked north again, we asked many RVers for their special winter camping tips. We thought we had it all figured out, but the best lesson is the first-hand lesson of experience.
Our Kastle #2 and GO 4 are wheel deep in snow at Milton Heights Campground, Ontario, Canada.
Once we learned the ropes, RV living during good and bad winter weather was not a real problem. It was actually an enjoyable change to go for a brisk walk in a peaceful winter wonderland after so many years in very warm or hot climates (of course, we did have to invest in a pair of boots!). On the other hand, it did feel good to nestle inside our comfy RV when the temperatures dropped and the weather turned really nasty.
We also learned that some things are different when it comes to winter camping. Hopefully, our tips will help keep you warm.
"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..." If you have a motorized RV, check your batteries for water level and periodically start your engine to keep everything in good running order.
Using your RV in the winter? Make sure you have a show shovel, window scraper and some kind of ice chipper (i.e. an axe). If you don't have these on hand, guess what? The first time out you will be sure to need them. Also pack a bag of rock salt (sand or kitty litter) to sprinkle on walkways and to put around your tires in the event you get stuck in snow or end up on slippery patches of ice.
Parking: Always park on special boards (about 2 feet x 8 inches). Although we extended our jacks the first year, the tires sunk into deep wells as the ground changed from frozen to thawed and back again. When we tried to leave in March, nothing we did would allow us to drive out of those deep wells. Final result - a tow truck winched us out.
Parking on a long board under each tire, including inside duals, solved this problem.
Be sure to add a board underneath your jacks as well. One final step, periodically check the water level in your batteries and start your engine to ensure smooth running.
Storage: Our RV is large enough to cover most of our storage needs, but it can often be a good idea to keep unnecessary items out of the RV when on the road. Whether you live in Canada or you have access to storage - it is wise to consider having a place to periodically stow some items. Especially if you have a smaller RV.
Note: Read the super 'Storage Tip Info & Suggestions' for storing furniture on the Brooklyn Storage site under Storage Options
Propane: While camping in November and early December when temperatures fluctuated and our RV furnaces didn't run consistently, a propane fill every seven to 10 days was good enough. But, during our first January, it didn't work very well. With two furnaces cycling continuously, our propane supply was depleted in four days. We finally rented a large propane tank with a specialized regulator (installed by the propane company) with a fresh supply of propane delivered every three weeks. This was not the most economical route, but it was hassle free.
John, Katie and Maddie take a brisk stroll in our Ontario winter campground at Milton Heights (just west of Toronto).
Why not enjoy your RV throughout the winter months? After all, as a friend recently reminded me, banks accept monthly RV payments whether you use it or not!
Water: When living in an RV during cold weather, regular winterizing techniques don't apply. We planned to use water from our fresh water tank that is stored in a heated pod. It didn't freeze until temperatures dropped below -5 degrees C.
Our next step was to partially winterize by draining the tank, adding RV antifreeze, turning on the pump and opening all cold water taps (we didn't want antifreeze in the water heater). When the antifreeze appeared, we turned off the pump and switched to water from the city water outlet. The pump and surrounding water lines were then protected.
An electric heat strip taped to the water hose and covered with circular foam tubing insulated it. This system worked for another 10 degree drop. Next the valve, where the water entered the RV, froze. One winter tip from other RVers was to hang two trouble lights with 40-watt bulbs in the storage pod and plug them in when the temperature dropped. Heat from the light bulbs should prevent freezing. It may have also kept our water tank in working order.
If you plan on using your unit for only weekend getaways, carry your drinking water. That way you always have a supply and don't have to worry about freezing. Use public showers when available.
As a back up, we kept a gallon or two of drinking water in the coach plus a separate supply to flush the toilet. Parks usually have shower facilities - use them. On a positive note, we had water every day, but just not every morning - sometimes we had to wait a bit.
Electricity: If you plan on using a generator, check to see if yours has a winter setting, switch if necessary. Furnaces use considerable battery power to cycle off and on. If you're not plugged into power, you need a solar panel system or an inverter or some other method to keep your batteries fully charged. Look for winter camping spots that provide a good source of power. It avoids many other problems.
Dumping/Sewer: Dumping also has a few different winter-use rules. Our sewer hose housing drops below the heated storage pod. It froze, so we removed that hose completely and attached a separate hose that we store in the heated pod. Voila, no more frozen sewer hoses.
To prevent freezing in the drain pipes, after each dump we added a cup of non-toxic antifreeze into the black and grey tanks. If you do wish to keep your sewer hose connected, be sure it is placed and supported at a steep angle so all residue runs down. In the summer if we have sewer hookups, we leave our grey valve open, but during winter, we only open it at drain time.
Always keep your black tank closed until time to dump. If you don't, liquids will drain away and the solids will collect leaving a clumpy mess guaranteed to cause problems. Volume dumping ensures a clean trouble-free dump.
Draft/Condensation: Many RVers find they have condensation in their RVs but we were fortunate that this wasn't a big problem. However, hints that may help you stay in control are to tape windows along the edges as well as the frames of unused doors or put plastic over the windows (inside or out). For a tight fit, use the kind of plastic that you heat with a hair dryer. A small dehumidifier may also help. We cut down on a draft by the driver's door when we pressed a twin bed sheet of egg shell foam inside the door.
Crack open a window or vent for air circulation (especially in the bathroom and kitchen); close your blinds and drapes at dusk to keep in the heat and leave desiccant crystal moisture absorbers in several places. These crystals control mildew and can be purchased at RV dealerships or in most stores such as Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart or those with a household cleaning supplies department.
Whether you're in the cold for a few days or a few months, assess your RV's strengths and weaknesses. Granted, some units are much better insulated than others, however, with a little preplanning, you can stay toasty warm in almost any temperature. So, it doesn't matter if you're camping by choice or by necessity - have fun and appreciate the picture-perfect winter days. You can always hibernate with a good book on the bad ones!
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