When fall approaches, remember that you need to “winterize” your RV.
This process allows you to safely tuck it away for hibernation.
Investing in property winterization now will allow your equipment to maintain its lifespan for many more seasons.
Here’s what you should know.
1. What does it mean to “winterize” your RV?
Winterizing your RV is the process of removing water from water lines, holding tanks, water heater, and other water systems.
This way, when the temperatures dip below freezing, the water doesn’t freeze, expand, or damage your RV.
2. Why do you need to winterize your RV?
Is it necessary to winterize your RV?
Only if you want your system to bounce back in the spring when you pull it out of storage!
A little bit of preparation now can help you avoid water damage and high repair costs.
3. When should you winterize your RV?
There are a few tell-tale signs that your RV needs winterizing.
Here are the times to go the extra mile when it comes to preparation.
Winterize when temperatures dip below freezing
You should always winterize your RV before the first freeze of the season.
RV owners often find it challenging to get over to the storage facility at the last minute and take all the necessary precautions.
Because one freeze could damage your RV, it’s best to closely monitor temperatures with a weather app.
If you think there’s even a chance for a dip, then you should take the extra steps.
Winterize when storing your RV for the winter
Some people love camping year-round.
However, there’s a large proportion of folks who simply use their RV during the warm-weather season.
If you fall into the latter camp, then you should make it part of your regular routine to store your RV when the winter months begin to creep in.
This will give you some peace of mind knowing that your RV is safe and sound for the cold weather.
Winterize when traveling through cold climates
If you travel with your RV year-round, then you still need to be conscious of what weather you could encounter.
Many make the mistake of thinking that they’re remaining in warm temperatures if they’re driving through the South.
However, even certain southern locations will see freezing temperatures now and again.
Just a single day of this can damage portions of your RV.
4. What tools do you need?
Here are the tools and supplies you need for proper winterization.
Cordless power drill with #2 square tip driver bit
Socket wrench and 1-1/16” socket
New anode rod or plastic plug
3-4 gallons of antifreeze
2 crescent wrenches or a set of open-end wrenches
Siphoning kit (if the pump isn’t equipped)
Water heater bypass kit (if the pump isn’t equipped)
Needle nose pliers or a screwdriver
5. What are the steps involved?
Here are the top 10 steps to winterizing your RV.
It’s a fairly simple task that you can do yourself.
If you prefer to outsource the work, look for a certified RV technician.
Regardless of who does it, it’s important to consult the owner’s manual for your RV.
It can provide a basic overview for all water-reliant parts.
For instance, your RV may have additional components like a washing machine, ice maker, dishwater, etc.
If this is the case, you’ll need to take extra care to ensure you winterize them properly.
Step 1: Dump and drain
Empty your black and grey water holding tanks.
You want to leave them clean and empty for the winter season.
Step 2: Drain the freshwater tank
Clear out the freshwater tank as well.
Making sure your tanks are empty and every last drop of water is drained.
Step 3: Clear out your water in your lines
Yet another step in the most basic part of winterizing your system.
Remove all water from your system.
Here’s a systemic approach to ensure you don’t miss anything.
- Place a bowl under the faucets to prevent water from going back into the holding tanks
- Turn on the water pump and open the cold side of the faucet until all water has drained
- Close the cold side of the faucet and open the hot side until all water has drained
- Repeat the steps above until every sink and shower has been drained both inside and outside of the RV
- Place a bucket underneath the low-point drain valves
- Open the low point drain valves and keep them open
- Locate the pressure release valve on the water heater (remove the anode rod (if present) to help the draining process)
- Blow out the city water line and the black flush inlet if you have black water flush
- Close any open faucets
Step 4: Bypass the water tank using the valve on the water heater
You’ve just drained your tanks, which means you’ve created quite a bit of space for any remaining liquid that may freeze.
As a result, there’s no need to add antifreeze to the hot water heater, freshwater tanks, or grey and black holding tanks.
Instead, your focus should be on the waterlines.
This is where you could have potential issues because they have no room to expand.
Your heater has a water line at the bottom.
This is where the cold water goes to expand, and the hot water line comes out on the top and fills the hot water pipes.
A bypass pipe connects those two waterlines and prevents antifreeze from entering the water heater.
Most water tanks will have this bypass already (via a one, two, or three-bypass valve system).
Here’s how to work each.
- One-valve system: Close the valve so that it appears perpendicular to the cold-water line
- Two-valve system: Turn both valves so they’re perpendicular to the cold and hot water lines and parallel to the bypass line
- Three-valve system: Turn the valves on the hot and cold water so that they’re perpendicular to the line itself. Next, turn the valve on the bypass so it’s parallel to the bypass line. This way, water can bypass the tank and flow freely from the cold-water line to the hot water line.
Step 5: Protect your lines with antifreeze
Get the siphon tube from the water pump converter kit and insert the siphon tube into a one-gallon jug of pink RV antifreeze.
If you have a newer RV, then you may have a siphon tube and water pump winterization kit already installed.
If not, then you’ll need to disconnect the line coming from the fresh water tank and connect the tube from the water pump inlet into the jug of pink RV antifreeze.
Step 6: Push RV antifreeze through the system
Run antifreeze through your entire system by turning on the water pump and closing the low point of the drains as soon as you see pink RV antifreeze flowing through them.
Open the faucets, toilet valves, and showers on both the interior and exterior of the RV one at a time until you see antifreeze flowing through them.
Repeat this process for both the cold and hot sides of the faucets.
Turn off the water pump and open a faucet one more time to release any built-up pressure.
Step 7: Push RV antifreeze through the city water intake outside the RV
Remove the cap covering the inlet and push the valve with a screwdriver until you see antifreeze.
Don’t forget to step to the side — otherwise you’ll get sprayed with the contents!
Finally, replace the screen and cap.
Step 8: Drain the siphon tube
Keep the tube in the RV antifreeze bottle but lift it out of the liquid.
Turn on the water pump to help suck the rest of the fluid left in the tube into the lines.
You may need to turn on a sink or lift the hose to help drain any remaining antifreeze left in the tube.
Turn off the water pump, wipe it down, and then stow the siphon tube.
Step 9: Pour RV antifreeze into the P-traps
Pour a half of a cup of pink RV antifreeze into the P-traps of your sinks, toilets, and shower.
Step 10: Consult your owner’s manual to winterize your ice maker, washer, and dryer
Because these appliances use water, you’ll need to winterize them as well.
However, the instructions vary depending on the machine.
It’s best to refer to the owner’s manual for the best results.
6. Can you use your winterized RV?
Yes, but only without the water systems.
Otherwise, you’ll need to de-winterize your RV first.
A winterized RV is like a big tent on wheels.
For some people, this completely defeats the purpose of having an RV.
For others, it provides everything they need for a quick off-of-season camping trip.
7. Can you winterize your RV after it’s below freezing?
Oh no! You missed the window. It’s now below freezing…can you still winterize your RV?
Yes, you can.
While it is better to winterize your RV before temperatures drop, it’s possible to do it afterward.
In this case, try to keep your RV in a heated building.
Exposing your RV to even five minutes of below-freezing temperatures can damage the water systems.
8. Does every RV need to be winterized?
There’s no straightforward answer here.
Winterizing your RV depends on a variety of factors.
Do you plan to use it during the winter?
Will you store it in a heated and insulated building?
How will you monitor the building’s temperature (or will you at all)?
Where do you live?
If you’re not planning to use your RV and it’ll be stored all year in a heated, insulated building in the Sunshine Belt, this article isn’t for you.
Your RV doesn’t need to be winterized.
However, if you live in a spot with less than predictable weather, you don’t have access to storage, and you plan to use the camper periodically, then winterizing is a great step.
9. Should a four-season RV be winterized?
If you’ve purchased a four-season RV — complete with tank heaters, sealed underbellies, and four-season capabilities — then you may wonder if this process is necessary at all.
After all, if an RV was built to run in all four seasons, it probably wouldn’t need additional protection from the elements, right?
This isn’t always the case.
To prevent water systems in your four-season RV from freezing, you still need to rely on your tank heaters, propane, or electric heat to keep everything warm.
Get to know how your systems operate and be mindful of your RV’s extreme temperature limitations.
In some cases, you may be able to keep your systems from freezing while stationary, and yet, while driving, you may find things are freezing regardless of how much antifreeze you’ve added.
10. How should you prepare your RV for winter storage?
It pays to be thoughtful of long-term storage throughout the winter months.
Here are some quick pointers that can allow you to prep your RV most effectively when the cold creeps in.
Turn off or unplug any power-draining devices
Switch the battery disconnect switch to store and follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for maintaining your battery
Turn off the main liquid propane supply valve
Remove any food items that could attract rodents or bugs
Turn off and wipe down the inside of the refrigerator — keep a towel over the door for air circulation
Use cordless dehumidifiers inside the RV to prevent mold and mildew
Cover your tires if your RV is stored outside
Place repellants or traps to repel critters
Leave your cabinets open for better air circulation
Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for winterizing your generator (if equipped)
11. How much does it cost to winterize RV?
It costs roughly $130 to $170 for the basic winterizing process if you go through an RV dealer.
This price depends on the size and class of your RV.
You’ll also need to spend money de-winterizing your RV in the spring, so make sure you budget for those costs as well.
12. What’s the process of de-winterizing an RV?
We won’t go into too much depth, but once spring rolls around, there’s another checklist of items you should do to bring your RV out of storage.
Here’s a quick list of what you should keep in mind.
Check your tires
Inspect the exterior for damages, leaks, or cracks
Charge and reinstall your batteries
Flush and sanitize your water system of antifreeze so the water is clean and safe to drink
Check for leaky pipes
Replace propane tanks
Check for propane appliances
Test 120-volt appliances
Check the engine
Test your RV generator
Change the air and water filters
Check safety devices (i.e., smoke alarm, fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide detector, etc.)
Restock first aid and emergency supplies
Update registration and insurance
The best way to keep your RV in great shape for years to come is by winterizing and de-winterizing it each year.
This process may seem intimidating initially, but after the first time, you’ll get the hang of it.
If you want to outsource the job, there are also highly qualified professionals who can winterize RVs on your behalf.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.