Sadly, the time comes every year in northern climes that we must put away our RVs for the winter. In most of North America, that involves dealing with the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures that will come with the cold weather.
If you are not fortunate enough to have access to RV indoor storage, there are a few tasks that should be undertaken every fall to winterize your trailer. These tasks mostly fall into one of five categories:
Protecting your RV plumbing system and RV water heater.
Protecting your RV coach batteries
Protecting the RV exterior and components
Protecting the RV interior
Checking the RV Roof
Check your RV owner's manuals for any winterizing instructions specific to your coach or installed appliances.
Items you will Need
Before you get started there are a few items you will need to have for the plumbing part of the RV winterization. RV Part Shop offers all these items:
Non-toxic RV antifreeze - Get 4 Gallons. You may not need that much if you don't have a 45-foot motorhome with three bathrooms and two washer dryers, but it won't go bad, and you'll have some for next year. But having extra will mean that you won't be short of antifreeze you need more. Remember that you don't need to shop at Canadian Tire for RV antifreeze, we can deliver it right to your door.
A water heater by-pass kit if you don't have one already.
A holding tank cleaning wand.
An RV winterizing kit also called an RV water pump converter kit
A water heater drain wrench or a large socket wrench to fit the water heater drain plug.
If you have an air compressor, also get an RV Blowout Plug
RV Holding Tank Winterizing
First, you'll want to make sure all the water is out of your gray water and black water holding tanks. The wastewater in the tanks won't generally cause damage to the tank because there is usually room in the tank BUT the threat here is the water that is sitting in the sewer fittings attached to the outlet of the tanks.
If this water freezes, it can crack the black ABS pipes or fittings, the RV sewer valves, or even the end cap. When this then thaws in the spring, you will have a smelly mess to deal with.
Make sure both of your holding tanks are fully drained before starting on the freshwater system. If you do, the excess antifreeze from the freshwater system will drain into the tanks and sewer outlet area, further protecting it from damage.
Use your holding tank cleaning wand or built-in tank rinsing system to remove any residual waste as well.
RV Freshwater Plumbing System Winterizing
The second step in winterizing a camper trailer or motorhome is to take steps to prevent the plumbing system from freezing. If water is left in the plumbing system to freeze, you will have a substantial bill in the spring to repair or replace your RV hot water tank, RV water pump, and various RV plumbing fittings and fixtures. If you have a clothes washer in your RV, freezing could damage components of this appliance as well.
Winterizing your RV fresh water system involves removing as much of the freshwater from the system as possible and replacing it with RV antifreeze.
RV Hot Water Heater
First, we must deal with the propane water heater for your camper (or an RV electric water heater, if so equipped.) Shut off the RV water pump, release the pressure in the system by opening a hot water tap inside, then open the drain plug on the water heater and remove it. The water should drain out of the tank.
The plug may have an RV hot water tank anode rod attached to it. This attracts corrosive impurities in the water and, if the anode rod has a lot of corrosion on it, don't worry. That means it's done its job by preventing corrosion of your tank.
If the anode rod is over 75% gone, make a note to replace it in the spring. For now, put the plug back in turn in a couple of threads to keep unwanted pests out.
Next, if you don't have an RV water heater bypass kit installed, you should install one. What this fixture does is allow you to fill all the pipes in the RV with antifreeze without using 6 or 10 gallons of antifreeze to fill your Atwood RV water heater or other brands.
The bypass consists of two three-way valves at the cold-water inlet and hot water outlet of the water heater, with a hose in between them. By closing off the flow to the pipes running in and out of the water heater, you will direct the antifreeze through the hose between the valves.
Make sure the handles on the valves are parallel with the bypass hose. This will ensure no antifreeze will enter the water heater.
If you get your RV hot water on demand from a Girard tankless water heater or other RV on-demand water heater, check your manual for winterizing instructions of this component. RV tankless water heaters have different manufacturer recommendations when it comes to winterizing, depending on the model
If you have a Dometic or Suburban water heater for your RV that is not tankless, you can winterize it as described above.
If your water heater has electric power, make sure the power to the element is turned off. This will prevent damage to the element.
Remove any inline water filters from the line or from their housings. Dry them out and store them for next year, unless you feel that they need replacement.
If you have a bypass for the water filter housing, engage that as well. It will save you a quart or two of antifreeze.
Remove the Fresh Water
The first step is to drain the freshwater tank. There will be a valve somewhere in or around the tank that you can open. If it is the right one, you will start to see water flowing onto the ground from the tank.
Next, there will be a low point water drain valve on both the hot and cold-water lines, usually near the plumbing compartment. Open these valves, plus all the faucets/valves and drain any remaining water you can from the system.
If you have an air compressor and a blowout plug like we mentioned above, connect the blowout plug to the city water hose. Then connect the compressed air supply to the air valve on the other side of the plug, pressuring the system with air.
Next, go around to all your plumbing fixtures, like:
Showers (don't forget the outdoor shower)
Clothes washer, if equipped
Ice Maker or Cold-Water Dispenser on your RV's refrigerator if you have them.
Any other appliances that use water
and open the taps/valves on them. Leave each one open until you hear the air escaping or, at least, see the water doing a lot of sputtering. When that point is reached, close the tap/valve, and move on to the next one.
It's important to think about every place in the RV where there is a water outlet and repeat this process.
After you've blown most of the water out, it's time to fill every part of the system with RV antifreeze. This is non-toxic, so if you don't get it all out in the spring, it won't be harmful if any of it is consumed.
On your RV pump converter valve, connect the supplied plastic hose to the valve and put the other end in your first jug of antifreeze. Turn the handle on the three-way valve to be parallel with the plastic hose. Turn the pump on. It will run a short time as it pushes antifreeze through the system.
Then, go back to all the fixtures you opened with the air blow-out and open them again until you see a stream of the bright pink antifreeze running through them. When you do, close that tap/valve off and move on to the next one. Make sure you do them all, even a small amount of water in a small corner of the piping can cause damage.
When you get to the toilet, open the flush valve like you did with the other taps/valves, but try and leave some purse antifreeze sitting in the toilet bowl as well. In addition to this, pour a cup or so of antifreeze down the drains to protect the drain traps from freezing.
Your RV Batteries
The next step in winterizing a travel trailer, fifth wheel or motorhome is to deal with the batteries, especially the coach batteries. Batteries have water in them and, if they become discharged, will freeze, and can crack the outer case of the battery. This can not only destroy the battery, but can leak acid into the battery compartment, causing further damage.
If you are lucky enough to have your RV plugged in all winter or have the batteries on a trickle charge, this likely won't be an issue for you.
Batteries will freeze only if they are discharged. In our experience, turning everything off won't do the trick. Even if they have no load on them, batteries will discharge on their own. They will discharge more quickly the colder it is.
So if you don't have an active charger connected, it is highly advised to remove the coach batteries from the RV and store them in your basement where it is warm.
Protecting the RV exterior and components
The best way to properly protect the exterior is to install a full cover over the unit. If that's not in the budget, a minimum would be to install an RV air conditioner cover to protect that expensive appliance.
Keeping the RV Interior in Good Shape
Two words: Pests and Dampness. Find a good rodent repellent to prevent mice and other little creatures from invading and eating your interior. Make sure that the fridge and cupboards are fully cleaned of any remaining food crumbs or residue. Your RV will be a lot less appealing as a rodent hotel if you remove the buffet.
Checking the RV Roof
This is actually a ritual that you should do religiously not only every fall, but every spring as well to prevent damage from water leakage. Few RV problems can be as expensive as this and can be so easily prevented.
First, check for cuts in the membrane fabric itself and apply patches or lap sealant as required to seal them. Then, check all lap sealant (the goopy stuff you'll see around everything) for cracks or missing pieces. When you find any of these, just remove any loose pieces and apply new lap sealant over top of them.
Finally, check any of your RV's skylights or the RV roof vent lids for cracks or holes. If you find any, replace them or, at least, patch them until the spring so no water can get into the coach.
If You Read This Article Too Late…
If you discover you have damage from frozen water when you de-winterize your RV, we have the parts you will need to get your RV's plumbing system back in shape, including:
RV hot water tank replacements (you can replace just the trailer's hot water tank on most camper water heaters without replacing the entire water heater.)
Suburban water heaters or Atwood water heaters (now Dometic) if you need a complete RV propane water heater replacement
Replacement RV water pumps
RV batteries (deep cycle batteries for replacement of the coach batteries)
Call one of our RV Winterizing parts specialists if you need help with any winterizing supplies or replacement RV Parts.