When we left off last, we were safe and sound in Tacoma and the Christmas holidays were fast approaching. I promised you that we would let you know how the RV handles freezing weather.
Lessons in Cold Weather RVing:
It was December, but temps below freezing in Tacoma are rare. So, when the temperature the first night there got down into the 20s (-9 C) we were totally caught off guard.
Here’s what happened:
- The hose connecting us to water froze
- The plastic pipe leading to the fresh water tank froze
- The gas/propane furnace ran most of the night
I need to tell you, our Rexhall Aerbus is a good quality motorhome and all the pipes are enclosed and access is through a sealed exterior bin. We thought that would be enough if the temps got down to freezing or just below. Truth is, had is only been a couple of degrees below freezing, we probably would have been OK. The problem was that it got more than just a little below freezing!
Lesson #1 – How to Keep Pipes From Freezing
If your water connections or any of your water lines are exposed to the outside, even temperatures just below freezing can freeze and crack your lines. Even if your lines and fill points are enclosed in bins or compartments, if those areas are not heavily insulated and heated, just having the sewer line or water hose coming up through an access hole can bring in the freezing temps and problems… as we found out first hand.
Our simple solution was to wrap a heat tape with a built in temperature sensor (about $20.00 US) around the exposed pipes and valves. We got it from the local hardware store. It’s the kind meant for outside or crawl space water lines. It looks like an electrical extension cord that has no plug at the end.
When we are in an area that has possible freezing temps, we just plug the heat tape into our full hookup power box via an extra extension cord (heavy duty) and the sensor takes care of turning on when needed.
That’s all we needed to keep the bin and connections from freezing. We don’t connect the water hose in freezing temperatures, we just fill the fresh water tank as needed. If you were staying in one place for the winter, you could use another heat tape and some insulation wrapped around it on the hose to keep your hose from freezing too.
For boondocking or dry camping, you could also stuff the compartment full of insulation or heavily insulate your exterior water lines to keep them from freezing in all but the coldest of temps.
Lesson #2 – Heat Guns and Plastic Water Lines Don’t Mix
My dad had a heat gun he used for heat shrink on wires and windows. We decided to use that to heat up the pipes and get the water pump working again.
Well, using the heat gun was a good idea, we just didn’t know how warm and how fast it could work. Instead of just slowly warming the whole compartment, I made the mistake of blowing directly on the plastic water lines.
In less than two minutes, I had heated up the plastic water line so well that it became soft and with the water line pressurized from the pump… It formed a bubble just like bubble gum and popped.
I was lucky, my dad had just been remodeling his kitchen and had just the right size plastic water line on hand. So, all I had to do was finish thawing things out, slowly, and then fix the popped water line. That was just two fittings, about 8 inches of new plastic water line, the heat gun to warm the ends and it all screwed back together in less than 30 minutes. Like I said, I was lucky to be where I had the tools and supplies to fix it myself.
It easily could have been a couple hundred dollars of repairs if I had to have a repair shop do it.
In Conclusion: Motorhomes, 5th Wheels and other RVs can handle below freezing temperatures. You just need to use a little common sense and have a back up plan for when things don’t work out.
- Don’t let the colder weather stop you from enjoying your RV year round.
- Do test it’s cold weather abilities close to home or family, just in case.
- Keep extra incandescent lights & insulation handy for backup & repairs
- Always thaw frozen pipes and tanks slowly – To fast and thinks can break
As we travel year round, we’ll keep you up to date on what we learn (the hard way) and how you can avoid the same mistakes (the easy way).