Being prepared is probably the most important part of winter camping and with that in mind the first thing you should do is winterize your RV. There are many different ways of doing this but in this article I will discuss what worked for us. It was trial and error and learning as we went that got us through our first winter. It was tough and dirty work but when everything was done it was very comfortable and cozy. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get everything done in time. I procrastinated and within 2 days the weather went from 40 degrees to -14 degrees with a wind chill that made it -30 degrees. I got to work in -14 degree weather, in the snow for two straight days trying to get everything situated.
The wind was screaming through the seals of the windows and door. The floor was cold to the point where you had to wear shoes and the frost would accumulate on the inside of the window seals only to melt during the warmest part of the day. The first two weeks of our winter camping adventure really got my wife and I wondering if our decision to camp during the winter was a mistake. We got hit very hard, very early into the winter season but what we learned made it a pleasurable experience in the end.
For a better understanding, you need to know what kind of RV we are living in and what needed to be fixed. We live in a 1979 Cruise Air motor home designed by Georgy Boy manufacturers. There were some things that needed to be fixed the first month we were out there, keep this in mind when purchasing an older RV.
– Power Inverter/battery charger – $245 + installation.
– Heater Blower – $195 parts + $400 installation
– Battery – $85
– New fresh water drainage hose – $3
– New Kitchen faucet washers
– Miscellaneous light bulbs and washers.
I’m going to lay this out into sections as to what needed to be done.
– Build skirting
– Insulating the plumbing
– Windows and doors
– Roof vents
– Waterproof the roof
Building the Skirting:
Skirting will help you reduce energy costs, help keep the plumbing, fresh water tank, water pump and all the hoses from freezing. We used plywood and I nailed R-13 insulation onto the plywood that would face inside. Most of the RV’s I have seen with skirting had it coming from under the RV frame but this wasn’t an option for us. The wheel wells, tanks and storage compartments where all uneven and that made it very difficult. I decided to design skirting that would give a 3″ shelf around the outside of the RV. For drawings of the skirting design visit my blog (link can be found in my profile) and the pictures are in the “drawings” tab. Measure everything twice to make sure you get the right dimensions. You will need to cut out an opening in the skirting for the steps and a couple of doors for the waste tank dumping and a storage area, if you want one.
I also drilled a 1″ hole through the skirting for the propane hose to run through. Pack around the hose with insulation to keep the wind, snow and cold out. We rented a 100 gallon propane tank that sits outside the RV so we wouldn’t have to worry about having to run and have it refilled constantly. There are many different options for this, talk to your propane company to find the plan that works best for you. We call the propane company at the end of each month and let them know what percentage is left in the tank and they come out and fill it for us, it is real convenient. Attach skirting together with 2×4’s and screws. You don’t want any gaps or cracks so make sure it all fits together snug, each corner is secure. Check all around the skirting for any openings and fill with insulation, it really helps if no wind or snow can get under your RV.
Insulating the Plumbing:
Under the RV, where the gray and black tank dumping area is, it’s a good idea to get some insulation that can be wrapped around the tanks output. Make sure to leave room so you can still get the cap on and be able to attach the dump hose. I also placed two 500 watt utility lamps, one near each tank, to help keep the tanks and outlet from freezing. Make sure the lamps are not touching the tanks or are to close to any insulation. Also add some non toxic RV anti-freeze to both tanks, this will help to keep things from freezing. Trust me, you are going to want to put some kind of Deodorant in the black tank, we use Aqua-Kem.
We didn’t have the dump hose attached full time. We kept ours in 2 garbage bags and stored in the front of the RV to keep it from freezing. Trust me, you don’t want that hose to freeze, it becomes very brittle and breaks real easy. We dump the waste tank first and then the gray tank that holds all the water that comes from washing dishes, the kitchen and bathroom sinks and from showering. Dumping the gray tank last helps to clean out the waste and keeps it from stinking and me passing out.
You can purchase electrical heat tape that is designed to be wrapped around water hoses. Add insulation over the electrical heat tape and hose to ensure things will not freeze. I have also seen people use 3″ PVC pipes for there tank dumping needs. You won’t have to worry about storing the hose inside and it is more convenient, just make sure it’s a down hill trip from the RV to the sewer. I didn’t do this because we had a slightly up hill track to the sewer. I couldn’t stand the thought of knowing something was in that pipe. If you have any leaks in the gray or black tank outlets a good product to use is J-B Water-weld. You can use it on wet surfaces or even under water, this really helped us out.
Windows & Doors:
The wind howling through the single pane glass is something that needs to be taken care of right away. We had good luck using Reflective Foil Insulation with Bubble Core on the driver compartment windows and bedroom. We used shrink film on the inside of the kitchen and dining area windows to keep us from feeling to claustrophobic. We really needed the outdoor views and it did help keep the wind from blowing in. On the doors I used weatherstripping on the frame of the door to keep the elements outside. I also put a sheet of Reflective Foil Insulation on the door itself for more protection. Another thing that I did was put duct tape on the outside of the windows to try and keep the wind from coming in through the seal. It may not look good but the survival side of me took over in the cold and it does seem to help.
Keeping the heat in is the key. For the roof vents we made customized pillows that fit nice and tight into the opening. Some old foam I had worked great and I covered that in cloth from a couple of shirts that didn’t fit anymore. It really helps to keep the heat in and the fashionable look can’t be beat. What is real fun about owning and living in your own RV is you can decorate any way you like. Express yourself. I have heard of people leaving the roof vents open a little bit to let the moisture out but with the way the wind blows here, that wasn’t an option. It is a good idea to purchase a dehumidifier, otherwise you could wake up with water dripping from the ceiling and find frost around the windows.
Waterproof the Roof:
This is a must do! You don’t want melting snow and rain dripping into your rv from the roof, this can cause many problems, especially if the water freezes. There are many products out there to use, do some research and contact your RV dealer to figure out whats best for you. Make sure to scrap off the old stuff and be sure when you apply the new stuff to get every nook and crevice. I think it better to put a little extra on than go to light.
This should help you have a comfy and cozy winter camping experience. It is allot of work but it is well worth it and gives you peace of mind and less surprises during those winter months. Some items I keep on hand are: duct tape, electrical tape, flat and Phillips screwdrivers, needle nose pliers and J-B Water-weld. I hope this helps you out and happy winter camping.
Joel left behind 20+ years in the newspaper business for a more peaceful and less stressful life living in the mountains. Now an artist who works with wood, antler, leather, bones and whatever he can find in the mountains, He camps year round with his wife, Steph and there dog Takoda.