A Guide to Winterizing Your RV
As the leaves change color each fall and begin to drop, most people pack away their RVs and end their camping seasons. While some hearty souls do enjoy winter camping, once the temperatures start to get below freezing, your RV needs to be winterized. Just like in your home, frozen pipes in your camper can cause catastrophic and costly damage.
Before you get started with the winterization process, you’ll need to gather a few hand tools to have by your side (wrenches, screwdrivers). These will come in handy when you’re trying to remove your RV’s drain plugs.
Make sure you read your owner’s manual for specifics on winterizing your rig, but this handy guide will give you all the basics for winterizing your RV. Let’s get started!
How to Winterize your RV: Drain and Flush the Tanks
First, for units with inline water filters, drain and bypass them. This is also a great time to check to see if they need to be replaced. Next, drain and flush the water from the gray water tank. Then, turn off the water pump drain and flush the fresh water tank.
Once you’ve emptied your water tanks, disconnect your RV from the city water source. Open the drain valves so that any remaining water drains out of the system. If your trailer has a jockey wheel like the Bowlus, you can use it to tilt your trailer towards the stem and then the stern to make sure you’ve removed as much water as possible. Start with the front of your RV raised higher than the back.
Now, you’ll drain the hot water heater. You don’t want to be working on a tank of hot water, so make sure the unit has been off long enough for the contents to cool down. In a Bowlus, the furnace and water heater are the same unit. Open the two valves to allow the water out. While that system is draining, press and hold the toilet flush button to allow air into the water line that goes to the composting toilet (this is an electric valve and you’ll need power from your RV to operate it). Then, open all the faucets. Don’t forget the showerhead – remove the head from the shower hose and the hose from the controller to make sure all components are fully drained.
The next step is to turn the water pump back on to drain the line between the water tank and the pump. Once you can only hear air pumping, turn the water pump back off and remove the pump’s outlet hose (you may want a cloth on hand to mop up any excess water). Now, remove the water pump inlet connection and turn the pump back on until all the water has been pumped out.
Lower the front of your RV as far as possible, and then tilt the rig slightly from starboard to port (or curbside to roadside for those not nautically inclined) to drain any remaining water. You may need to repeat this process a couple of times until you’re sure gravity has done its job. This should remove most, but not all of the water in the RV’s systems.
Reattach the inlet and outlet hoses on the water pump and close all the faucets (don’t forget the shower). Use a portable air compressor to apply air pressure at the city water inlet (make sure you double check your owner’s manual as some RV manufacturers only recommend 30 psi). You’ll need a blow-out adapter that attaches to your air compressor hose to the city water inlet on your camper. Then, one at a time, open first the hot and then the cold water taps on each of your faucets – kitchen, bathroom, and shower. Then, press and hold the toilet flush button. The air pressure will push the remaining water from the water heater and the water lines. Make sure you drain the gray water tank once again to remove any water that may have found its way in. Then, empty, rise, and fully drain the cassette from the toilet and reinstall it in the trailer.
Once you’ve removed all of the water, close the low point drains and you’re done!
Winter Camping in Your RV: Protecting with Antifreeze
Some people love to camp in the winter, which you can easily do in a Bowlus, which is built for four seasons camping. Not all RVs are, though, so before you hit the snowy roads, make sure your trailer is up to spec. If you do plan on doing any winter camping, we recommend putting a cup or more of RV / Marine antifreeze in the gray water tank to keep it from freezing. Make sure you buy non-toxic RV and marine antifreeze that’s approved for plumbing systems. It can be found at RV service centers and some mass market retailers and is very different from automotive antifreeze. Automotive antifreeze will damage your RV. It’s also important to note that if you’re winter camping in a Bowlus, the RV antifreeze you’ll need for your gray tank isn’t the same type of antifreeze that’s required for the radiator heating system in your unit. Make sure you check your owner’s manual before adding antifreeze to any part of your RV’s system.
Other Steps to Winterizing Your Camper
There are a few other things you should do when you’re putting your RV into storage for the winter.
● Remove all food (perishable and non-perishable), clothes, and valuables.
● Remove the batteries and store them in a warm place. Make sure they’re fully charged and in storage mode, if available.
● Make sure your propane tanks are shut off. This is a great time to get them refilled so you’re ready to go at the start of your next camping season.
● Check your air filters and replace or clean as needed.
● Check your furnace and water heater vents to make sure they’re clear (wasps and mud daubers like the smell of propane and tend to build nests in these places).
● Check exterior seals and seams for cracks and repair as necessary to block critters from taking shelter in your camper for the winter (if you’re in a Bowlus our completely wrapped shell prevents vermin from setting up camp in your luxury travel trailer).
● Leave your refrigerator and cabinet doors open. This will help prevent unpleasant odors from developing while your camper is in storage.
● Shut off all the breakers.
● Make sure your awning is clean and dry to prevent mold and mildew.
● Cover your RV if it’s going to be stored outside. This will help protect it from the elements.
You can take your RV to a service department to be winterized or if you have a Bowlus, you can do it yourself. Once you’re comfortable with the process, you can winterize a Terra Firma or Endless Highways Edition in around 30 minutes.