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RV Nightmare: Frozen Pipes. Now What?

Even if you’re not a winter RVer, frozen RV pipes can be an unexpected surprise. Whether you store your RV, experience an unseasonal cold snap, or intentionally seek out the snow, frozen RV pipes are one of the biggest nightmares of freezing temperatures. If it happens to you, it’s essential to know what to do to correct it quickly and prevent further damage.

Plenty of travelers have battled frozen RV pipes, ourselves included. Luckily, there are several things you can do to get water running in your RV again. Let’s take a look!

Will RV Pipes Burst If They Freeze?

RV manufacturers typically use PEX tubing, an inexpensive plastic tubing of high-density polyethylene. These plastic lines are very flexible and are much less likely to burst than solid copper or PVC piping. However, elbows, joints, and appliances that use water are all susceptible to bursting. This also applies to drains, so if you winterize your RV you need to pour winterizing fluid down all your drains.

A busted water line in an RV can cause substantial damage. We’ve heard horror stories from RVers in the RV community where they had water streaming out from the underbelly of their rig due to a busted water line. You want to do all you can to protect the plumbing in your RV.

If you’re storing your RV for winter, you may not realize the problem until the first time you use your camper in the spring. This is why proper RV winterization is so important before storage and anytime you think you’ll experience the risk of freezing.

Pro Tip: RV water line leaks can happen to anyone at any time of year. Make sure you know How to Find, Repair, and Seal Leaks before they cause damage.

RV water and sewer lines
RV water lines are usually made of PEX tubing, the red and blue pipes pictured above.

How Many Hours of Freezing Before Camper Pipes Freeze?

How long it takes before your internal pipes begin to freeze will depend on the intensity of the cold temperatures and the build of your rig. If the temps quickly dip into the teens or low 20s, it could take a few hours before you start to experience frozen water lines in an unheated RV. However, some RVers with rigs for four-season camping conditions won’t experience frozen water lines until it’s in the low teens or single-digit temperatures.

But, just because the outside temperatures are below freezing doesn’t mean parts of your RV will be, too. RVs with a four-season rating will often have furnace ducts in the underbelly and in storage compartments to help keep the temperature above freezing. However, this will require you to run your RV furnace. You’ll want to ensure you have plenty of propane available to battle the freezing temperatures.

Even 4 season RVs, however, can suffer if lines are run in the walls or areas with less insulation. Many times an entire piping system won’t freeze, but maybe one line or section will freeze up and prevent water flow.

If you are hooked up, your RV water hose is also very susceptible to freezing. In fact, it’s almost always the first thing to freeze up. This is why you need a good quality freeze-proof hose. We have an entire article about the best winter hoses and which ones we use and recommend.

Frozen RV water hose
Use a heated water hose to keep your fresh water from freezing.

Will Frozen Pipes Unfreeze on Their Own?

Once your pipes freeze, they’ll be out of commission until they warm back up. However, frozen pipes will thaw out once their temperature reaches above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus you can usually add heat to an area to get them thawed out. This process can take several hours or more, depending on how cold it was.

How Long Does It Take for RV Pipes to Unfreeze?

The amount of time it will take for your RV pipes to thaw will depend on several factors. The faster the temperatures can increase above freezing, the quicker they will unfreeze. If the frozen section of RV pipes is on the side of your RV receiving direct sunlight, the UV rays can assist with expediting the process. You can further help the process by using a space heater or hair dryer to increase the temperature around the pipes in your RV.

Will Pouring Hot Water Down the Drain Unfreeze Pipes?

Pouring hot water down the drain will not help unfreeze your RV’s water lines. This is mainly because the water lines and the drain are separate entities. The water going down a drain in your RV’s plumbing system will not likely travel near your frozen pipes.

Some RVers have successfully run the hot water in their water lines to break up frozen chunks in frozen pipes. However, this isn’t always effective and only works in limited situations. You’ll likely need to wait for the temperatures to increase or try another method to unfreeze pipes in your RV.

Frozen RV Pipe
Frozen RV pipes will thaw on their own if the external temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Do I Unfreeze My RV Pipes? 

If you experience the nightmarish situation of frozen RV pipes, don’t panic. There are several effective methods for unfreezing your RV pipes. Let’s examine a few effective techniques. 

First, you need to figure out what section is frozen. If the entire RV is frozen up because it was not winterized, start by turning on the furnace and letting the RV get nice and warm. This might just fix your problem.

If the RV is already warm and you are still not getting water, you will need to try to figure out where the line is frozen so you can add heat to the area. Is it in a wall or underneath the RV?

Use a Portable Heater

To thaw out frozen water lines, you need to increase the temperature surrounding them. A portable heater is a very effective way to create a tremendous amount of heat in a targetted spot. Placing a portable heater near the location can do the trick if you can locate where the camper pipes freeze.

While this can be a beneficial solution, it is essential to consider safety. You should not leave a space heater alone as it can pose a significant fire risk. Keep any potentially flammable objects away from the space heater and ensure it has an auto shutoff feature should it somehow tip over.

If your hose is frozen, you can sometimes bring the hose inside or use a portable heater to cover it and add heat to the area. It’s best to just use a heated water hose, however, to prevent this problem.

Using a space heater to unthaw camper pipes
You can use a space heater to help thaw your frozen camper pipes.

Use a Hair Dryer When You’re in a Pinch

Hair dryers may be somewhat noisy, but they’re excellent for increasing the temperature around water lines behind walls, under sinks, and in storage bays on an RV. Be careful not to keep them too close to the water lines or the wall, as applying excessive heat can cause damage. Don’t leave them unattended or on for too long.

Check For Leaks By Using Your RV Water Pump

After you have water flowing again, make sure you check for any leaks that may have occurred. Looking around for wetness works, but we find that the water pump is an easy giveaway. Just make sure you have water in your tank and turn the pump on. It should pressurize, then turn off. If you hear it cycle on and off, even every few minutes, you may have a leak that is causing a pressure drop.

Finding the Leak

Angle fittings in PVC, appliances, connections, and toilets are all common leak points if you froze up. Some of the first places we’d recommend looking are:

  • Water lines to ice makers or fridges
  • Water heater
  • Water filter connections
  • Under sinks
  • Toilet fresh water line (for flushing)
  • Showerheads

Call a Professional RV Specialist or Plumber

In some extreme situations, your best bet may be to call in a professional. There are specialist mobile RV technicians for almost every RV system. If you experience an extreme case of frozen pipes in your RV, they’ll likely get them back in working order.

However, as these services can be costly, you’ll likely want to wait until freezing temperatures are no longer in the forecast to go this route. If not, your camper pipes can freeze once the temperatures drop below freezing. A professional can identify and address any potential damages due to frozen water lines.

How Do I Prevent My RV Pipes From Freezing?

Preparing your rig to battle the freezing temperatures is the best way to prevent your RV pipes from freezing. If you wait until the temperatures drop or your camper pipes freeze, it will be too late. Luckily, you can do a handful of things when you see freezing temperatures in the forecast to get your RV ready. Let’s take a look!

1. Properly Winterize Your RV When Not in Use

If you’re not planning to use your RV throughout winter, winterizing it is best. This process removes all water from your water lines and plumbing system. Check the documentation with your RV to see if the manufacturer provides step-by-step directions for winterizing your specific rig.

However, you want to empty your RV’s water heater tank and bypass it before siphoning RV antifreeze throughout the water lines and every faucet, toilet, and shower head in your RV. If your rig will experience freezing temperatures for extended periods, this is essential to protect it from any potential damages.

2. Keep Your Furnace On

It may seem obvious, but keeping the furnace on requires diligence. If your RV batteries die, the electronic brains of your furnace will not turn it on. Additionally, RV furnaces can experience several common issues when you need it most from thermostats to pilot lights. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve woken up in the night freezing because of a weird issue like that.

3. Keep Your Water Heater On

Your RV water heater sits right up against a non-insulated exterior wall and often has many vulnerable connections. Especially if you have a tankless water heater, keeping it on and self-warming is crucial to protecting it.

4. Upgrade Your Insulation

RV manufacturers often use the least amount of insulation possible in their RVs. RVs are notorious for having less than sufficient insulation to help keep an RV and the sensitive components warm. If you want to prevent your RV pipes from freezing, upgrade the insulation on your rig. Consider wrapping your PEX lines in pipe insulation to give them some help in staying warm. We’ve even sprayed GreatStuff can foam on our residential fridge panel to keep our icemaker lines and UV water treatment system warmer. Don’t forget to protect the water line on the slide-out if you have one, too!

foam insulation on fridge panel
Spray can foam on our fridge panel to protect our Acuva UV water filter system behind our fridge.

5. Use a Heated Water Hose

Many campgrounds and RV parks require guests to disconnect from the water source at their campsite unless they use a heated water hose. These water hoses keep the water at a safe temperature above 32 degrees. This can help prevent frozen water lines and issues with water freezing and expanding, causing damage to the water spigot.

Most campgrounds and RV parks do not have the time or resources to replace or repair water connections constantly. You’ll typically see reminders to use a heated hose at RV parks or campgrounds that frequently experience freezing temperatures.

The Best RV Winter Setup: How to RV in Winter and the Gear That Will Keep You Cozy Warm!

6. Apply an Electric Tank Heater

Some four-season RVs come with electric tank heaters. These often serve as an electric blanket to the water tanks on your RV. They help keep the temperature of your tank above freezing and can be effective. While the heaters may not offer tremendous support for the actual water lines, they’re one defense mechanism in your battle against winter. 

7. Skirt the Bottom of Your RV

Cold air blowing under an RV is one of the primary reasons camper pipes freeze. If you’re planning to stay stationary while RVing in the winter, installing skirting around the base of your RV is an effective way to protect your rig from the cold air. The goal is to create a windblock.

RV skirting is highly effective at protecting your RV’s plumbing and can help you stay warm inside your RV. You can find custom RV skirting by professionals for $2,500+, or you can go the DIY route for a couple of hundred bucks. You can cut the insulation board to size and use insulated tape to fill the gaps between the insulation board pieces. When you do it right, this can tremendously impact your winter RVing experience.

Winterizing with RV antifreeze
Winterizing your camper with RV antifreeze will keep your pipes from freezing while your RV is in storage.

Are You Prepared to Prevent Frozen RV Pipes?

Prevention planning is key. You cannot wait until the freezing temperatures arrive to start thinking about how to protect your RV from cold weather. If you plan to use or be in your RV during the winter, you must be aware of the weather. A cold front can cause expensive damage to an RV. Not only will you have to fork over your hard-earned money, but your RV will likely be out of commission while you wait to repair it.

Have you dealt with frozen RV pipes before? Share your tips in the comments below.

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Samantha

Saturday 21st of January 2023

My pipes are currently frozen... I'm in Colorado and it's the 3rd day...I can't pinpoint where it's freezing but I know it's inside my rig somewhere...it's truly a pain and so frustrating...I have a space heater in the under storage room where the water pump and some plumbing is... also have heat tape that is working on the main top the water supply in hooked to city water... Any ideas

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 22nd of January 2023

Do you get water from your tank? You might need to get heat into the underbelly. Frequently we fill our tank and use the pump then run a heater under the RV with skirting around it. That is so frustrating!