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RV Nightmare: Frozen Pipes. Now What?

RV Nightmare: Frozen Pipes. Now What?

While some RVers prepare their rigs to sit in storage for the winter, that’s not always the case. Many adventurous people like us brave the winter and stay in their RV. However, frozen RV pipes are one of the biggest nightmares of camping in freezing temperatures. If you plan to use your rig during the winter, it’s essential to know what to do when camper pipes freeze so you can still have an enjoyable experience.

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 other appliances that use water are all susceptible to bursting. This also applies to drains, so if you winterize your RV you need to our 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.

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 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.

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 ducts in the underbelly and in storage compartments to help keep the temperature above freezing. However, this will require you to run your propane furnace. You’ll want to ensure you have propane readily available to battle the freezing temperatures.

Even 4 season RV’s 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.

Looking for an RV that can withstand winter weather? Check out the LOKI Basecamp: Cool-Looking 4-Season Truck Bed Campers for Extreme Adventures.

Will Frozen Pipes Unfreeze on Their Own?

Once your pipes freeze, they’ll be out of commission until the weather begins to warm. However, frozen pipes will thaw out once the temperatures reach 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 much the temperature increases above freezing.

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

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.

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. 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.

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.

Use a Hair Dryer When You’re in a Pinch

You can use hair dryers for more than drying your hair. 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.

Check For Damage Before Leaving Water On

After you have water flowing again, make sure you check for any leaks that may have occurred. Looking around for wetness is an easy way but another is to use your water pump. 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 minuets, you may have a leak that is causing a pressure drop. Angle fittings in PVC, appliances and connections, and toilets are all common leak points if you have frozen up.

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.

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

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!

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.

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!

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. 

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 wind block.

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 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.

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.

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 is key to avoiding frozen RV pipes. 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. So ensure you prepare your RV accordingly!

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

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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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'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!