A hard freeze can cause hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damage to your RV in a single night. With proper precautions, you can protect your RV’s plumbing system from freezing temperatures. Today, we’ll share several of our best tips for keeping your RV pipes from freezing while camping. Let’s get started!
What Happens If RV Pipes Freeze?
Frozen RV pipes are not only incredibly inconvenient but also risk damaging your plumbing system. Water expands when it freezes, and while RV pipes can handle some expansion, it can increase the chances of a fitting or line failure. If that happens, your plumbing system might develop leaks. These leaks can be incredibly damaging as they may occur behind a wall and show no apparent signs. It can be weeks or months before you notice, and the damage will only get worse.
Alternatively, a burst line can very quickly create a flooded RV. If this happens below the floor in the basement or during the night, it may take long enough to notice the leak that your RV and stored possessions will be very soggy. So not only will you need to fix your leak, but also find a way to dry out your RV in the cold temperatures.
How Quickly Do RV Pipes Freeze?
Fortunately, the thermal mass of your RV will slow the freezing process. This means that you have some time between the moment the outside temperature hits freezing and when your RV pipes are in danger. If you get an unexpected overnight frost that lasts a few hours, chances are you’ll be okay.
However, if you expect numerous hours of freezing temperatures or temperatures well below freezing, you will have to take steps to be prepared. Especially be careful with water lines that run out onto slide-outs, as these will have less internal insulation if any at all. Common lines to burst are thin tubes that run to ice makers in fridges, which are frequently on slides.
Will RV Holding Tanks Freeze in the Winter?
Yes, RV holding tanks can freeze in the winter. If this happens, the liquid expansion can crack the containers.
However, some modern RVs come with tank heaters that act as an electric blanket for your tanks. They’re supposed to safeguard your holding tanks from freezing up. If you don’t have tank heaters, you can take some precautionary measures to prevent freezing.
If you don’t have tank heaters it’s usually okay, as long as you keep your furnace running. Manufacturers often design their tank bays to receive heat from the furnace. Just make sure you don’t run out of propane or let your bay temperatures get below freezing.
How to Keep RV Pipes from Freezing While Camping
Keeping your RV pipes safe while camping in freezing temperatures is essential. While running your furnace is the first and easiest way to warm your RV and prevent this, there are several things you can do to additionally protect your pipes. We’ll share a few of our best suggestions here.
1. Open Cabinet Doors to Allow Heat In
Your RV’s heat source can’t circulate through closed doors. If you keep your cabinets closed, there will be a noticeable temperature difference when you open them. Your exterior walls will show the most significant difference in temperature as the back wall is likely minimally insulated.
When you open your cabinet doors, heat can enter your cabinets and ideally prevent any pipes behind the wall or in the cabinet from freezing as well.
2. Heat Bays
Your storage bays often contain important pipes, water lines, and electronics that freezing temperatures can affect. Four-season campers usually have a heat duct or two that pump warm air into your storage bays anytime your furnace runs. The purpose of these ducts is not to keep your storage bay at a comfortable temperature but to keep it above freezing to prevent pipe damage.
If your RV is not a four-season RV, consider placing a space heater in your bay. It can help protect your storage bay from reaching freezing temperatures and causing pipes and other items to break.
Please note that a unsupervised space heater can be dangerous, and you should keep a close eye on any space heater inside your RV.
Pro Tip: A 4 season camper can help your RV transition easier between varying extreme temperatures and climates. Find out more about: What Is a 4-Season Camper and When Do You Need One?
3. Use Heat Tape on RV Pipes
Wrapping your essential pipes in heat tape is a great way to protect them from frigid temperatures. Heat tape plugs into an electrical outlet, and then you can wrap the tape around pipes to keep them warm. This is an important resource, especially in freezing temperatures.
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For extra protection, you could also cover the heat tape with pipe insulation. You’ll get an added layer of protection and ensure you get the maximum benefit from the heat tape to your RV’s pipes.
4. Skirt Your RV
RVs naturally sit off the ground and allow cold air to flow under them. RV skirts prevent that, practically surrounding your pipes. You can create your own RV skirting or purchase a specifically designed RV skirt.
Skirting your RV is an excellent option if you plan to be stationary during the winter. Consider installing it before the temperatures drop too much. This skirting will not only protect your RV from cold air but also snow and ice as well.
Pro Tip: Winter-proof your RV with an RV skirt. We put together a list for you of Why & When You Need RV Skirting.
5. Close Gray Valve and Use Onboard Fresh and Waste Water Tanks
If you’re at a full hook-up site, close your gray valve to prevent small amounts of water from entering your sewer hose and dump valves. Any water in cold pipes can cause clogs and potentially broken valves.
Use your freshwater tank to avoid a frozen hose and allow your wastewater tanks to fill up. The more water you have in your tanks, the more difficult it will be for them to freeze. This is especially great if the freezing temperatures are temporary and you expect temperatures to rise above freezing soon.
6. Insulate Your RV Bays
Extra insulation is one of the best ways to protect your RV pipes and bays. As you add insulation, caulk holes and cracks that might allow cold air entry. Also, keep storage bays closed to keep warm air in and cold air out.
If you find areas that lack insulation, take a quick trip to your local home improvement store. You can pick up 8ft x 4ft sheets of insulation board and cut them to the size and shape of any problem area in your RV.
7. Head to a Warmer Location
RVs are mobile, and so heading to a warmer location may be easiest. In a typical winter, you don’t often hear people in Florida or Arizona dealing with freezing temperatures. If they do, it’s only for a short while, and temperatures will rise above freezing.
The RVing lifestyle can provide tremendous freedom regarding when and where you stay. While warmer locations likely see more visitors during the winter, setting up camp in a warm location may still be your best option. This is why so many people choose to chase 70-degree weather!
Pro Tip: Find out what to do if, despite your best efforts, your RV pipes freeze.
Keeping Your RV Pipes From Freezing Doesn’t Have To Be Hard
Keeping your RV pipes from freezing while camping is incredibly important when it’s cold. If you’re planning to use your RV in cooler temperatures, keep an eye on the weather. You don’t want freezing temperatures to catch you by surprise.
Stock up on propane and other essential items to get you through the elements, and take some of these precautions to protect your RV.
What are your best cold weather tips to keep you and your RV safe during freezing temperatures? Drop a comment below.
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Tuesday 28th of March 2023
Hello, wear are considering going full time. My husband is retired and we want to be free. We plan on staying in Ohio for awhile and parking on a one acre lot we will purchase for full hookup. My husband is concerned about keeping the water connection from freezing. Any tips?
Mortons on the Move
Wednesday 29th of March 2023
We have had great luck with heated water hoses. No freeze in this list has an additional heat strip that you can wrap around the faucet too. https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/best-heated-water-hoses/
Monday 19th of December 2022
Well Mother Nature is making it hard to chase 70° weather this week. We are in the Texas Hill Country where it normally is above freezing even in December. But not this week. The low Friday morning is to be around 14°-18° yea! We have a heated gray tank and a compost toilet. We will try the fresh water tank and some incandescent Christmas lights in the bay to keep it warm. It’s inside the cabin and a drawer gives access. Which we will take out so it can get direct heat. Looking like 48-60 hours below freezing. If the grid fails we blow out the lines with our in line are compressor and head to the mom in laws.
Wednesday 30th of March 2022
Great suggestions! One additional recommendation that I’m surprised you didn’t include is to winterize the RV by dumping tanks, draining all fresh water from pipes, and pumping RV antifreeze into all plumbing lines. Living in a winterized RV is easier than it seems.
Mortons on the Move
Friday 1st of April 2022
Thanks, Ron! We wrote a separate article on how to use RV antifreeze to winterize a camper. You can find that article here: https://www.mortonsonthemove.com/how-to-use-rv-antifreeze/
Saturday 30th of October 2021
All or the things on the list are good advice. I didn’t see anything listed for how to keep from freezing if traveling in freezing weather. We have a MotorHome and have good luck traveling in the winter. However, we live in Colorado so even traveling south in January has many challenges. If we had a trailer it might not be so easy. If you are traveling long distances, with a trailer, how do you keep things from freezing.
We enjoy your site, thank you.
Saturday 2nd of October 2021
We're going on a winter camping trip soon and this will be my first time. Your article is very helpful for RV beginners like me.
Friday 29th of October 2021
Thank you for writing this, Your information helped me a lot.