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Heat Your RV Tanks and Prevent Freezing in Frigid Temperatures

Heat Your RV Tanks and Prevent Freezing in Frigid Temperatures

Below-freezing temperatures can add extra stress to winter camping. If you winterize your RV and store it away, it’s no big deal. But when you’re still taking camping trips, it can be unnerving when you hear about the overnight lows. How do you keep your RV tanks from freezing? Do you need heated RV tanks? What are RV tank heating pads?

Let’s look at all of these questions and more to help you enjoy your winter camping experience!

What Are RV Tanks? 

RV tanks are holding tanks for water and waste. The fresh water tank holds potable water for drinking, cooking, and washing. The gray tank holds the wastewater from the sinks and shower. Finally, the black tank holds the waste from the toilet. When temperatures get below freezing, these tanks are susceptible to freezing if you don’t take proper precautions.

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

Will RV Holding Tanks Freeze?

RV holding tanks can freeze. Usually, the outside temperature has to remain below freezing for several days for this to occur. If you’re camping in Wisconsin in January or Montana in March, you know to expect temperatures to remain below freezing for much of the winter.

So what do you do to protect your RV holding tanks? Some tanks come equipped with a heating system while others don’t. Let’s look at a couple of options to prevent your tanks from freezing.

Mortons on the Move truck and RV covered in snow.
Winter elements can have a big impact on your ability to RV. Keeping it thoroughly heated is crucial!

Are RV Holding Tanks Heated? 

Not all RV holding tanks are heated. In fact, most entry-level RVs don’t have heated RV tanks. Generally, there’s no dedicated system to heat your RV tanks like there is to heat the inside of your RV.

Most mid-level or higher RVs do have enclosed underbellies that provide added protection from the winter elements. A lot of times, these areas are near the furnace or even have dedicated furnace lines run to the area to keep it warm. With an RV like this, your tanks usually won’t freeze as long as you keep the inside of your RV warm with your furnace.

There are a couple of additional ways to provide further protection. Some RVs come with electric tank heating pads. These heating pads are also widely available in both 12V (DC) and 120V (AC) aftermarket models. Some people add heating elements into the tanks themselves to heat the liquid directly.

RV tank heater element
This aluminum tank from Kingstar truck campers is exposed but has a heating element inside it to keep it above freezing. It doesn’t take much heat, just enough to keep it above 32.

How to Keep Your Holding Tanks From Freezing

If you don’t have RV tank heating pads, you can easily install them for a couple of hundred dollars. Most of them just stick to the holding tanks with a peel-and-stick adhesive. These work just like a heating pad that you’d use on your back. Some heating pads have a thermostat and turn on automatically, while you will have to turn on others manually. They’re connected to the electrical power of your RV. When the forecast predicts freezing temperatures, you simply turn on the heating pads.

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You will need a power source if you run the heating pads. They usually don’t take much power, but in winter weather, you usually consume more power overall.

You can also run the furnace. If you have an enclosed underbelly with heat, the propane-fueled furnace pumps heat through the inside of the RV as well as underneath, where the holding tanks are located. RV skirting can also help keep the RV underbelly warm and unfrozen.

Pro Tip: Frozen pipes can quickly ruin a camping adventure! Make sure to use these 7 Tips to Keep Your RV Pipes from Freezing While Camping.

etrailer heating pad product image
Install heating pads on the bottom of your RV to keep it well-heated throughout the winter.
Source: etrailer.com

How Do You Install RV Tank Heating Pads?

Installing an aftermarket RV tank heating pad is simple and fairly inexpensive. First, clean the outside of the holding tank, wiping away any dirt. Then wipe down the area where you’ll apply the adhesive with isopropyl alcohol. 

Once the surface is dry, line the heating pad up near the drain point, which is the lowest point of the holding tank. Then pull back the adhesive and slowly and tightly secure the heating pad to the holding tank. Ensure there are no air pockets without pulling or tearing the heating pad. Press firmly along the edges and center to make sure the RV tank heating pad is secure.

Once the heating pad is in place, the easiest part of the installation is complete. Now it’s time to bring the power source to the tank heater. Attach the white lead (negative) and the red lead (positive) to your RV battery via a switch. Add a fuse to protect the wires further. Finally, secure the wires to the RV, so they aren’t just hanging loosely underneath the RV. You can do this with a wire loom to provide even more protection.

Protect The RV Water Tank From Freezing! RV Holding Tank Heating pad.

When Should I Turn on My RV Tank Heaters? 

When the outside temperature is predicted to get below freezing, you need to turn on your RV tank heaters. Do this once the temperature gets to around 40 degrees. This gives the heating pads time to warm up the holding tank before reaching those freezing temperatures.

If you’re just storing your RV away and the tanks are empty, there’s no need to turn on the RV tank heating pads.

On/off switch in an RV
When it gets below 40 degrees, it is time to turn on your heat! Under RV tank heaters can even be turned on using a switch from inside your RV!

Can I Leave My RV Tank Heater on All the Time? 

If temperatures remain around freezing, you can leave your RV tank heating pads turned on. Once the temperature rises, however, turn off the tank heaters. They do draw energy, so the heating pads will drain your battery if you don’t connect to a power source. 

Most heater pads only come on when the tanks are cold, so if it’s hot out, the system will not run. If the temperatures are cool, however, you may be wasting power keeping the tanks warmer than needed.

Pro Tip: Whether you want to try cold weather camping for the first time or are a seasoned pro, learn more about How to RV in Winter.

RV parked with winter skirting on.
If you’re not storing your RV inside in the colder months, make sure you properly winterize it to prevent disaster!

How to Tell If RV Tank Heaters Are Working?

RV tank heaters are only good if they actually work. It’s always a good practice to check every now and then if they are working properly. We recommend checking them the first time you turn them on for the season. Look for loose adhesive or damaged wires. If they are hanging down and not making full contact with your tank, you will not get good heating. If wires have become exposed, corroded, or damaged they should be replaced.

If there is no change in temperature in your tanks after you turn them on, the RV tank heaters may be in need of replacement. You can do some troubleshooting with a multimeter to determine if they are drawing current.

When Should I Winterize My RV?

Unless you’re storing your RV in southern freeze-proof areas, you’ll want to winterize your RV when putting it away for any length of time. Even if it’s just for a couple of weeks, you want to protect your pipes and tanks. You can blow out the lines or use RV antifreeze.

Are Heated RV Tanks Worth It? 

Considering you can buy an RV tank heating pad for less than a hundred bucks, it’s worthwhile to purchase one or two if you plan on camping during the winter. Some higher-quality heating pads will be around $150. It’s well worth the expense. If the tank freezes, it could burst or crack, which could lead to leaks in the underbelly. Repairing a leak or replacing a holding tank will cost much more than $150.

The installation process is easy and won’t take much time either. So you’re adding protection and peace of mind when those winter temperatures dip into the teens or below.

Do you have winter camping plans? If so, start doing your research and get an RV tank heating pad ordered today! And tell us your plans 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 The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Meg Magruder

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.

Carl

Sunday 18th of December 2022

Move south to Florida.

Russel Hawkins

Saturday 17th of December 2022

Good article, as always. One thing to remember is that some pad manufactures recommend that the tanks have some liquid in them before turning the heater on. Perhaps this is so they won't damage the tank.

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