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Winterizing for Cold Weather RVing

This is being written as a journal of sorts, describing what winterizing we are doing as the weather gets colder. We are preparing to spend the winter in the mid-west, living in our travel trailer.

August and September 2000:

It is getting colder at night. We are thinking about how we are going to winterize our travel trailer for the winter. In years past, we've gone south, so winterizing wasn't an issue. However, we've lived in "sticks and bricks" houses and regular mobile homes in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, so we do have some winterizing experience.

Our windows have the day-night shades on them, the pleated, two-layer kind, one layer intended for privacy and the other for filtering out light. We find that closing both layers helps maintain the temperature inside the trailer. As the nights get colder, we more consistently pull the shades in the evening.

We buy sleeping bags – two that zip together to make a double bag. We aren't sure if we will like the coziness of being zipped in or if it will be too confining. I can't see spending the money for specialty RV bed sacks when for about $60 the sleeping bags give us the same effect.

We send our catalytic heaters in to be serviced and to have new pads put on them. They still work fine, but we've had them for years and since we will be using them extensively this winter, we want to have them checked. We send them to Arnie Lind of A & L Enterprises, He does the service and sends them back. Bob re-installs them and we use them enough to see that they are working.

September 28:

We buy a 40-pound bag of cattle salt at the farm supply store. We also buy an extra long hose for one side of the propane regulator to use with a 100-pound propane bottle. We aren't sure if we will switch to a larger bottle or not, but the hose can also be used with the existing 30 pound bottle.

October 1:

We clean our furnace vents, wash the filter, and check to see that the furnace runs. I don't like the RV furnace – it is noisy, inefficient, and I don't trust it. However, since we have it, we might as well make sure it works – especially since it heats the underbelly of the trailer where our black, gray, and fresh water tanks are located.

After macerating and rinsing the tanks today, Bob closes the gray water tank valve so exiting water doesn't freeze.

October 3:

Bob digs an eight-inch deep trench between the trailer and the shop, so he can bury our electric cable, as we will have an electric hook-up. He plugs in the trailer for the first time in months. We usually rely on our solar system because it is normally the power source that is most dependable, convenient, and economical for us. But, we have no problem using shore power when it becomes a practical option. The shore power will be used in conjunction with our solar.

October 6:

Bob makes an errand run to pick up winterizing supplies – anti-freeze, lights, and sheets of insulation board.

He does routine service on the tow vehicle, checking belts and such. He also winterizes it, making sure the anti-freeze is good to at least 20 degrees below zero. He fixes the windshield washer pump and fills it with winter-grade washing fluid. Hidden under years' worth of accumulation, he finds an ice scraper in the glove box.

We check the truck for things that we think will freeze and break. We believe in buying groceries in quantities when they are on sale (yes, we buy rice in 20-pound bags) and have a shelf in the truck where we keep the extras. Consequently, there are two large boxes of food that need to come in the house. Our plan is to bring in only bottles and jars, with the idea that cans can withstand colder temperatures before breaking. At the last minute, we decide to bring in all the wet food items, leaving only dry foods such as macaroni and oatmeal. Not having room in the kitchen for these items, the boxes get slid into the walk-around space at the end of the bed. They fit neatly there and with the bed comforter pretty much covers them, so they are hardly noticeable.

October 7:

This morning the temperature is six degrees Fahrenheit. I'm glad we have some of our winterizing done.

Bob cuts foam insulation board to fit in three windows that we seldom use, in the three ceiling vent openings, and for the bathroom skylight. The skylight gets a double layer, with a couple inches of airspace between them. We already have foam pillows for the vents; they fit over the foam boards. This is the sheet insulation with foil on both sides. He wraps the edges with duct tape to protect them and make them look neater. They stay in place because of a tight fit. The vent pieces have a duct tape handle, so they can be taken out if we want to open the vents.

Bob finds our tire chains and checks that they are in useable condition.

Because we use a macerator, we empty our black and gray water tanks through a common garden hose, partially buried and running the distance between the trailer and the drain. Bob put a valve in a five gallon bucket and marked the bucket with lines that indicate the volume of water needed to fill that length of garden hose. Into the bucket goes a thick salt and water solution. The end of the hose can now be attached to the valve and the salt water drains from the bucket, displacing plain water left in the hose after macerating. The salty solution prevents the hose from freezing and splitting. October ?:

Bob installs lights in the water pump compartment to keep them from freezing. We took this winterizing idea from John Kauffman of RV Design. [John's website was a terrific one. It has since been taken down.]

October 24:

The foam insulation board in the windows and shower skylight make a huge difference in how much cold is entering the trailer. We are using the sleeping bags and turning the thermostat down to about 56 degrees at night. That is comfortable for us. When we leave the thermostat set higher than that, we are too warm in the sleeping bags.


Quite simply, while I had good intentions, I neglected to update this page throughout the winter.

We lived comfortably through some very cold times -- a couple of mornings the thermometer read 38 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.

A couple mornings, when I first turned on the water faucet, instead of a steady flow, there was a sputtering, caused by ice crystals blocking the little screens in the faucets. Letting the water run for a few seconds took care of the crystals.

We occasionally ran the furnace for a while in the evenings. It added heat to the trailer underbelly, helping to keep the tanks from freezing. It removed humidity from the trailer, helping to prevent mold and mildew growth. It also created the uncomfortable, typical forced air furnace cold draft.

The catalytic safety heaters kept the trailer comfortably warm.

Sometime in late fall, Bob skirted the trailer with foil backed bubble wrap. We know that helped immensely in both keeping the tanks thawed and keeping the trailer comfortable.

Our propane usage was reasonable -- less than we expected it might be.

Wintering in the Black Hills was beautiful. It was a terrific experience. I'm not saying we want to spend every winter in RVing in cold climate, but RVing in cold weather is not only do-able, it was enjoyable. Winterizing the travel trailer made all the difference in the world.

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