Be Wise & Winterize
After surviving some blistering temperatures this past July and August, a few of us just may be eagerly anticipating the approach of chilly weather. Unless you are fortunate enough to live a full-timer’s lifestyle, it’s probably time to start thinking about giving the RV a rest, which involves preparing it properly for a period of storage or non-use.
And if temperatures below freezing are expected in your area this coming winter, it is crucial that the coach be winterized properly so no damage is incurred during its downtime. Systematically organized procedures are necessary so nothing is neglected or forgotten. Overlook something, and it could lead to expensive ramifications!
Performing the following steps in priority order will not only guarantee your RV will survive the harshest of wintry weather, it will also make it easier to wake it from hibernation come next spring when wanderlust sprouts again. So grab some tools and supplies, block off some time, and make it a fun project, knowing you are investing in your RVing future! Start with….
The Plumbing Systems
Freeze damage to the onboard fresh water system is the primary concern, even though modern PEX tubing is quite resilient. Still, proactive preparation will never leave you wondering, even for the holding tanks. Both the fresh water and the waste water systems need attention.
Drain the entire fresh water system. Opening both hot and cold low point drain valves and all faucets is the easiest way to begin evacuation of all the water. Begin draining the fresh water tank as well.
- Remove the plug from the water heater and open the pressure and temperature (P&T) relief valve on the water heater. Use a flushing tool to remove most, if not all, of the mineral deposits inside the heater tank.
- Close all valves when the water has stopped draining. Install the water heater plug just finger tight. Then, if already equipped with a bypass kit, position the valves to the bypass position. A bypass kit simply connects the cold water piping directly to the hot water piping, without the necessity of filling the water heater with RV anti-freeze. Bypass kits are readily available at any well-stocked accessory parts store such as Camping World.
- Disconnect and drain ancillary water hoses and lines such as the tubing routed to an icemaker, clothes washer, shower and the exterior showerhead, when so equipped.
- Choose the wet or dry method of protection. If not expecting sub-freezing temperatures, the dry method simply requires a blowout plug and clean, compressed air. The blowout plug attaches to the city water entry fitting. Open all hot and cold faucets and induce a maximum of 50 psi of clean, compressed air.
- With the system pressurized with air, flush the toilet to rid its internal tubing of any residual water. The goal is to remove all water from the entire fresh water distribution system. Close all faucets and valves when all water has been eliminated.
- If below freezing temps are anticipated, the wet method of freeze protection is highly recommended (using RV anti-freeze). It is not a mandate to blow out every drop of water from the system when using RV anti-freeze and the wet method.
- To employ the wet method, verify the water heater is bypassed and either pour a couple gallons of RV anti-freeze into the fresh water tank or gain access to the water pump. The suction hose on the pump inlet can be inserted into an open gallon of RV anti-freeze, thereby eliminating the necessity of pouring RV anti-freeze into the fresh tank. The little water remaining in the drained fresh water tank will not cause any damage even if it ices over.
- Turn the water pump on and begin filling the lines with anti-freeze until the colored protectant flows freely through every hot and cold faucet, the showerheads, the toilet and the city water inlet. (Note: It is not recommended to allow RV anti-freeze to enter the icemaker or water purification filtering media). Close all faucets and turn the pump off when the system is filled with RV anti-freeze.
- Thoroughly rinse and drain each holding tank. Now is the time to lubricate the termination valves, if necessary. Dow 111 is the recommended grease.
- Flush a gallon of RV anti-freeze or windshield washer fluid down the toilet and pour ¼ cup down each gray water drain to protect the P-traps. Windshield washer fluid will not harm valve seals and it’s less costly than RV anti-freeze.
- Ideally, the bottom of each holding tank should be covered with anti-freeze or windshield washer fluid.
Moisture, Condensation and Weather Seals
Moisture intrusion is the number one cause of structural damage to recreation vehicles, followed closely by trapped interior condensation and the formation of mold and mildew. Maintaining an airtight RV during a wet or wintry storage period is paramount.
- Check the weather-stripping and seals at the entry door, compartment doors, windows and roof vents. Replace if necessary. Close all compartment doors, windows and vents tightly.
- Cover all windows with a protective film or “cut-to-fit” Styrofoam inserts.
- Clean and lubricate all slideout seals, especially those engaged when slideouts are fully retracted.
- Place appropriate amounts of moisture absorbing desiccant in each large area of the RV.
- Inspect the undercarriage for any openings leading into living portions of the coach. Seal all gaps around drain piping, electrical wiring and propane tubing as necessary.
- Fill the propane container(s). The fuller the container, the less moisture will develop on the container walls. Keep in mind; propane tanks and cylinders can only be filled to a maximum of 80% of their true water capacity. Never overfill any propane container.
- Fully close the service valve(s) on the propane container(s) and ensure the pressure regulator is covered properly.
- Turn off the propane leak detector inside the RV.
- Ensure all four propane-burning appliances are completely turned off, including thermostats.
- Clean and dry the inside of the refrigerator and place an open box of baking soda inside each section. Prop the door(s) open slightly.
- Cover the intake/exhaust vents of the furnace with painter’s tape to prevent wasps or other critters from constructing nests inside. This also prohibits wind blown snow from entering the combustion chamber, melting and rusting the firebox.
12-volt DC Systems
- Fully charge each battery. (Note: A fully charged battery will only freeze if the temperature drops to 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. A discharged battery can freeze at 20-degrees F above zero.
- Clean all battery posts and apply a terminal protectant.
- Disable solar panels and the charge controller if so equipped.
- Activate the battery disconnect relay or leave the negative cable off the load side of the DC system battery post.
- Remove all dry cell batteries.
120-volt AC System
- Turn off all circuit breakers at the panelboard distribution box.
- To protect against nearby lightning and transient electrical spikes, unplug any 120-volt AC device plugged into a receptacle such as the refrigerator, microwave, televisions, icemakers, washers and dryers, satellite receivers, entertainment centers, etc.
- Turn off all integral circuit breakers on the generator.
- Disable the inverter completely.
- Position the coach relatively level, but with a slight lean towards one side to assist in draining rainwater or snowmelt.
- If possible, remove weight from the tires and suspension by positioning weight-appropriate jack stands under the frame rails. Additionally, place a non-absorbent material between each tire and the ground surface.
- Clean and protect all tires with a non-petroleum based treatment. If possible, cover each tire to minimize UV and ozone damage.
- Ensure all awnings are clean, dry, retracted and secured properly.
- If heavy snow is expected, construct and secure a wooden box over each 14-inch plastic roof vent and the refrigerator vent to avoid crush damage.
- Check the integrity of the seal, then secure the cooktop exhaust hood flapper vent door.
- Invest in a total coach cover to protect the entire exterior from windblown particulates. At the very least, utilize air conditioner covers to protect the exposed condenser coils.
Keep in mind, gasoline and diesel motorhomes will require additional steps for engine protection and other chassis-related components. Consult the owner’s manual for your specific RV and adhere strictly to its recommendations.
The effort you put in now will only make it easier come next spring when the excitement builds to get that coach back out on the road. A thorough and successful winterizing project will allow you to have total peace of mind until Spring arrives once again.
And remember, RVing is more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle!