How To Keep RV Pipes From Freezing While Camping (Best Methods)

Winter camping is becoming increasingly popular among recreational vehicle owners.

However, one of the major drawbacks of winter camping is that the water in your RV plumbing and tanks can freeze, causing unwanted damage.

Below, we take an in-depth look at how to keep RV pipes from freezing using the best tried and tested methods out there.

Let’s jump right in!

Preparing Your RV For Cold Weather

Winterizing your RV is your first line of defense against frozen pipes and tanks.

Even if you plan on camping multiple times during the winter, you’ll still want to winterize your RV for those days or months that it is sitting in storage.

Below we walk you through the steps to properly winterize your camper to prevent freezing pipes. To completely winterize your camper inside and out, check out our detailed guide on how to winterize a camper.

Tip: If you plan on living in your RV full-time during the winter months you can skip this section.

What You Need

Before you start winterizing your RV, you will need:

Consult your RV owner’s manual to determine if there are any model-specific winterizing instructions. If not, you can follow the steps below to winterize your RV.

Water Filter Removal, Bypassing, And Replacement

The first step in RV winterizing is to remove and bypass all in-line water filters inside your unit. This step is critical to prevent winterization chemicals from damaging the filters. Use this opportunity to replace the filter if it is older than three months or contaminated.

Drain Your Black And Gray Water Tanks

Before storing your RV, you should drain all wastewater and clean your black and gray water tanks. This step will not only keep the water from freezing but will also prevent bacterial growth and other sanitary issues.

Drain your black water tank first, followed by your gray water tank. Then, clean the black tank using the built-in rinser or a backwasher and a special black tank cleaner.

Drain The Water Heater And Lines

Before draining your water heater, switch it off and let it cool down. Then, remove the drain plug and open the pressure relief valve so the water can drain freely. Never empty your water heater if it is hot or if the water pressure is high.

Next, drain the water lines by locating and opening the low-point drain lines for the hot and cold water. You should also open all the faucets and flush the toilet to ensure that you remove all water from the lines.

Bypass The Water Heater

To prevent antifreeze from flowing into the water heater, you need to bypass it. Your RV may already have a bypass. If not, you can install a new one or schedule an installation at your nearest service facility.

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Add Antifreeze

To add antifreeze to your system, install a water pump converter kit or disconnect the pump’s inlet and place it inside the bottle containing the antifreeze.

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Then, close all faucets and switch on your water pump to inject the antifreeze into the water system.

After pressurizing your system throughout, go around to each faucet and turn them on until the antifreeze flows out. When you are sure that the antifreeze has spread throughout your water system, switch off the water pump. Pour antifreeze down all the drains in your RV, then pour some into your toilet to prevent any remaining water from freezing.

After following the above steps to winterize your RV, you can put it in storage with peace of mind that your pipes won’t freeze. You can also take your winterized RV on your next camping trip.

Preventing Frozen Pipes At The Campsite

While you are driving to the campsite, consider keeping your propane supply on and your furnace running on a low setting. If you can’t do so safely, keep your RV winterized until you arrive at the campsite.

If you drive to the campsite in sub-zero temperatures, ice can build up in your water system’s dump valves and around the termination cap. If this happens, you can quickly melt the ice using a hairdryer or heat gun when you arrive at the camping grounds.

When you get to the campsite, flush the system’s antifreeze by attaching a hose to the main inlet and opening all faucets. Let the water flow through your system for about ten minutes to ensure that you remove all antifreeze.

After flushing the antifreeze from your RV’s pipes, fill your fresh water tank, but not to capacity. If the water freezes, there should be enough space for the expansion of ice without the risk of rupturing the tank.

Where possible, use your holding tanks as a source of freshwater—not city water. If you hook your system up to the city supply, the water in your hose may freeze.

Campsites with electric hook-ups are typically preferred for RV camping in winter, as they allow you to run an electric heater, which will save you on propane.

Important: Your electric heater should have an automatic shut-off feature for optimal safety. Never leave a space heater running unattended.

Wrap Your Water Hoses

In addition to winterizing your RV, you should wrap your external water hoses, including your sewer hose, to insulate them and prevent the water inside them from freezing. This step is particularly critical if you are using city water to supply your RV.

To wrap your exterior hoses, you will need:

Start by laying out the hose on the ground and make sure that it doesn’t have any kinks. Then, run the heat cable or tape down the length of the hose, so the heat cable’s plug and thermostat don’t form part of the wrap. Attach the cable and hose at intervals of one foot using tape. 

Next, wrap the hose-cable pairing in insulation with the heat cable thermostat and plug hanging out at the end. Don’t insulate the thermostat with the hose and cable, as you’ll want the thermostat to switch on the cable when the temperature drops below a set point.

Finally, cover the insulation wrap with all-weather tape to protect it.

When your exterior hoses are not in use, store them in your RV to limit exposure to the elements, and prevent hose deterioration and damage.

We cover this topic extensively in our guide on how to keep your RV water hose from freezing.

And don’t forget to insulate your sewer hose, as well! Check out our 3-step guide on how to keep your RV sewer hose from freezing for more information.

Insulate Your Water Valves

Placing skirting around the bottom of your RV will go a long way toward insulating the water valves in the exterior compartments. There are, however, some additional measures you can take to prevent the water around the valves and other components from freezing.

Ensure that your water tanks are always at least 25% full. The water in an almost-empty tank is more likely to freeze, and the ice can clog your valves and hoses.

To further reduce your risk of frost in your tank, consider using a holding tank heater. This type of heater is an electric blanket you can attach to the tank to prevent the water temperatures from dropping below zero.

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RV Insulation

Insulating your RV will not only keep your pipes from freezing but will also improve your camper’s energy efficiency and indoor comfort.

Doors And Windows

Door and window insulation solutions include:

If you want to replace your doors and windows, look for products with energy-efficient labels to ensure a high insulation value.

Skirt Your RV

RV skirting is a material that you place around the bottom of your camper to prevent heat from escaping through the undercarriage. Because there is so much heat loss through the floor of an RV, skirting placement will reduce your propane costs significantly and prevent water from freezing in your system’s lines.

There are several material options for RV skirting, including:

  • Vinyl material
  • Plywood
  • Tarps
  • Insulation boards

Some RV owners place hay bales around their campers to keep heat in, but they are a breeding ground for mold, mice, and other pests. Vinyl, on the other hand, is the best material for skirting, as it lasts for years and is easy to install. Vinyl is also an excellent insulator.

Insulate The Vents

In cold temperatures, the warm air inside your RV will rise and exit through the vents. To prevent the warm air from escaping, insulate your vents by installing vent covers or draft shields. You can also stuff the vents with foam board or any other insulating material.

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Insulate The Undercarriage

In addition to skirting your RV, close the openings underneath your RV where there are entry points for hoses, cables, and other connections. Spraying these gaps with an aerosol foam is a quick and easy way to reduce openings, prevent cold air from entering, and keep warm air in.

Insulate The Flooring

Improve the insulation value of your RV’s floor by installing foam board. You can also use carpeting or heavy rugs.

Check out our guide on how to insulate a camper for winter use for more ideas!

Thawing Frozen Hoses

So, what do you do if your hose(s) actually do freeze over?

If you find yourself with a frozen hose, follow the steps below to thaw the ice.

Thaw The Hose Connections

Before you disconnect the hose, use a heat gun to thaw the ice inside the hose connections. Point the heat gun at the fitting from different angles to ensure no ice is left inside the crevices. Melting the ice inside the connections takes around ten minutes.

Disconnect The Hose

After melting the ice in the connections, disconnect the hose from the water supply and onboard RV ports. If you have difficulty disconnecting the hose, that means there is still ice in the connections and further thawing is necessary. Don’t tug on the fittings, as the ice can damage them.

Bring Your Hose In

After disconnecting the hose, you can bring it inside your RV where it is warm and the rest of the ice can thaw. When you bring the hose in, point the ends of the hose upward so that the melting ice doesn’t spill. Place the hose in your shower and leave it there until all the ice has melted.

Check For Damage

If the water inside your hose freezes, it expands and can rapture the tube or other hose components. After thawing your frozen hose, carefully inspect it for damage before you reattach and use it again. If you notice cracks, splits, or other signs of damage, use a spare hose instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

At What Temperatures Will Pipes Freeze In The Winter?

Several factors determine the temperature at which your RV pipes will freeze, including the insulation you have in place, the type of piping you have, whether you use a heat cable, and the temperature change rate.

Generally, the temperature has to drop below 32°F for 24 hours before the water in your RV pipe will freeze. You can prevent this from happening by adhering to the measures outlined above.

What Happens If RV Pipes Freeze?

When RV pipes freeze, just like any other pipe, the frozen water in the pipe expands and puts tremendous pressure on the pipe itself and any connections. This can cause the pipe to crack, split or burst open, potentially causing water damage or spilled sewage.

Will RV Holding Tanks Freeze?

Yes, just like the plumbing in your RV, the contents in your holding tanks can freeze too. This can cause substantial damage to your tanks and any plumbing connected to them that is costly to repair.

Should You Cover A Camper In Winter?

If your RV sits outside during the winter months, you should consider investing in an RV cover to protect it from the elements, bird droppings, tree sap, etc. A high-end cover will last for years and provide your camper with sufficient protection.

Related: Are RV Covers Good or Bad? (Pros and Cons)

A cover isn’t necessary for indoor storage, unless the area is dusty or if you also use the space for DIY or construction work. There’s no need to cover your RV while camping. Either way, don’t forget to winterize your RV before storing it for the winter.

How Cold Is Too Cold For An RV?

Your RV can withstand nocturnal temperatures in the low 20s with no issues, provided that you take all the necessary precautionary steps. If you winterize your rig, fill up on propane, use a tank heater, and insulate your hoses, you won’t need to worry about water freezing in your pipes. To make cold temperatures easier to manage, select campsites with electric outlets.

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