how to prevent RV pipes from freezing

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In cold seasons, most people put their RVs away for storage, while a smaller share of RVers, if traveling, go south for warmer areas. However, there are a few people that actually embrace the adventure of traveling in winter!

While traveling in cold seasons has its charm, there is a whole bunch of new things that you will need to consider. Namely, a big concern in freezing temperatures is ensuring that your piping doesn’t get frozen.

How do you keep your RV pipes from freezing? Read on to find out!

How To Keep RV Pipes From Freezing While Camping

Use heat tape on hoses and pipes

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The simplest thing you could do to prevent your RV pipes and hoses from freezing is applying heat tape to them. This option isn’t expensive, is easy to implement, and is quite effective. You should be able to buy heat tape from your local hardware store.

Heat tapes usually detect changes in temperature and heat up if it gets too cold. For effective operation, you need to secure the heat tape along the length of the hoses with electrical tape. Wrapping electrical tape around the hose every 1 foot should be good enough.

Once installed, the heat tape should prevent your pipes from freezing in a wide range of cold temperatures. Keep in mind that the heat tape needs electricity, so you will need to ensure that its power requirements are met.

For added effect, you may cover the hose and heat cable with insulation tubes and insulation tape. No matter what the expected temperature is at the campsite, you should probably wrap your pipes in insulation just in case. Heat tapes do work, but they may fail in extra-cold temperatures.

Use heaters on holding tanks

You may protect your holding tanks from freezing the same way you would with pipes. You don’t necessarily have to do this, but if there is a risk of the RV holding tanks freezing, make sure to buy a holding tank heater. It works exactly like heat tape for pipes and hoses.

Keep the internal plumbing warm

You may have never thought about this, but your internal plumbing may also freeze in extremely cold temperatures, especially if your RV isn’t well-insulated.

To keep the internal piping warm, open your kitchen cabinets and the bathroom to let some of the warm air from other compartments in. This should allow you to prevent freezing if the interior of the RV is warm in the first place.

For a little more protection, you can keep the water moving in the plumbing. Merely allowing a small drip from faucets can help combat freezing not only in the interior plumbing but throughout the piping of the entire RV.

Use the internal freshwater tank

It’s a good idea to fill your fresh water tank beforehand in warmer conditions in order to avoid exposing your RV piping to the cold while filling the tank at a campground. Your freshwater hose will be particularly susceptible to freezing in cold temperatures.

This, on the other hand, means that you may need to limit your use of freshwater while out in the cold. But this is what you might need to deal with while camping during colder seasons.

Heat areas susceptible to cold

If there are certain areas in your RV that tend to freeze, then you may want to add additional heating to them. An example of such an area is the water compartment of your RV. Containing water valves, the water compartment is usually located in an exterior area of the RV. Needless to say, you will need to show some extra attention to such spots.

A compact space heater should do the job of protecting the water compartment from freezing pretty well. Make sure to choose a heater that can be safely operated in small spaces. 

Use antifreeze

Another viable option is using antifreeze, but not the kind of antifreeze that is added to holding tanks before putting the RV away for storage. There is a non-toxic type of antifreeze that is specifically designed for RV use. It has a pink coloring rather than green like in conventional types of antifreeze.

To use this antifreeze, completely drain your black-water and gray holding tanks. Add a couple of quarts of the non-toxic antifreeze to the tanks. The amount of antifreeze that should be added will depend on the size of your holding tanks, so consult the antifreeze’s instructions to add in the right amount.

Added waste will eventually dilute the antifreeze, making it ineffective. Due to this, the option of using a non-toxic antifreeze may not be the best during longer trips, unless you will have the opportunity to safely empty the tanks and add new antifreeze to them.

Skirt your RV

Skirting the RV is an excellent way of protecting the plumbing that is beneath it and exposed to outdoor cold. However, there are several challenges that you will need to overcome to ensure effective heat retention by an RV skirt.

Your RV skirt will need to be installed snugly so that there are no openings for the heat to escape through. Aside from choosing a proper skirt, you will need to select a parking spot that is more or less flat so that there are no openings in the RV skirt. You may use insulation boards to cover them up as well.

Don’t allow your holding tanks to get empty or full

You should prevent your holding tanks from getting full, and you should likewise not allow them to get empty.

As you probably know, the volume of water increases when it freezes. If the holding tank is full or nearly full, the expanding water may crack it. Likewise, completely dumping your holding tanks is going to make them more likely to freeze. While this doesn’t mean that the tanks will get damaged, they will at least become unusable.

So, when using your holding tanks, don’t allow them to get full. And when they are close to being full, dump them so that they are filled around 1/4 of their capacity. This way, you will prevent your tanks from freezing. 

Keep the valves closed

Some people recommend keeping the valves partially open in freezing temperatures. This isn’t the best piece of advice though – on the contrary, you should keep all your valves closes. This is done in order to prevent any flooding.

Freezing water in the RV holding tanks may push some mass out through the hoses, and if the valves aren’t closed, it is likely that the wastewater will end up in a place which it is not supposed to be in. In order to prevent this, simply keep the valves closed in freezing weather.

Protect connections between the RV and the park’s utilities

You should generally avoid any hose connections between the RV and a park’s utilities in freezing weather, but if you have to use your fresh water hose, then take measures to protect it from freezing.

One option is to protect the hose with heat tape, as described above, or alternatively use a heated freshwater hose. Insulating the hose with foam tubes could also be effective. Another thing you could do to keep the hose from freezing is to ensure a downward slope from your RV to the drain by mounting sewer hose supports at varying heights.

What to do if your plumbing nonetheless froze?

No matter how well-prepared your RV is to freezing temperatures, you may not be able to avoid freezing in your plumbing. If this does happen to you while camping, there are a couple of things you could do to prevent damage to the RV plumbing and make it usable again.

First, try to find where the freezing occurred. Go outside and check the RV sewer hose. If it feels frozen, thaw it starting at the drain and moving back towards the sewer outlet. You may use a hair dryer or heat tape to thaw the frozen pipe.

You need to start from the drain to prevent damage to your tanks – when pipes thaw, water will try to burst out, which means that you should first clear the way so that the water from holding tanks can easily escape without damaging anything.

Due to the same reason, keep the faucets slightly open to allow water to flow out freely.

If you also suspect that the holding tanks are frozen, check them and place some heating below to thaw them.

Then, if you haven’t put your freshwater hose away, check whether it froze or not. If it did, turn off the spigot and disconnect the hose from the RV. Defrost the hose the same way you did it with sewer hosing. After defrosting the hose, you may open your utility bay and thaw the connection with a hairdryer.

Then, you need to check things inside. Reconnect all the hoses and check each water source one at a time to see if they work. This little bit of troubleshooting will help you with spotting problematic areas that need treatment.

Don’t flush your pipes with hot water since the temperature difference can cause cracks in the plumbing.

Once the water is running in the RV, check its plumbing to see if there are any leaks. If there are, drain your holding tanks and unplug your RV from any water sources to deal with the leak issue. If you don’t repair it immediately, things may get worse.

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