Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is WInterizing Necessary?

This may seem like a strange topic for an article after I have posted various articles over time about winterizing and how to do it, but recently I have been reading a number of posts from RVers (not necessarily Roadtrek RVers) on various groups who are asking "Do I need to winterize?" or "I didn't winterize and suddenly there was a sudden freeze last night and no water is running? What do I do?" My first thought when I read these is why didn't you think about this in the Fall or, at least, before you heard the temperature was going to drop? I try to be polite and understanding as the therapist side of me comes out and try to give advice on what to do now that it is too late.

I understand that some areas of the country that never got really cold in the past have been getting cold - but with last year's winter when there were ice storms in the South and sudden deep freezes where there had not been for many years before, wouldn't one take precautions this year. It seems not. I also understand that some live in their RVs full time and while many head to where it will stay warm during the winter, some have job commitments in one place and can't just pick up and go to Florida. Florida, by the way is one of the hardest places to get a vacant campsite during the winter - or so I am told - and if one is thinking of heading to the warm Florida sun from December to February or March, make a reservation well in advance.

Some RVs have heated water tanks and are able to stay out in the freezing temperatures without having to be concerned, but I recently read a cry of help from someone who "went away for the weekend" (obviously, not with their RV that has tank and plumbing heaters when plugged in 24/7, but evidently they forgot to leave them running) and when they returned found the entire water system had frozen. And what could they do? Not much but try to thaw it out, if the outside temperature was not going to cooperate. And this, thankfully, so far, has been a mild winter - at least in some parts of the Country that are usually colder.Tank and plumbing heated RVs need an ongoing power source to keep those running and without failure. 

My Roadtrek does not have any tank or plumbing heaters. It does have an interior water tank that holds less than half the water capacity of the exterior water tank it also has. There is a way to isolate that tank from the outside tank and only have water running from the interior tank. (Summer Mode/Winter Mode) This is supposed to be a way to travel in freezing weather with water. The problem is that this only works if the interior of the coach is heated 24/7 which means plugged in, run on the generator, or be able to recharge the coach batteries which will eventually run down that are needed to ignite the propane furnace and run the furnace fan that will move the hot air around inside the Roadtrek. And even this is only good to a certain exterior outside temperature. Then there are the outside waste tanks. If you run water from this interior fresh water tank, where does that water go when it runs through the sink or toilet. It goes right down the drains into the grey tank or the black tank that are both outside hanging under the van close to the ground where it stays the coldest. Will these freeze? Oh yeah! Will the pipes coming and going from these freeze with water in them. Yup, that too. There are new Roadtreks that have a different type of hot water heating system that is supposed to dump its contents outside automatically if the temperature gets toward freezing. That is good for the hot tank, but what about the waste tanks and the fresh tanks? I have not heard anything about what happens to those.

So Roadtrek or not, what do you do? (And this is all my own opinion - but formed after hearing about all of not what may happen but what does happen.) Well, the obvious is winterize and travel or stay in your RV without water through the months that will potentially freeze. What else could be done? If one's RV is not winterized and you do not have heating systems to keep all of the water system from freezing, it is extremely important to pay attention to the future weather forecasts. Yes, the weatherman is often not right. I know one nationally popular weather forecasting network that likes to make disasters out of everything and will emphasize the negative and rarely reports any weather in a positive way. I am sure that one beautiful sunny normal day they are going to report that dangerous sun rays will bring imminent disaster to anyone who goes outside. But there are several weather services including the National Weather Service that when the reports of each are taken together and compared, the chances of a more accurate forecast are greatly increased. If with this approach there is agreements that the temperatures in the coming week are going to go below freezing and there will be no daytime warm up well into the 40s, it is essential to winterize or move quick to where it will be much warmer. Winterizing is not hard - if you read my step by step guide to winterizing and you install a winterizing valve on your water pump - or get one of the hand RV antifreeze pumps that I also talk about in my step by step guide to winterizing - you can winterize in less than a half hour. It is not hard to do and the longest time required is waiting for tanks to drain on their own. RV antifreeze at Walmart is less than $3 a gallon and with a Roadtrek all you need is two and a half gallons. With another RV with more plumbing you may need more - but not much more. What do you do for water - you can do what we have done when winter traveling while winterized  and some modify this by still flushing the toilet with RV antifreeze instead of water - either pouring it in from the bottle or filling the fresh water tank with RV antifreeze to do this. Is this all inconvenient if you live full time in your RV? Of course, it is, but paying to fix burst water pipes or broken valves due to having frozen is a lot more inconvenient. Think it all through. Be prepared. Know what is ahead at all times. And keep a few gallons of RV antifreeze on hand, if you don't winterize, because once the winter starts, like winter clothes that are gone from the shelves when the coldest weather is about to hit, the RV antifreeze sells out in November and they just don't restock it.

And if you have an RV with heated plumbing and tanks, and you decide to go away for a winter weekend without the RV - leave all those heaters plugged in and running... (I have to smile every time I think of that one...)


  1. Great points here. I do think it depends on the RV and what features it has on it whether all "winterizing" steps are necessary.

  2. Must you winterize if you aren't using the water system? Will there be damage if it's just empty?

    1. Your water system, plumbing, tanks, hot water heater, valves and faucets are never really empty. There will always be some water in the pipes and especially the valves and worse, the toilet valve that sends water into your toilet when you flush. So yes, you do have to winterize. Even after draining your tanks, and running your sinks dry, there is still enough water in the system that if it freezes it will break a valve - and possibly a pipe. Also your hot water tank is never empty unless you remove the anode rod which is also the drain and let all of the water out that way. See our article about the hot water tank. Don't take a chance. For $6 in antifreeze and about an hour of time, it is worth protecting your water system and prevent thousands in repairs if pipes and valves freeze and burst.