When you live in a RV in MN the winter wonderland becomes a winter worry land. You don’t have the foundation of a house you have wheels. The walls are not built with layers of materials. The pipes that let the water in and out are exposed to the bitter air along with the tanks that hold your waste. The windows are by no means cost efficient and you also have vents and the door to think about. Not to mention the worry about having enough propane (which is the source for your heater) but also the moister build up the propane heat causes. Winter in a RV is not for the faint of heart!
Knowing that we must be prepared to avoid costly damage we began our winterizing process from the very start…
It actually almost stopped our full time RV pursuit until we realized that you can buy certain brands that offer “winterized” RV. Basically what you want to look for is a rig that has a zero degree rating. Yes, it gets colder than that in MN but if you have at least that rating you can supplement that with extra insulation and sealing up the major heat loss areas. That being said you can make it with any RV, but you will need to expect your energy costs to go up with older models. There are people living in our park with campers slightly better than a popup. Sure they have 400lbs propane tanks that probably get filled every week, but they still make it through winter.
-Learning from Neighbors
Then we pulled into our spot with the neighbor beside us living in a 1993 RV and have been in MN since. This gave us more confidence that if they could survive winters we could too. Cullen did a lot of research but also searched out advice from our neighbors around us. He learned many tips and tricks that we wouldn’t even thought about. One of the best tips we learned from our neighbors that I never came across in my own research was to put a low watt light bulb in the external compartment of the refrigerator motor. This compartment is exposed to the outside, which is good in the summer as it allows the motor to stay cooler. However, this motor needs heat to keep your fridge cold and when temps dip below zero this causes a lot of stress on the motor, causing it to “burn out” way ahead of the life expectancy. So the tip is to cover the vents with duct tape or aluminum tape, with the exception of a small hole to allow the drain hose to seep, then put a 20 watt light bulb inside. Most compartments have a receptacle so you can simply purchase a light socket adapter.
Skirting is essential when living in an RV in freezing temperatures. Even if you have an enclosed underbelly the cold wind blowing under your rig is enough to freeze pipes and zap all the warm air out of your RV. Now there are numerous things you can use for skirting, really anything that stops the wind from blowing under it will suffice. The most common option is to skirt it with foam board insulation. This is rigid and easy to work with, but unfortunately is quite expensive. Another common option is to use a canvas which you can pay to have custom done to your RV. It attaches by snaps so you can simply snap it on and off come spring. This is the option I would recommend to anyone that is moving around a lot as its most adaptable. The option we went with was to build our own using ¼ plywood, 2x4s, and R-11 fiberglass insulation. We used foam board around the slide outs. The reason we chose this was because we knew we were going to be stationary for at least 2 years, it offered the highest R value, and it was the cheapest option; cheapest but most work intensive. I built studded walls that conformed to shape our RV (see pics below). You will need to create a door or a way to access your drain valves as you should not leave these open in the winter.
It is time to hibernate to turn our RV into a cave…that is what I joked about with Cullen as he was putting insulated relaxation on the windows outside. RV’s are made with the thought of camping not surviving deathly cold temperatures. So they place many large windows (aka thin pieces of glass) in them, thus becoming a major source of heat loss. Cullen left 3 windows uncovered so it is not completely cave like. But we did cover all the windows on the inside with the plastic window covers (next year we will do this earlier because once it become too cold the tape does not stick to the metal surrounding the windows). There are a few sky windows in the ceiling that we stuffed with insulation and covered with plastic.
Then there are the vents in the bathroom, Silas bedroom, and the living area that offer a beautiful breeze of fresh air in any season but winter. These we covered with plastic after stuffing insulation into it. But as we live and learn next winter we will try to do a special insulated pillow for the bathroom. That way we can allow airflow in/out when showering and reduce the moister.
First step to protecting water is covering the water hose with heat tape and insulation. You can buy a hose that comes with heat tape built in, its pricey but it less work and I have heard that it works great. We chose to buy heat tape and do it ourselves. Once I had the heat tape on I covered the hose with foam pipe insulation and then I wrapped that with fiberglass pipe insulation (found in the duct work isle). Next, where the water shut on/off valve is located on my water sources I wrapped more tape around the metal pipes and stuffed fiberglass insulation around it and then covered it with a plastic bin (tipped upside down). Lastly, I put a tarp over the entire thing for wind barrier and to keep dry as possible.
All these steps and precautions are great unless you run out of heat. We chose to divide up our heat source. We run portable electrical heaters at night on high in Silas bedroom and our bedroom. This allows us to turn down the main RV heater a few degrees (60F) at night. In the morning to help heat up the living space we use the electrical built in fireplace. Throughout the day we keep our heat set to about (65F) when we are there and just layer up (fleece and wool socks!). Because we don’t want to be stuck without heat we ordered a large propane tank (200 lbs) that is filled every other week, but could be weekly. We also have to 30lbs tanks that we take to get filled when convenient. This is usually cheaper per gallon vs have it delivered. On average in the winter we go through about a gallon of propane per day. Make sure you call several propane distributors if available as they can greatly differ in price. Not just price per gallon but in tank leasing fees, etc.
The moment you are dressed in your winter gear and attempt to open the door with no luck is a moment of panic. Trapped in a tin can with a toddler! But after you take a deep breath you pull out the blow dryer that is your constant companion. The doors on most RV’s do not have impressive weather stripping and easily freeze up. You may get home from work one day to find that your door is froze shut, luckily you headed my advice and stored a hair dryer outside of your rig and are able to unthaw it. It is what lets you in and out of your home with the cold wind freezes your door shut. Another tip around this is put dry lube on the metal parts of the door where it’s freezing up (not needed on aluminum parts).
These are the many precautions we took to avoid freezing, frozen pipes, and keeping our water/waste flowing. Yet we still had to live and learn this first month of winter…