After last week’s article about how to prepare your water line for living in your RV during cold winter months, it’s time to move on to preparing the rest of the RV for those chilly days and nights. This includes the sewer line and then everything on the inside of the RV.

Sewer Line and RV Winter Living

After the water line is prepped for RV winter living, the next item to turn your attention to is the sewer line. You might remember from my post on bugs in the composting toilet that I learned a best practice is not to leave the sewer valve open or you risk sewer flies getting into your rig. Although, this may not be as true if, like me, you only have a gray tank. Of course, a composting toilet means there is no black tank and its sewage those nasty little critters love.

However, it remains a good idea to keep that valve shut. In winter if you leave the valve open, basically every time you use water in the RV, only that little bit will flush through the sewer line. Little pools of water collect in low spots and in the creases of the sewer hose. In freezing temperatures, those little pools turn to ice, expand and you risk cracks in the sewer hose.

So, in my opinion, it’s better to keep the valve closed. Then as needed (how often will depend on the size of your tanks and how much water you use), go outside and dump them. You still risk the little pools but at least running sewage and water through the hose less often reduces the chance of cracks and leaks.

Tips and Tricks for the Sewer in Winter

  • Inspect the hose frequently, looking for cracks where gray and black water might leak. Repair or replace. I found a leak in mine during my winter in New Mexico. I repaired it with duct tape and later decided to convert my sewer hose to a water hose (which I could do because I don’t have chunky sewage of a black tank).
  • Watch the weather and empty the tanks in warmest temperatures possible. For one thing, if you aren’t freezing, you’ll be less likely to cut corners to get back inside. For another thing, you have time to drain as much liquid as possible before it freezes.
  • Make sure you have a good and smooth angle between your rig and the sewer pipe where your tanks drain. Putting your sewer hose support close together helps. You want to prevent any dips where water and sewage can pool and freeze.
  • Similarly, to further help prevent dips, when you are finished emptying the tanks, pick up the sewer hose to create a steeper angle which helps any remaining water or sewage to drain out, much like you do when you are preparing to disconnect the hose for a travel day.
Cracks in the sewer line were repaired with blue duct tape.

RV Plumbing Overview

Okay, now let’s turn our attention inside the rig. In particular, the rig’s plumbing, tanks and related components. The degree to which you’ll need to worry about this will vary greatly depending on your rig. Relevant factors include how well the rig is insulated, air circulation in areas where pipes and tanks are located and just how low and sustained the freezing temperatures will be.

You need to be more vigilant the colder the temperatures and the longer those temperatures remain.

Another Lesson the Hard Way

I’ll start this topic with yet another thing I learned the hard way. Maybe it’s an inevitable part of being a newbie RVer but I get kind of tired of reporting lessons I learned the hard way. Fortunately, this lesson wasn’t costly in time or money. I didn’t cause any damage though I certainly could have.

I prefer to warm myself with a space heater rather than the RV’s furnace because I like the directed heat and, in general, I feel warmer using a space heater. This was something I figured out from the get-go. Plus, at least at the beginning, I was intimidated by the need to fill propane tanks so using the space heater meant empty propane tanks less often.

Well, in Walla Walla, after I prepped the water hose and sewer line for winter, I thought I was ready for those cold temperatures. But one morning I got up and no water would come out of my tap. I went outside and the heat cable was on and working. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Turned out, the pipes in my RV were frozen. A friend suggested, I turn on the furnace and leave it on until water ran from my faucet. It took several hours but it worked.

Lesson learned.

A bulldog hitch at the front of a trailer dusted in snow.
The hitch and front of the trailer covered in snow in Walla Walla.

Getting Warm Air to Cold Places While RV Winter Living

The frozen water pipe was a good lesson for me on many levels.

First, just the fact that it happened taught me that it could. Even when the inside of the trailer was super toasty.

Second, I learned that in cold temperatures I must sometimes let the furnace help with heat inside the rig and, as a result, it assists with keeping pipes from freezing. I don’t know if this is true for every rig but in Quill, the furnace is under the living area of the trailer. This means when it’s in use some of the heat it generates radiates into the area where the pipes run, keeping them from freezing.

Third, I realized another trick. To assist with air circulation and warm air getting into the areas of concern there are other things to try. For example, perhaps removing a drawer in your kitchen would help send warm air from the rig into the belly of the inner workings.

In my case, I have an easy-access panel under my bed where most of the pipes run. Its original intent was access without having to remove the mattress. I rarely use it for that purpose, but when temperatures drop below freezing, I simply leave that panel door open so some of the warm air from the interior of my rig finds its way in. Sometimes, the cat does too but that’s another topic.

Under the left bed, can you see the round thing? That’s the vent for the furnace. Then, although not in the photo, the access door is next to it. That’s the door I open in cold temperatures.

Water Heater

Since the water heater has water running to and from it, obviously, this is another area of concern for the possibility of freezing. Water heaters in RV come in two types—the traditional water heater much like the one in sticks-and-bricks homes but smaller and the hot water on-demand water heater.

I have the hot water on-demand heater so I know more about it. But I can say a few words about the other. However, if you can add to the discussion or offer tips for the traditional water heater, please do so in the comments.

Most RVers I know, to save propane, leave their water heaters off. They turn them on for showering or washing a pile of dishes. The difference between the two is that with the traditional water heater they wait about 20 minutes for the water to get hot while an on-demand water heater takes about 60 seconds.

Hot Water on-Demand

Obviously, for either water heater, to keep water from freezing the water heater needs to remain on. The trick becomes balancing propane use with not allowing the lines to freeze. On my Truma on-demand water heater, I actually have two “on” settings making RV winter living pretty easy. What I’m unsure about is whether all brands have this option.

My regular “on” gets the water super-hot and shower ready. But the other “on” setting is what I’d call the warm water setting. Basically, it monitors the temperature inside the device and whenever it drops below 40 degrees, it turns on and heats the water a bit to ensure it never freezes. This uses much less propane than maintaining a shower-ready water temperature.

Even in non-winter conditions, I keep mine on this setting continually as it’s a good safeguard against unexpected cool patches. It doesn’t use propane unless it has to heat the water so I’m not out anything by keeping the setting at warm. Then, when I need hotter water, I just switch it over to the regular setting. When I’m finished with dishes or showering, it goes back to warm.

From the outside of a white trailer, an access door is open and a water heater is inside.
This is my on-demand water heater accessed from the outside (obviously). Being only protected from a thin piece of plastic against cold temperatures indicates how important it is to keep an eye on it. From inside the rig, this is also under one of my beds.

Traditional Water Heater

I don’t know if traditional water heaters have something similar. I’m supposing they do. After all, the water heaters in our sticks-and-bricks have a “vacation” setting where the temperature maintained when not in use is lower than when we are home and regularly showering, laundering and running the dish washer.

Additionally, I’ve seen in some Class A motorhomes where the water heater is accessible inside the RV so it’s possible, in that case, the warmth from the inside of the RV is enough to keep any freezing issues at bay.

I’d encourage you to understand all the settings on your water heater. Plus, check the manual to see what it suggests for cold temperature living.

Monitoring Ideas

Now that you understand all the pieces and parts of the rig that needs attention during cold temperatures, are there ways to monitor all the systems? Honestly, nothing probably tops a daily visual inspection or test of everything. But, still, I have a couple of ideas that you could employ to help with the job.

I heard this tip from another RVer. Take a jar or a glass and put an inch or two of water in it. Place in areas of concern, be it an under the rig storage compartment, next to the plumbing pipes in your rig (this won’t be very convenient unless you have quick and easy access to the area) or anywhere you worry about the possibility of freezing temperatures.  

Daily, make sure the water remains in liquid form. If it freezes, take action to warm up the area. One RVer uses a rechargeable hot water bottle to warm small areas. It lasts up to five hours and only takes 15 minutes to reheat. I found this a creative solution. The bonus of this solution is that the hot water bottle can also be used personally. And the bonus to this bonus is it becomes a dual-function item, something always important in small space living.

A red water bottle with a cord.
A USB rechargeable hot water bottle not only can heat the pipes of an RV but also your toes on a cold night or to ease a tummy ache.

Another option is to put a thermometer in area of concerns. Of course, you can use a traditional thermometer. But, maybe an a wireless one where the monitor is one device but the information display is another would serve you better. That way you can continually monitor the temperature without having to access the place you are monitoring.

Other Thoughts and Ideas for RV Winter Living

Bag. The bottom half is puffy because it's filled with water. The top have looks like paper and has flowers on it with the logo DampRid.
Before I moved to the EVA Dry dehumidifier, I used several of these DampRid dehumidifier bags. It is amazing how quickly they can fill with water they’ve pulled from the air.

RV Winter Living: Final Best Tip

This option may not be important to everyone. However, my best tip for preparing for RV winter living is to avoid the place where you have to deal with any of this stuff to begin with. There are plenty of places (particularly in the desert southwest and along coastlines) to choose from. And, after Walla Walla, that has been my preferred solution. Even so, in the high desert of New Mexico, I had to occasionally deal with temperatures in the 20s. So the info is good to hold in your back pocket.

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