Photo courtesy of Bob Zagami
Winterizing Your RV

You have do more than just park the thing!

By Cliff Maurand

Updated for 2002
The relentless onslaught of Winter is quickly approaching, as it does each and every year. And before the really cold weather strikes, you'll need to winterize your RV. For many, that just means hook it up, and haul or drive it down to your nearest RV dealer. For a nominal fee, the RV dealer's service department will take care of it for you. Not everyone has that opportunity, whether because they are too far from an RV dealer, financially unable, or just not willing to spend money on something that you can do for yourself.

Since there is no real statistical data to determine for a fact, I have to assume that the majority of RV owners deal with this particular chore themselves. At the same time, I'm sure there is no shortage of owners that would rather leave the winterizing to the professionals. Either way, it is something that must be done, at least those that live in the snow belt have to. This is perhaps one chore the southern owners don't have to deal with, though a good once per year system maintenance check would still be a good idea.

As for the winterizing process itself, there isn't all that much to it. So if your one of those that are going to do it yourself, all you need is a check list to follow and for the novice, perhaps a few instructions.

The Plumbing...
The biggest thing you're going to have to worry about, is water freezing in the lines and other systems. Just draining the lines won't do the trick either, as small amounts of water can get trapped in the most unlikely places, inside the pumps, faucet's, drains, and holding tanks. And you either have to get every bit of it out, or treat it so that it can't freeze.

The latter of the two is probably the easiest method. You're still going to have to visit the RV dealer or Walmart though, to pick up some of that special non-toxic anti-freeze, and possibly a pump system to get it into the RV's plumbing system. the other method of getting the stuff from the bottle and into the system is with a siphon tube from the bottle to the winterizing valve if so equipped. If you don't have this valve, then a pump will be needed. The siphon tube will utilize the units onboard water pump to pull it in. Disconnect the water line to your refrigerator's ice maker or close the water supply valve, if so equipped, to avoid getting RV antifreeze in the ice maker. Insert the siphon tube into the gallon container of anti freeze and open up the valve 90 degrees to allow anti freeze to be pulled up into the water pump. Disconnect the water lines from the water supply and open a faucet to allow the pressure in the water system to bleed out, or the water pump may not start up when switched on. Turn on the water pump.

This special formula is colored pink so that you'll never confuse it with the green stuff you put in the cars radiator, which is highly toxic, and you certainly don't want to contaminate your fresh water systems with the green stuff! Start by going to the furthest point first and working your way back to the winterizing valve. Open one of the faucets until you start seeing the color of the anti freeze fluid, then turn it off. Once your sure every part and piece along the way contains treated solution instead of plain water, your pretty much done. It is recommended that you drain the water heater, and if possible, by-pass it, otherwise you'll need an additional 6 to 10 gallons of anti-freeze for that too. Normally, you'll need 2 to 3 gallons of the stuff to complete this job. Take the rest of the contents on the gallon and perhaps a bit more and dump about 4 to 5 ounces in each trap. Dump about 10 to 12 ounces in the black water tank to protect the black water valve. There should be enough anti freeze in the gray tank after the procedures you just accomplished to protect that valve.

Another method of winterizing your RV is by dumping a quantity of anti freeze into the water tank and using the water pump to pump up the anti freeze. This method is the least favorable and should only be pursued if you have no other recourse. Of course, if you utilize some of the bypass procedures above, you could reduce the amount of anti-freeze required for this job.

If you don't have the pink anti-freeze solution, then you've got a job ahead of you. The first thing would be to drain all the lines, all the systems, and the tanks. Once it is drained, you'll need to force out any additional water in some of those hard to find places. If you have a fresh water tank and a pump, there is sure to be water trapped in there. Ditto of any type of drain with a trap.

Usually, it's recommended that you start with the water heater, after making sure everything is powered down, and drained of course. Since it's also recommended that any water filtration systems get a yearly change, this is the time to do, simply remove and discard it, then bypass the filter assembly.

Blowing the lines and systems out with high pressure air is probably the easiest method. Unfortunately, most home owners don't have a compressor and cannolt provide sufficient quantities of air to do the job. The only problem with this method, is that there is no telling if you really got every last drop of water out of the system or not. If you didn't, you'll find out quick enough in the spring when hook up the water hose to fill and flush the system out. And of course, you'll need to buy an adaptor to perform this function with, it's called a "Blow-out Plug" and is readily available at most RV suppliers, as well as at your nearest Walmart!

When blowing it out with air, you'll have to go around and do this one faucet at a time, and each appliance that has a water line (washer, ice maker etc). Try to work from the furthest point and work back to the air attachment point. Make sure every faucet is turned off after each line is done, all the sink drains opened, and the holding tank valves are closed. Forgetting to turn off a single faucet could create quite a problem in the spring when you first pressurize the system. Before you ever get a chance to bleed the air out of the lines, they will blow out, and start dumping water. If you don't catch it quickly enough, that water could overflow a sink or fill a holding tank quickly enough, and the resulting mess after it over flows onto the floor will be a real problem.

Moisture Control...
Though some people like to cover their RV's, it is not generally recommended. Using tarp's to cover it may keep water and snow off of it for the most part, but moisture will still get in underneath of it. Worse yet, that moisture under the tarp will be trapped, and cannot evaporate out from underneath it. The result is mold or mildew. If you do cover the unit, try to at least find something that is made of "breathable" material.

There are a couple of things you can do to control moisture inside the RV during the long winter months. One of the more accepted methods is to place something inside that will absorb the moisture. The most popular method is using a chemical absorbent. Most of them come in a plastic container, and you simply open it and set it inside the camper. It will work similar to silica gel, and absorb the moisture from the air. The plastic container keeps any moisture from draining onto the floor, or the product from causing any stains. There are several different products available such as Dri-Z-Air from Campers World and Damp Rid from Walmart. Most of these "moisture removers" are largely made from Calcium Chloride, the same stuff you melt ice off the front walk with.

Another method is place a small heat source inside the RV. This could be anything from a light bulb to an enclosed heater. The flaw here is, you'll need to keep power to it all winter long, and take the chance that something could ignite, or an electrical short. Since you're not likely to be too involved with the unit during the winter months, such a problem could go un-noticed, at least until it's too late. WE DO NOT recommend you do this, we are simply pointing out another option. If you have a large unit and do intend to keep it powered up, a small dehumidifier would also work.

Tires & Suspension...
A few individuals like to jack their RV's and set them up on blocks or stands, others take the tires off and store them in the garage. Both seem like good idea's, but are not really necessary. Tires can dry rot whether their still on the RV, or inside the garage. Most people keep the wheels on it, but if you park the rig on something other than a paved or concrete driveway, you should consider getting some flat concrete blocks to place under the tires. During the spring thaw, the ground gets really soft and moist, and the tires could sink in. And if your parked on unlevel terrain, and it starts to sink into the ground, that could make it shift a little, and possibly cause the wheel chocks to loose their effectiveness.

I have heard that this could keep the bearings and tires from developing flat spots. The jury is still out on that one. But if it makes you feel better, then by all means go ahead and take them off, it certainly won't hurt anything.

It wouldn't hurt to dig out a can of WD-40 at this time, and spray the bushings on the units suspension. If it is equipped with rubber body mount bushings, such as a motor home, those should be sprayed too. The WD-40 helps keep the rubber soft and supple, and helps prevent dry rotting, thus prolonging the life of your unit.

Rodent Control...
Here's a subject no one likes to discuss, but many of you have had to deal with this on occasion. The most common rodent problem is mice, who starting looking for a nice winter home about the same time you're putting the RV up for the winter. Your RV is a perfect place for them, dry, wind proof, up off the ground, deserted, and possibly even heated. These furry little creatures are highly destructive too, they will chew up paper, or worse yet, cloth such as curtains or furniture.

Mice are relatively small to begin with, and they only need a tiny opening to get into the RV with. If they can get their tiny little head through a hole, their whole body will follow through. And the underside of your RV probably has a few holes that will sufficiently allow them through. The only way to find them, is to get underneath of it, and look for them. You'll have to really scrutinize the underside of the rig. If you find any opening underneath the rig that you can fit your baby finger into, then you need to close that opening. Some people recommend stuffing it with aluminum or brass wool, it won't rust like steel wool does. Having a can of "Great Stuff" with you can be quite effective, and easy to apply.

There are many small animals that could attempt to gain access to your camper, not just mice. Some of them can be fairly nasty little critters. Rats are probably the most despised, while garden variety moles, mice, and shrews can be a problem. I've read reports of squirrels making a home inside of campers. Keep in mind, most of these pests not only chew on the wood flooring to make access holes larger, they can also chew up curtains, seat cushions & coverings, and even the wiring.

Insect Control...
You may be able to find all the holes a mouse can squeeze through, but insects are another story. In the spring the bugs will be all over the place searching for a place to call home. And getting into your RV should be an easy job for tiny insects, particularly ants. A few well placed ant traps will likely suffice here. I've heard stories about people placing moth balls or dryer sheets into their units to keep out the rodents and insects, but I really don't know how effective this method really is. What I have found that works best for ants is a product called Amdro Ant Block, you simply sprinkle the stuff on the ground all alround your camper. This stuff is effective on most variety of ants, they take this bait which is a slow poison, bring it back and feed it to the hole colony including the queen, and wipes them all out.

Another problem in the spring time are Bee's, which could try and claim some space on or under your camper for their hives. Once they start building, they will consider you the intruder in their domain, and protect their hives. There is no real way to prevent this, about all you can do is be vigilant, keep an eye open for the obvious signs (like a bunch of bee's buzzing around the unit). Please exercise caution when trying to rid your camper of bee's!

Spiders can also be a problem, and they like to get into some of the hardest to spot places. I've found them nesting inside my trailer brakes, storage compartments, and inside various appliances. The only way to really get rid of these creatures is to spray. Spiders seem to be attracted to the scent of propane, and they like get into propane appliances, orifice tubes and venturies. You should check your propane systems out carefully to make sure you are free of problems.

Mud Daubers are another bug to watch out for. They like to build their mud huts in places like the furnace exhaust ports. This can be dangerous in two ways. First by causing a restriction that could cause carbon Monoxcide to build up on the inside of the trailer. That same restriction can also cause heat & flame problems and start a fire. Both scenarios are dangerous and can cause death.

If you remove the propane tanks from the unit, you may want to find a way to close the line on the outside. It's a threaded fitting, and you can find some kind of cap at the hardware store. As for the inside, it is a good idea to try and close, cover, or fill any opening or orifice. As we mentioned above, the chemical that is added to propane so that you can smell it, has an affect on spiders. It seems they are attracted to the odor, and it is not uncommon to find them nesting in these area's, and leaving their fuzzy little cocoon's inside the propane lines. Wrapping the burners on the stove in plastic, and closing it around the line with tape or a twist tie takes care of that, but beware of the openings for the pilot lights, and Venturi's. More important, be sure to remove all this in the spring before trying to light these systems.

Common Sense...
Before you close that RV up for the winter, make sure it has been completely cleaned out of food articles. Anything at all that might attract rodents and insects need to go. Spices, sugar, even things like soap and tooth paste might make a tasty treat for some critter. The best thing to do, is just take every consumable item out of the RV for the winter.

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