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As the colder weather sets in, many of us in the Northeast need to prepare our RVs for the winter. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

SAFETY NOTE: In order to prevent damage to the RV from freezing, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s winterization instructions. If you’re not comfortable with winterizing the plumbing in your coach, leave it to an RV service professional.


Don’t let this happen to you!

The primary reason to winterize is to protect the plumbing system from freeze damage. As water freezes and thaws, it expands with amazing force, destroying whatever confines it. Concrete highways frequently break apart due to freezing water: our little plastic pipes and appliances don’t have a chance.

It is common to use RV antifreeze to winterize an RV. That’s fine, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, I don’t like to put antifreeze in the fresh water tank. It’s quite difficult to get the antifreeze smell and taste out of the tank later on. I, of course, make sure the tank is completely emptied, and then I hook a hose up to the pump intake to suck the antifreeze out of the bottle, or use a winterization kit. Also, make sure your holding tanks are empty. If not, take it to a facility and empty and flush them prior to winterization.

SAFETY NOTE: ONLY use RV plumbing system antifreeze to winterize your piping. This antifreeze is non-toxic and designed for this purpose. Automotive antifreeze contains Ethylene Glycol — toxic to humans and pets — as well as other chemical agents in the mix.

RV plumbing systems vary in design and complexity. Some are easy to winterize, others require a little more ingenuity. Some folks like to blow out their system with an air compressor. That’s fine… just make sure you don’t exceed the operating pressure of your water system. 40-50 psi is usually adequate. Also, if your RV doesn’t have a water heater bypass, get one and install it. A water heater bypass does two things. First, it allows you to isolate the water heater during winterization so you don’t have to fill it with antifreeze, which is difficult to get out of it in the spring anyway. In addition, in the event of a malfunction of the heater, you can bypass it eliminating a leak. Bypassing the water heater should be done at the beginning of the process, then the plug removed from the outside of the water heater to drain. Make sure to either lift lever on pressure relief valve or open hot water faucet to bleed of pressure.

Every RV has a city water inlet. Unless you have hooked up to this to blow out your pipes with an air compressor, there will still be water in that line. To get the antifreeze into this pipe and fitting, make sure the rest of the system has been winterized with antifreeze. Bleed pressure off the system by turning off the pump and opening a faucet until no more antifreeze comes out. Go outside to the city water inlet, and, using a finger or small tool, hold the backflow valve open, and have someone turn the pump on briefly, until antifreeze comes out. Failure to relieve the pressure from the system prior to manually opening the city water valve will cause the o-ring to separate, requiring the valve to be removed from the RV and repairs to be made.

Some coaches have washer/dryers, icemakers, water filters, and so on. These, and the piping to them, need to be winterized. This can be a complicated process. Again, follow the manufacturers instructions for winterizing these appliances refer the process to an RV service shop if you’re at all uncomfortable with the process.

Make sure that every drain has antifreeze in the P-trap (Don’t forget the washer/dryer drain!) As you run the faucets, some will get in there, but pour a little extra in when you’re done. The toilet should have enough in it once flushed through with antifreeze.
Fall is also a good time to clean and examine the roof for sealant wear or other damage, and repair it. The seams get tested during the winter and the spring thaw, so renewing them now will help ensure they withstand the winter and the upcoming season. It’s also a good time to examine doors and windows for proper seal, and make repairs as necessary. Slide outs and their seals should also be cleaned and examined, and slide out seal treatment applied. The mechanism should be lubricated also, to help protect it.

Engine and generator service should be done prior to winter storage. I always recommend that people should run their fuel (gas or diesel) down low towards the end of the season, then before storage, add fuel additive to the tank and fill it up, then run the engines long enough to get the fuel and additive into them. Gasoline varnishes over time which can adversely affect the operation of the engines. Diesel fuel can suffer biological growth with storage, and will gel in the cold. Your owner’s manuals will have seasonal storage recommendations for your specific equipment. To prevent such problems, Onan recommends running generators at a minimum of 50 percent capacity (for example, 2000-watts, or one air conditioner for a 4000-watt set) for two hours at least once every four weeks. A long two-hour exercise period is preferable to several short periods.

Of course, the propane should be turned off. It is unnecessary to remove the connections, but covering the openings into fuel burning appliances may be in order. IF you cover them, MAKE SURE you remove the cover prior to operating the appliance in the spring. I had customer who had a furnace blow up a couple of years ago because they had plugged up the external openings on the furnace and forgot about it… until they ran it in the spring! I wasn’t there when it went, but I understand that when it did, the noise and smoke had the family bailing out of the unit like rats in a sinking ship. Fortunately, no extensive damage was done, and more importantly, no injuries.

The RV battery is another important item to look at. If you are storing your RV without leaving electrical power hooked up to it for charging, the batteries need to be removed and stored inside a warm area, up off the floor. The reason for this is the batteries will not freeze if they’re charged, but once discharged will freeze and could burst. At the least, the plates will be damaged and the battery’s operation will be reduced. If you plan on using the coach during the winter, just keep it plugged in, and check the water in the batteries at least monthly. This also makes it easier to start the coach for monthly checks.

Good luck…… Happy Camping

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