Last updated on September 26th, 2023 at 09:21 am
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Winter camping poses a whole different set of challenges compared to RVing in summer. From heating demands and insulation to snow driving and water damage, there are many things to look out for. Among them, and easily one of the most important are your RV pipes.
So let’s find out what to do if your RV pipes freeze!
If your RV pipes freeze, unfreezing and thawing them as soon as possible is vital. There are a variety of tools you can use such as a portable propane heater, heat gun, heating tape, heat cables, a hairdryer, a heated blanket, RV skirting, and RV-specific antifreeze which should help the frozen pipes.
RV water pipes, or more specifically the water carried by them, can quickly freeze during the night when camping in a cold area. If this happens, you’ll want to take immediate action to save your pipes from any lasting damage. If it’s too late and your pipes have already frozen, there are a few different things you can try to unfreeze them and get your water system back up and running.
How Do You Unfreeze RV Pipes?
Frozen pipes are something no RVer wants to face, however, traveling in a camper during cold weather means facing sub-zero temperatures and the havoc frozen components can bring! Luckily, there are various methods for unfreezing and thawing RV pipes, so you have plenty of options to choose from.
Portable Propane Heater
A portable propane heater is great for the pipes underneath an RV. Portable heaters can easily be rolled into place below an RV’s undercarriage to heat any frozen pipes gradually.
Using propane carries some risks, so practicing safety is vital. Avoid leaving a portable heater unattended as it produces high heat which can easily melt anything too close. Be extra mindful if using a portable propane heater on a camper van with PVC or similar pipes, as these materials are susceptible to melting under high heat.
If your RV doesn’t have metal pipes, it’s wise to use a different method to thaw the frozen RV pipes. Another caution to be aware of is carbon monoxide, which can be extremely damaging to health. While these heaters typically don’t release dangerous amounts, running a heater for too long can be a problem, so make sure your RV has carbon monoxide detectors!
A heat gun is a great way to unfreeze RV pipes. They have the added benefit of being suitable for use on PVC pipes with a lower risk of melting than a propane heater. It’s still advisable to avoid heating each section for too long for maximum safety. A heat gun is far more portable and easier to handle than a propane heater, however, a heat gun will take longer to unfreeze frozen RV pipes.
Heating Tape Or Cable Wrap
Both heating tape and cable wrap are ideal options to help unfreeze RV pipes and are easy to use directly on the problem area. Heating tape or cable wrap can be used around frozen RV pipes to slowly heat them and thaw the frozen liquid. Most of them are thermostat-controlled making it easy to stop once the pipes are thawed, preventing any heat damage for PVC RV pipes.
Although heating tape and cable wrap can take a bit of time to thaw frozen pipes, it’s a safe option as the risk of damage is drastically reduced. In my experience, trying to heat or melt anything too fast can cause problems, and the same is true for RV pipes!
A hairdryer is more than just a useful beauty tool! In fact, a hair dryer is a perfect tool to use on frozen RV pipes as it’s essentially a lower-power heat gun and works well too.
The only downside of using a hair dryer on frozen pipes is the substantial time it can take to thaw everything out. However, if you already have access to a hairdryer and would rather avoid spending money on a heat gun, it’s worth a go!
Heated holding tanks are one of the best precautionary methods to take if you’re keeping your RV running throughout winter and want to avoid frozen fresh water or gray waste! Heated blankets are ideal for cozying up during cold weather, but similar blankets for outdoor use can be used if your RV pipes have frozen.
Using heated tank covers is more of a preventive measure to take against icy weather. If you’re camped in the wilderness and unprepared for winter weather when temperatures drop, reaching for a heated blanket isn’t a bad idea and may save your pipes.
Reaching for RV antifreeze when your pipes have already frozen likely won’t give you the best results. Once the pipes have already begun to thaw, however, RV antifreeze can be used to prevent another freeze from happening, and also help melt the ice. There’s a huge difference between RV antifreeze and automotive antifreeze, so be sure to grab the correct product from the shelf when you visit the store!
RV antifreeze contains the chemical propylene glycol which is safe for use in RVs and isn’t toxic to humans, or animals. On the other hand, automotive antifreeze contains ethylene glycol which isn’t safe for consumption and can be harmful to the environment.
Call The Pros
I’ve been RVing full-time for years now, and I never have any shame about calling the professionals for advice or a helping hand! If you’ve tried every method to defrost your pipes, or have found more extensive damage to your rig from cold weather, it may be worthwhile letting an RV pro take a look. You may even learn some tips and tricks you can use next time on your RVing adventures with the family!
How To Prevent RV Pipes From Freezing?
Camping throughout winter is a magical time when campgrounds are quiet, nature is hibernating, and the weather becomes gloriously crisp and cold. Being prepared for RVing in winter is vital for a successful trip. Preventing RV pipes from freezing is key to saving time and money further down the line when snowy weather hits and RV pipes become vulnerable.
Dump Waste And Empty Tanks
When storing an RV for winter, dumping waste and emptying your tanks is paramount in avoiding a frozen, messy problem when everything eventually defrosts! Emptying your holding tanks and giving your RV a substantial clean before winter storage is wise as come spring, you’ll have a fresh rig that’s ready to tackle new adventures.
If you’re traveling in your RV and a surprise burst of sub-zero weather hits unexpectedly, it can actually be beneficial to leave a significant amount in your holding tanks. A larger volume of liquid and waste is harder to freeze than a small amount, and this could therefore help prevent RV pipes too.
Insulate RV Water Pipes
Correctly insulating your RV is the best way to stay warm and protected during winter camping. Taking the time to ensure there’s good quality insulation throughout your RV and around your water pipes is vital! Leaving your pipes unprotected means they will be far more likely to freeze come winter, as discussed in the video below:
RV plumbing spreads all around a camper van, so make sure not to miss any pipes, especially those under the kitchen and bathroom.
Keep RV Interior Warm
It may seem obvious, but keeping an RV warm is an easy way to help maintain regular temperature and prevent pipes from freezing. Various methods of heating can be used in RVs, from wood stoves to propane heaters, and having at least one is important for comfortable winter explorations.
Using an RV cover for winter is perfect if you’re storing your rig outside, and along with protecting against the elements, covers can also deter thieves, and add extra protection against debris.
Use Tank Heaters
RV tank heaters are generally electric devices able to be used under RV fresh water and waste tanks. They are ideal for protecting tanks from cold weather, and they usually do so by using electricity. Most tank heaters can be operated from within an RV by a simple switch. Once turned on, winter will have a much harder time freezing the tanks or pipes in your RV!
Install RV Skirting
RV skirting effectively prevents cold air and wind from circulating underneath a camper van, helping keep everything protected from the elements. This is an excellent measure to take before RV pipes have frozen, but if you’re too late to implement RV skirting, doing so may help thaw pipes quicker.
Cold air isn’t the most useful in defrosting pipes during sub-zero temperatures, so blocking it out and keeping heat inside is a wise decision. Skirting entirely covers the space between the ground and the base of an RV, and it’s effective because the exposed undercarriage of an RV is the area usually most susceptible to the cold. Especially for RV pipes as this is where they are located too!
When I first jumped into the world of RVing, I was a little overwhelmed by all the tips, tricks, advice, and knowledge around! However, one of the biggest things I quickly learned, is that proper winterization of RVs is crucial. Storing an RV has its own set of challenges, from finding an appropriate space to maintaining the camper’s security.
If you’re keeping your rig off the road this winter, make sure it has a good defense to battle winter conditions! This means either blowing out the lines or using antifreeze, completing a deep clean, and using a cover wherever possible.
Open Cabinet Doors
Allowing warm air to circulate throughout your RV means no nook or cranny is left cold. This can be hard to achieve inside some RVs, however, as many have various cabinets and storage areas where cold air can stay trapped. Opening cabinet doors and allowing warm air to circulate inside is a great way to help stop areas of your rig from getting and staying cold.
I travel all around the country in my rig, and I’m not ashamed to say I often chase the sun! When winter comes around, spending time in the snow is fun and exciting, but it can quickly become tedious having to deal with freezing temperatures. Moving location to a sunnier spot is an easy way to help keep RV components from freezing, and means you won’t have to use as much heating either!
Taking precautionary measures is the best way way to protect RV components, including pipes, from freezing. If you frequently camp during winter or live in a cold climate, knowing what to do if your RV pipes freeze is crucial in getting everything back functioning again, so you can continue RVing comfortably with loved ones.
With so many methods out there for thawing frozen pipes, it shouldn’t be too hard for things to be back in working order again! Taking steps to prevent your pipes from freezing, and being aware of how to heat them back up if they do freeze, means you’re ready for winter adventures, and the rollercoaster it brings!