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Winterizing and Storing the RV
By Gary Bunzer
Although many individuals and families enjoy the RVing lifestyle as full-timers, many others appreciate the benefits on a more limited basis, such as during vacations, holidays, weekend getaways or maybe combination trips of business mixed with pleasure. For those who utilize the RV of their choice only part-time, there comes a time when the RV must be stored for a period of non-use. If located in the colder regions of the country, it will also be necessary to protect the RV against the cold by winterizing the coach. Whether the RV will be stored in cold or temperate climates, certain precautions must be taken.
Specific tasks and procedures for each of the major systems and components of the RV must be performed in order to store or winterize the coach effectively. One of the most damaging effects that can happen to an RV, short of abuse, is ill-prepared non-use. To get the most from the RV, following the procedures in this article will ensure the RVer of extended coach life and many more joyful RVing miles. For optimum efficiency, the following strategic and sequential steps are designed to be implemented in the order written so that nothing falls through the cracks.
As a preliminary step to winterizing or storing the coach, completely wash the exterior. Doing so will get the storing preparation off to a good start. A clean coach will reveal items that need to be addressed prior to the spring shakedown.
Fresh Water System
The primary reason why winterizing techniques are so important is basically because of the fresh water system. If left unaddressed, water in the lines and components will freeze, expand and cause damage during a cold winter. Replacing damaged water lines can be an expensive repair. Do not underestimate the importance of following the correct winterizing procedures! Begin by removing the water source (city water or onboard water pump) and opening all of the hot and cold water faucets in the RV.
Most coaches are equipped today with low point drain valves for both the hot and cold lines. Usually located at the lowest point in the RV, low point valves aid in gravity draining as much water as possible from the lines. Valves may be located at or below the floor level. Some are found underneath the coach. Others may not be valves at all, but simple pipe plugs. Still, others may have the valves located inside a dedicated water bay.
Drain the water heater completely. It is easy to forget that this appliance is an extension of the fresh water system. All water heaters have a drain plug or drain valve accessible from the outside of the coach, located near the bottom of the front panel. Set the bypass valves to the bypass function. If your water heater is not equipped with a bypass kit, it’s best to install one now. The bypass kit consists of a series of individual water valves that enable the water heater to be totally isolated from the remainder of the plumbing system. The kit is permanently installed at the rear of the water heater, and pays for itself quickly.
Fresh Water Storage Tank
Drain the water from the storage tank in the usual manner. Drain valves may be located on the outside of the coach, inside a compartment or underneath the chassis. All storage tanks will have a drain valve somewhere.
Regardless of which type of toilet is found in the RV, it will be necessary to remove any water from it. Usually, it is just a simple matter of operating the flushing mechanism while the water pressure is turned off.
An area that seems to often get overlooked is the shower hose. Although it is equipped with an anti-siphon backflow preventer, many times water stays trapped in the shower hose. Simply unscrew the handheld showerhead and lower the hose to a point below the faucet attachment point.
Many RVs are equipped with icemakers; either as a standalone appliance or incorporated into the refrigerator. Be sure to remove the tubing leading into the icemaker and drain any residual water remaining. Additionally, don’t forget exterior faucets or showerheads. All fresh water components must be protected — likewise for RVs equipped with a washer/dryer combination. Drain the water hoses by disconnecting them at the rear of the washer section. Depending on the climate in which the RV is located, next choose between using the dry method of winterizing or the wet method.
The dry method requires blowing out all of the plumbing lines with compressed air. Accessories are available, such as a blowout plug that attaches to the city water inlet to force all the water from the lines. Leave all faucets and drain valves open and screw the blowout plug into the city inlet, and apply no more than 60-psi of compressed air. Do not use gas station-supplied air, as many filling station air tanks are contaminated. Once all remnants of water have been eliminated, turn off all the hot and cold faucets. This may be all that is necessary to safely prepare the fresh water system for storage. However, if the RV will be stored in below-freezing climates, the recommended choice is to use of the wet method.
This method mandates the use of RV anti-freeze. Caution: Be sure it is RV anti-freeze! Standard automotive anti-freeze contains poisons that will contaminate the fresh water system. There are two basic techniques of adding the anti-freeze to the system:
• Via the water pump
• By backfilling
The water pump method involves filling the fresh water storage tank with the appropriate amount of anti-freeze (approximately two gallons or more depending on the size of the RV), and then pumping it through the entire fresh water plumbing system through the demand water pump.
After pouring the anti-freeze into the tank, turn on the water pump and open all the hot and cold faucets. Make sure the water heater bypass kit is in the bypass mode. At the city water inlet, manually depress the spring on the check valve, allowing anti-freeze to be expelled out through the city water inlet, thereby protecting that branch of the cold water piping.
When the colored anti-freeze appears at each faucet, the showerhead(s), the toilet and the city water entry point, close the faucets and turn off the pump. This method ensures anti-freeze is protecting not only the fresh system piping, but the water pump itself.
Kits are available that are comprised of a permanently mounted auxiliary tank just for the anti-freeze, and may include a separate pump to distribute the liquid throughout the piping system. Some larger motorhomes may be equipped in this manner from the factory. Other coaches have a tee fitting, a valve and a short section of hose installed between the fresh water tank and the water pump. In this case, the hose can be inserted into an open bottle of RV anti-freeze and pumped through the system. The backfill method invokes the use of a hand-operated pump that attaches to each individual faucet. Anti-freeze is hand-pumped directly from the container into the system. This method takes longer, but can be just as effective, especially on smaller campers and travel trailers. By either manner, the goal is to protect the water lines from freezing by having them filled with RV anti-freeze.
The P traps probably have anti-freeze in them already, but to be sure, pour another 1/4-cup down the drain at the kitchen and lavatory sink, and in the shower/tub drain.
Flush and clean all holding tanks. Many aftermarket products make this undesirable task a little easier. Water hose attachments, like the one pictured, can be inserted into the holding tank through the toilet. This one employs a swivel head that revolves as water pressure is delivered through the hose. The spray action reaches all areas of the holding tank. Others are permanently installed into the sides of the holding tanks.
For the best in holding tank cleanliness, contact All Pro Water-Flow (
) to find its closest dealer. The All Pro process is quite effective and thoroughly cleans the insides of both the black and gray holding tanks by injecting clean water at about 6,000 pounds per square inch (psi).
After cleaning, drain each tank and close the termination valves completely. If the valves are sticking or are hard to slide, disassemble them and apply a light coating of Dow 111 grease to both sides of the blade to ensure smooth operation come spring. Be sure a mixture of water and RV anti-freeze covers the entire bottom area of each holding tank.
Liquid Propane System
Most of the emphasis will be placed on the four liquid propane (LP) burning appliances during the winterizing process, but there are a few tasks that relate to the LP system in a general sense.
LP Storage Container
The coach may have a permanently mounted LP tank located under it, or may have twin upright cylinders, such as those found on the tongue of most travel trailers. In either case, make sure the service valve is turned off completely.
Remove the POL or ACME Type I fitting(s) and cover them with tape to prevent dust, dirt or critters from inhabiting the lines. If the RV is equipped with removable DOT cylinders, it is best to completely remove and store them in a clean and dry location — never inside the RV.
Next, clean and cover the LP regulator. This prevents moisture from freezing inside the body of the regulator and keeps dirt out. Finally, if an electronic LP leak detector is in the system, be sure to disconnect it at this time. Now, focus on the individual appliances.
Aside from adding the bypass kit, make sure the water heater is turned off completely. Now is the time to totally flush out any mineral deposits that may have accumulated at the bottom of the water heater tank. Follow the procedures outlined in Chapter 10 — Water Heaters. In harsh dusty/windy climates it may be advisable to cut out a cardboard insert to fit inside the fold-down door of the water heater. It can be taped in place and the cover latched. This will help minimize the gathering of dirt, dust and debris at the burner area. Before taping in place, place a couple of moth balls on the shelf near the burner assembly just behind the fold-down door.
Turn the thermostat completely off. If the furnace is equipped with a manual LP valve located outside the furnace enclosure, turn it off also. Use tape or aluminum foil to cover the intake and exhaust vents to prevent wasps or other critters from entering. Blue painter’s tape works well for this task. An alternative is to install a protective screen over the intake/exhaust assembly such as the one pictured above. However, it is recommended to remove this screen prior to placing the furnace back into operation. Though it looks unobtrusive enough, it may restrict the fresh air flow needed by the furnace during operation. Be safe and remove the screen before lighting the furnace.
Clean and dry the inside of the refrigerator after turning it off completely. Prop open the doors slightly. Most units have pre-existing latches that permit this. Outside, at the rear of the refrigerator, cut a cardboard insert for the access door, as was done for the water heater. Tape this inside the access panel to keep excess dust and debris out.
Up on the roof, check the condition of the screening material underneath the refrigerator roof vent. If not already present or damaged, it is a good idea to install wire mesh under the roof vent cover of the refrigerator. Birds and wasps love to build their nests on top of the condenser coils located at the back of the refrigerator, and this presents a fire hazard.
Not much effort needed here. Just make sure the cook top and oven are turned off completely and are clean and dry. The range is the only appliance that is not vented directly to the exterior, therefore, there are no vents to cover or tape.
The focus here will be at the power source since most electrical devices seldom require individual preparation for storing or winterizing.
12-Volt DC System
Disconnect all batteries in the direct current (DC) system. If possible, remove each battery and store them in a cool, clean and dry place for the winter. Take the time to fully charge each battery. This is especially true if the batteries will be left in the RV. If the batteries are wet cell flooded batteries, check the level of the electrolyte and fill accordingly. It is imperative they be fully charged after adding water. Charging the batteries will mix the electrolyte solution, thereby decreasing the chance of freezing. If the coach is stored for an extended length of time, it will be necessary to periodically recharge the batteries. All lead acid batteries will self-discharge over time. If the batteries must remain in the RV, disconnect the negative cables for all batteries, thereby isolating them completely from the DC circuits. Do not overlook the many dry cell batteries common to most RVs. It is best to remove them also. Dry cell batteries are commonly found in:
• Digital clocks
• Smoke alarms
• Carbon monoxide alarms
• Refrigerator interior lamps
• Auxiliary fans
120-Volt AC System
Minimal effort at the alternating current (AC) system will ensure a safe storage period. First, turn off all the breakers at the panel board distribution box. Some boxes are located in overhead compartments, while others may be combined with the DC power converter and located at the floor level or inside a cabinet. As a safeguard against rogue lightning strikes and transient electrical maladies, unplug any 120-volt device that is plugged into a receptacle such as the microwave, refrigerator, televisions and entertainment centers, etc. This way a lightning strike cannot damage the components via the neutral wire in the circuit. The neutral wire, remember, is not interrupted by a circuit breaker. Finally, cover the plug end of the shoreline cord with a plastic baggie and secure it with a rubber band to minimize water intrusion and to help keep the contacts from excessive oxidation. If the coach is equipped with a generator, thoroughly clean the exterior prior to storage. As done with the vents to the appliances, cover the exhaust pipe of the generator with foil or tape to keep wasps from building nests in there.
Although most of the aforementioned procedures apply to virtually all types of RVs, the motorhome has a few additional areas that need to be addressed. First and foremost, check the strength of the coolant in the radiator. It may be necessary to flush the radiator and add a stronger solution of anti-freeze for the expected climate. Do not take any chances in this area. It is much better being protected for a far lower temperature than to shortchange the solution strength.
Also, be sure all the liquid levels in the motorhome are at the correct operating levels. Besides the radiator coolant, check the following:
• Engine oil
• Transmission fluid
• Differential gear oil
• Brake fluid
• Power steering fluid
• Slideout/levelers reservoir
• Windshield washer
• Fuel tanks
Topping off the fuel tanks will reduce the space for moisture to accumulate. Add a fuel stabilizer if recommended by that engine maker. Drain or replace all fuel filters in the system. Filters trap moisture, which subsequently may freeze if old filters are left in place over a harsh winter.
Diesel owners, please refer to the specific chassis owner’s manual for the necessary precautions.
One additional thought for any RV is to invest in a total coach cover. Custom covers are available that will completely cover the RV from top to bottom, front to rear. Special measurements are taken to allow for mirrors, air conditioners, TV antennae, satellite receiver, etc. This method is very effective for protecting the exterior finish from even the harshest of winters or the ravages of the hottest desert climates during temporary periods of non-use. The cover must be breathable and have precautions to guard against abrasion with the RV’s exterior surfaces.
Finally, be sure to read the fine print in the owner’s manual for your specific RV!