Preparing Your RV for a British Columbia Winter Camping Trip
Winter RVing in British Columbia is a one-of-a-kind experience. Waking up in a winter wonderland of snow while warm and cozy under a nice warm duvet in your winterized RV is many people’s dream. After breakfast you can get your winter snow togs on and be on your favourite ski hill or cross-country trail, beach hike or ice fishing lake in a matter of minutes!
From November 1 to March 31 the temperatures are low, snow and rain is encountered and daylight hours are a lot shorter but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy RV camping in the wintertime. The Camping and RVing BC Coalition has created a page on their website featuring over 150 campgrounds and RV Parks https://www.campingrvbc.com/winter/ that are open for business for the winter RVer!
Winter camping comes with its very own unique challenges and we hope these tips will help you to prepare your RV and enable you to take a British Columbia winter RV adventure.
The most important piece of advice is to prepare your RV for various winter conditions before you head out on a trip. Many manufacturers are building RVs that are for all season use, protected to withstand the elements during the winter months. These units are designed, built and insulated to take cold weather in stride. Features such as a heated underbelly, better insulated walls and roof, and below floor heating ducts, etc.
Here is a check list of items that may need addressing that we have picked up along the way from chatting to experienced campers, campground operators and RV dealers.
Tip: Read your RV manual as manufacturers include tips and information on operating the RV in extreme cold. For instance, check the temperature the water heater is rated to operate down to.
One of the biggest mistakes newbie RVers make in winter is connecting the regular water hose to the campground supply and having it freeze overnight. If you have a fresh water hook-up, consider buying a heated water hose to prevent freeze-ups or bursting. These are controlled with a thermostat and AC power is required to operate them. Always keep all hoses and cables off the ground or out of the snow.
Another option is to fill your fresh water tank, and then disconnect your hose from the campground faucet and let the water drain out. Often the water tank is located inside the RV and as long as the RV is heated, the water in the tank should not freeze.
Tip: It’s handy to have a hairdryer to thaw frozen pipes. Do not assume that just because your RV is heated that water lines running through the RV will not freeze. Any semi-exposed line can freeze! Examples are in compartments behind hatches that are not insulated.
Always empty your black and gray water tanks before your trip. Add about one litre of the pink RV potable antifreeze to each tank. This will protect the dump valves from freezing. Insulate the pipes draining into the tanks with foam pipe insulation. Consider adding electric pipe heaters if you’ll be camping in below-freezing temperatures for an extended time. Note: you’ll need an electric hook-up or generator for this.
Always keep your “black water” valve closed and only dump when full. If left open the liquids will drain off leaving only the solids (they become very solid after a short period of time). Don’t empty your tanks until you’re ready to leave. This will help prevent ice from forming.
If you must keep your sewer hose connected at all times, be sure it is placed and supported at a steep angle so all residue runs down. Some seasoned RVers recommend not using the flexible sewer pipes as they can split, although others maintain heat tape can often solve this.
Tip: Wrap your sewer hose in insulation or heat tape. This will help prevent ice from forming inside the pipe.
Warmth, Insulation and Condensation
Check window seals and re-caulk where needed. For windows that are single pane look to retrofit them with insulated RV windows or add window insulating film. Another option is foam insulation panels, while others have added insulated curtains.
It is important to examine the weather stripping on all exterior doors, slide-outs and all access hatches. Anywhere that air can draft in matters. Seal up as much as you can.
Most RVs have roof vents or skylights, ideal places for heat to leak out. Seal off these spots by installing RV vent cushions, which fit securely into standard-size vents simply by pushing them up into position.
Tip: Insulate light fixtures by pulling them off and stuffing the “holes” (behind each fixture) with insulation. Do the same for electrical outlets.
If you are situated for a long time in a campsite skirting the RV may be an option. Or adding insulating boards to fit tightly between the RV framing and the ground. These boards need to encircle the RV which will help insulate tanks, water lines and the floor by blocking out cold air.
Test the furnace before you hit the road. To clean the furnace area use compressed air or a soft brush to remove all dust, debris and insects (spider webs). If you don’t want to run the furnace on your winter trip a portable electric space heater can make a real difference in staying warm—just be sure that a window or vent is open a crack for ventilation, especially if you are heating with propane.
If you use propane to heat your rig, it’s likely to last only a few days in really cold weather. For longer stays consider getting a 100 lb propane tank to supplement your regular tanks. Also, remember to insulate the outside propane regulator from freezing conditions, such as excessive wind chills. Make sure that you always have a working carbon monoxide and propane alarm installed and test weekly while camping.
One consequence of a well-sealed RV is condensation. Interior heat and moisture from your breath and furnace can create condensation in your RV. It is important to have some ventilation and having one vent cracked about 2.5 cm (1 inch) usually does the trick. Most RVs also have a Maxxair style vent cover installed over the vents to allow airflow while preventing rain and snow getting in.
Tip: An electric dehumidifier, if you’re plugged in, or a container of moisture absorbent will assist to remove dampness from the air and help prevent corrosion, mold and mildew.
Winter RVing Tips
Here are some winter tips from our friends at Go RVing Canada – more tips are available on the camping and RVing BC Coalition winter page – check out the blogs at https://www.campingrvbc.com/category/camping-and-rving/rv-how-tos/
- Always have enough bed quilts and winter clothing around so that everyone can easily live through a furnace failure even if stranded by weather for several days.
- Park your RV in the sun whenever possible. You’ll be amazed at how much a good winter sun can heat up your RV.
- Park your RV on support boards. These boards will prevent your RV tires from “sinking” when the ground thaws.
- If electricity is not a problem, use electric blankets at night to save on propane. Also, using a 1500-watt electric heater or 1500-watt ceramic mini heater will also save on propane and wear and tear of the furnace.
- Make sure that the heat tape you buy can be crossed over itself, as this will provide the most efficient seal.
- If you have a motorized RV, check your batteries for water level and periodically start your engine to keep everything in good running order.
- To keep your RV battery charged, consider getting a solar panel system or an inverter.
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