Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: Full-Time Winter Living in an RV - We've already learned so much!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Full-Time Winter Living in an RV - We've already learned so much!

Winter.  The season that either elicits a variety of responses.  From "I hate the cold!" to "Pray for snow!", anyone you ask is going to have an opinion one way or the other about it.  Most full-time RVers "follow the weather" meaning that they go the way of birds - south for the winter, north for the summer.  In case you haven't figured it out yet, we don't fit the mold of "most" in this respect!  We tend to get "you guys are crazy" more often than not!  After over ten years of marriage, we've grown quite accustomed to hearing this from friends and yes, even family!

When we first got to Montana, we did our post on cold weather prep based on the tons and tons of research over the months leading up to our arrival.  When we did that post, we hadn't actually been down below freezing temps yet, but we felt very prepared for it (and have since found out that we were over prepared - we like that!)  We were still dry camping in Glacier National Park where temperatures had not yet dropped below freezing.  Nonetheless, we were ready for it.  Now we've been consistently below freezing during both the day and into single digit temps during the nighttime.

Park City, Utah, now the largest resort in the United States, is also now
part of the Epic Pass!  7300 acres of terrain with 357  ski runs!
When we were on the search for our 5th wheel, we knew that we wanted to spend time in colder weather for some ski seasons (Jeanine grew up in Colorado and has skied with her father since literally before she could walk!).  I've been snowboarding since high school (with some extended hiatuses since) and absolutely love it!   We both consider ourselves intermediate in our abilities in riding down the mountain.  Unfortunately, before full-timing, our opportunities to hone our skills have kept us to 1-2 weeks per year, or 5-7 actual ski days.  This will be our first season being "ski bums" as we've dreamed of doing since our twenties!  Granted, we still work full time, so it's not like we will be skiing all day every day, but by living in a ski town, the access is so good that we can easily get at least a couple runs in every day (some resorts we plan to visit  have night skiing, too).
Although what we're doing doesn't exactly classify as true ski bums, we think that we are getting the best of both worlds - keeping our employers happy and being able to ski in our off-time.  To add to that, we both got Epic Passes from Vail Resorts which allow us almost unlimited skiing at some of the best resorts in the west (and some others around the world!).  The Epic Pass is an amazing deal. In March of the outgoing ski season, they take a $49 deposit per pass and charge the remaining $500 in September.  If you plan to ski more than 4-5 days in the entire season, the pass pays for itself!  We knew earlier this year that we would be skiing at least that much this winter, so we went ahead and got them.

Building up snow along the bottom
 of our skirt to help seal it
So what is different about living in an RV in freezing temperatures?  Well, stuff can freeze.  Although, so far, we haven't had any problems, we will continue to improve our cold weather living to ensure that we don't in the future, too.  In this post, we will be covering what we have compiled through both research online, from other blogs, and firsthand knowledge through other full timers who had already spent a few (some hard) winters in their rigs.

Our 2006 Holiday Rambler Presidential 36RLQ was constructed with full-time living in mind.  It is rated as a "four season" Rv.  This can be confusing as RVs, even those built as well as ours, are really not truly meant for below freezing full time living (the only exception would be a custom-built rig such as New Horizons.  From what we've been told by numerous (read: more educated in RV construction than either J or me) people that our 5er is "built like a tank".  While that's all well and good, in my experience, tanks aren't insulated very well!  Holiday Rambler, in this rig, uses a 10 layer insulation in the roof and 6 layer insulation in the walls,slides, and floor.   For comparison sake, this particular type of insulation (from what we've found) in the top percentile of RV insulation grades.  This was exactly what we were needing - got lucky on that one!  It is important to note that since approximately 2007, many manufacturers either severely decreased the quality of construction on their units to lower costs due to the Great Recession.   Still others either went completely out of business or were bought out by one of the conglomerates.  Unfortunately, neither of these occurrences help us RVers out, especially full-timers since we need the quality build and construction.  We had planned on upgrading to a newer rig, possibly a toy hauler, but after hearing horror stories about "warranty nightmares", we are probably better off staying with the Presidential!  After all, what good is a warranty if your home is in repair all the time.  If it's something that will keep you from living in it, it means that you're relegated to a hotel or otherwise - warranty doesn't cover hotel stays from any manufacturer we know.  We haven't been able to confirm whether or not the construction quality has returned or not, so until we do, we will be sticking with this one.  The only exception to that rule is New Horizons, which we have yet to hear anything bad on either their rigs or their service. (If you know otherwise, please let us know)  So far, we haven't had anything major, so we're keeping our fingers crossed!

Water -  Water freezes at 32 degrees fahrenheit or 0 degrees celsius.  Usually this isn't an issue since most RVs are winterized for when the mercury takes a plunge.  This is also another reason why so many full time RVers spend time in the warmer climates.  When you don't have to worry about anything freezing up on you, there is less preparation and significantly lower probability of having temperature-related problems.  While that's all fine and good for most, we wanted snow!  That, and the skiing kind of sucks in Florida (unless you're water skiing!).  The lack of mountains doesn't help much either.  So how exactly do you keep your pipes, valves, etc from freezing?  Let's start with the source.
Black heated wire wrapped around
post to keep from freezing
Any RV park that's worth staying (and claims that they are open year round through winter) is going to have a heated water source.  This usually comes in the form of a metal pipe coming up from the ground wrapped in heating cable.  The cable will almost always have a thermostat built in so that it only operates when the temperatures dictate its need.  You should count on having to power this cord, so make sure you have at least one long extension cord capable of handling higher amperage loads (we use the one below).  You will also want to ensure that you have at least a three way splitter as you will also need to plug your heated water cable (and sewer pipe heater cable - we will get to that in a moment).  On the water source, you will want to make sure that the heated cord is touching as much of the metal, including the faucet assembly as possible.  This will eliminate any potential freeze points.  To add to this, we also triple-wrapped the faucet head with foam insulation.  So far, the lowest temperature has been is 4 degrees fahrenheit and we've had no freezing issues in the faucet area.  

Moving up the water feed towards the RV, in the pic is a blue water hose.  This one isn't wrapped for a reason - the heating cable is built in the to the hose itself.  While this isn't the cheapest option, we've found the reviews

The section leading from under the slide to the water inlet
door is the only non-heated part of the water's entry but
we've triple-wrapped it in insulation and have had no freezing
to be more than favorable and the manufacturer, Camco, reports no issues in freezing when used properly.  We ran the water hose underneath our dining room slide (completely insulated on the bottom and partially up the sides), attached it to our filtration system, then fed a non-insulated water hose from the filter to the entry point in the RV.  We triple-wrapped insulation on the 18" section of the hose that was not heated between the skirting and the water entry door.  In addition to that, we covered the door for the water entry point in 1" thick foil lined foam insulation to further insulate the water coming in.  Again, we've had zero issues with this setup thus far.  That being said, when we move to our next winter wonderland,  Breckenridge, Colorado, we plan to add a short section of heated cable for this piece - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Inside the RV, our underbelly is fully insulated and heated assuming that we are using the furnace.  Since we are currently using an oil-filled radiator and a ceramic space heater (that's all we've needed to heat the entire RV so far), this means that our furnace almost never comes on.   So how do we keep the underbelly from freezing if we aren't using the furnace?!  How have our water pipes not frozen?

Skirting and Underbelly - In our post on cold weather prep, we mentioned skirting the RV with insulation in the form of foam boards in order to keep cold winds from significantly lowering the temperatures underneath the RV.  We found that using either type of foam board (foil-lined or non foil-lined) work equally well but we prefer the foil lined because the tape used to secure it sticks better to the foil than bare foam.  It also releases much more cleanly with little to no residue left behind.  As you can see from the pictures, we have also opted to use "painter's tape" specifically designed for exterior use.  We've heard many people say (including one of our current RV neighbors with evidence of it) say that "regular" tape should never be used as it can leave a residue behind or even pull off paint when it's removed.  So far, the exterior painters tape has held up to snow and rain with no signs of peeling off.
To attach the foam board to the RV, we first laid out a framework of 2x2 boards approximately 2-3" out from the perimeter of the RV and attached all of them together with screws.  By angling the foam board inward towards the RV from the ground, it allows for a slight outward angle so that when it is windy, it doesn't push the foam boards in, but rather redirects it up and over the RV.  This is not a complicated system and exists simply as a means to connect the bottom of the foam boards.  It is not entirely necessary, but we thought it was best for our use.  We used the blue painter's tape to cover the RV itself and served as an attachment point for the foil tape to adhere.  This combination of tape has worked great so far and we highly recommend it!
Our 5er with 1" Foil-Lined Foam Insulation

A neighbor's skirting.  While effective at keeping wind out, its insulation properties can't match the foam board
We also added insulation under our
bed slide to further insulate the floor
Foam board is not the only option when it comes to skirting.  If the area/s that you plan to winter get significant amounts of snow, the option of piling snow around the sides of the RV exists (you then would have to dig yourself out).  Then again, you're at the mercy of the weather!  Our neighbor at Whitefish RV Park had custom skirting attached to his fifth wheel.  From a convenience standpoint, there probably isn't a better option out there!  That being said, it has very little in terms of insulation (he is having frozen pipe issues now that the weather is under freezing day and night despite his "blizzard package" and the full time use of his furnace).    We have also heard stories about other winter RV full-timers using bales of hay stacked around the outsides of their rigs.  We DO NOT recommend doing this.  Not only can it attract various forms of wildlife, it is a fire waiting to happen.  We aren't sure there is an insurance company out there that would cover a loss knowing that this type of skirting was used.
As for the underbelly, since ours is already insulated, we just had to worry about keeping it warm enough to keep from freezing - without using the furnace.  The solution came to us in the form of a digital thermostat ceramic heater.  The one we got works perfectly for this purpose as it has a built-in setting just for this purpose.  We keep it in the underbelly along with a remote temperature sensor that came with our color wireless weather station.  The weather station has the ability to set a low temp alarm (we set it at 35 degrees fahrenheit) so that we can see if there is an issue with the heater, etc.  Again, so far this combination has prevented any frozen pipes, etc.  The only other thing that we did to insulate the underbelly (in addition to the skirting), was affix foam board insulation to the insides of any of the door entry points into the underbelly.  This includes our propane tank storage area and our two access points to the underbelly storage.  Again, prevention is the best cure!

Be sure to support the sewer pipe!
Black/Gray Water - Most of the winter RVers we've met go with the permanent sewer hookup - this is what we chose.  There are some out there who choose to use their tanks and dump as needed.  We preferred to have a permanent hookup for sewer.  To accomplish this, we were able to find a permanent sewer hookup made by Valterra.  This lets us leave the gray water valve completely open so that it constantly flows into the campground's waste pipe.  The Valterra attachment goes directly onto the sewer pipe attachment of the RV on one side and has a 3" threaded PVC pipe connection on the opposite side.  After getting the necessary fittings (we needed 2 - 90 degree pieces one being threaded into the campground waste pipe) and the long, straight pipe, we push-fitted everything together and securely taped all fittings.

Insulation and heated cable on the underside of sewer pipe
As far as dumping the black water tank, you will want to keep an eye on your tank levels.  When the tank is getting to the point where you normally dump, you will then open up the black tank emptying valve and clear out the tank.  We DO NOT recommend leaving your black tank valve open as solid materials may sit in the pipe rather than flowing out as they should.  It will also help keep everything moving if you run a hose into the toilet to "flush out" any solids that may be hung up in the tank.  I usually fill up a pot or two with very hot water to rinse the pipes, tank, etc.
We also opted to use heat tape along the bottom of our sewer pipe.  This also helps keep waste from freezing up should any be caught up in the pipe.  We also wrapped the pipe with insulation over top of the heating cable to further keep the heat transferring to the pipe rather than losing it to the cold air!

Small or partially inflated beach balls help to keep the slide
awning covers from sagging under the weight
of the snow
Awnings, slideout covers and snow - Awnings are made to be extended from the RV for shade and to provide cover from the elements.   They are not designed to be open when the temps drop below freezing nor do they have any business being open if it starts to snow.  Ensure that you retract and lock down your awnings prior to the first snow, or from freezing.  Slide out covers serve only to protect slides from the elements and minimally to protect against debris such as leaves and small branches.  As for snow, once it starts to accumulate, it will weigh down the slide out covers and can potentially damage the fabric as well as the springs in the retractor assembly.  Neither one of these is easy or cheap to fix, so again, prevention, prevention, prevention!  We've found that by putting 12" partially inflated beach balls (Pack of 12 on Amazon) between the slide and the slide out cover helps to support the cover and keeps the weight of the snow from pushing down on top of the slide.  Usually two beach balls per slide is sufficient, but you may have to use more depending on the size of the slide.

Wiping down with a paper towel
will often be enough to keep
moisture at bay
Indoors - Cold air outdoors hitting warmer, moist air indoors causes the ability of the air indoors to hold water to decrease dramatically.  Warmer air is capable of holding more moisture than cold air. Our windows do not have a vapor lock between the outside metals and inside metals of the window frames.  This means that we typically have a collection of condensation around the frames (most bottom) of our windows, nearly all the time!  Some of the ways that we combat the excess of moisture are by having a dehumidifier in the RV (we aim to keep our inside humidity below 40%), using window film over the glass parts of the windows (to keep drafts at bay - unless the windows are double pane insulated, you will have drafts!),  using fleece underneath the frames to wick the moisture away rather than running down the walls and soaking the floor, and finally, using a good old-fashioned beach towel to collect moisture.
Using a towel underneath to collect moisture

Using double sided tape to attach
fleece under frame

All of these methods, especially when combined, have helped to significantly decrease the probability of moisture buildup inside of our rig.  Checking behind any objects against walls, i.e. beds, couches, inside closest, etc, for moisture should be done regularly.   It will often show up in places that do not have adequate circulation. We recently found condensation between the head of our bed and the wall. The simple fix was a small fan placed alongside the bed base blowing towards the wall as well as pulling our bed out from the wall a few inches during the day.  In a few hours, the condensation had nearly completely disappeared.  We plan to use some foam board on the outside of the slides on any areas that have condensation issues where it is not feasible to use a fan or simply don't circulate well.  Inside of our closets have also had some issues.  We've found that just by leaving the closet doors open, we've all but eliminated this problem.

Lastly, we haven't seen or heard of a lot of other RVers that use dehumidifiers.  I imagine this is because most live in summer temps and the air conditioner acts as a dehumidifier.  We've been using a GE 50 pint that we picked up at Home Depot since being in colder weather and definitely recommend its use.   True, it does produce and output cooler, drier air which would seem like it's counterproductive when trying to heat your rig.   Most of the other blogs that we've read said to simply crack a window on each end of the RV for airflow and to keep the humidity in the lower 40% range.  This didn't help us.  If we were running the furnace, we would absolutely do this!  The other option, if you prefer not to use a dehumidifier is by using moisture absorbing products such as Damp Rid or a smaller dehumidifier meant for smaller areas.  To protect the interior of the RV, it's of the utmost importance to us to maintain stable humidity to prevent mold, mildew as well as a host of other issues that high humidity can cause.  This is one area that we are very accustomed to having spent so many years living in the sunshiney humidity-drenched Florida!  

Not everyone will want to go RVing in cold wintery weather - we know that...  In fact, a lot of the fellow full-timers we've met go full time specifically to escape the colder weather and its inherent challenges.  If you think you might want to give it a try, we would certainly encourage you - that's part of the adventure!  Don't let the preparation, etc, scare you - it's not that difficult.  While nothing will completely eliminate the effects of cold weather, snow, freezing and everything that comes with it, being proactive and preventing the causes of concern as much as possible will keep you, your rig, and its contents stay warm and dry!  

Did we get it right? Do you have experience or knowledge about this post? Please make yourself heard! Comment below and we will respond as soon as possible. As always, thanks for following us! Disclaimer: We are not paid writers. We write for enjoyment and to share information about our travels with our families, friends, and our followers. The information that we provide is based on our experiences with the products, services, etc, that we write about. It is 100% non-biased!
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  1. Thanks for the beach ball tip. I will definately try it. As for the dehumidifier, we add humidity. See colorado winters are dry, and propane heaters further the interior dryness, which will cause mose bleeds. We crack a few windows. Another tip, please pick up after your dogs. In the spring the park turns into a shit puddle bc everything melts. Enjoy your stay.

  2. Your living in a home you can move, why not just go south for the winter?

    1. I realize this is a year late, but they said they want to ski and snowboard. You can't really do that if you "just go south for the winter."

  3. I use Prestone Heat ice melt pellets to absorb the water in my rv. It can be purchased at Home Depot and is the same ingredient as Damp Rid, but cheaper in the long run. I put it into a container, placing it where moisture accumulates, like behind the couch and in certain cupboards and check it every week, dumping out what water the pellets absorb. I have also used this in my car in the exact way, when I had it stored in a more humid climate.

  4. I lived in a travel trailer that was not made for winter use... During the winter I used heat pads and heat tape on my black and gray water tanks... I covered my tanks with foil faced bubble wrap to help insulate too... I covered the inside of my windows with plastic cardboard water does not bother it and one side is white and one is black, the sun helped warm the rv when the sun shined, I just cut to fit inside the window frames...

  5. I have to agree with the writers, only one or two are made for winter living. I'm in a 5th wheel Big Horn for my 3rd winter now. I have learned ALOT and thank you who wrote in for your tips. I had those 12"x5'x1" insulating Styrofoam boards cut for overhead vents and sky light, edge in white duct tape to keep from breaking down on edges and look better than grey tape. The ones in bedroom actually stay in for a darker place to sleep. I also cut them to fit several Windows the first winter, but put up shrink wrap as I call it last year. I removed from the screen door and couple Windows for summer. I hang a heavy curtain over the rv door. My skirting, because I'm in a permanent spot with this rig, is the pvc skirting, with all but about 6- 8" of my septic hose underneath. For the few inches exposed, Cut a notch in a plastic bin,put fiberglass insulation in a bag to stay dry in the bin upside down over the pipe.
    What is under the trailer is on a downhill slant and not wrapped or taped. No problems last winter and it got down to zero. I did but a second set of sewer hoses though, there is a dominator for up to 30 below, worth it when the normal one had a hole after one winter. The owner has a bucket with insulation upside down over water connection with heat tape. For those slide covers. Don't stuff too high, my cover stretched, lesson learned and hoping when its reeled in one day that fixes it. For now, you can also use pool mattress good. I didn't come up with that for snow, once your covers stretch you get leaves and gunk up there. Again, great info from all. Made a note to buy prestone melt instead of the damp rid I use. Dr. Heater is a great infrared heater to help keep propane costs down and be toasty warm.

  6. Can you tell what campground or ski resorts allow winter camping? We have a very hard time finding anything open we are in the East though. Still would like to know about other areas if you can share for future reference

    1. Thanks for your comment! We haven't really done any winter camping on the east coast, so we wouldn't have any recommendations for specific places. Most campgrounds will say on their websites if they are open year round. If it doesn't specifically state their dates of operation, give them an email or a phone call. If you're interested in the western part of the US, we can give you a few to check out where we've personally stayed. For Summit County, Colorado (Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Copper Mountain) there is really only one choice if you want to be right in the middle of major skiing. Tiger Run RV Resort just outside of Breckenridge, is a full service RV resort. They have an indoor heated pool, two indoor hot tubs, a gym, game room, and full showers and bathrooms. While a little pricey, it is on par for the area. Pro Tip: If you plan to stay long term (more than 90 days) look on Craigslist, etc, for owners that you can rent from directly. If you rent directly through the resort, you will pay a premium. Bonus: Tiger Run is right on the Summit County Stage bus route. You can use this free bus system to go anywhere in the county, or connect at Frisco Station (20 mins or so by bus) and go just about anywhere in the state. Second is Park City RV Resort in Park City, Utah. Located about ten minutes from Park City, it's also on the bus route. While the spaces aren't huge, the prices are great for being so close to one of the largest ski resorts in North America. Last is South Tahoe RV Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California. Nearest skiing is Heavenly Ski Resort which has some excellent skiing. Not too far away are Kirkwood, Squaw Valley and Northstar resorts. All offer a full range of world class skiing! We hope this helps you out. We plan on spending next season in Whistler, so we will definitely have updates after that! Best of luck and pray for snow!

  7. It was really insightful.
    Thanks for the info.
    Wanna have more contents from you.
    BTW if anyone interested more have a look view More thanks