Or perhaps more accurately: Protecting RV Plumbing in Winter, when you’re living in it. As those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter already know, the temperature on Friday night got down to 25 degrees. I knew that was going to be cold enough to potentially do damage to Cas’s plumbing so I took some preventative measures.
Here in the campground, most folks are using heat tape and insulation around their hosing to keep things from freezing up. For those not in the know, heat tape is a flexible material with a heating element in it that gets its power from electricity. It needs to be plugged in somewhere to work, the power pedestal is the usual place. Then if you wrap the insulation material over the heat tape, it holds the warmth in and will keep your hoses from freezing, good stuff.
In Coffeyville, it gets cold but not /real/ cold. For this area, especially if your tanks are enclosed that’s all you need to do to keep from having a problem. When I say enclosed tanks, I mean that your tanks are in the belly of the RV, and not below it. Enclosed tanks are less likely to freeze because the hull of the RV keeps the wind away from them and holds heat in. A small incandescent light bulb throws off enough heat that if it’s going to get significantly below freezing, you can run one of these into the compartment where your tanks, or even run heat tape in there if you need to.
Casitas have an enclosed fresh water tank, but the black and grey tanks are exposed underneath. If you have exposed tanks like this, skirting your RV can give similar conditions to having enclosed tanks. You can buy skirting from places like Camping World, but making them yourself out of wood works too. What a skirt does is cover the gap underneath your RV, to keep the elements out an heat in. Then like with enclosed tanks you an run a light bulb or something down under there to produce heat and the skirting will hold the heat around your tanks. Again though, here it doesn’t get cold enough to warrant that, of the 100 + rigs in Big Chief, I think 2 of them are skirted right now.
But the heat tape and insulation around hose thing is standard practice. While this is a tried and true method of avoiding hose freeze-ups, I’m cheap and didn’t want to buy them. My hoses are about 79 feet long (okay, a bit of an exaggeration) and I have a lot of exposed sewer piping that would need to be covered too. So here’s what I did instead.
Dishes got done in the afternoon like usual, then I dumped my tanks, and left the valves open. If I used my fresh water tank I also would have dumped this, but my fresh water tank has been empty since I started living in it. When water freezes it expands, and that’s what causes the damage, if your pipes and tanks are full the water has nowhere to expand and you end up with leaks and bursts. With the minimal amount of water left in my tanks after dumping, it could expand without doing any damage.
I left the valves open, because step 2 was to turn the hot water tap on in the bathroom to drip. Running water doesn’t freeze as quickly as still water does. I used the hot water faucet to keep the water in my water heater moving as well as the pipes. I didn’t turn the water heater on, mine runs on propane only and it’d be dangerous to let it go when I wasn’t around to supervise.
If you’re going to use this method, only do it when the temperature is cold enough to actually freeze things, and close your tanks back up afterward. You also might want to avoid using the bathroom during this time. Leaving the valves open allows the liquid to continually drain from the tanks, but the more solid stuff will sit in your tank and accumulate. This can lead to, er, issues.
Next is the inside plumbing. In Casitas, the water pipes run around the RV at floor level, they are actually visible when you open up the floor level storage compartments. So I set my space heater on the ground, and opened up all these cabinets, and the bathroom door. That way the heat could easily get to the pipes and keep the water in them warm. The water heater is also behind one of these compartments at ground level, so it was getting heat too.
Then I went to work, and the temperature dropped. After scraping the frost off Bertha I drove home and low and behold! The hoses had still froze. Darn.
My mistake was not letting the water drip fast enough. I may not be paying my water bill here, but it still irks me to waste it. Now I’ve seen this letting the water drip method in action before, so I know it will work, you just need to adjust the flow for the temperature – the colder it gets, the faster it needs to drip. At the Old Job, we’d have to leave the water running on nights it was predicted to freeze, because some of the animals lived outdoors, and they needed access to the water, no matter what the temperature might be. South Carolina is warmer than here in Kansas, but on the coldest nights in January there would be a few times where it’d get down to around 20.
I may have gotten into trouble if the sewer hose froze before the water hose did, then I’d have water continually running into my gray tank but it’d have no where to go, that’s why I didn’t have it dripping too fast to begin with. Luckily, if the sewer hose froze first it wasn’t too far ahead of the fresh water hose, I didn’t end up with water backing up into my shower anyway.
So yeah, the hoses froze up, but the space heater keep the pipes fine. Once the temperature climbed up above freezing by 9 am everything was working again. My hose connections still seem to be leak free, so hurray for that.
Tonight’s low is 24, so I get the chance to try again. This time I’ll be dumping all the tanks before going to work but keeping the valves closed, turn off the fresh water outside at the connection and leave my bathroom faucet open slightly. This way when the outside hose freezes it isn’t full of water and the ice can expand inside, where it should promptly melt from the heater running.
This would mean no water tonight, but I don’t use the water much at night anyway. In fact I’m contemplating just winterizing this weekend and getting it over with, I always use the bath house for the restroom anyway so the biggest chore will be carrying water in for cooking and dishes. As it turns out I’ll probably be dragging Cas up to Wisconsin for Christmas so I definitely will need to winterize before then.
Stay warm out there!
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