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Campers aren’t just for summer vacation, especially if you’re a full-time RVer. However, RVing in the winter is a completely different experience than in the summer, and there are things you need to prepare for to ensure your RV is equipped to handle freezing weather conditions.
Many people simply forego the use of their RV’s toilet in the winter for fear of the water in their plumbing system freezing. Others may even discontinue the use of their RV for the entire winter season, only using it when the weather is warm. In reality, if you would’ve continued traveling had winter not arrived, it’s simply not necessary to cut your desired travel plans short.
Despite the myth that RVs can’t handle the winter, most RVs can easily be modified to handle below-zero temperatures, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to continue your RV travel all year round. To prevent you from scrambling to prepare your RV’s plumbing by the time winter rolls around, we will break down how you can continue traveling full-time without sacrificing the comfort of your own personal bathroom.
Can I Use My RV Toilet During Cold Weather?
Many beginner RVers wonder if it’s possible to use their RV’s toilet in the winter, as the whole thing seems like a recipe for disaster if the water freezes in the RV’s pipes. In reality, you can use your RV toilet in the winter if you relate to at least one of the following:
You own a 4-Season RV
A 4-Season RV has already-installed features that will allow you to use your RV’s toilet in the winter without any issue, and you can flush with water as usual. This is because these RVs have specially-designed holding tanks and lines that are heated and enclosed to prevent freezing.
You have winterized your RV’s plumbing system
A regular camper can also be modified to handle freezing weather conditions. This can be done by adding individual tank heaters and a separate heater for the utility compartment. You might also add digital freeze alarms to notify you if the temperature dips too low. You’ll be working only off the holding tanks to avoid frozen hose lines.
You use antifreeze in your RV plumbing system
If your RV has not been specially modified to handle cold weather, using antifreeze to flush your RV toilet in the winter is still an option. Ensure the antifreeze you use is non-toxic, as this makes it safer for people using the toilet and for pets that may wander around it as well. It’s important that you get pink antifreeze specially designed for RV plumbing, as opposed to blue car engine antifreeze, which could damage your pipes.
How to Winterize Your RV’s Plumbing System
Even if you don’t have a 4-Season RV or your camper cannot be modified by adding new tank heaters, you can still use your RV toilet by winterizing your RV’s plumbing system. Follow these simple steps to safely introduce antifreeze into your RV’s pipes and tanks:
Drain your fresh water tank and pipes
Disconnect your RV from an external water source if it’s hooked up to one. Next, drain your freshwater tank and your pipes. Turn on the hot and cold faucets on all of your interior and exterior sinks, sprayers, shower, and drain valves. Let the water run until there is nothing left to come out, then close all drains and faucets again. Don’t forget to check the hot water heater as well as the toilet tank and valve for water as well.
CAUTION: To prevent injuries, allow the water heater tank to cool off before emptying. The water heater should never be drained when hot or under pressure.
Drain and clean out your wastewater tanks
The next step is to drain your RV’s wastewater tanks (gray and blackwater tanks) into a safe location. Once empty, flush out the tanks to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned from any waste. If necessary, use a wand to clean out the blackwater tank.
Before doing anything else to your tanks, make sure there is absolutely no water left inside them, as even the smallest amount of water could freeze and cause serious damage to your plumbing system. If you have an air compressor, you can also gently blow air through the water lines to dry them out faster.
Bypass the water heater
Before pouring anything down your water lines, you’ll need to bypass the water heater first. If you don’t have a bypass kit installed in your RV plumbing system, the antifreeze you pour in will fill the water heater first before reaching any drain lines. This means several gallons of antifreeze will be wasted, so operating the water heater bypass valve is especially important to prevent this issue.
At this time, you’ll also want to remove or bypass any water filters or purifiers and turn off the ice maker if you have one installed.
Circulate the RV antifreeze
Once you’re sure that your tanks and pipes are completely void of water, it’s time to bring out those jugs of antifreeze. Two to three gallons of antifreeze is sufficient for winterizing most RVs.
To do this, make sure the dump valves are closed and pour a couple of gallons of antifreeze into your freshwater tank. Then, open each cold and hot water faucet until pink antifreeze comes out. You may need to flush the toilet a few times, too. This process winterizes your pipes as well as your tanks.
Flush with ease
Now that your RV plumbing is winterized, you’re free to continue using your toilet and wastewater tanks as usual. However, you’ll need to pour in enough antifreeze to line the toilet bowl every time you flush to avoid diluting the antifreeze in the drain lines and blackwater tank.
Is Your RV Prepared for The Winter?
No matter the current season, it pays off to have your RV prepared for all four seasons. Preparing your RV’s plumbing for the winter gives you not only the freedom of having your own bathroom space but also far more opportunities to travel year-round.
If you’re looking for more tips on how to maintain your RV’s plumbing, check out our step-by-step guide on RV maintenance for the Do-It-Yourselfer.