youtubeThe last two years have been, without a doubt, the longest period of time our RV has not seen regular use. We did manage to take an extended two-week trip last summer to the Yukon to attend a family wedding, but other than that, “Hopper” has sat mostly idle. As we find ourselves caught in the tight grip of one of the coldest temperature snaps in many years in the Pacific Northwest, it is important to reflect on the importance of ensuring our rigs are happily weathering out the sub-zero temperatures, as well as the snow.

Last month I presented maintenance tips, which is definitely related to this month’s topic, but here I will focus on cold weather storage. As mentioned, our neck of the woods normally escapes sub-freezing temperatures for longer than a day or two at a time, but this year we are experiencing unprecedented extended cold weather. Snow and ice are potentially worse for a Recreational Vehicle than simple rain. Let’s examine some ways to keep your coach happy and safe over the winter.


Experiencing more days this year of sub-zero temperatures

First, and perhaps most obvious, is to make sure your unit is properly winterized. I have had far too many RVs come in for water leak repairs in the spring due to improper, or lack of, winterization. The severity (and expense) ranges from simple loose fittings to cracked water heaters. It’s important to avoid this. If you haven’t had your RV winterized yet this year, it is likely too late to avoid any damage, but simply put, drain ALL tanks (including holding tanks and water heater) and winterize all water lines and appliances (don’t forget the washer/dryer) using either air or plumbing anti-freeze. The winterization process is outside the scope of this article, but there are many DIY articles and videos to be found online, or you can visit your local RV service center for assistance.

It is important to ensure the batteries are prepared for the cold as well. Ideally, they should be removed from the coach, filled with electrolyte, fully charged, and stored in a cool, dry place for the winter. Fully charged batteries will not freeze until the temperature reaches around -40 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas discharged batteries can freeze closer to 32 degrees F. If the electrolyte in a battery freezes, it is usually destroyed and must be replaced. You may choose to leave your batteries in your RV, but there are some very important considerations. If you don’t have your coach plugged into shore power while in storage, make sure the batteries are fully charged, the electrolyte is topped up, and they are cleaned prior to storage. If your RV has a battery storage switch, set it to the storage position so there is no discharge on the battery bank. Note that a parasitic load is still possible. For instance, most LP/CO detectors are wired to the powered side of the storage switch, so turning off the batteries will not remove these loads. Similarly radios and other loads may be wired to the power side. Therefore, I recommend disconnecting the negative battery lead to prevent parasitic discharge.


Prepare the battery for winter

If you do have your coach plugged in, be aware that unless you are using an inverter/charger with proper 4-stage charging, your battery will likely be overcharged if left unattended. This is because standard converter/chargers only have 3-stage (or possibly 2-stage) charging. This means they don’t properly reduce the charging current to maintain only a trickle charge like inverter/chargers do. This results in the electrolyte boiling off, eventually resulting in the battery plates becoming damaged, requiring the batteries to be replaced. There are many benefits to leaving an RV plugged in during winter storage, so if you choose to go this route, be sure to check your batteries every 1-3 months, specifically checking the electrolyte and topping it up if it is low. As a reminder, use only distilled water in battery cells.

To avoid tire damage and flat spots, the RV should ideally be parked on pavement or wood. Grass and dirt can damage tire material over time. If your coach is parked on grass, dirt, gravel, etc. consider placing wood blocks under the tires. Also, to avoid flat spots, you may choose to extend your jacks to take the weight off the tires. It is also a good idea to occasionally move the RV slightly to change the tire position under load. If you have a motorhome or 5th wheel with levelling jacks, you can lower the jacks and take most of the weight off the wheels. Be sure not to lift the wheels completely off the ground, as this can result in stability issues. If you have a trailer with stabilizing jacks, note these cannot support the weight of the vehicle, but you can use them to take a little weight off the wheels.

 

In our neck of the woods, we generally do not have to worry about snow loading on the roof of our RVs, as we don’t normally get enough snow to jeopardize the strength of the roof. Also, it is not worth the risk of trying to clear the snow, as this is a dangerous endeavour. RV roofs can handle the type of snow loading we normally experience in the Pacific Northwest. RV snow loading is a point of contention for many people with arguments on both sides. It is an interesting argument, since the density of snow varies greatly, reaching its maximum density when it turns to ice. The issue of snow loading is out of scope for this article, but my opinion is that it’s not worth the risk to clear it unless it accumulates several feet.


Snow loading is typically not an issue in the Pacific Northwest

What is of concern with snow is its tendency to turn to ice. More specifically, as the snow melts and refreezes, it can flow into voids in the roof sealant when it melts and refreezes. Any moisture that gets into the ceiling or walls will expand when it freezes and can open or rupture joints that were previously tight. Therefore, it is important to have your roof and sidewall sealants checked each year before winter so the likelihood of experiencing structural damage is minimized. Any water intrusion can easily be made worse if the water in the walls or ceiling freezes.

If you have a motorhome, utilize the block heater if it has one. Again, this requires a source of electricity. As mentioned earlier, keeping the RV plugged in over the winter has some distinct advantages.

Exercise the generator every month or so if you have one. Run it for approximately half an hour, under about half load if possible.

Finally, consider placing dehumidifiers and/or small space heaters in the RV during winter storage. This will minimize any mold, mildew, or damage caused by condensation. Dehumidifiers can be electric or desiccant style. While the electric ones are expensive and require AC power to run, the desiccant models can even be found in most dollar stores.


Consider using space heaters and dehumidifiers in your unit

This winter storage/maintenance list is by no means exhaustive, but it does cover the basics for keeping your RV happy over the winter months, if you are not using it.

Steve Froese
Author: Steve FroeseEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Steve Froese is a Licensed Professional Engineer in British Columbia, as well as an Interprovincial Red Seal RV Technician, which is equivalent to a Master Certified RV Technician in the USA. Steve was a personal friend and colleague of the late Gary Bunzer (“the RV Doctor”), and works closely with FMCA as the monthly “Tech Talk” columnist, as well as being a member of the Technical Advisory and Education Committees. Steve and his family are lifelong and avid RVers, mostly in the Pacific Northwest.

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

More share buttons