To prepare your RV for cold weather living

How to Prepare Your RV for Cold Weather Living

Updated on January 31st, 2024

RV travel isn’t only a fair-weather activity. Many RVers love to camp in cold weather, so being ready for cold-weather RV living is crucial for comfort and safety.

To help you prepare your RV for cold weather or winter living, I put together this guide to show you what you need to improve insulation, stop freezing water lines, and handle many other issues chilly temperatures bring.

With the right preparations, you’ll be able to enjoy camping in your RV when cold weather arrives, so come along to find out more!

Why You Need to Prepare Your RV for Cold Weather Living

Manufacturers don’t make standard recreational vehicles for long-term winter camping in cold regions.

While some brands offer a winterizing package upgrade, it may only include part of the essential features you’ll need to stay safe and warm.

If you don’t prepare your RV properly for cold-weather living, you’ll find all sorts of problems will arise, such as:

  • Frozen or burst water lines
  • Frozen waste and freshwater tanks
  • Uncomfortably cold interior temperatures
  • Heavy interior condensation
  • Storage compartment contents getting damage
  • Tire damage from snow or ice

Each of the above issues has solutions to stop them from happening, which I discuss in detail below.

Having an idea of the challenges of RVing in cold weather will help you formulate the best winterizing plan for your camper so you’ll be safe and comfortable when the temperatures drop.

How to Prepare Your RV for Winter Living

An RV for winter living

For cold-weather RV living, you need to make a comprehensive plan covering each potential issue that freezing temperatures can cause.

Follow the list below to tackle all the projects that will make your RV winter-ready!

Stop RV Air Leaks

The first thing to tackle is the inspection of your recreational vehicle for any gaps that allow air to flow in and out.

RV Window and Door Air Leaks

Check the weatherstripping around your camper’s window and door frames.

Over time, the foam or rubber can crack, compress, or fall off, which will allow cold air to penetrate your camper, especially on windy days.

Replace any damaged or missing RV weather stripping and buy the correct shape or thickness to seal out cold drafts for good.

Many RVers miss checking the caulking between the metal framing of camper windows and the exterior siding. Gaps let air or rain enter, so get on a ladder and closely inspect the perimeter of each window, filling in any holes with weather-resistant caulk.

Open and shut all RV windows and check for a tight seal. Over time, dead insects, leaves, or other debris can gather in the track between the screen and frame, stopping the window from shutting all the way.

To ensure RV windows shut correctly, clear away any debris from the track using a vacuum. Running a small paintbrush along the track will help loosen the material for removal.

Since many RV brands skimp in this area, don’t forget to replace or add weatherstripping around exterior storage compartment doors.

Fill Gaps in RV Flooring and Walls

RV manufacturers need to make holes in camper walls and floors to run wiring, plumbing, and propane lines. Unfortunately, it’s pretty standard for RV builders to forget to fill these gaps or for the foam or other filler material to break apart and fall out over time.

To fill up these holes to prevent heat loss during cold-weather RV trips, you’ll need to search around your camper closely. Open cabinets inside your camper and use a flashlight to peek into dark recesses for holes.

You will find the most openings under the RV bathroom and kitchen sinks, as well as around your freshwater tank and near your water heater.

Outside, open storage compartments and access doors for your propane, water heater, house battery, and behind your fridge to look for holes in your RV interior.

The best product to fill any gaps you find is an expandable foam product. The foam will seal off any odd spaces as it expands, leaving you with a weathertight seal that won’t damage electrical, water, or gas lines.

Sealing off holes is also beneficial because it will deter mice or other pests from entering your RV to get away from the cold.

Seal Motorhome Air Vents

A protected motorhome's air ven in winter

A motorhome cab area has air vents with direct access to a cold engine compartment, allowing that chilly air to enter your RV straight through the dashboard.

To stop cold air, close the venting louvers and cover the area with a piece of thermal bubble insulation sheeting you cut to fit inside the opening. If your vents are flush with the dashboard, you can use removable tape to hold the material in place.

TIP: Cold air will also enter your RV from the defrosting vents way up next to the glass and under the dashboard area near the footwells, so don’t forget to cover these areas.

Seal RV Skylights, Ceiling Vents, and Air Conditioner

The best way to reduce the loss of heat through the RV ceiling is by sealing and insulating the many roof openings.

Thankfully, there are simple-to-use RV vent and skylight insulators that look like a flat pillow and tuck perfectly inside the opening without causing any damage. In addition, you can find sizes to fit standard RV vents or skylight openings, and the insulators are affordable.

I love how quickly this type of vent cover works from the interior, so you can remove them when you want more light or ventilate the RV.

Using an exterior RV air conditioner cover will help stop cold drafts from falling into your camper’s interior. You can find covers to fit all brands of RV AV units but do look for one made of a material that won’t crack in freezing temperatures.

For extremely frigid winter RV living destinations, you should consider using a layer of bubble sheet insulation over the AC before putting on the cover for an extra barrier against heat loss.

Increase RV Window, Floor, and Wall Insulation

To maximize comfort inside an RV during cold weather, you should consider covering your floor and windows with a layer of SmartSHIELD Thermal Insulation. What makes this product different is the dense inner layer that increases the R-value tremendously over a bubble-type insulating product without adding bulk.

Removable tape is excellent for securing the material over interior window frames. You can also cut the insulation to fit across solid-surface RV floors and add rugs on top so feet stay warm.

Depending on your RV type, you can also run SmartShield over walls or ceilings to increase heat retention in frigid climates.

Insulate RV Undercarriage and Storage Compartments

A man improving insulation in a camper

If you plan to RV full-time in a location that experiences cold weather, you’ll be better off buying a winter-ready recreational vehicle. If not, you’ll want to insulate the undercarriage and storage bins of a standard RV to protect pipes and tanks from freezing.

Modern winter-ready RVs or optional winterizing packages add more insulation to the camper and offer undercarriage heating to water lines and tanks for extra protection against freezing or damage during cold weather.

Many RVers choose to DIY undercarriage and storage compartment insulation using a combination of foam board insulation and expandable insulating foam.

Lining the RV underside and walls and floors of exterior storage compartments will provide a barrier to keep cold air from freezing water lines or causing cracks and leaks.

Add RV Skirting

The last way to increase warmth inside your RV to keep the occupants and fixtures toasty is by adding a skirt around your camper so cold winds cannot blow underneath.

Many RVers purchase custom-made fabric RV skirts that snap into place around the camper base, or you can cut foam board insulation to fill the space and tape the edges together.

Insulate Exterior Water Supply and Sewer Lines

Insulating your RV against the cold won’t be very helpful if your water supply hose freezes or your sewer lines crack from freezing temperatures.

Insulate water lines using tubes of pipe insulation or wrap water and sewer hoses with insulating tape. Other solutions to prevent problems with freezing lines are to use a heated RV water hose and to elevate your sewer hose away from the snow.

Another way to avoid issues is never to keep sewer valves open so wastewater isn’t pooling inside the drain hose that could freeze up if temperatures drop below zero.

Use the Right Heating Source for Cold Weather RV Living

A heater using in a camper

How do RVers stay warm during cold weather?

The answer depends on what RV type you own and what kind of heating system came with the unit.

Many RVs have a combination air conditioner and heat pump that gives you the option to switch over to heat on chilly mornings or evenings.

The real problem with this type of AC is that using the heat pump feature when the temperature drops below 45°F isn’t very effective in keeping your RV warm and can quickly wear out the unit.

If your RV comes with a propane furnace, you should always use it versus a heat pump when temperatures are below 50°F for best results.

If your RV doesn’t come with a propane furnace, you can alternatively use space heaters to warm your camper during winter. Many RVers run the propane furnace and an additional electric space heater to keep warm during frigid weather.

There are many electric space heaters that run on 12-volt or 110-volt that are safe for RV use.

What’s great about a space heater and good RV insulation is how quickly you can warm and maintain a comfortable temperature during cold-weather camping trips.

For locations where you’ll be off-grid camping, you can purchase a propane space heater with extra safety features for RV use. Please read the manual and take precautions when using any propane space heater indoors, as many require ventilation to avoid dangerous carbon monoxide build-up.

Lastly, if you’re still in the shopping stages, look for an RV that comes with an electric fireplace. Most RV fireplaces aren’t just about that relaxing glow but work as an additional heat source, especially when you don’t want to turn on your propane furnace.

Winterize Motorhome or Tow Vehicle Engines

RV antifreeze is a cold-weather must-have for any Class A, Class B, or Class C motorhome, along with any truck or tow vehicle you use to pull a travel trailer or fifth wheel.

You want to ensure the engine starts and runs in the event of an emergency, but many people overlook the importance of using a quality RV antifreeze product.

Protect RV Tires from Cold Weather

RV tires and cold weather

RV tires are heavy-duty, but all will need extra protection during days or months of cold or freezing temperatures, along with exposure to snow or ice build-up.

Start RV cold-weather adventures by investing in the best RV tires you can afford that have a tread made to grip snowy, icy, or wet surfaces better so you can travel more safely to your camping destinations.

You can purchase snow tires for motorhomes, but travel trailer tires don’t offer a comparable version. So upgrade to an all-season tire for travel trailers if your camper doesn’t already have them.

In the event of heavy snow emergencies, always have snow chains or auto socks on hand. Not all states allow snow chains, but tire “socks” are another alternative that can provide the grip you need to move your recreational vehicle safely.

Once you park your RV, cover the tires to help protect the rubber from snow, salt, dirt, and intense UV rays. Look for heavy-duty RV tire covers with a thick lining to keep tires in the best condition possible through frigid temperatures.

Have a Plan to Deal With RV Condensation

The biggest downfall with RV propane heating is the amount of humidity it creates in the air, which ends up condensing on the camper ceiling or cold windows or appliances.

Condensation inside an RV is also an issue from human breath, which only gets worse when people live inside a well-insulated camper in the winter months.

To prevent annoying and mildew-encouraging condensation issues inside your camper, always run a dehumidifier when you see the first signs of moisture.

An electric RV dehumidifier is more efficient for removing water from the air, so you feel more comfortable.

Using a desiccant dehumidifier is another option, but single-use products create extra waste, and rechargeable versions require constant monitoring to make sure they are working.

Final Thoughts

A cold weather living in an RV

Not only is cold weather living in an RV possible, but with the proper preparation, it can be downright comfortable and safe.

When you RV in winter in cold regions, you get to enjoy blissfully quieter campgrounds and stunning snow-covered vistas most RVers or snowbirds who travel to warm south states miss.

If you plan to RV in cold weather, I hope you use this guide to prepare your camper against typical winter RVing issues so you can avoid damage and cold feet!

The Best RV Winter Setup (Video)

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