We survived our first RV Winter in Eastern Washington inside our 5th wheel, Bailey. After our steps to stay warm blog, we continued testing new ideas with the goal of lowering our heating bill, yet stay comfortable inside. In this blog, we will provide you with some tips that evolved from our last update and share with you a few changes we are testing out in this year’s RV winter prep. There’s also a great learning experience on how a 2-month early snowstorm, can catch experienced cold weather camping RVers off guard.
Snow In September?!
At the end of September 2019, an unexpected cold front hit Spokane, WA. A record was set, two days in a row, for the most snow in the last 100 years on those days. The storm took the whole town by surprise. We were not the only ones cranking on our furnace to stay warm while the nights dropped below 30*F. I can honestly say that I was sure happy when the propane furnace kicked on for the first time in 6-months. A run into town for propane was the least of our worries with a week in freezing temps. This was cold weather camping we were not ready for.
The 2-inches of snow quickly melted. Then the temps warmed to 60s during the day and lows slightly above freezing at night. We began rushing to get Bailey (our 5th wheel) washed, the roof conditioned and a few minor areas sealed up during the sunny days. Luckily, we were able to complete most of our checklist as we watched the weather forecast. Now onto what we desperately needed to do, put a skirt around the 5th wheel.
RV Winter Prep
The main goal after the snow and cold came too early, is to install the RV Winter skirting we saved from last year. It was a good thing we numbered our panels before putting it away last Spring. This saved us a good amount of time, that we otherwise didn’t have, thanks to Mother Nature. Standing out in 50*F weather, with a cold wind, and no sunshine, we hustled. Read more about the RV skirt we designed for our 5th wheel HERE.
About a week after the skirt went around Bailey, the sky opened up dumping at least 6” of snow over-night. This storm, came as freezing rain for a few hours before it changed over to snow. As some of you may know, this is a perfect mix to cause significant tree damage. All around town large branches were down, closing some roads and creating power outages.
Since we are parked under a very tall tree and a few nearby ones, our night was a little restless. It’s times like this, that you want to evaluate your surroundings and take preventative measures, if possible.
What We Learned
RV Winter camping can become dangerous if you are not watching the forecast and are ill-prepared. For us, the first snowstorm took the entire town by surprise, even the local weather forecasters. All because the temperature was not to drop out as it did.
We were already parked in the spot we will be for winter. The location is set up with shore power, and we drive for propane refills. Because of these two things, we were able to turn on the furnace and a space heater. That warmth would cost us monetarily, but we would not be frozen popsicles come morning. Unless the power went out and in that case, our non-upgraded RV batteries would not stay charged too long under the furnace demand.
All we are saying is to know the typical weather in the area you are visiting. Come prepared for that worst-case scenario. You never know when a freak 100-year record-breaking snowstorm will bottom out the temps for a couple of weeks, making escaping in your RV ill-advisable.
Changes To Our RV Winter Prep
Over the course of our first winter in the 5th wheel, full time, we updated Our Steps To Stay Warm blog. We analyzed what was working best for cold weather camping and saw changes we could make. After surviving our first winter in Eastern Washington, we have a better understanding of what improvements we can make. We also learned what had a drastic impact on reducing our heating costs.
This year (2019) our RV Winter Prep Plan looks like this...
We will be keeping the RV skirting and water line protection in our cold weather prep plan this year. We will be changing how we do our window coverings and water hoses. Don is testing a theory that may or may not work, either way, the chore had to be done. For more info on last years RV Winter prep, please click HERE.
Let’s dive in below on these 5 topics:
1) RV Winter Skirting
The skirting around the entire 5th wheel had more pros than cons for us. We go over the skirting in more detail in Our steps to stay warm blog, so be sure to check it out. Basically we made our own with foam board, then assembled it around the 5th wheel. The underbelly was taped up after Don ran a new insulated heating duct line.
If you choose to do this, keep in mind that hydraulic stabilizers will continue to move throughout the winter. You will need to leave a gap, or the foam board can damage a plastic wheel well covering or slide-out corner. Another item to keep in mind is that you can not access the underside of the RV unless you plan accordingly. So think about where your dump valves are, if you do not have electronic ones like we just installed (BLOG SOON).
With the minor negative aspect of this project out of the way, we can say the pros outway it greatly! The cost to do this ourselves -vs- the snap-on RV skirting was well worth it. We were able to store our foam board over the Summer, to have it ready for any winter we decided to do in the North. By numbering the boards as they came off, it made for a quick re-install.
The biggest pro of this cheap skirting method is the savings on heating. Without that cold wind blowing under the 5th wheel, creeping in all the slide-out cracks, and underbelly, our furnace did not have to run as much. The floor of the RV was a little warmer to walk on as well. But, not having that awful cold draft was the biggest pro for me.
2) Water Line Protection
One of our steps to stay warm last year involved keeping our water lines warm. Don put what I call pool noodles over the mainline from the fresh water tank. The tank is located at the back of the 5th wheel and the kitchen and bathroom sinks are in the middle of the RV. The pip insulation is only a minor preventative measure, but one we did not want to skimp on. Especially, since there is not much space from the underbelly liner to the floor of the RV where all the lines are running.
However, our 5th wheel was built with the furnace duct running close to the water lines. This allows excess heat to radiate from the duct, in hopes of keeping the water line from freezing. You would have to go under your RV, take the underbelly off to physically see if you have a heat duct that keeps your water lines from freezing. I never take it for granted when the manufacturer or salesperson tells me the RV is “zero degree rated” or is an “all-season” camper.
As another layer of protection, last year we put a wireless temperature sensor in our cargo bay. This way we could monitor the exact temperature to determine if our plumming was in jeopardy. When we typically see single digits for a few weeks at a time, we can not take it for granted our furnace will keep our pipes warm. The unit we have has the ability to read two outside areas. We placed one as far as we could reach to the middle of the 5th wheel and the other near the last RV sink on the waterline.
It is a good thing we monitor the cargo bay this way, because we hit the high 20s a few times. And with a week forecasting colder outside temps, we quickly found a space heater to put in the cargo bay. We needed one that would turn off if for some reason it fell over. Another requirement was it having a shutoff when it reached a set temperature. Of course, we all know that these are not perfect, but it was better than us going outside to turn it off and on.
3) Plastic Windows - What?
In our Plastic Wrap – can it stop cold window drafts blog, we went over how bad the windows were in the 5th wheel. The cold draft was insane! We have a full write-up on how we layered plastic window wrap, Refletix, window shades, and blankets to stop the draft. However, that window wrap faltered. Part of it was user error and the other was due to the rare Winter sun we have here in Eastern Washington.
The window wrap that stayed on a given window, did help keep the draft down, some. But we needed a better solution. I wanted one that would actually stay attached to the window, was a little thicker and maybe even be reusable.
Sitting at the dining table, I looked down at my plastic cover over the table cloth. A light bulb went off in my head. I asked Don “what if we bought a roll of this vinyl type material at the fabric store, to put on our windows this year?”
We had already been looking at the Frost King window kit that is a one-time use. The same product we used last year. My thinking with the vinyl material is, with a coupon the cost should be about the same. So if we could get a second year or more out of it, the savings would be worth it. All we would need to do is buy some of the double-stick tape.
We have calculated the yards of material we would need, have cut the window shapes and are in the process of installing them. At this point, one window is covered and with a record low of 15*F one night, the new cover idea is working great. So far we have several tips to help you with this project. We will share them with you as well as help you maximize a sheet of the vinyl wrap in a coming BLOG.
4) Filling The Fresh Water
Where we are located for our RV Winter, we only have shore power. This means we need to take the propane tanks to get them filled so we can run our furnace. I would mention cooking on propane, but that is minimal consumption compared to the furnace and the tankless water heater. Then we have the blue Barker tote to dump our waste. This usually takes 2 or 3 trips around the block. With the RV winter skirt on, snow on the ground, the 5th wheel is not going out to a dump station. Lastly, we need to get fresh water to our tank weekly or bi-weekly depending on shower usage.
The freshwater source is 150 feet away from the 5th wheel. We can not get any closer to it. Last year we priced a heated hose so we could leave it outside and stay hooked up. The cost about made me fall out of my chair. So in our steps to stay warm blog, last year we were uncoiling the typical white RV drinking water hose. Then running it to the source, filling the tank, and attempting to drain the hose as we re-coiled it. That is fine until the temperatures outside are in the 20s and you are laying the hose on snow mounds. Then trying to coil it up, is almost an undoable chore. One time a small amount of water froze in the hose. Which required us to heat the hose up before we could get water.
This year our plan is to try out the Zero-G hose and not have to use the white drinking hoses. We will update you on how that plan works, or if it is an epic fail. So keep your eye on the bottom of this blog post as we will post updates as the RV Winter rolls on through.
5) Don’s Roof Test
Our 5th wheel is designed with not only a sloped roof from front to back, but it is also rounded. That curvature is ideal for the rain to run off. It should be enough of a slope for the snow to shed off too. Last year, it did. But we had a few cases of the heavy wet snow that we had to manually remove. That is not a fun task in the winter with snow and ice on your boots, climbing a metal latter to rake snow off the roof. And in no way am I implying an actual metal rake. We do want to preserve our roof for as long as we can. Not having another water feature inside the RV is ideal.
Don bought some Camco protec roof cleaner to test out this year on the 5th wheel (Baily). Due to extra projects we had going this Summer, then the extremely early cold Fall, we were behind in washing Bailey. Don managed to get the new roof treatment on right before the first snowfall. It is his hope that by waiting as long as we did that the treatment will be ‘fresh’ which may enable the slushy snow to shed off better. With the first two snowstorms in September, it was hard to tell, because the day time temperatures were back above freezing by the afternoon.
This is a fluke test that we chose to write about, in the hopes that maybe our theory will happen. If it doesn’t, well, Bailey still got the much-needed bath and conditioning. We will deal with the heavy wet snow as it comes our way, no matter if it sheds off better with this product newly applied or not.
Thank you for reading our post. We hope it gave you some insight into preparing for an RV Winter in the north. We will continue to post updates below on how our new RV Winter Prep Plan is going.
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