Winterize your RV — the easy way, no fittings required

This is a "winterize the RV" reminder post for me, and a "how to" post for you.

There are lots of articles out on the 'net that talk about winterizing an RV. Most of them are repeats of the same article and, while the approach will work, it's a lot harder than it needs to be. I learned this approach from the old codger that was minding the RV portion of WalMart when I went in to buy anti-freeze and a few parts. I was after a fitting to hook my air compressor up to the city-water inlet -- he talked me out of that approach and told me this one instead. So I thought I'd share it.

Conventional approach;

- Blow out the water in all your plumbing with compressed air (requires a special fitting, and great care not to over pressurize your lines with the air compressor -- no more than 25 psi por favor)
- Use the water pump to suck antifreeze out of the jug, either by disconnecting the line to the fresh water tank or by installing a T-valve that allows you to do this without disconnecting. Either way is a hassle, involving plumbing changes.

Old Codger Approach;

- Drain all the tanks.
- Put anti-freeze in the fresh water tank (using the sophisticated device in the picture below)
- Use the water pump to distribute the anti-freeze, without messing about with your plumbing

It worked great -- took about 5 gallons of anti-freeze, but I was being liberal in my use since WalMart had it on sale for 2 bucks a jug. It took about 3 gallons to prime the water pump.

Here are pictures of the various bits, and after that is a detailed checklist (mostly so I remember what I did)

Picture 1 -- Sophisticated device to insert anti-freeze into fresh water system.

The funnel is all chopped up because I also use it to change the oil in the PowerTrac and it needs to fit into a really tight space. I may splurge and buy a new funnel.

HoseToTank

Picture 2 -- Hot Water Bypass

These valves on my RV are configured in the "normal" position in this photo. So water is supplied to the hot water tank from the fresh water supply, fills up the tank and the exits as hot water to the faucets. Turning all three valves 90 degrees bypasses the hot water tank (meaning that you don't have to fill the water tank with anti-freeze before anti-freeze gets to the faucets). I let some anti-freeze go into the (previously drained) water tank before I bypassed it.

HotWaterByPass

Picture 3 -- The drain plug on the hot water tank

Just a reminder -- drain the water tank, put the plug back in, put some anti-freeze in there.

HotWaterDrain

Photo 4 -- Water pump

See the connection between the water pump and the fresh water tank right behind it? That's the one that I'd have to mess around with if I used the Traditional approach to all this. Some people would have you cut that short line, insert a T-valve that chooses between the fresh water tank and a hose that runs down to the anti-freeze jug. What a hassle. What a huge opportunity to introduce leaky joints in your plumbing system.
WaterPump1 01

Checklist;

Ok, here's the step by step (so I remember next time).

Winterizing

- Drain everything (fresh water, hot water, gray water, black water) and then close them back up
- Pour 4 gallons of anti-freeze into fresh water tank
- Bypass hot water heater
- Turn on water pump
- Open faucets and toilet until they run pink (anti-freeze is pink)
- Drain gray and black water tanks again (probably don't need to do this, but there's a mix of fresh water and anti-freeze in there right now)
- Run some more anti-freeze into black water tank through toilet
- Run some more anti-freeze into gray water tank by pouring some into each trap
- Turn off the water pump for a second
- Un-bypass the hot water heater
- Fire up the water pump and let it put some anti-freeze in the hot water tank
- Turn off the water pump

Undoing the winterizing

should go something like this;

- Flush the anti-freeze out of the fresh water tank and, when the time seems right, shut off the drain valve and let fresh water accumulate in the tank -- I dunno maybe 10 - 15 gallons
- Bypass the hot water heater
- Fire up the water pump
- Run all the taps and toilet until they don't run pink any more
- Shut off the water pump
- Open the drain on the hot water heater, un-bypass it, fire up the water pump again, flush the anti-freeze out, shut off the water pump, re-install the drain plug, fire up the water pump and fill the water heater with fresh water (hot water taps should be open -- they'll start supplying water when the water heater is full).

Should be good to go at this point -- I don't see any reason to dump the gray and black water tanks, although I spoze you could as the last step. They'll keep until the first time we're at a dump station, at that point we can dump out the anti-freeze and fresh water that's sloshing around in there.

Update -- some months later (January, 2008)

All right!  It worked!  I just got back from a trip to Florida and can report that the plumbing worked fine after going through the "undo" checklist.

I can also report that this method sorta saved our bacon on the way back.  As we left 85-degree Florida, a huge cold snap rumbled through the Midwest and we realized it was going to be below freezing by the time we finished driving on the first day back (in Georgia!).  So in the mid-afternoon we pulled into an RV park, paid their $20 dumping fee, and did the "winterize" checklist before heading on up into frozen territory.   The nice thing about this approach is that you can do it without any tools, unlike the traditional approach.

So we're all winterized again (which is good, 'cause the night we got back it hit 15 below) and looking forward to our next trip south.

10 Responses to “Winterize your RV — the easy way, no fittings required”

  1. Fay Says:

    THANK YOU! Finally, pictures. I'm a new camper and a girl at that :) I just couldn't get the deadbeat boyfriend to JUST figure it out. I hope you don't mind if I keep your web site handy for the next time I have a question, K? The boyfriend is history--I'm not stupid :)

  2. CARL HICKS Says:

    Took your advice and winterized new trailer by myself! 2007 Prowler Lymx 2902BDS.. drained water,grey water,black tanks. drained water heater and opened 3 low point drains. put 5 gal in water tank, found valves for water heater , pumped until pink came out,all cold faucets, includung outside shower. I wondered about hot faucets,so i turned a valve on red line,that had been closed, and pumped pink through all hot outlets..then pumped a little to water heater.. pink comes out all water,grey,black outlets..just let a little out to see. I pushed the little valve in city inlet and nothinG came out. should I RE-OPEN low point lines and let drain totallly, or leave closed? I bought a soda bottle top at 1.00 store and attached to a length of g-hose and it poured into water tank wonderfully! thanks CARL CLINTON ONTARIO CANADA

  3. CARL HICKS Says:

    Is it unusual to have 2 white 1 red low point lines? should i try to put pink into city inlet. I POURED 1 GALLON INTO black tank and 1 gallon down drains--- rather too much than not enough.. I am leaving a heater, on in trailer to keep chill off trailer is parked beside my house I am a RV virgin lol

  4. Mike O'Connor Says:

    Mike's reply to Carl

    I'm pretty new at this too, so you'd best take all this as the ravings of a newbie. Other more experienced folks may want to chime in on Carl's question here. But... I love making up stuff even when I don't know what I'm talking about, so here goes.

    I figure that since I've got antifreeze running out of the faucets that i can leave the low points closed. My theory is that there's nothing but antifreeze in those lines, so might as well just leave it there. The More Complicated Traditional Approach has you fiddling with those things, sometimes going so far as to blow all the water out of the system with compressed air, sometimes opening those low-point drains, etc. etc. But I'm gonna just leave things the way they are and see how things go when we head south in January. I'll update this post if things to haywire!

    I didn't quite track the "2 white 1 red low point lines" part of your post. Expand on that if you ever get back to this thread.

  5. Fred Tippett Says:

    Thanks SOOO much, Mike. Pictures do make it easier. I'm also new to RVing. A big name RV service center in Northern VA has been attempting to do some basic install stuff on my Class A Motorhome. After so many delays and conflicting reports as to why and what, we had to cancel our trips to the warm Southern states, and winterize the water systems. Based on responses from the center, I'm not sure the winterization was done properly. Now I have points to ask when I see these "tech's" tomorrow. If I have any doubts on the winterization job, I'm going to dump about 12 gallons of anti-freeze in the water tank and circulate with the water heater valve open and closed.

  6. Gary Whitebread Says:

    My drain valve for my fresh water tank on the outside of camper broke off. Do you have sugestion on how to replace. I do not want to take the folding couch bed apart to get at it from the inside or is that the only way? Gary

    Mike says;

    Hm. That sounds like a project that needs to be seen to be understood. Can you take some pictures? Post 'em on Flickr or someplace like that?

  7. Amy Says:

    It's so easy to become an expert on the internet. LOL.

    Amy S.
    Grinnell '74

    Mike says:

    Right on! :-)

  8. -Tom Says:

    I would not put antifreeze in the fresh water tank. Putting antifreeze in your fresh water tank will require a LOT of flushing, in the Spring, to clear all the antifreeze from the fresh water tank.

    I would add a pickup line at the pump "in" side of your pump. You would then drop this line into a gallon of antifreeze and pump thru your fresh water system.

    After draining the water heater there is no need to add antifreeze to the water heater. The small amount of water remaining at the bottom of the water heater will not cause a problem. If you add antifreeze to the water heater it will require a "lot" of flushing in the Spring to clear it, the same as the fresh water tank.

    With the above mods you'll cut the amount of antifreeze needed by a gallon or two.

    Mike says;

    I haven't had the tough time with flushing that you're describing. I run a few gallons of fresh water through the fresh-water tank with the hose before i close the valve and let it fill up. Then I run some water through the hot-water tank before I close the valve and let that one fill up. The rest of the "clear the antifreeze from the rest of the lines" process uses a lot of water from the fresh-water tank and by the time it's all done, it's fine.

    One note -- we don't drink or cook with the water from the RV. We always carry bottled water 'cause we find that campground water is pretty erratic in terms of how it tastes. So a little anti-freeze doesn't really bug me.

    Yep, adding a valve is what lots of people suggest -- but this is the lazy-man's approach. Besides, a few extra gallons of anti-freeze is lots cheaper than fixing the results of my putting that valve in wrong.

  9. Paulete Carpenter Says:

    I'm just sick with worry. My husband drained the tanks and ran the water out of the lines, but was waiting for me to help withthe antifreeze. Bad move, because we totally forgot to put antifreeze in our line and when we tried to do it yesterday,we already had some frozen lines. We have been running the heat and put a heat light underneath...hair dryer, you name it, but so far no luck. How much damage is this going to cause?

    Mike says;

    I think I've got to give you the consultant's answer on that one. "It depends." If you just had a light freeze (down to around 28 degrees at night, but still warming up above freezing during the day), my local Smart People tell me you'll probably be OK. I was worried about the occasional freeze while we were traveling and my local RV hero (Rob Olsen at Midwest RV in Eleva, WI) told me that's no problem. He says that things get "slushy" at night, but thaw out during the day and won't cause a problem.

    But if you've had a really hard freeze things could be dire if there's still fresh water in the lines or the pump. The lines will tend to burst in the low spots where the water collects, and the pump... well... the pump will be very unhappy about having frozen water expanding in it. And running the pump while there's frozen water in it might also be a problem -- since electric motors don't like standing still with power applied to them.

    It might be worth finding a friend or an RV shop with a big heated garage and letting your RV sit there for a day or two to thaw things out. Or maybe this is a great excuse to take a no-plumbing trip south where it's above freezing? "Dear Boss, sorry I can't come to work for the next few days, I have a plumbing emergency."

    Here's the map I use to figure out where I need to go to get above freezing. The only tricky bit is that the time is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which means that you have to subtract about 5-6 hours to get to your local time. I use the 12:00 time to figure out what the low temp is going to be (that equates to around 6AM local time).

    http://www.intellicast.com/National/Temperature/TEMPcast.aspx

    Hope things turn out OK!

  10. Paulete Carpenter Says:

    Thanks..We have gotten some antifreeze through the pump but the block seems to be somewhere in the lines. We have had a couple of pretty hard freezes, so we may be in for a mess. We'll try again today...temps are suppose to be in the low forties today here in Ohio. If we can't get anywhere today, I will call our local RV place and see if we can bring it in. I'll keep you informed. My thing is, how do we know if there is a crack causing leak before we have water damage in unseen places. Geez!

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