From what we have experienced as Fulltime RVers, there are quite a few differences between staying in a sticks and bricks home versus an RV during winter. There are several things to consider if you are not just heading to the Florida keys. Even if you are, these are things that can keep you more comfortable in any cold winter in the future.
Choosing a rig based on the structure and insulation can be daunting research. RV Manufacturers will all list their “R Value Rating” of insulation and they seem to be on the same band wagon of bragging about their winter packages, but what does any of it mean?
- Insulation: Some claim that foam insulation is the best, or rolled residential. Deciphering what exactly they mean and how it applies to keeping you warm can be tricky. We attempted to choose our RV based on whether or not we could stay warm, even though we set a goal to get to the South before the first major snow storms occur. What we have found is that most of the “4 season RVs” and “winter packages” do fairly well as long as they have the following points:
An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R–value — the higher the R–value, the greater the insulating effectiveness. The R–value depends on the type of insulation, its thickness, and its density. (On Insulation, Department of Energy)
- Propane Furnace: likely your first line of defense against the cold. We usually don’t need this until temperatures start reaching 40 degrees at night. Our RV comes with rolled wool and glass insulation, which seems to keep insulated well when it is cold or hot. We tend to set ours to 55-60 degrees which does well until the outside temperature drops below 20 degrees. At that point, we burn through a lot more propane. At 0 degrees we are looking at changing out a 30 pound tank every week or two to keep the rig at 55-60 degrees. Below 20 we have to supplement with the electric fireplace and a small electric heater we will talk more about later. If you’re going to be staying in an area for a while it may be a good idea to have a large propane tank delivered. Check with the RV park/campground to see if it will be allowed. If so, call your local propane company. They will usually deliver tanks, and fill them on site. This option will save you from hauling small tanks across town, or running out as easily.
- Heated Compartments below. With our RV, the compartments are all integrated into the ducting. This protects the contents and pipes from freezing.
- Tank Heaters- these are heating pads that adhere to your fresh water, grey tanks, and black tanks. They activate when temperatures drop below 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), and are very effective at keeping the tanks warm. When RVs claim they have all weather packages, these are typically what they include in that description. Be sure to check that you have them, and they are working properly.
- Propane Oven and Stove top: Most people do not actually use these to heat their rig, however in a pinch it could work. We have not tried this on our own but if the need arises it, it is another option.
- Dual/Thermopane Pane Windows – For RVs these have become much more popular in the last decade. There are some great benefits such as sound reduction and slightly more insulation. Often they are very dark in their tint so it is not as easy to see through them. While these are a good option, inspect your windows for fogging. Sometimes the outer seals can separate allowing moisture to get in-between the panes of glass and create a fog. At this point you would need to replace the window.
Things You Can Do To Fortify Your RV
- Skirting: This is usually used when an RV is staying in a place longterm, that has a colder climate, and/or it snows frequently. It helps keep the underside of the RV warmer by reducing wind underneath, it also keeps the area more dry if your storing items underneath. This can be a costly investment. Often RVers will order them custom for their RV, and have it installed, or create their own weather barrier using materials that you can find at Home Depot or Lowes.
- Slides are typically less insulated than the rest of the RV, they also lack the vent system connected to the propane furnace. There are some mornings we will come out and the slides will be difficult to sit in or be near because they are much colder than the middle of the RV. With our RV, the insulation is rolled wool and fiberglass instead of pressed foam. Carpet can help retain heat along with preventing drafts from the bottom of your slide seals.
- Parking Structures can be built to house your RV during the winter or provide some relief from snow. Some structures are completely enclosed around the trailer helping to keep them warmer. If you are living in a particularly cold climate, it may be worth it to have a structure built around your RV, this is not a solution for most but it is an option.
- Reflectix: This is a reflective material used on windows, to keep heat in and block cold out. These are placed over the windows. Some choose to leave several uncovered because it becomes so dark inside the RV. for about $16 you can buy 25feet of this. Another option people discuss in forums is using bubble wrap with the larger bubbles and placing those over window coverings. The theory is that the small air chambers can help trap warmer air and buffer against the cold air.
- Fan Covers:
These can be used to keep the heat in and the cold out, by being placed in the square fans in the ceiling of your RV. They wedge into the spot and prevent heat from escaping as quickly. Many use these in the summer to keep heat out of their rig as well. The fan can be a significant source of heat loss in an RV.
Gadgets and Gizmos That Are Good Options:
- Electric Heaters: Most RVs come with the Electric Fireplace that makes a nice ambiance. The electric heaters tend to work best when temperatures are between 40-50 degrees outside. Beyond that we usually need to run our extra electric heater or furnace as well. We keep a very small electric/ceramic heater in the bedroom that puts out a great amount of heat for a tiny space. One draw back is this will not keep your compartments warm. **Some RV Parks do not allow you to use these since they draw large amounts of power. We recommend staying somewhere electricity is included and they allow you to run your heater to stay warm, or an RV Park that has a set fee for electricity**
- Portable propane heaters: Heaters such as the Mr. Buddy Heater, or similar, use propane to provide open flame heat. They will use 1lb propane cans, but there is an adapter for some that lets you run a hose to a large propane tank. While this situation is ideal for some, we have concerns about pets and children being near open flames in an RV. These do provide a good source of heat, but they may not be a good solution for all. They are highly efficient. Like the electric space heater, this too will not keep your compartments warm.
- Heated Mattress Pad: This has been one of those items that has helped our marriage arguments about whether we are too cold or hot. We decided to get a dual climate, heated mattress pad that provides warmth to each side independently. This item does require electricity so it would not work in a boon docking scenario, but in the winter, it has become very helpful. Usually Laura is freezing and I am roasting. She uses it for about half the year typically. Along with this, you can also use a heated blanket.
- Refrigerator Alarms: We have a thermostat built into our rig, we also have a refrigerator alarm which monitors the temperatures remotely and alarms if they are not within the parameters we have set (too hot or too cold). This also has a read out of the temperature in our rig to double check our thermostat. It may be redundant but it was extra security that we appreciate.
- Weather Radios: If you have read our previous articles, you know that we keep an Acurite Weather Station. We do not currently own the big fancy mounted one (maybe someday we will get one to install). e have a much smaller version with a small sensor that sits outside the RV (pictured on the left side), and displays current onditions on a monitor inside the rig. It has a built in weather radio that brings broadcasted alerts inside the rig. This has helped us immensely when there were no torna
do sirens, winter storms approaching, or dangerous weather in general. It has an alarm that could wake the dead, and it is impossible for us to sleep through.Weather Apps rely on your ability to have a data connection or cell phone signal. We have experienced many places where our phones did not alert us at all and if it weren’t for the weather station we would have had no warning. Obviously, we consider this essential to RVing in general.
- Generators: Most RVers carry one or have a back up source of power in case the power goes out. We carry a small Yamaha Generator that is very quiet compared to most RVs. This is used as an alternate source of power in case of an outage. In the event you lose power, your Propane Furnace should still work, but as a back up you can run your electric heaters, or provide heat until power is restored.
- Heated Hoses– You can purchase these as a package or many choose to make their own. Purchasing them as a unit can be cost prohibitive so many have opted to make their own. Whichever you choose, make sure your water spigot is also protected. For more on this check out this website.
Safety, Health, and Considerations:
- Using Propane as a source of heat can lead to excess moisture and an increase in carbon dioxide. This is what should happen during combustion. Many find it helpful to leave a window cracked open which can help eliminate some of the moisture but also using a dehumidifier or two can help. We keep a large dehumidifier in the living area, and a small one in the bedroom. We generally keep the humidity around 45% in the winter while running the furnace. Without a dehumidifier the increased moisture can collect on walls and windows, and sometimes even freeze inside your RV.
- Carbon Monoxide: this gas is present when there is incomplete combustion of propane molecules. In english- the propane gas did not fully burn, so carbon monoxide is released into the atmosphere. If you have Carbon Monoxide present in your RV at any time, you should contact a professional to inspect your furnace or any other propane fueled device in your RV. This can be very deadly and you should never continue to stay in the RV while it is present.
The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning include: a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, or loss of consciousness. If these events occur, you should seek medical intervention and treatment. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning can be more dangerous to those who are intoxicated.
- Propane/Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Having a properly working propane detector that also detects carbon monoxide is a must. We have never seen an RV on a dealership lot without one, and I would not purchase an RV without one that is integrated. Aside from the loud alarm, the integrated system will shut off the propane if propane is detected in the rig. Some more funny aspects of these alarms, they can go off from hairspray, cooking, and heavy usage of propane all together.
Propane/CO Detectors can also go off if your dog is flatulent and happens to fart near them. We were terrified the first week we were in our RV when our Pup Bullet was a little more gassy than normal and happened to be sitting by the door where the detector is. John and I were outside grilling and put the dogs inside so they would be safe away from the fire. We heard the alarm screeching and instantly jumped out of our seat to open the door and grab our pets. Then we saw Bullet and smelled his present he had laid for us. A few seconds later the propane alarm ceased and we found out just how sensitive they really are.
Final Thoughts: It is very possible to RV during winter, many do it all across Canada and the United States. Whether you head south, and don’t think you will need these tips, or you are staying put in the North, be prepared prior to the season. Being a nomadic fulltime RVer, the first step to ensuring comfort on the road is being prepared. Stay healthy and warm, and carry a good supply of hot chocolate.