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Winter RV Living

By Edited Nov 5, 2016 4 7

A checklist for those new to cold weather RVing

If you're ambitious, unlucky or cheap, you may find yourself having to deal with winter RV living. Though many of us have experienced the joy of RVing in the summer months in the warm weather, living in a travel trailer or fifth wheel when it's -2 outside and snowing is another story entirely. It's a situation that I know well.

winter rv living

My wife and I have been living in an RV full-time for more than three years now while saving for a down payment on a house. I have learned a great deal about cold weather Rving over the last three years and it's not been easy. In that time many issues have come up ranging from the inconvenient to the downright frustrating and I have had to devise solutions to a wide variety of problems. I have assembled this checklist for winter RV living so that you know what steps to take before the cold and ice hits. Living in a fifth wheel in winter doesn't have to be a negative experience, but if you're unprepared, I can assure you, it will be.

Here are 8 things that I recommend you address if you are new to RVing in cold weather.

1. Buy the right rig

I can not say enough about buying an RV that was built for cold weather camping. This is the first huge mistake that we made. We bought a model that although very high-quality, was sold in Tennessee originally and did not have any cold-weather options. Getting the proper RV will cost you more, but I assure you it will be worth it if you're even remotely considering cold-weather camping. A camper well-equipped for the cold will have insulated windows, insulated pipes, heated tanks and other options that will keep you comfortable.

2. Keep your furniture off the ground and away from walls

If your couch is directly against the ground or a wall, MOVE IT! We had an unpleasant surprise when we moved our couch that had been sitting directly on the floor through the cold months. There was a ton of mold on the ground underneath it. It was gross. No matter what your floor and walls will get cold and if the inside of your rig is warm it's a recipe for condensation on your walls and windows. I have found that the best way to fight condensation in a trailer is to keep air flowing. Make sure there's ample space between any furniture and the walls/floor.

3. Vent pillows

All RVs have roof vents, and they allow a ton of your expensive warm air to escape. You can buy foam and cut it to the size of your vents or for around $15 you can buy pillows that fit and insulate the cutout in your roof where the fan is. You don't want them there full-time but when it really gets cold they will hold in a good amount of heat.

4. Keep air flowing

No matter how cold it is, I always have a window cracked at either end of the trailer. I don't like that it wastes heat, but it's just one of the realities of living in a fifth wheel full-time. It allows air to flow slowly through the trailer which prevents mold from forming.

5. Get a dehumidifier

They're not cheap, but for winter RV living, you need one, plain and simple. Humidity is enemy #1 in an RV. My wife and I have a small dehumidifier that we leave running most evenings and any time we're not home. It does wonders to prevent excessive moisture and you wouldn't believe how much water it collects! I would recommend getting a decent model as it will last, and also be quieter than a cheap one which is important when you're listening to it droning on for hours on end.


Compact dehumidifier

Eva-dry Edv-2200 Dehumidifier, Mid-Size
Amazon Price: $139.99 $84.95 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 5, 2016)
These things are relatively small and won't take up much of your limited RV space.

6. Heat and insulate your water line

Few things are more annoying than having no access to clean water. Sure the trailer has a tank on it but it's good for 1-5 minute shower at best. You need to keep your water supply from freezing. Buy some pipe insulation (only a few cents at a hardware store) and some heat tape ($10-20) and use it to keep your water line warm. 

7. Turn off your water and leave the heat on!

When you go away for more than an evening, turn off your water supply and leave the heat on inside your unit. If you don't shut off your water then you may be dealing with a flood if something breaks. If you don't leave a heater on, the lines inside your trailer freeze and destroy your faucets. Trust me on this, leave a cheap heater running at all times and you will be glad you did.

8. Get a radiator heater

Radiator heaters are great because they put out a good amount of heat, they're reasonably cheap to buy and they are very cheap to run. They are perfect for maintaining an ambient temperature at all times. Have a couple smaller space heaters on stand-by for when it gets really cold because although your propane furnace does a great job of keeping you warm, it costs a fortune to run and it's loud.

Radiator heater for RVing

Optimus H-6010 Portable Oil Filled Radiator Heater
Amazon Price: $96.00 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 5, 2016)
This heater is great because it's inexpensive, safe, and it has a thermostat. You won't be paying to heat your trailer when you don't need to!

Living in a fifth wheel in winter can be a great experience, or one you will regret. It all depends on how prepared you are. If you get the right stuff ahead of time you will be just fine. Start planning for winter RV living when the weather is still warm and sunny and you will be able to get through the cold season just fine. If you need more tips for getting through the cold months in a fifth wheel or travel trailer, go see the folks at your local dealership, they've always had great advice for me.



Mar 1, 2013 9:57pm
Oh Boy! I do not think I could live there. I Simply hate cold with a passion. I love traveling in our Caravan but not when it is cold. You have some great tips that's for sure. Even in a home we have had our hoses freeze and snap off and we do not have snow.
Although we get our up to 46 in summer and below 5 in winter so two extremes.
Other wise living in van is terrific as you can change your place of abode all the time. Great article
Mar 6, 2013 4:13pm
It's really not too bad, but it's hard when we get the cold snaps. Thanks for reading!
Mar 30, 2013 9:40pm
Wow, I salute you. It seems you are giving great advice so others won't have to go through what you apparently did. Great article and quite informative and helpful.
Mar 30, 2013 9:48pm
Thank you for the kind comment.
Apr 4, 2013 7:45pm
RV living in the winter sounds to be quite challenging. But it seems that you and your wife have everything under control. After all, a good companion makes everything easier. Thumbs Up!
Apr 4, 2013 8:21pm
Thanks for your comment. It is exceptionally challenging, but can be worthwhile if it's part of a long-term plan. You can reasonably live in a fifth wheel for less than the cost of rent (where I live) and if you can tough it out for a few years and pay your unit off, you then have an asset that you can sell and use the cash for a down payment on a house. With real estate so high, it's important to be creative :) Thanks for reading!
Apr 5, 2013 6:54am
Hey man, good article! Impressed at you and your wife's dedication to saving for the down payment - you will appreciate the house so much more for all the work you are putting in! Good luck!
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