Winterise Your Motorhome for The Cold Months
Guest Post by Neil Wright
As far as we’re concerned, there are two types of motorhome travellers in the world: those who stop exploring in the winter, and those who don’t. But everyone needs to ‘winter-proof’ or winterise their motorhomes — not doing so could result in catastrophic damage, and thousands of pounds’ worth of repairs.
Fortunately though, you can easily take steps to winterise your motorhome and keep it safe. So if you’re relatively new to all this motorhome lark and have not experienced a winter with one keep reading, you’ll be glad you did.
Don’t have time to read right now? Download the Winterise Your Motorhome Checklist pdf here: Winterise-Your-Motorhome
Know Thy Enemy: Frozen Water
There are no words capable of striking fear into the hearts of motorhome enthusiasts quite like “burst pipes” or “frozen water”.
The most formidable weapon of winter is its Night King-like tendency for sub-zero temperatures. I hardly need to state that when the temperature dips below zero, water freezes. But when it freezes it also expands. And this, of course, can rupture water pipes and cause massive water damage.
Burst pipes are catastrophic at worst and terribly inconvenient at best. But the damage can fester in locked-up, stored-away motorhomes. If you happen to be living in one as the pipes burst, then you will at least have the advantage of being able to immediately address the issue as it happens.
But such a terrifying thought needn’t be contemplated in any scenario if you follow the steps below. First, I’m going to explain what you should do if — like the majority of people — you plan on retreating to the comfortable warmth of a house this winter. Then I will explain what you should do if your motorhome is your house this winter. Feel free to skip the parts that aren’t relevant to you.
[Pro Tip: If you are more of a visual learner, check out the Infographic for winterproofing your motorhome at the bottom of this article, which covers the same points in a visual style.]
How to Fight Frozen Water with an Unattended Motorhome
Remember: frozen water is your arch nemesis here. So the first thing you’ll want to do is drain down your motorhome of any water. There are a few steps I would suggest you follow to do this.
- Park your motorhome uphill and, preferably, near a drain. Wield gravity’s awesome power to help you get the job done much quicker.
- Inspect the roof for loose joints and everywhere you think water might get in. Skylights are usually the number one culprit, if you have one.
- Manually drain down the water heater unit, even if you have an automatic dump valve. It’s better to do it yourself and make sure the job’s done properly — or do you want to leave your motorhome’s fate in the hands of a machine?
- Open the drain down valve and then all of the taps in your van. Then it’s a game of waiting for all the stubborn water droplets to make their way out of the pipes. (You can buy a drain down kit online — which essentially blows air into the pipes — to make this process much quicker and easier.)
- Flush the toilet and add antifreeze to the water as it refills. Then flush the toilet again. This time, hardly any water should fill back up, and the remainder that does should have antifreeze in it. (BTW: This is also a great time to check and refill your antifreeze levels, which should be done once a year generally.)
How to Tackle Winterising Your Motorhome on the Road
Fortunately, just living in a motorhome should help a great deal to keep your motorhome winterpoof. That’s assuming you like to keep warm, and are doing things like burning propane, emitting body heat, and making use of space heaters. You also have the advantage of being able to immediately mitigate something should it go wrong.
Here are some other things you can do to keep your home warm:
- Use heat tape to insulate any pipes and hoses, and especially the ones that are externally exposed.
- Keep the rig warm where the water pipes connect to your motorhome. You can actually do this quite easily. A simple, properly-mounted 40-watt bulb should do the trick.
- Add a “skirt” to your motorhome. A skirt is an ideal way to add that extra bit of insulation, which should serve to protect the pipes and wires on the underbelly of your motorhome. Skirts can be made out of cheap fabrics and very quickly if you have someone to help you make it.
General Tips to Winterise Your Motorhome
Are you leaving your motorhome until spring?
Once your motorhome is completely drained down, give yourself a pat on the back. You did it! Your number one enemy has been thwarted.
But draining down is just the beginning if you want to really protect your motorhome for an idle period of three months or longer. Here’s what I would recommend doing, for the inside and outside.
For the inside:
- Give your motorhome and good clean on the interior. That means getting rid of any food fragments. Not only can food generate musty smell in confined spaces, it practically invites mice, insects, and other intruders into your motorhome. They will already be looking for shelter from the cold. Don’t encourage them.
- Remove all batteries, and especially your motorhome’s battery. Take them home with you and keep them warm and dry. Batteries should also be topped up every 4-6 weeks, which you can do easily from the house.
- Try to remove the fabrics and store them in a cool and dry place. If you cannot do this, then roll them up and place them away from the walls.
- Leave nothing of value behind in your motorhome, and especially not in plain sight. January is one of the highest months on record for motorhome theft.
For the outside:
- Clear the drains and gutters of leaves and everything else. This is one other way your nemesis — frozen water — might try to get at you.
- Spray any electrics with WD-40 for extra protection against… you guessed it, water.
- Check your tyres for any punctures, and to see if they’re of the correct pressure. It’s always better to find out now if they are roadworthy or not.
- And finally, I would recommend a big (winter) spring clean. It will keep your motorhome looking bright, beautiful, and inviting when March comes around. A wash and wax should do, with a bit of overwintering fluid for extra protection against dirt.
For the long run:
Some owners will completely forget that they have a motorhome for the winter months. You won’t. That’s generally a very bad idea. What you should do is check up on your motorhome from time to time. It doesn’t have to be every week. Or even every two weeks. But try to get into the habit of checking your motorhome every now and then.
You will want to look out for moisture, and you can buy a moisture detector to help you. (Any moisture reading above 15% is problematic and will need addressing.) It would also be beneficial for you to take your motorhome on a short drive. This will prevent the wheels from resting on the same place for too long, and you can flush out any lingering moisture by turning the air-conditioning on for a short while.
Love your motorhome over the winter, and it will love you back in the summer.
Are You Staying in Your Motorhome During the Winter?
Motorhome living during the winter months is enormously fun. It can often seem like the whole world is yours, and this provides a greater sense of freedom. But you will feel the extreme cold. Here are some important tips to keep in mind over winter, and they all revolve around keeping warm!
- Use a sleeping bag indoors if need be. Sleeping bags are great insulators and your own body heat should keep you quite warm even on the coldest nights.
- A 15 AMP power cable will be adequate to keep your heaters going, your batteries charged, and your laptop and phones running.
- You will burn through 34 litres of propane in one week if the temperature is consistently below sub-zero. If you suspect it will drop really cold, like, below -20 °C, your diesel supply will start to crystallise and fail. So keep anti-gels with you, that you can add to the diesel to prevent this chemical reaction from happening.
- Don’t be above covering the windows for some extra insulation.
- Wrap up warm, and wear a woolly hat to trap in extra heat.
And, finally, the most important tip of all: don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
What about you? Are there any winterising tips you can share? Any wintered motorhome horror stories? Adventures you love doing only in the winter months? Let us know in the comments below!
Neil Wright is a copywriter for We Buy Any Motorcaravan. He has experienced the challenges and rewards of winter motorhome living on many occasions including (and foolishly, one might add) one winter in Alberta and B.C., Western Canada.