Basic Supplies for RV Winterization

James and Stef Adinaro James and Stef Adinaro  |  10.10.2017

I know it seems like summer just ended last week (because it did), but the weather in our neck of the woods has gotten suddenly cold. That’s turned my mind to winterizing the RV. And even though you may be enjoying a fall warm spell where you are … eventually you’ll be thinking of this too. So I thought I’d use the opportunity to go over a few basic supplies you might need.

These aren’t going to be winterization “instructions.” Every rig will have somewhat different instructions for how you should winterize it. So regardless of what you read here or elsewhere on the internet, the instructions in your owner’s manual should be the final word on what you do. But across the board, some supplies are common, and that’s what we’ll cover here.

There are two basic ways to winterize your RV, and the idea behind both of them is the same: you want to get the water out of your plumbing system. The first method uses compressed air to expel the water (the blow-out method), while the second method relies on RV antifreeze to replace the water (the “pink stuff” method). And actually, there’s a third method; the drive-it-to-Florida-and-don’t-worry-about-it method. But that one’s pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t require any special equipment. ;-)

Equipment for the “Blow Out” Method

The Compressor

The most obvious thing you’ll need for this is an air compressor. In my shop, I have a 60 gallon 10 cubic-foot-per-minute compressor that I use. You don’t need anything that large, as you won’t be trying to force all the water out of your plumbing system. Your rig should have low-point drains on all the water lines – when you open them, gravity will remove most of the water for you.

Now, if you believe everything you read on the internet, some people claim to successfully winterize their RV with nothing more than an emergency flat-repair compressor like this:

But when winterizing an RV, what you really need is air volume, not air pressure. You’ll only be blowing out your lines at 35-50 psi – any higher may damage your plumbing. While those little pumps can put out a good bit of pressure, they’re lacking in air volume. As an example, the owner’s manual for our Winnebago Travato says to leave the air compressor connected and blowing for 5 minutes. There’s no way this little pump can supply a constant flow of air at any reasonable pressure for 5 minutes.

I won’t try to tell you exactly how big of a compressor you need, but it’s something more than a tire pump. A good-sized pancake compressor like this might be a good compromise, but you’d probably need to let the tank recharge several times to get the job done.

The Pressure Regulator

I touched on this earlier, but if your compressor doesn’t come equipped with one, you’ll want to get a pressure regulator to keep the air at a safe pressure. Your RV’s plumbing system isn’t designed for 90 psi. They’re typically designed for half that. Check your owner’s manual for the maximum pressure recommended by your RV’s manufacturer, and get a regulator that can match the pressure from your compressor to the pressure required by your RV. Most will be able to get by with something like this:

An Air Filter

The inside of an air compressor can be a dirty place. Think about it: you’re going to be putting that air into your water lines and letting it sit over the winter. You don’t want to blow rust, oil, 3-month-old condensate, or any other funk into your fresh water system. For this reason, I always use an air filter when blowing out our RV’s water lines. Luckily, these aren’t expensive. Something like this should get the job done:

The Blowout Plug

This is probably the most obvious piece of equipment you’ll need. It’s what adapts the air compressor fittings to the garden hose fitting at your RV’s city water input. You can buy these online from any RV accessory store, and they aren’t expensive. I’ve had this one for years now.

RV Antifreeze

Even though this is the blowout method, you’ll still want a small bit of RV antifreeze to put in the traps underneath your sinks and showers to keep those from freezing. I’ll go into the different types in the next section.

Equipment for the RV Antifreeze Method

RV Antifreeze

Well, most obviously you’ll need this. The big difference between RV antifreeze and “regular” antifreeze is that RV antifreeze is safe to consume. Sort of. Don’t consume it in mass quantities or anything, but if a little RV antifreeze is left over in your pipes in the spring, it won’t kill you. (But you won’t like it.)

In the world of RV antifreeze, there are two main types. Some made with ethanol and some made with propolyne glycol. Without going into too much chemistry, I’ll say that both kinds will work. But ethanol-based RV antifreeze is reported to have more negative side effects than propolyne glycol (bad taste, drying out seals, etc.). So in my shop, I only use the Propolyne Glycol kind.

The other thing to know about RV antifreeze products is that they’re rated for different low temperatures. In other words, different products can protect you to different depths of cold. We use a “-50” product from Camco that’s readily available at camping stores.

Side note: Camco also makes a “-100” product. Really! -100 degrees! Considering that the coldest temperature ever recorded in North America is -81.4, you should be pretty safe with that stuff.

RV Water Heater Bypass

Better RVs, like our own Winnebago Travato, come equipped with this from the factory. The purpose of the bypass is to, well, bypass your rigs water heater. This is important because then you don’t have to buy extra gallons of RV antifreeze to fill up your water heater. This just makes good sense. If you find a sticker that looks like this near a valve in your RV, you’ve probably got the bypass already installed.

But if your RV didn’t come with a water heater bypass kit, don’t despair! There are conversion kits readily available in the aftermarket. They’re not expensive, and they’re not terribly difficult to install. But if you don’t know how to install it – or don’t trust yourself not to cause a leak – any RV service center should be able to install one for you.

Beyond that, for either method, you’ll need a few basic hand tools to remove drain plugs and such. You’ll also want to have some rags on hand to clean up any water or antifreeze that gets out of control.

The procedure for winterizing your exact rig should be spelled out in your owner’s manual. But whichever method you choose, with the supplies listed above, you should be ready to complete the task and protect your rig’s plumbing system from winter temperatures.


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12 Comments

  1. David Posted on 11.19.2017

    Also agreeing with wnark above our Fuse 23A also includes instructions concerning only a blowout approach. It does appear to have a bypass valve … but it is not clear if this also an antifreeze siphon valve …. probably not as all is hidden behind a metal plate …. and fingering without seeing has yet to reveal a siphon line.

    If manual info is last word in specifics concerning available general approaches …. believe manual not clear enough !

    Is there another way into seeing/studying/working water pump area of the Fuse 23A ?????????????

    dlm

    dlm

  2. W.M. Raisley Posted on 11.12.2017

    Should the RV be stored with the jacks up or down? Parked on level gravel, under an rv/car port.

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.12.2017

      We store our RV in a large RV storage facility. My observation is that units I see stored are with jacks up. If you can get under a roof or use a cover this will extend the life of your exterior.

  3. Rosemary Lenaghan Posted on 11.06.2017

    I had my motorhome winterized in a shop but would like to dewinterize myself. Do you have instructions for dewinterizing when I arrive at my winter destination ? I have a 2010 Sunstar by Itasca

  4. Mike Posted on 11.04.2017

    “So regardless of what you read here or elsewhere on the internet, the instructions in your owner’s manual should be the final word on what you do.”
    “As an example, the owner’s manual for our Winnebago Travato says to leave the air compressor connected and blowing for 5 minutes. There’s no way this little pump can supply a constant flow of air at any reasonable pressure for 5 minutes.”

    So, which is it?
    You can follow the manual, or not, and the manuals aren’t always right, as you point out. Trial and error can be expensive, but it is always educational. You have to know when to add a dash of common sense to the process. :)

  5. Robert Johnston Posted on 11.04.2017

    Need to add a printer friendly version, went to print and it wanted to print eleven pages. Good basic article, would suggest you mention draining hot water heater.

  6. wnark Posted on 11.04.2017

    I have a Winnebago Fuse 23T. The operators manual section7-9gives the blow out procedure only. . It has a CAUTION: Leave Water heater bypass in normal for blowing out lines. Bypass only when using antifreeze method. I haven’t done it yet but how does the hot water lines get blown out if the water heater drain plug and and pressure temp relief valve are open during the 5 minute blowout? Also, there is no procedure for blowing out the san-t-flush system. I would assume there could be water in those lines that could freeze. Thanks, Bill

  7. Bob Posted on 11.04.2017

    I have my RV winterized, but your article is a month late in being published. Temps have already fallen well below freezing in parts of the U.S. Anyone who is new to RVing might have been caught already with piping or water heater damage. Consider next year publishing this info in October, or even September!

  8. Pete Letourneau Posted on 11.04.2017

    A good summary. I have been using a little electric air pump rather than a big one for several years and it seems to work fine. I blow out each faucet until it only spits a little and then rotate through all of the faucets a couple of times with the pressure on. I drain my hot water and main water storage tank and put in antifreeze in all the p traps. We live in Western Washington where we don’t get many hard freezes and also some winters in Tucson where there are only a few frozen nights, but seems to have had no problem over the past 10 years. We have a 2007 Sightseer 26p. Thanks.

  9. Karen Mueller Posted on 11.04.2017

    No questions to ask but wanted to say, well written article.

  10. ed gaffney Posted on 11.04.2017

    Just a note, if using propolyne glycol, and have pets, be careful of spills. Cats and dogs love the taste, but to them P/G is very toxic. Most probably know this, but some might not.

  11. Liquid Adventuring Posted on 10.11.2017

    I’m getting ready to winterize our Winnebago View for the first time. I’ve been studying the manual and acquiring gear and supplies and your article answers some questions I’ve had.