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Top 7 Steps for Winterizing your RV Plumbing System

Mark Polk, motorhome maintenance expertBy Mark Polk
RV Education 101

It’s always sad to come to the realization that another camping season is winding down.  Depending on where you live, part of this realization is preparing the motorhome for winter storage so it will be ready to go camping again next spring.

A major part of winterizing your motorhome is to protect the RV water system from potential damage caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. Frozen and damaged water lines are the most common problems related to not winterizing your RV, or not properly winterizing your RV.

The RV plumbing system is the system that is most vulnerable to damage caused by plummeting temperatures. The good news: It’s easy to protect the RV water system from this potential threat. Here are my top 7 Steps for Winterizing your RV Plumbing System.

Before you get started, here are some items you will need. These items can be found in most RV parts stores:

  • Non-toxic RV/Marine antifreeze. The amount depends on the layout and length of your plumbing lines. Two to three gallons will normally do.
  • A water heater bypass kit, if not already installed.
  • A wand to clean out the black-water holding tank, if the motorhome doesn’t have a built-in cleanout system.
  • A water pump converter kit, or tubing to connect to the inlet side of the water pump.
  • Basic hand tools to remove and install drain plugs.

Note: Be sure to read your owner’s manuals for unit-specific winterizing guidelines. Follow the steps below that apply to your RV.

Step 1:  If you have any inline water filters, remove and bypass before starting. Drain the fresh-water holding tank. Drain and flush the gray- and black-water holding tanks. If the RV doesn’t have a built-in flushing system, clean the black tank out with a wand. Drain the water heater. Open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug.

CAUTION:  Never drain the water heater when it’s hot or under pressure. With no water hooked up to the RV and the water pump off, open a hot-water faucet to remove any pressure on the system. Allow the tank to cool before draining.

Step 2: Open all hot and cold faucets; don’t forget the toilet valve and outside shower. Locate and open the low point water drain lines. Use the water pump to help force most of the water out of the system, but turn it off as soon as the system is drained, to prevent damaging the pump. Recap all drains and close all faucets.

Step 3: Bypass the water heater. If you do not have a bypass kit installed, the water heater will fill up with RV antifreeze before it goes through the water lines, wasting 6 or 10 gallons of antifreeze.

Step 4: Install a water pump converter kit, or disconnect the inlet side of the water pump (the line coming from the fresh-water holding tank) and connect tubing from the water pump inlet into a 1-gallon jug of RV antifreeze.

Step 5: Turn the water pump on and pressurize the system. Starting with the closest faucet to the pump, slowly open the hot and then cold valves until the red-colored RV antifreeze appears. Replace the antifreeze container as required. Repeat on all faucets from the closest to the farthest away. Don’t forget the outside shower.

Step 6: Flush the toilet until antifreeze appears. Pour a cupful of antifreeze down each drain. Pour some RV antifreeze in the toilet and flush it into the holding tank to prevent any water in the tank from freezing. If your water heater has an electric heating element, turn it off. This will protect the element if the unit is plugged in while in storage. Make sure all faucets are closed.

Step 7: Consult your owner’s manuals for winterizing ice makers and washing machines.

The RV is winterized. Now, next spring when it’s time to head out in the motorhome you won’t have any unpleasant, not to mention costly, surprises waiting for you.

Happy Camping.

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