This is the Lengthy & Detailed version.
The major issue with campers and freezing temperatures is the water system. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damage can result if freezing water expands in water lines, the pump, potty flush valve, faucets, water heater and drains.
Hopefully the information bellow will help readers new to the process complete winterization easily and efficiently. This can also make opening the camper back up in the spring much easier and less time consuming.
Begin your winterization as you leave your last scheduled camping trip to drive home.
Drain all of your holding tanks into the sewer dump at the campground. Flush your black water tank until the water coming out is clean. You can use a short clear plastic sewer hose extension installed at the dump valve so that you can see when the waste water is clean. Open your low point fresh water drains and all of the inside faucets. If your RV is equipped with and Outside Shower, remover the hose with shower head and open the water vales to drain any water in the fixture. Leave the water heater drain alone for right now Ė the water in the tank is probably HOT and could burn you in the draining process. The up, down and rolling movement of the camper on the way home will help to complete the fresh water draining process Ė but it will not shake all of the remaining water out of the system.
Remove all perishable and freezable items.
While it may be obvious that you canít leave milk in the refrigerator through the winter, many other items in your camper that can go bad or freeze are often overlooked. For example, be sure shaving cream, first-aid kits, lotions, insect repellents, sunscreen, tooth paste, spray cleaners, OTC medications, toilet chemicals, glues, liquid wax, dish detergent, etc. are boxed and moved inside for the winter. Your OTC medications like aspirin and antacid should be added to your home medicine cabinet and used Ė or disposed of safely. Letting them sit in a storage box until next spring and then putting them back into the camper will result in a less effective medication due to aging. Rotate caned goods through your pantry rather than storing them so that the ďUse By:Ē dates are not exceeded.
Clean the Refrigerator.
Turn the refrigerator off and allow it to defrost. Remove all door shelves and inside racks. Wash the interior toughly with a good kitchen cleaner, one with a small amount of bleach works best. Wash the door racks in hot soapy water and dry. Wipe out the freezer section as you did the refrigerator part. Be careful of the sharp metal fins near the top of the refrigerator as they can cut your hand. When cleaning is complete, prop the door(s) open with rags or hand towels so air can circulate inside the fridge over the winter.
Remove LCD TV Sets.
LCD displays can be damaged by extremely low temperatures. If your area is subjected to extreme cold this one step could save you hundreds of dollars next spring. It also makes the camper less attractive to thieves, an important step if you are storing your camper away from home.
Remove Tissue and Paper Towels
Field mice love to use tissue, napkins, toilet paper and paper towels as nesting materials. We all hope mice will not invade our campers while they are in storage, but it is not uncommon for these small furry creatures to take up residence inside a camper during the colder months. It is a good idea to leave the cabinet doors and drawers open so that dark nesting spaces are minimized. If mice are a concern, never leave any food behind.
Drain Your Water Heater
Be sure the water is not HOT. There is a plug that must be removed with a socket wrench at the bottom of your tank. It is accessible from the outside after opening the water heater outer door. This plug may also contain your anode rod, which acts as a sacrificial metal to keep your aluminum tank from getting full of pin holes. If the rod is over 1/2 gone, you will need to replace the drain plug/anode rod with a new one before the spring opening.
Pump RV Antifreeze Into Your Water Lines.
Some people do not like to use this stuff, but it is the only way to be sure there is no water left behind to freeze. The pink RV antifreeze is rated as non-toxic if used as directed. Do NOT dilute the pink antifreeze Ė use full strength. NEVER, NEVER use automotive cooling system antifreeze (green, yellow or red
) in a RV water system. Automotive antifreeze is toxic and difficult if not impossible to flush out of a RV water system. First, close all of the camperís faucets and low point drains. Hopefully, your water heater has a by-pass valve installed that should be operated according to your ownerís manual. If not, there are by-pass kits that can be purchased and installed.
[center:85j5r350]Below is a photo of a late model(two valve) Suburban Water Heater By-Pass
3 Valve Set-up
Shown below is a Atwood Water Heater By-Pass
There are several different methods for getting the antifreeze into your water lines. The proper thing to do is consult your RVís manual to learn which of these methods is best for your RV. Some RVís have a factory installed hose connected by a two-way valve going to the water pump so that you can just put the hose end into the antifreeze container and turn the valve to pump antifreeze into your water lines.
Others advise to disconnect the intake hose to the water pump, attach a new temporary hose section to the pump then put the open end of the new hose into a container of antifreeze Ė then turn on the RVís water pump. Lastly, antifreeze can be poured directly into the fresh water tank and then pumped through the RV water lines. This last method generally uses more antifreeze than the others. Depending on the size of your RV, you will need from 3 to 6 gallons of antifreeze. If you do not have a water heater bypass, it will take an additional 5 to 10 gallons. Thus, a water heater bypass valve system can save you a lot of money in antifreeze.
Start with all of your faucets closed, pump the pink antifreeze from a clean 3 to 5 gallon bucket or water jug into your water lines until your electric pump shuts off. Do not allow the antifreeze container to become empty during this entire process or your pump will pick up air and need to be re-primed.
Go to the faucet closest to the water pump and open the cold water side. Let it run until only pink liquid comes out. Close the cold water faucet and do the same for the hot side. Repeat this process for all of the remaining faucets, shower and the toilet until all you see is pink liquid. Do NOT forget to service an outside shower. Using an empty container, return to your outside low point drains and drain the pink liquid out of your water lines Ė there is no point leaving it in the lines since you have purged them of all freezable water.
Take some of the recovered antifreeze and pour it into your sink and shower drains so that the traps will not freeze if they should contain any water.
Wipe any pink antifreeze off of the shower walls, bathtub or sink bottoms as it will leave a stain.
Dump any pink liquid out of your toilet bowl; wipe the bowl dry and pour in one half of a cup of mineral or baby oil (do not use vegetable oil as it will spoil). This will keep your toilet bowl valve seal from drying out.
Lastly, remove any water line filters such as a drinking water filter in the kitchen or a whole house filter installed elsewhere. Discard these filters. Do not try to save them for next year.
The small amount of water left sitting in the bottom of your water heater tank should not cause any harm if it freezes.
Donít forget to be sure your fresh water supply hoses have been drained of all water and are stored with the ends screwed together.
OPEN your gray water holding tank dump valves and catch any water and antifreeze that comes out in a bucket for proper disposal in your homeís toilet. DO NOT open your black tank valve unless you are positive that the tank is clean and empty. If you did not clean and empty your black tank at your last camping or dump site, you have a big problem. You will need to add antifreeze to the tank via the toilet to prevent freezing and potential damage to the dump valve.