An RV ain’t cheap. While RVs are most associated with sunshine and road trips, you want to get your money’s worth year-round. Why keep your RV in the driveway for six or seven months out of the year when you can utilize these tips to keep your RV warm in the winter?
“But I already have a furnace!” you say. Well, good for you! But these tips will help your furnace consume less propane and last longer. Plus, if you dry camp, you can’t always rely on electric power, now can you?
Thankfully, there’s plenty of options for RV warmth without a furnace. If you implement these 15 tips, you’ll be well on your way toward year-round comfort.
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1. Insulate the Walls
The simplest way to keep your RV warmer is to upgrade your insulation. Drafts can and do get in, really putting a damper on your winter-time RV trips. Campers aren’t doomsday-proof boxes; they’re often built with thinner walls and single-pane windows. If that’s the situation you’re in, you can look for affordable insulation options.
The truth is, most drafts come from air leaks. A few dozen feet of D-bulb seal and a can of Great Stuff spray foam go a long way towards air-sealing your interior! Target ceiling fans, doors, windows, and wall penetrations like furnace vents and water heater doors.
If you want to identify air leaks in your camper, I recommend asking your RV dealer for a Seal-Tech test. Not all dealerships have this equipment, but if they do, take advantage of it.
While you probably can’t change the type of insulation inside your walls, you can add to it! You can install block foam insulation on the interior of your walls and inside your cabinets. This is a major renovation!
Or you can take a page from Scamp and apply a thick carpet headliner to your walls and ceiling, which will both improve its R-value and add sound deadening.
Whatever you choose, it should be a mold-resistant insulation. We don’t recommend fiberglass, as it will grow mold when wet or damp.
2. Keep the Floor Warm
The insulation right below your feet could use an upgrade as well. You lose heat more through your feet and hands than anywhere else, so keep your floors warm.
Similar rules apply as with the walls. Your best bet is to install solid block foam underneath the floor. If your floor bay is protected by a Coroplast underbelly, you probably don’t have this option. But you can at least remove the underbelly and confirm the factory insulation (probably fiberglass) is in good shape: dry, fluffy, and full – no dampness, settling, or mildew.
Not interested in ripping off the underbelly? Get some thick rugs, wear socks, or embrace that retro shag carpet (you know you want to).
3. Maximize Natural Light
The first tip directly dealing with the windows is keeping them unobstructed when the sun is shining in. You’ll have window covering options (which we’ll talk about next) but letting the sun in will keep the camper warm and dry (more on that to come).
Just like seeking shade in the summer, park to maximize sunlight in winter. Orient your camper so that most of the windows face south (assuming south isn’t blocked by the treeline).
4. Window Coverings
Change out those summer window coverings for some heavy thermal shades. If you were using Reflectix to keep the sun out in summer, don’t take it out. That same material will do wonders for trapping the heat in, especially when paired with thermal window covers. Even thick fabric carpets will do in a pinch.
If you’re super-serious about cold weather camping, you’ll need to custom-cut 1-inch block foam insert for your windows. You can upholster these blocks in your favorite fabric to match your interior.
Remember to only put these up after the peak sunlight has waned or you’ll risk losing some of that natural heat!
5. Keep Your Pipes Warm
If you’re from a warmer climate, this may be new to you. Those of us that have experienced an actual winter season know the drill.
If that’s not you, here’s the rundown:
- Make sure your RV’s fresh water and DWV plumbing pipes and hoses are insulated. Fiberglass pipe wrap is good; neoprene foam wrap is better; electric heating is best!
- Look into heat tape or other options to avoid pipes bursting when freezing. Water expands when it turns to ice; frozen pipes = broken pipes!
- Use your internal water tank instead of an external tank.
- Some people say you should avoid stored fresh water altogether and just use bottled water for all your needs, but that’s up to your discretion.
Consider putting antifreeze into your holding tanks as well. Not all antifreeze is the same! Make sure you’re using the right fluid in your vehicle!
If you don’t feel confident doing all of this, find some information online or from a friend. Alternatively, you can consider asking a pro to check it out for you, at least the first winter or two.
6. Keep a Hair Dryer
Yes, you want to look fabulous on the road, but that isn’t exactly what I meant. A blow dryer of sorts will be critical if your hoses froze overnight. Set it up and thaw them out before you hit the road.
Do not attempt to thaw out frozen pipes with a propane torch! That’s incredibly dangerous. And it usually won’t work without ruining the pipes, too.
Tip 5 should be your first option always, but this is a good backup.
7. Put Your Cooking Skills to Work
A lot of these tips are simply the opposite of what you would do in summer, and this is no exception. Cook inside your RV! Even the largest of RVs can heat up quickly if you have the stove on. A hot meal at the end of it all will go a long way for heat – and morale as well!
It almost goes without saying, but this means cooking with the range or oven. The microwave doesn’t count.
By the way, if you’re curious about how to stay cool in the summer too, check out our quick guide here!
8. Use Your Internal Heating Options
You may have some options here depending on the external temperature and power source.
If You’re On Shore Power …
If it’s moderate outside and your RV has a heat pump, start there. Be careful though, running it in temperatures that are too cold can burn it out.
For your heat pump, you’ll want to make sure it’s well above freezing outside. 45 degrees and up is probably a safe range. Check your manufacturer’s manual.
Your rooftop A/C may have an electric heating element rather than a heat pump. You can run the heating element at any temperature. It’s a power hog, though.
As a backup, you may want to consider an electric space heater for your RV. Things on your rig may not function as perfectly in winter as in summer, so preparing ahead of time is crucial.
If You’re Dry Camping …
Unfortunately, these options depend on being plugged into shore power. If you’re boondocking, you have two other options:
- This is where your propane furnace will come in handy. That furnace will burn plenty of propane though, so prepare for that too! Bring an extra propane tank if you have the room. Just be aware that a furnace still draws a significant amount of power on 12V operation.
- Check out a catalytic propane heater. I love these things! These heaters catalyze – not combust – propane to create flameless heat. Several models are rated for indoor use. They have sensors that will automatically shut off the heater if they detect a lack of oxygen.
Here’s a catalytic propane heater I’ve used for years: the Mr. Heater Buddy.
Just be aware that you’ll need a special hose to run most portable propane heaters off low-pressure propane. In some cases, you’ll need a separate single-stage regulator. You DON’T want to run unregulated propane inside your RV!
Psst … if you need to figure out how long your battery will last when camping off-grid, here’s a good place to start.
9. Stay Dry
Not only is a humid camper less comfortable, but it’s also more prone to mold! You’re already in a small space, make sure you’re actively keeping it dry. Look into a small dehumidifier as a good option to combat moisture.
Condensation can build up after cooking, so even though that oven keeps the RV warm, it might not keep. Make sure you’re promoting good air flow.
This is less of a problem if you’re using a heat pump, but if you’re relying on body heat and cooking to warm the interior, you’ll need to actively avoid condensation.
10. RV Side Skirting
All the solutions so far have dealt with the interior. The outside of your RV in cold weather needs attention too.
RV skirting, which is exactly what it sounds like, goes around the side of your RV and keeps the underside warm. Think of it as similar to how you insulate yourself from the floor with a rug. This insulates your RV from the ground and will promote warm air circulating underneath.
There’s a lot of myths surrounding skirting. You don’t need “insulated skirting” per say – just airtight skirting. You can use commercial skirting or even haybales or 4×8 foam sheets – whatever keeps the air trapped!
11. Consult a Pro
If you’re a seasoned wrenching expert, feel free to move on to the next tip. For those of us who are mechanically curious at best, getting a second opinion and a tune-up before heading out is advisable. Find a pro who knows what he’s doing and spend the money before the trip. If you want your rig working for years to come, you must accept spending money on its maintenance.
12. Watch Your Gas Gauge
Running low on gas is an inconvenience in summer, but it can be a serious problem in winter. The last thing you want is ice making its way into the empty space in your gas tank.
This is less convenient if you have a smaller rig or truck camper setup, but you don’t want to overlook it. If you’ve got a full-size Class A motor home with a three-digit capacity tank, you really don’t have an excuse anyway.
13. Seek Warmer Places
Just like finding a coastal town in summer, a destination where winter is a relative term might be the ticket. If you don’t care for snow or cold, find a warm place to park your rig. If not warm, consider somewhere at least dry. After all, you are mobile!
14. Dress for the Occasion
There are only so many things to make your RV warmer. If you’ve implemented all the previous tips and still aren’t fully comfortable, it’s time to make you warmer.
Pick warm clothes and layer well. Merino wool goes a long way here and is a fantastic year-round option anyway, so why not invest? I cannot stress enough the life changer that is merino wool long underwear. Ask for it for Christmas.
Warm layers, sleeping bags, snow boots. Plan ahead for where you’ll be and what the weather is and decide the appropriate coverings. To be safe, dress for about 10 degrees cooler than it will actually be. You’ll thank yourself when you do.
15. Prepare to be Cold
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! If you plan to head for the snow, you may just have to accept being a bit chill occasionally. Get outside and enjoy the crisp winter air!
If you bring the right gear to get outside and enjoy winter, you can maximize your cold weather RV fun!
Especially if this is your first winter in your RV, meticulously plan! You may not be able to prep for everything, and some things may be learning experiences, but if you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a winter wonderland in your RV!