How To Winterize An RV


Front of My Trailer

It can be pretty stressful the first time you winterize an RV. You’re never quite sure if you know all the right steps to protect your investment. Even after it’s finished you’re hoping something didn’t get missed that will cause damage over the winter. You’re never quite sure if you made the best choice by doing it for yourself. It can be stressful until next spring when you open your RV for the first time.

I went through all that too and I can tell you it’s not that difficult once you’re prepared with a little bit of knowledge. You’ll even find it kind of satisfying when you know a little bit more about how your RV works. You can take away a lot of that initial stress by spending a few minutes finding all the locations in your RV. Don’t forget to look through your User Guide before starting.

Diagrma from my User Guide

In this post you’ll learn how to winterize your RV plumbing system. We’ll be working with the water pump, hot water tank, shut off valves and faucets. We’ll be filling the water lines with RV antifreeze to ensure nothing gets damaged over the long, cold winter.

Okay, lets do this.

If you prefer visual learning you can watch my YouTube Video to see all this in action. You can also check out my YouTube Channel to see what else I have brewing.

The water system in your RV consists of a two possible water sources. First you’ll have a city water connection that you can connect directly to a water hose on site. You’ll just turn on a faucet to get water and it’s nice and quiet. Second you’ll have a fresh water tank that you fill with a water hose before going on site where you don’t have water. Once you’re parked you’ll turn on your water pump. Every time you turn on a faucet you’ll hear “braap braap braap” and get water until the tank runs dry.

RV Antifreeze good to -50°C

I have a couple jugs of RV Antifreeze handy. I’m going to pump all the water out of the lines and replace it with the antifreeze. I don’t want anything to freeze when it get’s to about -25°C, which it likes to do up here in Canada quite regularly.

Make sure you’re using RV Antifreeze and not Auto Antifreeze. They are not the same and using Auto Antifreeze can make you very sick and possibly kill you.

My trailer is a 2016 Jayco Jay Flight. Things might be a bit different in your trailer but they’re all essentially the same. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with all the locations in your trailer. Also take a look at any diagrams in your User Guide before starting.

Water Pump highlighting the 2 valves

We’ll start at the water pump which is behind a small panel underneath the kitchen sink. Once you remove the panel you’ll see the water pump and three water lines. First, there is a clear line with a valve that’s not attached to anything at one end. This is for pumping the RV Antifreeze into the system and most of the year you will close this. Second, there is an input line with a valve coming from the water source. Third there is an output line without a valve heading to all your faucets.

You’ll want to close off the fresh water intake valve and open up the antifreeze intake valve. This will allow you to pump antifreeze into the system. The direction of the valve handle indicates the direction of the water flow. Before we move on you also need to remove the water filter from the pump. The filter will absorb antifreeze if you leave it installed.

Hot Water Tank highlighting the 3 valves

Next we’ll look at the hot water tank located underneath the bunk bed. You’re going to see the tank all wrapped in styrofoam to keep everything nice and hot. You’ll see three lines each with a valve attached. First is a blue cold water line going into the tank. Second is a red hot water line coming out of the tank. Third is a short bypass line connecting the hot and cold lines about a foot from the tank. You want to close off both the hot valve and the cold valve and open up the bypass valve. This allows the antifreeze to get close to the tank without actually getting into the tank. You definitely don’t want to forget this step. If the antifreeze gets into the tank your hot water will smell and taste like antifreeze for the rest of its life.

Service Panel highlighting the Presure Release Valve and the Drain Plug

Now we’ll be draining the water from the hot water tank from behind a panel outside the trailer. You need to make sure the water is cool and you’ve released the pressure valve before you open the drain. Once the panel is open you’ll see the pressure release valve near the top right and the drain plug near the bottom left. Loosening this plug can be a bit tricky because the gas line prevents you from getting a socket on it. I use channel lock plyers and turn it very, very slow. Be careful here because the plug is made of nylon and can be damaged quite easily. Once you get the plug loosened up a bit you should be able to finish it by hand. Watch out for some sharp edges on the heat shield. It will take some time for the water to drain so you can let it do its thing while we carry on.

We also need to drain the fresh water tank which is usually labelled with “Low Point Drain”. It’s located outside the trailer pretty much underneath the water pump location. It’s a simple knob you can turn by hand. This will also take a while since it’s a small drain on a large tank so you can also let it do its thing while we carry on.

City Water Connection

Now we’ll disconnect from the city water connection at the back of the trailer. Twist off both the hose and the pressure reducer and you’re all done here. You have a pressure reducer installed don’t you? If not, you really should get one. It will reduce the line pressure so you don’t risk blowing any hose clamps and flooding the trailer.

Let’s recap everything for a moment. At this point you have set the bypass valves on both the water pump and hot water tank. You have also opened the drains on both the fresh water tank and hot water tank. Lastly, you have disconnected from the city water. Now you’re ready to get the antifreeze pumped into the system.

RV Antifreeze connected to the intake line

At the the water pump you’ll place the clear intake line into the jug of RV Antifreeze. Now turn on the pump with the switch located by the door.

We’re going to start at the kitchen sink because it’s the furthest away from the hot water tank. This will clear out the most water as the antifreeze gets drawn in. You should also start with the location furthest from the hot water tank in your trailer.

You’ll start by turning on the cold water faucet. You should see antifreeze getting pulled through the intake line right away. Leave the cold water running until you see antifreeze coming out of the faucet. Now turn off the the cold faucet and turn on the hot faucet. You’ll see the water turn clear again after a few seconds. Then leave it running until you see antifreeze coming out of the faucet again. Now turn on both the hot and the cold faucet for a few seconds. This will make sure there is antifreeze in the drain trap underneath the sink.

Bathroom Sink with antifreeze running through

Next we’ll move to the bathroom sink. Once again you start by running the cold water until you see antifreeze coming out of the faucet. Now run the hot water, which will turn clear again, until you see antifreeze coming out of the faucet. Now run both the hot and cold faucet for a few seconds to get antifreeze into the trap.

This is a good time to check on your jug of antifreeze. You’ll be far from empty but take note of how much you’ve used so far and keep an eye on it as you carry on. You don’t want the jug to run empty.

Now we’ll head over to the toilet and flush until you see antifreeze coming into the bowl. Flush an inch or two of antifreeze in the bowl to make sure your seals don’t dry up over the winter. Some people don’t leave any in the bowl but I prefer to keep all the seals wet so they don’t dry up and crack over time. I want to make sure there’s no smell coming into the trailer. Ever.

Next we’ll go to the shower. Start by running the cold water until you see antifreeze coming out of the shower head. Now run the hot water, which will turn clear again, until you see antifreeze coming out of the shower head. It will take a bit longer to turn clear due to the length of the shower hose so don’t be in a rush here. Now run both the hot and cold faucet for a few seconds to get antifreeze into the trap.

Our last item is the outside shower at the back of the trailer. Once again you start by running the cold water until you see antifreeze coming out of the shower head. Now run the hot water, which will turn clear again, until you see antifreeze coming out of the shower head. This will likely run clear for only a couple seconds but don’t be in rush here either. There aren’t any drain traps out here but I like to run both the hot and the cold faucet for a few seconds anyway.

You’ll notice we we did all the same steps in exactly the same order at every faucet location. Plus I worked from the front to back of the trailer. This will help make sure you don’t get distracted and forget a step along the way.

That does it for all the water locations so let’s check on the hot water tank drain. It’s likely done but you might see a little bit of water still draining. Either way you’re going to leave the drain open because you want an escape route for any water hanging around in there. You can close up the panel door now.

On the way back inside you can check on the fresh water tank drain. If there was a lot of water in the tank it might still be draining as well. Either way you’re going to leave the drain open because you also want an escape route here for any leftover water.

Let’s head back to the water pump and turn it off. You can close off the intake valve and the remaining antifreeze should drain back into the jug. You may need to wiggle the line and the jug a bit to get it started.

That wraps up the antifreeze portion of our day.

Drain for Grey Water and Black Water Tanks

Now we’ll talk about emptying both your grey and black water tanks. Your sinks drain into the grey water tank and your toilet drains into the black water tank. They both need to be empty before you leave your RV for the winter. Most people will find a sani-dump to clean those out on their way home from camping. I’ll hang out and wait while you drive over there and put on a pair of gloves for this bit.

You’re going to drain the black tank first so the grey tank can clean out the drain and sani-hose along the way. Underneath the trailer you’ll see one large capped drain and a separate handle for each tank. Make sure both handles are pushed in before removing the drain cap. Now grab your sani-hose, which is likely stored in the hollow back bumper, and connect it to both the drain and the sani dump. Next pull out the black handle and you should hear all the goodness draining into the sani-dump. When it’s almost done you’ll want to flush the toilet a bit to help clear out the last remnants. Now push the black handle back in and pull the grey handle out and you should hear this draining as well. When it slows down you should run a bit of water from a faucet to help push anything settling on the bottom. When it’s all finished you can push in the grey handle and disconnect your hose from the drain, but don’t put it away yet.

You’ll likely see a water hose near the sani-dump drain. You should spray some water up into drain and down your hose to clean everything before putting it away.

I’m lucky enough to leave my trailer on site all year round. Our campground has a company with a pumper truck come through and empty our tanks, if we pay a small fee of course. I empty my tanks that way.

So that covers all the water lines I have my particular trailer. Yours may be a little bit different but they’re all basically the same. Your User Guide should have some diagrams of the water system. Take some time to look around, take a few pictures and make sure you know where everything is before you start.

While you’re here drop me a comment below and let me know if this helped you out in any way. Plus let me know some of your own tips and tricks for winterizing. I’m always looking to learn new things myself.

I’ll see you all again next spring when I reverse this procedure and get ready for another season of camping.

My campsite ready for action.

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