6 Steps to Winterize Your RV's Plumbing System 6 Steps to Winterize Your RV's Plumbing System

What You'll Need
non-toxic RV antifreeze (2-3 gallons)
water heater by-pass kit, if not already installed
wand to clean out holding tanks.
water pump converter kit, or tubing to connect to the inlet side of the water pump
hand tools to remove drain plugs

My family and I came back from a week-long summer vacation at the end of August. As I was drinking coffee out on the deck the next morning and could feel the cool air all around, it occurred to me that summer was coming to an end. With the kids starting school, the leaves changing colors, and the Halloween decorations stocked on store shelves, I also realized it was time we start preparing for the cold winter months ahead. Part of that preparation is to make sure our RV's plumbing and water systems are winterized. Since RVs are both a house and a vehicle, you want to make sure it's done correctly. By properly winterizing your RV or camper, you won’t have to worry about any expensive repairs from cracked or busted water lines waiting for you when it's time to head out in your motor home next spring.

Being a professional handyman, I am always looking for the easiest and most efficient way to do projects in and around my own house. I'm not going to pay someone else if I can do it myself. When it comes time to prepare my camper for the cold months ahead, I adhere to this easy-to-follow checklist. (Always be sure to check your owner's manual before you start for any necessary specifics.)

Step 1 - Drain Holding Tanks

The first thing that needs to be done is draining all of the holding tanks, starting with the fresh water holding tank and then the gray and black water holding tanks. If applicable, you will need to remove and bypass any inline water filters. The black water tank may need to be cleaned with a wand if your RV isn't equipped with a built-in flushing system. After this is done, you can then drain the water heater by opening the pressure relief valve and removing the drain plug. Be sure that the water heater is not hot or under pressure before draining it. You will want to open a hot water faucet to remove any pressure and allow the tank to cool before draining.

Step 2 - Open and Close all Faucets

Now you can open all faucets, hot and cold. Remember to open the toilet valve and the outside shower. Find and open all the low point water lines. Using the water pump will help force most water out of the plumbing system. As soon as the system is drained, be sure to turn the water pump off so you don't damage it. Close all faucets and put caps back on all drains.

Step 3 - Bypass the Water Heater

This is an important step. If you don't bypass the water heater, you will waste gallons of antifreeze because the water heater will fill up with antifreeze before it goes through the water lines.

There are three ways to bypass the water heater:

A. Seasonal By-Pass Kit. This temporary by-pass allows you to hook up for winterizing and remove in the spring for reconnecting the system. If your water heater does not have a by-pass kit installed, you will need to use a temporary kit that has two male-to-male connections and a short length of hose to bypass the water heater.

B. Permanent By-Pass Kit. This is a simple and permanent installation of an elbow by-pass kit that allows you to quickly disconnect the water heater by turning two valves at both the cold water entry and the hot water exit of the water heater.

C. Permanent Quick-Turn By-Pass Kit. The easiest system to use is a permanent installation of a single valve and a backflow preventer. The valve is located on the cold water entry and diverts water to a hose and past the water heater. A backflow preventer is installed to prevent water from flowing into the water heater through the hot water exit.

Step 4 - Administer Antifreeze

Now you are ready to set up the plumbing system to receive antifreeze. You will either have to install a water pump converter kit or disconnect the inlet side of the water pump and connect tubing from the inlet of the pump into a one-gallon container of antifreeze.

First, make sure the water pump is on in order to pressurize the plumbing system. Then, start with the closest faucet to the water pump and slowly open the valves, first hot then cold, until you see antifreeze appear. Your antifreeze should be colored, usually either red, blue, or green. Repeat this process for all faucets from the closest to the farthest away. Be sure to remember the outside shower. Don't forget to secure any remaining antifreeze left over and store or dispose of it correctly.

Step 5 - Turn off Water Heater

You now need to flush the toilet until you see antifreeze. Once again, the antifreeze will be colored and you will know when you see it. Afterwards, we want to make sure any water in our holding tank doesn't freeze by pouring some antifreeze in the toilet and flushing it into the holding tank. Another important thing to remember is to make sure that the electric heating element on the water heater is turned off. Doing so will protect the heating element while the unit is unplugged. Double-check and make sure all faucets are turned off.

Step 6 - Final Steps

To winterize your ice makers and washing machines, read your RV's owner's manual.

Keep in mind that this is only a basic guide to help you in winterizing your RV. I cannot stress enough the importance of reading and following the owner's manual for your specific RV. If you follow these steps and consult your owner's manual, then you can be confident in knowing your RV is properly winterized for the cold months ahead.

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