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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
Are you wanting to buy an RV you can use in cold weather? If so, you’ll want to make sure the camper you choose can withstand freezing temperatures, like a four seasons RV. Otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with frozen pipes, spending a fortune on propane, or battling condensation and mold.
In this article, we’ll cover the issues RV owners face when camping in winter and what features to look for in a four-season RV in order to avoid those problems.
Can you use a “regular” camper in cold weather?
Some RV owners buy a cheap camper planning to live in it in a cold climate, figuring they’ll just skirt the RV and run electric space heaters and everything will be fine. While it is possible to survive cold weather in just about any kind of camper, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” as the saying goes.
Here are some of the issues that can arise when RVing in freezing weather:
- Frozen pipes and water lines. Many campers—ones that aren’t designed for cold weather—have pipes and water lines exposed to the elements. If these freeze, they may stop working, or worse, they may burst and leak, resulting in a mess, water damage to your RV, and/or costly repairs.
- Heat loss through the walls, ceiling, and floor. Campers designed for use in warm weather don’t usually have much insulation inside the walls, ceiling, or floor. Skirting your RV can help prevent heat loss through the floor, but isn’t convenient for travel. A layer of snow can insulate your roof if you’re in a place where snow stays on the ground all winter. But there’s not much you can do to stop heat loss through your RV walls if they don’t have adequate insulation. This can lead to the next two problems.
- Condensation, mold, and mildew. Condensation in an RV results when warm, moist air comes into contact with cold surfaces…like poorly insulated walls. These damp surfaces provide the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. Running a dehumidifier may help, but removing the moisture from the air doesn’t solve the problem of cold walls. Also, dry air feels cooler than humid air, so running a dehumidifier may also mean setting the thermostat to a higher temperature to feel comfortable.
- Heating cost. Keeping the inside of a large RV at a cozy temperature can easily cost hundreds of dollars per month. In an RV that’s losing heat through the walls, the heating system will work overtime to keep up.
The idea behind a four season RV like mine (pictured above) is that it is built with these cold-weather problems in mind.
Are four season RVs really four season?
Now that you know what can happen in an RV not built for four seasons, you may be wondering what kind of RV is built to withstand winter. A four season RV is supposed to offer better insulation and protection against freezing compared to typical RVs.
However, not all four season RVs are really four season. There are certain features a four season RV must include to be effective at withstanding freezing temperatures.
What’s the difference between “All Season”, “Four Season”, “Arctic Package” and “Polar Package”?
Terms like “Four-Season”, “Polar Package” and “Arctic Package” are terms RV manufacturers and dealerships use to indicate that an RV is winter-ready. But they aren’t a guarantee—they’re just a starting point. You’ll want to evaluate each of the below features to determine whether it will work for your needs.
Do I need to winterize a four season RV?
If you are storing your RV for winter, yes you should winterize it—even if it’s a four season RV. This will protect your pipes all winter long and avoid costly repairs.
15 Features to Look for in a Four Seasons RV
Following is a list of features available in some RVs that help them withstand freezing temperatures. Look for these features when considering an RV to buy if you plan on camping in cold weather.
Before buying an RV that’s missing one or more of these features, research potential ways you can modify the RV to better prepare it for cold weather.
Features that Protect the RV’s Plumbing System
- Enclosed underbelly (no exposed pipes, holding tanks, or water lines under the RV)
- Water hose connection point and/or dump valves for emptying holding tanks located in an enclosed, heated area. You’ll also want to buy a heated water hose or wrap your hose with electrical heat tape and foam pipe insulation.
- The area where the water heater and water lines are located is heated.
- Sewage pipes all drain downhill so that no liquid can become trapped and freeze.
- Holding tanks are enclosed and/or heated. You can also buy tank heaters to install yourself if yours are exposed and unheated.
- [✅Exclusive Technology] Facon’s world-famous Tank Heater Pads. Heater Pads are Designed and Engineered to protect RV holding tanks, pipes and steps from freezing. Winter convenience of Today’s RV’er. Provides water for RV, Camper, Trailer, Mobile home, Boat, Marine in winter.
Features that Reduce Heat Loss
- Extra insulation in walls, floors, and ceilings. Look at the R-values to compare the insulation with other RV models. (Learn all about R-values before you shop in this article about the myths surrounding RV insulation). Walls with a layer of foam insulation in addition to or instead of fiberglass insulation are better at holding in heat.
- Enclosed underbelly (This provides an extra barrier to prevent heat loss through the floor.)
- Heated underbelly (Heating elements or heater vents keep pipes and waterlines inside the enclosed underbelly warm.)
- Ducted storage bay area (Heater vents blow into the storage area under the RV.)
- Furnace ductwork runs through the floor.
- Double-pane windows (Single-pane RV windows can be insulated, if this feature isn’t included)
Other features that help RVs withstand cold weather
- 30k+ BTU propane furnace
- An electric “fireplace” as supplemental heat
- Attic vents to reduce humidity and prevent condensation
- Cold weather protection for refrigerator
What kind of cold weather RVer are you?
In order to determine which cold weather features you need, think about how you’ll be using your RV.
If you only take the occasional fall camping trip, you won’t need much cold weather protection. For full-timers planning to live in an RV where the temperature stays below freezing, you will want all or most of the above features.
If you will be in a climate where the temperature drops below zero, you will need every possible protection. And you’ll probably need to do some additional modifications to prepare for winter as well.
Another important consideration is how frequently you plan to travel in cold weather. If you will be staying in one place all winter long, you can skirt your camper to help protect it from the elements.
But if you plan to move on a regular basis, you may want to consider an RV that doesn’t require too much in the way of cold weather preparation. You may consider investing in transportable RV skirting to further protect you.
By thinking through the effect freezing temperatures may have on your RVing experience, you can weigh the cost and benefits of buying an RV that is designed to withstand the cold.
Where to Find Four Seasons RVs for Sale
You can likely find four season RVs at your local RV dealership, but for a better range of options and models, check out sites like 4seasonsRV.com. They specialize in all-weather RVs and are a good starting point for figuring out which models offer the features you need.
Trusted brands like Arctic Fox are known for producing four season RVs, but most major manufacturers will offer some cold weather rigs. Keep this list handy to remember which features to look for as you shop.
More Tips for RVing in Cold Weather
To learn more about the things you can do to survive freezing weather in an RV, check out this cold-weather RVing resource page.