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Using an RV in extreme cold can pose unique risks and challenges if your camper isn't designed to withstand freezing weather, including frozen plumbing and spending a fortune keeping the camper warm enough to feel comfortable. Even a four-season RV can feel drafty when temperatures dip below freezing, which is why people who plan to live or travel in their camper in cold weather often choose to skirt their RV. RV skirting protects the plumbing system and makes a big difference in lowering the cost of heating an RV.
RV Skirting Options
For the past few years, I've been part of a Facebook group called Winter RVing – Let's Stay Warm Together! which I joined my first year living in my own RV through the winter, and which I highly recommend to anyone trying to figure out how to survive freezing weather in a camper.
As of the publication of this article, the group had over 28,000 members who were choosing to RV in cold climates for a variety of reasons (RV's aren't just for recreation!). By searching through the posts in the group as well as Googling, I came up with this list of the most frequently used types of RV skirting:
- Custom vinyl skirting – Usually attached to RV's using T-style twist locks / turn buttons, boat snaps, a channel system, Velcro, or adhesive snaps. Made to fit your RV and usually installed by the company that makes it.
- Self-Installed vinyl skirting – A more affordable compromise between custom and DIY, where the company you order from provides all the materials you need to make and install professional-quality skirting yourself.
- Inflatable skirting – A recent addition to the RV skirting market from a company called AirSkirts. Doesn't fasten to your RV – instead stays in place with pressure against the bottom of your camper.
- DIY skirting, including the following:
- Making your own vinyl skirting out of tarp vinyl, clear plastic, or recycled billboard vinyl.
- Foam board insulation skirting – the most popular DIY skirting option.
- Skirting made from Reflectix – a less common choice due to reasons I'll discuss later in this article.
- Plywood or particle board skirting – a popular choice for RVers parked in a permanent location.
- Hay bales – Used as skirting by some RVers, though it's not recommended due to risk of fire.
Throughout the rest of this article, I'll discuss the pros and cons of each of these options in a lot more detail.
Do You Really Need RV Skirting?
If you're wondering if RV skirting is really necessary, here are three questions to help you determine the answer:
- Do you feel cold in your RV? If you struggle to stay warm when RVing in chilly weather, skirting can help cut down on drafts without you having to crank up the heat (which can be expensive). Especially if you notice the floor if your RV feels cold, skirting will help prevent heat loss.
- Will you be using your RV plumbing in freezing weather? If you'll be using your RV shower, sink, or toilet in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to make sure all water lines, pipes, and plumbing system components are protected from freezing. Otherwise, you can simply winterize your RV plumbing system for cold weather storage.
- Is your RV a four-season model? Campers which are designed to be used in cold weather may already have a plumbing system which is protected from the elements. Features that may indicate cold weather RV readiness include an enclosed underbelly and water connections, and a heated storage bay under the RV. If your RV has these features, you will probably be fine without skirting for the occasional camping trip, but may want to go ahead and skirt your RV if you'll be living in it all winter in order to cut down on heating costs.
A Note About R-Value
Some people wonder whether they need to pay attention to the R-value of the material they use to skirt their camper. (R-value is a number that indicates how quickly heat will pass through the material–higher R-value means slower heat transfer–you can read more about it in this article about RV insulation.)
It's important to note, however, that the primary function of RV skirting is to trap air underneath your camper, creating an insulating layer of air which will be warmed through convection by contact with the bottom of your camper. This warmed air will then be held in place by the skirting instead of being blown away by the wind.
For that reason, the thickness of the material you use to skirt your camper is not as important as sealing any gaps that would let wind to blow through and allow the air to escape. Even thin plastic or vinyl skirting should be enough to keep the space under your camper above freezing when temperatures are in the upper teens and twenties Fahrenheit as long as it prevents air flow.
However, in climates where temperatures stay below zero for days on end, using a thicker type of skirting may be a good idea to further slow heat loss (but a few feet of snow piled up around the base of your camper will do a great job of this also).
Custom RV Skirting
A custom RV skirting company measures your RV, makes vinyl skirting to those exact specifications, and then installs it for you, either at their shop or on site at your location.
Custom RV skirting usually starts around $1,500 and can easily cost over $2,500 for a big fifth wheel. For that reason alone you may already be looking for an alternative solution, but hear me out for just a minute. I know of several people who made their own DIY skirting for a couple of years but later ended up investing in custom RV skirting. After my first winter making my own skirting, I myself was almost ready to pull the trigger and pay for custom RV skirting, and I probably would have eventually had we not ended up selling our camper.
These are the reasons you might consider investing in custom RV skirting instead of skirting your RV yourself:
Pros of Custom RV Skirting
- The convenience – Skirting our fifth wheel always took me and my husband at least a full weekend of work, and another full day at least in the spring to take it down and put it away. This would not have been practical if we had needed to move or travel more often.
- The appearance – It's hard to make DIY RV skirting look as nice as custom RV skirting. With custom skirting, you'll be able to choose a color that matches your camper, and it will lay nicely with clean lines and no gaps or bulges. Let me tell you from experience, measuring and cutting vinyl to fit every odd angle and height is complicated, and it's easy to make mistakes that require patchwork. Leaving the work to a professional can result in a neater finished look.
- Less objection from RV parks – Some RV parks don't allow you to use RV skirting, and some only allow professionally made skirting. The better your skirting looks, the less likely you'll be prohibited from using it.
- Less damage to your RV – If you're installing your own snaps or adhesive hooks to hang your skirting, you may end up with damaged paint and holes in your RV. You'll get this with custom skirting also, but you'll be less likely to make mistakes.
- You can re-use it each year – This is the main reason people who frequently RV in cold climates often choose professionally made RV skirting. The cost of buying new materials to make your own skirting each year can add up over time. When we made our own vinyl skirting, I intended to re-use it the next year, but by the end of the winter it was so muddy and many of the grommets had ripped out so we ended up throwing it away and re-making it the next year. Granted we did a better job the second time, but the third year we ended up having to use foam board skirting instead due to the rules of the park where we were staying at the time. Over the course of three years, we spent over $600 on our skirting. Knowing that up front, we might have chosen to spend just a little more to have it made for us once and for all.
- More environmentally friendly – RV skirting made from foam board insulation, plastic, or plywood often ends up in the trash at the end of the winter, only to be purchased again the following year. Buying your skirting just once creates less waste.
Cons of Custom RV Skirting
- The cost – it's usually the most expensive option for skirting an RV.
- You may have to travel to where the company is located. If you don't happen to live near a custom RV skirting company, you may have to transport your RV to wherever they are located to have your camper measured and fitted for skirting. Some RV skirting companies allow customers to camp on their property, and others will let you send in your measurements and ship the skirting to you to install yourself.
- You still have to put it up yourself. – Having your skirting made for you will save you hours of labor, but you will still likely have to spend a couple of hours putting it up each time you use it. For some, the labor saved may not be enough to justify the extra cost.
- May hurt RV trade-in value – Some skirting requires you to screw snaps or some other type of hardware into your RV's exterior, which some RV dealerships may view as detrimental to your camper's value. Not all professional skirting uses screws, however, and some DIY alternatives can cause damage to your RV's exterior as well.
Where to buy custom RV skirting
Here are a few custom RV skirting companies that will let you camp on their property while they make and install your RV skirting:
- CustomSkirting.com – This company uses an aluminum channel system attached to your with silicone adhesive to hang the skirting. This creates an airtight seal along the top of the skirting and keeps you from having to drill holes in your RV exterior. They are located in the Black Hills near Rapid City, South Dakota and service the upper Midwest region around the state. Most of their clients stay in their RV park (which has full RV hookups) while their skirting is being made, but they also travel to install skirting on site in certain areas of the U.S. depending on the number of orders from that region and on how busy they are at their shop. They offer a financing option to allow you to spread the cost out over monthly payments.
- RVSkirtingPros.com – This company will make and install skirting for you, or if you want to save money, they will sell you the materials so you can make your own skirting. Their skirting is attached using a channel/rail system.
- RVSkirting.com – This family-owned business is located in Colorado and will travel throughout the state and occasionally to bordering states. They also allow you to camp on their property if you travel to them. Their skirting is sewn by hand and and hung using turn locks.
- CustomCanvasUnlimited.com – This RV skirting company is located in Murray, Utah and serves customers in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada. They also use the twist-locking hardware to hang their skirting, and they sew a chain into the bottom edge of the skirting to weight it down.
If you Google “Custom RV Skirting Near Me”, you may find other reputable companies in your area that would be much more convenient.
After looking at how custom vinyl skirting was made and installed, I started wondering if I could just buy the materials and make it myself more cheaply. That's how I ended up making RV skirting out of billboard tarp material, which I will talk about more later.
However, it can be challenging to figure out exactly what materials will work best, and to know the best places to order them. There's also a lot of thought work involved with figuring out the best way to attach your skirting and how to weight it down at the bottom so it doesn't blow in the wind. As I said earlier, our first time making RV skirting was kind of a “trial run”, and even though I had planned for that skirting to last us multiple winters, we ended up throwing it away and remaking it the next year to improve on our design.
Fortunately, there's a compromise for those who don't mind a DIY project but are willing to pay a little extra to avoid the stress, hassle, and risk of having to figure out everything on their own.
Instead of paying to have custom skirting made and installed (and possibly having to travel to a particular location), two companies, which I'll talk about separately, will sell you all of the materials you need to successfully make and install your own skirting. They've already figured out a process that works, and will support you to make sure you end up with a result you're happy with.
The two companies I'm referring to are EZ Snap Skirting and RV Skirting Pros. Both of these companies will allow you to skirt most RV's for under $1,000, and small campers for a lot less. As I mentioned earlier, I ended up spending around $600 over three years on RV skirting materials, so if you're planning on needing your skirting for several years, I would definitely compare these options with the DIY route.
EZ Snap Skirting
When you purchase the EZ Snap skirting system, the company sends you a roll of vinyl and all of the hardware you'll need based on the size of your camper. Then you do all the measuring, cutting, and installation yourself.
They offer three options for the hardware used to hang your skirting: screw-in boat snaps, adhesive snaps, or a combination snap that screws in but is also adhesive (to prevent rusting–it also matches the color of your RV). They recommend using pipe clamps to attach your skirting to PVC pipes along the bottom to weight it down, as seen in this photo on Instagram of an RV skirted with EZ Snap skirting:
To be completely honest, when I priced EZ Snap skirting for our 38-foot fifth wheel, I felt like it was more expensive than I wanted to pay for something I was going to be making myself, especially when all the components can be purchased individually at a much cheaper cost. That's why I ended up making my own DIY skirting, which only ended up costing me around $200, instead of over $1,000, which was what I calculated based on the materials advertised on their website.
However, I have talked to RV owners who chose EZ Snap skirting and were happy with it.
RV Skirting Pros
RV Skirting Pros is an RV skirting company that is unique in several exciting ways.
First of all, they offer options for skirting installation:
- If you live in one if the Midwest states within in their service area, they will travel to you and install your skirting for you.
- If you live out of their service area or want to save money, you can travel to their location in Indiana to have them install your skirting.
- If you want to save a lot of money, you can purchase all the materials from them and install your skirting yourself.
The other way their skirting is unique is in the way it attaches to your RV through the use of a Keder style awning track that sticks to your RV with heavy duty adhesive tape and only requires screws on the sides of your slide-outs (so you can easily remove the awning track to bring in your slides).
Lastly, even if you opt for DIY installation, RV Skirting Pros does a lot of the work for you. Instead if just sending you a roll of vinyl, they pre-cut the vinyl into 8-foot panels with the Keder cord used for hanging the skirting already sewn into the top edge. Additionally, and the adhesive tape is already measured and stuck to the awning track so all you have to do is peel off the backing and stick the strips to your RV.
I have to say I am honestly impressed with this system as someone who spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way to hang RV skirting that minimizes damage to the RV and is easy to put up and take down, and if I ever find myself needing to skirt an RV for winter again, I will be giving this company a serious look.
While it is more expensive than DIY vinyl skirting, the installation method and quality of materials are superior to what I used when making my own vinyl skirting. The vinyl is heavier (they offer an insulated skirting option, but even their standard vinyl is heavier than the billboard tarp material I used, which wore through in some places), and the attachment method is easier to install, looks better, and does a better job of sealing off the space under the RV.
Here's a picture of what their standard skirting looks like installed:
And here's a picture of their insulated RV skirting:
RV Wind Skirt
I did want to mention one other type of RV skirting that you can purchase and install yourself: The RV Wind Skirt. This skirting option was originally designed to solve a problem with blowing sand that I have not personally experienced, but it can help reduce heat loss and protect RV plumbing in cold weather as well as keep your RV cooler and prevent sun damage to your tires in hot weather.
The material is thinner and lighter weight than most vinyl skirting, which means RVers spending winter in extreme cold might want to look for a more heavy-duty option, but for occasional use it would be much easier to store and transport. This skirting is hung with snaps, but you may be able to use adhesive snaps of the screw-in ones they provide instead if you prefer.
Inflatable RV Skirting
AirSkirts are a unique type of RV skirting that has entered the market as an RV skirting option more recently and stands out as the best option for people who move frequently and need to be able to take down and put up their skirting quickly.
This type of skirting consists of long, narrow cushions made from heavy-duty, puncture-resistant vinyl that take the shape of the bottom your RV as you inflate them with electric air pumps, conforming to and filling space around pipes to protect them from freezing.
The skirting is doesn't attach to your RV at all but is held in place by pressure, meaning you don't have to use any screws or adhesives on your camper's exterior. One thing I wondered about when I first saw this type of skirting was whether sharp edges under an RV might puncture it, but a representative of the company I talked to told me the vinyl is very sturdy (think of what Carnival bounce houses are made from), but if it does puncture a patch kit is provided.
The really cool thing about this skirting is how easy it is to take down and put up compared to any other type of skirting I've ever seen. Even if you use snap-on skirting, you have to go around the bottom staking it or carry heavy objects to weight it down, whereas this skirting basically installs itself. That makes it ideal for people who need to move or travel often and aren't planning to stay in one place all winter.
Here's a video that goes into more detail about Airskirts:
Fifth Wheel Skirts
Before I start talking about ways to make your own skirting, I wanted to mention this fifth wheel skirt. Making skirting to cover the space under our fifth wheel hitch was the hardest part of making our own skirting, and it also required a lot of expensive material. Additionally, I was never able to come up with a really good way to leave easy access to the space underneath.
If I had known about it at the time, I probably would have just purchased a pre-made fifth wheel skirt like this one and made the skirting for the rest of the camper. It even has zipper doors for storage access that are way better than the ones I tried (and failed) to install the first time I made RV skirting.
Cheap DIY RV Skirting Options
Making your own vinyl skirting
I've already talked about it quite a bit already, but making your own vinyl skirting can save you a lot of money. However, having done it myself (which you can read about here), I can tell you there are definitely some drawbacks to it. Here are the pros and cons I've found:
DIY Vinyl Skirting – Pros
- You can save money buying the materials directly from the suppliers.
- You can design your own system for hanging and weighting the skirting that works best for you and don't have to pay for materials you can't use.
- If you choose to use recycled billboard tarps (which is what I used in the picture below), you're helping the environment by reusing instead of buying new.
DIY Vinyl Skirting – Cons
- It's a lot of work–not just physical work, but mental work–figuring out exactly what sizes and shapes of vinyl to order to fit around all of the slide-outs and areas of different heights.
- It's easy to make mistakes when measuring and cutting that can end up being costly if you have to order more material and pay shipping charges again (don't ask me how I know….)
- The quality is only as good as the materials you use. Our first year making our own skirting the grommets we used rusted and some of them ripped through the vinyl. We also tried using black Gorilla tape to join the panels, and that didn't stay but ended up leaving sticky residue all over our skirting. Also, some of the billboard tarp material that the wind kept blowing up against sharp corners of our RV wore thin and needed to be patched. We ended up throwing it all away after our first winter and starting fresh the second year. If you buy skirting materials from a company that has already figured out a system that works, you're less likely to make mistakes that could end up wasting money or damaging your RV.
- We used heavy duty adhesive hooks to hang our skirting in order to avoid drilling holes in our RV. These worked great, but they were very difficult to remove later (we ended up buying a heat gun to speed up the process) and in a few places we accidentally damaged the paint while scraping off the adhesive.
- Cutting the tarps and adding the grommets took a long time. If I had it to do over, I would buy higher quality tarps already cut to the sizes I needed and with grommets already added.
Skirting made from insulated tarps
Some RVers choose to use insulated tarps to make their skirting in order to increase the R-value (in other words, reduce heat loss). Insulated tarps are very expensive, though, so for a big fifth wheel or Class A motorhome this would not be my first choice as I believe there are better options for the cost.
Also, we found our non-insulated vinyl skirting to be just fine for the winter weather we experienced, which included lots of days below freezing and a few dips below zero. Some RVers put a space heater their RV with a thermostat that will kick in if the temperature under the RV drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (of course using an electric heater while RVing would be at your own risk).
Reflectix RV Skirting
Reflectix is another material some have used to skirt their campers. Being reflective, it does a great job of helping to retain heat. However, to buy the quantity needed to skirt a large RV would be pretty expensive, so I would probably only use it for small travel trailers. Some RV parks probably wouldn't allow the typical silver-colored Reflectix to be used as skirting due to the appearance, but there is a kind that's white on one side that would look nicer. One concern I would have with using Reflectix is that it tears more easily than vinyl once punctured, and for that reason seems like it would be difficult to hang and stake or weight down.
Plywood RV Skirting
Plywood is another material that is fairly cheap and provides reliable protection against cold winds. While it wouldn't be practical for an RVer who changes locations often, it would be a great long-term solution for a stationary RVer because it could be painted a nice color and would last for several years without needing to be replaced.
In extreme cold, plywood could be lined with Reflectix or reflective foam board insulation to increase its heat retention. It would also provide a place under the RV for storing things like lawn furniture, outdoor toys, and garden equipment if you were to install a hinged door in the side.
Using Hay Bales as RV Skirting
Every winter I see some RVer on Facebook talking about using hay bales as skirting. While they do a good job of insulating, a lot of RVers have expressed concerns that they attract mice and pose a risk of fire (apparently damp hay bales can become very hot inside and spontaneously combust).
The RVer who shared this photo on Facebook didn't have any problems with mice or fire, but he said he still wouldn't recommend using hay bales as insulation and planned to find a better solution for the next year.
Skirting an RV with Foam Board Insulation
Rigid foam board insulation is by far the most common DIY material used for skirting a trailer or motorhome. It's one of the cheapest options by far (we skirted our 38-foot fifth wheel with foam board one year for just over $100) and does a great job of insulating in temperatures well below freezing and even below zero.
It is also fairly easy to install. You can read more about how we made and installed our foam board skirting in my blog post about that project.
I've also created a video of our skirting process, which you can see here:
I was really surprised with how nice it ended up looking, but we really tried to make it look nice–for example we chose foam board that was white one one side and silver on the inside and used white duct tape to connect the panels to each other. It was also very sturdy, once I came up with some good ways to anchor it at the bottom (which I talk about in my other article).
Since we stayed at the same spot for almost a whole year, we left the skirting up through the summer (it stayed nice and cool underneath and we figured it would help cut down on the cost of air conditioning) and would have used it again the following winter if we hadn't ended up moving into a house instead.
The only real down side to foam board skirting in my opinion is that it is really only good for one use. I suppose you could try to peel off all the tape and reuse it, but I think it would end up getting damaged and remembering where all the pieces go would be very difficult. Most people just throw it away after winter is over and buy more the next year if they need it, which means it's probably the least environmentally friendly option. I was hoping to recycle our skirting after we took it off our camper, but the only place I could find that accepted styrofoam for recycling wouldn't accept our skirting because of the plastic film covering it on both sides.
Which type of RV skirting will you choose?
I would love to know what factors you're considering in choosing RV skirting, and if you've skirted your RV in the past, I'd like to hear about your experience with the type of skirting you used if you'd like to share your experience in the comments below!
For more cold weather RVing tips, check out these other articles I've written: