Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Old wo-Man Winter-izing

November has arrived, and I’m still in Chicago so that can only mean one thing….the View must be winterized and taken to the storage lot (No RVs allowed on driveways in our town after Nov. 1st).

After making a few flubs in past seasons, I decided to take pics of the process to share here (and to remind myself next year) of what to do and not do!  Every RV is a little different, so do read your rig’s manual.  But this is the process for me and my H-model View.

After giving the rig a good Fall cleaning inside and out, removing all food from the fridge and pantry, and defrosting the fridge, it’s time to get down to the tanks, water lines and “pink-stuff” business. 

1. Make sure your hot water heater is turned off and water from both hot and cold taps runs “cold”.

2. If your RV has an inline water filter—be sure to remove it BEFORE sending pink stuff thru your lines! (I forgot this step one year and destroyed a $90 filter than was only a couple months old…argh!)

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Locate your screw-in filter plug (I keep mine in a drawer next to the sink), turn OFF your water pump, and place a rag or sponge beneath the filter.  Now twist to unscrew the filter from the plumbing and catch the extra drops of water with the sponge/rag.  Screw the filter plug into the fitting where the filter was, turn the water pump back on and ensure there are no water leaks.  Put a cap on the filter and store it in your home fridge until next season (or else throw it out if it’s over a year old).

3. Drain all fresh water from you water lines. 

If you have city water connected to your RV, disconnect it.  If you’re getting water from your fresh water tank, either open your water tank drain valve to let the water pour onto the ground, or else run each of your RV faucets until they run dry.

4. Now it’s time to turn the winterizing valves on (Turn your Water Pump OFF before doing this).

My View came pre-plumbed with a winterizing hose and hot water heater bypass valve, however, Winnebago did not label the valves for my particular model. After getting totally confused the first year when I tried to de-winterize, I since have marked these lines with a black Sharpie pen so I’ll always remember which direction to turn the valves—when the valves are in the same direction as the arrows, one means that the water lines are now bypassing the 6 gallon Hot Water Heater tank, and the other means that the siphon tube (used for sucking “pink stuff” into the View) is now active and ready for “sucking!”

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5. Now it’s time to fill your water pipes and drains with the Pink Stuff!

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Some folks don’t like using RV Antifreeze and prefer to blow air thru the plumbing lines (by using an air compressor and a special fitting that attaches to the city water connection).  I don’t have an air compressor, and don’t really mind the pink stuff, so use the antifreeze approach instead.

RV antifreeze (“pink stuff”) does take a few dozen gallons of water to flush the weird taste out of the water lines come springtime when you’re de-winterizing, but other than that, it’s safe and easy to use.  If you happen to drink a small amount, it won’t kill you.  But never EVER use automotive (i.e. yellow/green) anti-freeze in your RV water lines—that stuff is indeed toxic and lethal.

Once I open a jug of the pink stuff, I place my siphon hose into the bottom of the jug.

6.  Now I turn the Water Pump ON, and open the hot and cold handles of my first RV faucet just long enough for pink water to come out, then immediately turn the sink off and repeat with the next RV faucet.  You’ll want to ensure enough pink stuff has filled the P-trap in the drain below (takes just a few seconds).

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Don’t forget to run some of the less obvious faucets and drains in your RV—for instance, the shower, flushing the toilet, the toilet sprayer, and an outside shower faucet if you have one.

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My RV usually takes about 1 1/4 gallons of pink stuff to fully fill the water lines and drains.  So, if you plan to take a trip south during the winter, plan to buy a few extra jugs to have on-hand to re-winterize before you get back home.

7. Now it’s time to address the black/gray tanks.  If they’re both already empty, then a good precaution is to pour the remaining pink stuff from your jug into each tank (via the toilet and the shower drain if you’re not sure which drain uses which tank).  It’s not required to do this, but if you think you might start using the tanks again during the winter (i.e. driving to Florida, for instance), then it might be wise to have a little pink stuff in the tanks to discourage freezing. 

Since I drained my fresh water into these tanks in the steps above, I’ll want to dump my tanks before doing this step.  I could drive to a local RV dump station, but I’ve got a better solution--- dump those few gallons at home with my Flo-Jet portable macerator pump!

I don’t use it that often, but it come in quite handy when I do! Being able to still use the RV toilet and sink on a long drive back home from your last campground is quite a luxury knowing you can dump that small amount once home. (Note that dumping full tanks and/or really black sewage might easily overwhelm your home sewer cleanout drain—and some towns even prohibit it, so this approach is not something I ever rely on as a substitute for using a true RV dump station).

The Flo-Jet comes in it’s own little case and requires a strong 12v power source (just plugging into a 12v socket won’t work, so I keep an extra 12v AGM battery on-hand at home).

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The Flo-Jet has 2 garden hose fittings—the small black one on the right disposes the waste, while the larger green one on the left allows you to connect a water hose to back-flush the tanks once they’re dumped (if you wish). A long power cord with large pushbutton is connected to the bottom of the unit.

Once the alligator clips are attached to the battery and connected, it’s time to attach the Flo-Jet to the View’s dump valve. Here, I’ve just got a hose attached to the waste outlet.

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The other end of the hose goes into my home’s outside sewer cleanout access drain (making sure the hose is well inside the drain pipe a few feet).
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Once back at the View, I open the black tank valve and then press the Flo-Jet’s power button to start “sucking” the tank contents thru the macerator and hose all the way up to the drain.

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The Flo-Jet is not speedy, but that’s a good thing (as you certainly don’t want to overload your sewer cleanout drain!). It seems to process about 1 to 1 1/2 gallons per minute. Once the tanks are empty, the sound of the pump changes to a higher-pitched tone to tell you it’s done.

After disconnecting the hose from the Flo-Jet, I bring it over to my house water outlet and run fresh water thru the hose to rinse the sewer pipe and then the hose itself--
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8. The final step of my winterizing process is to ensure that the hot water heater tank is empty.  I never seem to be able to get the tank to completely empty when running the faucets in the steps above, so do this step to be fully sure it’s empty. 

My water heater has a white plastic drain plug that’s at a peculiar angle for a crescent wrench to get to.  So, a few years ago, I found this excellent flat wrench that not only works on the 15/16” water heater drain plug, but also the 1” oil drain plug for my Onan Diesel Generator as well.  It also stows easily and makes for a good self-defense “club” if I ever need to fend off an attacker in the night!

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The wrench easily gets to the drain plug and the excess water can soon be released.
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Once drained, screw the drain plug back in, and you are now done with all water systems!

Some folks have various routines they follow for preparing their rigs for winter storage.  I used to store my T@B trailer out in the country on a grassy lot, so I obsessed with ensuring that field mice would never make my trailer their winter home (ie. using Bounce dryer sheets, etc).  But since I store the View at a paved lot in town, I don’t worry about mice as much.

Now, I mainly want my rig to start when I go to retrieve it!  So, I ensure my coach batteries and rig battery are fully charged and I also fill up on diesel right before I arrive to the storage lot. 

Next, I make sure 2 battery switches are in the right place — 1. activating the Coach Battery cut-off switch (next to the coach door in my H-model) to turn off all 12 volt coach accessories (furnace, lights, pumps, etc) and ensure that these items don’t drain my coach batteries all the way down.   2. Make sure the dash toggle switch that allows the dash radio to be powered by the chassis or house system is turned to “House” (in other words, I want that radio to be fully shut off and have no LED display visible when I turn turn off the coach batteries above.  This will prevent the radio from sucking power from the rig’s starter battery (the “chassis” battery).   There is also a disconnect switch for the chassis battery as well (located next to the gas pedal), but I’ve never needed to use it.  As long as the radio is always just pulling it’s power from the House, and never the Chassis, my rig battery seems to do fine.

One thing I do religiously, though, is to always visit my RV and run the engine and generator once a month when it’s in storage (this allows both rig and coach batteries to recharge a bit, and also moves oil and fuel thru both engines to keep fluids from getting too stale and hard to start.

p.s. Winter is also a great time to take the rig in for service (last year, I saved a full month of storage fees by doing this creative scheduling trick!), and depending on your rig’s size, it might also make an excellent day-trip or Christmas shopping vehicle to let it get some exercise around town during the winter months.

14 comments:

  1. If I don't have any house battery power my propane alarm beeps constantly, I found this out when my RV was sitting in my driveway last year while I was preparing my house for sale. Maybe with going over to the storage place and starting it up you don't have this problem.

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    1. Weird. Was your cutoff switch still on and batteries just run down? That would certainly cause your LP alarm to beep continually when voltage starts going too low-- it's warning you that the batteries are almost dead.

      For my rig, when I flip the cutoff switch, I hear the LP alarm do a single "beep trailing off" sound once and then it never beeps again. Additionally, LP alarm's green status light goes out and all other status lights in the rig go out too (and AC Thermostat digital readout goes blank).

      If you're not seeing all these various things happen when you flip your cutoff switch, it might not be wired correctly. With the cutoff switch engaged, there should be no electrical load of any kind pulling from the house batteries-- it should behave the same as disconnecting the battery cables from the batteries.

      You might want to give that switch another test to be sure it's working properly as it's really an important safety device to be able to cut the electrical off quickly if you ever need to.

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  2. Thanks Lynne for this very helpful tutorial - your detailed information should help me muddle through........should I ever find myself in a cold climate again in the winter. Hoping this is the last winter for that. I emailed your article to Steve because I'm not so sure he does all the steps you go through.

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  3. Thanks, Lynne -- as always, very through, very detailed, and very helpful!! But I have to be honest in saying as a "first timer" who is facing this daunting task, I am feeling a bit intimidated by it. In looking at the Owner's Manual, the "blow out method" seems a bit easier. I am wondering if I wouldn't rather buy an air compressor than to have sort this, especially since I am only looking at a few freezing nights a year? Did you ever consider that, and do you think it would be easier?

    (I'm not lazy....just scared! LOL!)

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    1. Yeah, if I were living in Texas and knew I'd have only a few below-freezing nights to worry about, (and, more importantly, would have many more opportunities for winter camping!), I'd probably not do the "water lines full of pink stuff" route either. If you're relatively sure you can keep electricity going to the coach, the easiest option would to just be to turn your hot water heater on, and run a small ceramic heater inside the RV (and/or run your RV furnace set real low, like around 45 degrees if you've got enough LP). Just keep the cabinets under each sink open a little bit so that warm air circulates sufficiently and you should be just fine. I've done that approach when outside temps have been down into the teens, and even lower when running hot water thru the faucets each day.

      But, if you can't keep the rig heated, and want to winterize with the blow-out method, I think you still need to get a jug of pink stuff to put in each drain (as the P-traps will still need protection since they'll have water in them). You'll also need to empty your hot water heater with either winterization approach as well.

      For a harsher northern climate like Chicago, I'd still go the "pink stuff" route as I'd be fearful of some nook and cranny of the plumbing system still possibly having remaining water somewhere. This might be a totally irrational fear, but it gets cold up here for weeks on end!!!

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  4. Love it, Lynne! Thanks so much for going to all the trouble of posting this tutorial. Consider yourself bookmarked!

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  5. Wow, Lynne. What a wonderfully detailed post. I'm sure it will benefit many folks. Great job!

    Count me in the air-blow not antifreeze crowd. That followed personal experience (small nightmare) sanitizing the fresh water system after contamination. A small amount of "pink stuff" got in the hot water tank (backwash in my case) and incubated between summer trips. A sick-sweet odor was the tell tale clue I initially missed.

    I wouldn't go so far as to label your fear is irrational. But I'll share some food for thought. The main risk winterizing addresses is a burst water line, the subsequent leak, cleanup, collateral water damage repairs. That risk is the same regardless of the winterizing approach if not done "good enough."

    Perfect is over rated. When water freezes the expansion factor is only a few percent. Try this experiment. Freeze two water bottles. Leave one normal fullness. The other drain off 10% first. Proof is instructive. Tanks and lines don't have to be anywhere near bone dry to survive freezing "stress free."

    One mod I did to my RV hot water tank was to replace the drain plug with a ball valve. It was not difficult or expensive. My motivation was to avoid the "incubation" factor between summer trips following that fouled water fiasco. It was a solvable problem of course but between the bleach and vinegar I didn't want to ever go through that again. I didn't trust the integrity of a cheap plastic plug. The ball valve made easy work of maintenance for the past five seasons. I doubt I can here but I can post a pic on my blog and follow up with a link. Give me a few days...

    Rock on!

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    1. You make some excellent points Kamper Bob. I think I will give the blow-out method a try next time around. I guess I just have never had the confidence to know if I was doing it right (and have been too paranoid about doing it wrong and having pipes start to leak come springtime).

      Do indeed try to post a tutorial if/when you have to winterize again. Interested in your ball valve solution for the HWH as well.

      I think everyone can agree that the best winterizing method is simply to drive south until it's no longer a requirement :-) Very envious that you're hanging out in Death Valley right now-- such an amazing place!

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    2. Okay. Thanksgiving's my next topic. WH drain valve after that. This weekend probably. Meanwhile, Death Valley Envy? Whodathunkit?

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  6. Lynne,

    Some Views in storage will leak power from the engine battery to run the step and safety switch (hand brake over ride) for the slide out. When I store my View, I use http://www.batterystuff.com/battery-restoration/12-volt/SCC005.html.

    Keep posting.

    Chris Miller

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    1. Thanks for the excellent suggestion Chris! I've got a 15 watt solar panel sitting in my garage that I keep forgetting to take over to put in the View for winter trickle charging. Do you put your's on the front dash? Or in the skylight?

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    2. For me, the front dash works fine.

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  7. As promised follow this link to see my water heater drain valve.

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  8. I have been blowing and blowing with the compressor, and nothing seemed to be coming out. (I filled the sinks with paper towels as a "test" since I live alone and have no one to watch for me.) Finally, I decided to unscrew the shower head from the outdoor shower, and stick it up to my cheek to see if I could feel any air blowing while I hit the valve with the compressor. I can now attest to why they call it the "blow out" method! (wiping the water from my face and eyes. LOL!)

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