As darkness descends on the Chihuahuan desert at our 4500-foot elevation, it can get pretty cold here on a winter night in central New Mexico…especially if the winds are blowing.
Sunny mornings are now starting to show the evidence—frost on my skylight!
Even though I’ve experienced a couple cold nights while traveling (rapidly) from Chicago to warmer destinations in previous years, I’ve never spent an entire winter season in a location that gets below freezing nearly every night. So, I’ve recently had a lot to learn about making my RV comfortable for winter living. Fortunately, fellow volunteers here at the Refuge have provided some excellent tips!
If you might be RVing in some cold and remote places this winter, here are 5 ways to keep your RV home comfy and cozy:
1. Preventing Frozen Water Hoses
There are a few different schools of thought amongst the volunteers on winter water hose management. Since our days here are often well above freezing, some just keep their RV fresh water tanks filled, and only connect the hose (during the warmest daylight hours) when the tank needs refilling. Not a bad idea at all (I do indeed keep my water tank filled in case of emergency), but for routine daily use, since I have the benefit of hookups anyway….might as well use ‘em!
The second school of thought suggests buying a dedicated winter water hose (with integrated heat element built into it). About 1/3rd of the volunteers here use this kind of Camco heated hose and seem very happy with it. It’s a simple and good-looking solution.
But, as you can see above, heated hoses can be pretty expensive! Plus, you need to have the cargo space to stow them the rest of the year (when it’s not freezing). Not an ideal solution for my small RV with limited cargo capacity. Also, a few commenters on Amazon mentioned that if the heating element or thermostat in these kinds of hoses ever fail (which they often can do), you’re out a pretty substantial cost to replace the whole hose again.
Thankfully, there’s a third solution available, and for me at least, it’s seemed just right—less expensive, and multi-functional! It involves a regular water hose, a separate electric heating cable, a bag of foam pipe insulation tubes, some aluminum foil, and some duct tape (apart from the hose and heat cable, you can probably buy these items at your local big box or hardware store for less than Amazon sells them).
A little more work to set up, but less than half the cost of the all-in-one Camco hose, and when winter is over, I can throw away the foam insulation and tin foil, stow the small heat cable, and continue to use the water hose year-round.
In my haste, I forgot to take step-by-step installation pictures, but after watching this RVGeeks video on YouTube, it was a very simple and straight-forward task to get this solution up and running.
- Lay out the water hose and heat cable straight on the ground between your connection points.
- Wrap the hose with one layer of heavy duty aluminum foil (this allows the heat from the electric cable to distribute more evenly around the hose).
- Open the slit of a foam pipe cover and tuck a straight line of heat cable and the “foiled” hose into it. Remove the adhesive strips from both slit sides and squeeze them together to seal the foam tube closed. Repeat the process with the next section of foam tubing until all exposed hose is insulated and covered.
- Finally, use the duct tape to cover the foam pipe slits and segment joins. In wet climates, it may be best to tape the foam completely (all the way around), but here in dry New Mexico, I just taped the top of the tube (where the slits were) to keep moisture out.
Here’s the finished product coming from the underground water spigot (beneath the green door), to my utility bay (beneath the gray hatch).
At the spigot end, rather than connect my insulated, heated hose directly to the underground spigot, I decided to add some versatility. I put a short 4-foot hose underground and connected it to my heated hose above ground with a brass shut-off valve. I ran some of the heat cable beneath the valve and covered it with black, non-sticky insulated foam Duck tape (bought locally from Wal-Mart for way less).
On the utility bay end of things, I had a dilemma. I wanted to still use my “whole house” Camco EVO water filter and needed a way to keep it from freezing. The RVGeeks video offered a great solution—put it inside the utility bay and add a work light to let its light bulb warm up the bay. Perfect! Rather than manually turn the light on/off each night, I bought a temperature-activated plug to automatically activate the light bulb based on temperature. My particular plug turns on when temps fall below 35F and turns off when temps rise above 45F.
Here’s the bay “in action” during the night:
I wrapped the extra 3 feet of heat cable loosely around the un-insulated hoses in the bay to provide some added heat. There is no dedicated hole in my bay for the water hose (it must run thru the open hatch door), so I left the foam insulation off of this section to keep the air gap from the open bay door as minimal as possible.
The utility lamp’s temperature plug and the heat cable are plugged into a short extension cord next to the electric post. To keep these plugs from getting wet, I tuck them inside a concrete block that the Refuge has provided. So far, the system is working great! No frozen water lines!!!
2. Keeping the Critters Out
Another common winter battle for RV volunteers at many wildlife refuges is the battle against little critters seeking shelter in your warm and cozy RV—namely, mice and pack rats!
One prevention method some of us use is to keep areas beneath the RV lit up at night. I already had a long string of rope lights, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to put them under the RV.
The lights get turned on/off automatically at dusk and dawn with this cheap and handy little sensor/timer switch:
The preferred method of pack rat nest prevention (that the Refuge uses for all its vehicles) is to leave all engine hoods open. When my View engine hood is open with its normal prop, it blocks my view out the front window, so I discovered that one of my spare yellow leveling ramps makes a perfect-sized prop stick alternative! So far, so good—no pack rats!!!
3. Connecting to External Propane Tanks
Winter RVing can require a lot more propane than other times of the year. Here, the Refuge provides free propane (and 100 lb. tanks) to all of its winter volunteers. What a great deal! But, how best to connect this tank to the Winnie?
I originally had bought this Camco Propane Tee to insert between my Winnie propane tank and its connections. The tee allows the addition of an external LP tank hose hookup, and/or a hose hookup to common LP appliances such as grills and lanterns.
Unfortunately, I did not try installing this tee before I arrived to Bosque. My existing propane connections would not push far enough back for this tee to get inserted (not without some professional tools and modifications). So, I moved to “Plan B” – a down and dirty method to connect the external tank hose directly to the Winnie. Here’s what I bought:
It was a bit more difficult to tighten all these connectors (vs. the Camco tee), but it will get me through the season. I’ll get the Camco tee permanently installed the next time my RV is in for service.
4. Heating up the Inside
Having abundant propane was sure a Godsend when my 110 electrical was out! Normally, running the furnace full-time on just battery power would have exhausted most of my battery capacity each day. Fortunately, I had my favorite cold-weather boondocking solution to keep the View’s interior warm and cozy—an Olympian Wave 3 Catalytic Heater
Last year when I was in California, I had a tee and shut-off valve installed on the LP line running to my water heater (in the louvered door utility bay beneath the clothes closet in my J-model View).
I had this flexible LP hose with quick connector installed to the new tee. This hose easily stows in the utility closet when not in use.
When wanting some nice radiant heat when boondocking, I unwrap this hose and quick-connect it up to my Wave 3 heater. As the heater is mounted on legs, I can move it around the RV to point it to the front or rear, and when not in use, the Wave 3 is small and lightweight enough to stow in my front overhead cabinets (with its dust cover on to keep it clean).
Last winter, I had originally bought a KozyWorld LP heater to go with this flexible hose. But I quickly discovered that it was just too big and powerful for my small 23’ RV. I could never set it low enough for those nights when there was just a modest chill that needed a bit of heat. It also was comically too large inside the RV and a pain in the butt to stow. So, I sold the KozyWorld to a friendly rancher here in New Mexico last Spring and replaced it with the smaller Wave 3 that I was familiar with from my old Tab Trailer days.
Many View owners opt for the larger Wave 6 unit, but after my KozyWorld experience, I decided stay on the small side and supplement it with the furnace whenever needed. So far, this solution has worked great! On nights when it dips down into the low 30’s or high 20’s, the Wave 3 keeps the rig warm until about 4 a.m. When inside temps fall below 63 degrees, my furnace kicks on to prevent inside temps from falling any lower.
When using a catalytic, I keep the kitchen window and bathroom roof vent cracked open to provide the necessary fresh oxygen flow. While this reduces heating effectiveness slightly, the Wave 3 uses no battery power and uses far less propane than the furnace or a “Buddy”-style heater. It also works at higher elevations (unlike the Buddy), so overall, I’m very satisfied with it.
Once I got my 110 electric running again, I decided to put the Wave 3 away and start using my new Lasko ceramic tower heater.
As it oscillates and has a fan, the tower heater does a faster job of distributing the heat evenly throughout the rig than the Wave 3. It also has a nifty remote control so I can even turn it on/off without getting out of bed if I wish!
5. Enjoying More TV Channels During those Long Winter Nights
Here in central New Mexico, our over-the-air TV channels are pretty limited. Using my RV’s original “Batwing” antenna, I was only getting 2 network stations strongly (PBS and FOX, how’s that for “diverse” programming?!!). The third network, NBC, was often pixelated and unwatchable.
I decided a few weeks ago that it was finally time for an antenna upgrade. Initially, I tried the King Controls JACK antenna. Loved the smaller size and easy installation onto my existing Batwing antenna mast, but discovered a showstopper issue when I tried to lower the mast back to the roof—the new JACK antenna didn’t have enough room to clear my rooftop A/C unit. It could not be lowered all the way back down to the roof! Thank goodness for Amazon’s no-hassle returns policy.
So, on to the Wingard options. I could have just purchased the Wingman piece that snaps onto an existing batwing antenna, but the product photos looked a bit cheesy and less-polished than an entire replacement head, so I spent the extra $20 bucks on a Sensar IV replacement head.
It was a 5-minute job to remove the old batwing and install the new Sensar IV. Surprisingly, even though the JACK antenna seemed to have more positive Amazon reviews, I’m getting a few more channels and slightly stronger signals with the new Sensar IV. So, a very worthwhile and easy upgrade!
To read more about how I use my 27” LED computer monitor (and Mac laptop) to watch TV from the comfort of my View’s front swivel/reclining seats, scroll down to the TV section of my RV Gadget Favs page.
The Conclusion to My Electrical Saga
Speaking of getting the 110 running again, lots of comments from my past post seemed to be amazed that I’d take on the job of replacing my Parallax power center myself (its 110 neutral buss wires had fired to a crisp when my 30 amp shore power plug failed a few weeks ago).
While, yes, I’ve done some mild electrical projects in the past (i.e. installing my solar panels and replacing an occasional 110 outlet or switch in my past houses), I would not consider myself an electrical wonder woman! Just a gradual process over the years of becoming more comfortable and familiar with AC and DC electrical systems.
For the power center/converter replacement project, as my original Parallax 7345 power center was now discontinued, I could have switched to something entirely different. But the alternatives were all very different dimensions (or else made out of plastic). So, I decided to stick with a more “fire-proof” metal box and go with a same-sized Parallax unit, the 7155.
The replacement wasn’t rocket science-- I basically just had to move all the wire connections from one box to the other. With proper labeling of each wire, it was really a very straight-forward task—just time-consuming.
In the end, most of the work just involved cutting back and re-stripping about 10 wires that had charred, and adding new wire extensions and butt connectors to 2 wires that had to be trimmed back too far to reach the connectors. To be fully on the safe side, I also decided to replace all the original circuit breakers with new ones—one 30/15 breaker, and two 15/20 breakers.
On the 12-volt side, rather than use the “dumb” 1-stage converter/charger that came with the new Parallax box, I just transferred my upgraded “smart” 3-stage Progressive Dynamics PD-4645 converter/charger (and its 12-volt fuse panel) from the old Parallax box. This unit (the bottom half of each photo below) looks furiously complicated, but it was all just 1 assembly that easily slid out of the old box and into the new. The most time-consuming piece was disconnecting and reconnecting all the 12-volt wires to migrate the fuse panel (upper right corner).
So, it was out with the old--
and in with the New!
Once the new box was screwed back into the wall and cover panels were in place, everything was now back to normal again and looking as if nothing had ever happened! To my great thrill and delight, when I first re-powered the unit, every single 12-volt and 110 item inside the RV worked perfectly again with no further troubleshooting required! What a relief!
Now that I’ve spent so much “quality time” with my converter/power center, I feel so much more knowledgeable and comfortable at being able to troubleshoot and fix these sorts of problems in the future!
I encourage all RV owners (especially solos who like to camp in far-off places with few RV repairmen nearby) to start learning more about your RV electrical systems (and propane systems too!). Watch YouTube videos, buy books, talk to old-pro RVers, peruse the online RV forums and ask lots and lots of questions. You might not want to tackle every repair or upgrade yourself, but you’ll hopefully be able to do the more straightforward stuff yourself, and be a much more educated consumer in your future dealings with RV repair shops.