The first flakes of snow are sticking, and the larch in the yard is bright yellow. Time to talk winterizing.
No self-respecting RV blog is complete without a post on winterizing (just a posh word for “drying out” the trailer), a function Ralph has executed exactly twice.
A couple of years ago we moved from the mild, wet, green side of Oregon to the dry, cold, High Desert side where it freezes at night so early and often the tomato growing season lasts eight weeks. (Eight. No kidding—from, like, the fourth of July to October first, and then they’re picked green and forced ripe indoors.)
The Oregon rally season doesn’t even wrap up before we need to run a milkhouse heater inside the Airstream at night to keep it from freezing until we fully winterize after the final rally in Champoeg.
Ralph, bless his not-so-handy heart, tackles this “three beer” job while I relocate the contents of the galley cupboards and bath area to someplace warm. (Have you ever seen olive oil that has frozen? Or shampoo?) This year I went all the way and removed every coffee cup, matchstick, dog toy and deck of cards, as well as all the liquid perishables, for a thorough spring cleaning before I put it all back in.
Follow along as Ralph explains the winterizing process in his own words, the most valuable part being what he didn’t do that resulted in inconvenience (and a significant Visa payment to Jerry’s RV Repair):
“I read Schu’s News and went on the Forums and came to the conclusion that I did not have to put antifreeze in the water lines; that I could winterize by simply using an air compressor.” (You see where this is going.) “It said that if you got a good blowout of the tanks and lines, the antifreeze wasn’t necessary; it would be a belt-and-suspenders move.
I purchased the compressor * down at Walmart, a gallon capacity. It was 55 bucks. It made the process lengthy because the capacity wasn’t that great, but I went ahead.
Step one, I drained the water tank, drained the waste tank (the DWR has a combo grey and black tank), drained the faucet, and drained the hot water heater tank. We don’t have a hot water heater bypass. That’s a good thing to have.
Step two, I disconnected the lines into the water pump. As it stated in the instructions, I ran the water pump to get the water out of the pump itself. I ran that a couple of times to make sure, but you have to be careful not to burn out the pump.
Step three, I went down and bought the adapter for about four dollars that allows you to hook the air compressor up to the opening for the trailer water tank. I began by first blowing out the faucet, then closing that, then blowing out the water line, then finally opening up the hot water heater tank and blowing that out. That took the most time, actually, given the fact that the one gallon tank has to refill. It took a total of three hours. I had wait to let it build up air pressure, then go do something, go back, give it a blast, and let it charge up again. The larger the tank, the larger the supply of compressed air you have. It said not to run the compressor too high, past 40, 60…but I had it up to 80 because I was getting frustrated with the water tank. Water just kept slurping out of that thing.
Oh, and the other thing I did was open up the sprayer line in the bathroom and drained that out. But I didn’t do the other, small, cleaning sprayer, which had a little water left in it. Halfway through the process I stopped for the day, and we had a hard freeze that night. The sprayer got a little ice buildup inside, and cracked and got worse over the winter. It had to be replaced in the spring.” (Ch-ching.)
“For the final step, this year I went ahead and put antifreeze in the sink, and down the drain in the bathroom into the toilet. I used special RV antifreeze. The way I checked that I used enough is I reopened the waste water tank, and antifreeze started to come out.
The propane tanks, the heater, the AC, all stay the way they are. Some say to take the battery out because it will charge down, but we’ve got our solar panels so we don’t need to worry about the battery.” (Wait…won’t this wear out the battery, drawing it down? “The battery has a finite life,” said Ralph, authoritatively. “It will only hold a charge so long. It is continually charged by the solar panel.” Hm. This sounds dubious to me, but that’s a battle for another day.)
So, thank you, Ralph. The pundits (and the factory) say not to worry at all about winterizing unless the temperature where you store your Airstream dips below below 26 degrees. For us, that ship sailed early our first year in Bend and caught us with our pants down—hence the frozen sprayer line. Fifteen degree-ish temperatures came with the first signs of fall, and it was down to eight degrees at night by the third week in October.
This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me at first, so here’s a newbie tip: You can still camp in a winterized trailer— you just won’t have water for dishes, flushing, or a hot shower. We do it all the time. If you hook up to city water, you’ll need to repeat the draining and purging process when you return home.
I heard of a guy who uses a battery-operated compressor at his final camping spot of the season. He flushes the system at the campsite dump station and blows the trailer dry on his last day there, drives the thing home with all the lines open, dumps in some antifreeze after he unhitches in his driveway, then goes in the house and turns on the game. Boom, done. Now that’s thinkin’.
Comments? Please, knock yourself out—tell us what we’re doing wrong. We can take it! And appreciate the advice.
* CH 1 gallon air compressor kit
1 gallon oil-less compressor
110 max psi
0.3 running hp