For many, winter spells a time when the adventures stop and we begin to think about taking our motorhomes off of the road. But without the proper precautions, parking a motorhome up for the winter can leave it vulnerable to the ravages of nature. To protect it from unnecessary damage, it is important to winterise your motorhome before the cold really sets in.
‘Winterisation’ is a term for the process of preparing or equipping something for the coldest, darkest, wettest times of the year. Without winterisation, the motorhome could suffer problems that only become evident in the spring -- which is about the time most people think of getting on the road again.
And to make matters worse, many caravan and motorhome insurance companies will not cover you for and loss or damage caused by water freezing, or for any loss or damage caused by escaping water during the winter months when the motorhome or caravan is not in use.
To make sure you have a winterised motorhome prepared for the colder months, follow our motorhome checklist below. We would recommend reading this guide all the way through, but you can quickly jump to the most relevant part using our table of contents.
Table of Contents
How to winterise a static motorhome: first, you will need to drain it down.
Most of the damage that motorhomes suffer happens over the winter months, and especially without the proper winterisation methods being implemented beforehand. How the water system works on a caravan -- indeed any place with water pipes -- is that they are vulnerable to rupturing if the water inside them freezes. If there’s water in your motorhome’s system, it can easily burst the water pipes as it freezes. This is because water naturally expands as it moves towards its freezing point.
So, first and most importantly, drain all the water from your fresh and wastewater tanks. Here is what you should do to properly winterise your motorhome:
- The first thing to do is empty the toilet. Before turning off the water supply, lift up the toilet cistern and flush the toilet. Add anti-freeze as it refills, to a ratio of roughly 3:1 water to antifreeze. Then switch off the water.
- Make sure you are over a drainage point. Try to position your motorhome so that any water drained from it flows seamlessly into a nearby grid or drainage system.
- Locate the motorhome drain down valve for your fresh and wastewater tanks and open them. At the same time, make sure all of the taps in your motorhome are open. This will let air into the pipes and will help the water drain quicker.
- Drain your water heater unit (unless it contains antifreeze). Some people don’t know how to drain down a static motorhome with central heating or try to avoid draining central heating because a lot of modern motorhomes have an automatic dump valve that opens whenever the temperature drops dangerously low. But because mechanical systems can fail from time to time, it is better to get into the habit of doing it yourself.
Unless your static motorhome central heating has antifreeze in it. In this case, do not drain it out. What you should do is check your antifreeze levels, to make sure you have enough. It is recommended to check antifreeze levels at least once a year -- and now is the perfect time.
- Make sure every last drop of water is out of the pipes. You can do this by blowing compressed air into the taps and by removing and tilting your showerhead down -- letting gravity do the work for you. Leave all your taps in a central open position and keep them that way until spring. Lift any supply hoses and likewise tilt them down. Ice can be merciless; you’ll want to be safe rather than sorry. Flush the toilet once again, it should be dry by now -- but any water left in should contain antifreeze.
Top tip: You can buy drain down kits to help speed up the process and make sure all the last water droplets are removed. These drain down kits essentially blow air into the pipes, removing lingering water.
- Disconnect the gas supply. Then remove and store your cylinders in a safe place.
All of the above points are also applicable for winterising a static caravan with central heating. But with motorhomes you can also do the following to be extra careful:
- Go for a short drive with all of the taps open. The movement of your motorhome will help knock any lingering droplets in the pipeworks. After you park up again, close any outlets as appropriate (but remember to try to leave the internal taps open during storage).
And that should be it for winterising a static motorhome with central heating. Follow these points and you should be able to avoid any motorhome water pump problems in the spring. This is also a good time to go on one final voyage in your motorhome. As the reduced water will make it lighter, more economical to drive, and more stable.
Preparing a static motorhome for winter: Now the water’s drained, it’s time for a good clean
The end-of-season winddown is naturally a good time to give your motorhome a good cleaning. After all, it has more than likely already been through a busy spring-to-summer period. A thorough clean is a good way to bookend the season and a way to keep the motorhome shining and inviting from top to bottom for when spring comes around.
Here is a motorhome checklist of what we always do when preparing for motorhome winter storage:
- Remove all traces of food from the kitchen. During the winter months, your motorhome may as well be the Four Seasons hotel for pests, including insects and mice, who will be seeking refuge from the cold. So it is important not to leave an excuse for them to come foraging. Remove all food from the fridge and give the inside a wash with a weak bicarbonate of soda, then leave the door open so it can air out. Wash the cupboards with an anti-bacterial cleaner and make sure to give every surface a good wipe down.
Top tip: Tinned food does not have to be removed as the food inside is secure. But tins can leave rust rings. To avoid rust rings, stand the tins on a sheet of paper.
- Remove all your valuables. That way you can leave the cupboard, wardrobe doors and bedroom door open. This will serve to improve circulation inside your motorhome. It’ll also show there is nothing of value for any would-be thieves.
- Remove batteries. Batteries -- especially leisure batteries -- are not cheap. The cold can bite at batteries and cause them to fail, so fully charge your leisure batteries, remove them, and take them indoors. This will serve to extend their lifespan; especially if they are kept warm and dry. Do this with every appliance; including the batteries in clocks, alarms, radios, and other applications.
- Roll up, and move fabrics to prevent mould. Move any cushions away from the exterior walls and roll up and loose rugs and stand them up. This should prevent damp from setting in, in confined spaces. Likewise, we would recommend removing curtains and nettings from the windows or at least keeping them open. Make sure your awnings are fully dry before rolling them up for the winter.
That should about do it for the inside. Now it is time to get working on cleaning the outside:
- Give the exterior a thorough look over. This includes making sure the guttering and down-pipes are in good condition. Then block up any possible entry points for pests. If your motorhome is parked in a green area, clear away any creeping vegetation -- if the plants grow near your motorhome, they can invite pests to creep along with them.
- Inspect the roof, chassis, and skylights for leaks and loose joints. If you have already gone through the trouble to drain all the water from the pipes and to move the fabric away from the walls, then this final check is very important. An unnoticed leak could undo every other precaution taken over a long, cold, wet winter.
- Check the condition of the wheels and take steps to protect them. This step is also important for caravanners concerned about their caravan winter wheels. Check them for punctures, damage, the correct pressure levels, and general road-worthiness. To protect your tyres from the elements, cover them. This will minimise the effects of damaging UV radiation (sunlight). If possible, park on a slight slope. Gravity will then do the work; making sure the wheels suffer no water damage.
Top tip: Even for caravan wheels, which may hardly be used if it is a static caravan, wheels can deteriorate and should be replaced after 10 years even if they have hardly been used.
- Give the body of your motorhome a good wash and wax. If there’s any rust on your motorhome, use a primer and sandpaper it down. Check the seals are sealed.
- Then apply a coating of overwintering fluid. An overwintering fluid effectively acts as a protective “jacket” for the winter. Overwintering fluids contain special properties that repel water, dirt, and microorganisms from settling on the surface, You can apply an overwintering fluid liberally on plastic, aluminium, glass, paint, sealants, and more without any trouble.
- Waterproof the electrics. If you have any exposed electrical connections, a light spray of WD40 should help to keep the winter moisture out and prevent the formation of rust.
The process for how to winterise a static caravan is largely the same as above, so if you are looking for caravan winter storage tips, this guide will still be largely effective.
Remember, winterised motorhomes will still need checking up on from time to time…
It’s important to occasionally inspect your motorhome from time to time -- just to make sure everything is OK. Here’s what you should do:
- Turn the engine on and go for a short drive. This will help to keep your motorhome active; it will also make sure the wheels are not resting on the same points for extensive periods.
- Turn the air conditioning on. This will help to keep up the circulation of the gas in the motorhome; this will also help to clear out any humidity in the camper van, too.
- And If the weather is really nightmarish… Think about moving it indoors somewhere, or purchasing a motorhome cover to add that extra layer of protection and insulation.
We would recommend once every few weeks to avoid any nasty surprises in spring. People often ask us: ‘How do you winterise a class C motorhome?’ The answer is, in much the same way as any other motorhome. Follow the steps listed above and you will be fine.
At what temperature should you winterise your RV, motorhome, or static caravan?
If you expect the temperature will, at some point, reach zero degrees Celsius (or below 32-degrees Fahrenheit) -- the temperature when water converts into ice -- then you absolutely should think about winterising your motorhome.
Water is the enemy, so make sure you carry out motorhome damp checks on a regular basis
Water ingress is the real nemesis for motorhome users. That’s why annual habitation and damp checks are so important. The habitation service is the motorhome living room equivalent of an MOT. Legally, you can get by without it -- but why take the risk?
Before you step away from your motorhome for the winter it might be worth running one of these ‘living room MOTs’. You can call in a professional or use a damp meter yourself. If the damp levels are at any point higher than 15 per cent then attention is required. Professionals use motorhome damp check sheets to make sure they don’t miss anything out. And depending on how concerned you are, the professional route may be the way to go.
Here are the main areas to check for damp if you are checking yourself:
- The floor. If the floor is bouncy, or if the floor seals have failed, there’s most likely damp accumulating there.
- The rear wheel arches. They are constantly subjected to road grime which can abet damp accretion.
- The awning and roof joint trims.
- The surroundings of the doors and windows.
- Inside cupboards and under the seats and beds.
A damp meter is all well and good, but remember to trust your instincts as well. If you can smell and see what you think is damp, it is probably there.
Living in a static motorhome in winter -- Can you live in an RV in the winter?
We are often asked how to winterise a static caravan or motorhome so that it can be lived in in the winter months. We should warn you that it isn’t easy, but it is possible. Motorhomes are made to be comfortable, but their thin walls and lack of winter-resistant insulation mean that even opening the door for a few seconds can eradicate everything except body heat in seconds.
If the frightful cold will not deter you, here is what we would recommend doing to stay warm(ish) and comfortable in either a static caravan or motorhome during the winter months:
- Insulate the windows and floors. Add rugs and thermal curtains to trap the heat and stop it escaping. For more effective heat retention you can always cover the windows with foam insulation boards, although this will stop you from looking out the window and might diminish the experience.
- Keep water out with a dehumidifier and vent covers. A dehumidifier will help to bring humidity levels down, clear the air, and keep the interior dry (which will keep mould away).
Vent covers, on the other hand, play an important part in air circulation but are a major source of heat loss. A vent cover will keep heat in; allow moisture to escape and, most importantly, maintain the airflow.
- Don’t be too proud to use a sleeping bag from time to time. That way you can always be sure of a warm night’s sleep, no matter the weather.
- Leave the water tank empty. Water has a nasty habit of freezing in pipes and rupturing them. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of living in a static motorhome or caravan during the winter -- not using the water tank. Leave the water tank empty and use bottled water for the dishes, drinking, and brushing your teeth. If you absolutely need to use freshwater from the tank, take steps to insulate the pipes. Use antifreeze as appropriate (i.e. in the toilet) from time to time.
- Add a skirt around the motorhome. You can make a skirt yourself using insulation boards; the DIY process takes about half a day. Skirts are great at warding away the worst bites of cold.
- Use space heaters. These will often bridge the gap between uncomfortable cold and relaxing winter experience.
Living in a static caravan in the winter
It’s no secret that the winter weather can be very cold. So in order to be comfortable during the frostiest months, you will need to know how to insulate a caravan for winter. The steps here are pretty much identical to that of living in a motorhome over the winter.
Your Frequently Asked Winterize Motorhome Questions
You should winterize your motorhome if you think it’s likely that the outside temperature will drop below freezing. Water freezes at 0°C or 32°F on a thermometer. It is especially important to winterize your motorhome before storing it away during the colder months.
If you fail to winterize your motorhome, then any water left behind in the plumbing could freeze as it gets cold. When water freezes it expands. This can cause your pipes to burst open, which in turn can lead to water damage. Water damage is often very expensive to clean up. Not winterizing your motorhome can lead to other problems when in storage, too. Such as, by attracting pests.
You can winterize without antifreeze by completely draining your motorhome down. That means, taking care to remove all lingering water in the plumbing. You can hire a professional to do this. Or you do it yourself by letting the water flow out of the pipes (with the help of an air compressor to blow it out); and by making sure to empty all of the water tanks — including the sewage tank — and toilet.
Add insulation by wrapping your pipes in a protective heat tape, along with a skirting to protect the underneath. Small indoor space heaters, such as electric or propane will also warm up most interiors pretty quickly.
Winterising a static caravan
The process of winterising a static caravan is similar to winterising a motorhome. Start by giving everything a big clean, on the inside and outside. Taking special care to remove any food crumbs from the fridge/freezer. Remove fabrics away from the walls to protect them from damp and dust. Remove everything of value to discourage thieves from visiting when you’re not around.
The most important thing is knowing how to drain down a static caravan properly. As discussed with motorhomes above, this is to prevent catastrophic water damage in the form of bursting pipes. There are similarities and differences between draining down a motorhome and a caravan, here are the differences:
- Understanding how the water system works on a caravan is important when it comes to winterising. For winterising, a static caravan with central heating, start by switching off your heater. If you have an electric immersion heater, switch off the power to the unit. If you have a gas combi boiler, there should be a frost setting you can switch it on to. After that, turn the central heating down to the lowest setting.
- Follow these steps, then head outside. Located underneath your caravan should be the stopcock. Switch it off and — if possible — disconnect the water feed from the caravan. In most cases, you can do this by simply unscrewing the pipe.
- Then go back inside and open all of your taps and showers, starting with the hot water channels first. Be patient and allow all the water to empty the taps. After the hot water has run out, continue the process with the cold water taps. (And if you have a so-called “mixer tap” leave it open at the halfway point between the hot and cold settings.)
- With all of the taps open, and once all of the water has drained down, head back outside and locate the caravan drain down valve. Depending on the make and size of the caravan, there might be more than one. They are normally found under the caravan, directly under the areas that carry water on the inside. There will be different caravan drain down valves for the hot and cold water taps. Leave a bit of time for the water to cool before draining down the hot water valve, in case the water is still hot.
- You can unscrew the taps or remove them completely to allow the water to flow out faster and better. This will also allow the air to get at any lingering water and push it out.
- Pour some antifreeze down all the taps and shower plugs to force any lingering water out of U-bends. Likewise, flush the toilet and pour antifreeze into the system and down the toilet to remove residual water.
- If your combi boiler has what’s known as a “sealed central heating system”, you should not have to drain it down, as most sealed central heating systems contain antifreeze. However, check with the manufacturer to be sure. Central heating drain down valves, if you have them, are usually much bigger than regular tap caravan drain down valves and are clearly marked.
- Remove the showerhead and pipe and disconnect the mixer tap from the incoming pipes. Take your time with this, as it can be fiddly.
- Before you leave your static caravan, make sure to insulate any exposed exterior pipes, and set moisture traps strategically around the interior.
Too much text? Check out our infographic below for a visual guide to winterise your motorhome.
Winterising a motorhome is a vital part of being a motorhome owner, so we decided to make the process as simple as possible by putting together an infographic.
It walks you through a number of things you can do to ensure your motorhome is well protected during the winter months and in harsh weather, as well as offering a few statistics about motorhomes in the UK. Check it out:
If you have any questions about motorhomes, give us a call or an email here. We would love to hear from you. Also, visit our homepage and about us page to find out why we are so passionate about motorhomes.
And if you like this blog post, check out our other blog posts that are filled with helpful tips on how to care for your motorhome, just like this one.