How to winterize your RV in the most annoying way possible

Heather SkompThings I Learned Today

So when I got a place in Arizona and wasn’t planning on taking the Beast out for the winter, the time came for me to have to winterize the thing. Most people figure that since I’m in the hot south, winterizing and RV isn’t necessary, but as you have seen in recent posts the snow we’ve had, it did become somewhat important. If any of you can remember from my first few weeks on the road last year, my biggest source of irritation was that my water lines had burst from sitting in Ohio for a couple of weeks before I left, but didn’t know it until I landed at my first campsite in West Virginia in the rain. Ohhhhhh, how fun that was.

I’m thinking I don’t want to go through that again.

leakingrv

Therefore, I had to do what all people enjoy doing on a weekend, and that’s make sure that the pipes in my RV are clear of all water so that they don’t explode next time I’m ready to float off into the wilderness.

This is my story.

Our first snowstorm of the season was brewing, and was due to arrive in a few days. So I had three days to figure it all out. That should be enough, right?

My first order of business was to investigate via our beloved Google on just how to master this feat of mechanical ingenuity. I entered in the model and year of my RV, and that I was inquiring as to how to winterize it. After many, many hours of searching, the best I got was this:

1. If you have any inline water filters, remove and bypass before starting.

2. Drain the fresh-water holding tank.

3. Drain and flush the gray- and black-water holding tanks. If the RV doesn’t have a built-in flushing system, clean the black tank out with a wand.

4. Drain the water heater. Open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug.

5. Open all hot and cold faucets; don’t forget the toilet valve and outside shower. Locate and open the low point water drain lines. Use the water pump to help force most of the water out of the system, but turn it off as soon as the system is drained, to prevent damaging the pump. Recap all drains and close all faucets.

6. Bypass the water heater. If you do not have a bypass kit installed, the water heater will fill up with RV antifreeze before it goes through the water lines, wasting 6 or 10 gallons of antifreeze.\

7. Install a water pump converter kit, or disconnect the inlet side of the water pump (the line coming from the fresh-water holding tank) and connect tubing from the water pump inlet into a 1-gallon jug of RV antifreeze.

8. Turn the water pump on and pressurize the system. Starting with the closest faucet to the pump, slowly open the hot and then cold valves until the red-colored RV antifreeze appears. Replace the antifreeze container as required. Repeat on all faucets from the closest to the farthest away. Don’t forget the outside shower.

9. Flush the toilet until antifreeze appears. Pour a cupful of antifreeze down each drain. Pour some RV antifreeze in the toilet and flush it into the holding tank to prevent any water in the tank from freezing. Make sure all faucets are closed.

10. Consult your owner’s manuals for winterizing ice makers and washing machines.

The RV is winterized.

I know, it’s a boring list. However, I don’t know about you, but I see a few problems with this list. Let’s go through it and examine them, shall we?

1. If you have any inline water filters, remove and bypass before starting.

Great! Where’s the water filter? Blessedly, since mine shattered last year in the freeze, I happened to know what and where it was. This year, I removed it. Not that this is a small task, as it requires maneuvering into an 18”x18” space, twisting yourself into a pretzel, and if you didn’t throw out the tool required to unscrew the filter casing in a fit of rage because you didn’t know what it was and it kept digging into your knees as you’re snaking your way around said 18”x18” space, you’ve got to use a giant plumber’s wrench to remove it. After which you notice the tool on the ground and realize what it is.

2. Drain the fresh-water holding tank.

Pretty self-explanatory. I knew where this tank was.

3. Drain and flush the gray- and black-water holding tanks. If the RV doesn’t have a built-in flushing system, clean the black tank out with a wand.

If I didn’t know which and where these tanks were, my life would have been rather unpleasant.

4. Drain the water heater. Open the pressure relief valve and remove the drain plug.

Here is where things get interesting. “Drain the water heater” – this sounds easy enough. Sooooooo… where’s the water heater? All I ever knew about the water heater was that when you flick the switch on the panel inside the RV, hot water magically pours out of the faucets. Beyond that, did it matter? Umm… apparently it did.

So after several hours fruitlessly scouring my extremely helpful generic owner’s manual, followed by another couple of hours frantically researching on the internet, I learned where the water heater was. Apparently I’d been looking at it for days, not having a clue what I was looking at. That, and it was behind an extraordinarily strong 1/8” thin piece of fiberboard securely drilled and stapled into plywood strips that were themselves securely drilled and stapled into the floor of the RV basement. Crikes, what was this, Fort Knox? It took a number of crowbars and eventually the strength of fury to rip that out.

And then… ahhh… I could see the hot water heater. But sadly that didn’t point me in the direction of the drain plug. Argh! So, back to the internet. What did the drain plug look like? I found something that said “just unscrew the anode rod” whatever that was. Much to my consternation, I had to resort to viewing a YouTube video (some of you know how much I loathe learning things by video. All the rewinding and forwarding and rewinding and forwarding … oh God, shoot me now) which was… actually very helpful. Pictures are useful! I was able to FINALLY figure out what the drain plug was – yay! – so I went to procure my ratchet set to separate it from its fixture. Sounds simple enough.

It wasn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right sized socket, so off to the Home Depot for the first time that day. I had no idea what size I would need, so I bought three. Why not? Clearly I might need them some day. So I whirled home and, excited about actually getting something done, I endeavored to put the new socket on my wrench.

Aaaaannnd…. it didn’t fit. I didn’t have the right sized wrench for the spanking new socket.

Back to Home Depot.

Hooray! I got the right wrench. As every man reading this will agree – have the right wrench set for every possible project you can imagine. But who ever needed a reason to buy new tools? I did manage to pry the drain plug out of the water heater, and danced a gleeful jig as the water splooged out of the hot water heater. A highly satisfying end to a most recalcitrant second step. It’s the small things, folks. On to the next one.

5. Open all hot and cold faucets; don’t forget the toilet valve and outside shower. Locate and open the low point water drain lines. Use the water pump to help force most of the water out of the system, but turn it off as soon as the system is drained, to prevent damaging the pump. Recap all drains and close all faucets.

Easy enough. No problems here. Praise!

6. Bypass the water heater. If you do not have a bypass kit installed, the water heater will fill up with RV antifreeze before it goes through the water lines, wasting 6 or 10 gallons of antifreeze.

Do you know how many valves there were on the lines leading from the water heater? Three. Which one was the bypass valve? Beats me, because you can be sure they weren’t marked. I turned the one that was the most obvious (unfortunately now I can’t remember which one it was, so when it comes time to undo all my magic, times will be interesting) and prayed.

7. Install a water pump converter kit, or disconnect the inlet side of the water pump (the line coming from the fresh-water holding tank) and connect tubing from the water pump inlet into a 1-gallon jug of RV antifreeze.

Ummmm…. yeah. There is nothing more delightful in life than ambiguity. I didn’t have a water pump converter kit whatever that was, and I didn’t know which the inlet side of the water pump was. Crawling around in an RV basement to follow water lines to find out is no small feat, let me tell you. At least I knew what the water pump was. But the BEST part was “connect tubing from the water pump”. What tubing? I didn’t see any tubing laying around. And even if I did, how on earth was I going to connect it to anything? Please be more vague because there is simply too much detail here and I’m overwhelmed with all the information.

Back to Home Depot. The tubing was easy enough to find, but what was I going to connect the tubing to the pump with? The video showed a little black connector… thing… and that’s about as descriptive as I can get. I tried explaining that to the Home Depot plumbing guy, but not surprisingly all I got was a blank look back. I’m pretty sure he was thinking “just send me your boyfriend honey, and we’ll get this straightened out”. Sorry dude, you’re stuck with me.

The Home Depot guy walked away from me in exasperation, which left me to dig through just about every cardboard box of plastic plumbing fragments on the shelves. Finally I found something that vaguely resembled the black connector thing seen in the video. Score! Off back home.

From whence I realized I had forgotten to buy tubing clamps.

Back to Home Depot.

So now I had tubing, clamps, and a black connector thing. Super! I put it all together, connected it to the water pump inlet side, and threaded the other end of the tubing into the gallon RV antifreeze I had. Next step! I couldn’t wait.

8. Turn the water pump on and pressurize the system. Starting with the closest faucet to the pump, slowly open the hot and then cold valves until the red-colored RV antifreeze appears. Replace the antifreeze container as required. Repeat on all faucets from the closest to the farthest away. Don’t forget the outside shower.

Pretty straightforward. That is, if your awesome home-made genius tubing connection is properly installed. There is nothing more rewarding than getting this far only to turn on the water pump and have absolutely nothing happen.

I should also mention that the location of the water pump in the RV basement is about as far away from the water pump switch as you can possibly get, so there was much running back and forth in and out and around the RV to make it from the switch to the pump and back, which only added to the joyful delirium of the day. So why wasn’t it working??!?! But hey, I was burning calories!

Well apparently the black connector thing wasn’t quite the right tool for the job. Without going into agonizing detail, the parts to the black connector thing weren’t fused together (I can’t fathom why), and thus prevented the vacuum seal necessary to draw the antifreeze into the tubing system. Fabulous!

Back to Home Depot. More scrounging in cardboard plumbing fragment boxes, this time in the brass section since I had already tornadoed my way through all the plastic ones. There had to be something, somewhere that would work. This wasn’t rocket science. Or was it?

At last I found what I was looking for. The brass equivalent of the black connector thing, but all the parts were fused together. Whoo hoo!

I tore apart the black connector thing from the tubing in disgust and winged it over the fence. I inserted the brass one, and clamped that down as tight as it could possibly go without crushing it. Connected it to the water pump and stuck the other end of the tubing into the antifreeze. Ran back around to the switch and held my breath.

Nothing. AAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

What now for the love of God?? OMG I was about to have a stroke.

Wellllll… evidently if your tubing is about six feet long, that can have an affect on the quality of the vacuum strength. Hm. Wish the video had mentioned that.

So, fearing desperately that I was going to have to go back to Home Depot again, I had to accept that I was going to have cut the tubing to see if that was the problem. If it wasn’t, I was sunk. I had nothing more left to give.

So, squeezing my eyes tightly shut, I looked away and cut the tubing to about a foot and a half in length. With my last gasps of breath, I put the tubing back into the antifreeze bottle, limped back to the pump switch, and wearily and hopelessly turned it on.

Facing dejection, fearing the worst, I rounded back to the water pump to see what was happening.

And joy upon joy, it worked! BWAHAHAHAHA take THAT, RV plumbing system! That tube was slurping the antifreeze into the system like a camel at a waterhole in the Sahara.

Hallelujah! Almost done.

9. Flush the toilet until antifreeze appears. Pour a cupful of antifreeze down each drain. Pour some RV antifreeze in the toilet and flush it into the holding tank to prevent any water in the tank from freezing. Make sure all faucets are closed.

Lamentably, I couldn’t flush the toilet because it’s still broken from last year. But who cared! Antifreeze was in the system!

10. Consult your owner’s manuals for winterizing ice makers and washing machines.

Screw you, man.

The RV is winterized.

Damn right it is. It was a fun two days.