How to Winterize a 5th Wheel for Winter Living – Step by Step


Camping in a 5th wheel and having the freedom to move as you please is an amazing experience. But if you don’t take a few simple steps in the wintertime, the dream can turn into a nightmare. So let’s look at how to winterize a 5th wheel for winter living.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

To winterize your 5th wheel, you want to start by making sure that you properly insulate the doors, windows, and rooftop vents. Get heating wires for your pipes. Pack some propane or butane gas for cooking. Finally, install thermal curtains and thermal sleeping bags.

Winterizing your 5th wheel should not feel like you are building an entirely new camper.

All you are doing is adding to the 5th wheel. All of the preparations can be done slowly before the winter season arrives or before you set out on your next trip.

For the best advice on winterizing your 5th wheel, keep reading.

Is it possible to live in a 5th wheel in winter?

Yes. It is possible to live in a 5th wheel in winter. The most important steps to take include leaving the water pump on and dripping all faucets, keeping all tanks flushed regularly, and adding things like thermal curtains and carpets.

Whether you want to go camping in the mountains or settle down near a lake in the winter, doing so in a 5th wheel might seem a little bit intimidating at first.

Not only is it possible to stay in a 5th wheel during the winter, but it can also actually be rather pleasant. That is if you have taken the necessary precautions and have done all the relevant preparations of course.

You will find that our RVs and campers are well suited to handle most conditions that we put them through.

So, I wouldn’t be discouraged by the winter, instead, you can see it as an opportunity to experience a new way of living. Below we’ll get into exactly what steps to take to winterize your 5th wheel while still allowing you to live in it.

How to winterize your 5th wheel in 4 easy steps

There are a lot of steps that you can take to winterize your 5th wheel or any RV.

But I thought that I would share with you what I have found to be important. But also, a lot of what I found on the internet was about winterizing when you AREN’T going to be living in it. So my steps are designed to help you continue to live in it during winter.

So, here are my 4 steps on how to winterize your 5th wheel AND still live in it:

1. Insulate the windows, doors, the floor, and underneath the camper

  • Windows: If you have double-pane windows, all you have to do is add some thermal curtains to trap the heat. For single-pane windows, there are multiple ways of adding extra insulation. You could by insulation foil specifically for RV windows (click to see my favorite one on Amazon) or use bubble wrap on either side of the window followed by a thermal curtain on the inside.
  • The doors: Insulating the doors starts off with you making sure that all the seals for all the doors are in working order. You do not want any heat to escape through them and you do not want any cold air seeping through the gaps of your doors. Simple silicone caulk can work well to fix any broken seals.
  • The floor: Insulating your floor is done by purchasing specialty insulation carpets or rugs. I have found that most rugs do the job just fine. The thicker the rug or the carpet, the better the insulation.
  • Underneath the camper: To add extra protection to the floor, you want to add a layer of insulation to the underside of your 5th wheel; what they call the underbelly. Foam panels work well, but that same insulation foil I mentioned and linked to above can also work.
  • Exposed pipes: Just like you wrap your garden hose spigot at home when it drops below freezing, wrap any exposed pipes under your RV or in any compartments. Many newer 5th wheels feature heated enclosed holding tanks & dump valves and heated low point drains.

2. Insulate your roof and cover your vents

If you were wondering why we did not include the roof in the previous section, it is because it needs its own section.

Heat rises and if you do not insulate the roof properly, everything else you have done might be pointless. So, this is how to ensure that you lose a minimal amount of heat through your roof.

Start by adding a layer of insulation to the bulk of your roof but remember to leave the vents alone.

You will focus on the vents in the next step. For insulation, you can, again, use blankets, carpets, or rugs. Anything that adds an extra layer will trap more heat.

For the vents, it gets tricky because you still need to breathe and you do not want condensation to damage your 5th wheel. That is why I recommend purchasing a vent cover specifically designed for the cold such as this one on Amazon.

Over 7,000 reviews and almost all 5-stars tells you this is a great product.

Plus, at currently under $15 bucks, it’s a steal. Easy to take on and off, and fits all standard 14″ RV vents with 2.75″ of insulation foam wrapped in foil to keep the heat from escaping through your vents.

3. Winterize your freshwater system

The last thing you want is your freshwater system to freeze.

Not only will it make using it impossible but it can also break one of your pipes or faucets. So, I recommend insulating any exposed pipes.

Just get this insulated spiral pipe wrap on Amazon, wrap around any exposed pipes, and then secure with duct tape on each end. It’s an Amazon’s choice product with hundreds of near-perfect reviews and currently under $10 bucks.

You can also run specialty pipe heating along inside the insulation if the winter conditions are extreme enough to warrant it.

Lots of articles mention antifreeze when winterizing too.

Unfortunately, for freshwater tanks, that’s not a good solution for those looking to live in the RV. Even with so-called non-toxic antifreeze, you still don’t want to drink it.

So skip the antifreeze for your freshwater tank. Instead, insulate all exposed pipes, keep the pump on, and drip all your faucets.

BUT, do pour antifreeze down a sink or shower drain and toilet. More on this in the next section.

Here’s the antifreeze I like best on Amazon. Well under $30 bucks, great reviews, and non-toxic.

4. Winterize your gray and black tanks

If you do not take measures to prevent your gray and black tanks from freezing, you could end up having to clean up a very unpleasant mess.

Luckily, this is easy to do.

As I mentioned above, just pour 2 quarts of antifreeze (each) directly into the toilet and sink or shower drain. Then, give the toilet a flush and run the water in the sink or shower.

It’s ideal to do this just after you’ve emptied your tanks. Then repeat every time you drain your tanks.

Another safety measure that should be done along with the antifreeze is to have something warm next to the tanks during the colder periods.

If you have a little DIY skill, this RV tank heating pad on Amazon could be a great thing to install under your water tanks. A simple 12 volt DC connection is all it needs to get up and running.

At what temperature should you winterize your RV?

You should winterize your RV if you will be staying in a location that sees temperatures below 32° F. Winterizing will protect your pipes, tanks, and ensure you have a comfortable and safe camping experience.

Now, if you’re on the road and just driving through a cold climate that can be different.

But ultimately winterizing helps ensure your equipment works perfectly and that you don’t get too cold at night when the temps drop even lower.

Now if you live somewhere like I do, in the central Texas area, you could flip a coin and probably be OK as freezing temps are a little rare. And when they do happen it doesn’t stay that way for long.

But I still recommend at least taking some basic precautions such as wrapping pipes, flushing tanks, leaving the pump on, and dripping faucets to ensure you don’t have a huge mess on your hands.

What happens if you don’t winterize your camper

A camper that is not winterized but parked in a location that has temperatures below freezing risks burst pipes, damaged fresh, gray, or black water tanks, and, most importantly, can be uncomfortably cold to live in.

I understand that some of you bought an RV or 5th wheel because you wanted the convenience and lifestyle that it offers and not to have to “winterize it”.

So what will happen if you do not winterize your 5th wheel?

Depending on how cold the winter is wherever you decide to stay, a lot can go wrong. Your pipes could freeze which can damage them or at the very least, you will have a mess to clean up every time the weather drops to freezing.

Most importantly, the cold can affect you if you do not have sufficient insulation.

In extreme winters, this can be serious.  While thermal sleeping blankets offer great protection, they should not be your only way of preparing.

So if you don’t want to winterize your camper, consider driving it somewhere south where the winters are milder.

Conclusion

Winters can offer some of the best experiences for RV enthusiasts and depending on where you go, you can be in for some of the most scenic adventures of your life.

So, don’t be scared of the cold, follow this guide and you will be able to live in comfort while on the road.

But 5th wheels aren’t the only way to go in winter. I also have a detailed guide on living in a Class A motorhome in winter. Just click that link to read it on my site.


Photo which requires attribution:

_MG_2534 Salem 5th wheel behind 4×4 by nic7320 is licensed under CC2.0

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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell travels on and off with his 3 daughters in a Newmar Baystar Class A Motorhome. He writes extensively on both RVs, campgrounds, parenting on the road tips, remote learning & schooling, and much more!

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