RV De-Winterization: Get Your RV Ready for Spring
At long last, it is time to pull your RV out of winter storage and get ready for spring camping! It’s time to de-winterize your RV!
Fortunately, the process should be easier than winterizing, assuming you properly winterized in the first place.
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Initial RV De-Winterizing Steps
First things first, let’s take off any covers and open the RV up for some fresh air. Nothing worse than stale air inside. Hopefully, you don’t get a big whiff of foul odors!
Up on the RV Roof
If you have covers, you’ll probably have to get on top of the RV to get them off.
It’s a good time to do a visual inspection of the roof to make sure there is no damage. Even small cracks can lead to major water damage so take your time. Check the seams and any caulk to make sure that they are all water tight.
You should also inspect the air conditioner to make sure there are no obstructions.
Same with any other exhaust pipes, including the fridge, the hot water heater, and the black tank vent.
Check to make sure that there is no debris and in particular for the propane exhaust areas, that there are no wasp nests!
Unless you have left the batteries on a trickle charger, the batteries can discharge as much as 10% a month in storage.
If you took out the batteries during your winterization process, you’ll want get the batteries checked and fully charged up. Then you’ll need to get them back into place.
Make sure that the RV batteries are properly maintained with distilled water in all the cells. Water should only be added to fully charged batteries unless the water level is currently below the the plates.
To make it easier to maintain your RV batteries, I recommend the Flow-Rite Pro-Fill.
This system replaces the vent covers on your batteries with new ones that are connected to a tube for easy pumping at once. These systems are particularly wonderful for those batteries in hard to reach places or where the cable connections prevent the vent covers from moving easily.
Clean terminals, connections, and trays as necessary with water and baking soda. Remember, batteries have acid, so safety first – wear gloves and don’t use any chemicals in cleaning the battery compartments.
Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Since you are probably opening up and de-winterizing the RV after the switch to Daylight Savings Time, you probably didn’t check the smoke alarm batteries.
Now is a great time to do so. Don’t forget about the carbon monoxide detector and the LP gas leak detector as well. Remember, safety first!
I highly recommend the carbon monoxide detectors with 10 year batteries for the RV.
This way, you are not dependent on your RV power source to protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Even if you have one in the RV, get a backup carbon monoxide detector and put it near your bed.
Like with the RV roof and propane systems, you’ll need to do a physical inspection of the engine compartment. It is a common area for pests and small animals to seek refuge during the cold winter months.
You should check not only that the pests are not currently in the engine compartment but also that they did not do any damage during the winter months. Check below the RV to see if there is any debris from pests chewing on cables, tubing, and other parts.
You will want to check all the engine liquids, like oil and coolant, to make sure you have enough per your RV owner’s manual.
After you check all the liquids and you are good to go, start up the RV and run the engines, including the generator.
This makes sure that all the fluids are properly distributed throughout the systems and lubricates many of the hoses to prevent cracking.
Pay Particular Attention to Tires
RV tires are more likely to wear out from time and not use. After sitting for several months, your tires are prone to dry rot. A careful visual inspection is necessary to ensure that the tires are not cracked.
Tires also will lose about 2-3 psi per month while in storage. Check the tire pressure and inflate as necessary to reach the recommended PSI for your tires by weight.
After checking the tires, you should treat the tires with a tire protectant during the cleaning process.
I recommend 303 Protectant Tire Balm for UV protection and protection against tire dry rot. Bonus – apply several coats for a shiny finish on your tires.
A Good Cleaning
Hopefully, you did a good cleaning when you were packing the RV up for winter. That should have included taking all the food out, cleaning the bathroom, etc. But some how, every spring, you open up the RV and find that you forgot something.
One spring, I went into Starter RV and found that I had left a bunch of food in the microwave. Oops! Fortunately, I didn’t have an ant problem since I run ultrasonic pest repellers all the time. And you wonder why I swear by these things. In addition to ants, food can also attract other pests. So don’t do like I did and leave food in the RV during winter storage.
Make sure that you take the time to go through all the various hiding places and clean them up. While you are cleaning, keep a careful eye out for signs of water damage.
If you find any signs of water damage, particularly in the ceiling or along the walls, you’ll want to get that fixed ASAP before mold becomes a major problem.
And a few months of sitting still means that dust has accumulated. Maybe even some mold. You might be cleaning for awhile.
See Also: How to Control Humidity in Your RV
Opening up the RV for spring is a good time to give the outside a good wash as well.
The harsh winter probably left a lot of dirt and debris on the RV. If you have slides, you’ll need to pull them out to clean properly. Don’t forget about slide toppers and RV awnings while you are cleaning the outside as well.
You can do this yourself or you can take it to a RV/truck wash. For about $35-50 for even the large rigs, it is really hard to beat the interstate RV and truck washes. Especially if you are short on time.
De-Winterize The Water System
Did you put RV antifreeze in the RV plumbing when you winterized? If so, it’s time to flush all that antifreeze out!
Prepping the Water System
You’ll want to leave the hot water heater on bypass during most of this process. We will open it up near the end of the process, but for now, let’s leave the antifreeze out of the hot water heater.
Do NOT turn the water heater on until you put water in the heater! You’ll burn the heating element out if you don’t have water in there for it to heat.
You’ll be going through quite a bit of water in this process. It probably won’t take a whole tank but you’ll want the option.
Now is also a great time to sanitize the system, since the RV has been sitting for awhile. If so, you’ll want lots of water and full hookups are recommended.
Check for Water Leaks in RV Pipes
Hopefully, you did a masterful job of winterizing and don’t have any problems with your RV pipes. But we need to verify this.
To check for leaks:
- Close all the faucets (sink and showers) and drains (freshwater tank and low point) that you left open during winter.
- Fill the freshwater tank with fresh water.
- Turn on the water pump.
When you first turn on the water pump, it will pull water out of the freshwater tank and fill all the water lines. Wait until the pump stops. This will mean that the lines are full of water and that there are no leaks on the fresh water side.
If your water pump continues to run for a long time, then you have a water leak somewhere. Start by verifying that you did actually close all the drains and the faucets first.
Next, start looking around for drips or leaks. Start outside and under the sinks since those are the easiest to access. Then work through all the various water lines until you find something that is leaking. Fix and proceed.
As you go through the flushing process, which is discussed next, you’ll want to be on the lookout for possible leaks in the waste lines as well. Now, before you have gross waste in those lines, is the time to fix those leaks.
Also, once you turn the water heater off bypass, be sure to check for leaks in and around the water heater. Because of the proximity to the outside, it is often the source of freeze-related plumbing issues.
Hopefully, you won’t have any leaks and if you do, you’ll be able to fix them yourself. If they are under the shower or in one of the walls, it may be time to call in professional help.
Flushing the Antifreeze
After you have a freshwater source, you can begin flushing the antifreeze out of the pipes. It’s real easy – you’ll just run the water until it runs clear.
Typical RV antifreeze is pink. When it is at full strength, it is hot pink. But as it gets diluted, you’ll notice that it gets a softer pink.
You want to run the water until it is clear. Use a white plastic cup to see if the water is clear Large stadium cups are perfect for this.
Start with the closest faucet to the water tank, probably the kitchen. Open the faucet and run water until the water runs clear.
Then systemically work to the bathroom faucets and the shower. Don’t forget to run the washer through a rinse cycle if you have a washer and dryer in your RV. (because who wants their clothes to turn pink???)
Keep an eye on your black tank levels. You may have to empty the tank during the antifreeze flushing process if you use a lot of water. The last thing we want to create during the RV dewinterization process is a new, expensive and soggy mess to clean up because we let the RV black tank overfill.
Kitchen Ice Maker
One of the things that I hate the most about the de-winterization process is flushing the antifreeze out of the refrigerator ice maker and the filtered water.
Don’t turn on the ice maker until you have flushed out the filtered water faucet! You want to get as much of the antifreeze out before you turn on the ice maker. Trust me.
One reason that flushing the fridge is one of the tasks that I like the least is because there is no place for the discharge water to go. You’ll have to use a large cup or small bucket for this process.
And you’ll be keeping the fridge door open (assuming that the water is on the inside and not outside). If you are de-winterizing with the slides in, this could make it quite tight inside.
Sanitizing the Water System
Once you have the antifreeze out of the pipes, you can sanitize the system using bleach. Use regular household bleach, but not any of the special scented or specialty bleaches.
- You’ll want to dilute the bleach to about 1/4 cup to a gallon of water for every 15 gallons that your freshwater tank holds. So for a 60 gallon tank, you’ll want 1 cup of bleach and four gallons of water.
- It is easiest to pour into the gravity fill, if you RV has one. Otherwise, you’ll need to pour it into your hose before attaching it to the source.
- Once you have the diluted bleach mixture in the RV tank, you need to run each faucet until you can smell bleach. Don’t forget about the outdoor shower.
- Let it sit for at least four hours. Overnight is even better. I usually find it easiest to start this process on Saturday afternoon and then finish on Sunday.
- Drain the freshwater tank and refill with fresh, unbleached water. Flush it out of the pipes until you cannot smell any bleach, similar to how you flushed the antifreeze out.
Too bad bleach doesn’t have the tell-tell pink color of RV antifreeze. At least then, you would know that you got all the bleach out. Instead, you have to rely on your nose.
Don’t forget to flush the outside shower, the clothes washer (if you have one), the inside shower, the toilet, and the fridge water dispenser.
After you have finished flushing the bleach out of the RV freshwater system, you can reinstall the water filter(s) on your RV (typically, one in the wet bay and another in the fridge, although you may also have some above or below the sinks).
Your water system should be safe for drinking.
The Black Tanks
You won’t have to do much about the black tanks during the de-winterization process.
You should have left them empty when you closed up for winter. And the process of sanitizing the fresh water system should flush more than enough water through to get anything leftover. You will want to do a few thinks relating to the waste water systems though:
First, lube up those valve seals. You don’t want those getting stuck when you have a tank full of waste. (It’s also why everyone recommends that you wear disposable gloves. Because shit happens)
Second, check your sewer hoses for holes and leaks. Again, you’d rather find these with bleach water while sanitizing your tanks rather than after a trip when the tank if full of waste.
Third, add a black tank cleaning bomb to keep your black tank from smelling up the joint.
Final Note on the RV Water System
We like to start RVing as soon as the weather turns nice. But just because you’ve had one nice weekend doesn’t mean we won’t get any cold spells before spring is over.
If you have de-winterized your RV, you’ll need to pay special attention to the weather during spring.
If the temperatures drop below freezing again, you will be at risk for frozen pipes. Particularly for the first month or two, you may want to leave a ceramic heater on in both the interior of the RV and the wet bay.
A smaller 250 watt heater coupled with a thermostat plug is the best option for the wet bay.
The ice free cube plug will turn on the heater only when temperatures drop to 35 degrees and turns off when it reaches 45 degrees. This means that the heater is not running all the time and you can use a smaller 250 watt personal heater rather than the larger 1500 watt heater that is better for the interior.
If you dewinterized and see that the temperatures are going to drop below freezing for a significant period of time, you may want to consider fully re-winterizing your RV between trips.
De-Winterize Your RV: In Conclusion
While all this seems to be a big process, it is made all the easier if you properly winterized the RV at the end of football season. Baring any issues, like cracked pipes or rodents, you should be able to complete everything in less than a weekend.
And now it is time to go camping!
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