Life Threatening Winter Blast: Dumb Winter RVing Mistakes to Avoid

Even the best home on wheels can only give limited protection from cold weather. The rest is up to you. Don’t learn winter RVing mistakes the hard way. If severe weather is approaching, it’s time to get serious about keeping warm, safe, and enjoying this year-round lifestyle.

RVing is now a year-round activity. Many RV owners are bypassing the RV storage lot to take part in winter camping.

According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), “RV ownership has increased over 62 percent in the last twenty years with a record 11.2 million RV owning households.” A University of Utah study reflects these findings by revealing that more visitors are exploring the state’s national parks in winter than ever before.

Here are some helpful resources:

Can you be comfortable RVing in winter? And safe?

Winter RV camping doesn’t have to be brutal. But even snowbirds that travel south for winter can get caught in unexpected snow storms. You can be warm, safe, and comfortable in cold temperatures if that happens to you. Just don’t wait to learn how to do it the right way. If you’re planning an RV trip during the winter but are unprepared for winter weather you may never want to do it again.

12 dumb winter RVing mistakes you want to avoid

Wherever you travel in your RV, make it your goal to avoid these common cold weather blunders. Don’t learn them the hard way so that you can enjoy four seasons of fun.

Clean snow off slide toppers before retracting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

1. Not clearing snow off the slide-out roof (before retracting it)

In winter, carry a ladder and something that easily removes snow from RV rooftops. This lesson will hit home if a sudden snowstorm catches you by surprise. Don’t forget to look up before retracting your slideout. A massive pile of heavy snow accumulated on the slide-out will cause the motor to stall, sometimes with disastrous results.

2. Delaying RV generator maintenance

Is your RV generator prepped for winter weather? Make sure it operates efficiently before your comfort depends on it. Even starting a well-maintained generator can be tough in freezing weather. Generator starting is especially rough if you have an external model.

Understand your RV maintenance needs. A well-running machine may be the only thing between you and freezing temperatures inside the RV.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

3. Keeping the fresh water hose connected

Don’t wait for the first hard freeze to teach you the agony of thawing your drinking water hose with a hair dryer. When the weather starts to go bad, fill your RV fresh water tank with water and disconnect and stow your RV drinking water hose. You’ll be glad you did when you can still use water from your water tank and not the campground bathroom.

Alternately use a heated water hose available at most RV dealers and stores selling RV supplies.

Read more: Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Heated Water Hose

4. Forgetting to check propane levels before departure

Use a propane safety tool like the GasStop to alert you when your RV propane supply runs low. Always carry two full tanks especially if you’ll be cold weather boondocking in remote areas. If not, you could end up getting stranded in a remote campsite without fuel to keep you warm.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

5. Not carrying an alternative heat source

If your RV’s propane furnace isn’t keeping your RV comfortable enough (or if you’re running low on propane), it’s time to purchase another heat source. Just be sure to choose a space heater that is safe and practical for your situation. Some can be dangerous if knocked over and will require electric power. Be sure to review the safety risks of using electric heaters before making your purchase.

Check this out to learn more: How to Prevent and Detect Carbon Monoxide in Your RV

7. Skipping extra insulation

You aren’t throwing money down the drain by purchasing extra insulation. Add it to your rig and you’re already better off. The RV insulation most commonly used to retain indoor warmth during cold temperatures is Reflectix insulation material.

This lightweight stuff can be cut to the size of your RV windows and ceiling van vents. Lay it over them and you have one more way to keep cold out. Many RVers also use Reflectix in summer to keep the heat out.

8. Plugging an electric space heater into a 20-amp circuit

Using electric space heaters inside an RV is not inherently dangerous. But not being smart about how you use supplemental heat sources can sometimes end in an RV fire. Don’t leave a space heater turned on when you’re away from your RV or overnight. A pet could easily knock it over and burn your RV down. Or an electric cord can overheat and start a fire. That’s why we never use the high setting on our space heater.

Read more:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

9. Not opening cabinet doors on freezing cold nights

Keeping RV cabinet doors open at night is one of the best tricks to prevent frozen water lines.

Leaving your cabinet doors open allows for warm air from within your RV to circulate exposed pipes under sinks and vanities. When you keep your cabinets closed, you prevent air from warming them, essentially keeping them isolated in cooler air.

By keeping cabinets that contain pipes open whenever possible and maintaining adequate heat levels throughout your RV, you’re taking crucial steps towards ensuring that your plumbing system remains intact even during winter’s worst conditions.

10. Check your seals and furnace vents

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to help prevent a cold RV is to keep up with your maintenance! Make sure there are no cracks or gaps in the seals around your windows to avoid unnecessary drafts in your RV. You can repair the seals with some caulking or completely replace the seals if needed. 

11. Blindly following Google trip directions without checking road conditions

We’ve all read about drivers who don’t invest in an RV trip planner and end up paying the price by getting lost, or worse. Don’t tempt fate by blindly following your GPS as it can lead to deadly consequences. Always verify that road conditions are safe for us before heading out.

Here are some articles to help:

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

12. Don’t learn RV lessons the hard way

Create enough camping checklists and soon the list of summer and winter RVing mistakes grows shorter. The positive side of learning from common mistakes is that you will have plenty of great campfire stories to share with friends and family.

Cold climate winter camping is not the best time to attend the RV school of hard knocks. It pays to talk to more experienced RVers about winter camping. Learn from everyone else’s mistakes, so you can avoid them in your awesome RV travels.

Worth Pondering…

No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.

—Hal Borland (1900-1978)

The Ultimate Guide to Cold Weather Camping

Looking to go winter camping, but don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, you’re in the right place.

 ‘Tis the season where the mercury starts dropping and RVers the world over begin to hunt for warmer pastures. After all, one of the best parts of owning or renting an RV is the fact that you can chase 70 degrees as it gets colder up north.

But what if cold weather camping is your jam? Or suppose you want to be close to a ski hill or other place that’s great for winter RV camping? Or do you live in your RV full-time but work still requires you to be in a cold-weather spot?

Whether you do winter RV camping by choice or by necessity, there are steps you’ll want to take to stay warm in your rig. That’s why I put together this Ultimate Guide for Cold Weather Camping. 

I want you to know exactly how to use your RV in the winter—how to shield it from Mother Nature, how to winterize and store it if you want to, and even how you can make money renting your rig to others in warmer parts of the country.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is cold weather camping?

Cold weather camping can be defined as any time you camp in your RV in the winter when the temperature is consistently below freezing. That’s because temps above freezing don’t usually bring with them the same problems and considerations that winter camping brings with it.

When temps dip below 32 degrees, that’s when you have to worry about freezing pipes, increasing heat needs, and cold—and complaining—family members. 

Another consideration with cold weather camping in an RV is wind. Even if the temps are above freezing, winter weather can still bring cold winds. Cold winds can make RV camping in winter a tough proposition because the winds more easily penetrate RV windows and doors than in a house. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why cold weather camp?

Cold-weather camping can get you into some of the best places to hang out in your RV. You could stay close to a ski hill for a fraction of the cost of a condo, you could hang right by certain national parks and have them nearly all to yourself, or you could just stay in an area you want to stay in despite the wrath of Mother Nature

None of this means that RV camping in the winter has to be uncomfortable. There are ways to explore the outdoors in a place you enjoy and still come home to a home-on-wheels. 

Heated water hose for winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to keep an RV warm in the winter 

Each RV is unique and some are better equipped for cold weather. Despite the marketing sticker on the outside of your RV saying something like “Extreme Weather Package”, very few RVs are ready for freezing temperatures without some modifications.

It is important for you to know specifically what is installed on your RV such as a heated and enclosed underbelly, holding tank warmers, or insulated pipes.

You can take the following steps to make sure you’re ready for cold-weather RV camping:

  • Add to your insulation
  • Use clear marine vinyl or Reflectix to create an additional insulation barrier on your RV windows
  • Cover your RV with area rugs for an extra layer of floor insulation
  • Insulate your RV roof vents
  • Install heavy drapes that insulate your windows against the cold
  • Check to ensure all doors and windows are well sealed and replace old seals/weather stripping as needed
  • Purchasing or fabricating an RV skirt to seal your RV’s underside
  • Use multiple forms of heat—furnace, heat pumps, electric space heaters
  • Blankets, thermal undergarments, and thick socks go a long way in keeping the family happy while cold weather camping.
Electric space heaters help to keep the interior warm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV camping in winter: Maintain your furnace BEFORE it gets cold

RV propane furnaces haven’t changed much since the early days of RVing but they can still be a pesky appliance to keep running efficiently. And you can be pretty much certain that it won’t be on a 60-degree day in the middle of the week that it dies. It will be on a cold holiday weekend when you’re hundreds of miles away from civilization. As part of preventive maintenance have your furnace tested and serviced by a certified tech before the winter season.

Keep water flowing with a heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to keep RV pipes from freezing while camping

Keeping water flowing—and unfrozen—is your most important winter camping mission, apart from staying warm yourself. 

You should take these precautions to keep RV pipes from freezing:

  • Use a heated water hose: This will keep water flowing through your city water connection
  • Use the RV fresh water tank: If you don’t want to use a heated hose or aren’t connected to city water, your fresh water tank is a viable option
  • Practice strategic dumping: Leaving your black and grey tanks open is never a good idea; instead, dump only when your tanks are about 70-75 percent full
  • Use low-temp heat tape on hoses: Heat tape can be easily wrapped around external hoses to keep them thawed while using your RV in the winter
  • Let your water drip: I don’t particularly like this one because it wastes water but if you’re in a pinch this will keep your water hose from freezing because sitting water freezes before running water
  • How to pack for cold weather camping
Faucet protector and heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that your RV is ready for winter camping, it’s time to prepare your family for the adventure. Here is what you want to pack in your RV for cold-weather camping: 

  • Sleeping bags and thick blankets
  • Breathable underlayers such as thermal underwear that wick away moisture
  • Thicker mid-layers like fleece or wool sweatshirts
  • Toque, warm socks, and waterproof boots/shoes
  • Gloves
  • Waterproof outer layer
  • Headlamp and lantern 
  • Snow brush/ice scraper
  • Shovel
Vista del Sol RV Resort, Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to go

Many RVers opt for winter camping in southern destinations because their winters are far less harsh. While you may still need to take certain precautions to keep your RV warm, most snowbirds find southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida comfortable during the winter months. Other states that attract snowbirds include Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Nevada.

On the flip side, if you plan to chase the snow, consider Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and even northern New Mexico. If you’ve decked out your RV to be the ultimate cold-weather camper, ski resorts can be a great place to winter camp.

To experience the snow in less harsh conditions consider Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, northern Georgia, and western North Carolina. Since winters here are relatively mild, you’ll get snow without the extreme cold (usually). Explore Smoky Mountain National Park when few people are there and enjoy southern hospitality as you cold weather camp.

The Pacific Northwest is known for mild winters, light snow and rain, and ocean fun. Even during the winter, the Oregon coast is a fun spot for cold-weather camping. And north of Washington State in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, you’ll experience Seattle-like weather.

The Springs at Borrego Golf & RV Resort, Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to stay safe while cold weather camping

Cold weather camping brings with it a few extra precautions.

First, keep an eye out for icy conditions—especially black ice. Ice is a sticky situation for any vehicle but it can be especially problematic when driving an RV. Second, be sure to have an emergency RV kit with you at all times in case you get stuck on the side of the road. Finally, be sure you always have extra water, food, and blankets on board at all times in case you get stuck in cold weather. 

How to winterize your RV

While cold-weather camping is appealing to many RVers, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes you just want to tuck your RV away for the winter until spring arrives. Storing your RV for the winter can be a great option. If you choose to do this, you should take the following steps to prep your RV for cold-weather storage: 

  • Drain your water lines via your low point drain: Consult your owner’s manual to find the location of your low point drain. Once you find it, open it to drain all the water from your lines.
  • Drain your water heater and bypass it. Your owner’s manual will tell you how to do this. It’s very important that you allow the water in your water heater to cool before you do this so you don’t get burned.
  • Pump non-toxic RV antifreeze through your water lines.
  • Store your RV batteries in a climate-controlled location: You can extend the life of RV-deep-cycle batteries by storing them in a temperature-regulated place.
  • Pour a bit of non-toxic RV antifreeze down your sink drains: This helps to protect the P-traps. Also leave some in your toilet bowl to protect those parts.
  • De-winterize your RV in spring before you head back out. 
Sea Breeze RV Resort, Portland, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to rent out your RV this winter?

Winter RV camping can be a fun journey if it’s your jam. But what if you’d rather make money with your camper during the winter? Many parts of the U.S. still experience high demand for RVs during the winter and there are many ways you can connect with individuals who want to rent RVs in these climates. Moving your RV south for the winter could be a great option for you if you were otherwise planning to store your camper for the winter.

While it might seem intimidating to have your RV rented out to strangers in a faraway place, there are many ways you can have peace of mind while your RV makes money as a winter camping rig. 

Hit the winter roads

Cold-weather camping is a tried and true path that many have trod. While it’s not necessarily for everyone, the bottom line is that you have many options for your RV in the winter from storing it to camping in it to making money with it. No matter which way you choose to use your RV in the winter it’s good to know that cold weather doesn’t need to stop your camping plans.

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

In this article, I cover the most common reasons that RVs catch fire and what you can do to prevent it

When you head out on the road with your RV, regardless of the type, you are probably thinking about rest stops and your eventual camping spot. Fire safety probably doesn’t cross your mind. However, fire risk is a real concern with RVs, so you need to be prepared. 

According to data published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are nearly 2,000 devastating RV fires every year. An RV fire can start anywhere whether you are on the road or parked.

Being aware of potential fire hazards in your RV and taking steps to mitigate your risk of a fire can go a long way to keeping your RV safe.  

Older models are more at risk of fire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which RVs are most at risk of a fire?

According to a NFPA report on fire hazards associated with RVs, older models of RVs have fewer and less advanced fire safety measures. They also have older engines and equipment that is more likely to fail which is a common cause of RV fires. Most fatal RV fires occur in older models of RVs.  

If you own an RV that is more than 10 years old, you should upgrade your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Also ensure your fire extinguishers are adequate for the size of your rig and handy in the kitchen, bedroom, and living areas of the RV. Every year, it’s wise to get a full inspection of your rig to find out about potential problems before they become fire hazards.   

While there are a number of things that cause RV fires, doing a few things will help reduce your risk of a disaster. Here are nine fire hazards and what you can do to mitigate them.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Malfunctions of the RV electrical system

Many RV fires originate from malfunctions in the RV electrical system. Here is what you can do to lessen the risk of an electrical fire in your RV:

  • Make sure any electric space heaters run at their lower wattage setting. Usually, space heaters are set at 1,500/750 watts or 1,200/600 watts. You should only run a space heater at 750 or 600 watts in your RV. 
  • Always plug your space heater into a wall outlet; never use an extension cord.
  • Don’t overload your electrical outlets by plugging too many things in at once. For example, if you plug a space heater into an outlet, you shouldn’t have anythng else plugged in.
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mice, rats, and squirrels love to chew through cable and wire housing in vehicle engine compartments and the RV’s living compartment. If any of these critters have invaded your rig, inspect your wiring for any signs of nibbling and do the necessary repairs immediately. 

>> Related article: On the Road Again: Summer Road Trip Safety Tips

Don’t leave small electrial appliances plugged in when you aren’t home.

Inspect your rig’s 12-volt connections before each trip. Loose connections can cause shorts that ignite combustible materials in the RV.

Carbon monoxide detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Propane system leaks

Propane system leaks are one of the top causes of fire ignition in RVs. It’s important to have your propane system inspected regularly.

In addition to detecting propane gas leaks in your RV, there are a few more ways you can prevent your RV’s propane system from causing a fire. 

Never drive your RV with propane on. Everything in your RV is jostled around while you drive. If there is a leak when the propane valve is open, it just takes a spark from a flat tire or the little flame in your RV’s propane fridge to ignite it. 

Make sure your RV propane/carbon monoxide detector is working and up-to-date. RV propane/carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years.

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your RV refrigerator

Your RV refrigerator can be a fire hazard due to manufacturing defects. Dometic and Norcold have both recalled certain models of their RV refrigerators over the years because they could catch on fire. The boiler in absorption RV refrigerators can also overheat and become a fire hazard when the fridge is not kept level.  

4. Wheels and brake system

When your RV’s wheels and/or brakes get too hot, they can ignite materials around them. Be sure to check your tire pressure when your tires are cold. Get your wheels and brakes inspected regularly and before long trips.

5. Stuff near your RV cooktop

Having combustible items anywhere near your RV cooktop can lead to disaster. Because RVs are made with far more combustible materials than a traditional home, a fire in the galley can rapidly get out of control.  

>> Related article: The Safety Checklist for When Your RV is Parked

Keep combustible items like paper towels, plastic, and wood well away from your cooktop when you are cooking.

Don’t store cooking oils or fats close to your cooktop.

Always stay in the kitchen/galley area when you are cooking and keep an eye on things.

Smoke detector © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Not having a working smoke detector

I know it can be tempting to take the batteries out of your RV smoke detector after it goes off for the tenth time when you are just making toast. Don’t do it. Working smoke detectors really do save lives. 

>> Related article: Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

Test your smoke detector monthly and change the batteries twice a year around daylight savings time. 

Be aware of fire hazards near the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Portable grills and campfires too close to the RV

Portable grills should be at least 12 feet from the RV and campfires should be at least 25 feet away from your RV and any fuel source. This makes setting up a gas or charcoal grill underneath your RV awning a really bad idea.

Electric system and surge protection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Not having adequate fire extinguishers in your RV

You should have a 2.5 lb fire extinguisher in each area of the RV. A fire extinguisher is required near the doorway of the RV, so manufacturers meet the minimum standard for this. But if there is a fire in the galley of the RV, the extinguisher can either be out of reach or precious seconds are wasted accessing it. 

>> Related article: Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

Fire extinguishers are classed according to the type of burning fuel that is being extinguished. A Class ABC fire extinguisher will put out the types of fires common in RVs. Here are the types of fires that each class extinguishes.

Class A – Ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, rubber, fabric, or plastics.

Class B – Flammable liquids and gasses, including gasoline, oils, paint, lacquer, and tar.

Class C – Fires involving live electrical equipment.

9. Gasoline and propane   

Gasoline and propane present an immediate fire hazard when stored incorrectly or when there are leaks or spills. Storing gasoline out of the sun and well away from the RV or tow vehicle is a good idea. Generators should be set up a safe distance from the RV.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In conclusion

Although we hope it never happens, we should always be prepared for the worst. By being diligent, properly maintaining our RVs, and practicing cooking safety, we can reduce the risk. Since we can’t completely eliminate it, planning ahead and practicing evacuation can ensure the whole family stays safe.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

The winter camping season is upon us and it’s time to get prepared for the freezing cold temperatures. One of the best things you can invest in for winter camping adventures is a space heater.

It could be a freak cold snap, the necessity of traveling through cold northern states to get to warmer states, camping at high elevations where the nights are almost always cold, living in your RV while working in a cold climate, camping in the spring and fall when temperatures go up and down—or maybe you just like to spend time in colder places.

When winter temperatures start plummeting, some RVers outfit their rig for winter RV camping and others prepare to put their RV in storage. If you’re going to brave the winter chill, however, it pays to know about the different types of space heaters for RVs. Even if you don’t plan on RVing during the winter months, a space heater will help you keep things toasty on cool days.

Exploring the world in your RV can take you to magical places. But those magical places can come with cold weather especially in the winter months. That means you will want a quality space heater to keep your rig warm.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for in electric heaters for RVs

When shopping for a portable electric space heater for an RV, consider the safety features of each model. When using high heat to warm small spaces it is paramount to use a heater that has safety features. Also be aware of the amount of space the heater will cover. There is no use buying a heater that does not have enough power to warm your rig. 

These little units are powerful and can easily warm up a small room. However, they’re also a fire hazard because they produce heat. Therefore, it’s important for every RVer to know some small space heater safety tips.

Most of these tips are just common sense because it should be obvious that any heater could lead to a fire if you’re not careful. Just treat every space heater as if it was a tiny campfire and you’ll be able to prevent most accidents and problems. 

Follow along with the small space heater safety tips below to keep your RV warm but also safe. Don’t be afraid to use space heaters if you take the appropriate safety measures. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep flammable items three feet away

Be sure to keep flammable objects out of range. Again, this is pretty obvious but it’s especially important within the limited space of an RV. Sometimes that three-foot radius can be hard to maintain but you should always be aware of the items that are near your heater. 

Papers, curtains, rugs, and other flammable items need to be kept away from any heat source. In addition, some items may not burst into flames but they could still be damaged if they’re exposed to high temperatures. For instance, a plastic garbage can might melt and warp a bit if it’s too close to a heat source.

Do not use extension cords

Another good rule for RVers is to avoid the use of extension cords. These cords can be useful but they also create a fire hazard. Exposed plugs and cords are easy to accidentally damage. If the plug connection is loosened, it could create sparks. In addition, extension cords are easy to trip over. Since this is dangerous for you and your electrical system alike try to avoid them if at all possible. Most small space heaters have an adequate cord length that allows you to position them wherever you want. Since space is limited in an RV, so you shouldn’t need to rely on extension cords anyway.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuck power cords out of the way

Speaking of power cords, let’s talk about how to store them safely. A small space heater will usually sit on the floor so the cord may lie across the floor as well. This is a tripping hazard especially if you have pets or young children. 

Sometimes it’s tempting to place cords underneath rugs or carpets but this is a bad idea. The cord will still be stepped on even if you can’t see it. This can lead to damage and could potentially expose the wires and start a fire. It’s better to keep the cord close to the wall if possible. Secure it in place so it won’t create a dangerous situation for anyone who is walking nearby. 

Only use heaters when you’re in the room

Never leave a space heater unattended. If things unexpectedly malfunction you won’t be there to deal with the situation. It may be tempting to turn on the heater and do some chores while it warms up. This is a dangerous thing to do!

In addition, you are wasting electricity if you run a space heater in an empty room. When you plan to leave the room, turn off the heater, unplug it, and store it somewhere where it will be out of the way. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep it in a low-traffic area

As I’ve already mentioned, a small space heater is easy to trip over. That’s why it’s important to keep them in a low-traffic area where they won’t be in the way. You also need to ensure that they aren’t near a doorway/blocking an exit. 

Use models with built-in safety features

Sometimes accidents happen and a space heater is knocked over or left unattended in a room. In these cases, it’s good to have some backup from built-in safety features. 

Many modern space heaters are equipped with fail-safes that will activate if the model is knocked over. For instance, my space heaters will automatically turn off if knocked over. This prevents the floor or surrounding items from catching fire. 

Some heaters have temperature control options that enable you to set limits for how hot it can get. Once it heats the room to the ideal temperature, the heater will automatically turn off. 

Sometimes you can also set timers. If you tend to forget to turn heaters off when you leave the room, set a timer so it will shut off by itself. You don’t need to have a super high-tech heater to be happy, but safety features can give you some peace of mind. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ensure you have functioning smoke alarms

One of the key elements of space heater safety is setting up an advanced warning system. Again, space heaters can create fire and smoke. If this occurs it’s important for you to have early warning. If you have a heads up, you can put out the fire or at least save yourself and your passengers from getting burned. 

Smoke alarms will let you know if a heater has gone out of control. Maintain the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your RV. Check the batteries and test their effectiveness regularly. Make sure everyone in your RV knows what to do when the alarm goes off, so nobody is caught unprepared. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the heater away from kids and pets

Finally, it’s easier to abide by space heater safety tips if you don’t have kids or pets. They can knock over your heater and burn themselves by accident. 

If you do have these passengers as part of your crew, take extra safety measures to protect everyone. Set up a radius around your heater and keep it out of reach (if possible). For kids, teach them that the heater is dangerous and off-limits. For pets, use scented deterrents to convince them to stay away from the cords. As long as you follow the space heater safety tips above you should be able to keep everyone safe, warm, and happy!

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV space heater safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, always follow these safety tips when you purchase and run your space heater.

  • Purchase a heater with the seal of a qualified testing laboratory
  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people
  • Choose a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection
  • Place the heater on a solid, flat surface
  • Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over
  • Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic
  • Never block an exit
  • Keep children away from the space heater
  • Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.
  • Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room or go to bed
Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other articles you may want to read:

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

Winter RV Camping: What You Need to Know

The winter camping season is upon us and it’s time to get prepared for the freezing cold temperatures

Winter RV camping is more accessible than ever with improvements in RV technology. That’s why more people are seeking out winter destinations for RV getaways and living in RVs full-time during all four seasons. 

If you camp in the cold you’ll need to prepare for it. If you plan on camping in cold temperatures this winter here’s what you need to know to keep your RV and yourself healthy and happy.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting water for winter RV camping

Maintaining the health of your RV’s water system is arguably the most important factor of winter RV camping. When outside temperatures drop below freezing, water can freeze in your pipes and your freshwater hose. Frozen water expands and that alone can cause your pipes to burst. Even if your pipes don’t freeze over a frozen section of pipe can increase water pressure enough to stress pipes joints to the point of bursting.

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hooking up to city water

If you’re hooking up to city water you’ll need a heated hose that plugs into an AC outlet at your campsite pedestal. A heated hose keeps water from freezing at the source and while it’s flowing into your RV. Some people add additional insulation to their heated hoses if they expect extreme temperatures. This can be done by wrapping the entire length of the hose in foil wrap insulation tape. Be sure to check the recommendations and read through the entire manual that came with your heated hose before attempting to add additional insulation. 

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Filling your freshwater tank

If you don’t have a heated hose you can also fill your freshwater tank instead of connecting to city water. Most modern RVs designed for winter camping feature heated holding tank compartments to prevent water from freezing in the tanks. As a rule of thumb only connect your water hose when you need to fill your freshwater tank. Disconnect it when you’re finished and drain all water out of the hose before storing it. This will prolong the life of the hose while preventing potential freezing.

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Keeping you (and your RV) warm

Winter RV camping should be enjoyable but we all know that’s tough if you are perpetually cold. The following tips will help you keep your living space warm and cozy throughout the winter. 

Insulating the Floor

The laws of thermodynamics state that warm air rises and cold air sinks which means that your floor will often feel extra chilly, especially first thing in the morning. There are several ways to insulate under your feet including area rugs and runners.

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Windows and doors

The next two obvious places for heat loss are your RV windows and doors. An RV with dual-pane windows is the best for winter camping but there are numerous ways you can insulate single-pane windows. Whether your RV has single or dual-pane windows you can add foil insulation to select windows and doors to reduce heat loss. If you don’t like the appearance of foil insulation, you can also upgrade to thicker window shades. 

If you’re unable to find window and door covers and a front window reflective sunshade that fit the exact dimensions you may need to cut an insulation roll to the desired dimensions for each application. You don’t want to cover ALL of the RV windows so that you can still get some natural light and heat from the sun throughout the winter. 

In addition to adding insulation check the weather stripping around your RV doors. If it’s partially detached or missing altogether, replace it to keep cold and moisture out of your rig. 

Roof vents

You can also lose considerable heat through the RV roof vents. You can insulate your roof vent openings with vent cushions to reduce heat loss. Vent cushions can also be used during the warmer months to trap the cool air from your AC inside your RV. The good news about these cushions is that they can be installed or removed in seconds. 

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Heat sources

As for an actual heat source, there are five heater options to consider.

Furnace: The first is your RV propane furnace. Before your winter camping trip take the time to make sure your furnace is in good working order and check to see if it’s time to replace your furnace filter (if applicable). Use compressed air and a soft brush to remove any dirt, dust, and debris from the furnace. Make sure all vents are clean and unblocked.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hydronic heat: As an alternative to the propane furnace, hydronic heat comes standard in many luxury coaches and is offered as an upgrade in several others. These systems use a boiler to circulate hot antifreeze through a series of heat exchangers found throughout the motorhome. The advanced technology nearly eliminates the fumes normally associated with propane or diesel use and is quiet, as well. The system evenly heats your coach’s interior with multiple heat zones. As the temperature of a zone drops below your thermostat setting, a heat exchanger begins circulating heat not only from the floor to the ceiling, but also side to side. Plus, it acts as the hot water heater as well. In fact, water pumped through the boiler is instantly heated meaning that you won’t run out of hot water until you actually run out of water.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electric space heater: Your second option is a portable electric space heater. Ceramic convection heaters are the most popular type of portable space heaters for good reason. Not only are they affordable (you can get a good one for under $50) but they are also efficient and quickly take the chill out of the air. Ceramic heaters work by heating the air and circulating it around the room.

Infrared radiant heater: Infrared radiant heaters produce mild consistent heat to maintain the temperature of a room. They are designed to heat the objects around them (including you) rather than heating the air. Infrared radiant heaters are optimal in areas where you are sitting close to them rather than moving around the room. They are also best used to maintain the temperature of a room rather than providing a quick blast of heat.

Propane space heaters: Portable space heaters that run on propane are great for those situations when you don’t have access to electric power. If you enjoy boondocking or dry camping but still want a source of heat this is the perfect solution. Just check to make sure the unit is safe for indoor use and stock up on extra propane tanks if you want this to be a reliable heat source for winter camping. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protect your RV exterior

Winter camping also takes a toll on the exterior of your RV. From getting snow off the roof to ensuring your stabilizing jacks don’t freeze to the ground there are some important steps you’ll need to take to protect your RV’s exterior on winter adventures. 

Underneath your RV

Since I just mentioned stabilizing jacks, let’s start there. To keep them from freezing to the ground use stabilizing jack pads beneath them. If you store any recreation items underneath your RV place them on a tarp or in a sealed bin to avoid water damage. 

Using an RV skirt is another way to keep cold air from getting underneath your RV. An added benefit of skirting around the base of your RV is protected exterior storage. If you have kayaks or bikes that don’t have anywhere else to go you can slide them under your RV before skirting to keep them out of the elements and protected from critters seeking a warm winter home. 

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Exterior steps

Exterior steps can quickly turn into a slippery hazard when you encounter freezing and snowy conditions. You can add grip to your RV steps by installing a wrap-around step rug. You can also consider installing an external step with a handrail if you’re looking for something with a little more safety and stability for winter RV camping. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roof, AC, slideouts, and awnings

If you have slides, you may need to clear snow and ice regularly. Avoid snow and ice accumulation on top of your RV. If possible push the snow off after each storm. Use care not to damage your roof or awnings. Climbing up your RV ladder can be the most dangerous part of this effort. Shoes with soft rubber soles are best for handling slippery surfaces. It’s also a good idea to apply sprayable antifreeze to slide components if you plan on moving them in and out throughout the winter.

It is best to leave your RV awning closed when winter RV camping. Weight from snow and ice as well as the potential for high winds makes the risk for awning damage high in the winter. 

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Conclusion

Camping in the winter can be an exciting adventure and allow you the chance to enjoy all the fun that snowy destinations have to offer. If you take the time to prepare as you should, you and your RV should have no trouble weathering those frosty winter storms.

Other articles you may want to read:

Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron

The Safe Use of Electric Space Heaters in your RV

Use electric space heaters with care

Electric space heaters can be dangerous if they are not used correctly.

In 2020, two snowbirds died after a fire broke out in the early morning in their RV at the Highbanks Marina Camp and Resort in DeBary, Florida. Investigators said multiple space heaters, extension cords, and power strips were in use and that a space heater ignited the fire near the only exit. Firefighters were called to the home around 4:15 a.m. Officials said the blaze broke out near the single entrance to the RV and said that although the couple had been alerted by a working smoke detector, they were not able to get out.

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And, in 2021, in Tucson, Arizona there was an RV fire around midnight which resulted in the death of a small dog. According to Tucson Fire Department (TFD), it took 14 firefighters 30 minutes to put out the fire limiting damage to the nearby RV to a burnt awning and melted plastic around the door. TFD officials believe the fire started from an unattended space heater.

TFD reminded the public that space heaters should never be left unattended and offered the following reminders:

  • Always place space heaters on a level, flat surface
  • Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet
  • Never leave a space heater running overnight or when you are asleep
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If you’re camped in an RV park with full hookups and not paying extra for electric usage it makes sense to take advantage of the power to heat your RV rather than using the propane you have to pay for separately. There’s also the fact that heat pumps and furnaces are, in most cases, very noisy. And there’s a third good reason. Unless the campground has a power outage, you don’t have to worry about running out of electricity.

Related Article: How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your RV?

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Use space heaters with care

So why wouldn’t this be a great way to heat your rig? What could be the downside of it? 

Are electric space heaters really dangerous?

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Well, don’t just take my word for it. Perhaps some advice from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) might help. According to the NFPA space heaters were the single most likely cause of a home fire over any other source of heat. In fact, 53 percent of home fires related to heating were caused by space heaters according to their 2018 report, the last year the information was reported. 

Related Article: Maintain Your RV: What You Absolutely Need To Know To Avoid Disasters on the Road

Space heaters all essentially max out at 1500 watts which means you can draw about 12.5 amps from the wall outlet. If your space heater does not have a thermostat, this continuous draw can heat up the wiring in the RV which could result in a fire, particularly if it’s compromised in any way. 

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Electric space heaters can help warm a room quickly. However, they can be as dangerous as convenient if not used properly. Everyone needs to understand the importance of using space heaters safely. Here’s what safeelectricity.org says about the safe use of space heaters:

  • Purchase only space heaters that have been safety tested and UL approved
  • Make sure the unit has an emergency tip-over/shut-off feature and heating element guards
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for operation and care
  • Before using a space heater, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working condition
  • Make sure the heater is clean and in good condition
  • Place the heater out of high-traffic areas and on a level, hard, non-flammable floor surface—NOT on carpets, furniture, or countertops
  • NEVER use space heaters to thaw pipes or dry clothing or towels
  • Keep space heaters at least three feet from combustible liquids such as fuel, spray cans, and paint and flammable items such as draperies, blankets, towels, and sofas
  • NEVER allow pets or children near an electric heater; accidental contact can cause serious shock or burns
  • DO NOT overload circuits
  • NEVER use extension cords or multiple plugs with a space heater and make sure not to plug the unit into the same circuit as other electric appliances
  • Never leave space heaters unattended—turn off and unplug before leaving the room or going to bed
  • Replace older space heaters with newer, safer models
Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But electrical fires aren’t the only reason using a space heater can be a concern. Most RVs have heated and enclosed underbellies that use the heat from the central furnace to warm the area so the water lines and holding tanks don’t freeze. 

Related Article: The 10 Essentials Every RV Owner Should Buy Before Their First Road Trip

If you’re using a space heater to warm the RV, this may not provide sufficient warmth to keep the pipes and tanks from freezing and that could be a major problem. If the temperature is below freezing set your RV thermostat on a low setting so that the underbelly and interior of the coach stay above freezing. 

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final thoughts

Many space heater fires are caused by plugging them into an outlet strip or skinny extension cord. Always plug a portable space heater directly into a wall outlet, never a power strip. Outlet strips were never designed for the types of continuous high-amperage loads created by any electrical heating appliance. 

Locate a space heater at least three feet away from anything flammable. And make sure your dog can’t knock a blanket down on top of one.

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Modern electric space heaters have tip-over and overheating protection. But that hasn’t always been the case with old heaters. Make sure your heater has all the safety controls.

Watch out for pet hair and fuzzies. Yes, pet hair will be sucked right into the fan on many of these heaters. That can cause an internal fire to start. Inspect your space heater for signs of dirt and hair. Use a can of compressed air to clean this kind of gunk out if it’s not too bad. But if it’s really caked on it’s time to buy a new space heater. Don’t take any chances with accumulated dirt and hair in a heating appliance.

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Use low power settings and inspect outlets and plugs for signs of overheating. Always run your heater on the low-power setting or 600 to 750 watts. The continuous draw of the high-wattage settings can cause RV outlets and heater plugs to overheat and possibly catch on fire. If you see any signs of discoloring or touching the plug with your hand feels warm, then the damage is beginning. And be aware that a GFCI outlet will do nothing to prevent overheating. That’s not what they were designed to do. And while you’re at it, take a look at the power plug for any signs of overheating.

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There’s no good way to repair an electrical outlet once it begins to overheat since the spring contacts have probably been damaged and it will keep getting hotter and hotter until it melts. Once a wall outlet has been overheated, then it’s time for a replacement.

Some of the newer RVs are manufactured with space heaters in the form of an electric fireplace. They are simply a fancy space heater with a beautiful display but one that does incorporate a thermostat. 

Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.

Read Next: Is Your RV Protected from Electrical Issues?

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As always, a lot of common sense will help you to stay in the safe zone. Let’s play safe out there….

Worth Pondering…

When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

—Marcus Aurelius