How to Keep Your RV Pipes from Freezing While Camping

Going on a winter camping trip? Here are some easy, affordable ways to keep your RV pipes from freezing while camping.

Camping in the snow is an entirely different experience and a great way to enjoy typical summer destinations in a whole new way.

However, RV owners must take the necessary precautions to protect their RV from the cold weather. One of the most critical issues to be aware of is the risk of frozen pipes which can cause serious damage to your RV’s plumbing system. And don’t forget about your RV holding tanks. In severe cold, these can freeze, too.

In this article, I’ll discuss the steps you can take to keep your RV pipes from freezing while camping in cold weather.

Cold weather camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate RV winter camping tips

One trip to the hardware store can get you most of the things on this list.

These tips should help protect your motorhome or trailer through the winter months. That way, you can enjoy your winter camping trip to the fullest.

1. Insulate your RV pipes

Properly insulating your RV pipes is the first step in preventing them from freezing. Insulation materials such as pipe sleeves or foam insulation can add an extra layer of protection. Or, try pipe insulation tape. These materials can be cut to fit any size pipe and can be applied to the exterior of the pipes.

Be sure to pay attention to all the pipes including those under the sinks and in the bathroom and kitchen.

2. Consider using heat tape

Another effective way to prevent your RV pipes from freezing is to use heat tape or heat cable. Heat tape is an electrical heating element that can be wrapped around pipes and plugged in to provide heat.

Make sure to choose a heat tape specifically designed for use on RV pipes and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.

3. Skirt your RV

Skirting your RV is another way to protect your pipes from freezing because it increases the ambient heat beneath your RV. Skirting is a material that surrounds the bottom or underbelly of your RV to block cold winds.

This can be a DIY project with various materials such as insulated foam, vinyl, or heavy-duty plastic. Or you can purchase pre-made skirting kits.

EZSnap Skirting and Fabricover skirting are very popular in the RVing community.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Insulate your RV storage bays

Your RV storage bays are also vulnerable to freezing temperatures. To protect the pipes in these areas, be sure to insulate them as well. This can be done with foam insulation, foam boards, or fiberglass insulation.

5. Heat your RV storage bays

In addition to insulating the storage bays, you can also heat them to keep the pipes from freezing. Electric heating pads can be placed on the bottom of the storage bay and plugged in to provide heat.

Or, you can use a portable heater like a propane or electric space heater. Just keep in mind that these portable heaters can be dangerous if not used properly. So carefully read their manuals and check them often when in use.

6. Open your cabinet doors

One simple way to keep the pipes in your RV from freezing is to open the cabinet doors under the sinks. This allows warm air to circulate around the pipes and keeps them from freezing.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Strategically place electric space heaters

Another way to keep the pipes in your RV from freezing is to strategically place electric heaters around the RV. This can be done by placing a small electric heater under the sink or in the bathroom to keep the pipes warm.

8. Use your tanks instead of hookups

If possible, use your freshwater tank instead of using a freshwater hookup. Your fresh water tank is insulated and protected from cold temperatures (or at least it should be). Your water hose on the other hand has a higher risk of freezing.

If you need to use fresh water hookups, buy a heated water hose. This heated hose connects to your water source and RV just like other drinking hoses. It’s easy to use and is one of the best ways to keep fresh water flowing to your RV.

On that same note, do not keep your sewer hose open. You shouldn’t leave your gray water tank and black water tank valves open while camping (common newbie RV mistakes) but it’s especially bad to do it in the cold. You certainly don’t want THAT liquid freezing in your sewer hose (aka stinky slinky).

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Choose a sunny campsite

When choosing a campsite, look for one that’s in a sunny location. This will help to keep your RV warm and can also help to prevent your pipes from freezing. It’s a simple tip, yet very effective.

If you don’t think it will make a big enough difference, think about when you’re driving up the mountains. You’ll start seeing snow patches beneath trees much sooner than on open ground. So, try to park in a campsite where you’ll have as much direct sunlight as possible.

10. Install RV holding tank heaters

Finally, consider installing RV holding tank heaters. These heaters are specially designed to keep the water in your holding tanks from freezing and can be a lifesaver in extremely cold temperatures.

Bonus tip: Keep a heat gun or compact hair dryer on hand just in case you end up with a frozen pipe. You can defrost it and add pipe insulation or one of the other above tips to prevent it from happening again.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know the signs of frozen pipes

Even if you take all the necessary precautions, there’s still a risk that your pipes may freeze. It’s important to know the signs of frozen pipes so you can take action before they burst. Some common signs of frozen pipes include a lack of water flow, strange noises coming from the pipes, and frost on the pipes.

If you suspect that your pipes have frozen, you should first turn off the water supply to your RV. Then, open the faucets and turn on the hot water to allow any remaining water to flow through the pipes.

If the pipes are still frozen, you may need to use a hair dryer or heat lamp to thaw them. Never use an open flame such as a propane torch, to thaw pipes.

Where to find more support…

The Ultimate Guide to Cold Weather Camping

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.

Keep reading…

Worth Pondering…

And finally Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean

35 Little Things to Remember to Pack for Your RV Road Trip

Here’s a list of little things to remember that make a big difference on the road…

Packing for an RV road trip can be both exciting and overwhelming. With limited space, it’s important to prioritize what items to bring along. And while it’s easy to focus on the big-ticket items, it’s the small things that can often make the biggest difference.

One such example is a tool kit. It may not be a glamorous item but having the right tools on board can make all the difference in a pinch. Whether it’s a loose screw or a minor repair having a tool kit can save you time and money by allowing you to quickly fix the issue without needing to visit a repair shop.

Another important item to consider is a water filter. While most RVs come equipped with a water filtration system, it’s always a good idea to have a spare water filter or even a backup. A portable water filter can ensure that you have access to clean, safe drinking water no matter where you are on your journey.

In summary, it’s important not to overlook the small things when packing for an RV road trip. A tool kit, water filter, and first aid kit can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey.

There are at least 35 little things that can make a big difference in your next RV trip!

Water system © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

35 Little Things to Remember Before You Hit the Road

I have written in the past about 16 must-have RV trip accessories. However, I am expanding on that post to include other small things.

Just because something is small does not mean it is not important. In order to remember all the things you need for your next camping excursion, you may want to keep a checklist. 

The following are important items that you can add to your list!

1. Basic tool box

It is always a good idea to have a tool kit on hand in your RV. You never know when you might need a screwdriver or wrench or to hit something with a hammer! Just about anything in your RV that can snap, crack, rip loose, tear, bend, leak, spark, or fall off will do exactly that at the most inconvenient time. Something will need to be tightened, loosened, pounded flat, pried, or cut. To help you deal with everyday problems and annoyances, maintain a well-equipped tool box in the RV (always store on curb side). This is definitely one of those things you’ll kick yourself for not having if you end up needing it. 

Progressive Electric Management System © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Electric Management System

Protect your RV from electrical threats with an electric management system sometimes referred to as a surge protector. That way a power surge or low and high voltage issues will not cause harm to your rig’s electrical system. 

There are four electrical issues an RVer can encounter while traveling: surges, miswired pedestals, high/low voltage, and wiring issues inside the RV. We’ve had a power surge, situations where pedestals were miswired, and both high and low voltage situations. Fortunately, our Progressive Electric Management System has protected us from all of these situations.

Check out the units available from Progressive Electric Management Systems or Surge Guard. Both portable units and hardwired units are available.

Water pressure regulator © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Water pressure regulator

You do not want your RV’s water system to get damaged or spring a leak! That is why you need a quality water pressure regulator for your RV. It’s an $8 part that will save your plumbing system.

Water filter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Water filter

Having an RV water filter ensures that you have clean, safe drinking water. A water filtration system cleans out the gross gunk in many campground water hookup systems. 

5. Foldable rake

This little item can be very useful. You never know what the ground cover will be like when camping. Use a rake to even it out. You can also use a foldable rake to put out a fire, clear out a sitting area, or make your RV more level. A foldable shovel is also useful to carry onboard.

6. Portable air compressor

Be prepared. The last thing you want is to be stranded somewhere with low air or a flat tire especially if you are far away from services! A portable air compressor can pump up your tires if needed to get you out of a jam. It can also help keep your tires properly inflated to ensure they have a longer life. 

A nifty trick is to use your air compressor to dust off picnic tables, BBQs, and other campground fixtures.

7. First aid kit

A first aid kit readily available in an emergency isn’t just a good idea—it’s a necessity for every RVer. A well-stocked first-aid kit and manual can help you respond effectively to common injuries and emergencies. You can purchase first aid kits and refills at the Red Cross store, most drugstores, online, or assemble your own.

Contents of a first-aid kit should include adhesive tape, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic solution or towelettes, bandages, calamine lotion, cotton balls and cotton-tipped swabs, gauze pads and roller gauze in assorted sizes, first aid manual, petroleum jelly or other lubricant, safety pins in assorted sizes, scissors and tweezers, and sterile eyewash.

8. Road atlas: Digital and non-digital

I always recommend keeping a hardcopy road atlas in your RV in case your GPS fails. However, most GPS systems and apps allow you to look up routes ahead of time and download them to your phone. That way, you can still access them even when you do not have cell service. 

9. LED flashlights

Flashlights are a must-have on any road trip. 

10. Long jumper cables

Do not risk being stranded with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Or ones that are too short to reach your RV’s engine. 

Another thing to consider is a jumper starter that can jump-start a rig without needing another vehicle. This may be a good idea for you boondockers out there!

So, make sure to include jumper cables in your Emergency Roadside Kit.

11. Emergency radio

An emergency radio can help you stay in touch with the NOAA Emergency Radio Station in the event of a natural disaster or emergency. They can help you identify fire danger or recovery information for other natural disasters. All in all, it can help keep you and your family safe. 

12. Folding step stool

Whether you need to fix your awning or clean up a spill in a high cabinet, a step stool saves the day. The best part about this stool is that it folds up flat for easy storage. It can easily be stored in an outdoor storage hatch or utility closet inside. It can even be tucked away under a couch or bed if they are elevated above the floor.

Disposable vinyl gloves © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Disposable vinyl gloves

Emptying the RV black water tank is probably the most common reason to have disposable vinyl gloves around. But, they can also be used for a variety of other things like cleaning and handling food. Yes, you should absolutely use disposable gloves for sewer tasks.

14. Assorted fuses

Vehicle fuses can blow at any time so it’s a good idea to keep extras around. We like to travel in a variety of sizes. But remember—something caused it to blow in the first place. Address the original issue as soon as you can. 

15. Duct tape

You probably already know that duct tape can come in very handy around the home. It is no different when you are in your RV! As one person said, “If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape.” 

Use it to temporarily repair frayed wires, holes or leaks, or hang up holiday decorations. The uses are endless with good ol’ duct tape!

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Space heater

Space heaters are great for warming up an RV. Even though they are small, they are mighty. 

A small electric space heater can quickly warm your RV, keeping you toasty in chilly camping conditions. They are simple to use since all you need is a plug. 

17. Fan

Just like a heater, having a camping fan to keep cool can be make camping that much more enjoyable. Fans are great for cooling you when it is not hot enough to warrant using the air conditioner. 

18. Heavy duty RV dogbone electrical adapters

Every RVer needs to carry a few power adapters often referred to as dogbones to make sure that they can connect to whatever power is available to them. These power adapters will have a smaller, lower amperage plug (male blades) on one end and a larger/higher-amperage receptacle (female terminals). Look for UL-listed versions of these adapters preferably with rigid grab handles. They do not change the power output.

Recommended electric adapters include:

  • 50-amp RV plugged into 30-amp source
  • 30-amp RV plugged into 15-amp source

19. Gorilla tape 

Gorilla Tape is a brand of adhesive tape sold by the makers of Gorilla Glue and available in several sizes and colors including camouflage, white, and clear. Gorilla Tape can solve many problems while on the road—and you can do most anything with this stuff. RVers have used it to temporarily repair a sewer hose, keep a driver’s side window from continually falling, and even affix the coffee maker to the counter so that it doesn’t move during travel.

20. Rain gear

Another small thing to keep on hand is rain gear. That way, you can be prepared for any unforeseen downfalls. 

Keep a poncho and rain boots in a closet for rainy days. Here me out on this one… Another great tip is to purchase plastic disposable shower caps to wear over your socks inside your shoes. They can help keep your feet from getting soaked!

Comfortable pillow and bedding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Comfortable pillow and bedding

Comfort is key to a successful camping trip and that includes a super comfortable pillow. Instead of just grabbing a spare pillow from your house, invest in a good one specifically for your RV.

22. Fly swatter

A fly swatter makes a great addition to your RV. You can quickly rid your space of annoying flying insects. 

23. Mosquito and bug repellent

One downside of being in nature is being around unwanted bugs. While many folks love all of nature’s creatures, most do not want mosquitos and flies bugging them. There are products on the market that will combat pesky bug on your next road trip. You’ll be ready to battle the little buggers on your next camping trip with one of the following deterrants: Thermacell Patio Shield, Yaya Tick Ban, Buzz Away, OFF! Deep Woods Bug Spray, and Citronella candels.

24. Silverware

This one might seem funny to some folks! It certainly won’t be amusing if you forget to pack silverware on your next RV trip.

Stabilizer jack pad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Stabilizers

One small item you do not want to go without is stabilizers for your rig! These small pads can help keep your rig level, making your camping experience much more enjoyable. 

Prevent hydraulic or electric jacks from sinking into the ground by using RV stabilizer jack pads. Available in sets of four they are solidly constructed of durable polypropylene with UV inhibitors.

26. Chairs

Sitting back and relaxing on a trip is one of the main reasons I travel! Camping chairs are an absolute must.

27. Spare keys/hidden keys

It’s a VERY GOOD IDEA to make an extra copy of your key and hide it on the outside of your rig using a magnetic hide-a-key. Of course, make sure you hide it in a clever place that won’t easily be discovered by no-do-gooders. I also recommend leaving a spare with a family member that can ship it to you, just in case.

28. Zip ties

Zip ties are convenient, especially while camping. Zip ties are handy to tie up a cord or attach something inside your rig. 

29. Matches or lighter

Nothing is worse than trying to light your stove only to realize you do not have matches or a lighter. Even if you just want some ambiance by lighting a candle, you do not want to learn too late that you cannot burn it. 

30. Paper towels

Camping is messy, and paper towels can help keep you and your rig tidier. Paper towels help clean up spills at home and in your RV. They also make great napkins for those messy BBQ nights when camping. 

31. Can opener

You’d be surprised by how many people forget to pack a can opener! It’s not something you really think about until you stare dumbly at a can and wonder how the heck you will open it.

32. Pot holders

Same as can openers, people often overlook packing pot holders. And, trust me, a double-upped towel doesn’t work as well. Especially if you’re using cast iron! Do your hands a favor, and don’t forget pot holders!

33. Large trash bags

Inside our rig, we use small trash bags or grocery store bags to line trash cans. The 13-gallon trash bags do not always cut it, so we also pick up the large black trash bags from Costco and bring a handful along. And having large trash bags for all the outside debris is really useful. 

You’ll need a corkscrew for most wines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

34. Corkscrew

We all know how catastrophic forgetting a corkscrew can be to some people’s camping trip. Settling in for the evening with a nice glass of wine is a common RVer indulgence. But what do you do if you forget a corkscrew?

35. Dog poop bags

Last, but not least, bring along some dog poop bags. That is, if you travel with a dog, of course.

In addition, these little bags can be handy for other items too. Put raw meat or strong-smelling foods in them before throwing the food in your trash. It can help keep your trash fresher for longer!

Worth Pondering…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

—Benjamin Franklin

RV Fire Safety

Fire can consume an RV in a matter of minutes. Having a plan and the proper tools to deal with a fire can save your RV—and your life.

Man’s quest for fire has been around since the beginning of time and fire can be a good thing. It can be used to cook food, heat your living space, and add a bit of ambience to a living space or a campsite. However, fire represents a risk that RVers need to keep top of mind. An RV fire can spread in a fast and furious manner leading to devastating damage, injury, and even loss of life.

RVs have numerous potential sources of fires—RV refrigerators, propane appliances, space heaters, washers and driers, gasoline or diesel engines, and electrical wiring that take a beating when traveling on less-than-ideal highways. So, every RV owner needs to develop a safety plan that covers how to deal with a fire. This involves fire extinguishers as well as the necessary detection devices and an escape plan.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your first decision

If a fire breaks out, you’ll be faced with an important and immediate decision: Fight or flight. Do you stay and try to put out the fire or do you get out and wait for the fire department? Your safety and that of your loved ones should always be your highest priority. You can replace your RV and the stuff in it but you can’t replace someone’s life. And it’s important to know that the most common cause of death in a fire is not from the flames but from the smoke and the toxins created by burning material—especially the synthetic material common in today’s RVs.

Since it’s a natural reaction to want to try to douse a flame a bit of forethought can help you make the best decision when you’re under pressure and the clock is ticking. It may be possible to handle a small fire with an extinguisher but if the fire is larger or if the fire prevents you from accessing an extinguisher, it’s time to exit the RV.

A smoke alarm can save your life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating and practicing an escape plan is crucial. Smoke and heat build up fast during a fire, so it’s vital to know where the exits are. Practice getting to them so it becomes second nature. Exiting via the entry door is the ideal choice and some newer Class A motorhomes offer emergency egress doors. Still, you may need to go out through one of the emergency exit windows. However, these may not be as simple as they seem. Getting to them—and getting through them—can be a challenge. This is something you should practice because you won’t have time to figure it out during an actual fire.

Open the exit windows a couple of times a year to make sure they still function properly. It’s best to go out through the window feet first and belly down. The drop to the ground can be long. Some people move a picnic table next to the emergency window to lessen the distance.

Remember, time is not on your side in an emergency.

RV refrigerators are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire Basics

At its core, fire is a rapid chemical reaction that requires three key elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat, sometimes referred to as the fire triangle. If you remove any one of these elements, the fire cannot be sustained.

>> Related article: 10 RV Fire Dangers and How to Avoid Them

RVs contain an overabundance of fuel sources. They are made with large amounts of wood and composite materials that use extensive amounts of glues and insulating foams. They also have plenty of wiring which has flammable insulation and most have propane on board and—in the case of motorhomes—gasoline or diesel fuel. Of course, oxygen is readily available in the air, so all that’s needed to complete the fire triangle is heat.

Materials that serve as fuel need to be raised only to their combustible temperature for ignition to occur. An electrical short can create intense heat in a wire which can burn insulation or ignite surrounding material such as wood paneling or foam insulation. A loose connection can also throw sparks that ignite fuels. Gases or flammable liquids that reach open flames or hot surfaces can flash and ignite.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire classifications

RVs are required to be equipped with a fire extinguisher, per National Fire Protection Association code. However, it only needs to meet the minimum requirements. So, fire extinguishers that come with RVs tend to be undersized and may not be equal to the task. While all fires may seem the same, they are not. Fires fall into three different classifications:

  • Class A fires use solid combustible fuels (other than metals) such as wood, paper, fabric, and plastics. Class A fires leave behind ash so think of the word ash to help remember what a Class A fire is. To extinguish a Class A fire, you can either separate it from its oxygen source or cool it to below its flash point. This is the easiest fire to extinguish and water works well because it cools the material below its combustible temperature.
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, diesel fuel, and alcohol. Liquids boil so think of the word boil to remember what Class B fires are. These fires cannot be extinguished with water because the liquid fuel floats on the surface of the water and spreads to other areas making the situation worse.
  • Class C electrical fires are caused by energized circuits. If the circuit is live consider it a Class C fire. Note that the wire itself doesn’t burn but the insulation and things surrounding it do. Electrical wires conduct current so associate the word current with a Class C fire. Using a water-type extinguisher on a Class C fire can create an electrical shock hazard. Once the circuit is de-energized, however, you can treat it as a Class A fire.
RVs contain an abundance of potential fuel sources © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire extinguisher ratings

Fire extinguishers are rated by an alphanumeric system. The letter stands for the fire classification(s) that the extinguisher is rated to handle while the number in front of the letter indicates how large of a fire it is designed to handle. The number preceding the letter A is a water equivalency rating with each A equal to the effectiveness of using 1¼ gallons of water. As an example, an extinguisher with a 2A label is rated as effective as using 2½ gallons of water on Class A fires.

>> Related article: Safety Dance

Class B and C extinguishers also have a number but it represents the square footage that the extinguisher is designed to handle. For example, an extinguisher with a 10B:C label is an extinguisher designed to handle Class B or C fires up to 10 square feet in size. It’s common to combine labels on a single extinguisher such as 2A10BC. Obviously, the larger the number, the better equipped you’ll be. You don’t want to run out of fire retardant before the fire is extinguished.

A smoke alarm can save your life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smoke alarms

An effective warning system can save your RV—or save your life.

With large RVs, it may take a while for smoke to travel from one end to the other. Therefore, it’s important to have multiple smoke alarms within the unit—one in the front and one in the back. Don’t place one too close to the cooking area, however, or you may be setting it off every time you burn the toast.

Smoke rises, so smoke alarms need to be mounted on or near the ceiling. Smoke alarms utilize either ionization or photoelectric sensing technologies. Ionization alarms are more responsive to flaming fires, whereas photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires. Each type works best in different situations. Fortunately, manufacturers make smoke alarms that incorporate both sensors in one unit.

Space heaters are a potential source of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other alarms

If an RV develops a leak in a propane line or an appliance, highly flammable gas can build up. Since propane is heavier than air, it settles near the ground where it can creep along waiting for a pilot light or spark to ignite it. That is why propane gas alarms are mounted on an interior wall close to the floor.

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a byproduct of combustion and can come from fire, a furnace with a cracked heat exchanger, an exhaust system, or the exhaust from an auxiliary generator—yours or a nearby neighbor. CO is slightly lighter than air but doesn’t rise to the ceiling the way smoke does so CO alarms usually should be mounted mid-wall. Some manufacturers now offer combination alarms, either propane and CO alarm or smoke and CO alarm. The combination propane and CO alarms generally are located beneath the refrigerator which is perfect for detecting propane but may not be as effective for detecting carbon monoxide. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the best location to place the alarm.

Since people are most vulnerable to the effects of CO poisoning while sleeping, it’s a good idea to have a detector near the bedroom.

Some CO alarms feature a digital LCD display that shows how much CO gas has accumulated. As little as 250 parts per million over an eight-hour period can be fatal, so a good alarm adds up the accumulative amounts, while less expensive models sound an alert only if a large amount of CO is present at one time.

CO and propane alarms become less effective over time, so these alarms should be replaced every 10 or so years, or as indicated in the user’s manual. The date of manufacture is stamped on the device.

How will you exit your RV in an emergency? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proper preparation

Without a doubt, the most important factor when dealing with a fire is a calm mind. In an emergency, the mind always reverts to preparation, so rehearse what to do under any given situation. Discuss and practice how to deal with a particular fire and whether to fight it or exit the RV. Practice each escape route and method.

Outfit the RV with an adequate number of and the right type of fire extinguishers knowing that the one small dry chemical unit that came with the RV probably won’t be enough. The same holds true for warning devices. Smoke, propane, and carbon monoxide alarms need to be properly located in order to be effective.

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

Oxygen, heat, and fuel are the three elements that must be present to support combustion. Eliminate one to extinguish a fire.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

10 RV Fire Dangers 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

Modern campers are designed to be quite safe but RV fire dangers still exist. Something can always go wrong. For example, if the wrong piece breaks or you don’t take the necessary precautions, a fire can start inside your RV. This is dangerous to you, your possessions, and the vehicle itself. RV fire dangers should be prevented at all costs. 

In order to decrease the chance of explosive situations, it’s best to plan ahead. For instance, you can purchase and install smoke detectors throughout your RV. This will give the earliest possible warning if something goes wrong. Additionally, you can study your RV appliance manuals.

Learn how to safely install them and avoid dangerous setups that might start an RV fire. 

As long as you’re careful and follow a good RV maintenance schedule, you should be able to minimize RV fire dangers. At the very least, you’ll be better equipped to deal with a fire. Use common sense as well and keep flammable objects away from hot items and unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them. 

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. RV propane leaks

One of the biggest fire dangers in an RV is the propane system. Most RVs have a heating system that’s powered by propane plus additional appliances that use this type of fuel. Although using propane is usually quite safe, a leak can be disastrous. A single spark can send the entire vehicle up in flames.

>> Related article: Safety Dance

To prevent propane leaks, make sure you have a propane/LP gas detector installed in your RV. Sometimes you might be able to smell the leak but by this point the damage is usually done. It’s better to have an advance warning system so you can get to safety.

Additionally, you should have your propane tanks inspected at least once per year. Keep them well-sealed when they’re not in use. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Unattended electric space heaters

Lots of RVers supplement their heating system with an electric space heater or two. These heaters can keep your vehicle warm when the temperature drops. However, it is an extra heat source and it’s definitely one of the top RV fire dangers you will face. 

There are numerous space heaters to choose between and some are safer than others. Most models come with safety features so they will automatically turn off if they get too hot or are knocked over. Do not use outdated models without these features.

In addition, be careful where you set up a heater within your RV. Make sure it’s not close to any curtains, paper, or other flammable materials. 

RV refrigerator and microwave © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Loose items near the RV stove/oven

Speaking of heat sources, take a close look at your kitchen setup. RV kitchens tend to be a bit small and crowded. You only have a limited amount of space for all your appliances, ingredients, and utensils. 

Unfortunately, a crowded, small RV kitchen can lead to disaster. Do everything you can to keep your stove top clear. These surfaces can easily start a blaze if a loose towel or cord touches them. Unplug and store all your electrical appliances when they’re not in use. Try to keep the cords tucked away. 

>> Related article: 9 RV Fire Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Of course, you should also practice safe kitchen practices. Don’t leave the stove unattended. Keep the surfaces as clean and uncluttered as possible. 

Be aware of fire risks outside the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. RV grills and campfires

Fire dangers often come from inside the RV but sometimes the bigger risk comes from the outside. RV grills and campfires aren’t usually a problem especially if you’re careful. But they can create a fire hazard. 

Keep campfires at least 25 feet away from your vehicle. Sparks and embers might still fly up but they usually won’t cause a problem from that distance. Keep your gas cap firmly closed. Protect your propane tanks and any spare gasoline you might have on hand. 

The same precautions apply to portable camping grills. It might be tempting to cook underneath your RV awning but the smoke, grease, and heat can create dangerous conditions. 

Check the undercarriage for potential problems © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Loose undercarriage wires

There are numerous fire dangers that are clearly visible but sometimes danger lurks below. RV undercarriages can sometimes become damaged without us realizing it especially if we travel on particularly rough roads. An underbelly that been scraped or otherwise damaged presents an increased fire risk.

Loose wires and fuel lines might come into contact with heated engine parts and begin to melt. This is incredibly dangerous because you may not even be unaware of the problem. 

To address this issue, crawl under your RV and check for any loose wires, mechanical parts, or fuel lines that may be damaged. Secure anything that’s hanging down and check for any mysterious leaks or smells. Keep a fire extinguisher in the RV just in case a spark flares up.

Be ware of tire safety © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. RV dryer lint

Not every RV has a washer and dryer on board but those that do are at a greater risk of catching fire. RV dryers in particular are dangerous because of the heat they produce. If you aren’t diligent about cleaning the lint trap and the various vents, shedding fabric can catch fire. 

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

Make sure you always empty the lint trap of your dryer before you start a new load even if you don’t feel like there’s much buildup. Also pay attention to the temperature of the dryer once a load finishes. If it feels unusually warm or has a burning smell, call a tech to check it out. 

A place for everything © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. RV electrical system problems

There are a variety of reasons why an RV electrical system might develop issues. If things start to go wrong with the wiring, it’s easy for a stray spark to start a fire. 

Be proactive and don’t use a ton of different appliances at the same time. Crowding outlets can lead to trouble. Unplug appliances as soon as you’re finished using them and avoid using extension cords. 

Inspect your RV walls and wiring for signs of rodent damage. If these little critters start nibbling on the wires, the whole system could go down. Rodents are also one of the top fire dangers for RVs. 

Finally, check your RV’s 12-volt connections/hookups. Loose connections can lead to a spark which can cause a fire. 

8. RV refrigerator malfunction

It seems a bit strange that an RV refrigerator could cause a fire but it does happen. Check to see if your model has been recalled.

Clean your RV vents on a regular basis to prevent dust buildup. If air movement becomes blocked the refrigerator can become overheated. In addition, keep your refrigerator as level as possible especially if you have an RV absorption refrigerator. These have boilers that can easily overheat if they’re tilted to the wrong angle. 

Don’t overlook the RV tires, wheels, and breaks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. RV wheels and brakes

Don’t overlook the mechanical parts of your RV as well. When you’re traveling at high speeds with a heavy vehicle, things can heat up very quickly. RV brakes and wheels take on a lot of the stress. They need to be kept in great condition.

Follow an RV maintenance schedule to rotate your wheels and repair/replace the brakes as needed. 

Careless use of space heaters is a major cause of RV fires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Deep-cell batteries

Finally, make sure you maintain and replace your RV batteries on a regular basis. If the battery acid boils away, it can overheat and catch fire. Batteries have even been known to explode. Check the fluid level of all deep-cell batteries monthly and add distilled water as required.

>> Related article: 16 Must-Have RV Accessories

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

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. 

Heated water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Heated water hose and faucet protector© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Exterior steps © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Winter camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Winter RV Camping Must-Have: Portable Space Heater

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 portable space heater.

The cold hard fact is that RVs and winter weather are not ideal companions. With little insulation and plenty of opportunities for chilly air to leak in, it can be difficult to keep an RV comfortably warm when the temperatures drop. That’s where portable electric space heaters come in handy.

No matter how many times you vow to follow the warm weather while RVing, the truth is that you’re going to run into cold weather eventually.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downsides of the RV furnace

Whatever the reason, chances are good that if you spend any time traveling by RV you’re eventually going to need a source of heat. The first line of defense against cold is the built-in RV furnace. A typical RV furnace uses propane to create hot air and electric power to blow the air through a series of vents distributed around the RV.

There are a few problems with the RV furnace. First of all, they are gigantic energy hogs that use a tremendous amount of both propane and electricity. Second, the electric fan blowers can be very loud. Since they only come on when the thermostat dips below the set temperature if you’re having a cold night the blower could drive you crazy as it cycles on and off.

Finally, not every RV has a built-in furnace. Many older motorhomes, small trailers, and van conversions don’t have a furnace which leaves owners either out in the cold or searching for an alternate solution.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Portable space heaters to the rescue

This is when portable space heaters save the day. These small, efficient heaters are a safe, quiet method for keeping your RV cozy and warm. There are three different types, each with its own strengths and uses. Let’s start with the most popular.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ceramic convection heaters

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. Some of the benefits of ceramic heaters are:

  • Warms up small spaces very fast
  • Considered a safe source of heat as they don’t contain hot coils or emit dangerous gasses
  • Small, lightweight, and easy to move around the RV
  • No smells
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Infrared radiant heaters

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. A few of their best features include:

  • Stays cool to the touch making them safe in a small space
  • Emits no noise
  • Unlike heaters that blow hot air around, the infrared radiant heater warms the room temperature without drying the air
  • Provides even, consistent heat
Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

  • Newer models are safe for indoor or outdoor use
  • Emits no noise or odors
  • Doesn’t require electricity
  • Quickly warms up small spaces
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

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.

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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
Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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?

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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?

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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
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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.

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Stay safe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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