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Winterizing Your Pop-Up

When should I winterize?

Obviously, the decision to winterize your pop-up is a personal one.  If you have no plans for additional camping trips this year, now is the time.  Winterizing should be done before the water system is exposed to prolonged freezing temperatures.  Think about leaving a cup of water outside during the temperatures you expect to be encountered.  Would it freeze solid?  Would it get just a skim coating of ice on it?  Damage occurs when the water pipes (hoses) freeze solid and thus expand, breaking the pipe (hose).  Most pop-up campers have very little exposed outside the interior space.  Crawl underneath and take a look at your unit.  If it only has a couple of inches of hose going from the water tank to the hole through the floor you should be fairly safe until the exterior of the camper will be exposed to freezing temperatures both day and night for a few days in a row.  Remember, this is just my opinion - I recommend you check your owners manual and campers in your area to verify that this information will work in your area.

Water System

Below is a block diagram of the water system of most pop-up campers.  While there are some differences between manufacturers, they are similar.  I will describe the steps in winterizing a pop-up with a fresh water system including hot water heater, shower and cassette toilet.

The idea of winterizing is to remove any and all water from any area that may be subjected to freezing temperatures.  Water freezing in either the fresh water system, gray water system or cassette toilets can cause damage to the water pipes, pumps or other parts.  Freezing water expands and if no room for expansion is available will crack or destroy the confining parts.  Even if you have a "basic" pop-up with just a hand water pump you still need to winterize the water system!

 

 

Three methods of winterizing are available:

1. Replacing the water with an RV anti-freeze through the fresh water tank

2. Replacing the water with an RV anti-freeze direct from a bottle of antifreeze

3. Using air pressure to clear all pipes of water

Caution regarding the use of RV anti-freeze

Replacing the water with an RV anti-freeze

through the fresh water holding tank

The first thing you need to do is drain all water possible from the water system.  Remove the drain plug from the fresh water holding tank by removing the drain plug.  You want to drain the tank as much as possible (a little water will always remain). It may help if you lower the end that the drain plug is installed in.  Now, replace the drain plug and pour RV anti-freeze into the fresh water holding tank, adding sufficient water to dilute the anti-freeze per instructions on the bottle.  This anti-freeze is sold at most RV stores or through mail order companies.  It is designed for use in drinking water systems and is non toxic.  Most RV anti-freeze is PINK in color.  

While you have antifreeze in the water tank, do not run the pump quite yet!

Do not confuse RV anti-freeze with automotive anti-freeze.  Automotive Anti-freeze is HIGHLY toxic!

There is a very large difference between automotive anti-freeze and RV anti-freeze, automotive anti-freeze contains ethylene glycol which is toxic, RV anti-freeze contains propylene glycol which is non toxic.

Caution regarding the use of RV anti-freeze

 

 

The next step is to drain and bypass the hot water heater.    Check out the area below titled "Anode Rod" for detailed draining instructions.  There should be two connections on your heater, a fresh water inlet and the hot water line out.  While most pop-ups come with a bypass hose, you can make one from simple parts.  All you are doing is making a jumper hose from the inlet hose to the HW out line, which will take the HW heater out of the fresh water system.

You may think of installing Hot Water Heater Drain Valves, which are permanent replacements for the water heater plugs.

While some (or maybe all) of the water will drain out of your HW Heater when you install the bypass, you now need to drain the HW heater as much as possible (there are sometimes drains under the camper for this). Once drained, remove the anode rod to inspect it. If you are unsure of where it is or what it looks like, refer to your HW heater owners manual. The anode rod is an item which is designed to be replaced on a regular basis. It is constructed of a metal which will "sacrifice" itself and corrode from chemical and electrical reactions with the water. The life of the anode rod in not just how much you have used the heater, but how long the rod has been in contact with water and protecting your tank. Figure on replacing it every 1 to 2 years.

 

Turn on the pop-up water pump and run all sink and shower faucets until pink water is coming out of them.  Remember to run BOTH the cold and hot water side!  If your cassette toilet uses the water pump and fresh water system for flushing, make sure you flush until pink water is running out here also.  On most campers you can remove the screen on the camp site water connection and push into the opening with your finger to open the one way valve and let antifreeze flow out (This is if you did not use a blow out plug above).  On all sinks and showers, run sufficient pink water through the fixture to fill any traps under the fixture with anti-freeze protected water

Note the diagram below.  All areas in green should now be winterized.

 

Replacing the water with an RV anti-freeze

pumped directly from the bottle

Pump Converter Kit

This method is similar to the first method, but instead of adding antifreeze to the fresh water holding tank you disconnect the inlet hose to the water pump and add a hose to pump antifreeze directly out of the bottle.  Kits are available with a short hose, "Y" connection and valve to make this job easier. This bypass is installed PRIOR to the fresh water pump, and it uses the pump to push the antifreeze through the system.  It will protect the water pump. You must be careful with this method because the hose between the fresh water tank and the water pump may retain water.  Verify that this water drains out when you disconnect the hose.

Click for Step By Step Photos of RV Anti-Freeze Use

 

Porta Potti - Cassette Toilet

Remember, both porta potties and cassette toilets have water in them that needs to be protected.

If you use a cassette toilet, it  has its own fresh water tank. You need to put anti-freeze in this water tank also to protect this tank.  The black water cassette should be emptied and allowed to dry for winter storage.

If you have a cassette toilet there is a water drain on the bottom of the water fill.  Drain most, but not all of the water from the cassette toilet fresh water tank and add RV anti-freeze to this water tank.  Go inside the pop up and pump water through the cassette toilet water lines. The black water cassette should be emptied and allowed to dry for winter storage.

Using air pressure to clear all pipes of water

Some people decide to use air to displace water in the system rather than flooding the system with anti-freeze. This is a personal decision and while I have used this method in the past in temperate areas, I'm not sure I would use it in extremely cold areas.  After you blow out the lines and residue water on the walls of the water lines tends to fall to the lowest point over time. If sufficient water residue collects and it is in a confined space, damage to water lines could result.

The first step using the air pressure method again is to bypass the hot water heater.  There should be two connections on your heater, a fresh water inlet and the hot water line out.  While most pop-ups come with a bypass hose, you can make one from simple parts.  All you are doing is making a jumper hose from the inlet hose to the HW out line, which will take the HW heater out of the fresh water system.

You will now connect an air adaptor (photo above, available at RV stores) to the camp site water connection and then attach an air pump.  Utilizing this method, you will need a pump of sufficient pressure and volume to displace all water in the system.  Be careful if you compressor will provide more than 40 PSI.  Higher pressures can damage the water system!

Using this system once air pressure is applied to the exterior water connection you will open each fixture (one at a time) and allow all water to be expelled.  Care should be taken that all water has been removed from the system and that while you are applying air pressure to the system you do not over pressurize the water pipes and damage them.  Make sure that you run the water pump to remove water form inside it. 

Now, drain the HW heater as above, being sure to inspect the anode rod.

 

Other Chores

Many people use the process of winterizing to perform other maintenance tasks.  These can include:

 a full cleaning of the unit (check the canvass and roof of the canvas)

clean appliances (refrigerator, stoves) If possible, leave refrigerator blocked open for air flow

remove all food items

remove any/all items that may rust/explode (spray cans)

lubricate the lift system

lubricate any moving parts (locks, bed slides, hitch....)

repacking the wheel bearings

checking the brakes

If the unit is to be stored outside:

seal any holes on the underside of pop-up (water line openings)

remove battery and store inside (remember to keep it charged during the winter)

cover any vent openings (refrigerator, furnace, hot water heater...) some people use plastic shrink wrap for this.

lower the tongue end as low as possible to allow rain/snow to roll off quicker

park pop-up on something so tires are not in direct contact with the ground (dirt) and cover tires to protect them from the sun.  refer to you owners manual for ideas.  Some people actually lift and block the pop-up so that the tires do not contact the ground and reduce the air pressure.

depending on manufacturer, you may want to consider a cover for your unit.  Some manufacturers DO NOT want the units covered, again refer to the owners manual

 

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Anode Rod

While not specifically a "winterize" your pop up duty, the anode rod should be inspected on a regular basis, so why not use this yearly task to do it.  The anode rod is is in the tank to "sacrifice" itself so that the metal parts of the tank will not corrode. Steel which is found in many forms inside the tank such as drain nipples, heating elements, immersion thermostats, inlet and outlet nipples when exposed to moisture and oxygen will rust and corrode.  The anode rod, by means of cathodic protection will corrode in place of the other metals (OK, there is really a lot more going on, but I think you get the picture).  When depleted,  the rod needs to be replaced.  As a matter of fact while we are talking about this, when was the last time you checked the anode on your hot water heater at home?  if you want to read a little more about Anode Rods and Cathodic Protection, click away.

All pictures are thumbnails, click on them to see a larger version

HWH.jpg (45932 bytes)The first step in this project is to drain the hot water heater.  Many campers have valves under the floor which drain the water lines, including most water in the tank.  The water will flow faster if you open a faucet or 2 to allow air to replace the water as it drains.  Additionally, you may need to perform this task while the pop up is a little "off level" to allow the water to drain in the direction you need it to go.  Let gravity be your friend.

After draining as much water as possible, you may want to place a bucket under the hot water heater to catch the remaining water that will drain when you remove the anode rod.

AnodeSocket.jpg (41834 bytes)

Using the proper sized socket, remove the rod.  Remember, righty tighty - lefty loosie so turn the socket counter clockwise to remove. My anode rod uses a 1 1/16" socket, but others may vary. As you begin to take it out the remaining water in the tank will begin to drain.  

Don't worry about this unless you are doing it in the garage and you forgot he bucket in step 1.

Anode.jpg (10409 bytes)Here you see my anode rod after 1 camping season.  I left water in the tank all year so it may be a little more corroded than yours.  It is slightly corroded and "eaten away", but will last for at least 1 more season.
AnodeOpen.jpg (31950 bytes)In the picture to the left you now see a hole in the end of your hot water heater.  Place your finger in the hole and see if there is sediment on the bottom of the tank.  If so you will need to connect the pop up to the city water supply and "flush" the tank as much as possible.  Remember to close all faucets and drain valves that you opened in step 1.   If you are doing this as part of your winterization remember that if you leave this hole open, something may crawl into your tank!  To reinstall just repeat the process.  Some people advise using Teflon tape on the threads, but mine didn't use it so I am not replacing it that way.

Opening up your camper in the spring

 

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Caution regarding the use of RV anti-freeze

The winterizing instructions for the Shurflo Water Wizzard Hand Pump, Model 150 states:

"WINTERIZING
CAUTION: DO NOT use propylene glycol based anti-freeze fluids."

As this manual hand pump/faucet is common on many pop up campers that do NOT have an electric water pump you should read the instructions for all parts that came with your unit to assure that you can use propylene glycol anti-freeze.  Many assume that this warning deals with automotive glycol anti-freeze, but it does not.  Automotive anti-freeze is ethylene glycol, RV anti-freeze is propylene glycol.

**********************************

 

Many photos on this page are of Camco Manufacturing, Inc. products.

They are available at most RV stores.  Click on the logo below to go to Camco's web site. Included on the site are descriptions of products and a dealer locator.

 

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   Revised: May 08, 2007

 

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