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I am a regular on The Survival Podcast, as an expert on simple living, health, off-grid homes, and the nomadic lifestyle. Answering RV, travel trailer, and off-grid questions make up at least half of the questions I field regularly. What follows is my answer to a podcast listener on how to keep RV pipes from freezing.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section, and I will make sure to answer them.
- How did you keep your trailer plumbing from freezing during the winter?
- Also, what did you try that didn’t work, or reject without trying it?
Details: Gary, I understand that you lived in a trailer part of the time while building your new home in eastern Washington. How did you handle plumbing issues in freezing weather? I’m interested in water supply, drainage, and toilet solutions.
These issues are useful to me as I consider the approach to building our next home we’re considering an airstream or similar for a temporary solution. I’ve built a home before, and I’m quite comfortable with plumbing, but I have zero trailer experience. Do you use a Jim Jenkins style bucket composting toilet and water jugs that can handle freezing, or do you have a viable way to keep plumbing from freezing in thin trailer walls?Thanks,
Anser From Gary:
AJ has a question about living in your travel trailer while you build your off‑the‑grid house or a house in general.
He’s thinking of getting an Airstream and living in it as he builds his house, but he’s unfamiliar with travel trailer living. Actually, AJ, I still live in my travel trailer. I plan to live in it half the year pretty much for a long time and travel around the country or until I grow up 🙂
I’ve become quite acquainted with travel trailers. I’m on my third one, and each was very different from each other. The one I have now is a big upgrade over the other two I have had in the past. I bought it last year because my other one didn’t have adequate insulation. The plumbing would freeze pretty easily.
An Airstream, as I said, I don’t know how the insulation value is in them. I know they’re expensive. I looked at them. They’re really expensive. I would look and ask if there’s an Airstream if that’s the way you’re going to go if it’s an all‑season.
Travel trailers, when you get into them, there’s a bazillion different brands and different quality levels. There’s four‑season, which is a little lighter than an all‑weather, or all‑seasons, and then there’s a general travel trailer. They all have different levels of insulation.
My latest travel trailer is an all season. People live in Alaska with it. It’s pretty rugged. It’s made in Oregon. It’s a Nash. It’s pretty well known for living in more severe weather. Another one that is known for colder regions is the Arctic Fox line of travel trailers.
Mine’s very well insulated. I haven’t had any issues with any of the pipes freezing. Also, I’m attached. I don’t dry camp. I did not live in my trailer at my property, so I was not dry camping. I was plugged in, and I was at an RV park, down below my property, so I always had heat, electricity, and had everything running in it.
To stop your pipes from freezing, it’s actually a lot simpler than you think. The weak point, if you’re not dry camping, and you’re hooked up to water, and power, and all that, is the hose.
The hose doesn’t have any insulation, and the hose goes from a normal water bib, a faucet bib, like your outside garden hose, and then it screws right into your travel trailer. That is a weak link.
That can freeze on you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the water in your trailer has frozen if it’s well insulated. What you do to keep your pipes from freezing on the inside is keep the heat on. You don’t have to keep it on high, 50 degrees, 55 degrees when you’re not around.
I’m getting ready to leave for a month, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave my heater on at 55 degrees so the internal pipes won’t freeze. They shouldn’t anyway. I will also drain all the water out of the pipes inside by opening the hot and cold water master vaster valves. Most new trailers have easy access valves to drain the water from the plumbing in the trailer.
If they do, they’re made now to where they’re not metal piping. I don’t know about the Airstreams. I don’t believe so. They’re not going to burst on you, and they shouldn’t. I would worry about the garden hose. The one way to try to do it is you can insulate the garden hose.
I’ve seen people who set up permanent. I’ve known people, [laughs] and still know people, who live in their travel trailer. They have hooked it up. They’ve bought a lot, and they live in it. It’s just like their house.
What they do is they bury it. They hook up PVC water pipe, a plastic pipe, run it underneath the frost line, which, if you’re in a cold climate, is going to be 36 inches or deeper. In a normal climate, it’s usually around 18 inches.
RV owners run it up out of the ground from/to water source into the trailer, and they insulate both exposed ends so that it will not freeze. You can also wrap those exposed ends. We had to do this with our water heater growing up, where I grew up in the sticks.
They sell a heated tape product. What it does is it wraps around the pipe, and then you plug it in. It’s, basically, a wire that heats up. It keeps it at a decent temperature, so your pipes won’t freeze.
I don’t think you’re going to have to do anything extreme. As far as you’re talking about getting a Jim Jenkins‑style bucket composting toilet, water to it, all that stuff. You shouldn’t have to do that. Like I said, keep the heat at a decent temperature.
If you can, get an all‑season. If you’re going to live in a place where it’s cold, live in an all‑season. First of all, the difference between the amount of heat I have to use to keep this, or cooling even, at a decent temperature is night and day between the first trailer I had, compared to this one. This trailer is so well insulated. It takes far less heating and cooling to keep it at a good temperature.
AJ, I hope that answers your question. Also, I forgot, you talked about drainage, and all that. If you’re camping in an RV park, all that stuff’s taken care of. We call it the stinky slinky. That hooks up to your septic, which is an outside pipe of your travel trailer or fifth wheel, whatever you’re using. That’s how you do that.
If you don’t, and you’re dry camping, your travel trailer or fifth wheel is going to come with tanks. What happens is your solids and liquids, your gray water, which is your shower water, your sink water, all that good stuff. Then, your black water tank is where your poo and pee goes.
Those are separate tanks. You have to empty those. Here’s the catch. Unless you’ve got a septic system already put on your property that you can plug it into and drain it, you’re going to have to haul that trailer out and go find a dumping station.
You’ll see them. They’re at rest stops and RV parks. You can find them, but it is a big pain. You do not want to do that if you’ve got to go dump your sewage. Or you would have to find some way of putting it in a big 50‑gallon drum, or something, which is not practical.
I hope that answers your question. When it comes to travel trailer or fifth wheel living, you’ve got to figure it out. There’s a bunch of people out there who are doing it.
My first time at an RV park, I was clueless. I didn’t know what I was doing. The people next to me helped me out and showed me what to do, and how everything works.
The place where you buy your trailer, if you buy it from a dealer, they’ll show you, as well. Or even the person you buy it from, if they’ve used it a lot, they’ll know.
I hope that helps. If you have any other questions about travel trailer living, hit it up in the comments section. Thanks.