Those camping late into the season know that cold weather camping comes with its pros and cons.
One of the more significant cons is the threat of frozen pipes and holding tanks. Having frozen water makes life a bit difficult. Not to mention, it can cost a pretty penny for repairs.
Today, we’ll learn if the tanks can actually freeze. We’ll also share a few preventative measures and how to get your water flowing again if your pipes do succumb to the cold.
Will RV Holding Tanks Freeze?
When exposed to prolonged temperatures below freezing, RV holding tanks will freeze.
Some RVs can handle the frigid winter elements, whereas others will freeze more quickly. Four-season RVs typically have heated underbellies and tank heaters to help prevent tank freezing, though those things can fail.
While tanks won’t freeze as quickly as exposed pipes, they can eventually freeze and crack.
How Long Will It Take for Your Holding Tanks to Freeze in Cold Temperatures?
There are a lot of variables involved in frozen holding tanks. As long as temperatures are rising above freezing throughout the day and only dipping below freezing for a few hours at night, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about your tanks freezing.
If temperatures are staying below freezing even during the day, your tanks could be at risk of freezing.
The actual time it takes for a tank to freeze when exposed to prolonged subfreezing temperatures is going to depend on your specific RV’s setup. RVs with a heated and enclosed underbelly will take significantly longer to freeze than an RV with plumbing exposed to the elements.
For reference, it takes about an hour for an ice tray to freeze when exposed to a temperature of zero degrees. The time it takes your tanks to freeze will largely depend on the amount of liquids in your tanks as well as the consistent temperature.
Tips for Preventing Your RV Tanks from Freezing
A frozen holding tank can be both inconvenient and costly. Thankfully, you can take a few preventative measures to ensure you won’t find yourself dealing with frozen tanks.
If You’re Not RVing, Winterize Your RV
If you aren’t utilizing your RV during the winter months, it’s wise to winterize your rig. Failure to winterize an RV in storage in an area with below-freezing temperatures will result in frozen pipes and tanks.
This can be a costly mistake, as the pipes and tanks can crack, leaving you with a mess as well as expensive repairs.
Here’s your guide: How to Winterize Your RV?
The Basics of RV Winterizing
The most common method of winterizing includes using RV-specific nontoxic antifreeze. You’ll want to pour the antifreeze down all sinks and toilets. This will protect your pipes and fixtures and your tanks as they drain into them.
Be sure to winterize your water heater as well.
If You’re RVing, Keep Your Fresh Tank Full
If you place a cup of water with an inch of water in the freezer next to a full cup of water, the inch of water will freeze long before the full cup. The same is true with a nearly empty freshwater tank versus a full one.
If you can’t use a heated hose for your freshwater needs, keep your holding tank full. This will significantly extend the time it would take for your freshwater tank to freeze, allowing time for the outdoor temperature to rise.
Use Heat Tape on Your Holding Tanks and Pipes
Heat tape does exactly what you think it would; it supplies heat where applied. You apply the heat tape to pipes or tanks, and by plugging it in, a wire inside the tape warms up just enough to prevent that item from freezing.
They made heat tape with a thermostat to ensure you aren’t wasting electricity or overheating.
Here’s an example: This heating strip is a DIY option for keeping tanks & pipes heated.
How to Put Heat Tape on Your Holding Tanks and Pipes
Most heat tape requires placing the tape on your item in one continuous line, while others can wrap around the pipes. You can string multiple strands together for added length. Once you’ve applied the tape, simply plug it in and let it get to work.
Be sure to follow all instructions and check for cracks before application. You don’t want to create a fire risk due to improper usage or application.
Duct Heat into Storage Bays with Plumbing
If you’ve taken a look under your RV, you know that there’s plumbing all along the underside. Ducting heat into an enclosed underbelly will help prevent both your pipes and tanks from freezing. For this feature to work, you must be running your furnace.
Remember that water only freezes after prolonged exposure to temperatures of 32 degrees or less. You don’t need to keep the areas with plumbing above 33 degrees for this feature to work.
Keep Your Gray Tank Closed Until It’s Time to Dump
If you’re camping with full hookups, you know the convenience of simply leaving your sewer hose connected. While there are many reasons to keep your tanks closed, doing so also helps you avoid a frozen sewer hose.
Keeping both your gray and black tanks closed means you won’t have wastewater freezing inside your hose. If your sewer hose freezes, you’ll be unable to properly dump any of your tanks until you’ve managed to thaw it out.
You can avoid this by simply keeping your valves closed and dumping your tanks as needed.
If All Else Fails, Head to Warmer Weather!
You can avoid frozen tanks and pipes if you can simply head to warmer weather. If moving south is an option, take advantage of it! For those stuck in cold temperatures, it pays to have a plan in place to keep your water flowing.
What are some of your best cold weather camping tips?
Have you dealt with frozen RV pipes?
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