When we get asked about how we winter camp, the answer is usually “go south”! But, with 2020 being the odd year it is, we are staying north longer than usual. We've been in Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina for quite a few cold spells this winter, so we wanted to share what we've learned. 🥶

The RV

The first part of the winter camping puzzle is the RV itself. To camp in sub-freezing temperatures, the RV needs to be four season rated. While there is no official RVIA certification, manufacturers that call their RV's four season typically have thicker side walls and better overall insulation.

Another key factor in an RV standing up to sub-freezing temps is a heated underbelly and, potentially, some heated water tanks. Our RV has both.

Primary Heat Sources

Our RV, like many, has two primary heat sources: a heap pump, and a furnace.

Our heat pump is really just a feature of our 15,000 BTU (15 KBTU) air conditioner. It has the ability to essentially reverse itself and provide heating versus cooling. Its downside is that its efficacy decreases significantly as temperatures drop below 40F. The up-side is that it's powered by 120VAC, and electricity is typically included as part of the site rental when paying daily or weekly rates. Most discounted monthly rates will charge for electricity on top of that rate.

It should be noted that the AC unit vents into the main living are and not the basement.

When it starts to dip below 40F, our best heat source is the 35,000 BTU furnace which burns propane for heat. Since it's burning for heat rather than relying on the compression of gas, it can provide heat regardless of the outside temperature.

Additionally, the furnace heats both the main living area as well as the basement, keeping the tanks and plumbing from freezing.

How Long Will my Propane Last?

This is a question we see online a lot during the winter! Once you have a few facts, it's a fairly simple supply and demand calculation.

Our furnace is rated at 35 KBTUs (35,000 BTUs), so that's the demand side of the equation. The supply-side depends on how much LP you can carry.

One pound of LP contains about 21.5 KBTUs (21,591) of energy. So, one of our 30lb. tanks hold 645 KBTUs. Simple division (645 / 35) tells us that our furnace should be able to run for about 18 hours. This will be longer in reality since the furnace burner cycles on and off about six times an hour.

These figures match up to reality fairly well for us. When it was in the teens and twenties, we'd get about 3-4 nights from a tank.

Filling Propane

When getting your LP Tank(s) filled, it's a good idea to know how much they actually hold in volume (vs weight) to know you're not being over charged..

A gallon of LP weights about 4.25 pounds (at 70F). Thus, our 30lb tank should hold just over 7 gallons. This figure can go up or down (a little) based on the ambient temperature.

Liquid Propane and VERY COLD Weather!

The furnace burns propane gas and that gas comes from tanks of liquid propane (LP). LP's boiling point is -43F, so it naturally turns to a compressed gas at the top of the tank(s) above -44F. However, it doesn't boil very fast at -43F. A standard propane tank wouldn't produce enough gas to run a furnace at all at that temperature. In fact, LPs ability to naturally vaporize starts to rapidly decrease as temperatures decrease.

The chart below shows how, even at 0F, a 20lb tank at 50% full produces less than half the BTUs our 35,000 BTU furnace is capable of burning. Depending on lot's of factors, I would expect our furnace to stop working in sub-zero temperatures.

Considering the above, the LP tanks need some help to camp in sub-zero temps. LP tank heaters are designed to do just that. We've never camped in sub-zero and don't plan to. If you do, look into some tank heaters!

Supplementary Heat Sources

Even if you have both a heat pump and furnace, it's still a great idea to have additional sources of heat. Imagine if the furnace breaks and the heat pump can't keep up!

Our RV, like many, came with an electric fireplace and it does throw out quite a bit of heat.

We also have a Dyson space heater. This serves as supplementary heat for our office (garage), as well as an emergency backup. If all else fails, we can close our bedroom door and it will provide plenty of heat.

Outside Preparation

Of course, when temps go below freezing, the outside water systems need to be protected or at least prepared.

For fresh water, you can get a heated water hose. Just make sure the RV Park or campground is ok with it's use as they might also need to cover the spigot. Some locations shut off the water completely off season.

The other option, and the one we use, is to just fill your internal fresh water tank(s) and disconnect (and drain) the hoses. Note: if you have an early morning departure, you'll want to put the hose away the night before so you're not dealing with a frozen stiff hose.

You also want to make sure to close your grey tanks and get all water out of the sewer hose. If you're like us, and put a P-Trap in the line, be sure to remove the P and drain that water also.

Products 🛒

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