How To Stop Travel Trailer Plumbing From Freezing

How To Stop Travel Trailer Pipes From Freezing

I am a regular on The Survival Podcast, as an expert on simple livinghealthoff-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.

Listener Question:

  • 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?


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.

The hose is one weak point for water freezing.

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.

Your main water connection is the other point where your water can freeze.

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.

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14 thoughts on “How To Stop Travel Trailer Pipes From Freezing”

  1. Thank you for the invaluable info. Im an RN in a driveway-camper-living situation until Covid blows over. I’ve never even had/used a camper in my whole life, so its a little overwhelming and of course my water line froze last night with our first snow (I’m in SE Michigan). With the tips above I’m betting we’ll work through that pretty quickly ???? However, I’m wondering if there’s a way to prevent my black/gray water from freezing as the temps drop lower? Thankfully we have a portapotty saint that comes to drain my tanks every few weeks (we don’t even own a vehicle that can pull this thing lol), but is there an additive I could microdose into those tanks with each emptying maybe? We’ve got bales of straw blocking peripheral airflow and we’ll add heat-tape/insulation to the water line and keep the camper around 60* all winter inside, but it does drop pretty cold here and this 2005 Dutchman Victory Lane toy hauler was the only thing we could afford so upgrade just isn’t an option. Thank you in advance for the insights. We really cant afford for anything else to break lol… We’ve been waterproofing off and on since we got her home. LoL

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      Hey Judith,

      Yes, we are in strange times, so a lot of people are finding themselves in positions they are not familiar with. I would try adding an environmentally safe anti-freeze or pouring in hot water before you drain your tanks.

  2. I am renting a cruise America 25 foot RV. Going to be in 20-30 degree ( and maybe colder) weather for a three week Christmas trip to see family. Trying to avoid being without water . Will try the 55 degree temp at all times. But worried about running out of propane. Not sure about finding campgrounds open in winter. Any help for rental RVs?

    1. Avatar photo

      Hey Betsy,

      Same principles apply for a rental RV you are going to have to run your RV heater or you can buy a decent space heater and use that. For your outside water hose you need to wrap it in pipe insulation and probably need to wrap it in heat tape for plumbing pipes.

  3. Outdoors RV and Lance are two other brands that build quality all season trailers. People on the Lance forums have camped happily in 0° temps.
    Most other companies may claim an “extreme/arctic weather package” but then don’t recommend camping below 29°. Some claim high r-values but get those r-values with foil “insulation”. It’s great for reflecting the sun’s radiant heat as long as there is air space in front of it but is fairly worthless for keeping your tt warm.

    1. Avatar photo

      Outdoors RV is actually a sister company of Northwood RV’s, which is the manufacturer of Arctic Fox and Nash, so I agree they are good ones. I have always liked Lance as well, the new ones are pretty hi-tech I don’t think you can wrong with any of these.

  4. I have a forest river travel trailer and at this time living in it. The bathroom waste seems to have frozen and i can’t empty the wastes. Is there a simple way of thawing the blockage? I have the heating tape on the pipe but the weather has been below -20 F wind chills most days and it doesn’t seem to be helping. Any suggestions?

    1. Avatar photo

      Hey Charles,

      I’ve owned a Forest River, and I’ll be honest I got rid of it in a year, because it was not made for harsher conditions. That is why in my book The Simple Life Guide To RV Living I highly recommended people who plan to live in their RV to purchase an all season one. I have had mine for years now and it has dual pane windows, higher level insulation, and most importantly in your case, heated potable, grey and black water holding tanks. I have never had any of my pipes or holding tanks in my RV freeze. The only thing you can do is pour warm/hot water down your toilet to try and thaw your black tank. Do not put boiling water down there as you could damage or melt some of the plastic components. I hope that helps.

  5. I have a 2018 forest river sabre. Our sink lines keep freezing. Everything else is fine. We have left the heat on, and run the water and it keeps freezing. Do we have to take the bottom off of the trailer to insulate the lines? Or is there another way? Help!!!!!

    1. Avatar photo

      I just looked up you model of 5th wheel and it appears that the all weather feature is an additional package – I’m guessing you do not have this? If you do that is a problem depending on what type of climate you are living in, but your kitchen sink water lines should not freeze with an all weather package. Also are you using your water heater? As in the electric option, which keeps it on at all times without draining your propane? If you are not using it full time because your using propane and don’t have access to electricity that would be your main problem. Water heaters in RV’s are almost always located very close to your kitchen sink, thus the heat that comes off of it will keep your water lines from freezing. With that being said you have a couple options.

      1. If you are living in fairly extreme cold weather and you are living or long term staying at an RV park you can put rigid insulation boards around the bottom of your trailer to help seal it off from the cold weather and air coming in from the bottom.

      2. Like you said take off bottom protective/insulation of your RV and insulate your kitchen sink water lines, heck all exposed water pipes you see for that matter.

      3. Do the same as above, but rap your kitchen sink water lines in pipe heat tape, like I outlined in article. You will have to figure out a way to hide plug when not in use during warmer weather to avoid varmints gnawing on it or dragging while towing.

      I hope that helps, I would call the manufacturer if you purchased the upgraded all season insulation package, as they may have not insulated it correctly.


  6. We live in a Catalina park model camper and our hot water is froze, we have running cold water, but no hot. And no water for the toilet. Why would only the hot freeze and not the cold? Help

    1. Avatar photo


      Hmmmm never heard of just hot water freezing, it is possible I guess, but not likely. More than likely you have either accidentally turned off the hot water valve inside your trailer usually located under kitchen sink by water heater or underneath bathroom sink.

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