So you decided not to winterize your RV right before temperatures plummeted to a level that would scare the bejeezus out of a penguin. Water does a strange thing when it gets cold. It becomes hard as a rock because it’s frozen, which certainly isn’t good for your pipes.
Fortunately, there are several ways to go about unfreezing the pipe on your travel trailer, including heat guns, hairdryers, space heaters, heat tape, or a pipe hot machine.
How to unfreeze pipes in a trailer isn’t going to be in the Table of Contents on your RV’s user manual. You can either prepare for it or do the best you can if and when it happens. Of course, there are some preventative measures to consider as well, and we will cover those.
Word of advice, don’t use a blowtorch. If you look around on the internet, you’ll see blow torch as an option and you might as well just toss a grenade underneath your RV while you’re at it. You can’t control the immense amount of heat that comes from and you’ll probably end up melting a pipe or venting your RV.
How to quickly thaw out your frozen RV pipes
The first thing that you should consider when dealing with your frozen water tank is the fact that there are probably more things frozen that you will have to deal with as well, such as the water pump and holding tanks.
If your grey water tank is full and located on the bottom, rather than the inside, well, good luck with that, as it will take a long time to thaw that bad boy out.
1. Heat gun or a hairdryer
There’s been a time in everyone’s life when they realize that they have to do something that they really don’t want to do, and this is one of them. Sliding up underneath your RV, in the freezing cold, with an extension cord and the wifey’s hairdryer is no one’s idea of a good time.
Both the hairdryer and the heating gun are good for just about any metal, however, you definitely want to be more careful with a hairdryer if the conditions around you are wet. The idea is to not focus on any one spot for too long of a period.
Just work your way through small sections of the pipe at a time, using slow and steady sweeping motions. If you focus on one spot for too long, your risk doing damage and all you’re trying to do is provide just enough warmth to expedite the melting process and get the water moving.
2. Heat tape
Heat tape isn’t really tape, or, at least not in the conventional sense. There is something called heat tape but it is primarily used for pipe insulation. So there can be a degree of confusion over what constitutes heat tape.
Thankfully, some have relabeled it as heating cable, which makes far more sense here. The material snakes around all of the frozen areas of your RV pipe and one end will plug into a standard power outlet.
Once it’s plugged in, the cable goes to work, heating up to higher temperatures in areas where the freezing is the worst and lower temperatures where it’s not. Most heating cables come with a thermostat, so you can keep an eye on everything as it does its job.
It’s not going to thaw out a holding tank, however, it will certainly do the job on your pipes, and it’s better than laying there for half the morning with a hairdryer.
3. Space heater
One of the easiest ways to thaw out your pipes is with something that you probably already own. A propane or electric space heater is more than enough to do the trick. However, you should be careful and keep an eye on it while it’s working, especially if you’re using a propane space heater.
The last thing that you want to do is melt the ice in your pipes, melt the flooring, and finally melt half of your shower stall before it’s all said and done. Every now and then, you can shift the space heater down the line so that it covers the entirety of the pipe, depending on how much of it froze.
A space heater isn’t as well directed as a hairdryer or heat gun, so with the understanding that heat rises, you’ll need to be a bit strategic about where the heater goes.
However, outside, in below-freezing temperatures, that heat is going to want to go straight up, regardless of how strong the blower is. If it’s a convection heater without a blower of any kind, the heat is just going to go straight up.
4. Pipe thawing hot machine
This is one of the safest methods on this list and if you frequently travel into areas that are known for deep freezes in the winter, one of these machines should be stored in your RV. Unfortunately, it’s useless on anything PVC or plastic and only works on metal.
As long as you have two sections of pipe to attach your alligator clamps to (preferably as far away from each other as possible) then the machine will take care of the rest, thawing everything in between the clamps in just a few minutes.
It does this by generating heat via electric current and it’s by far the fastest, safest, and simplest method that you can use. However, if your RV has pipes that are really difficult to reach, much less apply a clamp to, it might be less useful than advertised.
How to properly winterize and protect your RV
Unless you just enjoy thawing out your pipes in the winter, along with running the risk of them exploding, then you should strongly consider winterizing your RV prior to the next winter, or if you are planning on being in an extremely cold climate in the near future.
The good news is, despite the cold, there are many different ways for winterizing your RV, many of which can be combined for additional defense against the sub-freezing elements:
- Drain your water tanks
- Put some antifreeze in your system
- Pipe insulation
- Tank heater installation
- Leave your water running during freeze warnings
- Insulated skirting
- Heated water hose
Draining your water tanks may seem a little drastic but it’s a good idea if the freezing temperatures are going to hang out for a bit and no one is going to be residing in the camper. Better a frozen pipe than a gigantic, frozen water tank.
Pouring antifreeze into your waste tanks and draining pipes will help to insulate them from the inside. You can add to the level of protection by wrapping your pipes up in towels, for just a little bit of added insulation.
Insulated skirting is also a good idea if your RV is going to be sitting still for a little while. It’s especially helpful if you’re running the internal heater in the RV, as it will capture and hold some of that warmth below the RV and around the pipes, where it matters.
If you’re active in the camper, make sure to leave the water dripping at night time, just like you would in your home during a freeze warning. Tank heaters are another good idea. They’re more than worth the price of installing if you spend a lot of time in the colder climates.
Tank heaters can keep your gray and black tanks at ambient temperature along with your freshwater tanks. They’re not designed for warming water for no reason, such as during the summer, so they shouldn’t be used for anything outside of maintaining your tanks and piping when the temperatures drop well below freezing for sustained periods.
We mentioned the towels, however, you should consider permanent pipe insulation that you won’t have to install and remove during the changing seasons. You probably feel like you spend enough time underneath the RV as it is and there’s no reason to add to it.
Depending on the extent of the winters that your RV will have to go through, you can choose anything from standard foam insulation to something more hardcore, such as the heating tape aforementioned.
Last but not least is the heated water hose. Heated water hoses are exceptionally well insulated and are designed to withstand freezing temperatures over long periods of time. Hook up a heated water hose and you will be able to keep free-flowing, freshwater coming into your RV throughout the freezing cold period.
It also happens to be an additional method for thawing out your pipes, although it’s not the most ideal, as in inexpedient, option available.
There are plenty of ways to unfreeze your RV pipes but you really don’t want them to freeze up, to begin with. As is true with almost everything, preventative maintenance goes a long way and it just so happens that it will help save you from having to slide up under the RV on an ice-cold day.