How to Keep Warm in Your RV During Cold Weather

Updated on February 13, 2018
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don is a retired engineer and long-time motorhome owner who enjoys helping readers deal with the increasingly complex technology of RVs.

The flame of a single candle provides not only  light but also a certain amount of heat. In fact a typical RV furnace uses a single flame to provide your whole RV with warmth.
The flame of a single candle provides not only light but also a certain amount of heat. In fact a typical RV furnace uses a single flame to provide your whole RV with warmth. | Source

Older RVs and Cold Weather

The problem with RVs is that they are generally not designed for cold weather. A thin-walled vehicle, full of crevices and cracks, exposed on all sides to chilly winds, can be less than cozy.

Oh sure, motorhomes have had propane furnaces in them for decades, but the older ones are not very effective when the outside temperature drops low, mostly because older RVs are not as well insulated as some newer models.

So, if you want to travel into the more northern climates of the US, especially in the winter, you need to make the appropriate preparations to help your older RV keep you comfortable.

How to Stay Warm in an RV

Here are my suggestions for staying warm in an older, poorly insulated RV.

  • Spend time finding and plugging air leaks in your vehicle.
  • Use window covers, shades, and rugs to add to your insulation.
  • Maintain your furnace and turn it down at night.
  • Use your heat pump instead of your furnace on coolish nights.
  • Wear warm clothing, especially on your feet.
  • Use electric blankets and a ceramic heater to deliver heat where you need it most.

Temporary Fixes for RV Air Leaks

Before you start wondering what to do to make your furnace work better, take the time to seal your RV well and prevent air leaks. It is a little silly to have a furnace blasting heat into your RV if the heat is immediately leaking to the outside world.

The first thing to do is take a good inventory of your RV, and inspect all the slides, windows, and door seals.

Exterior Seals

The rubber seals and gaskets around your windows, doors, and slides should be maintained and lubricated regularly. If they have deteriorated too much, they should be repaired or replaced.

Cracked and hard seals will not keep out the elements. They are probably letting cold air into your RV, in all those places where you can see that the fit is not perfect.

Interior Drafts

Once you have taken care of the gasket and seal problems you can see on the outside of your RV, make a thorough check for air leaks on the inside.

If your RV feels drafty, find the spot where cold air is coming into it. The leak is often something that can be fixed with a little silicone rubber, or maybe a little strategically placed spray-foam insulation. Or you can use insulated "snakes" (see below) or painter's tape.

Insulated "Snakes" to Keep Out Cold Air

One of the things that we used in our older RV was a couple of those insulated "snakes" that you will find in places like WalMart.

They are yard-long stuffed cloth tubes, usually about four inches in diameter. They are often sold to be placed along the bottom of the door of your house, to stop the cold air from entering. They are cheap, and work well to plug the small spaces under the doors of RVs.

Animal Design Draught Excluder Tapestry Style Fabric Door or Window Draft Guard Cushion (Scottie Dogs)
Animal Design Draught Excluder Tapestry Style Fabric Door or Window Draft Guard Cushion (Scottie Dogs)

I picked up several of these a few years ago and they work great for me. I stuff them along the bottom of my RV door and block out the cold air that seeps in on those cold winter nights. I figure they paid for themselves the first cold spell we experienced, one winter in Orlando that lasted four weeks.

 

Painter's Tape to Keep Out Cold Air

Another quick temporary fix is the use of painter's tape.

You can buy this tape at your local hardware store. It's like ordinary tan masking tape but has one great advantage: the glue won't stick to the surface when you pull it off, even after several days or weeks.

If you are going to be in a campsite for several days, and you have a bad cold air draft behind a cabinet or appliance, place some of this painter's tape over the spot and get immediate relief.

And when you hit the road, the tape will come off later easily, without leaving any residue.

Using Curtains, Window Shades, and Rugs as Insulation

Cold air circulating around your windows and under your vehicle's floor will steal your heat.

Curtains and Shades

If you have Day-Night shades and windshield window shades, as almost all RVs do, you should keep them closed.

Even if you do not have thermal-pane windows in your RV, closing the shades will trap an added layer of air between the window and the shade that aids in the overall insulation of your RV interior.

Rugs

Another thing you should do is place throw rugs in the central parts of your RV floor where you walk the most often. These rugs, placed in the heaviest traffic areas of your RV, can shield your feet from the cold and often uninsulated floors of a camper.

Using Your RV Furnace to Advantage

Keep your RV furnace in tip-top condition. Read your owner's manual, and perform any required preventative maintenance on your furnace regularly. A furnace can waste a lot of propane if it is not kept in good shape.

You should also be realistic with your furnace temperature setting.

At night, just before going to bed, we set our furnace to a very low temperature of around 52-54° F.

Our reasoning is that while we are sleeping, the furnace only needs to keep the temperature of the RV at an acceptable base level for lying in bed under the covers.

When we get up in the morning, we immediately turn the furnace temperature up to around 63-64°. The furnace will run for eight to ten minutes, and then the RV will be at a comfortable temperature for moving around and starting your morning.

This procedure not only saves us significant money on propane costs, but it eliminates a lot of noise (propane furnaces are notoriously loud), and it doesn't dry out our RV and our sinuses nearly as badly as it would if we ran the furnace at a high temperature all of the time.

A standard-design exterior exhaust for the propane furnace of an RV.
A standard-design exterior exhaust for the propane furnace of an RV. | Source

Heat Pumps

The air conditioners on the roof of our RV are the heat-pump type, which can do either cooling and heating, and we save a lot of money using them strategically. A heat pump works pretty efficiently down to about 40° F. So on nights that are cool but not near freezing, we run the heat pump, instead of our propane furnace, to heat the room to a base temperature of 52 to 54° F. This saves us a lot of money over the winter.

Wear Warm Clothes

The proper warm clothes are the next layer of cold management you should address. The right clothes will improve your comfort level dramatically.

Here are some tips we have learned for dressing inside in a cold climate:

  • Keep a pair or two of warm sweatpants and a sweatshirt in your RV. They are not only useful when outside, but they can also keep you nice and cozy when sitting around inside the RV.
  • Wear socks when inside. Don't walk around on your cold floor barefoot. The socks will not only make your feet feel warm, but they will block most drafts from affecting your feet.
  • A pair of bedroom slippers is also good to wear in your RV on a cold night.
  • And, of course, when you go to bed, wear some pajamas.

Try an Electric Blanket

An electric blanket can end up being your favorite accessory in your RV on a cold night.

You will remember that I recommended that you set your furnace down pretty low at night when you go to bed. Well, with a good electric blanket on your bed at night you can be very comfortable and sleep well even when the space heater cannot keep the air temperature very high.

The electric blanket is your third level of comfort control equipment, and once you use it a couple of times, you will never do without one again, on a cold night.

And a good, dual-control electric blanket will save you electricity and propane on those cold nights.

Try a Ceramic Electric Space Heater

One option I cannot stress too highly is the purchase of a good ceramic space heater.

The purpose of having a space heater is to bring up the inside temperature in part of the RV a few degrees above the base level provided by the propane furnace.

This space heater should be your second level of heating. It will be cheap to operate, and it will provide a steady heat in the small section of the RV that you are using throughout the day. Place it in the living area during the day, and in the bedroom area during the night.

Get a space heater that meets the following requirements:

  • Small footprint. Storage space is always to be considered when purchasing anything for an RV.
  • A ceramic design, as this type has a better safety record than older open-element types.
  • A built-in sensor that will turn the heater off if it is ever kicked over.
  • A multi-speed fan for adjusting the amount of heat it puts out.
  • A removable filter that can be easily cleaned and replaced when it becomes clogged with dust and dirt.

One of these heaters can make a big difference in a room's temperature, and it will keep the furnace from cutting on nearly as often as it would if you did not use one.

Of course, these space heaters are no use if you are rough camping without electricity, but in a campground with electrical hookup it can be a very efficient tool for keeping your RV comfortable.

In Summary

In summary, if you are going to be RVing in a cold climate, whether for only a couple of days or for a week or more, prepare for it, and attack the cold efficiently.

And, if necessary, be prepared to use these tips for improving your RV comfort level.

You will enjoy your travels a lot more!

Common Questions on Your RV Furnace

What's a BTU?

A British Thermal Unit, a measure of energy or heat. One 4-inch kitchen match when burned completely will generate 1 BTU of heat.

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Don Bobbitt

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      • profile image

        Annie Andrews Fairfax VA 16 months ago

        I bought a roll of silver insulation from home depot (silver on both sides) and cut my own window shades to fit even for my large front Class A windshield, and side windows. The roll was fairly cheap and it works great in the winter. I also found I needed sections in the knee holes to block cold air, which helps.

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Dee106 - Great system you have there.

        It's amazing what you can come up with when you get a little chill in your camper around 1 or 2 in the morning.

        Thanks for the read and comment.

        DON

      • profile image

        dee106 2 years ago

        i use the window insulating kit, to keep the drafts out, put the two way tape on, put the clear wrap on, and hit with the hair dry to shrink the wrap tight. no more drafts, we leave one window uncovered for ventilation , and use the roof vent covers and foam blocks to keep the heat in . and cover the a/c unit on the roof.

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Patti and Ryan - There are some RV's that are designed for extreme weather that have the holding tanks and all of the lines inside of a compartment that is heated. I had a Camelot that had this system and the compartments heat turned on when its temp dropped below 40F.

        Barring this, and if you have a cheaper priced RV, it is pretty standard for these holding tanks to be exposed on the underside of the RV.

        I have read of people who have wintered in Alaska and N.Dakota and other cold places who went under their RV and used electrical heater tape and layers of insulation to prevent freezing.

        But, from what I read, you had better plan well because it only takes a small unheated area to freeze up and pop a hose or crack a tank when you are dealing with sub-zero temps outside for days on end.

        Good luck,

        DON

      • profile image

        Patti and ryan 2 years ago

        What about extreme cold conditions and insulating the tanks and pipes under the motor home?

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 2 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Lbrown- I am glad that you like my article. I tried to put all of the common-sense things that can keep a camper warmer for the user.

        If you have other ideas, I welcome them.

        DON

      • profile image

        Lbrown 2 years ago

        When I was young I ended up having a tiny 8X10 camper with no heat source as a bedroom. My mom bought me an electric blanket because, well, she's a mom and a cold child is just a no go. Once I got said blanket I was able to sleep even when temperatures reached for below zero. I wish I had thought to put insulation or skirting around the bottom too. Now that my husband and I have found ourselves once again in a camper for the winter I intend to use some of these tips!

      • profile image

        Starwish246 3 years ago

        Don Bobbitt, I just use "Super Glue" for my window shade projects, because tape (of any type) just heats up, and curls up, or "walks away" on it's own. No sewing involved

        StarWish246

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Starwish248- What a great idea.

        I might try this one myself for those longer stays at campgrounds. But, I really Suck at Sewing, so I hope I can just staple or 2-sided tape it to fit?

        Thanks again,

        DON

      • profile image

        Starwish246 3 years ago

        I found a way to help keep some of the cold outside, where it belongs. I bought at the "dollar store", a simple tablecloth with the felt backing. I measured the windshield, and cut the tablecloth to fit. (You may need 2 cloths.) I used velcro to attach the cloth to the top rim of the windshield WITH THE FELT SIDE TOWARDS THE ROOM, NOT TOWARDS THE GLASS. The glass side gets wet from fog, breathing, and rain, and the felt would get all wet, if hung towards the glass side. The soft, fuzzy side of the velcro should be placed on the top rim of the windshield, and the "grippy" side on the tablecloth. These tablecloths are light weight, and fold up when not needed. They can also help to keep the summer sun out - I bought a white one just for that, and I have the felt side FACING the glass (the reverse of the winter use). This is another layer in our battle to keep comfortable throughout the seasons.

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Joel- Thanks for the compliments. And I have to say, Winter Camping in a tent is for the most staunch camper. And I am definitely impressed. As to using the electric blanket, I have heard of these battery powered units and people do brag on them. Sounds like you have a plan that works for you. LOL!

        Thanks for the comment,

        DON

      • Joel Diffendarfer profile image

        Joel Diffendarfer 3 years ago from Ft Collins, Colorado

        Hi Don, love reading your articles...(and yes, your books on Kindle/Amazon are great resources...)....one thing I found in my many "off the grid" adventures (I love to camp during Winter in a tent)...regardless of cold conditions, I survived with an electric blanket...even on the coldest days, I would wrap myself in an electric blanket, and work at my computer...in comfort...

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 3 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Starwish246- Great example of ingenuity tackling a problem. Using these "snakes" at doorways works well in an RV and at home. So much so that you can purchase several brands on the web and there is even one listed on Camping World.

        Thanks for sharing your idea,

        DON

      • profile image

        StarWish246 3 years ago

        I hate the cold draft that came out under my couch (because of the slide-out). The slide-out only has a piece of vinyl to cover the separation. I decided to make a "Draft Snake" to help to keep out the draft.

        So, I bought several pairs of knee high (long) stockings at the thrift store. I made sure that they were tight-woven, not open weave.

        Then, I doubled up on them, by putting one sock inside another, to make a double layer. I then stitched the open (top) end 1/2 way closed, using several layers of thread, to make a thick, strong stitch.

        I got an empty plastic bottle/container, and cut the top off to use as a funnel. This funnel, I put into the still open 1/2 of the sock top, and used it to pour dried beans into the socks. I prefer the dried beans, as they are easier to deal with, than the tiny rice (which can be used, also). DON'T fill it too much, it needs to be flexible. When I had finished filling moderately with the dried beans, I stitched the top closed the rest of the way. Then, I attached some Velcro strips (one "fuzzy, and one "grippy") near the top, end (where I had sewn it closed. Then, I attached the 2 snake/stockings together with the Velcro, and pressed them up against the slide opening under the couch.

        This does help a lot, and I plan to make the same snakes for the whole circumference of the slide areas. After all, every little bit helps.

        Just don't forget to remove them, if you ever close the slides for travel, or such. (P. S. They are easy to open, empty, and wash when you want to.)

      • profile image

        StarWish246 3 years ago

        Thanks Don. I didn't mention, that in the summer, I use the sunshades to actually screen the sun in the daytime. I put them on the "SUNNY" side of my RV. And as the sun moves in the afternoon, I transfer them to the opposite side. This way, I have sun protection, help the AC keep the cool air going, and also still have the light of day (from the side without the sun). When it is 105 degrees, or hotter, I use the whole works on all windows to keep the AC cool inside. But, I always try to crack my roof vent just a bit, as warm air rises.......

        P. S. I'm a Fulltimer

      • profile image

        StarWish246 3 years ago

        I bought several foil, insulated automobile windshield sunshades. I bought both the shades, and the velcro, which I used, if needed, to attach the shades, at the dollar store. I put them in the windows at night. I cut any to fit, if needed, and tape the cut "raw" edge with duct tape. I placed a piece of velcro on the window sill, if I had trouble keeping it in the window (put the "fuzzy" side on the window, and the "grippy" side on the shade). On one window, I cut the fitted shade in half, so that I could remove 1/2 easily to have access to looking out that window (while the other 1/2 remained up). This also has the added bonus of reflecting more light from your lights, so the room is brighter (which is nice in those dark, winter months) and also means that you can use less lights, which may save you on the electric bill or generator usage.

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 4 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        blueheron- Great Comment. The feet are the next most important part of the body to keep warm after the head.

        As to thermal underwear here in Florida; I suspect that some do exist. These native Floridians start wrapping themselves up if the temperature drops below 70. I don't know if it is a genetic defect or just too many Margaritas that causes this strange phenomenon.

        Something I should investigate at the local Tiki Bar, I guess.

        LOL!

        DON

      • blueheron profile image

        Sharon Vile 4 years ago from Odessa, MO

        Your point about keeping your feet warm is spot on, as is your point about uninsulated floors. If you can keep your feet warm, the rest of your body will manage okay. Thermal underwear is also great. Do Floridans even own thermal underwear? Or does anyone in their right mind ever take their RV to places that are that cold?

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        Trudi- Yes a ceramic heater isa great idea, and I do suggest that it have an adjustable temperature. This will save you some electricity in the long run, as well as keeping the temp under control for safety's sake.

        Thanks for the comment.

      • Trudi Goodwin profile image

        Trudi Goodwin 5 years ago from Texas

        We also keep a ceramic heater in the basement of our 5er which has a two-fold purpose. It keeps our plumbing running through the basement from freezing and our bedroom floor is nice and toasty.

      • melbelle profile image

        melbelle 5 years ago from Southern United States

        very good information for RVers.

      • myjesus49 profile image

        myjesus49 5 years ago

        Thanks

      • Don Bobbitt profile image
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        Don Bobbitt 5 years ago from Ruskin Florida

        myjesus49- Thanks for the comment and I hope all goes well for you and your husband. Good Luck!

      • myjesus49 profile image

        myjesus49 5 years ago

        Thank you so much for all these helpful tips. We are new to rv's and now we are living in one part time due to my husband having to work out of town. God Bless

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