After hearing many campfire stories about living in a travel trailer during winter, you decide it’s time to give it a try. From what you remember, a camping friend of yours used the same model you have, and they boasted that this RV is best for winter camping.
You’re packed up and ready to go for that ultimate winter RV adventure. You have your winter clothing, skis, and other essentials. You also equipped yourself with all of the ice fishing gear the blog post and sales rep recommended (even though part of you thinks she took you “for a ride” when you think about the sales receipt).
As a test, the night before you leave, you spend the night in your travel trailer at home to see how it handles the Detroit Metro Area’s temperatures in late January. By 2 a.m., with the RV heater at full tilt, three blankets, and thermal underwear, you’re ready to go back into your warm house to suffer the “I told you so” from your partner.
You contact your friend and tell them about your experience. They inform you they have the all-season upgrades and used other DIY (do it yourself) techniques to stay comfortable in the cold conditions.
To avoid these mistakes, we’ll show you the 12 best ways to insulate a travel trailer for winter and other tips. These easy modifications will work for any RV, whether it has an all-weather package or not.
Do I Need to Add Extra Insulation to RVs and Travel Trailers?
RV manufacturers do their best, but motorhomes and travel trailers aren’t airtight. There are many points where air leaks out. Even when the seals and weather stripping are working correctly, RV insulation doesn’t have the same R-value (how well insulation restricts heat from passing through) as permanent built structures like homes or buildings.
Which Travel Trailers Have the Best Insulation?
The average R-value for RVs for the walls is R-7. Ceilings go as high as R-20, and floors are usually R-10. Insulation values at these ratings work well for containing the camping season in North America. American desert summers or the Canadian wilderness winters are too extreme for these R-values.
True all-weather RVs like the Heartland Bighorn 3375 fifth wheel would be better suited for these types of temperatures. The walls have a value of R-11, ceilings R-40, and floors R-38. Other winterization features make this coach ideal for winter.
12 DIY Insulating Techniques for Your Travel Trailer
Not everyone is ready to buy an all-season RV, convert their coach, or want to replace their dream travel trailer so they can go winter camping. There are many ways to insulate your camper for the winter. The following insulating techniques will help you keep a camper warm in the winter and keep your wallet padded enough to enjoy the trip.
1. Sealing Up Slideouts
When fully extended, your slideouts have rubber weather stripping that creates a seal against the frame of the RV. To minimize air leaks, use an RV slideout conditioner on the stripping to keep the rubber pliable, so it forms the best barrier.
Adding door snake draft stoppers around the slideout edges gives you another layer of insulation. Door snakes are typically placed at the bottom of exterior doors to prevent cold air from coming through residential homes. Using them around your slideout will do the same thing.
2. Seal the Windows
Windows are your number one source of leaks both in winter and summer. Sealing RV windows should be a top priority for extreme weather. Repairing window caulk with silicone and rubber conditioner for the weather stripping should be on your preventive maintenance list.
3. Multi-Pane Windows
A more expensive approach is to replace your RV windows with thermal pane windows. These windows are dual pane with argon gas in between the glass. This harmless gas is an excellent insulator that prevents heat energy from flowing through the windows. You can buy them tinted or transparent. Companies can manufacture the windows custom to your RV’s measurements.
4. Window Coverings
Thermal pane windows range from $200-$500 each. More manageable alternatives are window coverings. There are different materials you can use to cover your windows that are just as effective. To insulate a camper trailer window, you can use:
If you choose to cover your windows with a rigid foam board, there are two versions we recommend. Polyisocyanurate (polyiso) has a radiant film backing that insulates heat transfer and ultraviolet radiation. Extruded Polystyrene is more moisture-resistant than Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), so it will withstand condensation better. Check out our other recommendations.
When you attach these materials to your window, double stick tape, velcro, or 3M Command Hooks won’t ruin your walls. If you are going to use permanent attachments like screw-in hooks, screws, or nails, make sure you use a stud finder, and it’s going into wood. Newer RVs use aluminum framing around the windows to support the weight.
5. Shanty Airlocks
Some have solved the wind/mudroom issue by creating airlock-type structures outside their RV door. They use plywood to create a tunnel passage that extends the entryway. Foam weather stripping forms a seal against the RV and the shelter. It serves as a place to take of muddy boots and blocks the wind from coming through the door.
If you attempt this, do your research. Winter winds or the weight of snow and ice can collapse these structures, so build them well. You also want to make sure that wherever you’re setup, the property owners or campground allows it.
6. Gift Wrapping Your Door
Plastic sheeting is a great way to add a layer of protection around your door. A single sheet can create that extra thickness you need that stops the draft. Using a secure but easily removable tape to secure it works well. Double-stick tape is a reliable alternative too.
If the sheeting isn’t enough, using foam stripping around the edges will be that last line of defense that stops the invading cold. It comes in rolls and has an adhesive side to it. Make sure you stick it to the inside door frame and give it an hour or two to secure before you use the door.
7. Roof Vent Lids and Covers
According to the laws of thermodynamics, heat rises. If your roof vents aren’t sufficiently secured, your heat is going to find its way out through these openings. RV roof vent leaking can be shored up both externally and internally.
Roof vents tend to chip and crack with age. Constant exposure to weather conditions makes the plastic brittle. These roof vent lids are easily replaceable for under $20. The hardest part of replacing the vent lid is making sure it’s the correct size, so make sure you measure correctly.
Adding a vent cover that fits over the lid will further prevent air and water leaks. These triangular shaped components are designed to let the air out, not in when the lid is open. The caulking around them creates an additional seal around the vent area.
8. Vent Insulation Pads
Vent Insulation pads (also called pillows) fit into the interior of your ceiling vent. Better versions have a radiant foil side that faces the exterior. The stuffing inside the pad creates a thick barrier that prevents cold air from seeping in from the roof. A fast-food order from your favorite delivery service will pay for the pads for both of your vents.
9. Insulation Under the Mattress
In some travel trailers there is a storage compartment under the bed and that compartment is not heated! So you have cold air right below your mattress.
If you’ve ever camped on a cold night with an innerspring mattress, you know those metal coils can magnify low temperatures. Other beds, like memory foam, have insulating properties that retain heat. If you’re not ready to make the switch, or you need something else to make use of your travel trailer in the winter nights, here are some great tips.
Adding an insulation layer under your mattress is a quick and easy way to block cold air from your storage bays or other places seeping into your bed. You can use radiant foil, rigid foam, or any other thick material.
10. Heated Mattress Pad
You can also purchase an RV mattress heating pad that goes under your mattress. It will keep you much warmer on those cold winter nights.
11. RV Skirting
RV skirting is any type of material that covers the open space between the ground and the sides of your coach. It can be a tarp material or corrugated aluminum. The best RV skirting for winter will keep the weather and (hopefully) small animals from nesting underneath your unit. Using heavy-duty snaps, ground stakes, or other methods will secure the skirting to the RV and the ground.
12. Insulating Your Storage Bays
All-season RVs have insulated storage bay doors and route heat through the storage bay basement. It creates a thick layer of warmth under your floor that makes heating more efficient and keeps your gear from freezing.
If you don’t have this feature, there are steps you can take to compensate. You can use XPS or EPS foam board to insulate your bay doors, subfloor, and storage walls. Many travel trailers have electrical outlets inside a bay for outdoor needs. Hooking up a small space heater can keep your storage area warm enough to keep things from freezing.
Make sure you place the space heater on a fireproof platform, don’t turn it up too high, and check on it often. The last thing you need is your RV catching fire.
Winter Camping Tips
Many of these insulating techniques will make your winter camping adventure a great experience. There are other things you can do to make your trip a successful one. Here are some best practices to avoid any problems.
- Before the cold weather hits, make sure your caulking and weather stripping are in the best condition possible. Recaulk with silicone and replace weather stripping if necessary.
- Winterize your plumbing, freshwater, and grey holding tank with anti-freeze RV liquid to prevent any damage. Here’s why winterizing your RV is so important
- Close up your A/C ducting vents to minimize unnecessary heating space.
- Use a tarp to cover the engine section of your motorhome. Doing this will prevent snow and ice from damaging essential components similar to putting sheets over furniture to protect the item from dust.
- Dump your black tank only when it’s full. You want to minimize the chance of the contents freezing up. Frozen pipes and holding tanks can be prevented when you know what to avoid.
- Use wooden blocks to prop up your stabilizer jacks and RV tires. Due to its insulation properties, wood won’t conduct the cold temperature into the coach.
- Use five-gallon jugs for your water inside your RV.
- Protect your connected water hose with heat tape to prevent freezing damage. Just remember that most hoses are 25 feet long so be sure to buy the correct size for the length of your hose. If your hoses have frozen up, here’s how to safely get the water flowing again.
Electric Heaters and Other Appliances
Built-in RV furnaces produce a significant amount of heat to keep you comfortable. The average BTU an RV furnace puts out is 30,000. This measurement isn’t arbitrary. RV manufacturers have determined that it takes 1,000 BTUs to heat a linear foot in an RV.
An RV furnace will run on propane for three hours on one gallon of propane if it continuously heats your coach. Therefore a 20-gallon propane tank will give you 60 hours. The good thing is all RVs with thermostats have temperature sensors with an auto-shutoff function.
In the winter, propane is more valuable than ever. It also runs your cooktop, water heater (if you’re using it), and refrigerator. Your RV furnace, while efficient, will drain your tanks within a week.
How to Heat a Camper Without Propane
Using electric space heaters are a great alternative to heating your RV while winter camping. Their power demands are low, so your solar system, solar generator, or other power sources can keep them running for a long time.
If you decide to use a space heater in an RV, ceramic or infrared space heaters are the best choices. They’re portable, directional, and very affordable. Make sure you keep the ceramic heater in a safe place away from loose things that are sensitive to heat and don’t leave it unattended. Learn about more heating alternatives.
Running a dehumidifier in an RV is another technique to heat your travel trailer. Removing the moisture from the air speeds up the heating process. Drier air heats up (or cools down) faster than moist air. These devices are also energy efficient and cost-friendly.
Insulating Your Travel Trailer Keeps You Cool in Hot Weather Too!
We’ve focused our tips on winter conditions. Many of them translate for the summer heat. If you re-read the tips above, the key points focus on preventing your interior temperature from leaking outside and vice versa. So you can reduce your heating and cooling costs all year round!
It all boils down to sealing up weak points, keeping up with your preventive maintenance, and finding energy-efficient ways to keep the interior comfortable. College students that live in the residence halls aren’t the only audience for portable fans. Those living the RV lifestyle depend on them to keep the air circulating to reduce the strain on their A/C systems.
We hope you’re enjoying your RV adventures comfortably and can’t wait to see you down the road.