RV Snowbird Fail? Managing Short RV Trips To Winter Climates

TheRVgeeks Winter RVing 22 Comments

Despite the name, the term “Winter Snowbirds” generally involves neither winter nor snow. Since we love warm weather, becoming Snowbirds each winter was one of the main reasons we started RVing. But that doesn’t mean we always avoid cold weather and snow. Sometimes there are considerations other than weather for choosing a route or destination.

Five years ago, we spent our one and only winter entirely in a cold climate in an RV. We made a video about how we prepared and lived comfortably during that time. While we did make it to the Desert Southwest this year, we returned North earlier than usual. We knew this would likely take us into the tail end of winter, especially during a La Niña year, with the West forecast to get hit harder than it typically does. And it sure did.

While we love warm weather, we’re not afraid of winter. There’s definitely a mitigating effect just knowing that we have the freedom to go South whenever we want. We always say full-timing means that “Winter is a choice” and that cuts both ways… in a good way. We can choose to stay warm, or we can choose to experience winter, which can be really beautiful. The very fact that we can choose is what makes it okay for us either way.

Pre-RV (when we were firmly entrenched in The Rut) we had no choice in the matter. Neither of us had spent more than two weeks in a warm winter climate in our entire lives. So the “Snowbirding” aspect of RVing was a really big deal for us (our first totally-warm winter in Desert Hot Springs, California was an incredible experience)! Now that we’re free to come and go from the snow as we please, winter weather doesn’t bother us as much.

Not that we plan to stop snowbirding. After all, we still love us some warmth. But we turn a trip that could be called a “Snowbird Fail” (as in, it’s cold) into a win, by dealing with it like pros.

This video covers the techniques we use to care for our rig and stay as comfortable as possible during a short trip to sub-freezing temperatures and some fairly heavy snow. Managing our power, propane, water and other systems correctly makes short trips into the winter mostly a non-event. Even for us Snowbirds. wink


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We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

We sometimes receive products for evaluation at no cost, but our opinions are our own and we only feature products we personally use, love and can recommend to friends with complete confidence. The RVgeeks participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.


Comments 22

  1. Pingback: Xantrex Inverter Update: Auto Gen Start & ComBox Installation.

  2. Always great and informative videos. How about winter driving. In a car I’m fearless in the RV not so much. Im sure with your extensive bus driving you have many a good tip. Thanks again

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      Hi Byron! Literally the very first time I ever drove a bus… my very first day of training… was during a snowstorm. No kidding. My instructor said that since the entire winter was snowy in that part of the world (the upper mid-west), I’d better just get used to it! So I have no fear when it comes to winter driving. That said, there are some obvious factors at play here. The first is that slowing down and increasing following distance in accordance with conditions is #1. The slipperier it is… rain, then snow, then ice, etc… the slower and more following distance required.

      Of course there are two other factors now in play for me. First, we don’t generally have a schedule to keep, so it takes a lot less severe weather to lead us to getting off the road for the day. Secondly, this is our home. Not that I was cavalier about the idea of crashing a bus with 49 people on board, of course. But when it comes to the vehicle itself, the ramifications of damaging it are pretty severe.

      We make it a habit to avoid driving in winter conditions, and I can count on the fingers of one hand (with some fingers left over) the number of times that I’ve driven our RV when the temperature was below freezing with any kind of precipitation going on. Below freezing? Fine. Precip? Fine (just increase following distance from 4 seconds minimum to 6 seconds minimum…. 8 seconds minimum at night). But it’s that combination of freezing temps & precip of any kind that’s an unwarranted risk, which we avoid unless absolutely necessary.

      By the way, I get asked about the weight of our rig…. whether it’s a pro or a con when it comes to slippery road conditions. It’s actually a double-edged sword. Our 19 tons does help us stay more firmly planted to the roadway in most conditions. But if tires DO break loose, all that mass and momentum now works against us, making it more difficult to stop. When it comes to icy roads, discretion is the better part of valor.

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  3. Great video as always. What a gorgeous view outside your windows of the beautiful snow. Thanks for sharing how you RV in cold weather. My husband and I have been rving for just over 3 months and loving it. We’ve been and are still taking plenty of notes from generous rvers like you who share your RV knowledge and experience through YouTube and blogs. Though we don’t comment much, know we enjoy your videos and blogs very much. So a big thank you.

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      Well a big “Hi” and “Thank You” to you both, Sonia & David! It means a lot to us that you took the time to comment. And congratulations on 3 months of RVing! We’re so excited to hear that you’re enjoying this great way of life.

  4. More good tips.

    Even if only a few of your readers will need to climb on the roof to shovel snow there are many of us who could use the remote sensor thermometer. I do not see a link to it on your Favourite Gear pages. I’d like to give you the Amazon business if you have a link.

    About that snow shoveling – I do not think that I’d like to be on my roof when it is so slippery. Have you given any thoughts to throwing a plastic tarp over the roof? I’m thinking that if you leave one side drape down as far as it can and the other side, with ropes attached, pulled down just a few inches. When you need to clear the roof throw the ropes over the roof and pull – using a long pole to assist if required to clear antennas. This would work for 3 or 4 inches of snow and could be repeated easily.

    Just a thought.

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      Thanks so much for thinking of us John. Very kind of you. Of course the moment we put out a video showing that thermometer, it stopped broadcasting after many years of great service…. and they don’t make it anymore. Of course! We just ordered a replacement from Amazon that got fantastic reviews. When we get it, we’ll check it out, and if we like it as much as the old one, we’ll add it to our Favorite Gear page. In the meantime, we did a LOT of looking, and this one was our choice: http://amzn.to/2kVnERJ (yes, that’s Amazon Affiliate link, but please don’t feel obligated if it’s not the right one for you, or you want to wait to hear if we give it the RVgeeks Seal of Approval when we receive it). LOL

      As far as covering the roof with a tarp, we envision a couple of potential issues for us. It would prevent us from using our roof fans to vent moisture when using our portable propane heater, we have things on the roof that we’d be concerned about damaging while trying to pull it off (our WeBoost antenna in particular), the potential for wind whipping the edges of it into the finish and marring the paint job, the difficulty of installing and removing it, and the problem of removing it if a particularly heavy, wet snow fell (we doubt we’d want to walk on it for shoveling, especially since it would be slipperier than the roof itself, and since it would make it hard to see where solar panels, roof vents, skylights are as easily as if we just shoveled up to them). Not saying it wouldn’t work, but I think we should just head south from now on! ;-)

      We totally get the aversion to walking on the roof at all for some people, let alone when it’s wet, or worse, snow and/or ice covered. We have a non-skid area all around the perimeter of our roof that helps a lot (we’re guessing that, being a fellow Newmar owner, that your rig might also have that). We advise anyone who’s uncomfortable getting up there for any reason to do what works for them. We’re VERY careful up there. The wife of the husband-and-wife team that installed our internet satellite dish years ago actually fell off an RV roof (not ours!) and broke her wrist. She’s lucky she didn’t end up paralyzed…. or worse. We think about that.

      You definitely have the right idea about taking a climb on the roof seriously. Our biggest thing is actually the climb up from the ladder. When we ordered our rig, a rear ladder was a $217 option. We’d had a ladder on our Bounder, and couldn’t imagine being without one, so we of course checked that box. When we were hanging out with the Wynns one time back when they still had Windy the Monaco Vesta, Jason & I got up their roof so I could help him work on something. They had no built-on ladder, and got up there with a collapsible extension ladder they carried. I did not like that at all! The transition from the ladder to the roof and back made me very uncomfortable (being 20+ years younger than me, Jason must have looked at me like an old man, since I obviously didn’t like that transition one bit, while he hopped around like he always does… like a mountain goat on amphetamines)! LOL

      1. You make me smile!

        My roof is 60% solar panel and I have no attached ladder and DEFINITELY can’t imitate Jason the mountain goat! Climbing on the ‘exposed’ part of the roof requires getting a foot and leg over the 9″ awning housing from my extension ladder. Hard enough on a summer day, dangerously uncomfortable on a snowy day.

        I like that thermometer. Not sure what “Amazon Affiliate link” means. If I order from the link will you get a few pennies?

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          We know exactly what you mean about your roof. Definitely a snowbird rig! And yes… clicking the link we sent to buy it will give us just that… a few pennies. LOL But we do appreciate it. :)

  5. Quick question that actually has almost nothing to do with this topic but do you leave your electric hot water heater on constantly or only when you use it? Being full time I leave mine on but am I doing damage to my RV?

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      Hi Ryan! When we’re hooked up to shore power, we leave our water heater on electric 24/7 the entire time, whether we’re on 30 or 50-amp service. That said, we do have an Intellitec Smart EMS (Energy Management System) that automatically sheds power to certain systems if we go over the amperage available at the pedestal. If you’re not familiar with this system, it knows how much power you have available (20-, 30-, or 50-amp service in the campground) and monitors it at all times. There is a digital display that you may have seen in some of our videos, which shows the exact amps being drawn at any given moment (except when on 50-amp service, since there’s so much power it would never need to shed anything)! If needed, it sheds (in order) 1) the block heater, 2) the water heater, 3) the rear ac/heat pump, then 4) the front ac/heat pump. That means we can leave the water heater on at all times, since it will shed if the power is needed for something else.

      For example, let’s say we’re on 30-amp service, and it’s hot out, so we have both a/c units running. They draw about 12 amps each. Add a little draw for float charging the batteries, the refrigerator, etc, and we’d likely be drawing about 27-28 amps. That doesn’t leave enough power to also run the water heater (about 10 amps). Since the electric water heater switch is always in the “on” position wen we’re hooked up, the system will shed it as soon as the second a/c unit kicks on (since both a/c unit take priority over the water heater). The light next to “water heater” flashes, letting us know it has shed until enough power becomes available to power it. As soon as either a/c unit cycles off, there’s now enough power to heat water, and it comes right back on automatically.

      By the same token, if all of the above is still running (both a/c units and the water heater set to “on”) and we fire up the microwave… we now only have enough power to run one a/c unit and the micro, so if both a/c units and the water heater were trying run when the microwave came on, the system would shed whatever it needed to to keep us under a 30-amp draw. It’s a marvelous system. So good in fact that we have never once tripped a circuit breaker in any RV park.

      Of course if your rig isn’t equipped with a Smart EMS, you’ll need to manually manage your power. Generally, when on 30-amps, you can run any two of the following at a time: one a/c or heat pump unit, the water heater, the microwave, a space heater. Any two of those at a time should be fine, leaving enough extra power to run a residential fridge, operate the average coffee maker and trickle charge the batteries (wen you first hook up, if your batteries are low, you may have to wait for them to bulk charge for a little while before running too much else, since the initial charge can draw as much power as an a/c unit or the water heater.

      When we’re boondocking, we only turn on the water heater shortly before showering and then shut it right back off when the tank is done heating. In that case, we heat on propane, unless we’re running the generator anyway (to charge batteries, etc). If the generator’s on, we almost always turn on the electric water heater to take advantage of the available power. But when we’re hooked up, the water heater is almost never turned off. It doesn’t hurt a thing… other than the potential for tripping the pedestal breaker if you don’t have an EMS and don’t manage your power correctly.

      Hope this wasn’t telling you stuff you already knew, and wasn’t too long!

  6. Hi Guys,
    Love your your postings.
    On a different note, I have a battery question for you. We have a 40′ Fleetwood LE DP, we have 4 AGM batteries connected to our inverter and 3 solar panels up top. We are looking to replace the batteries and have been checking into carbon foam batteries, I thought through some research they looked interesting. Something new in the RV market, I was told they are used in the boating market with a good success rate. Have you heard anything about them? http://www.fireflyenergy.com is their website. Thanks for any and all info you might have. Kathy

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      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for the love! Always makes us happy to hear that people are enjoying our videos!

      On the battery front… we’ve heard of FireFlyEnergy, but don’t know anything about their products. Honestly, we haven’t ever heard of “carbon foam batteries”! All of our attention these days is on Lithium Ion (mostly out of jealousy and hoping beyond hope that the prices come down faster than they have been, LOL!). From what Firefly is posting on their website, the carbon foam batteries SOUND interesting (high energy density, fast charging, resistance to sulphation, good cold temperature performance, resistance to vibration, long lasting, no maintenance, etc), and a quick Googling for prices (about $450 each?) they look like an interesting stepping stone to Lithiums (about 2x the price of standard AGMs, but much less expensive than LiIon). We just wonder if they’re too good to be true?!

      Wish we had more info about them to share with you… but we’ll be keeping an eye on them (our AGMs are getting long in the tooth and are going to need to be replaced in the near future) to see if they look as good as they sound. If nothing else, thanks so much for putting them on our radar!

  7. Thanks for the great tips! While our new house was being built several years ago, we had to live the entire winter in our motor coach in southwest Iowa; we saw sub-zero temperatures. I placed our fresh water hose next to the sewer hose, them spiral wrapped them both with my 100-foot heat tape. It did an excellent job of keeping both thawed and water/sewer running freely. And, as you suggested, a heat source in the water basement is a must!

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