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One of the great things about camping in your RV is that you can stay warm and cozy even when the temperature drops below freezing. In a previous post about winter RVing, we included tips on successful cold-weather camping strategies. But since our visit was so short, we were able to leave out some steps. Winter RV camping for extended periods calls for some additional modifications to your normal setup. One thing you’ll appreciate knowing when RVing in below-freezing temperatures for any length of time is how to use heat tape for your RV water hose.
Why Do You Need Heat Tape for an RV Water Hose?
Using heat tape for your RV water hose allows you to RV in below-freezing temperatures without a plumbing disaster. Because of the added heat provided by the heat tape, your water hose won’t freeze even when it’s cold outside. That way you can have on-demand water available at the RV park water hook-up no matter how cold it gets, or how long you’ll be there.
Does Everyone Need Heat Tape for an RV Water Hose?
No. Some people choose to store their RVs for winter or travel south to warmer temperatures, but others choose to brave the cold. If you’re a cold-weather camper, and want to stay connected to a steady supply of city water, you need to use heat tape for your RV water hose to ensure that your hose doesn’t freeze into a solid tube. If your hose freezes, you won’t be able to get water from the RV park water hook-up into your RV. In some cases, this can even damage the spigot, your pressure regulator, or even your RV itself.
How to Use Heat Tape to Make Your Own Heated RV Water Hose
We should first mention that you can purchase a ready-to-go heated RV water hose from the store, or online. But it’s generally going to cost more, in some cases significantly more. Heated hoses can be quite expensive.
But you can use heat tape to make your own heated water hose as a DIY project. We showed how we did it in the beginning of our video titled How To RV In The Winter… but keep reading for the step-by-step instructions to follow.
DIY Project: Using Heat Tape for Your RV Water Hose
Using heat tape for your RV water hose is a simple process and will ensure you can safely RV in the winter without worrying about your supply of water being cut off by freezing temperatures.
Materials You’ll Need
Here are the materials you’ll need to have on hand to use heat tape to make your own heated RV water hose:
- Drinking-Water-Safe Hose
- Aluminum Foil
- Appropriate Length Electric Heat Tape
- Split Foam Insulating Tubes
- Duct Tape
- Insulated Heat Wrap Tape (might also be needed)
- Heavy-duty extension cord (if needed)
Once you have all your supplies, you can follow our step-by-step guide to using heat tape to safely heat your RV water hose.
Wrap Hose Length in Aluminum Foil
The first step to using heat tape for your RV water hose is to wrap a standard RV drinking water hose in aluminum foil. When you finish, the aluminum foil should be snuggly fitted around the hose. The aluminum foil is there to even out the heat all the way around the hose, rather than having it create a hotspot against one side of the water hose and potentially causing it to melt.’
NOTE: Not everyone agrees with the necessity of this step, and many have reported successfully surviving frigid temperatures by just doing a lazy coil wrap of the heat tape down the length of the hose. But we think the foil wrap step is a big help in keeping the heat from the heat tape more evenly distributed around the RV water hose.
Also, if you wrap the heat tape around the hose, be sure that it doesn’t overlap itself, as that could cause a hot spot that could damage the heat tape.
Insert RV Water Hose & Heat Tape Into Split Foam Tube
Next, lay your aluminum wrapped hose inside a split foam tube. You can find these tubes in the plumbing section of a hardware store or home improvement store. They come in different sizes, so just be sure to get one that has a large enough opening to fit your water hose (1-1.5″ inner diameter should work).
As you’re laying the hose into the split foam insulation, include the heat tape alongside it. You want the heat tape to lie in a straight line and be tucked inside the foam tube with the water hose.
If your RV has a designated water compartment, make sure the heat tape runs the length of the entire hose, including the portion of the hose that will enter the RV and end up inside the water compartment.
You’ll also want to ensure that a length of the heat tape extends out beyond the end of the water hose that will connect to the spigot. This will ensure that you can wrap the heat tape around the campground spigot as well, ensuring that it doesn’t freeze up when the temperatures drop.
Seal Seams with Duct Tape
If your hose needs several foam tubes to cover its length (which it most likely will), use duct tape to seal the seams.
This prevents the multiple foam tubes from coming apart or falling away from your hose. Even though the split foam tubes came with adhesive strips aligned along the split (making duct tape unnecessary to close the tube around the hose), you’ll still want to tape the lengths of tubing together where the ends meet, creating one continuous, unbroken insulated tube along the length of the water hose.
Use Additional Heat Tape for the Water Spigot
The next step to using the length of heat tape that you left extending beyond the end of the house to wrap around the water spigot. Once wrapped, insulate the spigot with a length of the foam insulating tube to ensure that the water within the faucet doesn’t freeze.
If Necessary, Wrap Faucet & Exposed Spigot/Pipe in Heat Tape
Some parts of the spigot will likely be too large to cover with your foam tubes, but you still want to insulate them to make sure they don’t freeze. For these areas, you can do one of two things.
- If you have a section of electric heat tape sticking out beyond the end of the foam tube (as planned), you can wrap that around the faucet and any exposed part of the spigot.
- The second option is to use separate insulated heat wrap tape for these areas. In this case, you would wrap the insulated heat wrap tape around the faucet and exposed spigot to completely cover any exposed sections.
Either way, your goal is to ensure that no fresh water plumbing remains exposed to the cold/elements. You want to keep the entire route from the ground right into your RV’s water compartment heated & insulated to keep it all from freezing.
Inspect Your Work, Double-Check All Heat Tape & Insulation
Before you finish the job, inspect all areas. For example, you’ll want to inspect the entire hose and spigot to ensure that you’ve covered everything in heat tape and foam/insulation. You’ll also want to be sure you insulated the spigot all the way from the ground to the hose. The only part that should be exposed is the knob to turn the water on/off, so you can access it if/when needed.
You’ll also want to use a good quality, heavy-duty extension cord to plug in your heat tape, rated not to crack or break at low temperatures.
Note that most heat tape has a thermostat that will turn it on automatically when the temperature drops below about 40-45 degrees, so you won’t be wasting power heating things up when there’s no risk of them freezing.
Finally, fill your fresh water tank. That way, if your water hose should freeze temporarily, you’ll still have water for a few days while you wait for the temperature to rise.
Winter is no reason to give up on RVing. In fact, you’ll probably enjoy how much less crowded parks will be. You can get out and enjoy your favorite winter activities and come home to a warm, toasty RV. But when you camp in freezing temperatures for any length of time, you’ll need to protect your RV water hose. The low-cost way to accomplish this is to use heat tape for your RV water hose by following our simple tutorial.
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Even though we're handy RVers, we're not professional technicians. So although we're happy with the techniques and products we use, you should be sure to confirm that all methods and materials 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.