Archive for November, 2010


Friday, November 5th, 2010

Ah, it’s that wonderful time of year again, when the leaves turn brilliant orange, yellow, and red, and the plumbing and drains in RVs also turn red. Or, at least, pink. Those of you that have had to winterize their Airstreams know the antifreeze used in RVs is generally pink in color. Antifreeze is good. It keeps copper pipes and other plumbing components from expanding and rupturing when the temperature gets too low and the water contained within them freezes. This time around, I’ll relate a couple of stories of Winterization, as well as a couple horror stories from winterizations gone horribly wrong. Since I know you all want to hear the gory details of hapless newbies imploding their plumbing, I’ll make that the last item today. Yes, I’m mean, and a tease…

Anyway, most of you know you should Winterize your Airstreams in the Fall or early Winter, depending on temperatures where your trailer is stored.  There are two methods of Winterization, the Antifreeze method and the air method. The Antifreeze method is when you pump RV antifreeze through the plumbing, making sure antifreeze is throughout the fresh water lines and drain traps. Whether you bypass your water heater or not depends on if you have a bypass valve mounted on it, and if you are handy with cash. Of course, if you’re handy with cash, you don’t need to bother Winterizing, just come see me next Spring to get all your water lines replaced. I can always use the work, it helps put my kids through college. The air method is simply opening all the faucets and applying compressed air to the fresh water intake in short bursts to remove the water from the lines, and adding antifreeze to the traps. This method is cheaper, less messy, and is preferred when you don’t have a bypass valve on your water heater. Water heaters hold from 6-10 gallons of whatever you put in them, and 10 gallons of antifreeze costs about $50 on the open market.

So, my first Winterization customer had, of course, first tried it himself. It didn’t work out so good for him as he forgot to drain the water heater and close the bypass valves to it. He bought 5 gallons of antifreeze and dumped it in his fresh water tank. He also forgot to drain his fresh water tank first. So, he had 5 gallons of antifreeze and about 35 gallons of fresh water in his water tank. That would probably protect his system all the way down to about 30 degrees or so. He knew this wouldn’t work after the watered-down antifreeze made an appearance in his sink, and he realized what he had done. They say the first loss is the best loss, so he didn’t keep trying, he just brought it in for a professional job.

My next customer is one that forgot to bring his trailer in to be de-Winterized last Spring, and simply started using it. RV antifreeze is non-toxic, but can still give you some health issues if you drink it. His trailer’s black tank got a workout on his first trip of the season… He will remember to come back next Spring.  I quickly turned valves and added antifreeze, roughly 2 gallons, and he was on his way.

Now, for my promised example: He had heard about blowing out the water lines, and decided that’s what he wanted to do. He made up a cobbled-together rig to add compressed air to the water system, hooked it up, and let ‘er rip. Unfortunately, he was using an industrial strength  compressed air system, which was putting out about 250 psi. The good news is, he blew out his lines. The bad news is, he blew out his lines. And his water heater. And his toilet. And all the faucets.  No, he did not have a water pressure regulator in his trailer, that had been broken last year when it froze. It’ll probably cost him the better part of a thousand dollars to put things right in his plumbing’s world again, but he’ll have all  Winter to save up for it.

About the Author

Lug Wrench is a long-time mechanic, multiple Airstream owner, and dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. All tales guaranteed 100% true, although names and certain details may be altered to protect the guilty.