Avoid these 3 plumbing problems on freezing nights

If you're still out there camping this time of year, you're bound to encounter a freezing night or two. Even parts of Florida and the desert southwest can freeze up after dark.

Don't worry, your Airstream is built to take it! Generally speaking, as long as daytime temperatures are above freezing, you don't have to worry too much – even if the temperature drops below freezing at night.

That said, there are still a few "gotchas" that can happen when the weather turns frigid. Here are 3 plumbing-related tips that will help you on a very cold night.

Avoid letting the water hose and filter freeze 

When the weather is forecast to dip below 32 at night, turn off the campground water spigot, move any external water filter to a warm location, and disconnect your water hose before you go to bed. When pressurized, most hoses will burst when frozen.

The exception is the Ultimate RV Water Hose, which won't burst or be harmed if it freezes, no matter what. But even if you have this hose, you should still turn off the water on a freezing night, because ice in the hose might damage the water connection on the Airstream.

What should you do on mornings when the water hose is filled with ice?

The best approach is to let it melt as the sun hits it. Usually the hose will defrost itself within an hour or two after sunrise. Or, to speed things up, take the hose into the Airstream and toss it in the sink or shower to defrost. While the frozen hose is thawing out, use the water in your onboard fresh water tank, or bottled water.

Protect the tankless water heater 

Water heaters on 2021 and earlier Airstream trailers won't freeze on a cold night because they have a tank that's full of 6 gallons of hot water.

But all Airstreams made after 2021 have tankless water heaters, and most are the Girard GSWH-2 or Suburban IW60 (except motorhomes and Classic). 

These water heaters come have a "winter use device" that protects them from freezing. But it only protects the unit when it's turned on, and you have propane gas and 12 volt power available. 

If you're camping in freezing weather, do not turn the Girard or Suburban tankless water heater off. Always leave the water heater in operating mode when it's freezing outside. If you don't, the heat exchanger will likely freeze and rupture, and you'll be facing an expensive repair.

Keeping the tankless water heater on when temps dip below freezing will avoid a burst heat exchanger like this one

Don't force a frozen dump valve

Need to dump the tanks, but the dump valves won't budge? They're probably frozen.

Don't try to force them. If you do, you'll likely tear the rubber seals that keep the valves watertight. Leaking seals means you'll get a few cups of raw sewage delivered every time you remove the cap—not a pleasant experience—and the only solution will be to replace the valves entirely.

Instead, exercise patience and let warmer, daytime temps do the defrosting. If you're in a hurry, you can use a hair dryer to warm the valves, assuming there's a handy plug nearby and you have an extension cord.

5 comments

Nancy

Nancy

Learning so much from your blogs and videos. Thanks for these tips!!!

Randall Godfrey

Randall Godfrey

I usually disconnect and drain my sewer hose too. Lately, I heard you should leave it connected so the sewer gas will keep the hose and valve from freezing. I don’t think I would trust that, though, if the temperatures were to drop lower than the mid-20s. I’ve camped at 18° a few times in north Florida.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Randall, I agree that the sewer gas theory is pretty weak. In any case, there’s very little risk of damage to the sewer hose in freezing temperatures, since it’s not full of water.

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson

“This water heater comes with a “winter use device” that protects it from freezing."
I’m a little unclear on this. Are you saying the Girard water heater has this feature? We have a Suburban in our 2022 Basecamp.
Also…can you offer tips on getting that model (Suburban) to work full time? It’s a problem a lot of owners have.
Craig J.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Craig: Yes, the Girard GSWH-2 tankless water heater (as installed by Airstream) has a “winter use device” to prevent freeze-ups in cold weather when it’s in use. The Suburban IW60 installed in your Basecamp 20 has a similar function.

It’s impossible to say what might be causing you to have trouble with the unit without examining it, but note that the Suburban IW60 is quite sensitive to water flow and gas flow. Air in the water or gas lines is the major cause of problems, and the first thing to check if you’re having trouble. If that doesn’t resolve it, you should check with an Airstream Service Center or Airstream directly (937-596-6111) for a more in-depth diagnosis.

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