There has been a lot of discussion on the various caravan forums regarding winterisation of caravans, which has prompted me to think about how I go about it by way of a review.
It seems to me that there are two main factors that I need to guard against during winter storage: Damage by freezing and that caused by damp. Lesser factors that come to mind are tyre damage, rodent infestation, battery protection, and mechanical problems such as brakes sticking.
Rodent damage: I make sure that I thoroughly vacuum clean all shelves, cupboards and floors to remove all traces of food that may otherwise attract mice. Rodents can be attracted to substances that we would not consider food sources, such as plastic cables and pipes as well as cloth and paper. I therefore feel that my very best defence against rodent damage is storing my caravan on a storage site that maintains a strong and effective vermin control system, a dead rodent is not normally a hungry rodent.
Tyre damage: this is reputed to arise because a caravan is static during winter and placing strain one part of the tyre walls. There is also a potential problem with ultraviolet degradation to the tyre. I discount both of these points, believing that the protection lays with keeping the tyre correctly inflated for winter temperatures, something that is often neglected. I inflate my tyres to their recommended maximum pressure as part of the storage routine, in my case 65psi.
Obviously I have to check and adjust them again when taking the van out of storage.
Other than that I take no other special measures. I would add that the caravan will be moved to and from its storage bay for both its annual service and wash, so it gets some movement, even if we don’t use it during the winter. With regard to ultra-violet degradation, our caravan is stored between others so the tyres are shaded from the low winter sunshine and therefore any serious chance of damage from this cause is mitigated.
Battery: At first I took the leisure battery home during the winter lay-up and kept it connected to a maintenance trickle charger. I have since installed a roof mounted solar panel to keep the battery charged, so it now stays in situ. Your alarm system should have its own battery, which should be able to power the alarm system for the three or four month winter period. If you have any doubts on this point then check your handbook or contact the alarm manufacturer and ask them.
Brakes: Once the caravan is in position and the corner steadies wound down, and as the storage site is level, I release the handbrake to avoid any chance of the brake shoes sticking to the drums. I use a hitch cover to protect the hitch, hitchlock and handbrake mechanisms from the worst of the weather.
Water Systems: Damage of the water systems from freezing is a major concern. However I think water freezing within a container such as a pipe can only cause damage by expansion if it is restricted such as it is in a full pipe, so if the pipe is partially drained no harm should occur from freezing.
Each time we are ready to leave a site I open the master drain valve by the water heater to allow it to empty and water to drain away. If we have been staying on a grass pitch I wait until we are on the road out of the site before doing this to avoid killing the grass with any hot water left. I also leave all our taps open in the mid-position. This ensures that the water in the pipes can drain out as we travel thereby reducing our towing weight by about 12 kilos. I don’t worry too much about draining every last drop out of the system.
Tilting: When parking the caravan for the winter lay-up I raise the rear of the ‘van to the maximum extent that the rear corner steadies allow. I think that this helps any remaining water in the pipework to drain towards the front where the drain is located, practically I doubt if it does much, but it makes me less concerned. Tilting also helps to stop water ponding on the roof.
Toilet: I also drain the toilet flush tank completely. When touring I leave about two litres of water in this to cater for comfort stops, but for winter it is emptied and the pump operated until all water is expelled. The toilet holding tank is removed and taken home for a clean and service check and lubrication of it’s seals. This is also a good time to clean the tank holding bay.
Tanks: The aquaroll and waste water tanks are emptied and also taken home for a clean and winter storage.
Gas: I leave the cylinder in situ, but make sure the cylinder valve is closed.
Damp: The first point I will make is that caravans are designed to be left unattended for considerable periods, for that is part of their normal patten of use, so damp from storage should not be a problem.
Let’s first deal with the question of dehumidifiers because they generate considerable discourse and are seen by some as a panacea. There are many on the market, both chemical and electrical, they absorb moisture and lower the relative humidity of the air, and they generally work well in a closed space. But caravans are not closed spaces, for they have lots of vent holes and they breath with the daily changes of temperature and pressure, meaning there is a constant air change through drafts and the natural heating and cooling cycle that they go through each day. I tried several chemical dehumidifiers in our ‘van during our first winter with it, and was unimpressed with their performance. They do collect water, but don’t effect the humidity within the caravan. For subsequent winter’s I haven’t bothered with them and have not noticed any difference, so I now consider them a waste of money.
My storage preparations on this front are simple, all windows and roof lights are closed, to stop damage from strong winds. I make sure the refrigerator is turned off and the main and ice-box door are wedged open to stop any danger of mould developing. I open all draws and cupboards and stand seat cushions and mattresses on edge to give them the maximum exposure to the air. All other fabrics and bedding are removed home for laundering and storage.
I take the tie-bands off the curtains which are then drawn, again to allow air to circulate. We have concertina window blinds which I extend but leave a small gap top and bottom.
Then I forget about it until after it’s annual service and we next want to use it.
On arrival, at the start of the new touring season, I will fire up the central heating for the hour or so that it takes me to sort out the furniture, tie back the curtains, and replace all the habitation paraphernalia to the point that we are ready to hitch up. The gas is then turned off and we are ready to roll.