Humbled by a Frozen RV Sewer Hose

by Margaret Berardinelli
(Sunny CA)

Do You Think It Is Cold Outside?

Do You Think It Is Cold Outside?

Editors Note: This story was submitted on our Funny RVing Stories Page.

After six months out of work, in late 2008, my husband took the only available job he could find in Post Falls, ID. Since we didn’t know if it would ultimately be a permanent move for us, we decided to buy our 4th RV. We’d done the “RV-Living” stint many times before during the prior 13 years in between cross-country moves and houses, but most long-term living was done in Southern California,

In August of 2008, not knowing where our future lay, we decided to buy a 5th wheel that could go off-road, and we also had it customized to accommodate all of our animals, including our 11-year-old, handicapped German Shepherd. By mid-December it was delivered to our driveway and we were told it was ready to move into, so we packed up and moved in. We considered ourselves, if not "experts," certainly experienced and “seasoned” RV’ers and not strangers to living like this for long stretches, along with our beloved pets.

Our model said it came with “heated tanks” (should we ever need them), and the label on the front door said “winterized”; we were ready for any time, any place, any where our future might someday lead us.

We arrived in Idaho on January 12, 2009, about 6 PM. The three-day trip took eight days due to torrential, record-setting rains & flooding, a malfunctioning transmission on our brand new truck, and bad directions to the nearest RV park that could accommodate a 40’ 5th wheel.

Post Falls, ID is above the 48th parallel, and several things are different living that far north; for one, the sun fully rises at 8 AM in the winter and begins to set around 3:30 PM, and the temperature hovers at a “high” of 18° on the most sunny of days, unless there’s a wind-chill factor, and of course there always is…

My husband decided, since he had to report to work in a suit and tie at 8AM the next day, he better dump the black water tank after eight days of travel and full-time use. When the RV was delivered, the driver told my husband the valves were all secured, and as we drove, there was no leakage, so all was looking good.

Unfortunately, the delivery man was mistaken. As soon as we got the 30-foot sewer hose built (after needing join two smaller sections together), my husband opened the external cap and was immediately showered with a flood of disgusting brown water. No valves closed here, and even though the brand new snow boots were a total loss, thanks to his quick maneuvering (from prior practice years before when the kids flushed paper towels in our 2nd RV and the same thing happened when he cleared the blockage from the outside), the sewer hose was attached and the mess was minimal, we hosed it down, and it quickly froze, so we felt we had dodged a bullet. We certainly knew what we were doing! Or did we? It was only then that my husband realized he didn’t know where the valve lever was to open and close the black water tank. Typically "it is" or "they are" on the

bottom of the RV right near the sewer connection.
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Over the course of the next several days we both read the RV Manual (a 3-inch thick notebook), called the manufacturer, and called the RV retailer where we bought the rig in California. NO ONE knew where the valve lever was on our particular model. One week later, he noticed the tank lights (which we no longer rely on, by the way) on this brand new RV was showing the black water tank as nearly full again. This seemed odd, because he just emptied it, and I was the only one using the facilities full-time since we were still looking for the valve levers. And I was flushing a TON of water to keep the waste moving out of the tank… or was I?

My husband decided he better check on the situation from the outside, and “giggle” the sewer line to “walk” the solids down (just listen to that “RV lingo” we were practically experts on this stuff!). He picked up the sewer line and it snapped like a 30-foot popsicle of frozen poop! After hauling all the frozen poop to the nearest dumpster (five, huge 55 gal, 3-mil contractor bags worth), he faced an even bigger challenge of “defrosting” the “Y” valve filled with 18 inches of solid ice, deodorizer and, yes, even more poop.

A foot stool, portable emergency propane heater, a blow torch, screwdriver, and seven hours later (during the early darkness and freezing wind), the ice/poop berg was melted… But we still didn’t know how to close the valves.

Finally we found an RV dealer in nearby Spokane, WA who carried a similar model and my husband found the lever “inside” the small storage area used for storing an extra sewer hose, visible only when you put your head inside the storage door!

We discovered “heated” tanks really meant, the tanks were near the heater, and winterized really meant, the RV dealer kept water in the fresh water tank during storage.

For the rest of that winter, we rigged a way for the external heater exhaust to be redirected under the RV (via some dryer exhaust vent tubing and a hand-truck) to help keep air under the tanks above freezing (the RV park kitty loved it!) and also kept the inside at a miserable 80° so the heater would blast day and night.

We were sorely humbled, but we also learned a few more things after our time in the frozen northwest…

If you plan to camp in temperatures below freezing:

1.) Keep a small amount of special RV antifreeze, made specifically for RV black & gray water tanks to keep them flowing freely.

2.) Insulate your sewer hose and fresh water intake hose with a “heated wrap” to keep things moving.

3.) Keep a “skirt” or other wind-blocking structure (hay bales were used by our neighbors) all around the RV to keep the air under the RV from freezing.

4.) Keep extra gallons of water inside to flush with if your fresh water pipes freeze, which of course, ours did… but that’s a story for another day!

Comments for Humbled by a Frozen RV Sewer Hose

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brown ice !!??
by: Anonymous

Well into my 3rd winter n the Midwest I thought o had every thing covered by having to fix and or thaw every part that has water runs threw it. how silly that kind of thinking is. I am now dealing with frozen sewer line. yup my poopcicle marker is working over time

so now i need to thaw it out and get a new one as mine is leaking and making brown popsicles at a fast pace

it look like tell next week at the earliest we may get to thaw out a bit here in SW Missouri. now tell we do its single didgets temps to negative temps at night with the wind chill.

I got to this point because i let the water run as slow as I could from the taps. 1 time forgetting to leave the gat water dump open I flooded out the back half of my class A motorhome from the shower as it is the lowest point so I happily have let the waiter drip and valve open. This was working great for almost a month then the cold snap came nocking on my door. It was now time to dump and that changed fast as every line in and out was solid ice. My service dog decided to check things out also and that's when it hit me
all my life I had been told do not eat yellow snow but no one ever said a thing about brown popsicles.

I know know I am not a long in the brown popsicle world so thank you on that as been full timing now for 4 years and only now have I gotten to were i can make brown popsicles with out trying to.

Heated WASTE Hose
by: Anonymous

Looks like the folks from now offer a heated waste hose. Awesome

How to fix your sewer in the winter
by: Dustin

Pipe Heater Tape

I have lived in my camper for 2 years and never had a problem with the sewer pipe freezing up. This is what I do if it helps anyone.

1. Get a sewer hose

2. Rap the Pipe Heater Tape around it.

3. And put plastic around it and then put good tape around it.

Foam skirting.
by: Anonymous

Add that cheap foam sheets as a skirting around the bottom for insulation. HELPS!! And cheap can be cut with a regular saw (hand or skill) to fit, pick at least a 2 inch thick sheet.

Sub Zero Cold Snap
by: Kasey

We are staying in Central Illinois in our 30ft Travel Trailer. I wanted to Skirt when we arrived 2 months ago. But the RV Park with heated water faucet said it would not get that cold. So, I put RV Antifreeze into Grey, & Black holding tanks. Bought an expensive heated fresh water hose and hooked to City Water. Temps went into freezing, ie 32 to the 20's. No water into Trailer. I went into pet store and bought 2 "reptile" heat lamps. Opened up wall entry to pipes and placed 1 lamp. And opened up entry under shower and placed the 2nd lamp. Both safely dangling to not catch anything on fire. It worked! I felt so proud.

Then the Cold Snap set me to rights. Tanks froze. Sewer valves froze, even with my Heat Tape on exit pipes off both tanks. Sewer Pipe turned poopcicle, and broke.

I tried many things, but realized my choices were expensive, ie to skirt, or time and energy consuming, ie Bullet Heater/Flame Thrower on both tanks in sub zero temps.
Solution: Bought new sewer hose, and waited few days for projected above freezing temps.40 degree temps for 48hrs, along with the heat tape and antifreeze allowed us to empty both tanks.

Until next thaw, (2 days from now), we are not emptying any tanks.

I have ordered Tank Heaters that should arrive in a week. And specific valve heat tape. Taking in sewer hose to keep it from freezing, until needed.

Will see how all this works in case we go long periods at freezing or Subzero.
Good luck to all my fellow Poopcicle Club members.

Melting the Ice Blockage From Toilet
by: Anonymous

We had to disconnect the sewer line from the RV and melt the ice blockage with a small butane "blow torch" and a chip at the ice with a screwdriver until it all broke free--all from the outside of the RV.

It took my husband about 8 hours sitting outside the rig in the freezing winter in Idaho January 12th 2009.

Our black water tank never froze, just the sewer line and the "Y" connection from the black water tank to the sewer hose.

Once cleared, we reconnected a new sewer hose and used a special antifreeze in the "black & gray" water tanks (ONLY in the black & gray water tanks, you can find this at any Wal-Mart in the camping section) to keep them from freezing solid again.

Frozen poopburg HELP!!
by: Anonymous

What is anyones advice to clear the line leading from toilwt to sewer of ice and potty matter?! Help!!help please!!!

Oh No!
by: Margaret Berardinelli

So sorry to "hear" (or "see" the comments) that after all these years we were not alone in our frozen poopsicle adventure!

I feel bad for every single person who, unfortunately, can relate to our situation many years ago in January of 2009...

We had a happy ending of sorts, we were able to survive that experience, eventually move back home, and now just go RVing for fun, where it's mostly warm ;)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to not only read my story, but to write and sometimes make us smile. Thank you so much!

Right there with ya
by: Hillary

We are in the same boat, only worse. Our dump hose has also broken apart because of a giant poopberg. We discovered the poopberg because when I showered the other day, all of the grey water leaked onto the ground under the camper, which is now just a huge sheet of ice. Yesterday we had a power surge which fried our 30 amp cord which we didn't discover until 7 pm last night, after many failed attempts to restore power in any way you could imagine, we went to sleep around 11 pm with 7 blankets, multiple layers of clothing, and two dogs to keep us warm in the 18 degree NC mountains. The electrician is coming out today, high hopes that power can be restored without draining the bank account. However, it is likely that after not having any heat or power for more than 24 hours will cause more problems with the freezing and what not. Told my husband just to set the damn thing on fire and call the insurance company at this point.

Can relate
by: Jeff

My wife and I are living full time in an rv in Connecticut. Summer and fall were great but the winter is brutal on the poop pipes. Gonna take the advice and heat tape the poop pipe.

Im not alone?
by: Brandon" Bmore" moreno

I feel your pain. Nothing makes you learn quicker than having poop water sprayed on you. We are New full timers, and everything that can go wrong....has. I'm starting to miss our house we sold. Learning real quick that RV sales ASSociates have no clue what they are talking about and that cold winter weather will destroy everything you need in an RV.Next winter were going somewhere hot.

I feel your pain!
by: Rachel

I found this page because I Googled "frozen poop tube"... That's my current situation. Nothing about camping so far north in the winter is a good idea but, we have to work! We've been letting our water drip overnight so the fresh water doesn't freeze (even though our hose is insulated) and this morning woke up to a sink and shower full of gray water. Our tanks are heated also (actual heating pads on them) but I never thought to insulated the sewer hose. Weve learned so much camping in North Dakota! Thanks for sharing your experience, glad to know we aren't the only ones!

lmao tyvm 4 your awesome writeup!
by: blury

your story made me laugh several times because im going through something similar at the moment and doing as much research on the subject to better acquaint myself with the pitfalls and successes of other winter campers.

my story isnt as funny but...
in attempt to keep things from freezing over i kept the faucets on a slow drip and insulated the hot water hose... yes i tapped into the hotwater supply and ran a rubbermaid commercial grade made for hot water to the rv. so turning off the propane hot water heater meant the cold was now hot and the hot is now cold until enough fresh hot water replaces the contents upon use. this works for about 5 minutes of showing then you best hope you are done rinsing else its gonna be a scorching rinse as i can attest from experience.

this all worked great until my surprise i had a backed up shower/tub (smallest tub/shower in the world) all backed up with half frozen water and with an obviously frozen drainage ... i went outside to find a 20 foot long frozen solid sewer hose along with all the valves too.

so i shut off the dripping shower head only to find the waterlines to shower frozen the next day. the grey water was showing to be 3/4th full and apparently frozen because after running a bunch of hot water through the system i heard a huge thud and found my holding tank had erupted spilling contents everywhere.

the resolve. run inside heaters to 70 degrees inside and used -15 degree calc/salt solution along with rv-antifreeze on shower/tub drain. that was clear by morning. so top half of rv is defrosted and running fine. but nothing is going down the sewer hose at this time. now how to defrost the line?

i decided to make an insulated sewer line using 4 inch pvc bubble wrap spray adhesive and blow in insulation while wrapping the each end connection with modified heating pads wrapped in water proof bags and im considering adding a heat cord like the ones on the roof tops in a spiral fashion along the length of the sewer hose inside the pvc in case it still freezes up i can thaw it out by turning the power on to that heat cable.

im looking at how to keep the holding tank from freezing up while in use. heat pads perhaps or again these heat cables adhered to the underside and covered with some insulating material to keep the whole underside of the tank just warm enough not to freeze over.

i need to make a skirt for the trailer. thats still to be figured out as i dont have the funds to go out and purchase 600 dollars worth of premium materials nor can i spend 1000 to 2000 on a professional custom skirt. i really dont want to spend even 100 on materials for a diy project. so this might end up going the route of white tarp sandwiched bubble wrap. i figure i need 112sqfeet at 2foot high 20 length x 2sides and 8feet wide front n back.

so currently im good for another week maybe then the black water is going to be at max and im just hoping things will be defrosted by then XD

so can relate
by: Bianca

That's a funny story only not funny when your going thru it
which is ironic cause we are going it thru the same exact thing right now!
These darn poop bergs

The laugh we'll get down the line
right now we're in line at Walmart
With limited RV supplies in a one horse frozen town

by: Anonymous

Thanks for the winter RV tips.

Great story!!
by: Anonymous

This is my favorite line:

>>the ice/poop berg was melted…

HAHAHAHAHAHAH!! Good imagery!!

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