Winterizing in Tucson?

We have never winterized our Airstream Safari.  We took delivery in October 2005 and from there on we made a point of keeping it out of winter weather.  Sure, there were chilly nights below freezing on many occasions (usually at high altitude in places like Yosemite) but with the furnace or the catalytic heater running the trailer would never get anywhere near the freezing point.

Years before, when we lived in Vermont, “winterization day” was an unhappy day for me because it meant the end of the camping season.  Winterization is the process of preparing the trailer for months of freezing, by removing all the water and replacing it with pink RV anti-freeze.  Once you’ve done that, you’ve admitted that there’s no chance of going camping again for months.  For me, up in Vermont, it meant the start of a long season of staring out the window at my poor Airstream, frozen over with snow and ice like a sad aluminum popsicle.

Once we bought a house in Tucson, I knew we were home free.   Never again would I face the end of the season, because it doesn’t freeze here — much.  I have not winterized a trailer in six years.  Even on those occasion winter nights when the skies are clear and the wind is high, and the temperatures dip below freezing for a few hours, the Airstreams don’t get cold enough to require winterization.

And so you can imagine my consternation this week as Tucson, deep in the Sonoran Desert, is facing deep freezes three nights in a row this week.  Not the mild sort of freeze we toy with for fun, just to be able to say, “Hey, it’s cold here too,” to our northern relatives, but a real frigid, put-on-the-long-johns kind of bitter cold that lasts all day and all night.

I know you folks up north and east aren’t too sympathetic, given that you’ve been getting pounded by snowstorms and all that stuff, but really, we can’t take it.  Our house is a barely insulated stack of adobe blocks with drafty single pane windows.  The cactus will die, the citrus will wilt, and worst of all our Airstreams aren’t winterized.

This horrible thought struck me this evening as we were heading for yet another cold night, this time all the way down to 20 degrees.   No longer could I scoff at a light freeze — this is cold enough to turn the water pipes in our Airstreams into solid blocks of ice, splitting them open and causing all kinds of other damage.  Just a little ice in the electric water pump is enough to wreck it.  So this evening I grabbed an electric heater from the house and stuck it in the Airstream Safari that sits in our carport.  Running all night, that 1500-watt unit should be enough to keep the interior of the trailer safely warm.

The Caravel, however, is away from home in a locked indoor storage facility.  I debated whether to go over and give it a heater too, but eventually decided that the storage unit probably wouldn’t freeze … until about 11 p.m., at which point I couldn’t sleep for wondering if I could be wrong about the storage unit.  Finally I got dressed and drove over to the storage facility with another heater, just to be on the safe side.

As it turned out, the interior of the Caravel was a balmy 43 degrees, but I was still glad I had gone over to give it a heater too.  Tomorrow night we are expecting 18 degrees — another record low — and I think by then the storage unit will have chilled down quite a bit.

Well, at least it’s no worse than that.  In a few days this strange weather episode will be part of meteorological history and I can go back to pretending that it never freezes here.  I won’t have to buy RV anti-freeze and  my record of never having winterized the Safari will remain intact.  I guess there’s no place in the USA completely safe from freezes except Hawaii (and ironically there are no campgrounds there), but at least our frigid season is limited to just three days.


  1. insightout says

    My carpenter friend of many years, Tommy Gerhold, a true union man, had a crude adage, “if yur lookin’ for sympathy, it’s between s#it and suicide in the dictionary”.

    Of course, it isn’t, but that’s not the point. Farther south than you, in a higher elevation, our romantic little adobe hacienda is like a meat locker. Currently 11F outside at 6:30 AM, we can’t complain….it’s much worse nearly everywhere else, so we’ll wait patiently for the next 48 hours when 60F is promised.

  2. John Irwin says

    I used the trailer a week ago and returned facing a freezing night. When I pulled it into the storage bay, I opened the low-point drains and blew out the lines. The most critical thing I do, though, is pink antifreeze in all of the traps. Especially the shower trap which would be a nightmare to replace. I leave it with the heat pump on, set at 40 and the drawer in front of the water pump removed. I am sure that it went over to furnace the last two nights at about 14 degrees, F.

  3. says

    Things have gotten more “interesting” today. It was 19 degrees when I got up this morning. Our house’s main water line froze, but I was able to defrost it with some boiling water from the stove (water courtesy of our Airstream’s holding tank). 14,000 customers of Southwest Gas are without natural gas, which is the primary fuel we use for heat in much of Tucson. They won’t get gas back for a while due to the labor-intensive nature of the “fix” for the problem. We’ll be running the electric heaters in both Airstream again tonight.

  4. says

    Hey, 19 is a downright respectable chill! Glad you’re close enough to the Caravel to run over… that could be a real pain otherwise.

  5. Dan Batliner says

    19 is just plain cold.

    I have reread many of your postings on tires but I don’t see any recent mention of the automatic wheel balancers. Do you continue to use them? I had about 10 rivets pop in the last year.

  6. says

    Dan: Yes, we still use Centramatic wheel balancers. I have never had a rivet pop on our Safari but I don’t know if I can attribute that to the balancers.

  7. says

    We were up in Bisbee this week in our Airstream. It was 4 degrees one morning! We had the furnace going and electric heaters, still barely keeping “warm” inside. With the wind chill, the water inlet froze even though it had been drained. Hopefully nothing broke from it.

    And here I thought Arizona was a place to escape winter…

  8. John Irwin says

    2″ of snow over black ice yesterday at degrees. Rolling blackouts due to high electric usage. Somewhere near 300 accidents in Austin. Finally got up to 34 degrees. Trailer holding at 40 inside and not using too much propane in doing so.

    Up to 60s today. This is a yo-yo winter for sure.