This post is going to be of interest mostly to Winnebago EKKO owners, and those that are EKKO-Curious. The EKKO is a unique RV, so most of this information simply won’t apply to other RVs.
Stef and I have always liked RVing in the winter. It’s generally less crowded (because most RVs can’t hack it), and there’s a special feeling to coming back to your warm and toasty “fort” after a day in the snow. In other RVs, like our previous Travato, I made numerous modifications so that we would be able to handle the cold temperatures. The EKKO does away with most of that. I’ve made very few cold weather mods thus far in the EKKO, and on our recent RV ski trip, we camped consistently below freezing, without hookups (mostly), and at temperatures at or below zero degrees – with FULL USE of our rig. That’s right, we were showering in our RV when it was zero degrees outside, so we didn’t hit a whole lot of limits.
So, how does one pull that off? It’s surprisingly easy in an EKKO. (Not so much in other RVs.)
There’s really just one rule you need to know here, and that’s
!!! LEAVE IT ON !!!
Always. 100% of the time. Just leave the heat on. You don’t have to set it to 80 degrees or anything, but don’t set it below about 65. Here’s the deal – the heat in the EKKO is provided by a Truma VarioHeat, which is incredibly efficient. The heat is ducted, and some of those ducts run to all of the things that you want to keep from freezing. There are heating ducts that end under the bed, to keep the fresh and waste water tanks from freezing. There are heating ducts that run to the water center cabinet. There are heating ducts that run to the exterior storage cabinets. Winnebago has made it really easy. All you have to do to keep all that stuff from freezing is LEAVE THE HEAT ON.
You might think you’ll save some propane by turning the heat off during the day or something. But the Truma has a thermostat, and if the temperature warms up, the heater won’t run. Plus, even if you did save a few minutes of heater run time, the VarioHeat is so efficient you probably won’t notice any savings anyway. So you’re not being all that smart by turning it on and off – you’re just giving yourself unnecessary work.
Also – and this is key – the thermostat is on an interior wall. There are NOT individual thermostats in each of the storage compartments. So even if you might like it colder than 65 in the main coach, depending on the outside temperature, it could be considerably colder than that in some of the exterior compartments. There’s not a consistent offset you can apply, but I can tell you that at least down to zero degrees Fahrenheit, 65 degrees on the thermostat inside kept everything from freezing in Number One.
This brings up another point about the heating ducts. Don’t close any of them. Ever. For any reason. The VarioHeat likes plenty of air to move around, and by closing off vents, you’re depriving it of the circulation it craves. Not only that, but eventually, you’re going to forget to open one and something is going to freeze. In our coach, I physically removed all of the shut-off doors from all of the vents and just replaced them with the “Lamella” louvers from Truma. I suggest you do the same.
Supplemental Electric Heat
We’ve installed an electric heater in our coach (since we have a bazillion watt hours of battery capacity). We used it occasionally on our winter trip. It’s right by the door, so it was nice and warm as you were coming in, which made the RV particularly inviting. But mainly, we saved using this heater for those occasions when we had hookups. Why is that?
The electric heater has its own thermostat, which is independent of the Truma thermostat. So it goes on and off of its own accord, and is not governed by the Truma. In fact, if we have it set high enough, the heat works its way back and Truma VarioHeat won’t turn on. This is a problem because only the VarioHeat pumps warm air to the exterior compartments. If the VarioHeat doesn’t turn on, then it can’t keep things from freezing. For this reason, we ran using mainly the Truma for heat while dry camping and driving.
We did use the electric heater when we had hookups. But in order to do this, we set the fan on the VarioHeat to run continuously – to ensure the warm air was circulated to all the compartments. That seemed to work just fine. I eventually need to figure out a way to have the two thermostats work together, but things are warming up now, so that project may have to wait until next fall.
Our coach has been modified so that the only propane-using devices are the VarioHeat, and the Truma AquaGo. (Well, we still have the external propane connection, but nobody really felt like busting out the grill at zero degrees!) We started our trip with two full tanks of propane, and I recommend you do the same. We both showered in Number One daily, and we ate all of our meals in the RV, so we used both the heater and the water heater quite a bit.
What we found was that we went through one of the two 20 lb propane cylinders in about a week. This seems pretty reasonable to me, and I don’t have any plans to do anything further to reduce propane usage.
First, let’s talk about the Winnebago-provided thermal curtain that separates the cab from the rest of the rig. You want to use that. We did – every night.
The cab has a lot of single-pane glass, and it can get quite cold. Keeping it sealed off from the main living area is smart, and will reduce your propane usage to more reasonable levels. We did take the curtain down most days as it warmed up. We also have the thermal shades from Vanmade Shades, and we used those in the cab windows consistently, too. They help, but they’re just not enough by themselves to keep things toasty in the cab. Just use the curtain. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ve only really made two insulation mods in the EKKO since getting it. The first was to insulate the metal channel that runs across the coach at the transition between the cab floor and the “house” floor.
That also happens to fall right along where the thermal curtain falls, and I’m happy to report that with the insulation and the thermal curtain in place, this transition strip was not a cold spot for us. The other thing I insulated was the metal door frame around the main coach entry door. We had noticed this frame getting pretty cold even in milder temperatures, so I applied some foam tape to the frame to insulate it. I’m also happy to report that this worked well.
Based on our experience down to zero degrees, I’m confident that extra insulation is *not* needed in the water center compartment. I know some people have added insulation there, but if you keep the heat on, it’s simply not needed. Plus, that insulation is going to be a wet, messy blob when you need to dump. And when you’re outside and it’s freezing cold and your hands are wet, nobody wants an extra step that wouldn’t be necessary if you just kept the heat on.
Finally, in our exterior storage compartment where we have Mel the cat’s executive washroom – well, Mel never complained, so I guess that stayed warm enough. Our water filter cartridges are in another section of that compartment, and they were fine without any additional insulation or ventilation.
As far as batteries… ours are inside since I completed the 20k project, so we have no need to insulate or warm them. Even if they were outside, I would just leave them on and let their internal heaters do their job.
With all its tanks inside and heat applied where it needs to be, if you just keep the EKKO’s heat on, there’s no reason to do much more with the water system. Just use it. You do need to observe a few common sense precautions though.
First – don’t hook up to campground water. We never do. With an EKKO, you’ve got up to 50 gallons of water on board, so the reasons to hook up are minimized. It’s much easier and safer to just fill your tanks occasionally. I’m not sure how efficient Stef and I are relative to other RVers, but 50 gallons of fresh water will last us a week, easily. By the time a week passes, we’ve always found someplace else to fill up.
If you were to try to hook up to campground water in the winter, you’d need to find a way to keep the water hose heated. You could use something like the Pirit Hose, but even so, that’s a challenge I don’t need. We’re never going to use more than 50 gallons of fresh water in a day, so we just don’t bother.
The other thing you’ll want to pay attention to is the AquaGo water heater. It’s right on the outside of the coach, so it has the potential to get pretty cold. That’s why you need to KEEP IT ON – just like the heat! Most of the time, you can just keep your Truma AquaGo on “Eco”, and you won’t have to worry because it will keep itself from freezing.
But if you leave the AquaGo on the “Eco” setting while driving, it won’t be able to stay warm due to the rush of cold wind outside the vents. (We actually tried this once, and got an error that basically said it couldn’t light.) That’s why we installed the Truma Electric Antifreeze kit. Before driving, I would just set the AquaGo to “Antifreeze” and the kit would take care of the rest. You’re supposed to insert a flue plug when doing this. One time I forgot, and then later realized nothing bad happened. Eventually, I only inserted the flue plug if it was going to be really cold. For temperatures that hovered around freezing, just setting the kit to “antifreeze” seemed to be enough. But those aren’t the official Truma instructions, so use that knowledge at your own peril. Officially, I’m saying you should insert the flue plug.
Dumping the grey tank and the cassette worked exactly as it does in warm weather. If you keep the heat on, there’s nothing to worry about. But one time after driving through a snowstorm, we had a buildup of ice on the underside of the water center compartment.
It was a couple inches thick. Inside the compartment was completely fine, but I had to chip away that two inches of ice in order to dump. Apart from that though, dumping works as normal.
This is the biggest issue we ran into on our trip, and this is not unique to the EKKO. In other RVs, the condensation problem would be much worse. But this is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to.
Here’s the deal: humans camping produce moisture. Cooking, showering, even breathing. It all produces moisture. In the summer, you don’t notice so much. But when it’s zero degrees out, that moisture will condense on cold surfaces just like on the outside of a cold glass of lemonade. That’s just life, and it’s not an EKKO defect.
We noticed the most condensation on the windows in the cab. Like, a lot of it. Even with the thermal curtain up, we would wake each morning to soaking wet cab windows. Just plan on mopping up with some towels and spending a few minutes running the defroster before you drive off. It might also be a good idea to lay a towel along the junction of the windshield and the dash – just to keep water from getting behind the dash. On the coldest nights, some of this water would even frost over. It might have been a good idea to *not* put up the Vanmade shades – to keep the water from being trapped behind them. I may experiment more with this in the future.
We also noticed condensation along the edges where the ceiling and walls meet. There are metal frame members that come together there, which is why it gets a bit colder. This happens both inside and outside of upper cabinets. Just be aware of it, and be ready to deal with it if it happens. Towels are your friends. Again – at the temperatures we were seeing, condensation is to be expected.
One final place we would get condensation is along where the batwing awning mount. I hate awnings with the fire of a thousand suns anyway, and this is just one more reason for me to hate them. The batwing awning mount/bed chiller is present in the EKKO whether you order the stupid awning or not. It runs along most of the length of the driver’s side bed, right at mattress height. It’s a super efficient bizarro radiator – it brings the cold temperatures inside. I first tried to make Mel the cat sleep along there, but he wasn’t having it. So to make it comfortable for sleeping, I had to fold up a spare blanket and put it along the awning mount/bed chiller so I didn’t touch it in the night and wake up from shock.
Anyway, some mornings, I would wake up and there would be moisture along the bed chiller from condensation.
I really could write a thousand more words about the awning mount and how much I hate it and awnings in general. Heck, I even made a 15 minute movie about why awnings are terrible!
I have a couple ideas for reducing the condensation in general, but they may have to wait until next winter to test our properly.
We drove to and from Purgatory ski resort on days when they got well over a foot of snow. We did this with the stock tires. We just put it in slippery mode and went for it. Neither did we use any chains. (We don’t even have chains for the EKKO yet.) The EKKO is pretty heavy, and it stayed planted on the pavement with a minimum of fuss. There were times leaving the ski resorts where we saw 2WD vehicles spinning or getting stuck. Not us. We just drove over or through it – whatever it was. There’s not much to report there. We do have after-market air suspension, but that has more to do with ride height and comfort than traction, so I don’t give the air suspension much credit for our snowy capability.
Now keep in mind, we were staying on pavement, or in gravel parking lots for our entire trip. We did not do any winter off-roading. Even in the summer, we do a lot of cycling, but we’re road cyclists. We don’t typically venture far from the pavement. So do I recommend bumper weights (winches)? No. Do I recommend speedometer invalidators (larger tires)? No. Would I recommend a sway inducer kit (lift kit)? No. Not for what we do. Sure, they look cool, but we just don’t need them for how we RV. If you have a different EKKO use case, you might find reasons for that stuff. But they’re absolutely not required for heading to ski areas in the winter.
Cleaning Solar Panels
One morning we woke up with over a foot of snow on our roof. Nothing bad happened – there were no leaks or anything – but we certainly weren’t going to get much solar power like that. So I headed up to the roof with a snow broom to try to push or drag some of that snow off the solar panels.
So here’s a super giant tip: if you want to get up on your EKKOs roof while it’s covered with snow – don’t. It’s way too slippery for that to be safe. You can try to crawl around on all fours like I did once I realized I was standing on a sheet of ice on top of waxed fiberglass 10 feet above the ground… but that’s no fun. Better to just travel with a snow broom with an extendable handle and work it from the ladder.
After I did that, I kinda gave up on solar (not much sun that time of year anyway).
The EKKO will charge just fine while driving (we still have the stock 170 amp second alternator). But I did want to keep the roof from getting too much snow on it and getting me a ticket when we drove away. I just stuck to the ladder when I did so.
Other Best Practices
Here are a few more random tips I can think of that don’t merit an entire section to themselves.
Bring a shovel – We camped in a ski area parking lot and it snowed a lot overnight. Though there were no signs or directions, the plow operator didn’t like where we parked and decided the best thing to do was to be a jerk. We woke up with a 4 foot berm of icy snow surrounding our vehicle – right up against the rig.
Digging out from that was no easy task, especially since we hadn’t brought a shovel. Stef did most of it with a cutting board of all things; which worked surprisingly well! We have a shovel now though, and we’re bringing it along on any winter trips going forward. And the cutting board, too.
Use the drip tray – The EKKO comes with a waterproof tray for the cargo area. Use it, you’ll need it. I took our bike mounts out of the cargo bay for the winter trip specifically so I could use the drip tray. Which brings me to the next tip.
Wipe off snow! – Even if you’re just putting your skis and boots in the gear garage, you want to wipe off as much snow as you can before putting them back there. Why? Because the gear garage is heated and vented to the rest of the coach. If you put snowy gear back there, the snow will melt, adding more water and yet more condensation to your rig. (Reference the entire section on condensation above.) I just used a snow brush from a car scraper, and brushed off my skis and boots before putting them in the garage.
Leveling blocks – Well, it sucks that we have to use them, and I hope to have a leveling system installed this year. But… if you use those stacking leveling blocks in the snow, and it gets warm enough in the day to melt some snow, and then gets cold enough at night to turn that snow back into ice… don’t count on taking all your leveling blocks with you when you leave. Some of our dual leveler blocks may still be frozen to the ground at Purgatory!
Congested parking Lots – We like to say that we can take our EKKO most anywhere, and we did. But some of the ski parking lots we found ourselves in had little organization, and two way traffic in one-lane spaces. We did OK, but 5-point turns in a crowded parking lot with traffic backing up all around you just isn’t fun. The EKKO is small enough to get the job done, but it certainly isn’t our Subaru!
Keep vents clear – If it’s snowing, be aware that you’ll need to keep the Truma vent clear. Or, even if it isn’t snowing and you’re dealing with a jerk plow operator, keep the Truma vent clear. If you’re going to run the engine, you’ll also need to make sure that the tailpipe is clear and not just filling under your rig with exhaust.
And that’s about it. Is hardcore winter camping in an EKKO possible? Absolutely!
Is it effortless? No. But it’s a heck of a lot easier than in any other RV out there.
Hope this information is helpful to you, and we’ll see you out there on the (snow covered) road!