Every RV needs a home.
But where do you store it?
And can you get away with a $100 tarp or do you need an $800 RV cover?
What happens in freezing temperatures? Can you pay to park your RV somewhere else?
This is the Changing Gears Big Fat Guide to RV Storage. You’ll learn about the options for where and how to store your RV.
We’ll cover the major storage location options:
- Fabric covers
- Garages and lean-to’s
- Driveways and backward
- Commercial RV storage lots
Table of Contents
Going into Hibernation?
If you plan to put your RV into hibernation over the winter rather than continuing camping (read our guide to cold weather camping here), then you’ll need to winterize your unit and protect it from the elements.
Your aim is to protect the unit from four major dangers:
- Moisture damage
- Rust and corrosion
- Insects and rodents
- Human thieves
Here is a simple 7-point list to prepare your RV for winter storage. Adapt and modify as necessary.
- Clean and wash the interior,
- Close and lock all windows, fans, range hoods, and doors.
- Place opened dishes of baking soda in the refrigerator, pantry cabinets, the bathroom, and other locations to absorb odors.
- Ensure all appliances, such as the furnace and air conditioner, are turned off.
- Clean and wash the exterior, waxing if necessary.
- Inspect all seams and seals around doors, windows, roof penetrations, and reseal as necessary.
- Close and lock all windows and doors.
- Consider covering up or adding insect screens to appliance exhaust vents to prevent rodents and insects from nesting or entering. Add spray foam to any holes around the floor or underbelly.
- Lubricate any moving parts, like door hinges, chassis joints and locks. Spot-paint bare areas on the chassis frame to prevent rust.
- Winterize the water system using either RV antifreeze or compressed air.
- Drain all water tanks: fresh, gray and black.
- Rinse and thoroughly clean the black water tank.
- Turn off the service valves on all your propane tanks.
- Turn off the main battery disconnect switch.
- Either ensure batteries are fully charged, or remove batteries and place on trickle charger. Batteries should be rechecked every 3-4 months at a minimum.
RV Fabric Cover
Every new RV owner purchases a fabric cover. The grunts, curses, and madman gesticulating that come with attempting to install it later are a rite of passage.
These enormous fitted sheets conform to your RV like a sock, protecting the exterior from the damaging effects of sunlight and water
How Should I Choose a Fabric RV Cover?
You can often choose between a generic cover and a model-specific cover. Custom covers generally fit better and with less hassle, but generic covers may cost half as much. But beware! Covers that fit poorly may billow or flap in high winds, which can break down the cover in a matter of just days.
Most cheap RV covers use a hydrophobic DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating to improve water resistance. The DWR coating will wear off or break down over time.
Choose a more expensive cover made of a membrane or woven fabric that retains its water resistance even without the DWR layer. The DWR layer will improve moisture shedding and drying, however.
What Material Is an RV Cover Made Of?
- 300D (denier) polyester is a tried n’ true material choice, but it can break down at high-stress areas like the sidewall corners and roof edges. Look for 3- or 4-layer systems, which generally last longer than single or 2-ply fabrics.
- Polypropylene is another popular choice, used by manufacturers such as ADCO.
- Premium brands may use high-end marine-grade fabrics like solution-dyed acrylic.
What Are Features to Look For in an RV Storage Cover?
- Zippered access around the entry door and engine areas
- Elasticized hems for a snug fit
- Air vents to release moisture
- Breathability (without compromising moisture resistance)
- Undercarriage strap system
- Multi-layer ripstop fabric with a light-colored roof
- Metal grommets for extra tie-down holes
- Integrated wheel covers
Can I Use a Vinyl Tarp to Cover My RV?
Do not trust a vinyl tarp to cover your RV! Because tarps trap moisture, they foster humid conditions for mold, mildew, condensation and wood-based product swelling. Putting a tarp over your RV is often worse than doing nothing at all.
Real RV covers are waterproof yet breathable. They will not trap moisture inside your RV.
How to Install an RV Fabric Cover?
Please consult your manufacturer’s manual for specific instructions on how to install your cover.
Most cover manufacturers will recommend that you thoroughly clean your RV before placing it in storage. Otherwise, you’re at risk of creating a large petri dish greenhouse.
You should also pad and protect all sharp edges and corners of your RV, such as rain gutters, vent pipes, step edges, etc. Padding materials include foam noodles, tennis balls, bubble wrap, and outdoor foam.
Here is a basic sequence of steps to install your RV cover:
- Place the rolled cover at the front end of the roof.
- Roll the cover towards the back of the unit.
- Roll the edges of the cover over the sides of the roof, onto the walls.
- Work from front to back to pull the cover down over the walls of the RV. A stepladder may be necessary.
- At this time, you should also add protection to any high-stress areas, such as the front sidewall corners.
- Pull the hem over the front and rear bumper.
- Lash the sides (and ends, optionally) together using tie-down straps to create a snug fit.
- Most covers also have an adjustable strap system attached to the front of the unit to provide a more secure fit.
- Easily available; easy to replace
- Can be patched or stitched if broken
- Travels with you
- May fit a number of models
- Works in almost any climate
- Breaks down quickly
- Time-consuming to install (especially with only one person or in windy weather)
- Can trap moisture inside or outside your RV
- Cannot use your RV with the cover installed
- Looks like an eyesore, especially once dirty and weathered
An RV carport is a tall metal structure that protects your RV from sunlight exposure and inclement weather.
How Big Is an RV Carport?
The typical RV carport is a minimum size of 12×24. Models with slide-outs may require wider carports, but keep in mind that going wider is much more expensive than going longer! Anything over 18’ wide is considered a garage and requires much more expensive roof trusses. The carport should be at least two feet longer than your RV, tip-to-tail.
You can view our guide here to what you need to know about RV dimensions: width, length, and height. You can also read our RV Model Guides for insight into common dimensions.
How to Choose a High-Quality Metal RV Carport?
Designs differ slightly from company to company, but a standard RV carport has a roof only. Depending on your wants and wishes, you can add full or partial sidewalls or end walls. End walls tend to be much more expensive than sidewalls, since additional framing must be added, along with an entry door.
Partial or full sidewalls are highly recommended for all RV carports. The more of your RV you can protect from sunlight, the better.
Your choice of roof construction is also very important.
- Good: Rolled RV roof, with matching horizontal panels running the length of the building. The maximum length is usually 36 feet.
- Better: A-Frame roof, with a boxed eave and soffit. It’s a stronger design, and you can add gable end panels to further improve the strength and give it more of a classic peaked roof curb appeal.
- Best: Vertical panel roof. When the corrugated roofing panels run from the peak to the eave, this allows snow, rain and debris to slide off the roof and onto the ground.
You should know that a standard RV carport is typically not rated for high snowfall or wind speeds. RV carports are especially susceptible to blow over because of their high, broad walls, which act like sails in a storm.
Typical design specifications are 20lb PSF snow load and 90 mph wind speed. That is insufficient in many parts of the country. Many locations in the U.S., such as New England and the Mountain West, require a design snow load of at least 35 lbs PSF.
- 10 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Generally refers to rainfall.
- 20 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Moderate Snow Fall – Minimum for Carports.
- 25 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Moderate Snow Fall.
- 30 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Moderate to Heavy Snow Fall.
- 40 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Heavy Mountain Snow Fall.
- 43-45 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Heavy Mountain Snow Fall
- 50 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Heavy Mountain Snow Fall (5000ft+ elevation).
- 60 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – High Mountain Snow Fall (6000ft+ elevation).
- 90 Pounds PSF Ground Snow Load – Extreme High Mountain Snow Fall (6500ft+ elevation).
Areas prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, coastal storms, and Derechos may require wind speed certifications of 140 mph.
It is recommended that all RV carports, regardless of size, be rated for high wind speeds. Their extra height and width, especially with sidewall panels, can easily turn them into a kite.
Also, carport frames should be reinforced with 4×4 timbers set in concrete footings to prevent swaying or racking during winds. A racked carport can collide with and damage an RV underneath!
How Do I Install an RV Carport?
While certain companies, like Versatube, will ship pre-engineered kits directly to your door, most companies wrap the costs of installation into the base price. Your out-the-door price includes installation by a trained team.
Professional installation is highly recommended. Improper installation can permanently damage your RV carport or reduce its wind speed or snow load rating. Many companies will not honor their warranties with a DIY installation, and the price reduction is rarely worth the hassle and liability.
In many jurisdictions, installing a metal RV carport requires a permit and must be in accordance with local permits. A carport cannot block firetruck access to a burning building, for instance. You may be penalized by your HOA or municipality if you install an RV carport without the proper permit.
- The RV carport should be accessible via a maintained path, either paved or gravel. Dirt is not acceptable, as RVs will slowly sink in during storage, and access may be impossible after heavy rains or snow thaws.
- The carport should not be close to any high trees or wooded areas, but when possible, incorporate a natural windbreak.
- Leave room for backing up and pulling out! Or a pull-through site is even better.
- Site grading may be required for proper water drainage and RV use. If you plan to ever operate your RV while parked, the site cannot exceed a 3-degree slope.
- It is recommended you install your carport on a concrete pad (4” minimum) with concrete bolt anchors. This is best for your RV; best for your carport.
- If you install your carport on bare ground or gravel, ask for mobile home auger anchors rather than simple rebar anchors.
- Consider reinforcing the vertical structure with 4×4 treated timbers, 8-ft tall, set into concrete footings and strapped to the metal frame. This will help prevent racking of the structure during high winds.
There is, near you, almost certainly a company that sells metal buildings. Most of these companies are dealers with regional or national metal building fabricators; they don’t build the carports themselves. Often, they don’t even install them! That labor gets subcontracted to a third party aligned with the fabricator.
Not sure where to start? Google “carports near me,” search Craiglist listings, or look alongside the sides of major rural highways. You’ll find a carport or shed dealer (most sell both).
- Protects your RV from hail, UV rays, leaves, snow and rain.
- Keeps all rain, snow, acorns and bird poop from ever coming into contact with your RV.
- Durable and long-lasting. Should last the lifetime of your RV.
- Much more user-friendly than a fabric cover! Simply drive your RV inside and outside.
- Expensive! Depending on the size of your RV, you can expect to pay anywhere from a few thousand dollars to well over $10K.
- Construction permits may be required.
- Can’t easily be moved once installed.
- Somewhat limited protection from the elements. Since RV carports typically have open or partially covered walls, your RV isn’t 100% protected from the elements.
An RV garage is a fully enclosed shelter with a roll-up door and entry door.
How Is an RV Garage Built?
Many are similar to RV carports; in fact, by fully enclosing a carport with metal panels, end walls, a roll-up door and an entry door, you’ve created a garage!
But an RV garage can be framed using conventional 2x stick framing, timber framing, SIP construction, concrete block walls, or a number of other methods.
Fair warning! You might be tempted to consider a portable “garage” building constructed on a skid foundation. Unfortunately, portable buildings aren’t tall enough to accommodate almost any size of RV.
Building an RV garage is akin to building a small house. It is a deeply involved, technical process requiring a lot of paperwork and money.
- A construction permit will almost certainly be required. RV garages typically have concrete slab floors, maintained driveways, power and lighting, etc.
- You will need to supply 30A 120V or 50A 240V power to the garage.
- You may need to run water and sewer to the site/property as well.
- Site and access preparation will almost certainly be required.
How Much Does an RV Garage Cost?
This is probably not the investment you want to make if you have a hand-me-down pop-up camper from Gramps An RV carport is the ultimate solution for RV storage (plus, it makes a great “man cave”).
Costs include materials, skilled labor, permits, etc. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be required to pay a licensed electrician or plumber to complete the skilled trades work, whether you are capable or not.
The minimum cost for an RV garage is $8,000-$10,000. A more typical cost is $15,000-$25,000.
Outliers can easily cost 2x or 3x as much depending on size of the RV, local construction code requirements (e.g. high snow loads) and site access and grading requirements.
It is important to not skimp when creating an RV garage. This will be a permanent or semi-permanent structure, one that may be converted to some other type of structure in its lifetime. Don’t skimp on “optional” features like windows, gutters, outlets, etc. These are the features that can make or break the quality of a building.
- Full protection from the elements.
- They look fabulous. Unlike other structures, RV garages can enhance your home’s curb appeal.
- Best anti-theft security solution.
- Can be used as additional storage or even living space!
- Permanent structure. Cannot be moved.
- Not possible for all storage sites.
An RV lean-to is basically two-thirds of a carport built onto an existing structure like a house or a garage.
Why Should You Consider an RV Lean-To?
Using an existing structure for one of the walls reduces your materials cost and allows the lean-to to be secured to a structure for more stability.
This means you’ll require an existing carport, garage, house, barn, or other load-bearing structure.
Lean-tos also save space. If your site has limited room, especially if restricted by property lines or waterway setbacks, then a lean-to may be your only option for large-scale RV storage.
Lean-Tos and Climate Conditions
Where Lean-tos come into their own is in the northern climes. When tied to a strong structure, they can be easily designed for almost any snow load.
Lean-tos tied into a ledger board on a 2x residential-framed wall and supported with 6×6 posts can often support a residential-style roof, complete with shingles or metal roofing.
Are Lean-Tos Cheaper than Carports?
Lean-tos are considered building extensions. This usually means a building permit is required to add on to any garage, house, or permanent structure.
Adding onto any structure requires skilled labor and engineering expertise. Savings in materials may be partially offset by the labor and planning costs.
However, there is good news. Lean-tos may not require their own slab foundations or site grading, which can be significant savings. In many cases, the posts simply require their own frost-protected footings.
As a rule, the larger the lean-to, the greater the potential overall savings compared to a freestanding structure.
- Might be more cost-effective than a free-standing structure
- Can be rated for heavy snow loads and strong winds
- Foundation may not be necessary
- Can be beautifully integrated into current structures
- Access from some driveway as attached freestanding structure
- Usually requires a building permit
- Height limited by attached structure
- Must be site-built with skilled labor
- Doesn’t offer full protection from the elements
In Your Driveway or Yard
A man’s home is his castle, right?
You might be tempted to forego all these fancy storage solutions and simply park your RV in your driveway, along the curb, in the backyard, or somewhere else in your premises.
After all, it’s free and close by. And free.
And did we mention free?
But storing your RV “Cousin Eddie” style has its own challenges.
RVs Aren’t Designed for 24/7 Exposure
As silly as it may sound, most RVs aren’t designed to be left outside in the elements year-round.
24/7 exposure to sunlight and rain can cause the following problems:
- Chalking roofs
- Dried out sealant
- Brittle seals
- Fading paint
- Faded, cracked upholstery and vinyl
- Water leaks
- Insect infestations
- Peeping Toms and Snooping Sallies
If you store your RV outside without any protection, you will surely shorten the lifespan of your RV. Be prepared to replace your roof in a few years.
Municipal, HOA and CC&R Restrictions
America is no longer the Wild, West West. It’s mostly a collection of HOAs, townships, counties, and suburb CC&Rs, each with its own restrictions and regulations.
- Many localities prohibit the storing of any RV, trailer or boat, of any size, on the public curbside for longer than 24 hours.
- Many localities prohibit the storing of an RV in your driveway with a few exceptions. Some neighborhoods have a “half-out” law, which states that not more than half the length of your RV can protrude past the front of your house.
- Others may have time restrictions, such as 24 hours before and after a trip.
- Others may allow backyard storage so long as proper access is provided and fencing prevents the RV from being an eyesore.
- Some require a concrete slab foundation and a paved access path.
- Others require a storage structure, like an RV carport or garage.
Regulations vary by locality. Please reach out to your Authority Having Jurisdiction and/or HOA and ask about regulations for storing an RV at a single-family dwelling. And ask before you purchase an RV!
- Safety – Who would attempt to steal an RV behind a locked gate with a watchdog on patrol?
- Much easier to prepare for a trip when the RV is just outside!
- Making modifications and upgrades is much easier!
- Parked RV can serve as a landing spot for house guests
- 24/7 exposure will shorten RV’s lifespan
- Otherwise, if you can get away with it – not much!
RV Off-Site Storage
If you can’t store your RV at home, entrepreneurial America has your back.
How to Select an RV Storage Site?
There are thousands of RV storage sites across the country. Most are locally or regionally owned. Big national names include U-Haul, Public Storage, and SpareFoot.
You can also find rental RV parking at your local campground.
Storage sites can be as simple as a parking space or a lean-to shelter, or they can be as advanced as a fully enclosed garage with 50A electrical service and air conditioning.
Paved parking lots are preferable to gravel. Gravel and dust clouds can damage an RV in long-term storage.
Ensure the storage facility has adequate security features:
- 360-degree fencing
- Security camera system
- Well-lit areas
- Nothing decrepit or falling apart
Regardless of site security features, ensure your RV has its own anti-theft measures, such as a coupler lock, tire boot, security chain through rim, etc. Unfortunately, RV storage lots are prime targets for RV thieves.
Check reviews of a storage facility. If the area has a history of site theft, it will likely be mentioned online.
How Much Does an RV Storage Site Cost?
The cost of an RV storage site begins at around $50-$100 a month for a simple sheltered site. Indoor spaces can easily cost two or three times more, especially if air conditioned.
Premium storage facilities, such as National Indoor RV Center, may offer additional services, including:
- On-site repair services
- Valet parking and shuttling
- Battery trickle charging
Larger sites tend to cost more. Sites start at 8×20 feet and go up from there, all the way to 12×40.
Sites may require an initial 3- to 6-month lease and then revert to month-to-month leases. Some are simply annual or 6-month contracts. A safety deposit is usually required.
Some facilities offer 24/7 access to your unit with a private passcode or key. Others keep attendants on-site during scheduled hours.
What About Seasonal Campsite Rental?
Let’s touch on a unique option for RV storage.
If you’re a creature of habit, and you enjoy frequenting the same campground, you should consider renting a campsite on a seasonal or annual basis.
Many campgrounds offer monthly, seasonal or annual rates. You can park your RV, set up shop, and walk away. Any time you want to camp, you just drop by!
This option eliminates the hassle of setting up and breaking down. It allows you to snag the best location in the campground. You’re always hooked up to utilities. And you can splurge on outdoor decks, patios, gardens, tiki torches, etc.
The obvious trade-off is you’re limited to just a handful of sites a year. You also might be in charge of site maintenance, like cutting the grass. It’s not the typical freewheelin’ RV lifestyle. It’s more like investing in a semi-mobile vacation home.
What About Peer-to-Peer Storage?
If you’re looking for another alternative to a traditional RV storage lot, check out peer-to-peer options like Neighbor.
P2P RV storage allows you to store your RV at someone else’s private property. Most companies, like Neighbor, protect both renter and owner with liability protection policies and Renter Guarantee’s.
You can choose driveway, parking lot, street parking, garage – just like conventional storage options. Costs tend to be 20-50% less than a commercial storage lot, however.
- Ownership – Yes, you can own an RV even if you can’t park it at home!
- Perks – Some locations perform basic maintenance for free
- Security – You can expect to find locked gates, fences, cameras, etc.
- Preparing for a Trip – It’s easy to come up with excuses NOT to travel when just getting to your RV is a 30-minute drive!
- Duplicate Items – Since you don’t want to load and unload the RV after every trip, you’ll need to buy duplicate items to keep in your RV.
- Cost – Expect to pay from $75 – $400 per month.
Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.