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Old 06-25-2009, 10:47 AM   #1
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Best Airstream for our family? Finding cheap fixer-upers?

Hi!

I have a few questions about what model might be sensible (and tips on airstreams for sale) for my particular situation, and would greatly appreciate some advice!

My husband and I are building a new house and would ideally like to fix up an Airstream to live in for 1-2 years while we build, and to keep for traveling in after. We have two active boys, age 3 and 7, that we homeschool, so I am in the home with them most of the day.

I have been looking into 31 and 34 foot models as something that we could actually, theoretically live in year-round and travel in for a prolonged period without going crazy. Are they that much more expensive to tow (gas milage)? Any other cons that I should think about regarding going bigger?

Here's the catch: I have serious chemical sensitivities and would need to totally strip the interior and rebuild out of special materials. Luckilly we have a good budget for this, and if the day comes when we don't need it, there is a great resale market out there for people in this situation who are desperate for safe housing. Most airstreams that I see for sale are in moderate condition, and it would be a shame to pay more for something that we are just going to rip the interior out of. Could elements of the interior be resold to recoup costs? My guess is that we will be mostly replacing cooling/heating, water storage, appliances, etc anyway, since we may try to go 'off the grid' and will be looking for high efficiency. Any tips for particular Airstreams that are for sale now that would be suitable would be greatly appreciated. We live in Upstate NY and I am aware of how expensive it can be to get these puppies shipped.... my husband could probably do pick-up from ~400 miles away if the price is right.

We have a Honda Element and I have pretty much given up hope that it can tow anything of a size decent enough for our family to live in - is this a correct assumption? Could it tow a 19 - 21 foot airstream? Is there any way that a family of 4 could survive for a short time (up to a month of traveling) in an airstream of this size? There is one for sale cheap near us, it is tempting! We thought about fixing up a smaller trailer just so that I could sleep in it and spend some of my day in a healthier environment, it actually can make a big difference. We'd prefer, however, to be able to sell our current house outright, and live all together in the trailer and have it for traveling too....it's a question of finding the right one ASAP.

Thanks so much for your help!
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Old 06-25-2009, 11:00 AM   #2
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Getting a "cheap" AS is usually the most expensive mistake a person makes. Since your plan is to gut one, that and length should guide your search. Can a family with two young energetic boys survive for a month in a 19-21 foot AS? Yes, if you decide before hand which parent is going to "take the rap" and "Do the time."

The longer trailers, being less desireable for many folks, are thus cheaper. My wife and I love our space and comfort. We went to a local AS dealer, and spend hours "trying out" the different lengths... thus we went with a 32'. I suggest you do likewise. Take the munchkins and spend a few hours looking at different floor plans and lengths. Try to visualize not only travelling, but living in it and not just for a few days, but for a month at a time. The differential cost of towing between a 20' and 34' will be the least of your concerns.

Then, read the forum here, it will be a great help to you.
Good luck, and happy hunting!
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Old 06-25-2009, 11:14 AM   #3
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I really don't think there is anything cheap about buying a fixer upper. You will pay in the end.

We paid 3,000 for our 25 ft tradewind a year ago, and have spent nearly a year and a little over 10,000 MORE fixing her up. When do you need to move into this Airstream? If time is important, you need to do a LOT of reading on this forum as to what it takes to gut and rebuild one. It's a lot more than you would think.

There is a young couple on here now that is just starting what you are thinking about doing. They thought they would have theirs gutted and rebuilt by July 31, they now know that there is no way that that is going to happen.

Please think this through carefully and set a realistic time frame and budget. Nothing is impossible if you really want it badly enough.

Welcome, to AirForum this is the best place you'll find for any questions you might have on Airstreams.

Annette
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Old 06-25-2009, 11:22 AM   #4
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Best Airstream??

"Best" is relative to your family desires and needs.

For what its worth, I'd say bigger is definatley bigger since you have two "active boys". I don't know that I could do a 1 to 2 year stint in any trailer under these circumstances.

The issue of chemical sensitivity could be the bigger issue to resolve in my (humble) opinion. The effort and expense to do a "Full Monte" resotration is significant. It's been said that it would be cheaper to buy a newer unit in most cases.


I wish you the best of luck in your efforts if you do go this route.

Kevin
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Old 06-25-2009, 01:02 PM   #5
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Thanks for the advice! Clarification regarding intention...

This is a fantastic community! I am so excited to have all of this collective wisdom at my fingertips =)

I'd like to clarify - I would want to completely gut any Airstream that I buy, regardless of the condition, down to sanding the old adhesive off the walls. This is due to my serious chemical sensitivities. Mold and the formaldehyde in plywood/pressboard are a big problem. Here is an example of one person with MCS, and their renovation job:

MCS Airstream

You can see that their purpose was not to 'restore' an airstream to its perfect vintage glory, as cool as that may be. Every decision is made with the health of the materials as the foremost consideration.

I would guess that many of you are probably AS owners for fun, I would be an AS owner out of necessity - I have a need for toxin and mold free, safe, temporary/portable home. That said, I could have fun with it too =)

As for cheep not being worth it, I can see the logic there. I could see that in most situations, finding out that you have to replace half the flooring, and the bathroom walls, half the appliances, and redo the wiring or whatnot because it was more damaged than you expect would be a drag, and you would wish that you had paid more for one that was in better condition. We're ripping all that out anyway. I am curious if there is frequently damage to the exterior skin, frame, etc on the cheapest Airstreams that would be expensive (compared to buying a more expensive one and replacing the entire interior)

I totally agree that livability for a family of 4 is the most important consideration. I am still curious to know whether there is much of a difference in the cost of towing 20 and 30 foot models. To save our sanity I think we will go with the largest we can find =)

Thanks for the advice =)
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Old 06-25-2009, 01:11 PM   #6
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Oh, and...

Our timeline is flexible. We have a home to live in indefinitely, but since it has mold problems we're trying to get out and into the MCS-friendly Airstream ASAP. We have the budget to hire out all of the work. We are usually DIY-ers all the way, but I am not well enough to do the physical labor and we want to get it done fast.

I was advised by a friend that a boatbuilder or a cabinetmaker might be best to hire to manage the renovation, over someone that does more general construction. What do you think?

I forgot to mention that just buying a new airstream is probably not an option, even if they use real wood etc there are still bound to be materials offgassing. It was worth suggesting, though =) It is hard being so chemically sensitive, cuts down on the options.
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Old 06-25-2009, 01:32 PM   #7
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Check out Taylor Design Healthy Homes:
Rebuilt, custom airstream, interior design
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Old 06-25-2009, 02:08 PM   #8
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Neat idea....however a Honda Element has about a 1500lb tow rating...won't tow more than a jet ski, maybe a pop up.

30' or longer would be the size I'd suggest for full timing, particularly with 2 active kids. They'll need some place to hang when it's not nice out.

34' is a BIG trailer, but it has the most available space in terms of an Airstream. You rarely hear a family say they have too much space...usually the other way around....
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Old 06-25-2009, 03:19 PM   #9
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the big IF

IF you have a competent builder, Airstream WILL sell you an empty shell. That is a BIG IF.

I'm not a SEARCH genius, but someone recently did just this within the last year or so.

LEAKS - fiberglass insulation sandwiched between two layers of aluminum. Sealing the outside - seams, rivets, etc. have to be checked about annually. I do little bits here and there about every time I clean the unit. If you don't keep after it, you can end up with mold between the layers of aluminum. Belly pan. I've taken mine off and looked under it. There's a great place for mice and hanta virus to get in. Virtually no way to totally critter proof anything you keep in the woods... but I keep an eye out for pests, and put a sacrificial Oreo on the ground to attract ants AWAY from the trailer.

There is also a nasty called filoform corrosion - aluminum's equivalent to rust. It forms around any area where the factory applied clearcoat doesn't cover or has been compromised. There's a treatment for it (I suspect it actually anodyzes the bare aluminum. I recently applied it to all my main side seams after using a dremel to brush off all of the loose filo-crud. I'll reinspect in a week, and very carefully mask and spray on itty-bitty scooshes of new clear coat just around the seams, a few rivets, and two spots where I scraped it with my ring while putting on the water hose (sigh).

Their floors ARE Plywood though, normally covered with Vinyl or carpet. You might be able to specify Linoleum (Marmoleum) or even Bamboo. (Though most bamboo floors have been so "manufactured" as to be loaded with adhesives.)

Call the factory and ASK. All they can do is say NO. BTW they are on serious layoff's there.

The factory will be concerned that whoever rebuilds the interior balances the unit fore and aft, and left and right - very important for stability when towing.
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Old 06-25-2009, 04:52 PM   #10
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Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by bullydogsmom View Post

There is a young couple on here now that is just starting what you are thinking about doing. They thought they would have theirs gutted and rebuilt by July 31, they now know that there is no way that that is going to happen.

Annette
Hee, hee, that's us Annette.

Hi Hope Fox, and welcome to the forums. Yes, we were hoping to move into her by the 31st July, so friends could move into our house. We've got one year left in the military and then are moving across country, so we figured, hey, why not?

We have 6- & 4-year-old boys and a 2-yr-old daughter. We'll be in our AS for at least a year, if not two, while we build a new house. I'm also a homeschool mom and have recently learned about chemical sensitivities, because I broke out in an awful rash.

I've done a LOT of research on non-toxic materials if you need any help.

Your family's personal time-frame and finances are the two most important factors.

If chemical sensitivity is an issue, definitely do not buy a brand-spanking new one. You'll have to gut the formaldehyde soaked interior and be wasting a boat-load of money.

If you are buying an old one, be SURE you have enough time to work on it or enough money to have it worked on more quickly. The older and/or less-taken care of trailer you buy, the more unseen factors you will need to fix.

It is a lot of fun and hard work, and can be done by a husband/wife team with toddlers under-feet. We bought ours for $3,000 and are working on it ourselves with our kids there. So far, we have gutted the whole thing and are getting ready to spend about $2,500 in necessary repairs, but we were mentally and financially ready for that.

We've found lots of dust, dirt, rotten floor spots, mouse terds, abandoned wasps nests, and a mouse carcass so far and may find a lot more after we get the floor boards up. We have found eco-/people-friendly materials to redo the interior, and we're really excited about that. We're chugging along, and I suppose we'll be in her full-time before too long.

We're glad you joined us on the forums. It will be so great to talk to someone going through the same things as we are! Feel free to write or call if you'd like any moral support or suggestions :-) Just PM us if you would like our phone number.

Sincerely,

Natasha
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Old 06-25-2009, 05:06 PM   #11
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Thumbs up Weight in Materials

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hope_Fox View Post
This is a fantastic community! I am so excited to have all of this collective wisdom at my fingertips =)

Here is an example of one person with MCS, and their renovation job:

MCS Airstream

You can see that their purpose was not to 'restore' an airstream to its perfect vintage glory, as cool as that may be. Every decision is made with the health of the materials as the foremost consideration.
Another important consideration is to check the weight of the materials you hope to use. You do not want to add a lot of extra weight to your AS, because it will compromise the integrity of your trailer. If you are planning to haul it and travel in it eventually, then you will want to use lightweight materials like cork flooring and bamboo or wood veneers over formaldehyde-free or bamboo plywood or Nyloboard. There are lightweight, non-toxic materials out there; you just have to find them.
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Old 06-25-2009, 05:16 PM   #12
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cheap fixer upper...not likely

I paid 4 K for mine and put 16K into her and I still need curtains, exterior
finish, and bathroom resurfacing.

I love this quote..." A trailer is always to big on the road, and too small at the campsite.

Travel trailers are a poor choice for 4 season living. They are airtight
and actually have their own weather system. They are designed to be light, and other specs suffer because of it. You might do better with building a barn first, or get a log cabin kit, or prefab cabin....to go along with a trailer.
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Old 06-25-2009, 05:48 PM   #13
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lightweight materials & airtightness/air quality...

Hi Natasha, it's nice to meet someone in a similar situation! Best of luck with the end of July deadline And thanks for the words of wisdom. We definitely have the money, but I wish that I had a better estimate for the time that it will take.

I can imagine why it's important to keep the materials light. So that guy I linked to in my last post with chemical sensitivities who was using cement backerboard and tile on the floor of his Airstream, I guess that would be a problem if you want to move it anywhere, eh? I wish that I were less sensitive, I could probably tolerate most of the alternative press-board/laminate products that you are recommending. The link to Taylor Design Healthy Homes was great! They might have some suggestions. I've learned the hard way that just because something is eco-friendly and claims to be nontoxic, does not mean that I won't react badly to it. I wonder if you could do a metal floor, the kind with treads/texture so that you wouldn't slip? Not the most attractive option, but hey... I've also heard that it's important that the floor can flex a little.

Mandolindave, I understand the concerns about air tightness. When we build our house we are definitely incorporating an Heat Recovery Ventilator/HVAC with a good filter system, to keep fresh air coming in and stale air going out. I can imagine that in a small, enclosed space like a trailer that is kept closed most of the time (especially in winter) a lot of moisture could build up. What do you think about installing some sort of air circulation/filter system? Don't trailers come with vent fans -- or do they not do enough?
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Old 06-25-2009, 06:20 PM   #14
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Airstreams are not considered 4 season trailers. They have only about 2" of fiberglass insulation and no thermopane windows. If you were to buy one with panoramic windows, prepare for lots of heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. There are some companies that make 4 season trailers, Arctic Fox being one of them.

You are right not to consider a new one—ours is 1 1/2 years old and I still smell the chemicals. We air it out frequently. Airstream seems to have no concern about chemicals being bad for people, so if you were to contact them about a shell, you may have to do a lot of educating.

They have lots of vents—one or two fans in the cabin and some smaller vents with fans in the bathroom and shower in recent models.

Good luck with your endeavor. I think finding safe materials for a travel trailer will be a challenge and will increase the time it takes to outfit it. We have a friend with chemical sensitivity so we know how difficult it can be.

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