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Old 08-22-2016, 09:38 AM   #1
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2003 22' International
South Bend , Indiana
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 78
Newer Model Subfloor section replacement DIY

I have a 2003 22' International and had some subfloor rot in the back and I thought I would share some insight as I have just completed this project.

The subfloor projects under the inner shell into a channel which is what holds the shell to the chassis and floor. In order to replace a large section of subfloor you have to remove all the floor cabinets, bath and any other items that this floor is sitting on. You may also have to remove items that are on the good part of the floor because you cannot remove the required items because these item are in the way.

On my 2003 with the rear bath and kitchen you cannot remove the countertop without first removing either the bath or the refrigerator. I removed the 4 piece fiberglass shower / toilet combintation as the floor was rotten under the bath as well.

Once you have everthing removed you have to either remove all the rivets in the lower inner skin and remove it or you can remove most but the the top layer and tie the skins up our of your way. You have to get access in between the inner skin and outer skin to replace the bolts that go from the top side of the channel through the subfloor and through the bottom of the channel.

Once you have all this remove you pull as much rotten floor out as you can. There will probably be a black layer of tarp like material between the subfloor and metal frame. Go ahead and cut this up and get it out of your way. Trying to save this is way more trouble than its worth. Did as much rotten wood out of the channel as you can and if possible just use a angle grinder to cut through the bolts and remove from the the top and bottom.

Airstream does this neat thing with the bolt to keep them from working loose and they bend the bolt over as a locking mechanism. No way to remove bolt without just cutting through it in the channel. Be careful not to cut beyond the bolts. There will also be some screws in the channel screwed into the subfloor from the top. Remove this or cut them off as well.

Once you have all your subfloor and bolts / screws removed carefully run your finger in the channel to make sure it is clear. You will feel the backside of some rivets holding the channel which is normal. Do remove these rivets. If your Airstream has a rear bumper assembly like mine (holds the sewer lines and receiver hitch) did this was probably the source of the water that ruined your floor. In order to remove this aluminum trim strip on the outside you will have to pull the decorative rubber strip off of the aluminum to access the 3 rivets on each side along with about 12 screws holding this on. On my unit this was a large u-shaped trim strip that wrapped around the bottom of the airstream and sat right above the rear bumper.

Once removed is showed the Airstream had not sealed the area where the shell sits on top of the bumper assembly . This allows any water that collects on the rear bumper to flow directly into the subfloor assembly. This was caulked with Sikaflex sealant.

To replace the subfloor you will need to either use the old subfloor as a template for the curved floor or you will need to build templates. I built templates out of paper and cardboard using the Tick-Sticking method (google it). Once you templates are built test fit them. Staple your template to your new plywood and then trace around it and cut out the rounded edges with a jigsaw. You should be able to flip the template you built for side and use it for the other side and it is a mirror image.

Once you have your sections of replacement subfloor cut use a spar urethane on the bottom, edges and top. Several coats are recommended especially on the edges. This will keep any water or moisture from penetrating the new flooring.

In my case in replacing the entire rear section of subfloor I had to build it in 3 sections. Two large sections for each side and filler section in the middle. You will have to drive the new subfloor into the channel in the rear first and then drive it towards the sides until it reaches fully into the channel. You will then screw and glue support boards on the inside edges of these sections so your filler board will have something to rest on and screw to.

Once you have all the subfloor in place you will use self tapping screws to screw it down the frame and use bolts and screws in the channel. I used 1/4" bolts with nylock nuts so they cannot come loose in the channel. I used #14 (1/4") 1 7/16" long wafer head bolts (ordered through fastenal) to screw the subfloor directly to the metal frame. These are self-drilling and the wafer head is large to pull the floor down nice and secure.

It doesn't take a large amount of these screws (maybe just 3 or 4 across each chassis metal beam). You want to cut back far enough so that your joint is on one of these beams so the floor is fully supported.

Once you have all your channel bolts, channel screws and subfloor screws in place you can re-rivet your lower inner skin back in place. Make sure you use aluminum rivets. You can use bondo or wood filler to smooth out and imperfections in the subfloor before you put down your finished floor. We are using all vinyl planks but you could use a single sheet vinyl as well. I personally would shy away from any type of floating floor or laminate. Floating floor can get moisture under them and it it cannot breathe you will get mold growth.

I would recommend full glue down flooring. Many people have had great success with floating floor and that is fine, I just don't trust those locking seams under all the twisting and flexing that a trailer undergoes.

Once your new floor is down you can replace all the cabinets and other items and your good to go. This is much simplified version of all the steps. I'm very mechanical and I can tell you Airstream does not design these to come apart easily. The rear bath bath was a complete pain in the ass and you have to be really careful not to break any of the fiberglass.

The biggest lesson I have learned is if you can afford to take it to the factory to have it done then do so. I am a serious DIY'er and this project has been HUGE! I would rate this job a 8 out of 10 on a technical standpoint and it really sucks this had to be done because of lack of sealant on the rear bumper. The reason I wrote this is because you see a lot of info on the older vintage airstreams but not a lot on new models.

Take lots of before pictures and videos. Put all your hardware in plastic bags with where the go written on the bags. This was also a good time for me to replace the old 110 toilet with a 310 and I also fixed some of the fabric headliner that was sagging.

One thing leads to another on a project like this. I would guess I will have at least 100 to 150 hours in this project when done so its not for the faint of heart.

If your Airstream has a rear bumper you really need to check for the presence of sealant behind the trim strip. The floor in my 2003 was OSB and it just turned to soggy sawdust because of this design flaw or worker missing the sealant during assembly. It has many documented cases online of this sealant missing so remove the strip and check. Use Sikaflex 221 to caulk this seam or equivalent. Do not use silicone as it will not stick to the aluminum and will fail over time.

The Sikaflex 221 Aluminum color works well for all the caulked joints around the windows and other fixtures. It stays flexible in extreme temps and sticks to the metal like the dickens.

If you ever get stuck on something message me and I can hopefully talk you through it. It has been a learning experience to say the least. Peace Out!
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Old 08-22-2016, 12:31 PM   #2
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2003 22' International
South Bend , Indiana
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Forgot one part. The underbelly skin (black tarp material) should be glued to the plywood subfloor prior to installation. Also, glue small pieces to the frame where the joints are coming together so there is no gap. This stuff is ridiculously expensive to ship so a perfect alternative is a heavy duty silver tarp with black on one side. Just glue the silver side to your plywood and then use a razor knife to cut off the excess. I used 3M 77 Spray Adhesive and it worked great.
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Old 08-23-2016, 03:07 PM   #3
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2006 25' Safari FB SE
Glenwood Springs , Colorado
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Kemblkr, Thanks for the great post. I have a 2005 25 FB. It has an aluminium floor covering for the rear 5 ft or so. This is the flooring for the dining table. I had a window trim leak to this 2 years ago and pulled the dinette seats and metal floor piece out. I was happy then to find wet, but no rot on the plywood. Today, after some months of outside storage, I found new loose original vinyl flooring and wet plywood in the same area. I am in the process of removing the floor covering and dinette to dry it all. In sailboats sometime spot rot in decks is replaced with drying it out and epoxy wood fill.

Do you have any ideas about local, small segment repairs like that? I am not in position to do a major floor to frame recon.
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Old 08-24-2016, 09:08 AM   #4
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2003 22' International
South Bend , Indiana
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wdgwdg View Post
Kemblkr, Thanks for the great post. I have a 2005 25 FB. It has an aluminium floor covering for the rear 5 ft or so. This is the flooring for the dining table. I had a window trim leak to this 2 years ago and pulled the dinette seats and metal floor piece out. I was happy then to find wet, but no rot on the plywood. Today, after some months of outside storage, I found new loose original vinyl flooring and wet plywood in the same area. I am in the process of removing the floor covering and dinette to dry it all. In sailboats sometime spot rot in decks is replaced with drying it out and epoxy wood fill.

Do you have any ideas about local, small segment repairs like that? I am not in position to do a major floor to frame recon.
The most important thing is to see what condition the floor is when it dries out. If the structure of the wood is still viable then you could use rot fix or a thinned expoxy to penetrate the wood and lock the fibers and layers back together. Another important thing is to figure out where the moisture is coming from and eliminate it.

The subfloor replacement becomes a real problem when you have to remove subfloor that goes into the channel. If you send a picture of the area I may be able to provide more guidance. there are some short cuts that could be used for small areas but once you get a large area of the subfloor perimeter involved you have to do it right because the subfloor and channel is what the shell rides on and is bolted too.

If you have a rear bumper that could very well be your source of water. When they build the airstream the shell sits on the rear bumper. For whatever reason they DO NOT use sealant between the shell and the bumper and water that sits on the bumper can flow right into your camper. You should remove the aluminum trip wrap that sits on top of the bumper. On mine you remove the adhesive backed rubber center strip which exposes the screws and 6 rivets. Drill out the rivets and remove the screws. Once you have this removed you can see if there is any sealant in this area. If not, seal it up well with Sikaflex 221 and then put the trim back in place.

Thats the only advice I can give without pictures. Good luck.
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Old 08-24-2016, 08:13 PM   #5
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1967 26' Overlander
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I am surprised A/S didn't do something about the floor rot problem a long time ago. Can anybody say MARINE PLYWOOD? We have feared it in our family heirloom '67 Overlander for 50 years and almost managed to avoid it. I say almost because I recently found a rotten place under the bathroom sink. Had no idea there was a leak from outside there until a roll of toilet paper stored under the sink got wet. The leak was all the way from a clearance light on top. We have caught and corrected plenty of leaks over the years and have learned that is an A/S weakness.

It seems to me it should be practical to put an aluminum or synthetic honeycomb floor in a new trailer under construction similar to that of an airplane floor. It would be rot proof and would also reduce weight. Has anyone tried that in a rebuild or repair? It might be a cost increase in a new trailer but maybe not...it might also be an advertising advantage for Airstream since they like to point out that Airstreams last a long time.
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Old 08-24-2016, 11:51 PM   #6
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I think I asked my ex for a bigger favor then I realized when I asked him to fix "This little spot on the floor."
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Old 08-25-2016, 08:16 AM   #7
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2003 22' International
South Bend , Indiana
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Marine grade plywood is typically no more resistant to water than any exterior grade plywood. However, marine grade plywood is almost perfect from a flatness and surface standpoint therefore it is good for use as a finished surface. In order to make it "waterproof" you must apply something like a spar urethane or a paint. A non porous floor made from aluminum honeycomb or plastics would be the ultimate solution but it's all about the money. Using nonstandard materials not only add cost in purchase but typically slow the manufacturing process down.

Thor is out to make money and they get the most profit out of plywood. At least they are now waterproofing the edges and perimeter of the subfloor on the latest models which should solve most issues with floor rot. My 2003 has OSB flooring which is fine if you protect it which they did not. It is now replaced with plywood treated with spar urethane. The most irritating issue is the problem with no sealant between the shell and the rear bumper which has lead to multiple floor failures in the rear sections of Airstreams. When a $1.00 worth of missing sealant causes $$$ Thousands of damage that pisses me off. I bought an airstream based on a reputation that was definitely lacking from a quality control standpoint.

In the long run I'm going to have a better than new Airstream and can't wait to get back on the road. Just remember to crawl under that used Airstream and tap on that underbelly skin everywhere. If you don't get that nice hard knock you got rot.

This would be much harder to find on a vintage model with the aluminum belly pan but there may be an inspection technique for that as well.

Nothing wrong with purchasing an Airstream with problems but the price should reflect those issues.

Not sure what Airstream would have charged to replace the subfloor in the rear of my unit but I would guess $5k to $7k. Not much cost in parts but the labor is extreme.
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