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Old 03-11-2010, 10:15 AM   #1
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Vintage Kin Owner
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Cool Ultimate Boondocking build out

Hi All! I am a long time reader, first time poster. With the economy the way it is, I am sure many more people are going to Airstreams for full time living. I have never owned an AS, but I have wanted to rebuild an old 60`s or 70's AS for a while and lately the bug has really hit me. So, in my quest to build an ultimate Mobile Home, I want to start to compile info for when I rebuild an AS, and I want to plan it from the very beginning to be the ultimate Boondocking AS, to where I can easily go for 30 days at a time with the capacity to store enough Food, Water, and Gas that I dont have to make any other trips. I also have an SUV that i can store lots of supplies in, and plan on getting a giant Thule basket for storing gas cans and 5 gallon water bottles.

I am thinking about a 23-29ft (ideally 25-27ft) AS, gutted. I am going to build it out completely custom, I have no desire to keep anything original, or for that matter to even have a table. I'm planning on Building it with a full size bed, extra large fridge with freezer, stove/oven, microwave, bath/shower (to save space), only 1 sink (in the kitchen, not bathroom), and try to avoid building physical cabinets or closets and instead use Wire's for hanging clothes and have free standing draws that can be hooked to the wall. The rest I want relatively open so I can rearrange things (1 lounge chair, 1 office chair, 1 small desk with keyboard tray), and would ideally like a projector I can use in an "office" area and can also use while laying in bed to watch movies. one reason to not have closets is that I want to build a tiny gym with a folding mat, exercise ball, and rollers to use with a bike, along with storage room for 2-3 bicycles. This might sound like a lot, but Airstreamers know how well one can arrange space if you are smart, and I think I can do all this in a 25ft, or at least 27.

So, questions... Can I do a double water heater? I have read that even new airstreams only have a 6 gallon heater, and this seems REALLY small to someone coming from a house with 45 gallon water heater.

My other main concern is the bathroom. I am an endurance athlete (cyclist primarily but also do some running), so I consume a lot of calories, so... I also use the restroom a lot. What is the easiest way to dump the tanks?

I found this awesome plastics company that makes holding tanks that can be attached to the frame of the AS Inca Plastics Inc. how many can I feasibly attach? I want to be able to carry at least 100 gallons with me, but dont know if its smarter to do this with a water bladder or plastic containers?

Energy: I am thinking of a dual solar panel and battery along with a generator (like the Honda camping one's) but my concern with the generator is running it in the bad weather like rain and hail. Any other suggestions?

If you have any other comments, suggestions, or questions feel free to jump in, I would like to compile here a giant list of resources for building features into an airstream!

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Old 03-11-2010, 10:50 AM   #2
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Thumbs up First off, welcome to the forums!

Well, sounds like an ambitious undertaking...
"ultimate Boondocking AS, to where I can easily go for 30 days at a time with the capacity to store enough Food, Water, and Gas that I dont have to make any other trips.".
Wow! That's a tall order. Your biggest issue IMO is going to be water - both fresh & waste. Water is pretty heavy at 8.35 lbs per gallon. To have 100 gallons fresh plus 100+ gallons waste would weigh in at over 1670 lbs not to mention the space it would take up - also, don't forget the additional 6-12 gallons in the water heater(s) itself. A standard 60's or 70's frame doesn't have enough space or strength to support all that without some pretty major modifications. Now of course, depending on where you boondock, you may be able to run grey water on the ground - but even still, that's a lot of water. We boondock quite frequently and our 30 gallon fresh water supply, when used frugally, can last 4 or 5 days. By frugally I mean no long showers - more like "bird baths" or navy showers - which doesn't sound like an issue you would be willing to compromise on being an athlete who wants long showers.

The black tank would need to be emptied with a "blue boy" if you don't want to move the trailer within that 30 days (because do you really want 30 days of $#!+ hanging around with you?). That's not a big deal, we do it with our small black tank every couple of days - but you will have to leave your campsite to do so. I don't know, pull it behind your bike for an extra training exercise!

Typically, fresh water is stored above the floor and waste water (black & grey) are stored below the floor - however, they can be above the floor too. Basically, assuming the frame is reinforced to handle the load - the way it is arranged you would have multiple tanks under the floor. Each would be approximately 42"x20" +/- to fit between the frame members. The number that could be used would depend on the length of your trailer. You can see what a empty frame looks like here in post #169 how we placed ours in post #158 of our restoration thread. The large tank in the front is one of our gray water tanks that we had custom made to maximize the capacity available. The two gray tanks combined hold about 18 gallons. The 1/4-round black tank holds about 11 gallons and sits above the floor. You can peruse my other posts in that thread to get more info.

Our 30 gallon fresh water is about 15"x12"x36-42" long and sits above the floor under a bed.

Anyways...just some additional thoughts here - things for you to ponder...not saying it's impossible, just that without some major custom modifications you're not going to find a vintage Airstream thats "off the shelf" and going to meet your needs.


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Old 03-11-2010, 11:21 AM   #3
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I can go a week and a half with no problem. If I add a 50 gallon fresh water tank to the bed of the pickup I am sure I could do three weeks. Gray water can often be drained out, however, I doubt storing black water for a month is feasible.

As to the Mega water heater, you can get a 10 gallon or an on-demand which would be essentially an endless tank. If you are going to be boondocking, you are going to have to learn to conserve water. We are talking about trying to get to the 5 gallon per person per day range. If you are in an area where water is available you might be able to purify it.

Realistically, long term boondocking would require fresh and waste water tanks in the bed of your truck used to relay water and waste from dump stations.

Food for a month is easy except for perishables. Veggies and milk stay good only so long.

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Old 03-11-2010, 11:41 AM   #4
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good points rod' but u've spent a few years learning and developing compromises that work for your lifestyle...

water conservation is an example and the o.p. may have trouble learning to take a 1 gallon shower.

Originally Posted by Gen Disarray View Post
...I doubt storing black water for a month is feasible...
IF peeing outdoors, so as not to FILL the black tank, i have often 'stored' black water for a month or LONGER, without issues.

but the poop tank on my trailer is 35+ gallons.

Originally Posted by Albatrill View Post
...If you have any other comments, suggestions, or questions feel free to jump in...

i don't agree with the ECONOMY=airstream connection for alternative living.

these things are generally more expensive that comparable rvs or other mobile homes...

so folks needing 2 pinch pennies for living are best to look at other living options that are NOT stream based.

30 day is a LOT of supplies, unless it's all dry goods, dehydrated food and so on

FRESH food isn't fresh at 30 days regardless of the storage methods.

and 30 days of water could be up to 1500 gallons (check your household average water consuption)

streams are not and never were built for full time habitation.

that doesn't mean one can't bend that notion, but COMPROMISES are needed to do so...

a 6 gallon water heater is PLENTY, recycles quickly and meets MANY of the conditions for rv living.

the SUV otoh is a problem.

30 days OR full timing typically results in a LOT of gear that won't fit in the stream...

most SUVs have 1. small storage space and 2. limited PAYLOADs...

so a full size truck or van or box truck provides much greater capacity for hauling crap.

1 full timer here hauls with a ford box van and has solar on top and a freezer in the van for food, along with tools, motobike and so on...

u cannot do THAT with an suv.

the simplest way to HAUL water would be a bladder system inside a truck/van bed with the CAPACITY to carry it.

it's wasted time to try REengineering an old stream to carry 100 gallons of water...

and very expensive to execute.

the whole gym/workout/bike storage space INSIDE a stream...

suggests NO understanding of what living in 160 square feet of space requires.

so it's back to TV for storage and USING the OUTdoors for working out.

you offer up NO info on budget, where u plan to camp/live or rvin' history.

most campgrounds have showers, laundry, hook ups and so on.

and USING those facilities would be LESS expensive in the near term.

the average FULL TIMER bails out in ~2 years.

that's right 2 years.

so it's wildly expensive to spend much money on the utopian boondocker myth...

without some experience and accumulated time living in an rv.

buy one ready to USE and try it first.

rebuilding is fine, totally redesigning ok, but REinventing is typically a scheme that goes no where and sucks the coin purse dry quickly.

not suggested as a discouraging thought but true generally.

minimalist build-outs can be VERY nicely done and for not a lot of coin...

IF the ideal donor stream is uncovered and NO major structures need make overs...

100s of folks post some half baked idea here that quickly cools in the first 20-50 posts....

but many others DO succeed.

Originally Posted by Albatrill View Post
...I would like to compile here a giant list of resources for building features into an airstream!
that's already been done.

it's called the archives and should u spend adequate time reading, mining and uncovering the gems already posted...

that can be your 'giant list'.

for example here's a member with basically the era of trailer that can work...

and with a minimalist interior and usage that includes months of time...

not exactly your needs but close enough based on what little we know.

it's UNexciting but

1. start with a budget/personal inventory, related to $$, time, skills, personal resources and so on...

2. spend a LOT of time reading and collecting bits here, include LEARNING some of the many issues/limitations a SILVER TUBE includes.

3. RENT an rv and go somewhere for a few weeks, ANY rv.

4. sketch out WHERE u plan to live with an rv, free boondocking is LARGELY a myth novices imagine is easy...

good luck but keep in mind chasing this dream is NOT easy in any economy....

all of the true things that i am about to tell you are shameless lies. l.b.j.

we are here on earth to fart around. don't let anybody tell you any different. k.v.
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Old 03-11-2010, 11:43 AM   #5
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Utlimate Boondocking Build Out (for camping 1 week or less):

1. At least 2 batteries (I prefer 6v)
2. A 125 watt solar system
3. One Honda EU2000I Generator
4. A 100 gallon fresh water tank in your tow vehicle
5. A 1000 watt Inverter-Charger (Xantrex or Magnum)

For camping greater than 1 week:

Add a 100 gallon black water tank to your tow vehicle (Jimmini does this and it works great for him)
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Old 03-11-2010, 12:19 PM   #6
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Aluminitus! Beware... Choose your first AS wisely, not on emotion.

I think you're on the right track, many a person has abandoned their airstream project and an empty shell is the way to go. However, if you've never had a travel trailer, taking apart the systems yourself can teach you a lot about why things are the way they are. Don't deviate too much from factory systems layout 'cause it's all there for balance, etc.

Good luck, and welcome.
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Old 03-13-2010, 09:44 AM   #7
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Your first limitation is the frame and axles. Plan on new axles. You will need a solid frame. You may think you can save money and convince yourself the axles look Ok and the frame "should be good". Buy one that has new axles or replace them yourself with ones sized for your design.
I carry 85 gallon fresh. 50 up front (as needed) and 35 under the kitchen area. I have a 50 gallon grey tank. The sinks and shower empty into this above floor. It sits right over the axles under one of the twin beds. The water from this is used to flush the marine head into a 50 gallon black tank. Also above floor opposite the gray tank, over the axle and under the other twin bed. There is no reason for them to be all full at the same time. If I start out with 85 fresh I end up with 85 gallon grey and black. So your weight is the fresh water capacity unless you hook up to a supply. Of course you would know enough to dump rather than carry full fresh and waste tanks. I can pump out the grey or pump it into the black. The black tank is emptied by a pump. Both can be gravity drained but it would take awhile.

I have two 6volt 220 amp batteries. I am currently installing two more and 320 watts of solar. The roof angle of at best 20 degrees, 22 degrees less than my latitude. (winter ideal would be +15 and summer -15 from 42).
That's why I will have 4 panels.

This should give us one week in comfort or two with conservation. The limit is fresh water for drinking at 1 gallon /day/person.

The next upgrade will be the ability to put ground water into the grey tank.
The ability to sanitize fresh water from a source that may be compromised (this is a hugh challenge to do right). There's some great stuff out there but it is pricey and except for the handpump models uses lots of power...

We look forward to being able to travel without regard to having city services available. The limiting condition will be propane for heat, refrig, and hot water. I have no plans to go beyond the 2 #30's we now have.

What you are considering is alot of work, alot of money, and very rewarding. you will spend more than buying a ready to go trailer by half again at least if you do it right.
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Old 03-13-2010, 10:03 AM   #8
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has anyone thought about using an incinerating toilet to eliminate the Black water issue?
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Old 03-27-2010, 02:53 PM   #9
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After thinking about this issue some more I have decided that I really want a 34' Silver Streak, between the model year 1977 and 1985. If I am going to go through all the trouble, expense and hassle of a completely custom trailer I have decided that I do not want something that turns out to be too small. Plus I will probably want to take a piano/keyboard (the electronic ones that are small) and tons of "fun" stuff like bikes, guns, kayaks, etc, all of which will fit in a 30+ footer much easier.

Buckmaster, I would love to hear more about the "incinerating toilet" sounds like a great idea!

2Air, your post really got me thinking, especially about filling up the black tank with Pee. I happen to pee a lot, and drink a lot of water. One of the things I am trying to figure out is: how can I create a pass-through urinal system? what if I added a 2nd, smaller toilet, that was a urinal only, and basically create a pipe pass through to the bottom of the trailer, with a fine mesh screen to prevent bugs and other creepy crawlers from coming in. The other problem with this is that I would need to figure out how to create a "cut off" as to completely insulate the trailer.

Another thing I have thought of is creating a Roof entrance, exactly like a submarine. There are tons of reasons to do this, for safety primarily (what if there is something is preventing you from leaving the regular door, or what if you are surrounded by bears and want to go through the roof to fire a warning shot to scare them away), but this is something that I would need to put a lot of thought into - has anyone seen it done before?
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Old 03-27-2010, 03:59 PM   #10
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You're post is killer! The biggest problem is water.Maybe a stream or lake location where you can filter a water supply.The freezer could be more of a hassle than it's worth. Think about canned meats ,veggies and fruit. 30 days in the woods could be great,even life altering but listening to a generator just might spoil the experience. Save yourself the time and effort of remodeling for space by erecting temporary work out quarters.(2x4s and 6 mil plastic) or a large tent. It all can be a grand adventure but be wary ,bring a medical kit just in case.AND A CAMERA. Document it all. We love pictures!
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Old 04-07-2010, 11:11 AM   #11
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I have a very similar idea. Minimal stuff inside; bedroom, bathroom, and maybe a closet. Some kind of bunks for the kids but I am thinking of foldable bunks. Cooking would be done outside. Room inside for canoe, mountain bikes, etc.
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Old 04-18-2010, 10:53 AM   #12
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Greetings everyone, thanks for the ideas!

I finally got a trailer - its a 1977 Silver Streak 32ft Rear Bath! Photos: Picasa Web Albums - 11201877028158876... - 1977 Silver S...

it needs a lot of work, so I will definitely be doing a total renovation and will try to incorporate as many of these ideas as possible.
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Old 04-19-2010, 09:57 PM   #13
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A simple way to look at it: Inside for eating & sleeping. Outside for all else. Thank the gods on rainy/cold days for a warm, dry place. (Or an air-conditioned one). Trailers have limitations, and re-engineering them is, IMO, beyond cost-prohibitive.

Trailers are best when outdoor conditions meet the idea of where you want to be outdoors on vacation. Lots of heating and cooling days leave them gasping after awhile, and they are energy hungry boogers. (But a lot better than a wall tent).

For the ideas above, a pickup with topper, a LWB van . . a trailer . . and a huge screen room with (hey!) wall tent attached might be a better answer.
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Old 05-03-2010, 01:50 AM   #14
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Incinerating toilet idea

Hi, interesting thread. I found a website with an incinerating toilet that looks interesting, the SR-5 model. The company says you can use them in an RV, still looking for a thread about this toilet to see if anyone has done this yet, takes time to read a lot of posts. Check this out.

ECOJOHN l Portable Incinerating Toilets

I am a newbie also, don't have a AS yet; need to retire first, am doing lot's of research at this stage. Good luck with your Silver Streak and post photos of your progress.

Hoping to retire soon so I can buy my first Airstream and travel.
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