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Old 12-01-2018, 04:40 PM   #1
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How cheap should I go for my first live-in Airstream?

Howdy all! I've een lurking for a few weeks now after finding this site, and have a couple questions!

Long story short, starting sometime next year, my wife and I will be living about 5 hours apart. We decided we are going to move her into a smaller house (even with the kid, we already have two unused bedrooms...). I'll pick up a truck and live in an Airstream. I'll probably go home most weekends, but I expect she and the kiddo (and dogs, heh) will likely stay with me for at least one week a month, not including hopefully 4-6 days per month on the road.

Having perused many a floorplan, we think around 23-25' will be about right for us. That seems to be about the minimum to maintain a full-function kitchen and bath setup while comfortably sleeping 4.

I'd call myself somewhere around "very handy." I have done electrical work (wiring switches and outlets), framing, roofing, moderate plumbing (installing toilets and sinks), did my own butcherblock bar-top counters, and have done lots of snap-together hard flooring. Mechanically, I have personally replaced engines on three vehicles, made custom steel bumpers and modified suspensions, so I am not too worried about being able to figure out the relatively simple axle and braking systems on an Airstream. Essentially, after reading through several major Airstream restorations, I am fairly confident I can do most of the work without too many issues. I have little experience with precision woodwork like building custom drawers smd cabinets, but the things that certainly so scare me, however, are having to gut the entire thing to rebuild a subfloor, or trying to pull the whole frame out!

Of note, my only real electrical requirements will be charging my phone (I might do a simple inverter setup to run a crock pot), and I intend to install a composting toilet (inmediately, if I can). With some roof-mounted solar panels, my goal is to be able to be largely "untethered."

So, all that said, I am trying to figure out what price range, and year range, I can expect for something that is generally safe to tow home, and can be made completely livable in perhaps two weeks of modestly-efficient, non-professional work. I don't mind re-doing the kitchen, bathroom, or sleeping areas over time after I move in, but I can't get into something requiring immediate gutting or otherwise major repairs.

Thanks!
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Old 12-01-2018, 05:03 PM   #2
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If I knew then what I know now.. .

I'd still be making payments.

Just saying.. .
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Old 12-01-2018, 05:17 PM   #3
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First, a small to medium generator is probably a more practical investment than solar. The sun does not always shine and storing sunshine (with batteries) is neother simple mor inexpensive. Inverters - a very good idea if you know the limitations - not champs when you need any high resistance output like an iron, induction burner, electric welder, etc. Fine for a cell phone, flat screen tv of modest size, or LED lighting.

A generator is limited by its size and available fuel. Example: A Honda 2200 will even run an air conditioner if it has an easy start.

You have a family. Get the best used Airstream you can find. Time is a more limited commodity than money in most situations. AND consider a 30 to 33 ft unit... they aren't quite as popular as the 25 to 27 footers and you can often get them for the same money or less. I always want mine to be smaller when I am towing and bigger when parked. Hint: I am parked 85% of the time.
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Old 12-01-2018, 07:39 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wabbiteer View Post
If I knew then what I know now.. .

I'd still be making payments.

Just saying.. .
Hah! Understood! I do know that feeling...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Foiled Again View Post
First, a small to medium generator is probably a more practical investment than solar. The sun does not always shine and storing sunshine (with batteries) is neother simple mor inexpensive. Inverters - a very good idea if you know the limitations - not champs when you need any high resistance output like an iron, induction burner, electric welder, etc. Fine for a cell phone, flat screen tv of modest size, or LED lighting.

A generator is limited by its size and available fuel. Example: A Honda 2200 will even run an air conditioner if it has an easy start.

You have a family. Get the best used Airstream you can find. Time is a more limited commodity than money in most situations. AND consider a 30 to 33 ft unit... they aren't quite as popular as the 25 to 27 footers and you can often get them for the same money or less. I always want mine to be smaller when I am towing and bigger when parked. Hint: I am parked 85% of the time.
Thanks! Indeed, 30 ft does seem to be about the mjnimum length to add a dedicated dining area from the factory, allowing for perhaps a second dedicated sleeping area. And good point about the generator option! I'll certainly keep that in mind!

I 99.9% agree with your time vs money comment! In every other circumstance, I place a pretty significant value on my time. However, I know living by myself, Ill have a lot more free time, so I figured fixing up the trailer could be an opportunity to be relatively productive with it .
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Old 12-01-2018, 09:55 PM   #5
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Your modest plans do not allow for the time your family will be with you. Hair dryer, coffee pot, tv and all the other things your wife and child are used to will not be covered.
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Old 12-01-2018, 10:45 PM   #6
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Hah! Understood! I do know that feeling...


Thanks! Indeed, 30 ft does seem to be about the mjnimum length to add a dedicated dining area from the factory, allowing for perhaps a second dedicated sleeping area. And good point about the generator option! I'll certainly keep that in mind!

I 99.9% agree with your time vs money comment! In every other circumstance, I place a pretty significant value on my time. However, I know living by myself, Ill have a lot more free time, so I figured fixing up the trailer could be an opportunity to be relatively productive with it .
Ok, still say generator vs. Solar. Now, 2008 to 2014 are model years I would consider. Avoid neeer Classics with the Alde and bluetooth stuff... by the time it os debugged, the apps won't be supported, and hands on maintenance will be nearly impossible. Your profile says you are in Florida. That is an excellent hunting ground for aging out seniors. Contact your local WBCCI or see if you can drop in at Canopener Jan 1-6? At Topsail State park. With over 100.Airstreams there have to be a couple for sale, or at least someone attending who knows someone selling one. A few dealers have a good rep for selling used, but I would ask locals for referrals. Meanwhile check the for sales right here on the forum.
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Old 12-02-2018, 01:30 AM   #7
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Ok, still say generator vs. Solar. Now, 2008 to 2014 are model years I would consider. Avoid neeer Classics with the Alde and bluetooth stuff... by the time it os debugged, the apps won't be supported, and hands on maintenance will be nearly impossible. Your profile says you are in Florida. That is an excellent hunting ground for aging out seniors. Contact your local WBCCI or see if you can drop in at Canopener Jan 1-6? At Topsail State park. With over 100.Airstreams there have to be a couple for sale, or at least someone attending who knows someone selling one. A few dealers have a good rep for selling used, but I would ask locals for referrals. Meanwhile check the for sales right here on the forum.
Thanks! And great suggestion on the on the Canopener event! I found the FB group . We won't be living in FL for this "Airstream" phase, but we should be able to make this event!

Are you saying that 2008-2014 is the oldest you would go for technology compatibility reasons? Or maintenamce reasons?

As to the comforts, none of these requirements were developed in a vacuum, of course. We hardly used the 3 TVs we had (we already sold 2 and are giving the 3rd to her sister), my wife doesn't really use a hair dryer, and we are more "tea people" . Of course, I didnt want to have no shore power options--indeed, she'd never come back if I didnt have AC. But, other than that, we actually have very few things that couldnt be run on 12v--the crock pot is actually just to help me survive when she isn't around, and even then is more of a "nice to have."
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Old 12-02-2018, 02:47 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the responses. I have been able to refine some of my searching parameters and found some good stuff. Color me convinced on getting a big enough trailer for two dedicated sleeping areas (I like the 30FC Bunk). And, I played with the budget some and buying a new or near-new 30FC is not quite the stretch I was worried it would be. And, as you were insinuating, the simplicity and pleasantness of walking into a fresh, ready-to-roll AS as first-time full-timers (kinda) probably outweigh the modest amount saved (in the grand scheme).

Thanks again!
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Old 12-02-2018, 02:57 AM   #9
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Thanks! And great suggestion on the on the Canopener event! I found the FB group . We won't be living in FL for this "Airstream" phase, but we should be able to make this event!

Are you saying that 2008-2014 is the oldest you would go for technology compatibility reasons? Or maintenamce reasons?

As to the comforts, none of these requirements were developed in a vacuum, of course. We hardly used the 3 TVs we had (we already sold 2 and are giving the 3rd to her sister), my wife doesn't really use a hair dryer, and we are more "tea people" . Of course, I didnt want to have no shore power options--indeed, she'd never come back if I didnt have AC. But, other than that, we actually have very few things that couldnt be run on 12v--the crock pot is actually just to help me survive when she isn't around, and even then is more of a "nice to have."
If you go too much more than 10 years old, all of the appliances will probably need to be replaced. $700 to $1000 Per appliance. Fridge, A/C, furnace, water heater, stovetop & oven. Microwave would be be less except for convection oven combo. In cold weather I dream of adding a marine propane heater. Plus, older Airstreams had OSB floors which you'd want to avoid... of course if the owner has done the "full monte" and put in Coosa Board, and has lots of pictures or video of the upgrade then go for it.

Power outage - takes on a whole new meaning in a trailer. Propane furnaces SUCK down two 30 gallon tanks in 2 to 7 days if you don't augment them with electric space heaters, and if your Airstream has 30 amp service, you don't run a crock pot and a space heater and microwave at the same time. My gas/electric water heater has the electric turned OFF in winter just to prevent a trip to the post at 2 AM... and I once bought 2 20 lb. Propane tanks from Walmart to get thru the night until the nearby U-haul opened. Getting gasoline for a generator and feeding extension cords in through a fan lid or storage door to run a space heater or two? Priceless.
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Old 12-02-2018, 02:39 PM   #10
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As a full timer (going on 2.5 years) and owner of a 21 year old Airstream, I will add this to comments made about old appliances. Bought my rig from original owner who kept it stored inside and well maintained....only 45k miles.

TV was replaced because I wanted larger screen with DVD built in (old 19" was huge and heavy). Furnace, water heater, and frig are all original except the control boards failed on each of them. Cost about $100 each to repair. 2 AC units original and work great. Stove top original still working. Microwave/convection oven changed due to a low voltage issue I was not aware of till too late. $350 for new stainless steel unit from Lowes. Only things left original not working are Sat Dish and small TV in bedroom. Never needed either so its not a loss. Propane generator only has 500 hrs and works great.

Whatever you buy just check it from end to end. Biggest problem with any used RV is leaks which can come from roof AC or weather related.
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Old 12-02-2018, 03:09 PM   #11
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Hi

I would first spend some "quality time" looking at the budget. That's not just the purchase price of the trailer. You also need an adequate tow vehicle. The cost of camping here or there likely is a bit more expensive that it first seems. It's a good bet that some of your "stuff" will not fit in the trailer. If you have to pay to store it, that goes into the budget as well. Insurance and a fancier cell phone plan chew up money each month.

Next spend some time at a dealer in the various sized trailers. I'm not suggesting you have to buy from a dealer, but it's about the only way to see how well you fit in this or that sized space. Two people, a couple dogs, and a growing kid do take up some space. If it's pouring down rain all day, where is everybody? If it's bed time what needs to be converted to make that happen? Can you sit here or there for more than 15 minutes?

Indeed some of this may sound like a push towards a larger trailer. That's not really the point. Bigger always will have its plusses. The question is really - how small can you go and still be happy? Buying something and then trading it 6 months later is not the best plan. Having everybody at each other's throats is not what you want to set up for.

New vs used? Couple years old used (especially from a dealer) may not be a massive saving. Past about 8 years old, banks may not be happy financing the deal (if that's even part of this at all). New comes with a 3 year warranty. Used maybe not so much. Ordering in this or that exact model / floor plan is doable. If this gets to a "only this one works" sort of thing, finding something unique on the used market may be a challenge.

I would worry far less about toilet mods or generators until the basics are worked out. Get the big / expensive / hard to change decisions nailed down and then worry about the small stuff. Compared to the cost of the trailer plus tow vehicle (especially if both are new), solar or generator is round off error .....

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Old 12-02-2018, 03:32 PM   #12
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Let me just say that the words CHEAP and AIRSTREAM don’t often collide in the same sentence.
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Old 12-02-2018, 10:30 PM   #13
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Let me just say that the words CHEAP and AIRSTREAM donít often collide in the same sentence.
True and the most frequent way they do collide is:

I went CHEAP on my AIRSTREAM and it cost me more then twice as much.
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Old 12-03-2018, 02:32 AM   #14
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If you go too much more than 10 years old, all of the appliances will probably need to be replaced. $700 to $1000 Per appliance. Fridge, A/C, furnace, water heater, stovetop & oven. Microwave would be be less except for convection oven combo. In cold weather I dream of adding a marine propane heater. Plus, older Airstreams had OSB floors which you'd want to avoid... of course if the owner has done the "full monte" and put in Coosa Board, and has lots of pictures or video of the upgrade then go for it.
Hi, my trailer is 13 years old and has had lots of use with many tens of thousands of miles. Every appliance that you mentioned that is in my trailer is original and in perfect working order. Also my trailer has plywood floors. Are you trying to scare the OP or did you really mean trailers older than 30 years?
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