Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 11-20-2017, 11:55 AM   #1
4 Rivet Member
trekerboy's Avatar
1979 31' Excella 500
Charlevoix , Michigan
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 318
Renovation Regrets? Lessons learned

In 2015 my wife an I decided to take a different path in life. At 27 and 30 years of age respectively we drew up a plan to sell most of what we had, buy and Airstream, renovate it, and take our little family on the road full time. Now, almost 3 years later, 1.5 of which has been living in our Airstream fulltime, we don't regret the decision to do what we've done, but I do wish I would have done a few things differently when renovating our Airstream. Maybe you have a similar list? Here's mine:

Weight. I didn't pay close attention to the type of materials we used for the renovation, which meant that we ended up making the AS much heavier than it needed to be. I wish I would have done things like used less robust wood structures, thinner counter tops, and probably even used honey-comb board. I think I could have easily shaved about 20-25% of the weight just by being smarter about materials used.

Brakes. We cover about 40k miles a year towing. I knew we'd be driving a lot when we bought the AS, so I had a new brake system installed to replace the old one. New wiring, new mechanical components, everything. I wish I would have known enough to ask for self-adjusting brakes to be installed, possibly even disc brakes. As it stands, with non-self adjusting brakes, we have to get them adjust every 3k miles, which seems like once a month for us.

Leak Prevention. I wish I would have removed the interior panels and sealed all seams from the inside out. I'd had 1 pesky persistent drip-drip leak that has evaded my detection and I'm completely stummped. Even did the "seal-tech" method, twice, to no avail.

Insulation. I wish I would have replaced/upgraded the insulation if I took off the interior panels. We didn't anticipate doing as much cold weather camping as we do, but we've found ourselves in sub-freezing temperatures many times over the last year an a half and keeping this place heated is a challenge. Better insulation and more attention to heating and cooling techniques in general would have been helpful.

Furnace Ducting. We used flexible dryer-vent-style ducting to route heat from our furnace to different areas of the AS. This type of ducting is a bad idea for moving area as I soon learned; turns out it reduces airflow from the furnace to the vents with every ridge and corner the air hits, the result being very low flow once the air finally reaches the vents. Should have used rigid ducting! Added two inline blower fans to help, but the resulting heating is very uneven.

Furnace location. We had to move the furnace 3 times during the renovation as we learned more about furnace applications, mainly the fact that the exhaust port could must be directly adhered to an exterior wall and not extended or routed with any sort of tubing or ducting. We settled for a location under the bed in the back, exhaust facing rearward, but it's incredibly difficult to get to when I have to work on it. Should have put it in the main living area and scarified a the drawer space we sought to save.

Fridge 110 Wiring. I thought I would be using our Power Inverter more than we do, and as such I wired every 110 outlet to it, including the one for the fridge. Our fridge is a 3 way with automatic change-over between sources, a features I completed negated by wiring the 110 outlet to the fridge to the inverter. We never run the fridge off of 110 when we're not connected to shore power; I should have wired this 110 outlet such that it was only powered when shore power was connected.

Fridge Choice. Now that we've been fulltime for more than a year, I wish I would have chosen a more power efficient fridge, the purpose being to be able to power it via solar during day and batteries at night. Our current fridge draws something like 15 (AC) amps, and there are units out there that will do it using much less power. Our current lithium battery and 400w solar setup can't sustain the fridge on electric during the night and still be able to recharge batteries during the day (operating at a deficit).

Air Conditioner. When we bought our AS it had the original 1979 Armstrong Air Conditioner with it. It last for about 3 months of use before it needed to be replaced. We replaced it with a dometic 15k BTU unit. I have many complaints about this unit, but chief among them are how LOUD it is and how inefficient it is. We hate running it, even when we actually need it, because it's sooooooo loud; wish I would have done ducted A/C like the new AS's have so AC operate was quieter. Also, I wish I would have installed 2 smaller units instead of just 1 large one... this would have been more power efficient and enabled me to run at least 1 AC (possibly 2) on our generator.

Flooring. We really wanted driftwood-looking flooring, the only option was some *not real* flooring from Lumber Liquidators... looks great, but it's not durable, at all. Lots of chips and stretches all over the place. Wish we would have used either REAL wood or laminate.

Subfloor. We replaced the subfloor with normal plywood, but I wish we would have either used a waterproof material or applied some sort of water proof sealant to the plywood. There is one area of the subfloor that endured a small leak for a while before we found it and I can't access the area to replace it!

Batteries Type. We originally went with 4 x 6v batteries in series-parallel, but about 1 year in they started gassing and we could smell the sulfur inside the cabin despite venting from the battery compartment to the outside. Should have just done with Lithium to begin with (which is what we have now).

Battery Quantity. The area where the batteries live isn't very big; can only bit about 4. Because of the amount of boonedocking we do, I wish I should have built the space to accommodate about 8 batteries. This way we could have enough capacity to run all our appliances overnight and charge 'em up via solar the next day.

Pex Plumbing. Pex was definitely the way to go, but I should have better secured it to the walls and floors so it didn't rattle when the pump kicks on.

Appliance Accessibility. Some of the key appliances (water pump, inverter, furnace, water heater, pressure tank) are not easy to get to. I didn't anticipate needing to work on these things as much as I do. I wish I would have made them easier to access without having to either disassemble something else first or twist my body in unnatural ways to get to them!

Waste Water Outlet. We use a composting toilet, so we have no need for our black water tank. I have a scissor value installed on the waste water outlet so I can effectively "combine" the grey and blank tanks for 2x the grey water capacity, but the valve hangs just an inch or two above the ground, which means I have to remove it before towing. Should have just installed a inline scissor valve (maybe I still will someday).

How about you? What are you renovation "lessons learned" and/or regrets?

Pictures of our AS if interested:

trekerboy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 12:30 PM   #2
Rivet Master
Hittenstiehl's Avatar

1965 24' Tradewind
1962 28' Ambassador
1961 19' Globetrotter
Mesa , Arizona
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 3,041
Images: 9
This is a very honest and well written "lessons learned" and nice feedback to have.

Should get some nice responses.


Hittenstiehl is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 01:05 PM   #3
2 Rivet Member
1978 31' Sovereign
Aumsville , Oregon
Join Date: Oct 2017
Posts: 28
Thanks for adding all this info. I definitely find some value in it, and will keep many of these items under consideration as we dive into our renovation. Hopefully I can come back and add some of my regrets sometime soon.
pvfjr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 01:30 PM   #4
4 Rivet Member
1973Argosy's Avatar

1973 Argosy 24
hartselle , Alabama
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 457
Mine is a 73 that we did the main portion of our renovation about 15 years ago. My biggest regret is not adding a gray water tank. Hate toting around the blue boy......
1973Argosy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 01:34 PM   #5
Rivet Master
Aerowood's Avatar

1971 21' Globetrotter
Arvada , Colorado
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 2,841
I wish I had picked a 23 footer instead of the 21 we have. When I had the sub floor up I wish I would have added leveling jacks at the axle location and tongue jacks at each corner like the 34 footers.
Aerowood is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 02:13 PM   #6
Vintage Kin
slowmover's Avatar
Fort Worth , Texas
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 7,598
Images: 1
Very well-done, OP. If these things were the worst, sounds like it's gone pretty well for a near 40-years old TT. Especially if it was emptied out to start over. It's not in the least easy to do the three-dimensional imagery of fitting it all together.

Accessibility to appliances, plumbing runs, etc, gets my attention. I'd be more inclined to closely copy factory in all ways, BUT make ease-of-replacement paramount.

As for cold weather, I'll assume you've looked into custom vinyl skirting and interior storm windows. A full set of awnings otherwise.
1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 9-cpm solo, 15-cpm towing
Sold: Silver Streak Model 3411
slowmover is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 06:07 PM   #7
4 Rivet Member
1974 27' Overlander
Baltimore , Maryland
Join Date: Mar 2016
Posts: 368
We've been very happy with our remodeled Airstream so far.

I wish I had more realistic ideas about how long it would take and how much it would cost.

I would have considered a DC 12V fridge if I was doing it again.

Ripping out the furnace and installing a drawer dishwasher in its place was a great decision. Wood stove for primary heat, also working out nicely.

Very happy we redid the insulation and added a thermal break between the skins and ribs.

Very happy with our Coleman Mach 8 Cub. I don't know why everyone needs a 15k BTU AC, but we definitely don't. Maybe the insulation makes that big of a difference. It's nice to have no problem running the AC on a regular household extension cord run to whatever outlet is available.

I wish I had prewired the cell booster and wifi repeater antenna wires when I had the skins open. Really happy I prewired solar with a combiner box for easy expansion.

My Magnum 2000 inverter would be massive overkill if it weren't for the dishwasher. I primarily use it to power the coffee grinder...

Wish I had leveled out the subfloor a little better. Some spongy spots in the floating floor that probably only I notice, but they bother me.

Wish I had used a suction cup to check all the rivets when I had the skins out. It's surprisingly hard to identify all the leaks, even with the skins out. So many leaky rivets, so much captian tolley's.

Wish I knew then what I know now -- I'm so much better at Airstream renovation now that I've done one.
1974 Overlander In Progress
TheGreatleys is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 06:22 PM   #8
4 Rivet Member
1974 27' Overlander
Baltimore , Maryland
Join Date: Mar 2016
Posts: 368
@trekerboy What are you using to hang your guitar from the ceiling?
1974 Overlander In Progress
TheGreatleys is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 07:08 PM   #9
Dazed and Confused
Isuzusweet's Avatar
Currently Looking...
1983 31' Airstream310
Hillsburgh , Ontario
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,429
Great write-up OP and I do hope that many people read your post.

Renovating a trailer is one of the hardest things to do well, and not a cheap thing to do well.

When I renovated my Classic motorhome I was funny enough very anal about weight and durability of materials used. I used Coosa board for my subfloor replacement, which is 40-45% lighter than plywood, and practically waterproof.
I used 1/2" baltic birch for gables; 5/8" for kitchen counter top. I used pine face frame construction for my cabinets so could avoid gables, backs or bottoms where I could. I used a maghogany/pine core marine plywood that was exceedingly light for other countertops in the coach.

I didn't used OSB or particle board anywhere in my coach.

The only regret I have was my choice of flooring. I used an engineered hardwood, which is very nice, BUT heavy, and not as durable I had wanted. I would want to replace it with a 10mm PVC flooring; lighter, has air pockets for less thermal transfer and waterproof.

As for furnace, I ripped my furnace out along with the ductwork as I found it to be cumbersome and inefficient. I plan to add Platinum Cats one day; but if I were to do another moho renovation, I might look at a Precision Temp system of hot water pumped through small radiators with muffin fans blowing air through them. The other choice is a heated floor.

Now you have some research to do before starting your next Airstream renovation.

Per Mare, Per Terram and may all your campaigns be successful.

Its a recession when your neighbor loses his job; its a depression when you lose your own. "Harry S Truman"
Isuzusweet is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 08:33 PM   #10
Rivet Master
dbj216's Avatar

1986 34' Limited
1966 24' Tradewind
Conifer , Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,127
Thank you so much for sharing your real world experiences and observations. This thread is very helpful to me as I'm working on a 75 Overlander. I had decided to use round flex furnace ducting instead of the rigid stuff for ease of installation. Heck, my 86 Limited has it. Now I am having second thoughts.

My big issue at the moment is frame repair and improvement. Your frame was probably okay, but my trailer has rear end separation and some frame sag. Because I am mounting bigger grey and black tanks, I loose a cross member (it was running north south under the bath floor between a small black and small 10 gal gray tank). So I gotta figure out how to keep the frame rails straight and strong in and around the new tanks.

Maybe your frame renovation went smoothly.

Formally from Minnesota, I hear you on keeping an Airstream warm in subfreezing temps with the wind blowing. I gave up. Airstreams weren't made for those conditions. I consider them spring and fall trailers due to the head conductivity of the aluminum and the small 1 1/2 inch thick walls. They make four season fifth wheels and the like. Airstreams ain't in that league for cold weather living, or real hot weather living.

dbj216 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 08:58 PM   #11
4 Rivet Member
trekerboy's Avatar
1979 31' Excella 500
Charlevoix , Michigan
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 318
Originally Posted by TheGreatleys View Post
@trekerboy What are you using to hang your guitar from the ceiling?

@TheGreatleys we got it from Adrian at Woodies Guitar Hangers:
trekerboy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 09:37 PM   #12
New Member
1989 32' Excella
Edgerton , Kansas
Join Date: Nov 2017
Posts: 2
Thanks, great post. I'm about at the end of restoring my 1989 Excella 1000 32'. I'm keeping it factory original and that adds it own set of issues in finding parts. Interestingly, all the furniture is laminated particle board but it is thin and not that heavy. Any area that water has touched it came apart.
wk0g is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-20-2017, 10:47 PM   #13
Rivet Master
TouringDan's Avatar

1966 24' Tradewind
1995 34' Excella
Lynchburg , Virginia
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 2,472

Thanks for your list. You sure are fortunate to have traveled with your family full time.

I have been working on my 66 Tradewind for 7 years while camping in it except for the last six months where it has been off the road for frame refurbishment, floor repair, gray tank repair, new floor insulation, belly pan, axle replacement, disk brakes and soon a new furnace. I have not really changed a lot as I think Airstream did a great job on the original design. I tried to make only improvements. The only area I have been disappointed in is the performance of the rv refrigerator. I installed a new dometic fridge but wish I had installed a 12v marine fridge with a compressor. I will make this additional improvement if operation of the fridge continues to be a problem.

TouringDan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-21-2017, 08:13 AM   #14
3 Rivet Member
islandtrader's Avatar

1956 22' Caravanner
Don Pedro Island , Florida
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 147
This is great...I already have a full page of ideas...makes my life much easier

My Rebuild page
islandtrader is offline   Reply With Quote

Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Floor Repair, Suggestions, and Lessons Learned sgschwend Interior Restoration Forum 4 12-04-2015 07:37 PM
Flex-a-lite fan issues, lessons learned dljosephson Mechanics Corner - Engines, Transmission & More... 1 08-09-2009 05:32 PM
Inteli-Power install in 78 Excella Lessons Learned ALTE797 Electrical - Systems, Generators, Batteries & Solar 8 04-12-2007 08:36 AM
The Flat Tire Fixed! and lessons learned thecatsandi Tires 28 12-29-2006 07:55 PM
Pullrite owners--lessons learned markparker22 Hitches, Couplers & Balls 10 04-17-2005 11:57 PM

Virginia Campgrounds

Reviews provided by

Copyright 2002- Social Knowledge, LLC All Rights Reserved.

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 06:02 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

Airstream is a registered trademark of Airstream Inc. All rights reserved. Airstream trademark used under license to Social Knowledge LLC.