View Poll Results: What would you do?
Go for the AS reno 2 28.57%
Keep renting RVs for visits 0 0%
Buy a used conventional 5th wheel/TT and hope it fares better than history has shown 0 0%
Spend more on a used AS that needs less work 5 71.43%
Voters: 7. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 09-11-2017, 12:22 AM   #1
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Germantown , Maryland
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Lightbulb Question: Is an AS reno my path to a little place in the woods?

Hello everyone,

I've been lurking/dreaming here for a while but a purchasing opportunity has me wanting some direct input. Here's my story:

Background
I live/work in MD. I own land about 10h north. Up there, I have a storage shed with a 330 gallon water tote, generator, etc. (Utility-supplied electric is also available). One day (maybe 10 years?), Iíll build a house. Meanwhile, I've been keeping my pop-up there (95 Coleman Royale) and using it as a getaway a few times a year (May-Oct).

Mice have now eaten the Royale to the point of being junk, so this summer, I rented an RV (delivered to the land) and flew up with my kids a few times for 1-week stays. Hooked it up to the generator and my water tank/pump as if we were at a campground. The guy I rented it from dumped the black tank at the end of the rental (we never filled it in a week). Other friends came to camp with us. We all loved it. We loved being at the land.

Dilemma
Local regulations won't allow me to build anything small (shipping container cabin, pre-fab 8íx20' shed, etc) without a huge investment in a septic system and groundwater well, because it's deemed a residence and thus requires all the formalities that go with a full-blown house. But if it's on wheels, it's not a residence. There are people nearby who have just a year-round fifth wheel and a shed for this exact reason. Busybody neighbors will likely be the first to run to the authorities if I build/buy something like a shipping container and "ask for forgiveness rather than permission."

Mice ate my Royale. Harsh winters/weather were degrading the roof (same for my neighbor with the 5th wheel). Buying a newer, used 5th wheel/TT will end up at the same place (plus the vulnerability of slides, hatches, etc.).

Possible Solution
I have the chance to buy a gutted AS in the MD area. Mid 70s, close to 30í. It has been taken down to the frame inside. I donít know axle condition but otherwise it looks good. A shell-on renovation. Iím going to get more detail soon, with a close inspection/photos. Iíd rent a tow vehicle.

Iíd like to park it in my backyard here, renovate it into a tiny cabin and drive it north next year, where it would stay put. I would use it for 1-week stints (max 4 people) and possibly working remotely for a few weeks at a time.

Points in favor of an AS rebuilt as a static cabin
  • Better potential (vs a TT) to seal it up: No wood roof/skin. No need for a belly pan. Remove/cover hatches to reduce mouse access points (Iíd trade some aesthetics if riveting on some aluminum patches reduced infiltration at potential weak spots). Simple plumbing system reduces openings in the floor. No AC or heater needed, just roof vents.
  • Straightforward systems when everything can be plugged in to 110V (or converted to 12V DC if needed), propane and 50psi water. I donít need battery or solar power. Source standard items (except a propane range/oven) from big box stores, IKEA, etc. Modern, bright, minimal.
  • Only a black tank needed (pumped out by a local service for very little cost).
  • I donít need mobility. Rent a big tow vehicle once.
  • Resale. A quality ďcabinĒ could likely break even when Iím ready to build the house.

As a newbie, an AS seems like a better option than buying a mid-2000s travel trailer that wonít look as nice and will have problems, need immediate work, be just as vulnerable as my Royale (RIP), etc.

Lots of people build tiny houses (AS-based and otherwise). This isnít quite the same. Iím not on the move. Iíd only be full-timing a few weeks per year, and in 40-80 degree weather, with water/electric. I need it to withstand pests and weather when Iím not there for long stretches.

Is a simple, budget-conscious AS renovation a reasonable path to getting my little place in the woods?

Many thanks for reading and for your opinions.
DE
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Old 09-11-2017, 06:15 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elektrik View Post
Is a simple, budget-conscious AS renovation a reasonable path to getting my little place in the woods?
Hahahaha...... Until it isn't.

For the timeframe you looking at, and the actuality of using it in a reasonable amount of time, I would think spending the money, getting a working one now, inspect every square inch below waist height, and tape with aluminum flashing tape (mice can't chew thru) skirt it, for winter use.

You may enjoy it so much, you push your 10 year window out further and you'll have an easier time selling it when your finally ready to.
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Old 09-19-2017, 10:50 AM   #3
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We've been living full time 10 years in a 25' Airstream trailer, a 2005 we bought in 2006. On average, we move at six day intervals although a few times we've stayed months (like in Mesa AZ over a winter, pretty nice). We bought wooded land in the NC mountains three years ago.

We put in water, sewer, electric so we can stay there as long as we want without leaving to refill and dump. It provides us that get away spot like you've done, but we bring our Airstream with us each time. Our kids visit whether we're there or not and set up on the tent pad 75 yards up in the woods from the parking area. If we're not there they also can set up closer to the car and fire ring. Just easier.

After hanging out in our Airstream there a couple of times a year we're liking it so much it's not certain we need a house. Haven't had one in ten years, haven't missed taking care of a house, and enjoy life in the Airstream.

My vote is to take the project AS, fix it just how you want it. Fun project, lots of satisfaction in getting each part done. And you get to admire your work whenever you're there. Too, an Airstream is a pretty great shell.

Pretty tough to keep mice out if you're not there. A friend reports success in their unoccupied Airstream with a subsonic or ultrasonic mouse repellant, if you have power to drive it. And they use mouse traps in the Airstream they hang out in. Mice actively drove both decisions. We've never had mice intrude into our Airstream, we think. No sign anyhow.
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Old 09-19-2017, 01:00 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RandyNH View Post
Hahahaha...... Until it isn't.

For the timeframe you looking at, and the actuality of using it in a reasonable amount of time, I would think spending the money, getting a working one now, inspect every square inch below waist height, and tape with aluminum flashing tape (mice can't chew thru) skirt it, for winter use.

You may enjoy it so much, you push your 10 year window out further and you'll have an easier time selling it when your finally ready to.
Thanks, RandyNH.

Trouble is, for a budget-conscious effort, what is available near me is totally out of my range. I'd spend a bunch more to get something ugly and likely with a host of problems that I'd still need to address.

10 years is my max. I expect to need to build a house there within that time (moving from where I live now).

e
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Old 09-19-2017, 01:29 PM   #5
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Hi

I would toss in the cost of at least a gravel pad to park the AS on into the calculations. A couple truck loads of gravel and some quality time to compact it should not break the bank. As much as anything else, having a hard surface under the trailer will reduce issues with this and that.

After that, I'd consider a nice ground level deck on the "door" side of the trailer. That keeps crud from coming in and can to some degree "skirt" one side of the trailer. You have to be a little careful about construction. Skunks in particular are very interested in nesting in places like this .... don't ask how I know ....

Figure out roughly where things will go 10 years from now. You will need space for the septic field (and probably for it's replacement). Obviously you want to put the house somewhere. Having the AS where it will still fit into the layout with the house could indeed extend it's utility for a *long* time.

Trees are nice, ten hours north of MD is snow country, snow is pretty. Snow bringing down trees and branches onto your AS is not fun. Doing the clearing work is *much* easier before the AS gets there.

Snow and winter temps burn propane. You may or may not be able to run residential sized propane tanks. A lot depends on the local regs. I'd bet you can. That would give you a *lot* of heat for quite a while. Planning for access to get them delivered and picked up is yet another thing to put on the list.

If ten hours north includes crossing the boarder, be aware that bringing a trailer into Canada requires a minor amount of hassle. Dig into it before you begin your reno ...

Be aware that best condition matters a lot more in a reno than lowest price. Put another way, the price you pay for a "better condition" trailer likely is small compared to the money you save on the reno work. Starting with a $1,000 "disaster" is not thrifty once you are done, compared to a $4,000 trailer with far fewer issues.

All that said, go for it !!!!

Bob
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Old 09-19-2017, 06:02 PM   #6
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Germantown , Maryland
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DreamStreamr View Post
We've been living full time 10 years in a 25' Airstream trailer, a 2005 we bought in 2006. On average, we move at six day intervals although a few times we've stayed months (like in Mesa AZ over a winter, pretty nice). We bought wooded land in the NC mountains three years ago.

We put in water, sewer, electric so we can stay there as long as we want without leaving to refill and dump. It provides us that get away spot like you've done, but we bring our Airstream with us each time. Our kids visit whether we're there or not and set up on the tent pad 75 yards up in the woods from the parking area. If we're not there they also can set up closer to the car and fire ring. Just easier.

After hanging out in our Airstream there a couple of times a year we're liking it so much it's not certain we need a house. Haven't had one in ten years, haven't missed taking care of a house, and enjoy life in the Airstream.

My vote is to take the project AS, fix it just how you want it. Fun project, lots of satisfaction in getting each part done. And you get to admire your work whenever you're there. Too, an Airstream is a pretty great shell.

Pretty tough to keep mice out if you're not there. A friend reports success in their unoccupied Airstream with a subsonic or ultrasonic mouse repellant, if you have power to drive it. And they use mouse traps in the Airstream they hang out in. Mice actively drove both decisions. We've never had mice intrude into our Airstream, we think. No sign anyhow.
Thanks, Jim. I like your thinking. Water and sewer are tougher in my location, but not insurmountable challenges.

I don't think the full-timing life is in the cards for us, but I want a killer place to go when we can get away.

I'm leaning closer toward getting the shell.

I think it would be a great, fun project that would have some wow-factor.

My plan for the mice are to have a pest inspector check out the almost-finished build (before the interior walls/skins go up?) and advise me on strategy/problems. I'm thinking about riveting shut all the hatches to minimize access points (I'm not towing it around and packing/unpacking, so I don't need quick access to anything). No belly pan. Looking at bulkheads with flashing/escutcheons on each side of each penetration in the subfloor for plumbing, and wall plug-ins for things like the 30A cord and the LPG. Tighten the shell as much as possible, with add-on aluminum sheets, sealant, etc.

Then just put a bunch of bait traps and hope I nuke anything that may get in there...

e
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Old 09-19-2017, 06:19 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by uncle_bob View Post
I would toss in the cost of at least a gravel pad to park the AS on into the calculations. A couple truck loads of gravel and some quality time to compact it should not break the bank. As much as anything else, having a hard surface under the trailer will reduce issues with this and that.
Thanks, Bob. Good point. Actually, when I bought the land, it already had a driveway and a big clearing with a large gravel pad (2" crush - at least 2' thick in some places). That said, I may go up there in a few weeks to expand the width of the driveway for easier turning and trim back a few limbs. I'm also likely to expand the gravel to allow someone to drive in and turn around. When I rented a 24' Jayco this summer, it took a half hour of backing up to make it happen. Don't need that again.

Good point on a deck/skirt on the door side. I think my wife wants a pergola of some sort.

For placement, where I'm planning would have it adjacent to where I think I want the eventual house. Worst case, I'd push it straight backward about 15'. Then it's a guest house.

There's definitely snow up there. I haven't been up there in the winter, but I sure want to try. I'm interested in the Cubic Mini Wood Stove to keep things toasty, but that requires a 3" hole in the shell for the vent. Probably worth it, but it needs more research. I love the idea of a toasty fire in there, and to help dry it out in the spring/fall dampness, too. Just not a big fan of the propane heaters.


Quote:
Originally Posted by uncle_bob View Post
All that said, go for it !!!!
It looks like I'm going to get to inspect the trailer soon. I don't have any other realistic options for sale near me now, but if it is as good as it looked the first time I saw it, I think this is going to get started.

I should probably see if there are volunteer inspectors in the area who have actually looked at these details before...

e
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Old 09-19-2017, 06:31 PM   #8
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I'd look for a 1978-1990 Avion, instead. Better built.

Will cost less upfront and along the way. Better insulated, too.

Interior removeable storm windows were factory optional. Best to build ones own.

Humidity control is the cold weather problem.

There are threads here and on RV.net about rodent control.
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Old 09-19-2017, 09:04 PM   #9
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I'm not sure how much snow you are talking about, but I've seen posts on this site documenting the damage a significant snow load can have to an airstream. If the trailer is left unattended over winter, this might be a concern worth considering.
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Old 09-21-2017, 06:54 AM   #10
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Keep in mind that 70`s model Airstream's have rather small black tanks. Mine is like 15 gallons. My family of 4 can fill the black tank in three days, and that's with my son and I doing all of our number ones against a tree. A blue boy of acceptable size would fix the problem, but is another expense you will probably need to consider.
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Old 09-21-2017, 08:57 AM   #11
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Thanks, @Atomic_13 and @1973Argosy.

For snow, I think I'll be ok. My pop-up and cheap shed have been fine over the last 3 years. My bigger concern is water penetration when the snow melts. I'd remove any A/C unit and replace it with a vent/fan. But sealing rivets, around windows and at seams will be really important to me.

Totally hear you on the black tank issue. I expect to need a new, larger one. Not sure how big exactly, but I'll try and get the biggest I can to fit in whatever space the frame lets me. The local sanitation company also rents big (200+ gallon?) holding tanks for ~60/month (including a monthly pump-out), so another alternative is to get one of those for the summer as an extended blue boy. I will need some kind of grey tank for flushing the line. But otherwise, I'd probably run my grey water out to the land, with a setup like this: http://www.tincancabin.com/2012/09/greywater-drywell/

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Old 09-22-2017, 07:25 AM   #12
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A 200 gallon holding tank should be almost enough for both your black and gray water for a month. That assumes your water use is similar to most people's. The bigger issue will be the pumping system to get the water into it. Unless you have a very unusual site, gravity feed is not likely to work. This is one of several reasons people burry tanks. I'd bet that as soon as it goes into the ground, a tank needs permits .... right back to cost and hassle land.

It doesn't take a lot of roof to protect the top of an AS. Your local picnic shelter is likely bigger and more complex than what you would need. Since it's *not* a dwelling, the permit process might not be as crazy. Generally there is a "square foot" limit you have to stay under to keep it simple permit wise.

Bob
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Old 09-22-2017, 10:38 PM   #13
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I'd look for a 1978-1990 Avion, instead. Better built.

Will cost less upfront and along the way. Better insulated, too.
Thanks, @slowmover. Until you mentioned it, I had never heard of Avion, but I will continue to explore.

What about their build quality (at least for this application) do you like over Airstream?

Thanks,
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Old 09-22-2017, 10:55 PM   #14
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Hi

A 200 gallon holding tank should be almost enough for both your black and gray water for a month. That assumes your water use is similar to most people's. The bigger issue will be the pumping system to get the water into it. Unless you have a very unusual site, gravity feed is not likely to work. This is one of several reasons people burry tanks. I'd bet that as soon as it goes into the ground, a tank needs permits .... right back to cost and hassle land.

It doesn't take a lot of roof to protect the top of an AS. Your local picnic shelter is likely bigger and more complex than what you would need. Since it's *not* a dwelling, the permit process might not be as crazy. Generally there is a "square foot" limit you have to stay under to keep it simple permit wise.

Bob
Thanks, Bob

I already have a 330 gallon IBC tote and pump in my shed, and it works really well at getting me 40 psi at the inlet. Water delivery is cheap and our use rate lets us get a lot of time out of a single fill.

Youíre right that burying means permits and huge costs. Renting a waste tank is simple but Iím still tempted to divert grey water outside. I have a little slope away from my gravel parking area, so a 25í accordion hose makes it good as gone for now. Hiding an informal grey drywell may not be worth the effort.

A carport-type setup for coverage is also supposed to require permits, and I may be able to sneak that by my neighbors without ruffling feathers, but I wouldnít count on it. One of them made a ďturniní this area into a trailer park!Ē type of comment to me recently and I just laughed. Heís only seen my pop-up and I havenít even mentioned the Airstream!

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