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Old 09-16-2010, 03:21 PM   #1
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Chicago , Illinois
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Permanent installation

First off I'd like to say how much I've enjoyed lurking here the past few weeks; you all are a great community with so much information to share and I have yet to run out of content to read!

My girlfriend of six years and I live downtown and after several hints (okay, outright requests) I've decided that it's time for us to get a weekend place out in the country. She wants a garden and hobby farm, I want a place to run the dogs, maybe some sheep. I've found the perfect semi-rural 20-acre plot in western Michigan (just on the other side of the lake) and want to get an Airstream trailer to permanently install on the land so we don't have to a) buy/build a house, and b) deal with a permanent second residence if we ever decide to move from our primary home base.

I wanted to get everyone's input on the possibility of using an Airstream as a 4-season weekend home by adding a fully-functional shed adjacent to the AS to house the following elements:
1) Furnace/aircon
2) Hot water heater
3) Emergency generator
4) Fridge/freezer
5) Nonperishable food storage/tools/etc.
6) Fusebox/main circuits

Additionally, the trailer will be added to the grid by running electric from the street, using well water and septic system, plus a permanent 250lb residential LP storage tank. Do you all think this is a worthwhile plan or am I kidding myself into thinking this is plausible? From my searches here, I don’t think there will be a ton of modifications necessary save the running of heat ducting from the shed into the trailer (terminating in the bathroom, bedroom, and living area), and completely bypassing the wastewater management systems on-board.
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Old 09-16-2010, 03:35 PM   #2
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A lot of people think Airstreams are made for travel only, but I like being inside one just because I do, so I can see having one for a weekend getaway. Your plans sound well thought out. The only thing I would add is that your Airstream will stay nice longer and you won't have to worry about water leaks if you build a garage or carport to keep it under. This will also go a long way towards resale value later.

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Old 09-16-2010, 03:54 PM   #3
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I would suggest a workshop large enough to park the AS in and room to work. Heat it, light it and leave it "unfinished" inside. Park your AS inside the shop during winter and enjoy the amenities it offers. When the weather is warm enough, pull it outside to sleep with the windows open and enjoy the fresh air. The shop would also serve as a place to store and secure the tools and toys you leave at the farm.
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Old 09-16-2010, 04:09 PM   #4
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If you suggest a proposed budget I could put up some idea drawings for you that might catch your interest. Also, what size of Airstream are you considering?
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Old 09-16-2010, 05:10 PM   #5
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Three season, perhaps. Four season, no, not really. An AVION from the 1980's would be a better choice as to insulation and lack of age-related problems, but any travel trailer is compromised by the lack of mass with which nearly any building -- even of the same square footage -- performs better. Look into the idea, around here, of RV "garages" where the trailer is under a common roof with a large screened porch, etc. (Utilities mean everything, house or trailer).
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Old 09-16-2010, 05:44 PM   #6
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When you consider the square footage in a travel trailer, and the cost of all the upgrades you are considering, it may cost as much as a cabin of comparable size.

With a cabin, 4 seasons could be very realistic. If you leave a trailer out all winter, you will either have to winterize it (drain all plumbing etc) or keep it heated all winter. Even a well insulated TT will not compare to a small cabin for heating costs. The Airstream is definitely not a well insulated trailer. It would be feasible to leave the heat on at a very low temperature in a cabin all winter.

So, make sure you check the cost of a small cabin before you make a decision on what to do.


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Old 09-16-2010, 05:44 PM   #7
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It can be done, but as pointed out Airstreams are marginal in the winter, again it could be done. I like jdalrymple's suggest of a shop with the AS inside. I have a 1981 that will never see the road again. But it is slated for guest cottage duty on our acreage in NC. We don't have the cold weather that MI has, but we do need AC in the summers. I have a small split unit heat pump that I plan to install when we set it up permanently.

FWIW I too believe that Airstreams are meant to be kept on the move, but if you have a longer unit and it is getting on in years there is nothing wrong with a permanent set up. At least it is still being used and cared for.

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Old 09-16-2010, 06:26 PM   #8
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When you buy an Airstream you pay extra for features that make it better on the road, worse on the camp site.

For example the streamline shape makes it easy to pull but reduces interior room especially cupboard space. The special axles cost extra but make it hold the road better and ride better etc, etc.

All this is wasted when the trailer is not moving.

For your use you will get far more for your money in a standard box type trailer. In fact for the price of a new Airstream you can buy a new mobile home that will be about 10 times better for your use. For the price of a medium size, 20 year old Airstream you can buy a brand new box style trailer.
Living in the trailer park of sense, looking out the window at a tornado of stupidity.
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Old 09-16-2010, 06:58 PM   #9
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I'd buy a used park model. Those are designed to sit on a lot. They'll have a bigger water heater, a small house type furnace, no tanks to screw with, and more cubic feet. Airstream trailers are travel trailers, not park models. The trade-offs required to make an Airstream are those that make it light and self sufficient. Neither of those are required for a park model.

Airstreams are expensive, the parts are expensive, and some parts like a door entry lock are hard to get.

Click on the link to see a picture of the Sioux River falls near my home.
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Old 09-16-2010, 06:58 PM   #10
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I use my trailer how you describe you would like to, but I have the distinct advantage that I am faaaarrrrr South as compared to you and we don't get hard freezes here. All I had to do was build a cover that gave me shade so the A/C could keep up. Now the shade also works as a water collection so I don't have to haul water every time. (we have electricity, but not running water).

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Old 09-17-2010, 08:01 AM   #11
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Thank you to everyone for your input thus far; looks like there are a number of schools of thought on the viability and morality of keeping an AS parked! I just love the aesthetics, history, and American exploration spirit of the Airstream trailers, so that's why I am exploring this possibility rather than a box trailer. Definitely considering a minimum 24' all the way to 34' as having a proper TV is not an issue, and would prefer to go vintage.

I've done my fair share of winter survivalist (no tent) camping, so I'm less concerned about the "livability score" of an AS in the winter, except maybe the cost to run the furnace at a minimum temp during the times we're not there. I was thinking that we could construct a wood frame, angled-roof lean-to over the AS with sides we could add or remove as the seasons and prevailing winds changed, which would also provide full-coverage shelter for the trailer while we're not there on winter weekdays.

I was thinking the cabin route, but unless I buy one pre-fab I think we'd be roughing it a bit too hard for the first 6 months while we build it. Plus it wouldn't look nearly as cool!
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Old 09-17-2010, 08:21 AM   #12
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Old 09-17-2010, 08:38 AM   #13
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bad idea,

common idea but bad nonetheless.

especially so in the weather harsh upper middle america.

need a winter story of joy n woe...

go out to the driveway and chalk out a 7.5 feet by 25 feet oval

now draw in the basic interior furnishings

to get the USEFUL open floor space...about 3 ft x 15-18 ft.

imagine living in this tiny isle, imagine several people and pets.

now imagine plastic roof vents that leak heat, cold, water when NOT broken...

and windows that are tiny, wet, iced over on the INSIDE

and an entry door that is little more than a shower curtain.

now add in modern conveniences like a tiny fridge

or noisy furnace that SUCKS lpg just to keep above 60...

don't forget plastic drain pipes,

odor leaking tanks that must be drained daily and questionably wired 12v lights.

take a drive through a full timers RV park

and look at the many creative uses for duct take, corrugated sheeting and sheds.

at least RV parks are set up to handle water/sewage issues and maybe electricity.

travel trailers are expensive and poorly suited for 'parking'...

streams are especially poor for this use in harsh climates.

get a park model or prefab/kit loggish cabin or a quonset hut.

forget about the 'cool factor' the exterior might have....

because that very same cool looking exterior

means the PARKED stream may grow legs and disappear...

not many thieves tow away a real park model or quonset hut.

No. 1278: Quonset Huts

Steel Quonset Huts, Quonset Buildings | SteelMaster Buildings

or buy an old double wide or a fema trailer, then wrap it in tin foil...

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 09-17-2010, 08:49 AM   #14
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I agree, get a park model to live in ( there are some very nice ones) and a small Airstream (older) for travel'
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Old 09-17-2010, 09:00 AM   #15
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Build a little cottage with low side walls, a steep roof, sleeping loft, and lots of charm. Your weekends will be spent comfortably doing the things you love, and not repairing everything that broke or froze in a travel trailer. And it will cost no more.
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Old 09-17-2010, 09:21 AM   #16
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Check the zoning . . .

for the county or township in which your dream lot is located before purchasing it. Many times zoning laws prohibit trailers permanently parked on lots, so you may need to build a building in which to store the trailer to comply with zoning laws. Rural counties that today encourage owners to permanently park travel trailers or mobile homes in the open are becoming harder to find. Do your homework to avoid unpleasant surprises.
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Old 09-17-2010, 09:44 AM   #17
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Most general contractors would be able to build you a reasonable cabin for about the cost of what you're proposing, without the compromises. When I was general contracting, before I broke my leg, I would have killed for a nice project like that - either a cabin OR a shelter for your A/S.
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