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micaso 02-13-2016 12:20 PM

New electrical from scratch
Hi Folks,
I'm starting completely from scratch with my electrical systems. I bought my 62 Tradewind out of a field last summer and have been doing everything (shell-on). The interior skins are out, as is about 1/2 the subfloor.

I'm fearful that my best laid plans will miss a line that would have been obvious if there had been anything to copy. It was gutted and rotting when I found it. Even the electrical lines in the walls were so corroded that, in places, it was hard to tell one wire from another.

So, my questions to you all are:
  • What are the easy things to miss or forget?
  • What mistakes have you made that I could avoid?
  • Could anyone point me to a thread of someone who has detailed the same from-scratch electrical work?


P.S. I'm no electrician, but I grew up in a family of them. I rewired/replaced many home AC circuits as a child under my father's instructions. As an adult, I've rewired most of my home to remove knob-and-tube, add-on, etc, and successfully passed professional inspections. So I'm confident enough in safety and knowledge, at least with AC lines. I'm a little less confident with DC, from the perspective of experience, but I feel like I understand the concepts.

Jim & Susan 02-13-2016 05:47 PM

Use Google to search for some of this info on this website instaed of the built in search feature here.

Include Airforums in the search terms on Google and some common terms like rewire, or complete rewire. You get the idea.

Things that some folks miss? Hummm. Use quality connectors on the DC side of the house where needed. Common wisdom here on the forums is to use solder connections everywhere you can. Heat shrink also.

Make extra runs inside the walls and label them. What I mean is, even if you think you don't need them now, you may in the future. Both AC and DC. You can run them and leave them disconnected for future use.

I added only one new AC run. It was for or the microwave, and since it was high amperage, gave it it's own circuit breaker in the panel. Changed all of the circuit breakers out for new ones. Wish I had run one more to the front of the camper, after I got the walls back in, of course.

Upgrading to 50 amp now seems like a good idea. Not sure if we'll ever need though. Wish I had thought of that back then.

Good luck with it! Start a thread about your restoration, start to finish. We vintage people love to read those and tell you where you went wrong. :brows:

Just kidding, of course.


micaso 02-13-2016 11:33 PM

Thank you for the tip to use Google and not the built-in search. Wow! I found so much more information just adding "airforums" to a Google search. I think I've found several weeks worth of helpful reading. The built-in search was causing me a bit of despair.

I will definitely add unused lines. I'm thinking of trying to include an empty conduit, in addition to unused lines, not knowing every kind of line I'll need in the future.

I've been debating between 50amp or 30amp service. Is 50 amp typically available in campgrounds, or are most 50amp trailers using a jumper to 30 amps anyway?

Also, if I had a 50 amp box in my trailer and used a jumper down to 30, wouldn't I constantly run the risk of melting the jumper?

I've written a blog about my efforts so far: I'm mostly proud of the work to this point, though, it has not been totally without blunders.

Zil 02-14-2016 09:36 AM

It is not common knowledge to use solder connections. Solder connections and vibration do not work well together. Use marine type wire, and get a quality tool and crimp the connections. Then sit back and see how the controversy develops here.

Nuvite-F 02-14-2016 10:28 AM


Here are a few thoughts that come to mind. Remember that free advice is worth what you pay for it! :)

Do use stranded wire, and if you can afford marine cable for your 120 Volt circuits, go for it. For what it's worth, both our 1960 Pacer and our 1980 Caravelle are wired with plain old solid Romex and we have never had any trouble with the wiring in either.

Do use grommets or bushings every place a wire or cable goes through a hole in the aluminum. I keep a stock of Heyco snap bushings on hand and have found them very satisfactory.

I second the motion to use crimp connections. I personally prefer uninsulated crimp connectors--they crimp better--and then insulate with shrink sleeving and/or good old electrical tape. But here again, for what it's worth--both of our Airstreams came from the factory with wire-nutted connections and we have never had any problem with them.

Plan what you want in the trailer. A microwave is a nice amenity that you may want to add a circuit for. Our 1980 Caravelle only has three branch circuits, the air conditioner, refrigerator/microwave, and everything else. Works fine for us.

Don't use a GFCI breaker for the main breaker. Resistance heating elements (refrigerator, water heater, etc.) and the RFI filters in modern DC converters can cause nuisance trips. Use a GFCI breaker on the branch circuit(s) that go to outlets.

Personally, I wouldn't bother with a 50 Amp electrical connection. The big trailers and motor homes use 240 V / 50A service because they have two air conditioners. 120 V / 30 A should be plenty for your vintage trailer.

mpsgolf 02-14-2016 10:51 AM

Sorry if this is a "duh" post.....

The Airstream manuals have wiring diagrams for both 12v and 120v. Being an engineer and natural planner, developing a schematic of what you want seems like a necessity and these seem like a good place to start.

micaso 02-14-2016 12:24 PM

Thank you for the recommendation for crimp connections. In the last day, in all the reading I'm doing now that I learned how to search, it seems like good advice. Since I'm doing the whole thing, I'll do it right with crimp connections. I'll need to play with the heatshink or tape to see what makes more sense as I go.

I definitely plan to draw up a wiring diagram of my own. I've looked at diagrams for similar years/models to mine (though I have yet to find one for a 62 tradewind). It is a very good place to start, thanks for the idea. My concern is that I'm not sure how much help the old diagram is with modern water pumps or furnace requirements, etc. I'm not at all sure they need the same power as the old diagram says.

My daughter's school says that one of the habits of happy students to to "begin with the end in mind". It's harder than it sounds!

Nuvite-F 02-14-2016 01:05 PM


Originally Posted by micaso (Post 1749396)
I definitely plan to draw up a wiring diagram of my own. I've looked at diagrams for similar years/models to mine (though I have yet to find one for a 62 tradewind).

I don't think that Airstream provided such information that far back. Our 1960 Pacer came with a lot of loose sheets covering the refrigerator, gas heater (neither of which used electricity) and a few other accessories. No owners manual or service manual.

SuzyHomemakr 02-14-2016 01:22 PM

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I would suggest running a separate 110V utility circuit that completely bypasses the inverter. My Xantrex inverter will only pass so much shore power through it before it has a fit. I use a different color of plug to differentiate the two circuits. Also if your inverter goes down, you still have shore power available. Then you can run the ceramic heater, espresso machine, and blow-dry your hair all at the same time!

I like the Blue Sea Systems panels for the 110V. More expensive, but very tidy. I moved all of the panels up to an overhead in the kitchen. The entire panel swings down for access. So you probably shouldn't forget all of the A/V stuff, including antennas, speaker wires, video, etc.

I agree about the 50A, but if you're thinking about visiting the South, 50A sure doesn't hurt! If you run everything for 50A, you can always put a 50-to-30 converter on the end. Down here in Florida, most big parks have both 30 and 50. You could always add a portable A/C if you were too warm...

You should run your shore power through a good quality dip/surge protector before it goes anywhere else. I like staying in the more primitive campgrounds, and they can have sketchy power. You don't want to burn out something expensive because it's only getting 90V!

Personally, I find beauty in what my marine engineer friend would call a "sano install". So opening a locker to see some beautifully routed wiring to well-founded components that can easily be troubleshot or swapped out really melts my butter!

garry 02-14-2016 01:58 PM

If you install an inverter instead of a converter in needs to be as close to the battery as possible also use the recommended 12v wire gauge size to the battery an inverter draws a lot of amps. The converter should be close to the 12V fuse panel.

streaming24 02-14-2016 04:10 PM

Hey Micaso
We've got to stay in touch. Before I checked in with air for rooms today I was scheduling and planning the electrical redo of my 1960 24' Tradewind. Check out streaming 24 on the registry.
You've already been receiving so many good ideas from others I hope they keep coming there all helpful.
I'll do the Google/air forums search also .
I also wish it was as easy as downloading the schematics. Too bad airstream didn't think about this in the 60s.
I liked Susie homemaker's suggestion for the additional 110 V circuit bypassing the inverter. I also agree with the Sano install. I think I'll have a plexiglass cover on my panel and call it artwork.
With it being in the single and low double digits here in Ohio and I'm sure not too different in Montana maybe Susie homemaker will invite us to Florida to check out his rig.
I am planning for solar panels in burger capability for AC in the future so the idea of additional circuits and the 50 to 30 amp converter makes sense.
Mostly 12 V LED lighting. I plan to take advantage of wireless for audio computer monitor Apple TV etc. I don't plan for a microwave.
I would like to go with an on-demand water heater but I have to understand the electrical demands here.
I've got an old the medic am 50 reefer but I don't know if I can revive have to plan something here .
I'll use a propane space heater I think will be manually started.
Being in the planning stage I'm also looking at location of the panels batteries electronics roof access and the correct size and length of major cables. Stranded wire grommets crimp converters all good. Might as well do it right.

sailorii 02-14-2016 04:11 PM

Think Marine
I was a recreational sailor for many years in an older boat and there are lots of books and other resources on DC electrical that are completely transferable to Airstreaming. The boating environment is probably more hard on electrical than trailers. Another poster mentioned buying marine wire, etc. Significantly more expensive because the copper is tinned; but, you get what you pay for. After a few repairs on a couple of new trailers, I can't prove it; but, I think the insulation is even more robust.

Good luck with your undertaking.

streaming24 02-14-2016 04:20 PM

I guess the microphone doesn't pick up everything properly. In burger equals inverter. The old medic am 50 equals domestic M 50. I will speak more clearly next time

dbj216 02-14-2016 05:25 PM

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Hi micaso, welcome to Air Forums and the vintage Airstream hobby. It sounds like you have a "full monty" renovation going on. I like the size of the 24 foot Trade Wind. You can make a very comfortable traveler out of it. I have a 66 Trade Wind which I enjoy very much. And it needs work.

Airstream rather "invented" the "univolt" system on or about the year your trailer was built. The idea was to make everything run on 12 volts so you can boondock with all the comforts of "home." So the water pump, furnace blower, roof vents, fridge controls, water heater control, lighting were all 12v. 115v AC was used to power the converter to charge the batteries, and power a few outlets around the trailer. Airstream ran a spare romax to the roof for future AC.

That said, your wiring schematic will have more lines on it for 12 volt stuff than 115 volt. My trailer uses different colored romex for the two voltages, one 12v and one for 115 AC. And don't forget the exterior light 12v circuits from the 7 pin connector in the front of the trailer. Let's see; 12 charge, brakes, tail and running lights, brake lights, left turn, right turn, and backup lights (if fitted)

Inverters from 12 v batteries to 115 AC sucks down the batteries pretty rapidly. The hi-tech guys install them, but I'd have to have a compelling reason. When I'm traveling, I'm outdoors, not microwaving popcorn and watching baseball on TV in air conditioned comfort. A 2000 watt generator is an easier solution seems to me. Solar power to charge batteries makes sense to me also.

I think 30 amp service is just fine for a trailer our size. You will have to toggle either / or between 1800 watt air conditioning or 1000 watt microwave. And watch the usage on the 1500 watt electrical space heater.

I used Furion 30 amp connection for 115v shore power. I used a 8 position breaker box as that was the smallest my big box store had, but it is a bit too large. I have just three AC circuits, and three 12v DC circuits in my trailer. The 12v DC fuse panel I purchased is too small for the 10 gauge DC wire, but I managed to stuff everything in.

Make a good ground connection to your frame, one for AC and one for DC.

Again welcome, good luck with your Trade Wind project. And be advised I know very little about electrical stuff. Here is the wiring diagrams for my trailer, as well as a couple photos of my project. I hope I helped you a little bit.


micaso 02-14-2016 07:10 PM

Thanks for all the advice! I like all these ideas. I think I'm going to plan for an inverter someday (like solar) but not add it right away. I definitely want all the creature comforts if we are staying at Joe's RV by the side of the interstate, but when we're boondocking (I learned the term) I think we'll be outside. But this is exactly why I'm on the forums! I want to plan for future options. Maybe I'll find out that an inverter is valuable to me, so I want to plan well.

I spent a while today researching costs. 50 amp service will end up costing me around $700 and 30 amp service will cost around $400. That's a sizable chunk, but not so big that it's outrageous. Neither of those dollar figures includes the wire for the runs out of the panel; its just the AC&DC panels, a 60amp converter, and an appropriate inlet and cordset. If I don't spend the extra $300 bucks and go with 50 amp, I wonder if in 10 years I'll wish I had done it the first time. I'm doing all my own installation, too, so that saves me labor costs. (I will hire an electrician for professional inspection, though. I'm not totally foolish.)

SuzyHomemakr 02-15-2016 07:43 AM

These other fine posters reminded me of a couple other things...

Install at least one outdoor plug in the middle of the awning area. Putting up a stand-up fan can really make the difference on a hot summer day. We also like to bring the flat screen outside at night and watch movies by the camp fire when we host a big camping trip.

Also by the door is a "transom shower", great for a refreshing cold shower, or rinsing off muddy feet/paws. But that's plumbing, another thread!

IMHO, installing a converter and charger would be like putting an 8-track tape in for your entertainment! A good inverter/charger does it all, plus a lot more. But that's me...

You'll find as many camping styles as there are posters here. Because I mostly do long weekends, I want as little disruption to my routine as possible. Heavy dependence on shore power/city water does not make for good boondocking.

So go camping in that Airstream as soon as you can, done or not! Set up camping gear in there (it's still better than any tent), and get you and your crew used to the space. It's great fun to sit around and dream about how fine your rig will be, and how those Class-A guys will gnash their teeth at the coolness that they can never attain! A word of warning: these "design sessions" can dramatically deplete the beverage locker, be sure to lay in an ample supply :D

Of course all 'Streamers are welcome to come camp down here in Paradise! We are organizers for the Florida Paddlers and Trekkers Meetup Group, and the Airstream is Party Central at the campgrounds we go to! Check our calendar for the trips we're taking throughout the state, maybe hook up somewhere?

Stanley29 03-21-2016 07:39 PM

I like your style

Stargirl 01-11-2020 01:39 AM

Electrical plans
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Hi all -

I would love to solicit your feedback on my (preliminary) electrical plans...I have no experience and am planning on having a professional do the install. This is all from scratch 0- the trailer is currently gutted. I want to have a really clear layout in my mind of what is using which kind of energy and where outlets, light switches, etc. will be.

Some more specific questions:

Should all the insulation (planning on one reflective barrier and a stiff foam) be installed before any of the wiring? What is the best way for me to "prep" the trailer for electrical work?

Has anyone out there attempted a "smart" Airstream (ie wifi enabled lights and outlets to better and more conveniently track energy usage and be able to turn lights on/off with voice command)?

More generally - what monitoring devices/setups do you recommend for tracking water tank levels, energy draw, etc.?

I go back and forth incessantly with the number of lights an Airstream needs. The beautifully remodeled ones have lights all over the place. Is that necessary? Does it just depend on the bulb/light? It seems people trend towards very small recessed puck lights.

Does anyone have experience with the 12V LED rope lights? I like the look of them but I'm wondering if they give off enough light and how reliable they are.

I'm sure I'll think of more questions. Thanks so much for your help!

Foiled Again 01-11-2020 04:17 AM

Two small suggestions.

Use LED pucks. Lots of light for little electricity and they don't put out a lot of heat. Rope lights - fine for lighting kitchen counters but pucks are good. Recommend you check out the difference between white and warmer yellow ones before committing.

I hate most "bleeding edge" tech but YMMD. TWO things I really would like to change about my 25 FB are the two hall pucks share a switch with the living room's 4 ceiling lights. Makes it inconvenient for one person to sleep when others are using the living room. The other is that the closet lights should turn on and off automatically as the doors are opened and closed. Not irritated enough to wire up micro-switches, but think they would have been less expensive than the wall switches.

DavidsonOverlander 01-11-2020 10:48 AM


Originally Posted by Stargirl (Post 2322607)
Hi all -

Should all the insulation (planning on one reflective barrier and a stiff foam) be installed before any of the wiring? What is the best way for me to "prep" the trailer for electrical work?

In our Sovereign I put the insulation in first (1" polyisocyanurate). Make sure the wiring is protected where it goes through ribs to avoid chafing in the wire insulation which can cause short circuits.

I found that I could run most of the wiring on the inside of the interior panels and it was hidden by furniture. It depends on your interior design, but in our trailer there was virtually no point where the walls of the trailer are not covered by beds, cabinets, appliances, etc. That way if I have to make a change I don't have to go digging through walls to find the wires. When we had a short circuit that cut our turn signals in the middle of a long day of travel, having access to the wire on the inside of the trailer made it much easier to isolate the problem and fix it. The problem was due to a screw penetrating a wire at a point where it had to be inside the wall.

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