Thinking about the renovation

We have roughly two weeks between the end of one trip (coming back from Vermont) and the beginning of another (going to Colorado).  It’s unusual for us to stop off at home base for a short time like this, but it has been an unusual travel year for us in general.

The two weeks were earmarked for various practicalities, like appointments, the final work on the Fall 2012 issue of Airstream Life, and Alumafandango.  Beyond that, I had hoped to have some free time to get started on our Airstream renovation, but very little has been done—I’ve just been too busy.  We have samples of Marmoleum in hand, and some definite ideas about upholstery and curtains, but so far haven’t managed to actually get out to the various suppliers and finalize the choices.

Eleanor did remove some of the curtains to see if we could get them clean.  Her plan is to re-cover the existing curtains rather than creating new ones from scratch. She did this on Emma’s back window a few years ago and the result was great: a completely “new” looking curtain without all the labor.  With the additional fabric overlaying the old, she was able to make the overall curtain a little wider so that it wouldn’t need to be pulled quite as tightly to close, and add all new hook & loop fastener for better closing.  Plus, the light-blocking ability of the curtain was greatly improved, which is a nice feature in the bedroom.

Our dinette curtain looks horrible right now. It bears the indelible stains and other marks that testify to the presence of a small child eating spaghetti a few inches away.  Emma began living in that trailer when she was a mere five years old, and now she’s 12 and I think at this point she deserves a clean start rather than forever eating next to the minor errors of her youth.  And we wouldn’t mind nicer curtains either.

Washing was ineffective.  The stains are permanent.  It doesn’t matter since they are going to be re-covered anyway.  We’ve chosen darker fabrics than the dingy off-white original material, which will cover the underlying history and match the other fabrics and materials that will be installed later.  For the upcoming trip to Colorado she is going to install a temporary solution of ribbon strips and new hook&loop so that we can close them better, and in September they’ll come off again for the permanent fix.

Tomorrow we will drop in on an upholstery place, or two, and try to get some samples of fabrics for the dinette.  We need to find a good shop to fabricate the new countertops as well.  That would be easy if I were willing to install typical household-style counters, but I want these to be the same thinness as the factory ones to keep the weight down and avoid hassles when re-fitting them.  Also, we’re going to install a larger, deeper sink, and cut a hole for a NuTone Food Center, enlarge the splashguard, and add in a good quality cutting board, so I’ll be looking for a company that we can work with on the details.

Much of the shopping has been online.  In particular, I’ve been researching inverters because a major goal of the renovation is to improve our power situation. Right now we have a great solar power system, but it can’t power appliances like the TV, microwave, NuTone, laptop computers, toaster, and coffee maker.  These are all things we would like to be able to use when off the grid.  A 2000-watt pure-sine inverter will take care of that problem handily.  The LCD TV consumes only about 110 watts, and the laptops are only about 85 watts each, so the electronic devices are easy to run.  The NuTone is rated for 625 watts, the toaster and coffee maker are both less than 1000 watts, and the microwave is an unknown (since we are getting a new one) but I expect it to come in at about 1100 watts. We’ll have to be careful not to make toast and coffee at the same time but otherwise it should work fine.

A big decision was to wire the inverter to the whole trailer with an automatic transfer switch so that every outlet will be powered when we are running on batteries.  This does require us to remember to set the air conditioner off, but that’s no problem.  (With a starting load over well over 2,500 watts, it would trip the inverter.)  Wiring the whole trailer simplifies the connection of the inverter.  It will sit in a front compartment near the battery so that the DC wire runs are short, and a long AC wire will run to the main breaker box and transfer switch, through the belly pan.

To keep the budget down, I’ve been collecting some items as we travel.  I found the NuTone Food Center at Alumapalooza, being sold by David Winick. We already had a big box of NuTone accessories from our days in the Argosy 24 “Vintage Thunder”.  We were parked next to a service customer of Paul Mayeux’s last October and bought their used Intellipower 65 amp converter/charger cheap (they were upgrading to a big solar charger).   I’m still scouting for someone with some Safari interior cabinetry so I can scavenge that, too.

You can see that nothing is going to happen quickly here.  The first real disassembly won’t start until sometime in September.  That’s OK.  The project is going to be expensive. I want to think everything through carefully.  We won’t be doing this again for several years at least, perhaps a decade.  So it’s not just a matter of picking out curtain fabric, it requires envisioning what we’ll be doing with this trailer in the next decade, and the challenges it will face in our future expeditions.

I also want to see if we can find ways to actually reduce the weight.  Usually in renovations trailers tend to get heavier, as owners add more equipment and household-grade furniture.  I can tell a difference of 500 pounds when towing up an 8% grade, by the way the Mercedes’ engine bogs down.  When we are lightly loaded it’s a much easier tow.  So it would be nice to trim even as little 100 pounds in the cabinetry, and as we take it all apart I expect we’ll find a few places where weight can be cut out.

After tomorrow I doubt we’ll have time to work on the renovation much.  But I will be making notes as we take this next trip, to try to discover the little things that could be done to make our Airstream more usable and efficient.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine