Airstream floors

Since this is our “off season” for Airstream travel, we’re getting on to maintenance projects in the Airstreams. The 1968 Caravel has taken precedence, by virtue of springing a leak.

A few years ago we replaced the subfloor in the Caravel and put a Marmoleum floor atop it, which I figured would last a long time.  Marmoleum is great stuff, although hard to install in a trailer.  Stored under cover, in the desert, it seemed unlikely that the floor would be water-damaged, but that’s what happened, right here in our carport.  The original plastic water tank began seeping water at a brass fitting (a fitting which has no purpose that I could glean).  The seepage was so minor that it was unnoticeable until it had leaked for a few weeks.  I went into the Caravel for a quick inspection and stepped into a puddle of water right at the entry door.

By then the wood subfloor was saturated with water, which caused the floor adhesive to fail, and allowed the Marmoleum to lift off and warp.  Most annoyingly, the water puddled entirely at the entry door where the damage would be most visible.

We had quickly disassemble the dinette, and lift the Marmoleum an inch at the edge in order to dry out the subfloor.  Even in our dry season, with outdoor humidity running about 15-20% during the day, it took over two weeks to fully dry out the wood.  In the meantime I consulted Colin Hyde and he warned me not to try to fix the water tank, as it was likely to fail again due to age.  I didn’t need much convincing. The old tank was riddled with various plugged holes for tank monitors (unused), drains, and who-knows-what. In the photo you can see the the old brass fitting that was the cause of our problem.  The white crusty stuff around the edges is probably dried minerals, and you can also see a split forming in the tank itself (barely visible at the 5 o’clock position).

So I bought a new tank from Vintage Trailer Supply with custom inlet and drain threads “spin welded” in place exactly where I wanted them.  The new tank is a little larger than the original, with a 28 gallon capacity, but it fit into the same space with just a little modification to the wood dinette that surrounds it.  I had to trim one edge of the lower storage compartment’s face frame, and fabricate a new wood piece to hold the tank in place.

Once installed, the new tank will be much easier to service because it can be positioned to avoid the outside water fill tube, and thus plumbing access will be straightforward.   The other one partially blocked the water fill tube, so it was a real pain to connect.  I’ve had to take that connection apart three or four times in the past because the water fill kept leaking, so I’m glad to see it go.  The new tank will have much cleaner connections that are under less stress, and the tank itself is less likely to leak since it has only two openings (fill and drain) and I’m using all new plumbing.  The threads will get Teflon tape, too.

I’m not so sure about the Marmoleum.  It got pretty warped in the drying process, and a tear formed at one point.  We have attempted to re-attach it to the floor using tan silicon caulk.  To flatten it, we’ve stacked a few hundred pounds of leftover slate tiles and flagstone, with a base layer of corrugated cardboard.  I’ll let it sit that way for a few days while the fall desert heat bakes it, and then see if we’ve had any luck.  If not, we’ll have to scab in a patch.

We can’t do much else inside the Caravel until the floor is fixed, so our attention is turned to the Safari.  A few weeks back I had announced an ambitious plan to face-lift the interior, but reality (meaning budget) has prevailed.  So we’re going to stretch out the work, and just start with the flooring.  John Irwin wrote an article about flooring replacement options, which will appear in the Winter 2012 issue of Airstream Life. Inspired by this, I began to look at quality vinyl planks and discovered that there are some really nice options, and they are cheap, easy to install, and will go right over the existing vinyl floor.  We’ll remove the dingy old carpet in the bedroom and put the vinyl planks there, too.

Eleanor and I bought some of the flooring today to do a test layout in the Safari, and it looks good.  I expect we’ll take a few days to complete the job, including time to pull out the furniture, prep the existing floor, cut around obstacles, and reinstall the furniture.  We will get on that job after the Caravel is done and back in its off-site storage spot.  We need extra space in the carport for all the furniture that we’ll be removing from the Safari.

I really don’t have any particular love for flooring work but, like painting, it is gratifying when it’s done and everything looks great.  And we’re entering the season of perfect daytime temperatures for outdoor work, so I’m looking forward to tackling the Safari floor soon.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine