- Size 8′ x 24′
- Approximate weight 15000lbs
- Main Floor Bedroom
Pricing yet to be determined
Pricing yet to be determined
Things that we learned from renovating an Airstream
I am not going to spend a lot of time on the reasons for considering, but more so on what I learned.
1. The aluminum frame and skin flex ALOT!
The shell of the airstream is built with light weight aluminum sheets and ribs. These are flexible and move as stresses exert pressure on the shell.
2. Windows and doors are rounded because the shells flex
Since the shells and frame flex quite a bit while moving, walls are curved with the hooped ribs as well as curving around from side to front and rear The windows are then also curved to avoid any sharp corners so that the aluminum does not tear from metal fatigue.
3. They all leak
There are approximately 5000 rivets in an Airstream and some will loosen up from movement. The rivets are “buck”/ “solid” rivets and “pop” or “blind” rivets, and each one is used differently. Buck rivets are used to attach the exterior aluminum skin to the ribs of the trailer. They are also used to fasten windows and parts to the exterior of the trailer. Pop rivets are used in the interior to attach the inner skin and other parts to the interior side of the ribs. For added protection against leaks, they smear caulk on all the seams and rivets that penetrate the exterior skin. Over time, some of these buck rivets leak and the shell allows water to enter. Most of the water runs down the inner skin and collects at the bottom and trailer frame.
To do this requires a team of two people working together like dance partners.
How to buck a rivet—The outside installer holds an air-powered rivet tool, which is sort of a miniature jackhammer that pounds on the mushroom head of the rivet.
The inside installer holds a shaped metal tool called a “bucking bar” that is pressed against the tail (or stem) of the rivet. The rivet gun very quickly hammers the rivet, pushing it inward and squashing the tail against the bucking bar, which causes the tail to get shorter and wider. This fills the hole and locks the two pieces of aluminum together very strongly. Under normal circumstances, this rivet is in place forever, and it seals so tightly to the body panel that sealant is not needed for the rivet to be waterproof.
Timing is critical. Stopping too early means the rivet won’t fully deform and thus it won’t fill the hole for maximum holding power. Hammering too long will flatten the rivet too much, which also lowers its strength and can look cosmetically awful on the exterior.
The difference between “too short” and “too long” is less than a second, so the riveters rely on their experience and the tone of the hammering to know exactly when to stop. Then, as a pair, they move to the next rivet without delay. Good teams can put in a perfect rivet every three or four seconds.
4. Belly Pans are a nasty ugly stinky place
There is no way to say this, you will find rusted parts, mouse droppings, mouse nests, mouse carcasses, and insulation that is moldy and stinks. The underbelly often has small holes from wires entering and mice find these entry points by following drafts from heat escaping. All a mouse needs is a hole the size of your small finger, and in it goes. The underbelly skin is thin, so a mouse can also chew his way in by enlarging an existing small hole. Over time, the inside of the trailer frame of the Airstream starts stinking badly and reeks of mold. If you are mold sensitive, the floor has to come out along with the fiberglass insulation.
5. Our skill set and knowledge base of Airstream units is limited
When we said ‘yes’ to renovating out 1st Airstream, we knew nothing about all the parts, wiring, plumbing, curving walls, and how it all worked. Since everything flexes it becomes difficult to build custom cabinets, partitions and placement of all the parts. let alone changing the layout and moving windows and door opening. Windows had to be ordered and in one case, we had to create a custom operating window for a bath. Since windows were moved, it meant cutting out skins and replacing with new skins, so it did not look like a patch hack-job.
6. They are extremely light weight
A typical shell weighs in around 2lb per sqft. and that may amount to 600lbs for the skins. However, the trailer frame is steel and that would weigh in around 2-3000 lbs. The Air Force and Nasa loved the Airstream trailers because of their weight and size. It was easy to fly state of the art centers and living quarters around the world in their cargo jets.
7. Trailer Frames can rust out badly and compromise its integrity
As a result of leaks – the frames often start rusting and outriggers welds start breaking. They also may have what is called as separation, which is when the tail of the Airstream trailer breaks away from the frame in the area of the axles. At times, the trailer is compromised and must be repaired or replaced and this will require lots of work or a shell off. If it requires a shell off, the process adds significant costs to a renovation.
Unlike the rest of the Airstream that is all aluminum, the frame is steel, so we found issues where aluminum met the trailer frame. We found rivets that corroded from the steel aluminum reaction of metals, so keeping mice out becomes a challenge.
8. Very little aftermarket products
Sometimes, the only way one can find parts is to find them in another badly compromised trailer. Airstream does not keep a stock of parts of past years, even though they seldom change the designs. The curve of walls has been a constant as well as windows parts and curves.
9. Parts are expensive and ordering is confusing
I am used to ordering a window for a tiny house that includes all the parts. Not so, for an Airstream. If you can find a used window, it usually just includes the glass and aluminum sash around the glass. It does not include the frame, the turn buckle locks, arms, gaskets, and related parts for attaching the arms to. You can find glass and parts online from Vintage Trailer Parts, out-of-doors mart, and air stream supply.
10. Appliances MUST be sized correctly
The standard door opening of an Airstream is only 26″ wide with the door removed. Unless you frame and fabricate a larger curved door, or add framing a conventional opening such as a 32″ door and frame, one is limited to only using an appliance that is 24″ in width or smaller.
Dead End streets and cul-de-sac’s
In business, one learns about avoiding dead end streets and cul’de’sacs – which are one of the same. They take ones focus off of the core business model while one focuses on something new. We had no idea, that the Airstream we took on that was to be a 3-4 month project would require 4 months to get thru the fabricator and into our shop where it would take another 5 months to out the door. As a result, it severely affected our tiny house production as we did not have enough staff to do both. The project grew from a 75k project to a 200k project which meant a lot of changes and more time to invest. The people we did hire, decided they did not like working with metal, aluminum, curved walls and all the other things involved in an Airstream.
In summary, Jim has decided that while he learned a lot about Airstreams, his knowledge base and skill set is lacking and we are choosing to re-focus on tiny houses and smaller crafty projects.
Anyone want to buy some birch mason jar lights?
Or otherwise known as the “shiny tiny” part 2
A new trend is emerging among interior design minded road fanatics. The Airstream trailer is a very popular design. And everyone recognizes them!
Inspired by innovative airplane designs, the first Airstream trailer was introduced back in 1931. They were built out of aluminum and intended for only the mightiest
of road warriors. Their aerodynamic, rounded metallic designs gave them their badass futuristic demeanor. They’ve since diminished in popularity, but a creative Airstream uprising is just on the horizon.
Lately we’ve been seeing more and more people converting these old-fashioned, outdated contraptions into lavish, comfortable road wagons complete with beds, kitchens and even bathrooms. In fact, they’re becoming so popular that even Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey has his very own Airstream trailer that he invested over 200k in.
Here are the benefits of owning an Airstream trailer:
The new trailer was built to be the same as the old trailer with few modifications. One being we used a heavier gauge steel to minimize bounce in the frame. We salvaged old parts such as the axles, custom rigging for the axles that allowed for drop pans for the water and waste tank, and the trailer tongue/hitch steel.
After it was all welded back together, the frame went to the paint booth and painted with a Low VOC primer and paint before it was moved into place to be pushed under the shell. We also ripped Purebond hardwood plywood for the perimeter, front bow, and rear bow. We attached the bow plywood to the shell for rigidity. Since the original floor was 5/8 plywood and we were using ¾”, we had to plane down the edges to fit into the wall channels of the frame.
We used 2 forklifts to lift the shell while we pushed the frame under the shell.
After lowering it, we pulled the temporary steel supports and bolted the shell to the frame. We then installed the perimeter plywood and screwed that to the trailer frame.
The next step was insulating the floor perimeter with John Mansville foam board followed by installation of the rounded skirt aluminum. The drop pan housing followed shortly after with insulating the water and grey tank before lowering them into place.
Since we are doing a heated floor system, we installed a false floor for laying the mats and heat cables on. The heat tapes are under the floor so we used the reflective foil to bounce the heat to the flooring of the Airstream . One of the requirements was not to install the heat tape under cabinets and another was do not cut, knick, or damage the heat wires. Once they were installed, we poured a light weigh concrete over the wires and temporarily installed the plywood flooring, followed by building the toe kicks boxes of the cabinets.
We now have a list of what will be going into this airstream, that I am calling
The Shiny Tiny, part 1
In October, 2016, we received a phone call asking questions about building a tiny house that resembled an RV as they did a lot of relocating for their work and wanted to be able to stay at RV parks. However, they were experiencing a lot of pushback from RV parks about tiny houses, with one park owner saying “if it looked like an RV, say an Airstream, there would be no questions or issues.”
They then asked if we could renovate an Airstream to a nontoxic unit. They admitted that they called numerous places and no one could or would take on the project. They then asked, if I would consider doing it for them. I cautioned them that it would be out of our norm, but since we knew about nontoxic and chemical free tiny houses, we would do it. We set the budget and started looking for an older Airstream that could be gutted and rebuilt.
A “shiny turd” is an Airstream that has been polished but not updated in any other way. It is shined up to get a higher sell price from unsuspecting buyers.
Another key difference is that a restored, renovated, or modernized Airstream will have documentation to prove that trailer has been repaired, a new axle installed, or the flooring replaced. A “shiny turd” will have none of that. A shiny turd is like a sign that says “buyer beware.”
Tail separation is when the tail end of trailer frame has separated from the main trailer, usually in connections to the trailer frame at the axles. A simple way to check this is to stand on the bumper and move up and down while noticing if the body of the trailer also moves or just the frame does. It is costly to fix and at this point, we were not considering rebuilding the trailer.
What we found was a 31ft 1983 Excella Airstream in fair condition. There was dent in the roof, the top was balding, it smelled slightly musty, and some of the appliances did not work. Since we would be gutting it down to the shell and tossing everything, the trailer appeared doable for the project, so we made a deal.
We towed it to the shop and started gutting it to the shell, and found that the floor had rot, which since all Airstreams leak, it was not a surprise. What we encountered next did surprise us. We removed the flooring and found the musty smell was strong. The pink fiberglass insulation in the floor had absorbed moisture with mouse droppings scattered on the top. Mice!!!
Upon removal, we found that the underbelly had holes that allowed mice to get inside as well as many mouse carcasses. Upon closer examination, we decided to do a separation of the shell from the trailer so we could work on both. Once we had separation, we could see the holes in the frame from rust and corrosion as well as broken welds in outriggers. The trailer needed some major work.
After consulting with the buyers, it was determined to rebuild the trailer with heavier steel while reusing the axles, step assembly, tongue and hitch, as well as tank enclosures. The rebuilt trailer cost $800 more than trying to fix the old frame.
The trailer was built for the Airstream in the background making sure we followed the old trailer design so that the shell could be reattached. This Airstream is being modernized to a nontoxic chemical free status. The couple chose the Airstream model over a tiny house as it would be accepted in RV parks for long stays without question.
Some have said that there is not much left of the original and while that is true, the most important parts are left; the RV certification and the shell which says I am an RV, and an Airstream! And it will provide a “safe” home for the owners to live in year around.
It has been said that you have not renovated an Airstream until you stood on the ground while inside the Airstream.
Airstream has a lot of different meaning for its’ parts such as “banana peels”
If you want to follow the place we post pictures of the build click on the link Airstream Build
Come back for the next update to learn about that and more.
Spirit has 238 sqft on the main level with 138 sqft in the 2 lofts. There is lots of storage in the smugglers holds, sliding spice rack, 7 -toe kick drawers, cabinet bridge, and stairs with built in storage. Speaking of the cabinet bridge, it is constructed so that a guest could sleep on them, if needed. This tiny house also has a Airport Ball air exchanger to exhaust the stale house air and moisture to the outside while bringing in fresh air.
There are 3 hatches with 6 peach crates inside of each hatch, and that provides 18 peach crates under the floor for storage.
The next post will show you how we made the Adirondack recliners and followed up by the step by step of making the mason jar lighting.
Pricing starts at $68,019.53
A month ago, we were informed that our space that we were sharing with Pete’s Fabrication and Repair was ending as he was terminating his lease with the buildings owners. Our 1st thought was to rent the whole shop out for Tiny Green Cabins, but after running numbers, it was proving to be more than I wanted to undertake at this time. Some of our ideas for using the extra space;
In our search of New Ulm we found a place that was for sale and inquired about it. The building was for sale and it could be leased.
After asking questions about utilities, we learned that the heat bill was over a $1000 a month through the winter. That heat cost made the New Ulm space more expensive that what we were looking at in Blaine. We made an offer on the lease asking for the owner to pay for 50% of the propane costs for the 1st winter and we would do a 2 year lease. He declined .
So we decided to stay in the Blaine area for the foreseeable future.
Then we had a visit from another shop owner that did welding and fabrication whom asked if we would be willing to switch spaces. He had 3000 sqft and we had 6000 sqft. The numbers were a wee bit more friendly, and after some thinking and discussion with family, I decided to make the switch. That meant tow shops that were working plus one that was closing needed to switch spaces. For me, that was an easy task as my work had not accumulated a lot of stuff….yet!!
Our part of the move was easy. The fabricator has a lot of specialized equipment and a mezzanine to move. He said he had built the mezzanine so he could take it with him. This we had to see.
And he did it. I am impressed!!!
However, Pete was swamped with trying to finish up his back log of clients and others that heard he was closing and wanted that last minute car repair done by him.
So we loaded our trailer and moved it to the new place and then moved the hOMe out of the shop to its new place.
So, now it was up to sort things out, pack up what he wanted, and toss the rest. He tossed out a lot, and he still has a lot to sort and liquidate. In the meantime, he is using some of our space and will be having a fire sale over the next month..
We are just about finished with the hOMe bound for MA, and have the other custom hOMe started. And that is all we can fit in the shop until Pete moves his stuff out. In a week or so, we will have room to start the Prairie Rose for the workshop class we will be holding the end of October. And when Pete moves his stuff, we will have room for a 3rd tiny house.
The start to finish of the move took 8 days, with the weekend included in that. Now we need to organize the shelves and shop so we can find stuff easily.
If anyone wants us to build or start one in the next month or so, I would suggest that you book that slot. Otherwise, the next slot after that would be early spring of 2016.