The RV Remodel
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Stefany and I bought an RV a few years ago. It’s a 2003 MB Cruiser. It’s based around a Sprinter van (one of those vans you see the FedEx guys driving). We started off just using it to go to my bike races. It contains pretty much everything you’d need, and we had vacationed in it several times. But it was getting old…
The carpet was gross. The ceiling was sagging. The cabinets were water-stained and worn. We would get stuck by staples if we touched it in certain places. The list went on. I got the approval to renovate the RV.
I kind of wish I never started, because it was 10 weeks of every night, every weekend, every spare minute I had to get the thing done. I was very… unpleasant… during this time. Fortunately, Stef is very understanding, and now we’re done and we have a totally pimped out RV. Pictures from beginning to end and descriptions follow.
Here’s what it looked like the day we brought it home:
And here’s what it looks like now…
But it was a long process to get there. Here’s me starting to rip everything out of the RV.
Do I look happy? No? It’s August – and it’s over 100 degrees outside – and over 110 degrees inside the RV. Seriously. And since I was gutting it, I had the power off, so no fans, no AC, just heat. Lesson #1: Renovate RV in a garage, or in the spring or fall.
I had decided to leave the frames of the old stuff in place, and to just recover and re-skin the cabinets where they were. This kept me from having to move anything really major, like plumbing, wiring, tanks, generators, etc. I did wind up reinforcing most of the cabinets, as they weren’t put together all that great to begin with. (OK, actually they were built like crap and I’m surprised it stayed together for 10 years.) Regardless, Stef and I were basically happy with the layout, so this approach made the most sense. Here you can see me working on cleaning up one of the dinette seats/cabinets. Wiring/circuit panel/Converter/etc. stayed in place.
This next picture is about as far down as I took it. The upper cabinets are completely gone. The lower cabinets are down to skeletons. I left a couple walls in the bathroom. I kept the old toilet in place as long as I could, so I didn’t have to worry about having an open “toilet-hole” to work around. The vinyl ceiling liner is out. Replacing that ceiling was what defined how far apart I had to take things.
One of the things I did was to replace those stupid RV friction fit table legs with a marine pedestal table base. This picture shows where I patched the old holes in the floor and the new hole for the pop-up table. You can also see the Dynamat and ProDex insulation on the wheel well.
OK. Time to start putting things back together. Here we can see in the bathroom, I’ve got the ceiling in (it’s anodized aluminum) but still with the protective cover on it. The back window trim stayed in place (I had previously remade it). The ceiling went up with adhesive. I’m still amazed that everything in the RV wasn’t coated in adhesive in the process…
It’s kind of hard to tell what you’re looking at in this next one, but what I’m trying to show is the sound deadening and insulation I installed on the ceiling of the cab. There’s a layer of Dynamat, covered with a layer of ProDex insulation. Cab is much quieter now. (I can’t really tell if the insulation is working or not, but let’s just say that it is so I don’t feel silly for spending the time and money on it.)
So the walls of the shower were just some kind of RV wallpaper. I guess it was waterproof… maybe, but it didn’t seem right. I had some FRP panels to add to the walls of the shower surround, but the special FRP adhesive wouldn’t stick properly to wallpaper. So I had to peel it off. This was a fun afternoon.
You can also see the expanding foam stuff I put in the hole where the trap was for the shower. When they built this, they just put a plastic cover over a huge hole in the floor they cut. It would let in all kinds of cold in the winter. So I filled it with that evil expanding foam, and then carved out space for the trap.
The shower pan was yellowed and gross looking, but structurally sound. I could have had a new one made for about $350, but instead, I got the original one coated with LineX for about $60. It turned out pretty well.
Here you can see the support I put in under the shower to keep the pan from flexing. You can also see where I carved out the foam and fit the trap back in. I also later ran ducting for heat around the back of the shower. It helps with heat distribution, but mostly, I hoped it would keep the water pipes from freezing. Also, you can see the FRP panels glued up, but not finished out yet.
The bathroom lower cabinet was this weird, face frame abomination. It sucked, bad, and had to go. This is the new frame-up I made for it. You can see lots of pocket screws. LOTS of pocket screws and glue went into this rebuild.
Here you can see the upper cabinets in in the main coach have gone in, and even the Corian countertop is in place with the cooktop mounted. The face frames are actually solid cherry. Where you see panels, they’re cherry faced, veneer core plywood.
The windows were a bit tricky. I didn’t want to do the vinyl covered whatever-it-was that was in there previously. So I made these out of solid cherry. The walls of the RV are curved though, so I had to mill the stock down to about 1/4 inch to get them to bend enough to conform. I didn’t have a lot of joinery options in quarter inch stock, so the pieces are joined with big old lap joints. They should be plenty strong.
And the same kind of treatment for the sliding door. Had to be pretty careful here with the screw covers to make sure nothing rubbed on the side of the van when it opened and closed. (The old window treatment did.)
You can also see a little bit of the floor covering in that one. It’s Allure Traffic Master or some such that we got at the Home Despot. If I had to do it again, I would prefer a single sheet vinyl flooring. (That would have been difficult with all the cabinets already in place.) Alternatively, the correct time to install vinyl plank flooring apparently would have been in February. In Barrow, Alaska. This crap starts separating at the seams if the temperature drops 5 degrees. Whether you’ve left a gap around the edges or not. It’s embarrassing, and the perfectionist in me hates the floor. I’ve replaced and re-joined pieces multiple times and it doesn’t get any better. Lesson learned. Anyway, you can see the hole in place for the table, and the way I covered up the bolt head that holds up the propane tank – It’s a motorcycle bolt head cover! Hey, whatever works.
I don’t know why I wanted a safe in here, but I did. It’s just a cheaper one from Harbor Freight Tools. At this point, I’ve also got the furnace back in and the cherry face frame on the cabinet.
Here you can see what I eventually did to work around the “toilet hole”, as well as the ducting I ran behind the shower to keep the water lines warm. This was before I finally wised up and put some plywood down to protect the floor. (I dropped my driver on the floor and it ripped a gouge in a piece. This led to much cursing, and ripping the floor up and laying it a second time to replace that piece – because they all lock together.)
Here you can see the galley backsplash in place, as well as most of the galley cabinet and sink and cooktop. The appliances are SMEV something or other from Italy. Apart from the weird size water connections, they were not too bad to get working. The backsplash is 430 series stainless steel. It’s expensive, but you can stick magnets to it! Why don’t they make refrigerators out of this stuff?
You know, I put this cabinet up over the bathroom vanity, and I thought I was pretty cool. But then I realized I couldn’t put a door on it without it being a head banging hazard. So I went with sliding doors with frosted Plexiglas. Came out pretty good. The lights underneath are also LED, but they’re a warm white, and the thinking was that they would help Stef with makeup or other girl stuff. I had to turn the mirror sideways to get it all to fit, but it works out OK. I have to bend over a bit to shave, but that’s the only negative.
While I was at it, I installed a ball valve onto the water heater drain. We often head out in the winter, and being able to winterize quickly and easily (I use compressed air) is a good thing.
Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so proud of this next thing, but I am. I’m pretty competent with wood, but I suck at metal. In spite of that, this came out OK. It replaces the enormous carpet covered box that hid part of the wheel well. It’s just some of the left over aluminum from the ceiling that I coaxed into a curve and was able to bend some mounting tabs on. It’s about half the volume that the stupid box was, so now we have some more foot room under the table.
And so at this point, I’m done. All that was left was to get the re-upholstered seats back into the van and take some pictures. (I hired out the upholstery.) The remainder of the pictures are of the completed van.
There we go. In the picture above, you can see the curtains and pillows that Stef’s mother made (THANK YOU!). You can also see just a bit of the forward vent I put in just below the couch. The latches are all those push-button kind that lie flush until you need a knob. Very clean looking I think. Except that someone (and I won’t mention her name but here’s a hint – I’m married to her) left one of them popped out and messed up the picture. Also replaced the microwave trim.
Looking toward the back in this one, you can see the new china toilet, and the LCD TV with DVD which we had actually replaced earlier. Also, you can see the dinette table which I covered in the same 430 stainless as the backsplash. My thinking there was if we ever wanted to have place mats or something, we could put magnets in them and they would stay put while driving. It’s a theory anyway.
Oh. Also in that one above you can see the Trimetric battery monitor under the table there. It’s nice to not have to guess how much juice we’ve got left.
Another nice interior shot. I tried to keep the grain running vertically wherever I could. I hope, in some small way, this makes it seem a bit taller in there, and not so much like we’re, you know, living in a van. Also, the dinette cushions are velcroed in, we don’t have to try to cram them under a lip like the original design had.
Here’s one of the completed vanity. I also added an under mount soap dispenser. And, down by the floor, is another heating vent. Since it took me like, 10 weeks to finish, it’s cooled off quite a bit. I swear, the temperature read 110 those first couple weeks in August.
There’s not a ton of room in there, so getting back far enough to take a picture is tough, but here’s the best I could manage of the revamped shower.
Looking from the back to the front in this next one. You can get a little sense of the overall size. Took this one from back by the toilet.
Here’s a decent shot of the marine pedestal table. It raises and lowers when you loosen that knob. No more of those poles rolling about on the floor. If you’re not familiar with this floorplan, the dinette table becomes one part of the bed with the seats, and the sofa backrest folds over to make one largish bed.
Completed galley. I added a waste basket behind the driver’s seat – mounted in the same holes as that black metal thing was. Also, the two spaces that were formerly cabinets are now drawers on full extension slides. You can also see the plywood front that I put on the fridge. That was actually harder than it looks. The panel can’t be more than a few millimeters thick, and the thinnest plywood I could get was quarter inch. I had to run it through the drum sander until it was thin enough to fit.
Sink next. That sink is DEEP. The non-standard faucet takes some getting used to, but once you figure it out, it’s pretty neat.
Another thing to note (and I did this everywhere I could) – do you see where the paper towel holder is mounted underneath the upper cabinet? Where it mounts, rather than just mount to plywood – there are solid wood blocks inside the cabinet bottom to provide a solid mounting surface. Nobody would notice this if I didn’t point it out. Did the same for all the lights, and anything you see mounted to a wall.
So I mentioned bike races. By that, I mean bicycles, and not motorcycles. Well, these are expensive bicycles I’m talking about, so leaving them out on a rack is out of the question. So I came up with this way to haul and store two bicycles in the cab of the vehicle, without interfering with any other function of the RV (except getting in and out the sliding door). There are two fork mounts, and one of the bikes gets mounted behind the passengers seat headrest, pointing up, with its back wheel on the floor. The other bike sits with its rear wheel in the footwell of the slider, and its fork mounted behind the dinette on another fork mount. Here are the mounts:
And here are some bike mounts on the outside. We obviously don’t travel with them there, but if we want some extra room in the van, it’s nice to be able to lock the bikes to something outside.
Finally there’s this coolness. Installed those REMI pleated shades in the cab. They’re expensive, but look better to me than drapes, or sunscreens, or whatever. Also installed wood trim dash kit, wrapped the steering wheel in leather, and added a padded armrest for the driver’s side.
Though not strictly a part of this remodel, I did also install Ultraheat tank heaters on the grey and black tanks, and a See-Level monitoring system on all the tanks. Here’s an underside shot of the tanks/heaters/monitors.
And now, so I don’t sign off with a picture of a poop tank, here’s one last shot of the completed interior. Closed the pleated shades for this one.
Well, that’s about it. Thanks for sticking through it. What follows is a complete list of everything I did during the remodel that I could remember. Cheers!
- Replaced battery with new Lifeline AGM batteries for 220 AH capacity – Though not strictly required for AGM batteries, I kept them in a vented battery box.
- Installed new 55amp three-stage converter.
- Installed battery cut off switch
- Installed Trimetric Battery Monitor and shunt
- Replaced cheap circuit breaker connecting vehicle and coach electrical systems with Blue Sea 60 Amp heavy duty breaker.
- Installed Ultraheat Tank Heaters for Grey and Black water tanks and for piping.
- Replaced monitor with SeeLevel external mounted tank monitors for grey, black, fresh, and propane.
- Replaced CRT TV with 12 volt 15” LCD television with DVD player.
- Installed new Kenwood receiver with Garmin GPS and Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, etc.
- The cab stereo install includes component speakers in doors and a sub under passenger seat
- Replaced the rattling sliders with new CR Lawrence tinted windows. This does mean we gave up the screens, but the silence is worth it.
- Added a lock onto the propane compartment and replace the propane tank (Manchester 6812) which was rusting badly.
- Filled and insulated the opening for shower trap. Besides the wheel well, this seemed to be the biggest culprit for letting tons of cold air into the compartment under the sofa.
- Replaced the traps on both sinks with flexible P-traps on sinks. (Rubber ones, not the bellows kind.) The thinking is that this should give a little extra protection in case I forget to put anti freeze in the traps.
- Insulated all water lines
- Replaced original pump with Jabsco VSD pump.
- Replaced the shower walls with FRP panels
- Line-X on shower pan.
- Added support under shower pan to prevent flexing
- Added a quick drain ball valve to the water heater.
- Replaced yellowed plastic faucets in bathroom sink and shower with new Dura models.
- Replaced yellowed plastic toilet with china bowl Dometic 310
- Changed all lighting to LED
- Added upper cabinet over vanity with lights underneath (for makeup or whatever) with sliding doors (frosted plexiglas)
- Dynamat and insulation on wheel wells
- Dynamat and insulation on Cab floor and cab roof.
- Dynamat on doors
- Installed passenger seat swivel
- Replaced both the Fantastic fan and vent with Maxx Air remote control fans
- Fan openings sealed up with Eternabond tape
- Replaced roof vents with “360 siphon” vents
- Replaced stupid posts under the table with marine post for table / sealed the old floor openings. Now, there are no posts to remove and store when raising or lowering the table.
- Replaced sagging vinyl headliner with anodized aluminum ceiling.
- Replaced stupid vinyl window surrounds with solid cherry .
- Added pleated shades.
- Installed vinyl plank flooring to replace dingy carpet.
- Added a digital safe under the furnace (still keeping more than adequate clearance)
- Ducted heat to front of Coach and around behind shower to bathroom cabinet. (mainly to keep pipes from freezing).
- New Corian countertops for galley and vanity.
- Replaced bathroom sink with stainless round sink.
- Replaced burners with SMEV 2 burner cooktop
- Replaced sink with SMEV deep sink with folding faucet
- Added undermount soap dispenser in bathroom.
- Added backsplash of 430 stainless steel in galley (it’s magnetic!)
- Installed replacement wood panel for front of refrigerator
- Two fork bike mounts inside and two on the back
- Completely replaced all cabinets with new, solid cherry and cherry ply cabinetry.
- Knobs are Flush mount – “push to get a knob” hardware on all doors.
- Reduced the volume of that carpeted box over the wheel well by about half and replaced it with curved, anodized aluminum.
- Installed side curtains on main coach windows.
- Replaced separate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with single combo unit.
- Replaced dining table with one covered in 430 stainless (again, it’s magnetic) and trimmed in wood.
- Recovered seats in cab.
- Recovered cushions in coach. The bench was shot. Replaced foam and put plywood underneath (I like a firm bed).
- Reduced size of carped covered thing behind toilet and replaced with Cherry.
- Added a waste bin to the galley where the black mounting thing was behind drivers seat.
- Up front, added carpeted floor mats and wood dash kit.
- Added drawers in galley cabinets instead of doors/cabinets.
- Added REMI pleated cab shades.
- Wrapped steering wheel in matching leather
- I added a cushion to the driver’s side door to rest my elbow on.
- Installed Timbren SES front suspension kit
- Installed Rear Spring Assist Kit from Upscale Automotive