We have walls! // Reinstalling Airstream Interior Skins

We have walls! Look!

I have to admit, I had no idea getting the interior skins back up was going to be so complicated. In order to reinstall them, I had to complete the following tasks (some of which were expected, but many of which I did not anticipate):

  1. Electrical
    • Rewiring for interior lights, plugs, etc.
    • Removal of two old vents
    • Installation of three new fans
    • Replacing exterior lights and bulbs
  2. Modifications
    • Sealing and leak testing
    • Moving the city water connection
    • Modifying the fridge ventilation
    • Cutting new holes for plugs/lights
    • Repairing the old, unused holes
  3. Insulation
    • Lizardskin
    • Roxul
  4. Interior skins
    • Repairing cracks in the front endcap
    • Scrubbing
    • Sanding
    • Priming
    • Painting
    • Purchasing the wrong rivets
    • Returning said rivets
    • Buying nearly 1000 new rivets (spread out over a million different trips to the store, of course)
    • Finding people to help hoist them into position
    • Touching up the paint and concealing the rivets

And, of course, I thought I’d knock out all these tasks in two weeks. In reality, it took about two months, but to be fair, I was on vacation one of those weeks, house-bound by my chronic illness another, and just frustrated by the project for another. So, I was only three weeks off in my estimation.

So, lets talk a bit about each of these necessary tasks.

 

Electrical

Before I started working on the electrical, it was an absolute mess. Once we removed the inner skins, the wiring slowly succumbed to gravity and made the Airstream look like a jungle filled with wild, tangled vines.

We chose to keep the original 12v and 120v wiring, unlike some other renovators. Despite Nellie’s mouse problem, the wiring was in great condition. It wasn’t chewed on or corroded, so we chose to save the expense of new wires.

I began by following each individual wire to determine its function. The wiring diagrams from the Airstream manual, photos/video I took during the demolition, and the original fixtures were all great references. For example, I had four wires I couldn’t figure out, so I investigated the original interior walls and discovered those wires were originally attached to the thermostat.

Once I determined the function of all the wires, I rearranged them according to our slightly different floor plan, occasionally splicing some wires where necessary. In particular, I needed significantly more ground wires. Luckily, there was enough extra wire in this Airstream that I did not have to purchase any new wire.  We managed to add four new 120v plugs without purchasing extra.

With the interior wiring done, we tested the exterior lights, which I was expecting to function better than they did. The majority of the old marker/clearance lights were old and rusty. The old taillight bulbs were finicky and only worked in one specific spot. So we chose to replace all the exterior lights with LEDs, which set us back for a bit while I waited for the new lights to arrive.

 

Modifictions

Before the interior skins went back in, I completed several modifications, including replacing two of the old vents with new Maxx Fans, adding a bathroom fan, cutting new holes for plugs/wiring, and repairing old holes in the interior skins. We also chose to move the city water connection and modify the fridge ventilation.

Our original city water connection was in the back bumper, which probably makes sense in a rear bath configuration. But, since we have a side bath, there was a significant amount of unnecessary pipe running from the rear of the trailer to the fresh water tank. In addition, we knew this pipe would be difficult to hide under cabinetry in our modified floor plan. We were also concerned about potential leaks, so we moved the city water connection next to the fridge hatch.

Speaking of the fridge, I made a major modification to the way the fridge vents. We chose an undercounter fridge, so the original plastic vent for an apartment fridge was too short (in addition to being old and brittle). I also disliked the way the old vent took up visual space, so, I chose to vent the fridge through the wall.

I was able to make this modification because the horizontal studs behind the fridge were not structural, i.e. the interior skins were not attached to them. So, I felt comfortable using a Dremel to remove a large portion of these horizontal studs, just enough to create the necessary 60 sq. in. outlet. I also removed the bottom half of the fridge vent collar, allowing the air to escape outside through the original vent. I then lined each side of the vent with foam insulation secured with aluminum foil tape and cut a hole in the interior skin just below counter height. Finally, I cut a square of extra aluminum and patched the original vent hole.

 

Insulation

Part of what allowed me to make the vent modification was our choice in insulation.

Previously, when considering how to insulate the Airstream, I was concerned with heat transfer. Since the exterior of the Airstream is heat conductive aluminum and the ribs are aluminum and the interior skins are aluminum, I was concerned that any insulation we chose would be undermined by heat transfer. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to add a thick layer of, for example, rubber between the ribs because it might compromise the semi-monocoque construction as well as prevent the original rivet holes from lining up.

 

Lizard Skin

Then my dad suggested Lizard Skin, which is a ceramic spray-in insulation primarily used in automobiles. It seemed like a perfect option because it requires only a thin coat and hardens nicely when dry, therefore eliminating my concerns. I would have liked to spray the entire Airstream interior, but it is more on the expensive side. So, we purchased two buckets, which was just enough to spray each side of each stud, the wheel wells, and inside the fridge vent.

I was incredibly impressed by what just a thin coat of this stuff could do. By midday in Nevada, the ceiling of the airstream was usually burning hot. It’s so hot you couldn’t leave your fingertips there for more than a few seconds. But, in areas just an inch away where I sprayed the Lizard Skin, the aluminum was a pleasant temperature–slightly warm perhaps–but a significant improvement.

My only warning about Lizard Skin is: it gets everywhere. I tried to tape off the windows before spraying, but the wind kept blowing out the paper. I tried to tape off the floor, but it was too dirty. So, I settled on having to use my fingernails and steel wool to remove unwanted specks from the window frames and exterior later on. I used a scrap piece of plywood to protect the subfloor, but overspray from working on the ceiling still spattered the plywood. Thankfully, said overspray came off easily as I moved about the trailer. Due to the overspray and difficulty taping off, I chose to not spray the c-channel or the window frames, so there will be some heat transfer occurring in these areas.

 

Roxul

Finally, let’s talk about the batt insulation we used. Initially, we considered using a foam insulation, but were concerned about the difficulty of curving it as well as how flammable it is. Roxul appealed to us for several reasons. First, it was easier to install in the curves. Second, it is fire resistant. Third, it’s inorganic and therefore won’t grow mold. Fourth, it won’t retain water. Finally, Roxul doesn’t guarantee rodent resistance because, as they say on their website, there is no definitive test for measuring an insulation’s resistance to rodents. But, Roxul also has a reputation based on word of mouth for rodent resistance. So, for us, Roxul was the best choice.

Unfortunately, obtaining Roxul for small projects can be difficult. Lowes and Home Depot didn’t stock it in store, but we could order three bags minimum at a time from Lowes. We ordered the 3 1/2″ (R-15) variety and cut it in half with an insulation knife. It took approximately four bags to insulate the Airstream interior.

We did have one difficulty installing the Roxul. It’s supposed to be friction fit between standard house studs (which the Airstream obviously doesn’t have), and so I had difficulty getting the insulation to stay up in the curves, the endcaps, and the roof. I ended up using a 3M spray glue designed for insulation and metal, which short-term worked rather well. Unfortunately, the glue couldn’t combat with the Nevada sun and so many of the pieces which I worked so hard to put up fell down the next day. We ended up having to glue up the insulation in the evening so it would stay. Then we immediately riveted the panel.

 

Interior Skins

Finally, let’s talk about the interior skins themselves. Since I hate working above my head, I did something slightly unusual. We repaired, cleaned, and painted the interior skins outside of the Airstream before reinstalling them. A bunch of lovely friends and family did shifts helping me paint, which was greatly appreciated. This made the process much quicker and kinder on my shoulders. I also chose to disassemble the front endcap cabinet. I repaired the cracks using a fiberglass repair kit and painted the cabinet.

In preparation for paint, we scrubbed each panel with Simple Green, which does a great job of removing dirt and oil while being environmentally friendly. We also sanded each panel with 220 grit sand paper. Then we used two coats Kilz Premium Primer and two coats of Behr Interior Paint in Bleached Linen. The one downside of this methodology was the inevitable scuffs to the panels while reinstalling them. So, I added one final coat to cover the rivets and scuffs. Ultimately, we used two and a half gallons of primer and three gallons of paint.

The painting process was pretty straightforward, but reinstalling them was more difficult. The first panels we put in were the door panels, which I attempted to put in on my own. Unfortunately, the door has a slight lip. I spent probably four to five hours grappling with it before giving up. Spencer fixed it while I was away on holiday as a birthday present.

Luckily, the rest of the panels were not as difficult and majority of the panels lined up nicely with their old holes, although some of the curved pieces in the endcaps ended up slightly off. Our primary struggle was timing the lifting and riveting of the upper panels during cool enough temperatures. Often we would finish with a panel after the sun went down. So, thank you, thank you, thank you to all the people who came out to paint and murder their arms with us, often at short notice.

 

And look at the difference!

We’ve got new floors, new ventilation, new walls… I could stare at these all day… but it’s time to get back to work.

 

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