Airstream Shell On Floor Replacement: Part Two

When we last left off, my Airstream was floorless and, admittedly, looking rather sad. So, in this post, I will show you how to complete that Airstream shell on floor replacement.


Step One: Repair the Frame

After removing the floor, we discovered several locations where the frame required repair. I wouldn’t say the frame was about to disintegrate before my very eyes, but it was pretty clear some sections needed to be replaced,  primarily in the front and rear of the trailer. (The same areas where the subfloor was in poor condition.)

If your frame is in simular condition, purchase some new steel, pay a welder if necessary, and bing-bang-boom new frame!

In reality, the process more complicated than that. But now our frame is in much better condition.


Step Two: Prevent Further Rust Development

The rest of the frame was in good condition, but we wanted to prevent further deterioration. To do this, wire brush the frame to remove loose rust then apply a coat of POR-15 or simular product.

POR-15, which we lovingly refer to as tar, is a product which chemically bonds to the rust and prevents further rust development. Fair warning, it’s strong stuff so avoid getting it on your skin (it will be there for weeks) or the lip of the paint can (you won’t get it open again).

I also recommend giving the ground a squirt or two with the hose after painting POR-15 if you live in a dry climate like me as moisture helps POR-15 cure.

Then, since any new steel (hopefully) won’t be rusted, paint that with a coat of rust-preventative paint like Rustoleum.

Ultimately, this is the very fun step when you’ll realize just how many surfaces the frame has.


Step Three: draw a subfloorplan

Each Airstream model and size will have a slightly different subfloor layout. To make sure you know yours, draw a plan of the pieces. To determine the correct layout, you can either reference the original floor pieces or measure the frame. Wood is generally sold in 4′ by 8′ sheets, so any frame members 4′ apart will require one sheet of plywood.

For our airstream, we bought 7 sheets of 1/2″ ACX plywood. Our layout required two 2′ wide pieces, which we chose to cut from the same sheet, and one 3′ piece. Some Airstreamers recommend marine grade plywood for the subfloor, which is superior to ACX, but it was more than double the cost. Therefore, we opted for ACX.


Step Four: Cut and waterproof Wood

With your plan in hand, cut the wood to size. This is a relatively simple step, with the exception of the rounded pieces. If your floor was in good enough condition, you can use the old pieces as templates. If not, you’ll have to employ some educated guessing.

Our trailer’s wood was in moderate condition. Thankfully some of the curved edge was intact and so I essentially played connect the dots and verified my educated guesses with some measurements from inside the trailer.

After cutting the wood, give it a good coat of a waterproofing solution. Don’t forget the edges!


Step Five: Insert Floor

Fair warning, the photo you are about to see is rather disturbing. Viewer discretion advised.

Remember how I advised you to insert shims into the c-channel to prevent it from bowing out? This is the reason I said that.

For some unknown reason, the streetside of the Airstream remained solidly on the frame, but the curbside wanted to bow out. We tried multiple times to force it back onto the frame, but eventually it would pop back out. So, we chose to use this problem to our advantage.

There are two ways to reinsert the wood. The first, which is more common, involves cutting each panel down the middle and inserting each half into the c-channel. Some force may be required to make the two panels lie flat on the frame if you make them rather tight. This is an adequate method if you don’t have any other options, but I was a little hesitant about it.

I’m not an engineer by any stretch of the imagination, but I was concerned that piecemealing the floor like that could cause problems down the road. So, we took advantage of the bowing problem. To insert the floor our way, you will have to let (or force) one side of the Airstream shell  to bow out. Then, slide one side of a full sheet of wood into the side of the c-channel which isn’t bowed out. (The last piece will likely be the hardest to insert and may require more fanangaling.) When all the floor is in, enlist a team of friends to help push the bowed c-channel back onto the frame, inserting the wood at the same time. It will be necessary to insert some of the bolts (see next step) while deadlifting the Airstream.


Step Six: Secure the shell to the frame

Next, secure the shell to the frame through the c-channel. Once more, there are two ways to do this.

As you might have noticed, we ultimately chose to remove the underbelly skin. Our underbelly was not in the best condition. In addition to large holes which could be patched, we noticed small pinholes. Since these would only expand over time, so we chose to remove and replace the aluminum. Without the underbelly skin, we could bolt the floor through the c-channel like the factory did. If you would like to use bolts like the factory, it is not difficult to drop just the sides of the underbelly for access. They’re held on with pop rivets.

If you removed the underbelly, purchase stainless steel bolts and lock/stop nuts. We bought a pack of 50 each and had plenty left over. We chose to drill holes up through the wood using the existing holes in the frame as a guide. Then, with a partner, insert the bolt from the bottom and screw on the nut from the top.

If you did not remove the underbelly, purchase stainless steel lag screws and use those to secure the shell to the frame through the c-channel. Because we replaced the rear frame with new, closed steel tubing, we had to use lag screws to secure the rear of the trailer.


Step Seven: secure the subfloor to the frame

To secure the subfloor to the frame, you will be replacing the screws you removed. I purchased 125 floor repair screws from Vintage Trailer Supply. These are self-tapping screws, which will help them stay secure as the Airstream rattles down the road. Originally, I tried to use the same holes because I didn’t want to drill more holes in the frame. But, I discovered that the old holes were slightly too big to properly secure the screw.

So, predrill new holes evenly spaced between the old ones, slightly smaller than the screw. If you have a fancy countersinking bit, use that to countersink the screws and ignore my next instructions. (Free tip: the high speed setting on the drill is best for drilling through the metal frame.)

If you don’t have a countersink bit, then use a drill bit the same size as the screw head next. This will allow the screw head to sit flush with the floor. Drilling to the right depth may take some trial and error. Although the Vintage Trailer Supply website says the screw will countersink itself, I found they needed some help.

Finally, change to a driving bit and the high torque setting, which will make it easier to tighten the self-tapping screw.

Just 124 left to go.


Step Eight: Walk around like a normal person again

I honestly had no idea how nice floors were until we didn’t have one. We were either balancing on the frame or clambering over it for months while doing this project.

The official Airstream inspector was also ecstatic about our progress.


Now, dust off your hands and take a moment to lay down on your new and improved subfloor. You deserve it.

More updates and how tos coming, so stay tuned!

5 Inspirational Small Spaces

Now that you’ve seen our diamond in the rough, take a peek at my dreams for Nellie.

In anticipation of our own Airstream project, I’ve been collecting inspiration for the interior design and style. Throughout the year, I collected various ideas on my Pinterest, but these are my favorite five inspirational small spaces (both Airstreams and Tiny Houses). Together they will shape the renovation and decoration of Nellie.

Throughout the post, I’ve supplied links to my sources if you wish to dive down the Airstream rabbit hole. So, in no particular order, here are my five favorite small spaces:


#1: Happy Camper Airstream

Happy Camper Airstream is the work of the marvelously funny Lynn Knowlton. She began with a 1976 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht  (the same as Nellie), which she partially renovated (i.e. did not replace insulation, etc.) into the gorgeous Happy Camper Airstream. Lynn kept a lot of the original elements including the turquoise stove and the original couches.

For our project, we likely won’t be keeping as much as Lynn did, but one thing I absolutely adore about her renovation is how she blends modern and vintage elements into a unique and beautiful aesthetic. I also love her use of champagne gold faucets and drawer pulls. They compliment the  original gold on the cabinetry and, as she says they’re, “like jewelry.”

Finally, I love the way the white opens up the space and how it is complimented with pops of color like the couch, the pillows, and the wallpaper. I want to achieve a similar aesthetic in our Airstream. In regards to keeping such a white space clean, Lynn recommends durable paint and linen textiles.


#2: Lucy

When we originally thought we would be building a tiny house, I stumbled across this tiny house built by Tom and Shaye, a couple who’ve chronicled their construction of several ecofriendly homes. Besides a tiny house on wheels, they also have a cob building and a straw bale home. They live in New Zealand and now have a young daughter.

Throughout the design process, their tiny house has probably been the most influential. Both Spencer and I absolutely adore the combination of dark wood, light walls, and pops of color. Their colorful cookware and wood counter tops in particular make me jealous. I also really love the turquoise color inside the pantry shelves and the variegated wood ceiling. While we can’t incorporate everything we love from this tiny house into our Airstream, it’s still incredibly inspirational.


#3: Mavis the Airstream

When I found Mavis on Instagram, several of the things I’ve mentioned before drew me to Sheena and Jason’s project (such as dark wood, light walls, and pops of color), but ultimately it was their ingenuity and creativity that made me stay. The two also write a blog in which they detail their Airstream projects, including unique vent covers. The two (plus their pup Riley) are currently on their shakedown trip.

I have yet to figure out their secret, but I’m continually impressed by the combination of colors and textures they achieve without making the space look messy. Plus, their addition of small vintage or thrifted items throughout the Airstream makes the trailer feel unique and personal without cluttering the available space. My personal favorites are the road sign above their couch and the dolphin bottle opener behind the sink.


#4: A Small Life

A Small Life is a blog run by Melanie, who lives in this beautiful Airstream with her husband George and their dog. I initially stumbled upon her advice for renovating an Airstream and was inspired by her passion for…well…living a small life. Melanie’s blog gave me a realistic view on Airstream life and ultimately inspired our choice. Melanie recently published an ebook full of advice for transitioning to a smaller lifestyle, which I immediately purchased. When initially planning our Airstream project, we looked for rear bath models, intending to follow a similar layout.

One thing that I really admire about Melanie’s design is the way they’ve incorporated hobbies and work into the Airstream. For example, they display their record collection on one wall of the Airstream, including vintage wood drawers. It’s a beautiful addition to their home. George also has his own desk for artwork. Plus, isn’t that just a great chair!


#5: TinCan Homestead

Renovated by Washington couple Natasha Lawyer and Brett Bashaw, this Airstream has slowly evolved over the past year. Once the space was livable, the couple updated incrementally, ultimately creating a usable, effective space which is still evolving. The project was recently featured in Sunset magazine.

My favorite thing about this Airstream are the white-washed shiplap walls. The wood makes the space warmer and more homely. Spencer also loves the hexagonal backsplash. We plan to incorporate both shiplap and hexagons into our own Airstream. One of the most distinctive features of their Airstream is the jungle they are cultivating. At last count, there were 63 plants. Their color palette is largely neutral and so the plants give color.

Tincan Homestead also helped inspire our floor plan, but more on that in another post!


So there you have it. My five favorite inspirational small spaces. Each has contributed in some way to our design conception of Nellie. As we begin our renovation, we intend to create a space which combines vintage and modern elements, dark wood and light walls, and pops of turquoise and tangerine throughout.

I’m so excited!