Who doesn’t love a good #beforeandafter, amirite? They’re just so pretty! And guess what? Even I am guilty of posting on Instagram to show off my newly polished RV.
But don’t be fooled. Remodels and renovations are NO JOKE. In other words, Instagram is a liar and don’t let it fool ya!
You might be thinking (like I did) “…but an RV is so small, it can’t take THAT long or be THAT difficult!”
But you’d be wrong. And maybe even laughed at by us that know better.
Pretty pictures are one thing, but watching the process unfold on social media doesn’t truly show all the blood, sweat and tears that go into an RV renovation.
Our First Mistake in RV Renovations
Our first mistake was underestimating the problems. We got our rig at such a low price that we literally said “there is nothing that would make us walk away.” YIKES.
Before you think we were totally naive (we were), know that Austin works in construction, is a former auto mechanic and has experience with plumbing, electrical, framing and just about everything else you can do with your hands.
So we honestly thought, whatever is wrong, Austin can fix it. And for the price we got it, it was worth it!
Then, we started demolition.
As a former therapist, I choose to believe the best in people. So I am going to CHOOSE to believe that the RV’s former owners really didn’t believe that there had been any leaks.
But even as complete rookies, never owning a camper… We knew there was water damage before we even got out of the truck to look at it.
How did we know? Delamination.
Delamination is just one sign of water damage in your RV. We have since learned of others:
- Wallpaper coming off the wall (trust me, that stuff does NOT come off easily)
- Soft spots on the wall or floor
- Rusted screws
- And then, of course, wetness. (I mean, duh)
So we knew we were going to be addressing some water damage, we just didn’t know how much. Here’s a picture of the back wall in the bunk room after we ripped out most of the rotted wood. This was during our first week of renovation and also the first hint of the words “HUGE mistake” popped into my brain.
But in the end we fixed all the water damage that we could find. Then on the day we moved in, we found more.
At this point, I am sure there is more we didn’t find, but honestly? I don’t even want to know.
Okay, maybe I do want to know. But wait. Probably not.
Other people’s crap
Yep. I’m talking about literal doo doo here, my friend. And while poop may be the great equalizer, you don’t really expect to find it in your new-to-you RV.
Honestly! Who sells an RV with a full black tank?
And how did we find this out? Well, while cutting pipes to remove a black tank. (We removed the second bathroom).
Okay, that was BAD, but we recovered. We had to wait months to dump because we renovated in winter, so on top of that we had a FROZEN black tank and the realization that the rig was, in fact, NOT winterized as we had been told. Thankfully nothing burst or broke.
So once we got beyond the actual crap, we began to notice a lot of “fixes/mods” done to our camper by the previous owner.
For example, the valve to the grey tank was removed. It took us a few weeks to discover this and we kept wondering why we were filling our tank so quickly. (Also our sensors are disconnected, so we haven’t been able to keep track that way).
At one point someone added an “underbelly” to our rig with corrugated metal. This seemed like a good idea until we discovered that a rodent had made a home there. A long, long time ago. Add some water from a minor leak, and the smell clued us in.
More crap. Lots of it. Bye bye underbelly.
So, be warned! When purchasing a used RV from a private party, you may have to deal with other people’s crap. And I mean this in the most literal way possible, unfortunately.
If you have kids under 5, plan for your renovation to take approximately 6 times longer than your plan.
Turns out someone has to actually watch the kids (especially the 1-year-old), and an RV renovation isn’t exactly a safe playground.
Our older boys were always wanting to “help”, but that usually meant taking the tools out to the yard and leaving them there. And while we did have help from family with the kids, our time was limited to when someone could be watching them.
So kids make the renovation process take THAT MUCH longer, and when you are just wanting to move in, it feels even longer yet.
Yup, you are bound to make them. We sure did, even with my husband’s extensive experience. And if you’re a are first-timer… well just bring your sense of humor and humility.
Here are few that we made:
- Not opening up our materials when they arrived. We waited until we were ready to install our new shower pan to open the package, and it was cracked. We were 2 days outside of the 30 day return window and out $200. Ouch.
- Buying things we didn’t need. We scoured the internet for epoxy to re-attach the fiberglass to the back wall of the RV. We bought some, but ended up using Liquid Nail. More money down the drain. This is just one example of something we thought we would need but didn’t.
- Using the wrong paint. Whatever the guy at Home Depot tells you, do NOT use oil-based paint for your cabinets. Yes, there are advantages to oil-based but they are NOT WORTH IT. It is so hard to work with (shows every stroke), takes FOREVER to dry, and is a pain to clean up. Not to mention it is incredibly toxic.
And while we are on the subject of paint: Do NOT try to get Home Depot to match Sherwin Williams colors.
We did this with 2 different colors and we ended up needing more and the second batch did not match the first. It was close enough that we didn’t catch it until it dried. By then we were so over painting, that we decided just to live with it. In short, the paint did not turn out the way we wanted it to.
Oh, and don’t let your paint freeze. We lost a lot of good paint that way.
You know what? Just renovated when it’s warm- you’ll have a lot fewer issues to deal with. Winter is a bad time to do any of this.
Mistakes cost you time and money. So take your time, do your research, and be deliberate with your choices. You won’t regret it when it’s all said and done.
Is it worth it?
So, the big question at the end of the day- is it worth it?
Well despite all the crap, mismatch paint, and money out the window, I’d do it again. We have a custom RV that suits our families need and our style. It feels like home. All that undone stuff will happen eventually.
We’ve been living in our new home for a couple months and love it. I am so happy we decided to pursue this lifestyle.
If you’re considering an RV remodel, don’t be afraid. Just be aware. Check out Instagram for inspiration and ideas, but remember that it doesn’t show the whole picture. Make a plan, prepare for these plan to change 1501 times, then go kill it!
Ready to start your RV renovation?
Jenny and Austin Hedrick recently renovated a 40-foot fifth wheel and moved in with their 3 kids. They are living stationary in Colorado and are hoping to start traveling full-time as a family by the end of the year. Jenny is a former mental health therapist turned stay-at-home mom and Austin owns his own masonry company. They started the RV Wannabes blog to connect with others living (or hoping to be living) the RV lifestyle!