Things I Learned on Roadtrip #2

I keep taking The Ghost of Ohio out well before she’s ready.  Some would say I’m a glutton for punishment, but I think you “learn things better” when you experience them first hand.  Traveling with an Airstream that is under renovation, though it’s not the most luxurious situation, contributes greatly to improvements in design, layout, use, and materials.

The first road trip (at least the end of it) was a pretty miserable failure.  My kid will always have fond memories of breaking down in the middle of nowhere and being stranded for a week, and he swears that Worland, WY is his favorite place on the planet, but there’s no denying that the end of that trip (post breakdown and what it led to), was one of the worst experiences of my life …and that’s saying something.

So here I am on the second “case study” road trip.  Just me and my 5-year-old driving from Denver to Northwest Ohio.

Use your tire covers (especially when your Airstream is sitting for extended periods).

Tire blow out.  Likely the result of UV damage (covered-side tires were far less deteriorated).  I quickly learned that it is difficult to find trailer tires while on the road, and most places simply will not put anything but an ST (trailer rated) tire on a rim meant for a trailer (liability).

Luckily we had a good spare, but that also reminded me how important it is to check your spare before you leave on a trip!

Having things fastened down and contained is key.

We don’t have cabinets or permanent seating (with storage) yet, so currently everything is in bins (or loose). Even things that seemed like they would never move or slide were all over the place.  Every time we stopped, it was an adventure (and a pain) getting everything back to where we could make sense of and access our stuff.  If it’s an option, even just screwing a 2×4 to the subfloor to create a rail to keep bins from sliding is a good idea when traveling while you’re under construction.

Space to move around is a major consideration.

While it’s fun figuring out just how tightly you can cram everything into a space (Tetris-ing seems like the most efficient way to organize and store your stuff), using the Airstream with all that stuff crammed in there makes me realize how important negative space really is.  After visiting my parents, we also took on extra cargo that contributed to the issue.  Trying to move around while living became a nightmare.  This is a good lesson to learn and will definitely contribute to future layout design.

Be judicious with your preparations.

I have a problem.  I am waaaay too concerned with making sure I’m “prepared.” And to me, prepared means over-prepared, usually to the detriment of getting on the road in a timely fashion.  I also enjoy figuring out how to make my tool collection most efficient for any and all possible situations, but I’m still taking way too many tools.  Take tools that are good for emergencies and can do double-duty, but don’t waste time, space, and weight with tools for a “project” that you might undertake while on the road.  In fact, make your life so much easier and your trip so much more enjoyable by NOT doing ANY of your resto/reno projects while on the road.

A brake controller is a nice thing to have.

I realize now that I had no brake controller all the way from Denver to Indiana.  On the upside, it means the tow vehicle can handle braking with the Airstream if the controller or trailer brakes fail.  On the downside, it certainly wasn’t ideal as far as safety goes, and I’m sure I need new brake pads now.  Be sure you are familiar with your controller and how it works before you head out on the road, so you aren’t figuring out what things mean and how things work while you’re towing.  My controller looked to me like it was doing its job, but I realize now that it wasn’t hooked up properly.

Hensley Hitch Issues (know how your hitch works and travel with spare parts if you can!)

The safety chains go BETWEEN the leveling bars.  I went back and forth on this when hooking up the trailer, and I should have just taken the time to consult the manual.  It seemed like the chain would be in the way of the bars if “threaded” through the middle, so I laid them on the outside of the leveling bars.  Big mistake.  On the return trip, I actually bent one of the struts to nearly a 90 degree angle.  The struts also pinched and dented the head (the part that holds the ball hitch).

I spent almost a whole day trying to find parts to make the hitch work for the return home, but finally just threw in the towel and ended up rolling with the Airstream attached straight to the ball (Hensley Hitch removed).

Additionally, and even though I actually did take time to think about it and try different routing paths, be sure your trailer electrical connector doesn’t get pinched by the hitch.  My cord was pinched at some point (though I’m still not sure how), cutting several of the wires.  I lost my running lights; luckily the brake and turn signal wires weren’t damaged, and those things continued to function.

Materials and routing are important things to consider.

Aluminum conduit (obviously) conducts heat, and the back of your 3-way fridge gets INSANELY hot!  I had a temporary 12v line run up the wall, and it shifted and lay across the refer cooling coil.  I’m surprised it didn’t melt anything (including the wires inside).  I grabbed the conduit to move it, and it burned me good enough to blister. Idiot.  [update: I have since had a similar issue where the conduit fell across the coil again (not my fault!) and the wires inside did actually melt and blew a fuse]

Pay attention to the message other drivers are trying to convey to you!

While driving, the rear side hatch blew off (not really sure how, most likely didn’t get shut and latched properly).  When someone drives by waiving their arms wildly, sometimes they are just admiring your awesome Airstream.  However, more often than not, they are letting you know that something is flopping around or that you’ve lost something (and hopefully it didn’t hit their vehicle).

The biggest fridge isn’t always the bestest fridge.

I tried out a larger fridge on this trip, and I didn’t have it hooked up to propane.  While it’s nice having that extra space, if you are going for significant amounts of time without being able to power the refrigerator (in my case, being able to plug into 120v), you will have problems keeping things cold.  Not only will the larger fridge lose it’s cool faster than a smaller one, but it also takes longer to get it back to cool.  A smaller fridge is easier to use like a cooler (placing ice packs in it to keep it cool).  Just something to consider when deciding on fridge size.

Carry plenty of hand sanitizer and wet wipes (especially if the plumbing isn’t hooked up yet!).

Even if you have plenty of bottled water or jugs, it isn’t always convenient to haul them outside just to wipe your hands.  Wipes and sanitizer are SO much more convenient when you’re on the go (literally and figuratively).  I have also since learned that a pump container of Gojo (pumice hand cleaner) and a good rag is really nice to have if you are continually working on things covered in grease, diesel exhaust, etc.

There are armadillos in Missouri!  Lots of them.

Unfortunately, the ones we saw were all dead and lying on the side of the road.  My five-year-old and I are also convinced we saw a dead platypus (duck bill and beaver tail, no question!).  Yes, I know they only live in Tasmania and a little bit of Australia’s southern coast, but we saw one (shut up), so it must have escaped from a zoo.

Trucks have all kinds of weird diesel pumps these days.  You are not always allowed to use them.

I actually came across a station that advertised diesel, but would not sell me diesel (because I didn’t have a semi-truck). It was incredibly frustrating, especially when running on fumes.

Insulating an Airstream (part 2: practical application)

After weighing all my options (see part 1), I decided to go with Polyisocyanurate rigid panels for insulating the Airstream.  Both Lowe’s and Home Depot carry PIC, but I like the Home Depot brand better (Rmax, made in the USA).  The PIC panels are far superior to styrofoam and extruded polystyrene in just about every way (except price, but they’re actually only a few dollars more per sheet).  PIC is certainly more fire-retardant (though not fire proof), and definitely equally if not more moisture resistant.  They don’t call it moisture proof, but I assume that is for legal reasons only.

I actually did a test where I fully submerged pieces of PIC in sealed jars full of water and let them sit for extended periods of time.  After three days submerged, the PIC came out weighing exactly the same as when it went in (indicating that it took on little to no moisture, or it would have been heavier).

After two weeks the PIC did weigh a bit more when I first removed it from the water, but after letting it sit for around an hour, it returned to its original weight.  I did another check at 6 months and got the same results.  Maybe not the most scientific test in the world, but good enough for me.

I went a little crazy with the actual application of the PIC panels.  I decided the best method is to first cut the 1/2″ thick PIC panels into small pieces and then glue them with TremPro 635 to the exterior skins.  I tried a bunch of different stuff for adhesive (TremPro 635, Vulkem 116, Silicone, 3M VHF tape, etc.), but I think the TremPro 635 is best.  It works whether you’re applying it in hot/cold weather, and it’s definitely going to last.

At first I was cutting the 1/2″ thick PIC into tiny 1.5″x1.5″ pieces (see photos in gallery below), but that was taking too long, so I started using 1.5″ strips (at whatever length was good for the location).  I then cut sections from 1″ thick PIC panels to fit between ribs and cross members.  This leaves an air gap against the skin for airflow and moisture runoff (and the possibility of running more wire if I ever need to).  This method also makes it easier to repair damaged exterior panels if that dreaded moment ever arrives (vs. spray foam, which is crazy-hard to remove when repairing the exterior skins).

In places where there is a curve in the wall, you need to score the PIC to allow it to conform to the curve.  After I scored my PIC panels, I resealed the cuts with foil tape.  This is pretty easy where it’s just the simple curve of the upper side walls, but it gets tricky for the compound curves of both end caps.

Finally, I sealed everything up against the ribs and cross members and window frames with Nashua 324A Foil HVAC tape (see photos in gallery below).  Nashua 324a foil tape is my best friend.  Be careful though, it will slice you if you run your finger down the edge!

 

I purchased two 3″ wide rolls at Goodwill for $10 about a decade ago.  When I ran out of that, I was worried because all I was finding online was a 60yd. roll for around $40, but luckily after checking the big box stores I found it at Home Depot for $17/roll (60yds., 2.5 inches wide).  It’s rated to hold from -25F to 325F.  That wouldn’t work if it were applied directly to the exterior skins (they actually get hotter than that in the sun), but it’s fine for using to seal the interior of the PIC panels.  It sticks in the extreme cold, and it sticks REALLY well (even during application, which works all the way down to -10F).  I’ve got a roll of some other non-marked foil tape (thought the cardboard roll does say Nashua), but it may as well have NO adhesive whatsoever compared to the 324a.

I also decided it was a worthwhile endeavor to put a thermal barrier between the ribs and the interior skins.  The interior skins are aluminum like the exterior.  The ribs are also aluminum.  That means when the sun is baking the exterior of the Airstream, all that exterior heat is transferred via the ribs to the interior skins and basically turns your Airstream into a toaster oven.  I have NO IDEA why Airstream doesn’t utilize a thermal barrier on the ribs from the factory.  I did some research on materials (using EPDM rubber, rolled polysterene, etc. –I even researched aerogel) and found that the best bang-for-the-buck solution is the blue polystyrene you use when laying framing on a foundation.  It’s only $6 a roll at the big box stores, but I often find new rolls at salvage places for $2.  It’s light, it’s thin, rivets obviously go through very easily, and it makes a HUGE difference to the interior temperature.  I used an infrared temp. gun to take some readings of the interior skin over the ribs with and without the polystyrene barrier, and on an 80 degree, sunny, Colorado day, there was up to a 120F difference!

Regarding the idea of a moisture barrier… The PIC is foil faced on both sides and then sealed with foil tape on the interior.  I think that is plenty for the “exterior” moisture barrier, not to mention the gap between the exterior skin and PIC panels for moisture to shed.  Regarding the idea of this causing too much moisture to be trapped inside the Airstream (especially when using the propane appliances and heat)… I guess time will tell how bad it could get.  One can always open vents/windows, so we’ll see how it goes.  Luckily I’m not too worried about moisture collecting in/on the PIC panels, after doing my fully-submerged panel tests.

Finally, I am using two 2″ layers of PIC with air gaps between the panels and at the decking for insulating the belly. In addition to acting as a thermal gap, the air gap between the underside of the decking (floor) and the first layer of PIC also helps eliminate floor rot from moisture collection.

Removing the Old Air Conditioner

Every time I looked at the Airstream, I wanted to immediately take the old, rusty a/c off.  I resisted doing it last fall (so there wasn’t a gaping hole all winter), but even though it’s now Spring and raining quite a bit, I just couldn’t hold myself back any longer.

Someone installed the a/c that was up there with about a million tiny screws (vs. rivets)  and a WHOLE lot of goo.  The installation included two aluminum “L” rails running the length of the a/c unit.  I’m not sure what they were for (condensation?), but to me they were just more garbage to remove.  I waited till the hottest part of the day and peeled back as much goo from where I could tell the screws were, and then unscrewed as many as I could.  I think I got pretty lucky, ’cause there were only about 4 that didn’t back out.  Those four I grabbed with a vice grip from below to turn, and once they were backed out enough, I grabbed them from above.

I probably should have waited and gotten some help from a friend to bring the a/c down, but I was on a rampage, so I just laid some old sleeping bags on the Airstream skin to avoid scratching anything, and then slid the unit over and down the rails of my ladder.  That thing was heavy.  I texted my dad a pic to show him how strong I am.

So what was left was a gaping hole and a lot of nasty goo (from the looks of it, silicone, latex, vulkem, and butyl tape).  I waited till the hottest part of the next day and scraped as much off as I could with a dull chisel (to avoid scratches).  Then I used Goof Off, a scotch brite sponge, a rough rag, and a brass wire brush on the end of my drill to remove a sufficient amount of what was left.  I didn’t go to town getting it spic ‘n’ span because I still don’t know what I’m going to do up there to finish things off (bubble sky light?  gunner’s touret?  sunbathing deck?), so I’ll wait until then to make things pretty.

Once the skin was cleaned up, E and I buck riveted all the screw holes closed.  I put a dab of TremPro 635 on each hole before setting the rivet, so I’m pretty confident that everything is water tight.

There were a couple screw holes that were actually “double drilled” (two holes right on top of each other, but simply putting two rivets right on top of each other seemed to do the trick (luckily you can’t really see this stuff from the ground).

Now I just have to decide what to do with the hole that’s left.  There’s a tiny chance that I’ll put a new, smaller a/c back on the roof, but I really like the clean look not having the a/c on the roof, and I’m considering installing a split on the tongue.  For camping this summer (in our friend’s yards), I’m actually just going to put a window unit in the access opening where the water heater used to be.

airstream-a-c-01

Temporary A/C Set Up

Oddly enough, the highly rated, *almost* EnergyStar (missed the mark by .1 points –so essentially EnergyStar rated without the upcharge) window unit I found is EXACTLY the same size as the hole that already existed for the old water heater.  How lucky is that?  I will be making a sliding system from heavy duty computer-rack sliding rails so the unit can simply slide out when we reach our destination, and then back in when we’re ready to go!  I’m not sure yet if this will be just an auxiliary unit to cool the bedroom and complement a “whole trailer” unit or if it will work (in tandem with some fans and perhaps even some ducting) to cool the whole Airstream.

Things I Learned on Roadtrip #1

Well… there’s really no way to sugar coat it; this was a bad one.

It started out well.  The first part was fun and exciting.  We traveled from Denver all the way up to Missoula, Montana for the wedding of some friends.  The Airstream was completely gutted, just a shell, and only the rear was insulated.  We had a power strip, a window air conditioner sticking out of the old hot water heater portal, a portable toilet and some carpet, mats, and sleeping bags on the floor.  We were looking at it as a “camping experience” where we could pull the entire site and not worry about rain.

On the way up we stopped and slept wherever we wanted to.  It was great.  The sky was amazing and the dog and kiddo loved exploring wherever we felt like parking the rig.

In Missoula we parked in a shady spot on the street outside our friends’ neighbors’ house and ran an extension cord.  The dog enjoyed the A/C in the Airstream during the day, and we didn’t have to take up space in anyone’s house.  It was fantastic.

The adventure continued on the way home as we visited another friend in Boseman, and then spent that night just outside of Columbus, MT, right ON the Yellowstone River (our kiddo could lob a stone from the front door into the river) at Itch-Kep-Pe Park near the border of Wyoming.  There had been a family picnicking in a prime spot on the river, and when they left at dusk, we whipped into the spot.  We built a fire, watched the moon rise over the river, listened to the water, and breathed in the cool night air.  It was amazing.

The whole time we kept thinking about the slide out, fiberglass box RV that was over-nighting at the gas station where we had fueled up earlier (maybe eight minutes from where we were now parked).  The lesson there?  Wherever you land, drive around a bit before conceding to sleep in a parking lot!

The next morning we stopped at a super cool drive-in restaurant just outside of Columbus to get coffee (we ended up getting ice cream and french fries) and geared up for the rest of our adventure.  That’s when things turned south (literally and figuratively).

We decided to take a more scenic route down highway 310.  Big mistake.  Though it may look like you’d be seeing beautiful mountains driving along a river down 310, the terrain is not unlike the surface of the moon.  And we just happened to take that route on the hottest day Wyoming had EVER experienced, and winds were gusting over 100 mph with a constant 55 mph (burning hot) wind.  Awesome.  On the upside, the Hensley Hitch was fantastic with the wind.  I could barely feel the gusts, even at those speeds.  However, the hills and the heat were just too much for little Pepa (our Jeep CRD).  Frustrated and impatient to leave that terrain, dust-filled wind, and heat behind us, I pushed her WAY too hard.

Going up a long hill, we broke a rocker and started billowing thick black smoke.  Thus began the downward spiral into hell.

Even though the Airstream was “water tight” (resistant?) and safe from the rain and road splash, I didn’t show enough concern regarding how open it was (via cracks and small openings) to other elements since the belly wraps were not installed; thus, all the Diesel Exhaust pouring out of the Jeep was filling up the Airstream.  By the end of the trip, everything was covered in a layer of black soot.  And since the Jeep broke a rocker and we had to drive 30 miles to “civilization” (I use the term loosely) trailing thick black smoke, things got really covered with soot.

Things did not go well from here, but I don’t feel like reliving the experience, so I’ll just leave it at that.

 

TremPro 635

All Kinds of Goo (Poly Caulk and Other Seam and Leak Sealers)

There are SO MANY different kinds of stuff to use for sealing seems and leaks in an Airstream.  The Original stuff used in manufacturing was called Vulkem 116, and it’s still available (either as Vulkem 116 or TremPro 626), but the original Vulkem company was bought out by TremPro.  Vulkem 116 is gritty and will stick to EVERYTHING.  It also takes FOREVER to cure (so cleanup rags will remain gooey for days).

There are a LOT of varying opinions about what’s best to use for what, so I am posting what I’ve learned from researching and using the various products.

The original factory “caulk” is Vulkem 116 (gray), and is now marketed as either Vulkem 116 (the original name) or TremPro 626.  It’s a texturized (gritty, like it contains sand) poly that takes FOREVER to cure (which can be a good thing when you’re talking Airstream).  The “official” cure rate is 48-72 hours, but it can take a lot longer than that, depending on the actual environmental conditions.  Vulkem 116 also cures fairly hard when completely cured, and is thus best for exterior panel seals, a/c installation, setting window frames, etc.

Vulkem 631 is Vulkem 116 but in different colors.

TrempPro 636 (gray) has a slow cure rate (4 hours), has more solvent (better for exterior applications), and is non-textured (smooth).

TremPro 635 (gray) has a faster cure time (90 minutes), and is a low VOC/solvent free silane terminate poly.  So far, this stuff is my favorite, especially for things on the inside.  If you’re doing Airstream restoration, I recommend having at least two tubes of this stuff around, as it’s not available from a lot of places and often takes a while to ship and arrive.

Sikaflex 221  (black) has a fast cure time (60 min.), but seems to require a cleaner surface for adhesions, whereas the Vulkem and TremPro will stick to just about anything.  Some people think it looks better (smoother, more like typical caulk) and is a little easier to work with (doesn’t stick to everything).  It’s typically used for things like interior vent, window, latch, etc., applications.

The products above are for more “construction” type applications.  There are several products like that can be used to seal tiny cracks and leaks around rivets, etc.  These sealers actually wick into the cracks and crevices, whereas the products above are more for adhesion and filling larger gaps and holes.

Acryl-R seems to be a lot of people’s favorite for a wicking sealant, but it takes a special applicator.  The “go to” product for sealing on the road seems to be Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure.

Parbond from Parr is a sort of “in between” product that comes in a “roll-up” tube (like toothpaste) instead of a caulking tube. It is silver, so shows less than something like Sikaflex on exterior applications.  This is a good product to have with you on the road when you don’t want to store a caulking gun and larger amounts of sealant.

Butyl Putty Tape is what you need to use when setting windows, a/c, vents, and other things that have a collar and set in to a hole in your Airstream exterior.  This soft, flexible product is like a roll of flat Silly-Puddy that will seal two surfaces together and keep them that way.

Walbernizer specifically formulated for Airstream coated aluminum surface.

 

BAL Stabilizer Jacks for Leveling Airstream

When you park your Airstream, it’s rarely on perfectly level ground.  Chocks and blocks of wood or rubber under and around the wheels can help even things out and keep the trailer from moving, but stabilizer jacks are best for keeping your home on wheels from wobbling all over the place while you walk around inside.

The Airstream part number for the original jacks is 400093-A, and the manufacturer’s number for the replacements (which are pretty much identical) is 20-8-T.

You can weld the jacks to the frame, but it’s much easier (and equally effective) to simply bolt each jack to the frame of the Airstream (be sure to bolt to the appropriate cross members).  I used self-threading bolts and drove them directly through each jack’s 1/4″ holes and into the Airstream frame.  The bolts are really only holding the jacks to the frame; once opened, the jacks stay in place because the weight of the trailer is bearing down upon them (gravity!).

You will want to be sure you are getting jacks with the extended operating arm, as it protrudes farther to the edge of the trailer than the “normal” operating arm.  If you have the shorter arm, you will have to crawl under your Airstream every time you need to extend the jack.  The operating arm is turned by a crank, but I plan on keeping a socket in my Airstream toolkit so I can operate the jack with my drill (manual cranking is for chumps).

installing stabilizers

installing stabilizers (they are on blocks because the entire Airstream is currently lifted for working on the tanks and bellypan)

20151208_110345

I have heard many tales of people forgetting to crank up their jacks when they leave a site.  As you can imagine, this could cause some pretty serious damage to your trailer’s underside, not to mention destruction of the jacks themselves.

Also, NEVER use your jacks to lift the trailer.  They are rated for 2,000#’s (static load) each, but they are NOT meant to lift your Airstream off the ground.

Manual:
Deluxe BAL “T” Type Stabilizing Jack (20-8-T) mounting and operation manual via Norco Industries
http://norcoind.com/bal/downloads/manuals/T-Type%20Stabilizing%20Jack%20%2820-8-T%29.pdf

Purchasing options:
http://www.vintagetrailersupply.com/BAL_Deluxe_Stabilizing_Jack_p/vts-739.htm

http://odmrv.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=369

Discussion:
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f43/bal-stabilizer-jacks-7640.html

Rivets!

If you’re going to work on an Airstream, you have to know about rivets.  Here is some basic information to get you started.

You “pull” a blind rivet.  You “buck” a solid rivet.

First of all, there really shouldn’t be any screws on an Airstream.  Screws will back out of their holes with the constant road vibration that an Airstream experiences, so eventually a screw will no longer be holding whatever it was screwed into.  Rivets are more “permanent” in that they stay put.  But don’t worry, they are easy to drill out if you need to change something you’ve riveted.

Blind Rivets

There are two types of rivets on an Airstream: bucked rivets and blind rivets.  Airstreams use only two sizes:  1/8″ and 5/32.”  The 1/8″ rivets are generally used for trim on the exterior, and to hold the skins to the ribs on the interior.  The 5/32″ rivets actually hold the Airstream together (panels and ribs).

Blind rivets get their name because you can install them in situations where you can’t see both sides of the surface being riveted (there is a blind side).  So if you are fastening something to another surface without being able to see the back (like skins or trim), you would use a blind rivet.

There are two types of blind rivets, often referred to as “Olympic” and “pop” rivets.

blind rivet (olympic rivet)

blind rivet (pop rivet)

The pop rivet is a pin with a bulb head (the mandrel) inserted through a cylindrical shaft.  The rivet is “pulled” with either a manual or pneumatic puller.  The center pin pulls into the shaft which in turn expands and keeps the rivet in place.  The pulling tool cuts the pin at the head once it pulls into the shaft leaving a dimple in the head where the pin has been cut off.

manual rivet puller

manual rivet puller

pneumatic rivet puller

pneumatic rivet puller

You can get a manual rivet puller from Harbor Freight for under $10.  This is pretty nice to have on the road, as you can pull rivets without needing an air compressor.  The pneumatic rivet puller is a bit nicer, especially if you are doing a LOT of rivets, but obviously it requires a compressor, so it isn’t as portable for road repairs.

The Olympic rivet operates on similar principal to the pop rivet, but the containing shaft splits into three arms that hold the rivet from behind the sheet being riveted (like a drywall anchor).  You can machine/shave a blind rivet to make it look like a bucked rivet with a smooth head (see photos below).

Here is a good thread on Airforums containing the photos below regarding how Olympic rivets work (the photos are from user flyfshr).
http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/olympic-rivet-removal-and-installation-23.html

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

expanded Olympic rivet

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

rivet shaving tool

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

unshaved Olympic rivet

photo credit: flyfshr on airforums

shaved/machined Olympic rivet

For the record, Olympic is actually a brand name, not a type of rivet (like Kleenex is synonymous with tissue).  There are many types of rivets made under the Olympic name. Only one type is originally used on Airstreams. They’re called Olympic Bulb-Tite Shaveable Head rivets, either 1/8″ in size or 5/32″.

Bucked Rivets

buck rivets

buck rivets

Bucked rivets look like tiny metal mushrooms.  There are no moving parts.  A bucked rivet is hammered with a pneumatic riveting gun, and the soft aluminum mushrooms out to hold the rivet in place.  Buck riveting usually takes two people, because someone needs to hammer one side while someone else “backs” the rivet by holding a small anvil (the buck bar) against it.

Advice on rivet length from this thread:

Always try to use the correct length rivet. It should be long enough to penetrate the parts to be riveted and still protrude to a length approximately 1-1/2 times the rivet diameter. In other words, a 1/8″ diameter rivet should stick out about 3/16″ (certainly not less than 1/8″) before it is bucked.

buck riveting gun

buck riveting gun

bucking bar

bucking bar

 

The rivets on my Airstream aren’t all perfect (some are far from it, in fact).  There seem to be a lot of factory rivets that were skipped or at least skimped on.  Below you can see some examples of what I’m talking about.

Before (through the holes, but not really mushroomed and holding anything together):20151206_140752

20151206_140801

After (mushroomed out and actually holding the two pieces of aluminum together):20151206_140811

Clecos

clecos

clecos

I love clecos.  Mostly just because they look cool.  They are like clamps for riveting.  Basically they are temporary rivets.  You place clecos in rivet holes using a special cleco tool (cleco pliers) that makes the spring-loaded cleco grab and release by pushing on the end of it.

cleco pliers

cleco pliers

clecoed in place

vista vue window clecoed in place

Removing Rivets

Rivets are removed by drilling them out.

Sometimes you will see/hear people using a number instead of a size (inches or millimeters) for a drill bit.

5/32″ is .15625 and a #21 is .159; thus the #21 drill bit gives a 5/32″ rivet a little clearance to slide into the hole.

#40 = 3/32”

#30 = 1/8” (which is the shank size of the rivets used most extensively in assembling the interior of an Airstream)

#10 = 3/16”

For removing Olympic rivets, Andy from Inland RV says:

An Olympic rivet is 5/32 which is .15625 inches

 

#20 is .161
#21 is .159
#22 is .157

 

The best drill bit size to use is a #21, since a hole will not be perfectly round, unless using a drill press.

Andy also says:

Olympic rivets for Airstream usage have always been 5/32 shank, but with the same size “brazier head” as the 1/8 buck rivets.

That is so the looks do not basically change and the strength of the shank was maximized, so as to be similair to the buck rivets shan strength.

For what it’s worth, I have just been using 1/8″ and 5/32″ drill bits to remove rivets and to install rivets.  I simply use the bit to route out the head, and when that pops off (sometimes you might want to use a sharp chisel to carefully shave the head if it’s being stubborn), I make sure to be centered and drill out the old rivet body.

Other links used for this post:

Removing a solid rivet: http://wiki.matronics.com/wiki/index.php/Removing_Solid_Rivets

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/right-size-drill-bit-for-olympic-rivets-85451.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/factory-rivet-vs-repair-rivet-6368.html#post49015
post #14 = pics of all the rivets

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/buck-rivets-or-olympic-rivets-32693.html

http://www.airforums.com/forums/f381/buck-rivets-look-wrong-using-wrong-air-hammer-bit-120715.html

Insulating an Airstream (part 1: research and theory)

Sprayed Foam vs. Rigid Panel vs. Batt vs. Bubble/Foam Foil

I had quite a few questions to answer before deciding how I would insulate our Airstream.  I was lucky enough to get our trailer with the interior already removed, which means I didn’t have to deal with the toxic mess of removing the original fiberglass batt, which is almost ALWAYS infested with rodents, their homes and tunnels, and their droppings in these older Airstreams.  Not only that, but the batt is usually wet and filled with mold, and often still glued to the skins and difficult to remove completely.

I knew I wouldn’t be reinstalling fiberglass (it’s AWFUL to work with, and doesn’t hold up as well as a lot of the newer alternatives), but I wasn’t certain as to which option would be best for us.  My initial thoughts revolved around using Spray Foam, but I did a lot of research and eventually decided to go a different route.

Here were my areas of concern when thinking about insulation for the Airstream:

  • maximizing R value
  • containing heat while allowing vapor/moisture to escape (we plan on using our Airstream all four seasons)
  • ease of installation
  • cost
  • availability
  • durability and endurance (how long the insulation will last)

Spray Foam

As mentioned, Spray Foam was my initial choice for insulating the Airstream.  The thought of using a very light product that not only gets into EVERY nook and cranny, but also seals things up and ads structural integrity to the trailer just seemed like a no brainer.  However, there were some issues I uncovered that eventually caused me to go in another direction.

Spray Foam Cons (for my Airstream):

  • Harder to find material or someone to do it
  • Commercial sprayers create heat than can warp skins and ribs
  • You have to do it all at once (nozzles are one time use, rented equipment or someone else doing it, etc.)
  • Even though it’s not necessarily toxic (depending on the specific product), it makes a mess
  • Once installed, repairs are very difficult because the foam is bonded to the skin and must be removed with chemicals –this is the main reason Timeless Travel Trailers doesn’t use spray foam in their trailers

A lot of people on the Airstream forums expressed concerns with Spray Foam breaking down into “fine powder” because of road vibration, but I think there are enough examples of places it has been used successfully (factory installed in various Argosy and other brand trailers, most modern refrigerated trucks, people who’ve done it themselves, etc.), to eradicate those concerns.  Perhaps the cheap “canned foam” options from big box stores would break down, but I think commercial products will hold up to the rigors of the road.

Bear in mind, if you go the Spray Foam route, you need to make sure the product is closed-cell foam (not open cell, like the canned stuff at the big box stores, which will take on and retain moisture).

Also, spray foam seams like a bad idea for the chassis (insulating the underside), as it will retain water between the floor and the foam and thus contribute to floor rot, not to mention it prevents access to all the stuff down there that might need regular access (wiring, plumbing, holding tanks, etc.).

Fiberglass Batt or Rockwool

If the state of the original fiberglass or rockwool that you see when removing your panels isn’t enough to assure you that there are now better choices, here are some other reasons fiberglass batt sucks:

  • collects and retains moisture that turns into mold
  • moisture greatly reduces R value
  • is easily penetrated (inviting even) and harbors vermin
  • awful to work with (incredibly itchy in your skin)
  • settles in the walls to reduce R values over time much more so than rigid panels or spray foam

Foil-faced Foam and/or Bubble Wrap

A lot of people go with Reflectix or Prodex. And though the two products look similar, they are actually quite different.  Reflectix is foil-faced bubble wrap (yes, that bubble wrap).  It’s fairly worthless.  Prodex is actually foil faced closed-cell polyethylene foam, which has a greater R value than bubble wrap (meaning a “real” R value).

Reflectix is more readily available; you can pick it up at your local big box store, but it doesn’t do much for you.  Your Airstream is already made of a reflective material (shiny aluminum!), and the bubble wrap doesn’t really insulate anything (very minimal air contained within the thin layer of “bubble”).

Prodex must be ordered, it’s relatively expensive, and I’ve read in quite a few places about Prodex delaminating (the layers coming apart). 700 square ft. (two, 24 inch wide x 175 ft. rolls) is around $250.  Most variations on size still come in around $250 for 700 sq. ft., so the product is around $2.80/sq. ft. (right around the same price as Rigid PIC Panels).

Many people will point out Prodex’s claim of an R-16 rating, but that rating comes with some pretty unattainable parameters (at least in an Airstream).  From their product spec sheet:

Parameters of test: 24-inch on center 2″ x 6″ wood assembly. Roof application. Test method ASTM 1116. Airspace of 2.64 inch on each side of product. Heat-flow direction down. Interior side of product exposed.

To get an R-16 rating from a 3/16″ sheet of Prodex, you need more than two-and-a-half inches of air space on either side of the material, PLUS air flow (venting).  I can’t seem to find an R value for the product without the air space on either side.

Prodex is extremely easy to install and they claim it is self-sealing, so that’s great, but cost and availability (and the fact that the Airstream doesn’t have 5 inch walls) knocked it out of the running for me.

Polyisocyanurate Rigid Panels

There are several types of “rigid panel” foam products.

Polyisocyanurate (PIC) panels are rigid foam panels that are quite water resistant and sport an R value of 6.5 per one inch of thickness.

Thermasheath Rmax is sold in 4’x8′ sheets and is readily available at Home Depot (Lowe’s does not carry any PIC panels, only extruded poly and Styrofoam).  At the time of this posting, here in Colorado a 1/2″ thick panel (R 3.2) is $11.97, a 1″ thick panel (R 6.5) is $16.35, and a 2″ thick (R 13.1) panel is $28.85.  Obviously the 2″ thick product is too thick for the Airstream wall cavity, so you’ll either need to go with the 1″ thick product or multiple layers of the 1/2″.

The 1″ thick panels will need to be scored to follow the contour of the Airstream walls, and the scores then need to be resealed with foil tape to maintain the moisture/radiant barrier of the foil facing.  The 1/2″ panels will actually bend enough to follow the contour of an Airstream (though not the compound curves of the end caps) without scoring the backside of the panel.  If cost is not an issue (the half inch panels are more expensive in regard to total volume), multiple layers of 1/2″ panels are easiest to install since they don’t need to be scored.  And in the grand scheme of things, the extra $8 per 1 inch thickness in a 4’x8′ panel is probably well-worth the extra cost in saved time and the fact that there are no voids from scoring and bending like the ones that will be created in the 1″ panels.

An added advantage of both rigid panels and foil faced flexible foam is you can run wires in the voids.

Other

FWIW, I’ve not heard of anyone using “blown-in” cellulose or recycled denim, but I would think potential moisture penetration would make that a bad choice, as well as major settling of the material from the motion and vibration of the trailer.

Thermal Bridge

Finally, something to consider is the thermal bridge… anywhere things “touch” from outside to inside will conduct heat/cold.  Insulation can help mitigate this effect between exterior skin and interior skin, but the major problem area is the ribs, which touch both the exterior skin and interior skin, and are made from highly conductive aluminum!

I tried looking in to Aerogel/Thermagel for the Thermal Bridge.  Specifically I e-mailed, called, and even snail-mailed Aspen Aerogels in Massachusetts, but I never received a response.  I assume this is because I’m “small beans,” and they deal with only multi-million dollar outfits.  Considering they seem to be marketing mostly to the oil industry, I am almost certain that Aerogel is cost prohibitive.  I have a cousin in green tech and solar who let me know that Aerogel in it’s original form is pretty hard to work with.  It was described to me as tapioca-like goo inside a thin wrapper.  I would think punching a bunch of rivets through a bag full of pudding wouldn’t work so well.

I have wondered about using neoprene, some left over EPDM rubber I have from the roof on my studio, or even just the blue role of closed-cell poly material that you use between a house’s framing sill plate and the concrete foundation when building a house (i.e. something like Dow Weathermate Polystyrene which is readily available at Lowe’s/Home Depot).  I’m not sure if such a thin layer of material would really help prevent heat transfer at the ribs.  And even though it’s thin, I’m wondering if it would be a problem (an extra layer of material) between the ribs and skin.

On to part 2: practical application (what I actually did)…

Airstream Interior Idea Pin Board

Costco Interstate Marine/RV Battery

I am starting to think about my battery set up.  There are a lot of things to think about (absorbent glass mat vs. other materials, amp hours, 12v vs. 6v, etc.), but it’s hard not to think I might just start with a $79 12V Marine/RV Battery from Costco.  The cost just can’t be beat and that battery should be 120ah (other deep cycle batteries in that range go for at least $200).  I certainly don’t have $1,800 for a multi-6V Trojan set up right now, so why not just spent eighty bucks to “get by” for a while?

You’re not supposed to use “starting” batteries for powering things in your Airstream (you should be using batteries specifically for “deep cycle” use), but for this price, I can’t imagine not going this route, at least for a while.  And I believe these are actually engineered for both deep cycle and cranking/starting, so I should be fine.

I know I have lots more to learn about batteries, etc. and I will be doing a lot of research before selecting and installing all the components of my solar array, but for the time being, it just seems like this battery can’t be beat for the price.