RV demolition: The quest to renovate a water-damaged junker

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By Kate Doherty
Last year, the pandemic restricted many from their planned vacation destinations. In defiance, many non-RVers chose the open road, purchasing all types of RVs in record numbers. I ran into one such guy in January. This RVing and workamping newbie purchased an older motorhome that had sustained inside floor and low-wall water damage. After showing me pictures of his RV demolition project from his iPhone, I asked him how he came about this rig, knowing how water damage could easily become a nightmare.

Jeff arrived at his workamping job two days before he began renovation.

What an undertaking!

Jeff Johnson said he located this 2004 36’ Holiday Rambler motorhome on the internet last October. He flew to Richmond, Virginia, to check it out. He confessed, “It was a bank repo. The price was right! $11,000! I expected to spend about $15,000 more to fix it up and it’d still be worth more than what I have in it.”

All top and sub-flooring and lower-wall damage from the bathroom to the main kitchen area was removed.
Jeff admitted he worked on his remodeling every day until it was complete.

DIY handyman experience helps in an RV demo project

Jeff fits the handyman profile. I asked him to what depths he had to go to remodel his coach. I’m guessing these pictures speak for themselves. He said, after demolishing the floor and removing all traces of mold, he walked on planks for at least two weeks while the floor structure dried. “Then,” he said, “I put down marine grade plywood as the underlayment using angle iron brackets and rebuilt the floor entirely of laminated wood throughout. No carpet anywhere.”

The apparent origination of water damage under the bathroom cabinet created serious mold.

After he was well into his RV demolition, Jeff hinted that it looked as though the water leak may have started in the bathroom, which was why the cabinet was completely soaked and full of mold. It likely migrated into the mid-coach kitchen area. He said, “I just trashed the cabinet. It wasn’t worth trying to refinish. Instead, I found one that fit perfectly along with parts from an RV junkyard. All I had to do then was strip the old color, sand it and stain the cabinet to match the color.”

Finished laminate floor from front to back.
Completed lower wall panels donned with new Levelor blinds.
Laminate floor in bedroom.
Laminate flooring completed with refinished cabinet from an RV junkyard.

A heck of an RV demo project for $25,000

Jeff admits today that it was a “heck of a project,” taking some two months to complete while workamping. He finished with new window treatments just before Christmas. All in all, the entire project cost him $25,000, including the initial cost of the RV.

Let experience work for you

If you’re new to RVing and are handy, you may run across an opportunity like this one. If you’ve ever thought about renovating or fixing an area with water damage, here are some pointers from Nathan Davidson of Davidson RV in Belmont, Mississippi. Why Nathan? He worked at Tiffin Motorhomes for just shy of 17 years in every department manufacturing several models of motorhomes, so he is a wealth of experience.

Nathan is on the roof of a 5th wheel that sustained water damage and is preparing it for a new rubber roof.

Exterior

When looking at the exterior of an older coach or trailer that has sustained water damage the main issues to look at are:

• Delamination of the fiberglass on the exterior of the coach. This will appear as waves or buckling, and may protrude out. This is due to the separation of the fiberglass from the laminate material in the wall. This is very costly to repair.

• Rust on the trailer hitch, rims and frame.

• Cracks down the sides or delamination from the top of the roof.

• Seals around air conditioner, Wi-Fi and/or antennae, roof vents, solar panels and skylight (silicone should be supple, not dry, cracked and moldy).

• Roof should be clean and free of oxidation (noticeable after rain with milky streaks running down the side of the rig).

• Rust around window frames and corners and outside of any slides.

• Check the generator, inverter and corrosion on the batteries.

Interior

• A first-time buyer should be very wary of purchasing a rig with water damage as most of the damage may be hidden until a problem occurs. That’s when major expenses arise.

• Look around windows for staining and feel for soft spots.

• Check around slideouts for water stains on the carpet or tile.

• Look for waves and/or wrinkles on the ceiling panels.

• Look for brown stains in ceiling panels and lights.

• Always trust your sense of smell, because if it smells musty it probably has a leak and has developed mildew or mold.

• Look for cracking or sagging tile. That’s easily discernible if you step on a soft spot and the floor feels mushy. Older tile is hard to come by for matching, so replacement with new laminated floors is the most common. Subfloors that have water damage can be repaired or replaced quite economically by an experienced installer.

• Sagging or stained ceiling panels require a special mastic glue, not typically off-the-shelf in the big box stores. This is a much more difficult job. Not one for a DIYer.

I’m always looking for unique personalizing projects of a home on wheels. If you’ve customized your RV, I’d like to hear from you. You can leave a comment below.

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Marion Cunningham
19 days ago

I’m very pleased with the change we made to our 2007 motorhome. I’m handicapped and need things easy. I seldomly used my residential size oven, so we removed it, put in cabinets and induction cooktop with a butcher block countertop.
Wish I could show you pictures, but I don’t know how to add them.

Rob
20 days ago

I purchased a truck camper a few years back, from first look it appeared that the front over hang was water damaged. A guy on facebook was selling it for $100. I have extensive renovation experience in my life so I know how to rebuild stuff. Well, I ended up rebuilding most of that camper. Water damage isn’t ever what it appears. Water flows easily. I wrote about the rebuild on my website. http://brainrattle.info/1999-frontier-truck-camper-rebuild-2018/

Tom
20 days ago

Sounds like another day in the rebuilding of the GMC Motorhome. Restore this wonderful antique and enjoy the best riding motorhome ever.