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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
• 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.