~ Tech Tips ~
A Series of Little Pointers and Explanations
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"Push yourself! Nobody is going to do it for you"
The buttons below with take you to each of a few little pointers and tips as you go about repairing various parts of your RV. Any suggestions for additions are welcomed.
This page will be a series of little articles I wrote to describe to the best of my ability as many aspects as possible of what is needed to dismantle an RV such as "This Old Trailer". My work at a "Trailer Factory" as a young man in the early 70's was my introduction to how mobile homes and RV trailers are built. While these methods don't apply to everything, the general concept applies to most units. Back in the earlier RV days, they built them all out of wood and most had aluminum siding, metal roofs and underbellys. It wasn't until later years that, much like vehicles of today, the technology and advancement saw some amazing changes to bring things to what they are today. But sadly, as we all know, the overall quality in the whole RV industry leaves something to be desired. The horror stories of water leaks, flimsy construction and more run rampant everywhere you look.
2) First, The Basics:
Having a good understanding of how an RV trailer is built is very important. In order to effectively take anything apart, you must first learn and understand how it is put together. My work on a trailer assembly line taught me a lot. This outline is general, and please understand that the process does vary from one manufacturer to another.
First in line, the frame is built. All welded together with all the outriggers, suspension attachments and so on. They used to paint them black. Many RV companies outsource the frames from other companies. They used to build them in house where I worked.
Meanwhile, the floor is built. They sheet it, usually with OSB or plywood. Overhead cranes flip it over, then internal stuff goes in, wiring, insulation, other things. The bottom sheeting goes on to cover it from one end to the other. Coroplast, Fiber cloth mesh, what ever their choice is.
The finished frame gets picked up with a crane, flipped over and lowered into place on the finished floor and bolted down. The finished floor gets flipped over, right side up to begin the journey down the production line.
Next they put the floor down, lino, carpet, whatever it is. Lino - it is installed in one piece from end to end prior to anything being installed on the floor. This is why your floor is continuous from one end to the other.
Meanwhile, walls and partitions are built to spec in another department.
The walls now get placed onto the finished floor and fastened down.
Partitions, cabinets etc are all brought in and fastened down. Remember, the top is still open, no roof.
Only once everything is inside and in place do they put the roof on. The roof is built upside down on a jig, then picked up, flipped over and lowered on top of the walls and fastened down.
Now you have the outer shell, still unfinished going down the line to have wiring, plumbing, insulation etc. completed prior to putting the finished siding and roofing on.
This described process does not apply to the one piece wall systems with fiberglass exteriors, bonded foam insulation and aluminum studs. That is a different lesson.
So there is a basic, generic description for you.
3) Taking Things Apart To Do Repairs:
Many repairs that need to be done involve patching a soft spot on the floor, repairing rot in the corner of a roof or wall, and so on. It is not as easy as just removing the affected area and replacing it. See my general description above to understand that the half rotten floor you are trying to fix extends under everything to the outside, and all components are placed on top of it. That damaged wall panel also goes in behind all the walls and cabinets. This is where creativity and common sense need to work as a team.
4) Primary Consideration:
One of the single most important things to keep in mind with any repair is the structural integrity of the overall unit. These things get towed down the highway in all kinds of conditions, heaving up and down, swaying around corners, encountering wind gusts and a lot more. If structural components are not all properly fastened together and to each other, things will come apart. They must be allowed to flex as one unit, not as individual pieces. Many of us have seen the disastrous results of an RV rollover where the entire thing is reduced to kindling scattered all over the highway. Our rolling homes do not have much substance to them. If they built them super strong they would weigh so much we could never tow them with a pickup. Which leads me to the next point...
5) Choose Your Repair Materials Wisely:
So here you are, ready to rip into a rotten floor or section of your RV and you are thinking - This cheap light wood is no good, why would they use that? I'm going to get some super heavy duty big beefy lumber and really make it strong! Great idea, BUT!....
Wait! Weight! There is a reason for the skimpy 2X2's and 2X3's made from spruce. Spruce is strong but lightweight. You must consider that going with heavy, creosote soaked Douglas Fir or similar will really add weight. And if you put a lot of extra weight on one side or end, you will upset the balance designed into the unit.
Keep it simple, keep it strong and go with similar materials the manufacturer used.
I used virtually all reclaimed lumber for my rebuild. I salvaged packing crates from sunroom products, leftover 2X4's I had on hand and much more. I only bought the finish type wood, the wall and ceiling panels and the like. There was a huge cost savings here.
6) Essential Tools:
It is important to have access to a variety of tools. Fortunately for me, being in the trades for 46 years, I have amassed a substantial collection of tools for all kinds of applications.
Some basics are what most people already own anyhow. Cordless drills, driver bits, prybars, a hammer, pliers, things like that.
But if you are going to get into any kind of major work, you will need some other tools:
1) Drills and bits. You need at least one variable speed drill. Cordless is best, as they stop turning the moment you release the trigger. And assortment of common sized drill bits, and driver bits for running screws in. In some parts of the work you need to drill a pilot hole before screwing the parts together. Some holesaws help too for boring larger holes to run plumbing and electrical through.
2) A table saw is extremely helpful. I would put that on the mandatory list. A lot of wood framing is cut to a custom size. You need to be ready to do the same. The custom sized wood can be created from your basic KD spruce 2X4's, ripped down to suit. Making the cabinets all need a table saw. Accuracy is important if you want a clean professional job.
3) A must to have use of is a wide crown staple gun. Beg, borrow, rent or just go buy a cheap one like I did. You need to use staples with a one inch crown and one inch legs. This will be used to attach all framing members together. Having some 1/2 or 5/8" leg staples really help too. I used a soffit gun with half inch staples on this project. A bit narrow but it works.
4) While we are talking a staple gun, a small gauge gun is needed if you are installing new paneling and building cabinets. Mine is a 21 ga, very thin staples, with about a quarter inch crown and a half inch leg. These become nearly invisible when applied. Color the crown with a marker pen and you can hardly see them. Another staple gun is needed if there are things like lapping aluminum siding and trims. I used a heavier one with a 1/4" crown and about 3/4" legs. Don't recall for sure, it was about 16-18 ga.
5) Another must have is a router with a few specific bits. This is used primarily to cut out openings and trim the outside of panels. It will do a very neat job.
6) The basics mentioned above. Add to that hand screwdrivers, hacksaw, circular saw, reciprocating saw etc.
I located all my specialty tools I used in the rebuild and I'll take pictures of them all and find a place to post them here.
Here I will describe the attachment of the wall studs to the top and bottom plates. This is a critical step, because it is this attachment that holds the the whole thing from flying apart. Close attention must be given to this detail. A couple little toe nails or toe screws is not enough. Each framing member must be very securely fastened to each other at every joint. Using the wall stud to plates as an example, I already had all the wood pieces cut to size, everything laid out and marked where it goes. My Citation was framed with 2X2 studs and 1X2 top and bottom plates. I gave everything a dry fit first before gluing and fastening in place. I marked my plates exactly where every stud goes, and every stud for cross piece location. I then pre-drilled the plates at each framing member location, 2 holes at each attachment point, and the studs for each cross framing member. At some point I will add drawings here. The holes were kept in from the edge 1/2" or so, and put diagonally across where the stud goes. Using 3" #8 decking screws, I fastened studs to plates. Once I was sure the location was correct, I backed the screws out and applied a liberal amount of wood / carpenters glue to both the stud and plate, and ran both screws in snugly until the screw head is slightly buried in the plate, not sticking out.
Once each piece is firmly screwed to each other, I put in 3 - 1" X 1" staples per side, per attachment point, one leg in each piece. This makes for a very strong, firm attachment that will not come apart.
8) Little Details and Hints:
The staples used to fasten the wall paneling to the studs - Find a permanent marker close to the color of the wall panels. Color the crown of the staples before loading them into the staple gun. This will assist in disguising the the staples.
On my rebuild I used golden oak panels, so I utilized a gold color permanent marker.
9) Wiring Thoughts:
Something to keep in mind with doing any kind of electrical work on an RV is that there appears to be no set rule on color coding for positive, negative and ground. Logic would dictate that there should be some sort of industry standard. I have seen a variety of colors used throughout the industry. In domestic cars, they are negative ground with black as ground and red as positive.
In RV's I have seen a multitude of differences, mainly in older units. Not sure about the newer ones. In this Citation, for the internal 12V things, black was positive and white was negative, or ground. Be sure to determine what the color coding is for your specific unit before taking things apart. Hooking things up backwards can easily spell disaster, especially for things like the circuit boards in fridges and much more. Be careful!
Another wiring consideration is all the 110V wiring running in the outside walls. It runs through the studs and plates, so there is a risk of hitting it with a staple when fastening the interior panels in place, or the siding. The factory had it running through metal ferrules. Good idea! They were in rather rough shape, so I got a length of rigid half inch copper pipe, cut it into 2 inch lengths and drilled about a 5/8" hole into the studs. I filed the pipe pieces so there were no sharp edges, then drove them into the holes into the studs. I made sure they were a snug fit, not loose. After all the wiring was in place and run through the new ferrules, I pumped a polymer based caulking into the holes to prevent the wires from moving and abrading on the copper. A stray staple will glance off the ferrule rather than penetrate the wire.
10) Document Everything:
If you are going to embark on a major rebuild project such as this, or even a sectional repair, it is very important to document everything you do all along the way. See the detailed explanation in the Siding section. I edited pics, printed them and noted measurements and other important info on them. As mentioned throughout this site, take pictures. Take lots of pictures, and write notes. Don't think for a minute that you are going to remember where everything goes. You won't. Keep a notebook handy at all times, and every time you think of even a small detail, stop and write it down. Even little things such as an extra light would be handy here, or this wall needs backing for a towel bar, or I need to run wires for solar, and so on. I added lots of little features to this rebuild. I had it wide open, down to the studs, so there was ample opportunity to run anything I wanted before covering it up. But as I emphasized many times, take pictures! And write notes. All during the rebuild and re-assembly, I checked my notes and photos as a reference to ensure I remembered everything. Doing this will help immensely.
More To Come:
I wrote these little tech tips rather quickly. They encompass some common things that help when you are effecting RV repairs. I left it for now so I could focus on the meat and potatoes of the site. As I think of other topics, I will add them here. For now, this is it. Or if you have a thought about some topic you'd like to see an explanation on, let me know!