Last spring we bought a 15 foot 1977 Vanguard travel trailer from a friend at a good price. I knew that it had some water damage when I bought it … that’s the reason it was so cheap. I figured, HEY, how hard could it be to repair water damage in a small travel trailer? It can’t be that much work … right? …
Wrong! … The first lesson I learned was that some visual water damage inside a trailer, means there’s a lot of hidden water damage.
We started by removing the windows and the exterior aluminum siding, so that we could get to the water damaged areas, cut them out and replace them. Well, the more siding we removed, the more damage we found. In case you’re wondering, the aluminum siding is installed using staples … a lot of narrow crown staples, all at least an inch long. This makes removing the siding a bit of a chore to say the least. You basically have to start at one end of the siding and carefully working under it with a pry bar, lift the siding with the staples attached away from the frame boards.
We kept removing the siding until we didn’t see any more water damage. At the end, we had removed the aluminum siding from the back and front of the travel trailer completely and even some from the sides. Unfortunately, we also saw some water damage on the roof … so off came the sheet metal roof. The roof comes off all in one piece and is attached to the trailer along its four sides with staples and the air vent in the center.
Once the siding is off, you can see that the trailers frame is made up of 1 ½” x 1 ½” boards and 1 ½” X ¾” boards. All of this is coved by old fashion fiberglass insulation. Even though fiberglass insulation doesn’t rot, it can get very nasty with age and exposure to water. We decided it best to remove and trash all of it we could reach.
After the insulation was removed, I finally came to realization that I won’t be able to just to cut-out the rotten areas and replace them. The water damage was so extensive that the front, back and roof frame panels would have to be completely removed and rebuilt.
The electrical wires all had to be removed before we could get to the panels. We made sure to take pictures of wires and wire connections before removing them.
We carefully detached each of the frame panel in sections. Removing them without destroying them gave us a template to work from when building the new frame panels. The panels are held together with screws and you guess it … more staples. A jigsaw with a long multipurpose blade came in handy here. We simply cut through all the staples and screws instead of trying to remove them.
At this point we also noticed some water damage on the back quarter of the floor and had to cut out some sections.
Finally, time to start rebuilding the travel trailer. We start with the back floor. Having cut-out all the water damaged areas, we replaced them with ¾ inch plywood. We not only secured the new plywood pieces with screws but also bolted them to the frame, so there was no chance of them lifting when driving on bumpy gravel roads.
We started rebuilding the frame panels section by section, installing them as we made them. We used pressure treated wood for the frame to make sure any future water damage would be kept to a minimum. For the wall board and ceiling we used ¼” white laminated particle board . It’s much easier to find and cheaper than the plywood that was originally used. You can find it at your local home depot and just about any other hardware store. We built and attached all the frame pieces using long exterior wood screws. They are a lot better of a choice than nails for this type of project, as nails may come loose from rough roads. The white ¼” white laminated particle board walls there attached to the frame sections using brad nails. On the roof, we installed the particle board with wide head screw to prevent any chance of it bowing.
Tip: If you plan to cut white laminated particle board, make sure you use a fine tooth plywood blade. A regular ripping blade will make a mess of the edges. Also, make sure you have someone there to help you cut it. Laminated particle board is very flexible which makes it a pain to cut on your own.
Once all the frame panels were made and installed back on our travel trailer, we started insulting the trailer. We used common white Styrofoam insulation for this as its cheap and easy to work with.
We replaced the entire original wiring with new wiring as we didn’t want to chance having to go back in to fix a failed light.
Before installing the aluminum siding back on the travel trailer, we covered all the new panels with a thick layer of plastic sheeting. This was done because pressure treated wood can’t come into contact with aluminum, or the aluminum will start to deteriorate. In our case it also added another layer of water proofing.
We installed the siding and roof back on the trailer using staples and an air staple gun. We made sure to seal any possible problem areas with a siding caulk before installing the trim that covers the edges of the siding. We also made sure to use a premium roofing sealer around the top vent and were the roof meets the siding to help prevent any leaks.
Once the all the siding and roof was back on, we went ahead and installed the siding trim and windows back on out trailer. Both the siding trim and windows use butyl putty tape on their inside edges as a sealant. You can get butyl putty tape at your local RV dealer or order it online in bulk to save some cash.
The putty tape is placed on the inside surface, where the window frame edges or siding trim meets the aluminum siding. You then use sheet metal screws to attach the windows and trim, which squeezes the butyl tape creating a water tight seal. Any excess putty tape that is squished out can be trimmed away.
Once we got the outside water tight, we painted the inside and added sheet vinyl flooring . We selected sheet vinyl flooring because it’s easy to install, resistant to hot and cold weather, and above all, it’s easy to clean up. In a travel trailer you have to be careful with the flooring you select. Click-lock type flooring (laminate and hardwood flooring) can buckle because of temperature variations. Flooring that use an adhesive can become unbound when temperatures get too hot. With sheet vinyl, you simply cut to size and drop it in. You use the floor edging trim to lock it into place.
Finally, the finished results of our travel trailer rebuild below: