Top Five Modifications to our Airstream

We were talking yesterday about which modifications are our favorite. I asked Debbie, “Which three are the tops?” She readily replied, “all-around awnings, kitchen utensils drawer, and solar panels system.”

This morning I thought about it some more and decided to up it two more. I submit the lift and lay antenna roof mount and the catalytic heater.

Here’s the complete list:

  • 1. awnings
  • 2. kitchen drawer
  • 3. solar power system
  • 4. electric antenna roof mount
  • 5. catalytic heater
  • These are all significant improvements in the function of our trailer. They are very different from each other, are among the most useful of our mods, and happen to be pretty noticeable too.

    picture of added awnings

    Awnings all around are useful year-round

    1. We took our trailer, still in its warranty period, to the Airstream factory for the Zip-Dee awnings installation on rear and road side of the trailer. We use these nearly every week, depending upon sun exposure. The added awnings allow us to keep one or more windows open regardless of rainfall. And the long road side awning is a great sun shade, both for the two large windows and for the refrigerator outside wall.

    picture of added drawer

    Added kitchen drawer is indispensable

    2. The kitchen drawer was a slam dunk — we were so surprised Airstream Co had not installed the same thing. A perfect place for it, and probably the most useful change we’ve made to the trailer. Without this drawer, the utensils would be in a drawer behind a cabinet door. How much easier this is, to just open a drawer just below the counter top and reach all the table utensils.

    picture of rooftop solar panels

    added two solar panels

    3. Almost six years ago we installed solar panels atop the trailer and a solar charge controller inside. It was a little bit an experiment for us, not having installed or used these before. When next we needed batteries, we installed a pair of 6v golf cart batteries, and later replaced them with two pairs of 6v batteries. We have ample battery power, generally enough for at least four days without sun. There is no noise, no fumes, no labor involved in starting or stopping them (although we can tilt them to maximize solar collection). They cost nothing to operate.

    picture of antenna mount

    Tarheel antenna mount

    4. Initially the amateur radio HF (long distance) antenna was on the truck’s rear fender. Little more than two years later we found and installed a Tarheel Lift and Lay® roof mount for the HF antenna. Four years later we are very pleased with this antenna location and operation. We push an electric 12vdc switch inside and the antenna raises from prone, or storage position, to full vertical position in twelve seconds. Push the button again and the antenna lowers to storage position on the roof. Easy, quick, works great and has a very high cool factor.

    picture of heater

    Catalytic heater on hinge mount

    5. The catalytic heater is a boon for boon docking or dry-camping. It consumes no power from the batteries or shore power system. It uses propane from the trailer’s attached bottles, and it burns oxygen from our living space. Yes, that’s a bit of a negative as is the contribution of products of combustion from this unvented heater. So if you don’t have one, we do NOT recommend it for you. We use it guardedly, and never when napping or sleeping. We designed a hinged mount to allow secure storage for towing days and easy directional aiming of the heating pad. We joke the heater is designed to follow Debbie’s location in the trailer, to keep her warm.

    That’s it, our wrap-up of the top five modifications of our 25′ Airstream travel trailer. We made these and other changes to help make our trailer into a suitable house for year-round living and travels.

    Jim and Debbie
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    ©2013 Dreamstreamr

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    13 responses to “Top Five Modifications to our Airstream

    1. Chuck Nesbit

      Here are the favorite additions to our 2008 Safari 27FB:
      1) Oxygenics shower head. Makes it feel like showering at home with no extra water usage. Finally we feel like the soap is off when using the trailer shower. I only wish we had known about it the first day we had the trailer.
      2) Streetside awning. Trailer already had curb, and back awnings.
      3) Replaced Airstream factory mattress with custom memory foam mattress with radius corners. It is thicker with more support so much more comfortable.
      4) Plastic stacking drawers added to fill 1/2 of the hallway closet. We have hanging closets next to each side of the bed so we didn’t need all the hanging space. We did need extra drawer space and these stackable plastic drawers from Wal-Mart were the right size, right price, and a piece of cake to install.
      5) Pepwave router and Millenicom wireless service added a hotspot with 20GB of download per month. The service is great (actually it is the Verizon network) allowing multiple computers to use the hotspot.
      6) LED lights. We replace all of the interior lights with warm white LED’s. They make the trailer cooler and dramatically reduce the drain on the battery.

      On the wish list: new foam for the Airstream seat cushions, Dometic 310 toilet with china bowl, and a solar system.

      • Chuck & Susan, Agree on the oxygenics shower head, custom foam mattress, and LED lights. All great additions we have enjoyed for several years (although we think the foam mattress may be the single weightiest mod we’ve done). I’ve read recently about the Pepwave router and Millenicom wireless service, and am looking forward to hearing more on this.

        Seems like I may have already addressed with you, but YES on the seat cushions. We had these shipped to us from Capital City Customs (Dan & Lisa Matthews) in Cary. They did a great job and we are soooo glad to have new cushions. And yes on the china bowl toilet, although the plastic bowl ones on the Classics we’ve seen seemed to flush-rinse a lot better than our SeaLand china bowl does.

        Jim

    2. Richard Hunt

      Street side and rear awnings for our 25′ FB would be at the top of our list. Second would be the new radius cornered pillow top twin bed mattresses. The china bowl toilet is on the wish list. Thanks for the word on the catalytic heat. It has attracted me for no battery drain for heat boon docking, but after a friend blew up his trailer and was severely injured, we took that off any list. We will be phasing in LED lighting.

      • Richard,
        Great ideas on the extra awnings, you probably will find 100 percent of owners recommend these after buying them. We love our foam mattress but next time might instead buy inner-spring with radiused corners. Jerry and Ann did that and seem very pleased, plus it weighs less. We also have gradually added LEDs to the most frequently used locations in the trailer, and are mostly pleased. Consumer LED lighting seems a rapidly evolving product technology. We have experienced some mixed results, but love the low energy use and concomitant low heat production. Two less certain variables seem to be light color quality and the life of the LEDs. We’ll report more on this later.

    3. can you explain the problems with the Wave heater? is it due to lack of air flow? I bought a Wave 8 , havent installed it yet and now Im nervous! Thanks!

      • Albert,
        “You don’t want to wake up dead”, as a friend of ours told us. We have heard first-hand report of deaths discovered in an RV from an unvented propane heater. Unvented propane heaters also add moisture to the cabin interior — moisture accumulation is a problem but not as serious as loss of oxygen. One more potential problem of any heat source is ignition of combustible items or, even worse, of flammable gas (propane) in the event of a leak in the cabin.

        The Wave heater’s manufacturer provides explicit warning about installation and venting requirements for this device. Our Wave6 has a decal stating the heater must not be used in an unventilated structure. The decal states a requirement of two openings of at least 24 square inches each, and more if also using another fuel-burning appliance. There are additional related statements. Your heater’s requirements may differ — you MUST follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to reduce your risk of anoxia, damage to tissue and other organs from reduction of oxygen.

        We have used our Wave6 in our 1,200 cf environment for over seven years without incident. Until late 2013, we used a window at the trailer’s front and the roof vent at the trailer’s rear to create ventilation for oxygen replacement. Recently we added the Salem, or Ram, vent to allow a lower outdoor air opening without creating a draft at our shoulders or sitting position. This seems to have worked well, we are using it daily during the recent cool (cold!) weather this month (Jan 2014).

        I repeat our position, we unequivocally believe the manufacturer guidelines must be followed. Further, we never operate our heater when we will be napping or sleeping. Friends of ours are divided on the ventilation issue. Some RVers claim that their RV has enough penetrations and air leakage as to constitute tacit compliance with the ventilation requirements. Others opted for a direct-vented heater instead, perhaps avoiding the ventilation issue. We like the direct-vented propane heater, but already had installed the Wave6. We accept responsibility for keeping air changes in our RV within the manufacturer’s recommendations when operating the heater.

        Finally, we’ve adopted constant ventilation of our RV whenever occupied. We keep the Salem vent and the rear roof vent both open at all times, regardless of outdoor temperature. We believe the constant ventilation aids in moisture control and fresh ventilation in the RV.

        Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

        Jim

        • Thanks so much! I bought the RAM vent after seeing your blog post about the vent. I hope that works. Thanks for the heads up! Dont wanna go BOOM!

    4. But if I could ask just one more question of you… I love the way you mounted the heater and plan to do similar. Can you show pics or explain how you did it other than the piano hinge and mounted on a board. Thanks so much!

    5. Hi Jim;

      Just found your blog and read about the modifications made to your airstream. We are in the process of modifying an 85 Sovereign. I tried to find some information about the Ram Vent but had no luck with a google search. Did you do a blog report on it?

      Thanks for any help

      Art

    6. William Bramwell

      How much for street side awning? We have 23 fb but doubt the cost would be much different from a 25 or 27

      • I hope another reader has more recent info and will chime in now to help? We purchased ours eight years ago, both rear and road side awnings at once. I think it was $800 installed for the pair but that aged cost is no longer representative.

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