Vintage travel trailer restoration: Three hazards to consider

There’s nothing like camping next to a lake or deep in the woods to get away and enjoy the weekend. One of the best ways to recharge is to leave the monotony of daily life behind for crisp mountain air and the calm of a summer breeze. Of course, the best way to do so in style and comfort is in a restored vintage travel trailer. Many vintage trailers are available to purchase, however, they’re often in need of restoration before they’re ready for that weekend trip away.

camper 1 - Vintage travel trailer restoration: Three hazards to consider

Redoing the interior of a vintage trailer is a great opportunity to make the trailer more comfortable and safe. By installing better insulation, customizing its features, and replacing dated wiring or hoses, one can sleep easy knowing everything is up to specs. There are some important things to look for in a vintage trailer before taking it out on its first journey. It’s vital to go over the trailer with a fine-toothed comb and make sure it is roadworthy and camp ready.

Asbestos

Before tearing into the walls and floor, it’s important to assess the possibility of asbestos being present in the trailer. Before the partial ban of asbestos in the United States in 1987, it was commonly used in many building materials. For vintage trailers, asbestos may be found in vinyl tile, adhesives, loose-fill insulation, and brake linings. Caution should be taken when dealing with these parts.

Asbestos is not a danger until it becomes airborne where it can be inhaled or ingested. If ingested, over time, fibers can disturb the lining of the abdomen and cause scarring and inflammation. The tumors that develop from this are known as peritoneal mesothelioma.

If the floor is solid in your trailer, it may be best to play it safe and cover the existing flooring instead of removing it. Before demoing the interior panels of the trailer, carefully remove a small section—wearing proper protective equipment like a respirator and gloves—to determine if the trailer has fiberglass batts or loose-fill insulation. Many trailers have batt style insulation, however, if loose-fill insulation was used, it could contain asbestos and should be treated as though it does.

Water Damage

Water damage is common in older travel trailers. This will need to be dealt with promptly. It’s best to look for a trailer that hasn’t suffered any major water damage. However, it’s often difficult to see water damage on the surface, making it hard to spot before purchasing. It’s practically inevitable that a vintage trailer will have some sort of water damage that will require remediation.

It’s important to deal with water damage for two reasons. Firstly, if water damage is found, then a leak is present. Repairing any leaks in the travel trailer will prevent future damage to the structure of the trailer. It’s also important to repair the damaged material before it rots, as this can compromise the trailer’s structural strength. The other key reason to fix damaged materials and the source of leaks is to prevent mold from starting or spreading. Mold can cause a slew of health problems and must be contained before spending that dreamy weekend in your new vintage trailer.

Removing the interior paneling and insulation is the best way to inspect for water damage. It’s wise to seal any seams and rivets while the trailer is gutted. Replace any damaged or rotted framing before insulating the walls and installing new interior paneling as well.

Fire Hazards

A staggering 6,000 RVs catch fire annually and out of those fires, 35% are caused by faulty electrical wiring and shorts. For any vintage trailer, this is a serious risk. If a trailer had been sitting in one place, animals could have damaged wires or the wire insulation could have become dry-rotted. The entire electrical system should be inspected. One should consider replacing old appliances that could pose fire risks, too.

Another cause of fires in travel trailers is propane leaks. Old style propane tanks are no longer allowed to be filled and should be replaced. Propane hoses are prone to dry rot and damage from animals, as well, and should be thoroughly inspected by a professional. This should be done not only during the restoration process but also before and after every camping season. Propane leaks can not only cause a fire, but a build-up of propane gas in a travel trailer can pose serious risks to your health. Propane gas is heavier than air and will always sink. Make sure that the propane storage area is vented through the floor so that if a leak occurs, it will escape. Always make sure that the carbon monoxide and propane detector are properly installed and functioning.

In Closing

Traveling in a vintage trailer is a sure way to spark conversation wherever you decide to take it. And of course, it’s a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors in style and comfort. Restoring a vintage camper will be full of challenges, but the end result will without a doubt bring years of enjoyment. It’s important to understand the hazards of restoring old trailers, knowing when to get help from a professional, and how to ensure it will be safe for many adventures to come.

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