It's here! You went out and purchased a 20-40 (or older) aluminum tube and now it's time to strip it down to the bones. Walking into the Airstream the morning of demolition day can be overwhelming at first, but I've put together a list of tips and focus points to make the process go as smoothly as possible while maintaining an organized pile of parts.
While everyone's renovation will be different, I'm approaching this hypothetical demo day as if I want to re-paint the entire interior and need to approach the preparation as such. Basically, removing everything, making necessary repairs, and prepare for painting.
Everything you do at this point in the renovation will either help your future self or make things very hard for your future self. All things being equal, why not cut you future self a little slack. The name of the game is organization and labeling. Carve yourself out a little corner in the garage for some spare parts and let's begin.
First thing you need to do is clear out any loose items on the floor. Our most recent renovation had been mostly started before we purchased it. I believe there was some mid-demo regret and that led to our quick sale. That seems great at first. "Hey, someone else did the heavy lifting, less for me to do." The reality was I had a pile of parts I had to scour through before I could start. I needed to take detailed inventory and organize for later utilization. If this is you case as well, don't skip the small stuff. Lesson personally learned. Second (and most likely most people's First), take out any old carpet or wood flooring to expose the subfloor. Dive in and try to elucidate the state of the subfloor as quickly as possible. Our most recent renovation had a surprise waiting for us once we pulled out the carpet, there was a additional layer of plywood over the original subfloor. Our suspicions were confirmed once we tore that piece out. A previous owner had simply laid a new piece of plywood over rotted subfloor. Yay for us! Carpet can be removed by finding an edge and peeling it back. Sometimes I nice pair of needle nose pliers can be used to get a good grip on a tough-to-pull carpet. Once you have pulled out the carpet, you'll notice the tack strips. They are laid the same way you would find in any home. They line the edge and are annoyingly pointy so be prepared for a few knicks and watch where you step! Take a hammer and a molding/pry bar and simply start knocking the tack strips out. Be mindful to remove all the nails leftover and do not be worried to use a little force. The plywood will be just fine, but a word of caution not to overswing/miss with your hammer and hit the wall/cabinet/valuable piece. My last pro-tip is to wear hearing protection, the banging can be quite loud.
Depending on the year and style of Airstream you purchased, the cabinet hardware will vary. Typically, I recommend to unscrew any cabinet door and set in a safe, dry place for storage until we are ready for them again. Even if you plan on painting the cabinet doors, it is preferred to expose the interior cabinet walls by removing the doors in order to have a nice clean finish, inside and out once you paint. Take a piece of blue painters tape and label each door piece you remove from the Airstream. You can get by without doing this, but hey, why not be kind to future you.
The interior walls of vintage Airstreams was a sheet of aluminum with a vinyl coating riveted to the structural ribs of the shell. While durable, they often become discolored over the years, and you are left with an unattractive, greasy, grimy, yellow walls. It's ok though, a little preparation and your walls with be beautiful again.
If your goal is to end up with a smooth vinyl surface with as few blemishes as possible, it is important to remove and electrical faceplates and switches. This is an easy step, but highly crucial so you don't get mis-aligned painting stripes when you go to put the faceplates back on. In order to get the walls ready for painting, it is important to take a rag and a degreasing spray or household cleaner and just wipe down everything. Throughout the years, the walls have inevitably been touched and a fine layer of greasy oil has built up. Do not skip this step. Paint/primer will not take to a greasy surface. We learned this the hard way. Taking your time here will led to much better results down the line.
Lastly, find any unsightly holes and cracks and fill with a latex-based caulk. The idea here is once these holes are filled and painted, it will smooth out the look of the wall itself.
- Remove wall outlet covers, speakers, switches and 12v lights.
- Degrease the walls with a cleaner.
- Caulk holes, cracks, and joints with a latex sealant, and lightly sand once dry until smooth.
The windows are protected by a metal trim piece with a screen. Go ahead and unscrew these pieces, label which window they originated and place in your garage or storage space until later.
Depending on your design plan, you might want to rid yourself of the dated couch, chairs, dinette, or other small accent piece. Don't be afraid to throw away or sell an old Airstream furniture piece. Tear them out and start fresh.
These are heavy, bulky units. If it is original, you have 2 options, in my opinion. First, discard the unit completely. It is not worth a 40-year-old, ammonia-filled stink bomb catching your newly renovated project on fire in order to save a few bucks. Toss that fire hazard away! Second option is slightly cheaper. You can have the rear cooling unit replaced. This will usually run about half the price of a new unit. We have purchased a completely new unit every time, so I have no experience changing out just the cooling unit so don't ask. The decision is up to you.
At the end of the day, this demo will be modified as little or as much as suits your specific renovation. Your biggest enemy in this process is your own patience level. Many people want to fly through this step, and it results in many misplaced or broken parts. Take your time and do things the right way.
'Beard' is an adventurous spirit who renovated his first Airstream in 2016 and has since renovated 2 more. He has a love for travel, science, music and his dogs. Beard is a drummer, Game of Thrones fanatic, Ph.D., outdoorsman, loving husband and neighbor.