Renovating a house on wheels is a HUGE undertaking. There’s probably more like a million thing we learned but here’s 9 things we learned renovating our RV.
1. Buy your supplies as you need
In previous projects we hated getting half way through something only to find out we needed that one thing like glue, a special screw, or a certain tool. We thought we could think through each project, make a massive list, and get everything we needed in one fell swoop.
Here’s the problem with that – we had piles and piles of supplies, wood, tools, and paint. It took up lots of space, and made our house and our life feel chaotic. We had so much random stuff that we would forget what we had and end up buying it again. Or worse yet, we would forget why we bought it. The lumber we had was stored outside… unless it rained. We wanted to protect our investment so that meant dragging it inside, or frantically covering it with a tarp. It was a mess.
What we’ve learned is to buy what we need, when we need it, and then actually DO the project, like right away. This proved to be more efficient and the mental headspace we gained by losing the mess and actually finishing a project was priceless.
2. Don’t assume the hardware store guy knows what he’s talking about
I hate to ask big hardware store employees for help. My wife gets annoyed with me when I don’t just ask where something is, or if they can give me advice on a project. The thing is, I have asked a number of times in the past and more often than not, I am stumping them. Very few times do I actually luck out and am talking to someone who knows their stuff. If I don’t want to waste my time, I do my research beforehand (Youtube videos, blog posts, wikihow, etc.) so I know what I am looking for.
Do your homework and talk to multiple employees to affirm your new found knowledge. Also don’t assume that because one employee can’t help you, that there isn’t another one who can.
3. Sand, prime, paint
Sand first, then prime, then paint. Duh, right? Well, a lot of people (including us) skip the first two steps because we listened to the hardware store employee or fell for the marketing speak on the paint cans– “No need to Prime! Primer Included!” and “No need to sand!.” They’re lying. Just save yourself some money, buy all the things necessary for each step, and do them!
4. Buy More than you Need
Don’t be afraid to buy more than you need. More paint, more screws, more wood, more drill bits, screw heads, saw blades, or anything else that you could possibly break, use up or burn through. Stores like Home Depot have excellent return policies. When you run out of paint 80% through the project because your walls just soak it up you simply reach over and pop open the extra can you bought instead of dropping everything and run for the hardware store. Things like custom color paint is an exception as they won’t return that. Do keep track of the color codes so you can always buy more and match it perfectly.
5. Block out time and lots of it
Like with any project you want to get done, you have to schedule it. Our rig sat mostly untouched for the first month or two. We didn’t realize how busy we were, and when we did have down time, we needed it to be just that– down time. When we did get serious, we gave ourselves a month thinking we really only needed two weeks. Two months later we weren’t still weren’t done.
6. Don’t move out ’til you’re ready to move in
Once the demolition phase was done, we made a timeline. Paint – 3 days, Flooring – 2 days, Shower install – 1 day and so on. It added up to an action packed 2 weeks. We felt really good telling our landlord we would be moving out at the end of the month. She had no problem finding a new tenant so the pressure was officially ON. Everything took 2-3 times longer than we expected. That month flew by and we had to be out of the house. We ended up booking a beach house through VRBO.com. We booked for 2 weeks thinking that was all the extra time we needed. We stayed for a whole month working every single day from dawn to dusk, and sometimes later to get things done. I run my own business and basically took off the entire month to get things done in the rig.
When we left the beach house, the rig was livable but still not done. We drove from Galveston, TX to Austin, TX that day. We got in late and I put my wife and son into a hotel room while I worked until 4am in the hotel parking lot to get the electrical system hooked back up. Good times. We spent the next 2-3 months parked in our sister and brother-in-law’s back yard still working on the rig.
The moral of the story – don’t move out until you’re ready to move in. The rent for one month at the beach house was worth almost 3 months at our previous apartment. The stress was unbelievable. If I had it to do all over again, we would have stayed in the apartment until the rig was completely done.
7. Keep a clean work environment
We had a really ideal set up at the beach house. It was a two story unit. We kept supplies, tools and storage on the bottom floor and made the top floor a dedicated living space. This made a huge difference for our rest. Being able to move away from anything RV related, from sawdust to supplies, helped us clear our head space.
At the end of each day we would clean the rig and the work area. Everything had a place. We kept a lumber space, a tool space and a consumable supplies space (things like paint, caulk, adhesives, etc). That 20 minutes of cleaning and organizing allowed us to jump right back in the next day where we left off the night before.
8. Use Wunderlist, Evernote and good clip board
Wunderlist is great to make lists. Supplies, groceries, projects, etc. It’s an app for your phone but there’s a desktop version, too. Everything syncs so where ever we were we could add an item. My favorite feature is shareable syncing lists. This allowed Sarah and I to work from the same list, adding and checking things off at the same time. It cuts our grocery shopping time in half because we can split the store, check off items as we grab them, and meet in the middle with all our stuff and a completed list.
Evernote is great for plans, research, receipts, photos, and everything in between. Anything we needed to remember and reference later is in Evernote. Snap a photo of the electrical configuration or the paint color codes or RV VIN number. It’s all synced in the cloud on every device.
Keep one physical clipboard with lots of blank paper and a good pencil. Nothing beats sketching something up on paper. It’s quick, travels well, and never runs out of battery power. You can lose it if you’re not organized, though, so keep a clean workspace and dedicate a spot/nail for the clip board
9. Measure EVERYTHING twice
Measure everything. Even if your cabinets look like they match, measure both of them. I’m willing to bet they’re different by at least an 1/8 of an inch. Especially on older pre-owned RV’s. RV geometry is about the economy of space, not about symmetry. Level, is relative. Straight, is relative. Square, is relative.
BONUS: Keep your measurements on a spreadsheet in the cloud.
I use Google sheets to keep track of every measurement in the RV. How many drawer pulls do we have? How big is the window over the sofa? How much space is in the bathroom cabinet? I’ve got it. This way when we’re away from the rig we know what will fit where.