7 Lessons Learned From our RV Remodel

Sep 14, 2020 | Maintenance & Mods

7 Lessons Learned From our RV Remodel

Two kids, 30 days, and a pandemic. Here’s what we learned while remodeling our toy hauler, and some tips for your own rig renovation.

By Sandra Crespo

My fiance Luis and I purchased our Heartland Edge Toy Hauler in 2016. It was a new-to-us RV that we chose to call home. The floor plan was perfect for our family of four (our kids were 1 and 3 at the time), but the dark interior made our space feel too small. We dreamed about a much lighter and inviting interior.

For years, we were too nervous about renovation nightmares and regrets to remodel our RV. Then, right before we celebrated the four-year anniversary of becoming full-time RVers, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball at our travel plans. 

Our friends in Michigan allowed us to moochdock in their driveway until quarantine restrictions were lifted. During this time, Luis helped transform our friends’ home with a makeover and it inspired us to finally invest in our own remodel. 

In just 30 days, we entirely remodeled our fifth wheel RV. Between parenting, spray painting fiascos, and staying up until 4 a.m. covering every nook and cranny, we learned a lot of lessons in this short timeframe. 

Here are the biggest RV remodel lessons we learned, so you can avoid making the same mistakes when renovating your own camper. 

RV Remodel Tip 1: Prepping Will Make or Break Your RV Remodel 

RV interior covered in plastic and painter's tape, with a man sitting on the floor
Photo: Sandra Crespo

You’ve probably heard that prepping is the most important step in a remodel, and for good reason. We started our remodel in the main bedroom, and while I had the idea of redoing the room in sections, Luis wanted to do it all at once. In hindsight, his idea was much better than mine. 

Originally, I only wanted to redo the walls behind our bed and prepped only that area with the TSP (Trisodium phosphate) cleaner that was recommended to us. But once we decided that we were going to redo the entire room at once, I never prepped the other sections. This became a bit of an issue when we painted and we ended up with lint sticking to the paint and some color inconsistencies because the grime was not completely scrubbed off first. Moral of the story? Take your time and prep the RV first so you don’t have to do the work twice. 

RV Remodel Tip 2: Spray Painting Requires More Work Upfront

RV bedroom before renovation
Bedroom before. | Photo: Sandra Crespo
Renovated RV bedroom
Bedroom after. | Photo: Sandra Crespo

We contemplated painting our cabinets, but opted against it because we knew we preferred the look of spray paint instead. We ended up spray painting the entire RV (cabinets and walls) and learned that with spray paint, you have to do a lot more prep work.

When spray painting, be aware of overspray, which will land in the most unlikely of places. Overspray can delay any project because you’ll have to go back and remove any paint that accidentally got on your items, like the stove or windows, or in an area that you did not want painted. 

Luis and I stayed up all night covering every inch of our living room area because we were afraid of getting any overspray in the rest of the RV. After painting our bedroom, we knew that the paint could easily end up anywhere. We needed to triple-check that the plastic and tape covering the hallway were truly sealed.   

Thankfully, we learned this lesson early on, before we started renovating the rest of the rig.  

Make sure to have enough painter’s tape on hand and a large roll of plastic sheeting to avoid overspray. 

The most time-consuming part of this process is prepping and covering everything you don’t want to get paint on. Once it’s all covered, the process is faster and less stressful. 

RV Remodel Tip 3: Don’t Skimp on Paint

We were nervous to paint our cabinets since they’re not made with real wood, and we weren’t sure if the paint would stick. We also had experience painting cabinets in the past and hadn’t been thrilled with the end result. 

The lesson learned here is to use a good primer on your cabinets and wallpaper along with high-quality paint. After a lot of research, we chose to use two coats of Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer. For paint, we chose HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Showcase Interior because we learned that it sticks well to RV cabinets and other surfaces. 

RV Remodel Tip 4: Living in the RV During Renovations Will Make It More Challenging

Father and child inside an RV mid-renovation
Photo: Sandra Crespo

Our RV is our home, which made daily life a bit more challenging while we were renovating, especially with kids. RVs are not very spacious to begin with, and waiting for an area to be complete reduced that space even more. It also meant that we had to strategically plan to renovate one area at a time, instead of doing a full-blown remodel. We were able to store our items in our friends’ garage, but if you don’t have that option, space disappears even more quickly.

If we had to do it all over again, we’d probably empty out the entire RV and do a short term rental or stay in a hotel. If you live in your RV, we recommend finding somewhere else to sleep during the renovation to avoid dealing with closed-off areas and breathing in fumes.  

RV Remodel Tip 5: The Right Tools Are a Must

At the very least, you’ll need basic tools like screwdrivers, drills, a workbench, and perhaps a table saw. If you don’t own tools, ask friends and family to borrow some. You may also be able to rent them at your local hardware store. 

We chose to use faux shiplap in the toy hauler area and living room, which meant that we needed a table saw to cut the pieces before installation. Luckily, we were able to borrow one, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to complete the project. 

RV Remodel Tip 6: Have a Plan and Inspiration

Dark RV living area before renovation
Living area before.| Photo: Sandra Crespo
Bright RV living area after renovation
Living area after.| Photo: Sandra Crespo

To make the process of renovating smoother, we created a plan before we started doing anything. We knew what colors we wanted and that we wanted shiplap and a barn door. In the end, having a plan saved us time, money, and some sanity. 

Because we had already lived in our RV for almost four years, we knew what we wanted to change around to fit our lifestyle better. I created a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of the current space and included pictures of what I envisioned each room to look like. We referenced this when deciding on the materials to use and final touches. I also used Pinterest and social media for decorating ideas and inspiration. 

A freshly renovated RV living room
Photo: Sandra Crespo

Since Luis’ background is in construction, he was able to use his skills to make our renovation plan come to life. If you don’t have the background or skills necessary to do all the work yourself, consider hiring a professional. If you can’t afford to hire someone, give yourself extra time to learn how to achieve your renovation ideas, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

RV Remodel Tip 7: Make Sure the Entire Family Is On Board

Make sure that everyone in your family unit is on board with the remodel and understands what is going on. We learned that this is extremely important.

Two children inside an RV during a renovation
Photo: Sandra Crespo

We took the time to share with our children exactly what the plan was for each day of renovating. For the days when we were prepping and painting, we made sure they could stay at a friend’s house. We also made sure to include them in any activities that we could, and they ended up being great team players. 

Even if you don’t have kids, you need to be on the same page as your partner so that you can complete the project together and on time. 

Ready to Tackle Your Own RV Remodel?

Hopefully, we have inspired you to move forward with your own RV remodel. Whether you’re a new RV owner, an aspiring one, or have owned your rig for a while but are afraid of remodeling (like we were), I can assure you that once you are done, it will be totally worth it.

We couldn’t be happier with how our home on wheels turned out and were grateful to say goodbye to the brown-on-brown. Now our RV truly feels like our home and matches our personalities and style. 

Always remember your own unique taste and needs. The most important element of any RV remodel is that you’re happy with the end result.

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Sandra Crespo

Sandra has been living in a toy hauler RV with her fiance and two kids since 2016. They travel the U.S. collecting experiences and living out their own definition of freedom. They are teaching their children by example, using the country as their classroom and teaching them how to live their dreams.

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