We Turned a Retro Camper Into Our House for $10,000

Earlier than our Bigfoot trailer, we have been tent folks. However after our 2013 Subaru Forester grew to become cramped with out of doors gear, and some epic Colorado storms terrified our Chihuahuas, we began to think about options.

Our gateway to the Bigfoot was a 1992 Jayco pop-up camper. It allowed us to camp rather more comfortably, for longer, and tour across the West for Joe’s bluegrass band performances. We began to think about tenting completely, however wished a hard-sided shelter to raised face up to unpredictable mountain climate. A fiberglass trailer grew to become our greatest alternative to switch the Jayco. Molded fiberglass is sturdy and simpler to scrub than supplies like wooden which are affected by moisture. These trailers are additionally significantly lighter than many different typical RVs and trailers (our 1981 Bigfoot B-17 SM Deluxe weighs in at 2,300 kilos, whereas an aluminum Airstream Bambi 16RB, a brand new camper of roughly the identical dimension, begins at 3,000 kilos). And fiberglass trailers maintain their worth, significantly Bigfoots, a higher-end model with loads of dependable fashions nonetheless round right this moment.

We had some distinctive necessities for our house. Joe is 6’1″ and performs violin, which suggests he wants roomy proportions to play whereas standing up contained in the trailer. And being outdoorsy folks, we’d like daylight. Most RVs and campers have hardly any home windows, it appears, however after venturing down a discussion board devoted to fiberglass RVs, we discovered our 1981 Bigfoot trailer within the classifieds. This specific mannequin is 106 sq. toes, boasts 6’6″ of inside headroom, fell inside our funds at $7,500, and has home windows going through practically each path. It ticked all of the packing containers. We needed to have it.

jeff and allie having a campfire in front of the 1981 bigfoot with jeff and allie inside in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

We love utilizing our Kelty low “loveseat” to make a homey vibe after we’re open air.

Cassidy Araiza

This was July 2020, when the used-RV market was completely on hearth. To safe our Bigfoot, we despatched the proprietor, Jed, a $500 deposit sight unseen. We made him promise to not promote the trailer earlier than we might check out it, after which sped the 1,050-mile, 15-hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado, to the Idaho Panhandle. We have been initially cautious about trusting a stranger we had solely met on the web, however seems, Jed was a giant fan of Colorado bluegrass. He was even sporting a T-shirt for a band Joe knew from our native space.

We gave the Bigfoot a once-over, however we didn’t know what we have been . We didn’t even check the furnace or the home equipment. We took Jed on his phrase (fortunately, his phrase was good, although it took us some time to determine the best way to mild the furnace), hooked the Bigfoot as much as our borrowed E-350 van, and camped within the trailer all the way in which again to Colorado.

Our final step earlier than renovations was upgrading from our Forester. The Subie had been our trusty tenting car for years, however it wasn’t designed to haul the Bigfoot and all our gear, so we traded it in for a 2013 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 with a towing capability of seven,500 kilos. Our newfound energy made us cocky, although. After hooking up the Bigfoot to our new truck and pulling onto School Avenue in Fort Collins, we heard a colossal screech—we have been dragging the trailer down the road by the chains. The Bigfoot hadn’t seated correctly. Some burly fellows arrived (traditional Colorado) and helped us free the trailer from the bumper and place it again onto the hitch ball, and we discovered two classes: All the time hook up your chains when towing, and triple-check that your trailer is related appropriately earlier than setting off.

Regardless of our early errors, we have been underneath no illusions about how a lot work our Bigfoot would wish. A beauty overhaul was a should, and the 41-year-old trailer wanted a number of fixtures to convey it as much as fashionable requirements.

inside the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Cassidy Araiza

inside the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Cassidy Araiza

The Bigfoot’s format and construction made renovations straightforward—fiberglass trailers are well-built and resilient. Ours is comprised of two giant items of molded fiberglass joined at a seam. This prevents widespread roof leaks and different issues that include extra historically constructed campers.

Allie likes to get issues executed, and Joe’s a perfectionist, so there have been many “that is wonderful” versus “we’ve got to do it proper” debates, however we discovered the reply was all the time someplace between these two factors. In all, we spent about 10 weeks (working round our full-time jobs) between bringing the trailer house and transferring in for good.

There’s all the time a stability to renovating an previous factor. How are you going to make it purposeful however keep the previous, cool aesthetic? What was important to replace, and what might we depart unique to maintain prices low? In some methods, we have been fortunate—all of the home equipment might keep. The fridge appeared nearly new at buy, and the 41-year-old range nonetheless works nicely. Our oven is unique, too—that’s a singular function to our RV; nowadays, many trailers include a microwave as a substitute, which we wouldn’t use.

Lots of our work was merely to make the Bigfoot look nicer. We wished it to really feel like house. The prior homeowners had put in bizarre laminate tile as a backsplash above the sink, and somebody had inexplicably painted the ceiling pink. We eliminated all the cupboards, doorways, hinges, and lighting fixtures, eliminated the tile and put in a peel-and-stick subway tile backsplash, after which painted the ceiling and cabinetry white.

inside the 1981 bigfoot one major perk of the bigfoot is its layout, which positions the bathroom at the back many rvs put the latrine in the middle

One main perk of the Bigfoot is its format, which positions the lavatory on the again. Many RVs put the latrine within the center.

Allie Wall

We positively underestimated how time-consuming portray 100 sq. toes of ceiling could be. There are a number of totally different supplies on the ceiling that take paint in several methods, plus your arm begins to harm after some time! We painted one wall orange as a result of we appreciated the aesthetic with the wooden and the classic trim, and it turned out to be nearly the identical shade because the stripe on the skin of the camper. We didn’t plan it, however by some means it aligned in our unconscious.

The previous seat cushions have been nicely previous their prime, so we tossed them and ordered custom-cut reminiscence foam that we upholstered ourselves. And after a number of months of rising sick of creating the sofa right into a mattress, we started utilizing the convertible eating room desk as a mattress. The desk was nearly meant to break down in alignment with the encompassing seats, however we eliminated the getting older conversion mechanism and put in a collapsible desk leg that appears just like one thing you’d discover in a ’60s diner. It’s nicer to take a look at and makes for a sturdier desk. Once we’re prepared for mattress, we collapse the desk and add a four-inch memory-foam topper. It’s nice for us, however it places our two Chihuahuas, Maya and Ruby, in absolute heaven. Typically for the reason that sofa is now free additional house, we depart the mattress down on weekends, as a deal with for everyone.

Local weather management was each a bother space and a triumph in our renovation. Fiberglass naturally gives higher insulation than most different RV supplies, and our Bigfoot Deluxe mannequin has a good thicker layer of insulation than another fiberglass trailers. That makes this one of many solely true four-season RVs. It stays toasty within the winter, and, because of the terrific cross-ventilation from a number of home windows, it retains us cool in the summertime.

the fan inside the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Our MaxxFan Deluxe

Cassidy Araiza

The home windows are a double-edged sword, nevertheless: There’s no air con within the Bigfoot, which suggests when it’s 100 levels within the Arizona desert, no quantity of crossbreeze can preserve issues nice. Our most important enchancment on this regard was putting in a Maxxair ceiling fan, which may blow air in or out of a gap within the roof. The Bigfoot had an unique ceiling fan, however Allie’s brother, a van-life veteran, pushed us to put in a MaxxFan from the start. We picked a 900-cfm, 10-speed MaxxFan Deluxe that may function as each an consumption and exhaust fan. It was the ultimate factor that made the Bigfoot livable, permitting us to herald cooler exterior air at evening or vent extra warmth. Should you want further local weather management, the {custom} curler shades we put in over the home windows are an enormous assist, as is our assortment of classic blankets. We additionally suggest getting a pair clingy Chihuahuas to cuddle up by your aspect.

The propane-powered furnace that heats the trailer has been our solely true downside little one. Early on, the warmth would kick on, then flip off unexpectedly. An electrician pal suggested us to put in a brand new thermocouple first, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, we grew frightened we’d have to switch your complete heating system. However then an RV restore man in Loveland, Colorado, prompt connecting a multimeter to the thermostat to see if one thing was impeding the present and inflicting the outages. Seems, the present was wonderful, so the thermostat itself was the difficulty. We spent simply 30 bucks on a brand new one—and we’d been afraid we’d have to purchase a model new furnace! That was an enormous aha second, and a reminder to not overthink something. Checking particular person parts is all the time a greater first step than changing issues wholesale. And, have you ever tried turning it off and again on once more?

When a tenting trailer is parked, it’s not significantly steady with two people and two Chihuahuas transferring round inside. That’s why it has stabilizing jacks that come down at every nook to offer you a agency basis. Trailers in 1981 didn’t have fancy auto-​
leveling stabilizer jacks like a contemporary unit would possibly, so we purchased a brand new set of guide stabilizers from Harbor Freight for $100 and welded them on with the assistance of a pal who had the appropriate tools (typically having helpful pals is probably the most helpful tip). The stabilizers made the Bigfoot really feel like an actual home, which was grounding (no pun supposed) for us after we began to reside in it.

This complete journey has been a terrific lesson in “you are able to do something you set your thoughts to.” We’ve been out of our consolation zones lots. Earlier than the Bigfoot, we didn’t know something about towing, electrical, or plumbing (two simple-but-essential guidelines we now swear by: All the time use plumbing tape when attaching fixtures, and all the time test your connections after happening a very tough highway).

However we studied, discovered, made errors (ensure that to latch your trailer cupboards closed—all our dishes broke on our first journey), and we’ve gotten to a spot the place we really feel extremely educated. Our greatest supply was the Fiberglass RV discussion board. It’s full of homeowners of older Bigfoots and different fiberglass fashions, they usually have been tremendous useful with the extra obscure, un-Google-able quirks of Bigfoot possession. Between them, trial and error, and how-to movies on YouTube, it seems issues like electrical wiring aren’t that intimidating!

The renovations took about two and a half months, on and off. We picked up the Bigfoot in August 2020 and, by the top of October, we have been dwelling in it full-time. The updates price us about $2,500 after the price of the trailer, however actually, the work by no means stops. As with a typical home, there’s all the time a bit of undertaking to do or some enchancment to make. The extra we reside in it, the extra we be taught what we have to do to be comfy and comfortable.

The primary place we went after we moved in was simply exterior Moab, Utah. We parked on an otherwise-deserted rock face and had probably the most unimaginable sunsets all to ourselves. We’ve gone throughout the American West—principally Arizona and Colorado—however one glorious diversion took us to a seaside on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula final summer time. It was so implausible that we’re going again once more this 12 months.

When people discover out the Bigfoot is our house house, often they both say, “Oh, that’s superior!” or they have a look at us like we’re freaking loopy and ask, “How do you continue to have a relationship?”

Many individuals dwelling in RVs full-time have an infinite fifth-wheel trailer with two fireplaces and a walk-in closet. That’s wonderful for them, however it’s not us. We simply want our tiny Bigfoot, and Maya and Ruby, and each other. The attractive mountain sunsets are good, too.

Keep Linked from Wherever on Earth

inside the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Our 30-amp photo voltaic cost controller.

Cassidy Araiza

Our Wi-Fi hotspot fully modified how we reside whereas tenting. With our smartphones and a Verizon MiFi, our web within the RV is quicker and cheaper than at our previous place in Fort Collins. Joe can train music classes over Zoom, and Allie can work remotely. To search out areas with cell protection, we use a premium tenting service referred to as Roadpass Professional from Campendium. It contains cell protection overlays from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Cellular, plus critiques of a given space’s connectivity from different campers. We haven’t had any main points since we began utilizing that, however we nonetheless textual content one another “hello” after we park to see how rapidly it goes by means of.

Nothing makes you extra conscious of your vitality utilization than dwelling in an off-grid RV. One of many first issues we did throughout our renovation was substitute all of the Bigfoot’s previous incandescent bulbs with LEDs, which use about 85 p.c much less energy. These LEDs and our ceiling fan are the one electrical issues we use usually, and neither consumes a lot energy, leaving loads of leftover juice for our telephones, laptops, iPads, and Wi-Fi. Nonetheless, we attempt to save on the margins. One in all our current purchases was a tiny 24-inch TV. Other than being far superior to watching Netflix on a MacBook Professional, it makes use of much less energy than streaming on the laptop computer, which was a little bit of a shock.

the wifi  hotspot jeff and allie use inside the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Our Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L hotspot.

Cassidy Araiza

We have now 200 watts of photo voltaic panels, which is definitely sufficient to cost up the 12-volt battery within the trailer every single day. We haven’t run out of electrical energy but, but when the photo voltaic did exit, we’d in all probability have a few days of energy if we have been cautious.

At first, we’d lean the panels in opposition to one thing on the bottom after we parked to juice up our gear, however that was an enormous ache within the ass. We finally put in them up high (many photo voltaic panels will embody mounting {hardware}) with VHB tape and Sikaflex adhesive. Some would advise you to screw your panels into place, however we didn’t wish to put any extra holes in our roof. Regardless, mount your panels. It’s an enormous time-saver. We’d love to put in a lithium-ion rechargeable battery setup in some unspecified time in the future so we are able to run higher-power home equipment like a Vitamix or a big On the spot Pot, however our large RV batteries have been excellent for the way in which we wish to reside. We’re not working microwaves and low machines; Joe hand-grinds our espresso beans each morning, and we’ve got the propane-fired range, water heater, and fridge. For additional lighting exterior and in, we’ve got USB-powered string lights and transportable lithium-​ion battery-powered lights that work nice.

4 Guidelines for Towing Your RV

the 1981 bigfoot on the road in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Cassidy Araiza

OK, So Concerning the Rest room…

the 1981 bigfoot in marana, az on march 3rd, 2022

Cassidy Araiza

Being in the midst of nowhere means you’re removed from issues like clear water and a restroom. RVers name this type of sewerless dwelling “boondocking,” and it’s why our Bigfoot has three onboard water tanks, plus potable water saved in five-gallon containers.

Our 26-gallon freshwater white tank, so named for the white inlet on the aspect of a camper that’s used to fill it, provides the water for our bathroom and sink. Drainage is break up between the 12-gallon grey tank, for the bathe and kitchen sink, and the eight-gallon black tank, for the bathroom. The scale of those tanks is important to how lengthy you’ll be able to spend within the wilderness: The bigger the tanks, the extra flexibility you could have, however you’ll nonetheless have to preserve your water.

We use on-off-on-off methods, like turning water on after we’re rinsing the dishes, then off after we’re scrubbing. That’s one thing we do after we bathe, too. We save a whole lot of water by storing our ingesting water individually—we used to fill our Brita pitcher from the white tank, however it actually reduce into our provide and impacted how rapidly our water went.

At first, our black tank could be full after simply three days or so. Now, we are able to often make it every week if we’re cautious, and we as soon as went 10 days, with Joe peeing exterior.


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