Updated: Oct 9, 2020
I recall our first van arriving home in 2017. We drove 11 hours (return) to pick it up a 1971 Viscount Ambassador, with the hopes to renovate it and make a stylish holiday home on wheels! With zero experience in caravanning or renovating them, we figured we would draw on experience renovating our home. Although, as we discovered, just because its a small space does not mean small project.
Here we have listed our top "wish we knew before we started" things on renovating a caravan.
Nothing is Square
One of the first things we did in the van was pull out all the old cabinetry and damaged wall and ceiling panels. Once we began to rebuild cabinetry, wall panels and any modifications we discovered nothing is square in these old vans, we noticed this especially when building the kitchen. To keep the weight light, we built all the cabinetry ourselves over putting any flatpack builds in there. So as the saying goes, measure twice, cut once, definitely applies to caravans.
Asbestos was used in adhesives in many of the old vans, so this can be sitting under old vinyl flooring or in the window seals. This meant that any new flooring was laid over the top of the old stuff, so we didn't disturb or expose any possible asbestos.
Replacing Wall Panels
In some vans, such as Viscounts, the windows have a plastic moulding around the windows, which overlap the wall panel. Often the moulding can have cracks or be broken and need replacing or if the wall panel surrounding it is water damaged it will need to be replaced. The only way to do this properly is to remove the window frame from the van. This is important to note, if you were planning to reseal windows or paint the outside first.
I think its important to note, while caravans are technically a micro home on wheels, when it comes to renovating them, there are very different factors to consider. We actually didn't draw on any of our home renovating skills and we did learn quite a lot along the way (and blew our reno budget as a result). Like removing window frames was a job we were not expecting to have to do in our renovation. I recall conversations about the reno, where one job seemed to trigger another big job and suddenly felt like we would never get there! Although there is always that moment when its time to take all the tools out and prep it for painting, which brings that finish line in sight.