I recently bought an old caravan to restore, and had no idea of the difficulties involved with this crazy, but in the end, fulfilling, super challenge I had set for myself.
There was the fact that trusty Bunnings, the Recycling Centre and nearby searches, which always carried the supplies to work on the house and unit I had recently renovated, did not carry the intricate materials necessary to fix certain areas of the van. I was forced to source through the internet, and caravan wreckers, expensive and time consuming ways around finding door locks, aluminium taps and minute spline rollers.
I learned and found that the only way to get information was to study youtube videos each night for six hours from people who had done it before. For whatever job I had planned for myself the next day, but a lot of them lived and traveled in countries without the severe weather conditions that I experience living in the tropical cyclone prone area of Far North Queensland.
If I did the work, I had to do it well. There was no room for error. Even then it was quite difficult to source the exact information that I needed, the videos often covered areas of, but not usually the whole story, on each job that needed to be completed. Each and every time I ran into hiccups, even with trusty youtube playing through the phone beside me as I crawled around on the pop-tops’ roof, scared of falling through, with how extensive the water damage had been.
So I will try to explain as best I can, the whole steps involved in the restoration.
I thought I’d taken a really good look at the caravan before I bought it. Hooking it up to my SUV, I pushed my own boundaries of capability by dragging my first ever tow through heavy tropical rains, permit in hand, up the winding hair pin corners of the steep road that is the Gillies highway, to my tablelands home. On arrival, exhausted by the stomach in throat sensations that gripped me after each wet slip, the weight and instability of the caravan not something I was used too. Sneaking glimpses down those stark escarpments, imagining if I lost control or concentration for a second, that my car, my flash new caravan and me would all end up down there somewhere along those ravine edges, bouncing like a kids ball.
When I arrived home finally, after two hours of choking on stomach bile, I realised I had also misjudged the area between greenhouse and fence that I had to get it through to position it safely to work on, in my backyard. I had 2.1 metres, and the caravan was 2.5 metres.
Begging my neighbour in the end, who owned a very similar model caravan and had experience towing, to drive it through for me. While I madly pruned back trees and ripped off all external door jams, and miscellaneous protruding parts as it somehow squeezed through. In the last of the slashing rain in the encroaching sunset, the caravan was almost in position. I was elated, it was all going to work out, I felt like I’d purchased a bargain, like I’d already won. It couldn’t possibly be too difficult to fix up that small portable home in my backyard.
Was I in for a shock!
The first day dawned in sunshine. I excitedly pried open the sticky soggy door from the elastic bands I’d used to hold it closed for the journey up the mountains, and near cried. Everything was on the floor, curtain rods, cushions, the mattress askew, exposing what had been so carefully hidden in preparation for sale. The extensive water damage to the inside of the van. Water damage welled in my eyes. This was going to be a way bigger job than anticipated.
But first things first, with such erratic weather conditions, the first and most important job was to waterproof the structure from the outside, otherwise everything I attempted to fix on the inside would be pointless, every drop of rain would affect it. A whole corner of the bench above the fridge snapped off in my hand, I eyed it off as the chipboard crumbled like weetbix in my hand.
Forged that steely look of ‘determination’ on my face and went searching for the ladder.
External Caravan Waterproofing
This is the most difficult and important of all of the jobs. Every part of the process is important, it’s not the time to cut corners or find better ways. Climbing up to inspect the roof there was a little rush of excitement, there were solar panels up there, which must lead to the box I had no idea about in the roof, with extensive discoloration around it, that followed to the black box beside the fridge, that I also had no idea about.
I could barely make them out amongst the thick black growth of lichens moss and mould on the roof. But at least they were there. Something else to study and learn about. And fix.
There were no obvious ruptures or holes or breaks except for the badly broken down silicon around the box where the solar leads entered. From the look of the inside of the van the whole roof leaked, just worse in some places than others.
Roof cleaning was the first stage. Make sure you use a product that can kill the disease causing spores that contaminate the roof with lichen, moss and mould, making it less likely to be an ongoing concern, and will minimise maintenance while you are travelling. Leaving more time to enjoy your forays. I was lucky that the product I used also killed the spontaneous eruption of ants from the solar box, where they had obviously made their home. This is my caravan now you little blighters.
Knowing nothing about solar panels, while the heavy afternoon clouds rolled in, I decided to take a break to study cleaning and maintaining them.
I do like building, creating and restoring things, but I also like to take the easy way about it. Seems the only thing my solar panels needed after testing the connection and output with a multimeter, was a good spruce up and clean.
The next stage is the most tedious and time consuming, but you can’t cut corners, if all of the old silicone is not cut and stripped away completely, leaving a perfect squeaky clean surface to reapply the new silicone, you will just reintroduce disease causing moulds and need to do it again after the first rains. Set aside time, make sure its a clear day. Climb up on that van with box cutter and stanley knife, pull that annoying stuff out with your fingernails. Just make sure that you remove every single squishy, cracking bit of it.