Airstream Hacks: Tricks we’ve learned along the way

From the remodel to the actual day-to-day living, here’s a few tricks we’ve learned along the way.

Those precious 30 amps

Our Airstream, like most travel trailers, has a 30 amp hookup. We removed all of the propane appliances and replaced everything with electric. We were both adament about this – we had both heard too many horror stories about propane and just didn’t want to deal with it. We plan to be hooked up to shore power 99% of the time anyway. When we started adding up the draw of all of our appliances and electronics, we hit the 30 amp threshold in almost every combination we could think of. Obviously the biggest draws are the water heater and the air conditioner/heater with around 12-15 amps each. After a lot of deliberation, we ended up choosing the Bosch 4 gallon electric water heater which sends hot water to both sinks and the shower. It is the biggest water heater you can plug into standard 120-volt. We decided to run a dedicated 120-volt line from the water heater in the rear of the trailer that exits right next to the 30 amp plugin. This takes a whole 12 amps out of the 30 amp equation as it now has it’s own separate line. Both cords store in the bumper of the Airstream and plug right into the hookup at the campground. We have had zero problems running our combinations of remaining electronics and appliances. There’s been no scenario where our three highest draw items are running simultaneously (cooktop, hair dryer and electric heater) where we’d trip the breaker. Actually, in 6 weeks of full-time Airstream living, we haven’t tripped the breaker once.

Dedicated 120-volt line:
Bosch 4 gallon water heater
: 12 amps

Drawing from our 30 amp total:
Induction cooktop: 15 amps
Blow dryer: 15 amps
Vornado VMH500 heater: 12.5 amps
(In the summertime this would be traded for a 12-13 amp overhead AC unit)
Curling iron: 0.7 amp
All-electric refrigerator: 0.7 amp
Electric blanket: 2 amps
2 TVs: 1 amp each
Wii: 0.3 amp

Tip: If you can’t easily find the amps on a particular electronic, simply divide the product’s watts divided by volts (which would be 120 for standard household electronics).

The red cord is the 120 line that goes directly from the pole to the water heater. The black cord is the 30 amp hookup.

Shoe storage

Every bit of space counts when you’re living in an Airstream. When we remodeled, I knew early on we’d need a spot to kick off our shoes. I didn’t want them hanging out next to the door as a tripping hazard. When we remodeled the refrigerator area, we built a plywood platform that’s enough to house 4 pairs of shoes (two deep in each cubby). Our extra shoes are stored under one of the compartments under our bed.

Extra security

I’ve always thought it to be a total design flaw when deadbolts are installed right next to a window. Our Airstream’s lower window next to the door is plexiglass. This would be super easy for someone to just pop through it and unlock the deadbolt. We asked my dad to fabricate a deadbolt lock cover. This makes it easy to still access from the inside but would be difficult for anyone trying to unlock it through a broken window. They’d have to be a contortionist or rubber-man to pull that off!

If interested in purchasing, contact Mark below:

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DIY skylight covers

Some of the interior design elements of a vintage Airstream are still awesome now. My favorite part of our ’75 is the original round clock and thermometer over the sofa. I also love the tambour door overhead compartments. They make me feel like a flight attendant when I walk through and close them all. 😀 The most horrible part of the interior was by far the skylight covers. I can’t imagine they were even attractive when they were new. They blocked out almost all of the sunlight and had a curious little lighting fixture inside. Forty-two years later they were yellowed, giant hunks of plastic that hung so far down that Jason almost grazed them while walking the length of the trailer. Those were the very first thing I took out of the trailer and ended up being one the last parts of the remodel. I thought about a solution for the gaping holes in the ceiling for month. The solution couldn’t have been cheaper or easier and ended up looking fabulous on top of it! It is quite simply just decorative metal from Home Depot. I bought two sheets of 24×36″ which was enough for all three skylights with extra to spare. I had my dad cut it to size with the metal cutter at his shop. I affixed them with 3/4″ sheet metal screws right over the hole with a piece of leftover screening material wedged in between. They let in so much light and cast the prettiest shadows on the walls when the sun hits them just right.

Click for my detailed post on the skylight covers.

Roller shade clips

We installed Levelor roller shades from Lowe’s throughout the trailer. We’ve been really happy with them except for one glaring problem. Because of the curved walls, the shades didn’t lay flush with the wall when pulled down. They gaped open so far on the sides that you could clearly see out and people could clearly see in. For the first few nights we taped the shades down with masking tape out of desperation. I bought magnets and hooks but the magnets weren’t strong enough and I couldn’t bring myself to screw hooks into the window frame. Then while browsing in the office supplies at Target I spotted a fix! Binder clips! Ok, it’s not the most attractive solution, but hey, it’s a solution! I bought them in white to blend into the window frame, removed one of the two silver clips and wedged the clip under the window frame. Now when we draw the shades, we just flip the spring loaded silver part of the clip onto the shade to close up the gap! It works flawlessly and was a cheap and easy addition.

Cheap Airstream mattress solution

RV mattresses are slightly different sized than standard mattresses. The twin configuration in our Airstream is 74 x 33″ and standard twin mattresses are 75 x 39″. I priced out custom cut mattresses and it came out to around $600 for the pair. I knew there had to be a better, cheaper way. We decided to buy two Twin XL all-foam mattress and an electric knife. We spent around $275 total for all three pieces. This particular mattress is American made and Certipur-US certified. It had absolutely zero odor and is unbelievably comfortable. The only tricky part is it had a cover that was not zip off. We split the seam, made our cut and then stitched it back up by hand. Although the twin dimensions show 75 x 39″ online, it was not. It measured 72″ after expanding and was far too short for the space. I returned and reordered in twin XL which stated 80 x 39″. It ended up actually being 75″ long. We cut 5″ off one side and left the length as is. One inch on a squishy foam mattress didn’t really matter. We’ve used the beds for two months and have been thrilled with them!

Let there be light!

The original curtain rail on our Airstream wrapped around the whole front of the trailer and even blocked out some of the light from the vista view windows. One of the best things I decided to do was to remove the section of curtain rail under the windows and install roller shades here instead. This let in so much more light. We cut the aluminum trim with a metal saw and sanded the corners. I wish I had a photo of this curtain rail before it was removed. All I have now is the photo of the space after. And all that light!

Getting the longest shower

When your shower lasts less than 10 minutes, every second counts. We installed a 4-gallon Bosch electric water heater in the bathroom. We’ve been thrilled with it. It puts out some seriously hot water and we get a good 8 minutes out of it per shower. It takes about 30 minutes to heat up for the next shower. When we are wanting an extra long shower, we’ve learned that running the hot water in the kitchen or bathroom sink for a few seconds reheats the water sitting in the water heater. After a few minutes, the light on the water heater turns off and then you’re good to go. Enjoy that extra two minutes!

Alternative light source

I installed four different battery powered lights throughout the trailer. They all have rechargeable batteries installed in them and allow us to have an alternate light source besides our hard-wired inverter dependent lighting. Also, they make for some pretty dreamy lighting. I have a battery powered LED metal marquee star light on a timer in the front of the trailer. I have it set to turn on at dusk and it runs for 6 hours until it shuts itself back off again. I love having that soft, warm glow inside the trailer waiting for us when we come home at night. And when we watch TV, it’s the perfect amount of ambient light. I also hung a 6′ string of LED lights along the backside of the curtain rail in the front of the trailer. Those put out a very soft, pretty glow. My other set of LED string lights is in the bedroom. I’ve hung them across the back wall and over both beds and tucked the switch completely out of sight behind the wooden arrow on the wall. Those are very bright and light up the bedroom nicely. The last is an LED touch light in the bathroom. This is more for not wanting to wake the other up when making a middle of the night bathroom trip.

Traveling with a pup

We always hate leaving our dog alone. It was especially hard adjusting to leaving him alone in the Airtream. We have a WiFi camera at our house that we use to check in on our dog when we’d leave. But here in the Airstream, that isn’t possible as we only have hotspots on our phones. We found a wonderful app that connects both of our phones and uses one as a monitor and the other as the viewing device. It’s called Dog Monitor and costs $5.99. We had to pay for it on each device but it’s definitely been worth every penny. We can check in, see what he’s up to and even talk to him through the phone. It’ll even tell you when the last noise was heard so you can tell if he’s been resting or barking. So far we’ve only left him alone when it’s been a nice day. I’m nervous about leaving him alone when it’s hot or cold out. I worry about the AC or heat shutting off or some other impending disaster. I’m still researching a reliable way to remotely monitor temperature that reports to our cell phone. I will update when I find a solution!

Sheena is a free-spirited adventurer who designed and renovated a 1975 Airstream in 2016 and travels the US with her husband and mohawk-sportin’ poodle. She’s a business owner, self-taught carpenter, blogger, yogi, professional photographer and a lover of the outdoors and healthy living.

7 Comment

  1. Yes, just got an airstream plan to remodel & have a pug. I work as a nurse, & am terrified of her having a heat/cold issue. If you find a solution for monitoring please post 🙌🏻

    1. I’m still searching! Can’t believe how hard it’s been to find. One reader had a good temporary solution of putting a digital thermometer in view of the doggie monitor camera. At least that’d be one way to check temperature!

  2. Ah! Your site is fantastic! We just bought a ’79 Tradewind and we’ve got a lot of the same cosmetic issues as you had! The curtains and couches were even re-upholstered in the 90’s which (unsurprisingly) does not go real well with 70’s decor. We are hoping to paint almost everything white as well. Thanks for all the tips! And I also love what you did with the skylights. We will definitely be trying to update those too.

  3. Can you explain further about the horror stories on Propane??

    1. Hey there! It’s stories like these that scare me. I do realize it’s a slim chance and most of these things could be avoided by a carbon monoxide detector but I didn’t want to take the risk of anything happening while we left our dog unattended for short periods. 🙂

  4. Is the deadbolt lock the only means of security you have? I am looking to buy an airstream but it scares me about safety since it would be my home.

    1. Mavis has a deadbolt and cover to prevent someone from reaching through a window to turn the lock. You may want to consider an alarm system such as SimpliSafe which easily installs and is completely wireless. Last I checked the monitoring fee starts around $15 and may be exactly what you’re looking for as an added layer of security.

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