A lesson learned on our Vintage Airstream AC install

If you are like us, you want any work performed on your Airstream to be by a professional who knows the details of the project. It’s not ideal for someone to learn on your unit. Mavis came with the original AC unit installed back in 1975 and while it blew air, it wasn’t cold. We partnered with the folks at Dometic to find the best solution for Mavis, which was the Blizzard NXT. It was a great day when it arrived!

Then came an extensive search for a professional to uninstall the original unit and install our Dometic Blizzard. I spoke with major repair shops and individuals alike and they all (but one) said the uninstall task is too daunting and they would install the new unit once the old was removed. On Mavis, the AC unit was held on by ~40 rivets and very strong epoxy. Because there was one “company” in the Atlanta area willing to come to us, and remove the old unit, I scheduled time with them for the job. In the end, this guy had not performed an uninstall and install on and Airstream, dented our roof, knew nothing about having to reinforce the roof, installed an extra and unneeded gasket, and walked away from the job after seeing the wiring. This leads me to questions I wish I had asked prior and not assumed that just because they said they had the experience, but verified this experience. Another very important thing to note is vintage Airstreams (at least ours, a ’75) must have the roof reinforced before installing a new unit. The original unit was basically glued and riveted to the shell. Modern units have to sandwich from the inside. If you fasten a modern unit without reinforcing the area between the skin and the shell you run the risk of collapsing the aluminum shell and having a unit that is not secured properly.

For the install, we ended up at Camping World. They were unwilling to touch the AC removal but once we had the unit off they had no issues installing the new one. They did a fantastic job cleaning up the mess from the first guy and got the new unit installed and blowing cold air. They were great to work with and I appreciate their quick turnaround.

If I had to do it over again, I would have asked the following questions (some I did, others I didn’t).

• How many hours do you estimate the work to take?
• What is your hourly rate?
• How do you plan to reinforce the roof? (If they don’t have an answer, run away!)
• How many AC units have you personally installed in vintage Airstream models? Which years have you worked on?
• What common issue do you come across? (Very important question to learn more about their actual experience)
• How do you plan to access the unit? (BIG question here as you don’t want just anyone walking on your roof, trust me!)
• Do I purchase the parts through you or another supplier?
• Are you a licensed business, insured, and can provide references?
• Do you work for the company I contacted or are you a sub-contractor?
• Should an issue arise, what is the chain of command for me to contact?
• Do you offer a labor warranty?
• Which forms of payment do you accept? (Be a bit concerned if it’s cash only)

Each situation will vary and you should adapt the questions to best fit your Airstream and situation. This generally doesn’t apply to companies with strong reputations. If you hire an individual I’d highly suggest stating in the beginning that if they get over their heads, to please stop and you’ll pay them for their time up until that point. There are some very hard working folks out there who just don’t know their limits, and you’ll be stuck with a messy situation and dents on your roof (specific I know!)

Take your time, research your options and ask a lot of questions. It will pay off in the end when you’re sitting in your Airstream with a nice cold breeze and no issues.

Jason renovated a 1975 Airstream in 2016 and travels the US with his wife and mohawk-sportin’ poodle. He’s a student pilot, FAA Certified sUAS Pilot, self-taught Airstream plumber/electrician, natural navigator and a lover of the outdoors.

4 Comment

  1. I have an26′ Avion and am looking at Dometic as well. 15000 BTU, no heat pump. Can you please discuss your Dometic, the thermostat selected and how you decided on this one vs another one? Thanks!

    1. Hi there! We actually just finished a blog post on this subject. Click here! Let me know if you have any questions!

  2. Hi! Do you have any photos or info about how they reinforced the roof? Trying to DIY this same project on my ’75 and struggling to figure out the best way to brace the new Dometic and create a good seal. Thanks!

    1. Hey there! We didn’t see exactly what they did and wish we had photos of the process but what we know is they reinforced the area between the skin and the shell with wood so it wouldn’t crush the shell when sandwiching the bolts of the AC unit down. They used one gasket on the outside under the AC unit (some told us we needed 2 but we actually didn’t).

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