My husband and I are big into thrifting and DIY projects so when you combine the two we have the BEST time. Last summer we took on a camper renovation project which I have decided to share, in hopes it will inspire others to restore when possible. We love to remodel and DIY everything, it’s less wasteful and saves us money. A study done by The National Trust for Historic Preservation found that it is actually greener to renovate, than it is to build new. Which leads me to believe, that it would be no different with RV’s and Campers. With most people spending more time at home right now, DIY projects seem to be on the rise. Here is a quick break down of how we restored an old camper for under $1000 CAD total.
Last summer we came across a 1969 camper trailer that was a little worse for wear on our local “Buy and Sell” site. Luckily for us it was only $500 CAD and the exterior was in nearly perfect condition. This meant with a little TLC and a few coats of paint we could have a new-to-us camper for under $1000. We were in!
Our goal was to use as much existing parts of the trailer as possible. When that wasn’t possible we tried to use what we had, sourced out used out materials and as a last resort buy new. Our other goal was to stay under $1000 total. We had already spent $500 on the trailer so that left a remaining $500 for renovation materials.
So… to the nitty gritty. What did we keep, modify, change and replace?
The first thing we had to do was clean. Everything had to be cleaned. There had been a serious mouse infestation. This made the curtains and cushions unusable and unfortunately we had to throw them out. Everything else we made sure to spray with bleach and vacuum everything out.
Next, the subfloor was rotten and needed to be replaced. We had plywood in the garage that my husband cut to size. We also had leaks that needed to be re caulked (we bought maybe three tubes at a total of $6 CAD).
A Little Bit of Paint
To liven up the look and give it a more modern finish I wanted to go with black and white. We used the remaining white paint we had from painting our house’s trim in May to do all of the walls. Then all of the fixtures, trim and accents both inside and outside we painted black. We did spend $8 per can and bought 3 cans. We also bought one coat of clear for the exterior at $8 as well. Which brings the total paint cost to $32.
Flooring and Fixtures
We needed new flooring but as we had mentioned we didn’t want to buy anything NEW NEW. So we went to the restore shop and bought the leftover boxes from a larger job. The restore shop is full of project leftovers and scraps that would otherwise be thrown away. All we needed was two boxes and we were able to find exactly that for $8/ box. The total flooring cost worked out to $16 CAD.
As for the actual interior we were able to keep the frame of everything. The table that folds into a bed works perfectly, and the tabletop was in great condition. We kept the original finish. My husband did paint the support leg black to match everything else.
The closet and kitchen frames were solid but the cabinets doors were very old and tattered, so we went to the restore shop and bought preloved cabinet doors to cut to size. The cabinet doors cost $30. I kept all of the original hardware down to the screws and painted them black. We also painted the existing front of the fridge door to match the black colour scheme. It kept a vintage vibe and saved us some money.
Next Came the Sewing Fun
The existing curtains were so frail from time and sunlight that they disintegrated when I tried to pull the off the curtain rods. Needless to say they weren’t usable. So, as I mentioned our goal was to use what we had. My mother-in-law had a massive bolt of cream fabric which I made the main part of the curtains from. I wanted peach accents to match the vintage door. I didn’t have anything to use so I did buy 3 meters of sheer fabric ($10).
For the bed cushions I was beginning to worry about cost. Foam is very expensive, and fabric isn’t exactly cheap. For fabric I needed several meters and didn’t have enough of anything around the house to make do, and the thrift stores didn’t carry large enough bolts either so I did buy new cushion fabric. ($30 for both the patterned and solid grey). I also bought 5 large zippers at $3 a piece for a total of $15.
The table side needed one giant foam piece that I could then cut into four pieces to fold up into table seating or down into a bed. I searched and searched for a used one and couldn’t find the right dimensions. So we bought a new one ($110) and I cut it to size. There was a bit extra which came in handy for the couch mattress. My mother-in-law and I sewed the cushion covers very strategically as I made a very tight estimate of what was needed.
Luckily for the couch side, my mom had an old foam mattress topper that was a queen size. It was almost exactly the length we needed. As for the width, my husband built up the couch seat to be just wide enough for the mattress topper to fold in half. So for the couch mattress I folded the queen topper, sewed a cover and stuffed in a the remaining length needed using extra foam from thee table bed. For the couch back we used an old piece of wood and the remaining solid grey fabric.
A Few Other Details Worth Noting
We used an extra piece of leftover flooring from my in-law’s old project scraps to make a ledge behind the table seat. We used an old two by four and stained it for the ledge behind the couch. I also sewed throw pillows out of old inserts and an old curtain. The screens had holes in them and my mother in law luckily found us new screen at a garage sale for $5. One of the window panes was broken and we had to have a new piece of glass cut for $15 as well.
Our Cost Break Down:
Flooring (scrap material)
Cabinet Doors (used)
Foam Cushions (new)
Screen (scrap material)
Glass for Window (new)
We are so thrilled to have a camper for a $500 purchase fee and $269 reno cost for a grand total of $769. After working on it all last summer, we were lucky enough to use it for one weekend before the summer ended. We are trilled to already have used it twice this summer as well. I am so happy to have given it a new life and generated relatively little waste in the process. We are very passionate about restoring and reusing whatever we can it is always a creative challenge.
A few Things I’ve Learned About DIY’ing with the Earth in Mind
- Whenever possible keep original materials. The most sustainable items are the ones you already own.
- Following that tip- always check your own materials first. The more projects we do the more paint, glue, screws, and leftover wood we accumulate. Always use what you have first.
- Sell or list as much of your “waste” materials as possible. If you list old flooring, doors, paint, light fixtures, even carpet underlay for FREE, you would be shocked at how quickly people will come and pick it up. If it’s somewhat valuable you can even make back some of your cost by selling it. This saves large building materials from the landfill.
- Find out what can be recycled locally for items that you aren’t able to re-home.
- A little bit of paint goes a long way. Often times it’s all you need to freshen up the wall, cabinet, trim or fixtures.
- Second hand materials aren’t as tricky to find as you’d think and they save you so much money. I much prefer used to new “sustainable” options, as you are giving them another life.
- Be patient and check local sale sites and second hand shops often. It may take longer to find what you are looking for but it will pay off in the end.
- People often over estimate what they need for projects and sell off what they don’t use or need. Builders sometimes have to get rid of materials that the owner didn’t like or want. Home restore shops and local buy/sell sites are full of these preloved and nearly new items that are ready for you to use.
- For small spaces like bathrooms and campers it’s easy to source out small amounts of tile, flooring, paint, etc. that were leftover from someone else’s project instead of buying new.
- For sewing projects thrift stores are full of fabric, zippers, buttons, etc.
- For decor items the thrift store is usually my first stop but I have found things at garage sales as well. I find local buy/sell sites are more expensive for these items but are also a great option.
- Get creative! I use Pinterest for inspiration and then source out like items used to put together a similar look.