I remember just knowing. My fiance and I had driven three hours to check out an RV listed on Craigslist. It was in rough shape for sure. It was behind an auto shop and we had to climb around some tree branches and snow banks to get into it. Once inside we discovered a partially done floor, a stripped down closet where the bathroom was and brown, brown, and more brown everywhere. In spite of the outward (and inward) appearance, I just knew that this was our RV. I knew that with some elbow grease and faith we could turn this into the tiny summer home that we had always dreamed of, and so a week later we made the three hour drive again with my dad to bring her home. While I did slightly underestimate the amount of work it would take, we were able to renovate our RV on a serious budget and turn it into the RV of our dreams. While I could go on and on, here are the five budget friendly things that I think made the biggest impact in our renovation.
There's no doubt in my mind that painting the walls and cabinets white made the biggest impact in the RV. That's not to say it wasn't tedious, it was, but if you're willing to put in the work, the results are phenomenal.
"Tippy" as we affectionately call our camper had actually been painted when we purchased her. That meant that luckily we didn't have to deal with wallpaper removal. However the walls had been painted the ugliest shade of brown and cabinets a very unflattering shade of blue. It made the whole place feel dingy, dirty, and small. The slide show above has the before and afters.
We found out that Tippy had spent part of her life as a "break" trailer for a pavement company on job sites. It was evident that a lot of smoke breaks had been taken in the trailer so in addition to the brown paint, a yellow film coated everything. A fresh coat of paint was a must.
While many people use a roller (and that would be perfectly fine) my plan was to paint everything white (doors, cabinets, and walls). So in terms of time, a paint sprayer made more sense. I used an orange degreaser to get some of the yellow film off and to clean the window surrounds. Next, we covered the floor and all of the windows with paper and painter's tape.
I removed the hardware from cabinets and taped off anything remaining that shouldn't get paint (ie: the thermostat).
Finally, we used a paint sprayer and covered the whole RV in white paint. Be sure to wear a protective mask and open all of the windows and doors, it is very easy to inhale too much or get light-headed in such a small area. You should also wear clothes that you can toss, everything (including our hair) was covered in a layer of white paint. I recommend wearing a hat and possibly a painters jumpsuit if you don't have old clothes.
We did three layers of white paint. It brightened it up and made it feel instantly bigger.
I'll write another post detailing more about the painting process, but if you can only do one thing to update your RV, this is it.
2. Remove factory window coverings
I have no idea who designs RV's but the valences (if that's what you can even call them) that come with RV's cover a portion of the window, making the space feel small and often come in a pattern straight out of 1992 (if you're lucky). The colors are usually some kind of greenish/purple/brown combo. Yuck.
Sure, you could cover them with new fabric, and I've seen some people do a lovely job with this, but I honestly recommend just taking them out. You will have to unscrew them and give a good tug, but they will come out.
This will open up the windows and it will instantly feel more fresh and modern. If you're worried about privacy you can add some curtain rods and panels, or add some plastic or wood blinds which are more modern than the fabric ones that they come with and easier to clean.
This is such an easy (and free) way to modernize and change up your RV.
3. tile your kitchen backsplash
I know, I know, you're asking why a backsplash is on the list of budget friendly renovations. With an RV though, it really is. RV kitchens are tiny. While this could mean a tiny stove, tiny counter, and tiny sink, it also means that the backsplash area is also tiny. You can make a huge impact by adding a fun backsplash to your kitchen. The best part is since your kitchen is probably visible from your "living room" "dining room" and maybe even your bedroom, it can really give the entire space a new feel.
I wrote a blog post this past summer about how I tiled my backsplash in my RV the easiest way possible. I had fallen in love with real glass tile from Lowes and since we had removed a lot of weight from the RV, decided to go for it and use real tile. I wanted the RV remodel to have a "beach house" feel but more classy than kitchy. I originally planned to use peel and stick subway tile but fell in love with the American Olean Cole Point Cloud tile. It just reminded me of sea glass and had just enough shimmer to it. The name is I used a peel and stick mastic instead of mortar and it made it super easy and mess free. The mastic cost $15, and I didn't even use a full roll. The tile's were $6.99 for a 12" x 14" sheet.
If you're worried about weight, peel and stick tiles have come a long way. Smart Tiles even have a similar tile to the real ones I used, if that's the look you're going for. You can also get subway tiles, honeycomb tiles, faux ceramic tiles, all in peel and stick. There are so many possibilities. They will run you around $6-$8 per sheet. Although it would add up quickly for a large area, it's perfect for an RV remodel or camper.
It took me one afternoon to do the tile and even though it's a small area, I absolutely love the impact that it had. It added some subtle color and texture to break up all the white without taking away how calm and serene it feels.
4. Change out the flooring
Most RV's and campers come with some combo of carpet and tile. Again, I'm not sure who picks the color schemes for these things but they are typically not a very attractive color. Having a nice floor was a priority for my fiance and it really had a huge impact on the overall feel. We decided to use a floating interlocking floor throughout the entire RV.
Additionally, we knew that we would be coming in from the beach and camping, so sand and mud on a carpet just didn't sound ideal. When we purchased our RV the owner had actually already pulled up the carpet and partially finished the floor in the kitchen area. I was able to match the floor pretty closely to one at Lowes. The flooring I ended up using was ___ and it cost $.99 a square foot. I guess it depends on the size of your rig and the budget for your RV Renovatnion but for us it was money well spent. To do our entire RV would have been about $250. We ended up spending $200 since as I said it was already started.
If you are worried about cost or weight you could also used peel and stick vinyl floor planks. They have really increased the options available in the last few years and they will be less than $2 a square foot in most cases. I wrote a post comparing floating and vinyl floors last year if you're trying to decide.
I absolutely love that the flooring can be cleaned with a broom and Swiffer as opposed to having to have a vacuum, ideal for a camper. I also think it opens up the space rather than having carpet and tile interchanging and gives the whole space a more open and uniform feel.
5. update your kitchen
If your RV kitchen is in great shape, you may be able to get away with painting the cabinets and using some peel and stick on the counter. We were not so fortunate, but in the end we're happy with how things turned out.
Again this one will take some creative thinking and price hunting. When we did our RV Renovation, we discovered that mice had eaten away most of the kitchen and we would have to redo the whole thing. At first we were devastated, thinking this would really eat into our reno budget. However, my dad had some amazing creative ideas to make the reno very cost effective.
We were able to keep the uppers but the lowers were structurally gone. My dad and I had actually gone to Home Depot to get wood to frame new cabinets when we came across a sale on bath vanities. We were able to purchase two bath vanities and put them together to create new lower cabinets. The total cost for both cabinets? $110. We would have spent that framing and building new cabinets, not to mention I now have drawers that would have been difficult to create myself.
The next problem was finding a countertop that would be a custom size but not break the bank. The countertop is actually a piece of exterior PVC siding for a house. Home Depot actually cut it to size for us. This ended up being awesome not just for the price but also because it is water and mildew resistant which is perfect for a camper. I originally planned to marbelize it the same way I did our kitchen counter at home, but I've ended up enjoying it as is.
We also had to replace the stove, microwave, and sink as they had been damaged. I found the same sink on eBay for a very reasonable price, but a camper stove remained elusive. I checked Craigslist, Marketplace, Ebay and RV Parts suppliers and junk yards, but anytime I found one it was overpriced and old enough that I was concerned about how long it would last.
Most RV's have a stove that runs on propane, but it occurred to me that if I got a flat top I could run it off the electric (which we pay for as part of our site) and save some money. I ended up purchasing a two burner cooktop off of Amazon. I did make the mistake of purchasing a 220 v one the first time and my electrician informed me it wouldn't work, so I returned it and got a 110v and it works just fine! By going with a vertical two burner, I gained a lot of counter space (a lot being relative for an RV).
Since I wouldn't have an oven and we needed a new microwave we got a convection oven microwave. It has both functions, allegedly I can roast a turkey in it, I haven't been that brave (nor do I get a hankering for turkey at the beach) but maybe I will try it this summer. I did cook a few dishes in it and they came out great, and the microwave function works just fine. We got it on Amazon for a great price. I'm actually thinking about getting one for our sticks and bricks home. Overall though they were an added expense, none of the appliances were overly expensive. They are all energy efficient and we have eliminated the need for propane for the stove which saves money in the long run.
Thankfully we didn't have to replace the fridge, but I did update it with some contact paper to modernize it a bit.
So all in all we had to rebuild the whole base, replace the counters, and add new appliances. Considering you see the kitchen from everywhere in the camper, I could not be happier with the results. It's calm, bright, clean, and I gained a lot more counter space. The new appliances modernize it and add a lot of functionality.
If you didn't have to rebuild your whole kitchen, you could certainly swap out a few appliances and add some paint and update for even less!
Those aren't the only updates we did, but they certainly are the one's that I think had the most impact in the look and feel of the camper. This was such a fun project that I hope to do it again in the future.
I think when doing an RV Renovation or camper remodel you have to take into account both functionality and design. Think about the areas that you will be using the most and how to make them best work for your family. I'd love to see your remodels!