17 Mar What’s the Difference? – Full Vs Partial Airstream Renovations
What distinguishes a HofArc design/build from a typical Craigslist Airstream renovation?
When clients call with the dream of owning a custom Airstream we are often asked, “What’s the difference between a custom Hofmann Airstream renovation that costs $60k+ and those on CraigsList for $35k?”
If you’re in the market for a renovated vintage Airstream you’ve probably noticed there is a wide range of prices. They go from $25,000 to $80,000, or more. In the past year there have been HofArc-designed-and-built Airstreams selling on vintage RV websites for more than $100,000. Is there really a difference between a HofArc design/build and the others?
The simple answer is yes, there is a vast difference. It’s similar to a stationary home remodel – a HofArc Airstream renovation takes the vessel down to the studs and replaces everything. A less expensive renovation simply replaces a few fixtures, possibly an appliance or two, lays down some new flooring and gives it a coat of fresh paint.
A HofArc design and build is what is known as a full renovation, while most other renovations on the open market are partial. Comparing a custom HofArc designed-and-built Airstream (OPTION #1) versus a partial Airstream renovation (OPTION #2) is a matter of three items:
- Quality of craftsmanship and finishes
- Scope of work
OPTION #1 – A full HofArc Airstream Renovation
The first step in a full Hofmann Architecture renovation is when the entire interior is removed. Everything is taken out but the chassis/hitch, interior walls, and exterior skin. All the applicable parts are recycled as well.
This includes removing the interior skins and that stinky, often moldy, insulation in the walls and chassis that was formerly a home for rats and other critters. The steel chassis is inspected and reinforced as needed, and the axles, brakes and suspension are all replaced. Then the undercarriage gets a coat of rust inhibiting paint.
The foundation and running system are now up to safe, modern standards. Your home on the road is clean, healthy, and secure — it should enjoy another 50 good years of life.
Upgrading the Interior
Inside the cabin, a HofArc renovation also removes all of the factory systems, appliances, fixtures, wiring, and plumbing. Then, the Airstream gets new everything. Brand new insulation, wiring, PEX pipes, systems, appliances, subfloor, flooring, cabinets, countertops, and even several fresh coats of paint. Other than the exterior skin and chassis, it’s a brand new Airstream.
New appliances are not only safer, lighter, and more energy efficient than their vintage counterparts, but they will last longer too. You’ll suffer through less headaches this way, as opposed to constantly repairing and replacing everything. As we’ve learned from our collective camping experiences, it’s the little things that don’t work that will drive you crazy. Items such as PEX piping that doesn’t leak and new wiring that doesn’t short out, for example. Upgrading provides a much better experience down the road.
Reinforcing the Exterior
However, as with any vehicle — new or vintage — there is still required maintenance and repairs. Remember, these vehicles are rolling down bumpy highways and roads — much like a 9.0 earthquake. So there are expected repairs (see this related blog by Matthew and Joanna on preparing for repairs). However, a full HofArc Airstream renovation is your best insurance against future breakdowns.
The most important part of any structure is the foundation. For vintage trailers, the chassis is the foundation. It’s a structure that is susceptible to rust. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to determine how much rust has affected the chassis without removing the belly skins or the subfloor. First, the chassis of any renovation should be inspected. If all, or portions of a chassis are severely rusted, such as the one pictured (on right), it needs to be scrapped and replaced.
Inspecting and reinforcing the chassis is why we recommend that clients direct their builder to do a full frame-off renovation. Not all renovators are equipped or capable of doing this type of renovation, yet it is a vital step. A frame-off is where the body of the trailer is separated from the chassis, inspected, and the structural members are reinforced if necessary. Then, the chassis is painted with a rust inhibitor.
Finally, the foundation of your new Airstream is solid and ready for a quality build!
OPTION #2 – A Partial Airstream Renovation
A partial, or select, renovation is where the existing interior structure, as it was built at the factory 50+ years ago, remains mostly intact. The original sofa beds, cabinetry, kitchen and bathroom are left as they were built. New flooring is usually installed, however the existing subfloor remains. New countertops are installed on old cabinetry, and the interior is repainted. Some of the original systems that work will not be replaced. The wiring and plumbing are typically not replaced.
The 50-year-old axle(s) are often not replaced as well. There may be new or repacked bearings, but the most important (and hidden) part of your running system remains – the suspension. An old suspension will result in a very rough, bumpy, and damaging ride to the interior structure. Many other items you would never think about are typically not replaced. Such items include the interior skins, insulation in the walls, and the chassis.
Choosing Your Best Option
If you’re budget is less than $60k all-in, and you’re the type of person who can accept and deal with more repairs down the road – for example, you don’t mind replacing occasional faulty systems, leaking pipes, and electrical shorts as they come along – then a partial renovation is a good fit for you.
If you prefer to have less issues and your budget is above $60k, then a full Airstream renovation is a better fit for you. A budget-driven full design and build handled from start to finish by HofArc starts at $60k, plus the cost of an as-is vessel. If you don’t have a vessel, we are happy to help you find an Airstream to start your project.
If you’d like more about the HofArc process, then click Wish List and tell us a few specifics about your dream Airstream. We’ll review it with our design team and give you a rough ballpark cost of the design and build.
Since this is your future home on the road, guest house, or maybe your retirement home it’s very important that you get the right Airstream. We’re happy to explain the options over the phone, or in person if you would like to visit us in Santa Barbara.
Whether you choose to go with a Hofmann Architecture renovation, one from Craigslist, or you decide to build it yourself, we sincerely hope you find the Airstream that fits your requirements, your lifestyle, and your budget expectations just right!