My Vintage Airstream Project

My Vintage 1972 Airstream Land Yacht Safari

Living small in a vintage Airstream

As many of you know, I’m into sustainable housing and the tiny house movement. I don’t feel the need to live in a huge McMansion. We have a 2 story 2400 sq. ft. house in San Antonio that we only use half of. The other rooms just gather dust.

For a while now I’ve known that I eventually want to build an Earthship. I also like Eco-Domes and had though of building one down at our ranch. If we ever built the Earthship, the Eco-Dome would become a guest house.

I’ve also looked at a lot of the tiny house movement and sustainable living designs. I love many of them, but Matt doesn’t. He wants to be earth friendly, but doesn’t want to live in 100 sq. ft. I guess that’s why we both like the Earthship. It’s bigger like he wants, but totally off grid like I want.

A lot of people in the tiny house movement have bought old Airstreams and fixed them up and live in them full time. The Airstream is a classic piece of Americana. They’re built to last and are instantly recognizable. They’re trendy with the Hollywood set too.

Celebrities and their Airstreams Here’s an Morning Show video about Airstreams

Matt and I spent several years traveling around in a Class C Motorhome when he was contracting. We liked it much better than hotels, but I didn’t like feeling like we were living in a bus. I always wanted a Travel Trailer. It’s just a little more homey.

So last year I joined the Guard. Then someone told me about one of the deployments that’s essentially a full time active duty position. There’s six locations, none of them in San Antonio. I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to work full time in the Guard. It would probably be my only chance to ever wear a uniform full time. It had always been my dream to serve in the regular full time military, so this was an awesome opportunity. Even better, the job was actually something I was skilled at. Sitting behind a computer all day! So I applied. My Commanding Officer sent in a letter of recommendation. I got an interview call. A half hour later they called back and offered me the position. I was so excited. Even better, the location I got was only 3 hours from home. So I could still go home easily on my days off. It was also in a town we had traveled to many times and actually like. Although apparently I’m one of the few people who had a positive image of the town before coming here…

We have to supply our own accommodation down here. Some of the guys share a house together, one of the other guys rents a room from someone. I knew I wanted my own space, and I was going to get an RV. I was looking at cheap ones, and they were all so blah. I knew I wanted an Airstream. So I started searching. Eventually, I drove out to Houston to look at one, and with a week to go before I deployed, I picked her. She seemed pretty good. Matt was pissed caused she weighed way, way more than what I was supposed to buy. But hey, she was $3500. Plus, she was nice and spacious inside, and I though she just needed a cosmetic make-over. That would give me something to do while I was down here by myself.

So I took her into our local RV repair place. They said it was a good thing I hadn’t just taken her with me. She was ready to explode… So $2000 later, she had new gas lines, new electrical, patched up some leaks and a new kitchen faucet. So, now I’m $5500 into her. Still not bad. The tiny 1979 Argosy I had looked at for $6000 wasn’t as nice and was half the size, so I still felt I was ahead. Of course, by this time I was staying in a hotel because I’m a procrastinator and had waited so long. After 2 weeks though, I finally got her down to an RV park and started full timing.

I was in heaven. Then, the Heavens opened, and I was in Hell. The roof leaked. The Airstream had been in an accident years before. They hit something and crashed the front. The windows were buggered up. The front corner is dented.

What I didn’t know was that there used to be an antenna up top. I guess it got ripped off. They had kinda patched it, but not that well. So there’s water pouring in. Awesome. It’s not easy fixing a roof on an Airstream. Eventually, I took off the vents from the inside and stood inside the vent and patched the roof that way.

Of course, the other problem with leaks and a known issue with Airtreams is floor rot. Mine doesn’t appear too bad, except in the bathroom. It seems like the plastic is just sitting on the trusses. The whole sub floor is rotted out. My big project is to rip out the bathroom, replace the sub-floor and then put the bathroom back in.

Some of the easier projects have been cosmetic on the inside. I pulled all the broken perspex off the front window, then cleaned the old bubbling tint on there. It was amazing the difference that small window made.

I got rid of the old broken rolling window shade in the kitchen. I painted the hideous yellowing plastic in silver, and installed mini blinds. I had found these cool plastic metallic backsplashes which worked like a champ with the curve of the Airstream. So for $20, I had a pretty new backsplash. The blinds were $8 each. Paint was $14 for the metallic and the primer I had to use first. So for under $50, I had a total kitchen make-over.

Painted Window and New Blinds.

I thought the Aistream was pretty dark and wondered why there wasn’t more lighting. Turns out the roof vents also had lights under there. I didn’t find this out till I pulled down the ugly vents when I was fixing the roof. It was pretty gross up there. About 30 years worth of mold… I had to completely sanitize everything. I had been watching a series on American Restoration and they replaced the vents.

I wanted to do the same. Matt suggested I paint them, which at first thought was silly. Then one day I grabbed the paint and tried it, and they ended up looking pretty good. Well, in the day time at least. At night when the lights are on they look a little funny.

Ugly yellow vent.

While out shopping I saw the most awesome bedroom sets. They had sheets, comforters and and matching curtains in my favourite shades of Fuschia and Cyan. I also found a shower curtain with matching colours, a floor mat and even a broom in the same shades. I figured if I couldn’t do the floor yet, I could at least make the interior bright and happy to live in. I also installed the mini blinds behind the curtains. Some weeks I work nights, and I like it dark to sleep in.

I started painting over the other ugly yellow plastic parts too. The biggest part is at the front. The end dome was this awful shade of orange yellow. I painted it silver too.

I’ve got some pretty new curtains that go with my retro theme for the front.  I haven’t put them up yet though. As I work on stuff, I’ll post it up here. It has been a pretty fun project. I finally broke down and installed a flat screen TV a couple weeks ago. Put up the swivel mount, installed the TV, then realized there wasn’t a jack on the outside to hook up to the cable… The jack on the inside went to the old antenna. Which, surprisingly, picked up two Mexican channels. So then I ran new coax and installed a jack on the outside.
I’ve always been handy, and sometimes I’m surprised at the amount of stuff I can work on myself. I’m looking forward to re-doing the bathroom and then I’ll lay new flooring throughout. The lino in here is pretty fugly.
At the end of my deployment, hopefully I’ll have her all shiny and new and I can sell her and get my money back. The vintage Airstreams are pretty trendy right now. I’ve seen some that have been restored or refurbished go for almost $20k. I know mine’s not going to sell for that kind of cash, but if I can break even on my accommodation costs I’ll be happy. In the meantime, I’m still coming out ahead. I only pay $215 a month rent on my RV space, which includes cable TV and free WiFi. My electricity is about $20 a month. (I’m constantly unplugging things if I’m not using them) Even if I shared a house I’d have to pay more than that. I take my laundry home on my days off. Best of all, I have my own space. I like the people I work with, but I probably wouldn’t if I had to live with them as well…

I see articles in the paper in Oz about the housing crisis in Sydney. Maybe if more people could downsize, or if councils weren’t so anal retentive about micro managing every aspect of building, people could have more affordable housing. Maybe younger people could look at living in RV’s and save up their money for a house. Or look at buying land and building an Eco-Dome. It’s not just the building itself, but these things cost much less in electricity and water too. People could make caravan parks where they have US style RV’s that are completely self contained. I remember staying at Kate’s caravan as a kid and we had to walk 10 minutes to pee or shower. That sucked. I can’t imagine staying in a camper now and not having a toilet and shower.

Instead of buying into the dream of owning a big home, think outside the box. Look at alternative housing. It might surprise you how comfortable it is.


new project – Earthbag building

Sustainable housing.

Those of you that know me or follow me on twitter know that I’m a pretty handy type of person.  I like to get my hands dirty. I’m also pretty granola and like to be earth friendly.

While we live in the city in San Antonio, Matt and I love to get away to our ranch, which is about 40 mins outside SA in a place called Stockdale. It’s got red dirt, lots of acacias and it looks like it could be the Australian outback or somewhere in Africa. It’s beautiful.

Right now, we have a trailer out there. We had sold our motorhome last year, but we had a 24ft car hauler that we’ve put up shelving and a toilet, as well as a futon bunk bed. We recently had electricity hooked up and there’s  also a well on the ranch. We fill up a mobile water trailer and hook that up to the trailer and have an outdoor shower and kitchen sink as well.

We both love it down there so much, we’ve been thinking of something more permanent. Matt started looking into nicer RV’s. We even looked at a couple of FEMA trailers. (ugh)


I however, would much prefer something that creates less impact and is much more permanent. That’s when I started looking into sustainable housing. So far, my two favourite types of home are the Eco-Domes designed by Nader Khalili and Earthships designed by Michael Reynolds.  


I have also been researching other sites, some with great info like EarthBag Building. 

I much prefer the earthbags over the tire pounding, and an earthship could be built using sandbags or used fruit bags or burlap. I like the roundness of the dome, and now I’m just wondering how to take certain aspects of the earthip, like the water harvesting and reclycling and incorporate it into the eco-dome. For a weekender, we probably don’t want growbeds like the earthship. They wouldn’t get enough water, but I’m thinking if I start out with an eco-dome with water catchment that then uses the grey water for outdoor gardens, that’ll make a good place till we decide if we ever want to move to the ranch full time. At that point, the dome would become a guest house and we’d build a full on earthship. I like the idea of being completely off the grid and self-sufficient.

Everyone says it’s important to practice on smaller projects first, so I have just ordered 1000 sandbags. My first project is going to be an outdoor kitchen next to our trailer. We already have a metal cover down there that Matt’s parents pulled down from the old camp site. So this week we’ll go down there and set that up. Then, I’ll use the empty sandbags and the local earth to build 2 walls, facing north and west. I’m going to try to incorporate some of the beauty of the earthships by using old bottles for windows and decoration. Last week we went to the Habitat for Humanity store by our house. I picked up 2 great looking bars. One for the ranch, one for the house. Turns out they’re from movie sets from a local telenovela they filmed here. I got the counters for $149 each! So add in $250 for sandbags, and since we already have the roof, all I need now is a sink, a 50 gallon drum and some guttering for rainwater harvesting and I’ve got an outdoor kitchen for less than $500.

Meanwhile, as I write this, the guy just turned up to give me a quote for new insulation in the attic in our house. The old insulation, which we found out after after the lightning and subsequent fire, was highly flammable stuff which was also really gross and disgusting after 15 years of animals living in it. (There was squirrel poop and hummingbird eggs!) I have since removed 90% of it, and we are getting new green stuff up there. He’s measuring now and is going to give us prices for recylced cellulose as well as Bio-Foam, a soy based spray in expanding foam insulation.

I’m super excited about building the outdoor kitchen at the ranch. I’ll take lots of pictures and put them up here. If that goes well, I’m then going to make a dome shaped bathroom. Then we’ll have a nice dunny and shower while we’re out there. If we ever build an earthship, the dome bathroom will be nice for visitors who come out camping.

Yesterday I finished putting up the texture on the upstairs wall at our house that we lost after the fire. We had been looking at the studs and new insulation for a year! Tomorrow I’ll paint it, then I’m going to make a nice trim with decorative tile. It’s so nice to have a week off work and get some real stuff done!