12 Lessons Learned from Our RV Renovation

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If you followed our Ultimate RV Makeover Series, you would have seen the massive DIY RV renovation of our 1999 motorhome. We transformed an old 40′ Country Coach into our ideal home and office on wheels. And while we love the end result, we also learned a LOT through the process. Considering doing an RV reno? Here’s what you need to know before you get started, with 12 lessons learned from our experience. Hint: It’s not for the faint of heart!

We talk through the 12 lessons in this video, and you can read on below.

What we cover in this post

First things first. RV renovations are a LOT of work. You may assume because it’s a small space, it will be quick and easy. But it can often take a lot more time, space and money than you might imagine. That was the case for us too. But Is it worth it? For us, YES. But it’s different for everyone and up to you to decide. Here are some of the lessons we learned from our RV renovation.

1. Know Your Reason / End Goal / Purpose

This is a BIG project and we had a great team helping us. Many hands made quicker work. Special thanks toBeing clear on your goal for the project is key to having success. Are you starting a new hobby? Something to tinker with for enjoyment? Or do you have the clear mission and purpose like us to renovate it quickly. We knew when we bought the RV that we would be renovating it in a few months. And, that our RV renovation was for us to live, work and travel from the RV. 

Others may have the goal to affordably update and flip the RV and sell it to somebody else. This of course changes many aspects of the project. And what do you have to give to it in terms of resources – time, skills and money. More on those in a bit.

2. Time

RV Renovations take more time than you think. What is the scope? Consider main construction work and also time for a punch list. Unless you’re retired, this project will be on top of your job and family commitments.  

It will also take time away that you might have otherwise used to travel or enjoy other hobbies. Do you have the time? A little as you go or knock it all out at once. Ours really was a 3 month project that we did in 3 weeks. They were long days and we had a team. We would not recommend trying to accomplish as much as we did in the time we allowed.

Remember that time spent on your RV renovation could otherwise be spent making money, traveling, with family, or other hobbies. What is the opportunity cost of the time? Is it worth it? Be prepared for the unexpected. In our project we had a change in scope, ran into water damage, and other delays.

In Episode 2 – we did a walk through with Jane and the scope of project ended up being bigger than we initially thought. Episode 3 during our demolition we uncovered some water damage that required deeper repairs than planned. 

3. Space

You definitely need access to a suitable space. Maybe you have a large shop or other indoor space.  Most people will need to do a project like this outdoors. You will need a lot of space to spread out.

We had an ideal outdoor space for our RV renovation. We were on private property, so we would not be offending others in a campground. Our space had enough room to setup three extra tents. One for furniture we removed from the RV. Another for shopping and deliveries of things that would be going into the RV. And a third for construction materials. You might have seen the tents and other setup in episode 1.

We also had space for a waist height trailer that served as a huge workbench.  When parked right next to our RV, the workbench could also be shaded/covered by our awning. This allowed us to leave everything set up. Being on private property also allowed us to leave all our tools and supplies out. Having everything safe and secure meant we saved time by not needing to set up and pack down every day. That was critical with our limited timeline.

If your project is much smaller scale, you might not need as much space to spread out. And if just doing indoor painting and decorating, you won’t need much extra space at all. Be mindful of the noise and mess you will create during your project. 

We know people who have done renovation projects in campgrounds.  But be sure to check in advance, as some campgrounds won’t allow it. Also consider storage space to allow you to stay organized. Organization will significantly reduce frustration and lost time of looking for tools or materials. It is even more important when you have multiple team members working on the project like we did.

4. Where Will You Live?

Another key consideration related to space is where you plan to stay/live during the project. Will you be willing and able to live inside the RV while renovating? If not, will you need to commute significant distance between where you stay and where you work on it?  

You may find, like us, that the Pace determines the Space. We had such an aggressive timeline on our project, that we were working at a very fast pace. During the three core weeks of the RV renovation, we were basically either working or sleeping. We didn’t spend much, if any downtime in our RV.

We were fortunate to be able to eat most of our meals at our friends Brett and Danelle’s RV and their AirBNB right next to ours. This meant we didn’t need to do most meal prep in our RV, and also provided a nice place to decompress during a meal. We also had a few little breaks from the project. We went to the lake a couple times, and to the rodeo one night. Once we completed the core project, we took it a bit easier and enjoyed the area a bit more.

How good are you at dealing with disruption, chaos, mess, and delays? Many people would go crazy trying to live in a construction zone for extended periods. It was not easy for us either, but because it was pretty fast pace and short timeline, we were able to get through it.

5. Weather, Environment, Climate Conditions

Unless indoors, a garage, shed, you will need good stable weather. So pay special attention to what the expected weather conditions will be in the area during the time of year. Ours was optimal in Northeast Oregon in summer, and it really paid off. We didn’t have downtime due to weather. 

There was only one day during the whole project that it even threatened to rain. So we never had to put things away out of the weather, and didn’t have any damage anything. We have spoken with others who took on projects in areas with significantly more rain, or other weather that caused huge delays to their projects.

Weather was especially critical for us on this project, because we were doing the whole thing off-grid. As explained in Episode 5, we powered all of our tools, lights, fridge and appliances using our Battle born batteries and solar power. Having full sun almost every day, was very important. For those doing an RV renovation using the power grid, having more shade or clouds would obviously be less of a factor. 

6. Have A Plan

Every successful project needs a plan. We definitely had a well defined one.  Having lived in RVs for over four years and in this RV for four months. And having spent enormous time walking through hundreds of other RVs over the years. All of that experience allowed us to be very clear on what we did and didn’t like about our floor plan or other features. 

We created spreadsheet to keep track of all our planned changed for every area of the RV. Photos and video clips were sent to Jane with our thoughts/comments months in advance. We envisioned what the new modifications would be like, and even placed orders for custom pieces more than a month before the main renovation started.  

This allowed us to have what we needed, when we needed it. Jane had been digesting design ideas for a couple of months ahead of arrival. We were clear about our main plan. Having previous construction experience also gave us fairly realistic expectations of how much time and money it would take to get the RV renovation done.

7. Skills and Team Available

Be honest with an assessment of your skill level, and the skills and availability of other team members. We were very fortunate to have a team that had construction, troubleshooting, renovation, and design experience.

Marc had construction skills and has done multiple home renovation projections. Brett and Danelle are very talented and had just recently finished renovating their own RV, and their beautiful AirBNB properties.  Julie spent a lot of her time capturing the RV renovation on film.  Julie also provided a lot of planning, organizing help, and worked closely with Jane on design decisions. Jane has been doing interior design work professionally for years. 

Do you, or your friends, have similar skills to bring to the table?  If not, you will need to allow a lot more time to learn them. Or spend more money hiring others who do have the skills needed. We did this on our own project too. We were starting to feel the time pressure of our project. And we were also not comfortable enough with our tile laying skills to lay the vertical tiles on the backsplashes. 

We analyzed the time and money it would take for us to do it, versus hiring our professional tradesman Bruce. It was an excellent choice to pay Bruce to take on that job. He had the skills, the time and the tools to do a fantastic job, and still keep us on target with the rest of the project. Sometimes hiring a pro means better results faster and avoiding costly mistakes.

8. Tools of the Trade

Tools are a big consideration when taking on a larger scale RV renovation.  Having the right tools can save you a lot of time and effort. We didn’t have many tools on board our RV at all. Fortunately, our friend Brett had a huge selection of rechargeable tools. Many of the tools we used, were tools I did not expect to need in our initial planning, but a huge blessing.

Having rechargeable tools, also meant that we could power up the batteries when the sun was up, and be able to work into the late hours without draining our RV batteries at night. If you don’t own, or have ability to borrow tools from friends, some home improvement stores have tools available for rent. Depending on the size of your project, it might be better to rent than buy a too. Especially if it is a special use tool. But, most tools rent by the hour or by the day. Many of the tools we used on this project were used every day. So, renting would have added up to a significant expense. Likely greater than buying the tools.  

References to tools expands beyond hand tools and power tools. Do you have an appropriate vehicle to transport materials? Do you have a good workbench, dumpsters for waste, etc..?

9. Access, Proximity and Convenience

How good is access to other resources like hardware and home goods stores? There were days that we made five visits to the local hardware store. So, having a hardware store only a mile a way was a huge benefit.  

On the other hand, we were in a pretty small town. So, home goods stores for decor shopping were hours away. Some stores were available about two hours away. But, Julie and Jane actually drove over 4 hours away to have better access to stores in a bigger city. Having such a long drive they needed to be clear on what the overall design was. They did one major shop in two focused and intense days.  

Fortunately, we were also able to do lots of shopping online and have items delivered directly to the job site too. Check out many of the items we purchased by visiting our amazon store. If doing a big and intense project like ours, it is also nice to have a grocery store and restaurants nearby too.

10. Support

If you are planning on doing a significant makeover or RV renovation, having support of friends, family, or professionals will be very important. We are not just talking about the physical, hands on help. You might also need emotional, moral support. Even if it is just somebody to pat you on the shoulder and give you encouragement. 

Other support that was of enormous help in our project was in regards to our meals. Brett and Danelle planned and prepared many of our meals. This was a huge time saver, and also a wonderful emotional and mental support to us. Not to mention amazingly good food to help nourish our fatigued bodies. 

It also really helps to have friends with a good sense of humor for some comic relief. It helps keep you going, keeps you sane and makes the hard work easier. Check out our bloopers video to have a laugh and see what we mean.

11. Deadline

Having a deadline keeps you motivated, efficient and focused, Without a deadline, the project can otherwise drag out, and become soul sucking, demoralizing. You may run out of steam and not finish job at all.

We wouldn’t recommend doing a renovation of this size, as fast as we did. Three months of work in three weeks is exhausting. But we did it…thanks to our team. A big part of what helped us pull that off was the light was always at the of the tunnel. Intense but not long, so we could tell ourselves we just needed to push a few more days. 

Having the deadline also helped us prioritize. We spent our time on the big impact items, and left small details for later. We knew that we had to have all major elements finished before Jane and the film crew left. But we also knew that some of the details would not show in that footage. 

This allowed us a secondary deadline/goal to finish the punch list and detail work with a few extra weeks of lower intensity work. More time you have to do something the more time you will take to do it.

12. Finances. Is It Worth The Money

RVs typically depreciate, but if you buy right, you can increase the value.  The money you are willing to spend will also depend on our first consideration of your goal. Is it for your hobby, or your home?  Will you keep it or flip it.

We bought ours really well, great quality, plenty of years left in it her, and it is our home. So to us, it was worth it. We were able to get what we wanted and are still in a better financial proposition than if we had bought a newer, more expensive RV. Is it perfect? No, but in the big picture, it has been worthwhile for us.

That said, we had the skills, space, time and other resources mentioned above that enabled us to pull this off. If you are not in a similar position, it might not be the right choice for you. It might make more sense to spend more money on your initial purchase of an RV, and less money and other resources renovating it. Partially because the RV purchase can be financed, but the RV renovation expenses will come out of your funds in shorter term.  

It is also important to have a planned budget for what you are comfortable spending on your RV renovation. We initially set a non-rigid budget of $10,000. We ended up spending about $12,000. So we ended up about 20% over our initial budget, but we also ended up doing a much more extensive renovation than we originally planned. So, the extra expense was offset by larger results. And, after looking at our final reveal, many people were amazed at the results we achieved on that budget.

Closing Thoughts and Connect With Us

Based on all the messages and comments we’ve received, our Ultimate RV Makeover Series inspired many of you to make some changes and updates to your own RV! We hope these lessons and tips have been helpful, give you the courage and confidence to make some updates. Or help you decide if it’s NOT for you. It’s not for everyone. And it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. But we’re glad it helped some of you feel comfortable about buying an older RV. We have no regrets. 

Likewise, we have no regrets about NOT doing a renovation on our FIRST RV. When we bought that RV Marc was working a regular full time job, we just wanted to travel, and our lifestyle didn’t have the flexibility it does now. We bought a newer RV, converted the bunkhouse into an office, then hit the road.  We made some relatively small renovations over the years that we owned it, but they were done one at a time, and spaced out.

Every RV is different, and every RVer has different needs. Hopefully what we shared in this post will help you make the best decision for you! Thanks for reading!

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