Home Renovations for 2021

This April marked the beginning of my sixth year living out of this 2006 Funmover. They really don’t build these things for full time living, and it actually voids the warranty if you do so. Some of the cheap materials and poor construction techniques are really shockingly bad. Chipboard held together with staples, for the most part. And lots of Formica.

My kitchen counter was falling apart from normal splashing around doing dishes, the materials hardly water resistant. The bathroom sink vanity similarly coming unglued. The dinette table was warped from sun exposure and the edges were coming unglued. I had vaguely planned to address some of these issues during my stay in Petaluma, CA, where I had a 3 to 4 month job arranged.

Parked up in Petaluma
Parked up in Petaluma for four months. Living in an industrial park… living the dream /s.

I’m a mechanic by trade, and I consider myself a craftsman, but I’ve never done much in the way of home renovation projects. The hardest part could very well be just figuring out what you are going to choose to replace your old parts with. There are a thousand options for each decision you need to make.

For my kitchen, my main gripe was that the particle board is a terrible choice for a wet area and the Formica is attached with water based glue. I wanted a solid material and thought something like Corian would be good, but it was heavy and seemed like a poor DIY candidate. (The contents of my garage make this RV really overweight already.) It was also more expensive than I expected. I ended up picking butcher block for the countertop, despite the fact that it needs regular maintenance to shed water. It was easy to work with and it wasn’t much heavier once the sink and cooktop cutouts were made. I borrowed a skill saw for the main cuts and used a hole saw set to make the corners of the cutouts.

I bought a long enough piece so that I could use the cutoff to replace my dinette table, though it was going to be substantially heavier than the particle board original. I decided to lighten it by removing about 40% of the mass from the underside with a router, which was a huge pain. It took half a day just to clean all the wood chips and dust out of the garage.

The countertop got treated with food grade mineral oil and I used Watco Danish Oil for the dinette. I also installed a new faucet and cook-top, which was a huge improvement.

Kitchen renovation
New butcher block countertop, cook-top and faucet.

The dinette table was pretty straightforward because the cutoff length from the kitchen only needed the two outer corners rounded and the finish sanded. Of course I made it harder by deciding to lighten it. I clamped a rectangular square metal frame to the underside as a router guide and re-positioned it to make several passes. I ended up with almost two full 5 gallon buckets of wood shavings and the table weighed about the same as the original.

The bathroom was difficult. I decided to use 3/4″ MDF (medium density fiberboard) for the vanity top because it is easy to shape and inexpensive, and I could make it waterproof with a coating of some sort. I’ve always hated the tiny sink and cheap faucet that is too short to be useful, so I bought the largest rectangular above-counter sink that would fit and a swiveling faucet that reached to the center of the sink. It was hard to find a faucet that was tall enough to get over the sink height, but still short enough to fit under the cabinet. In fact the first one I bought was too tall by a hair… it fit, but you could not operate the faucet valve. The second one fit, though it wasn’t the style I preferred.

I initially tried to use a pour-on epoxy kit to seal the wood – which I’d painted with a simple blue latex finish – but the epoxy was a failure. The finish didn’t flow out flat enough and the corners had fish-eye blemishes. I tried to sand it out so that I could save it, but I burned through into the paint, so I had to start over. I ended with a second coat of latex sealed with a spray on clearcoat. (The epoxy requires several days to fully harden, and I was tired of waiting.)

The biggest challenge was my sofa. The original “jack-knife” sofa folds flat so that it can be used as a bed (short folks only). The vinyl had been deteriorating and one of the seams split a while back, and now it was just awful to look at. My choices were to have it re-covered by an upholstery shop, buy a new one all together, or re-cover it myself. Well, the local shop that I inquired at quoted me over $2000. That was a bit of a shock. A brand new one of very similar design from an RV supplier was about $700, which is about what I anticipated. But I’d have to remove the old one and dispose of it, then figure out whatever was needed to mount the new one to the floor.

I looked into what it would cost to buy a sewing machine that could handle vinyl and was amazed that I could get a heavy duty Singer machine for $200. I’ve never sewed more than a few minor tears and button replacements, but I rather impulsively decided to buy the Singer and Amazon delivered it the next day.

It took me two weekends plus a couple of nights after hours, but I was able to take apart the old covering, cut out new vinyl, and sew together the covers. It almost took longer to decide on material than it did to make it. I did a couple of test runs by making new seat covers for my shop rolling chair, which taught me a lot about the machine’s capabilities and limitations.

In the several weeks since finishing the sofa, I’ve noticed more and more mistakes in the way that I put it together, but it still is a vast improvement overt the old one.

I did a few other jobs that I’ve had on the back burner:

  • Replaced all the interior lights with LED bulbs.
  • Built a new, smaller PC to replace my full tower gaming system that died over a year ago.
  • Replaced one of my solar panels that had buckled and started coming separated from the roof.
  • Replaced all the old battery cables in the solar system that I didn’t make new in 2018.
  • Replaced my charger/converter (which may have been unnecessary, since a bad cable was likely the cause of my battery problems all along).
  • I had to do a major overhaul of the bed platform above the cab… a nightmare that I may cover in another post.

Once all that was done, and I got both doses of the COVID vax, it was time to split California and go fishing. Which is were I am now, set up on the Henrys Fork in Idaho.

Here’s a slideshow of some of the renovation progress photos…

  • Removing the old countertop
  • Pre-fitting the un-cut butcherblock
  • Removing the bathroom vanity top
  • High quality workmanship at the factory
  • Too-tall faucet test fit
  • Pouring epoxy over the new vanity top
  • Sanding out the flaws in the epoxy
  • Routing some weight out of the dinette table
  • An hour's worth of wood chips
  • Electrical compartment
  • Learning to stitch with the new Singer
  • Practice work on a seat cover
  • Stripped couch frame
  • Planning patterns for the new sofa
  • Test fitting lower cover
  • Stretching the back cover
  • Initial fit of new sofa covering
  • The old crummy sofa
  • New batteries replacing the Trojan T105s
  • Solar panel replacement
  • The original bathroom vanity

Have any questions or opinions to offer? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers,

Greg

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