A trailer to live in?

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pengyou
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Joined: Tue May 19, 2009 3:12 pm

A trailer to live in?

Postby pengyou » Tue May 19, 2009 3:57 pm

Hi! I have really enjoyed your posts! I like the way you think and think that I will fit in here quite well. My background: I live in Asia and only return to the U.S. every 18 months for 6 to 8 weeks. When I do return I usually travel about 10,000 miles around the U.S. to raise support and seek help. I have gotten fed up with airplanes. Trains and busses are OK but when I get to my destination I have no wheels. For that reason I bought a ' 96 Chevy astro to do my traveling this time. I enjoy driving the van but it is just not big enough to turn into a motor home that I could actually live in - it would be great for camping or road trips.

I have been looking at travel trailers and get the heebee jeebee's thinking about trusting my life in them. I finally broke down and googled, and found this site. I have a "few" questions that I would like to dump out here.

1. Every other time I return home will be in the winter and I will be traveling through North Dakota, Colorada, etc. Cold places!!! This trailer needs to be very well insulated. I am sure that is not a big problem. But what about dual or triple pane windows? How about putting a small freestanding woodburning stove in it? (for ambiance as well as warmth - maybe even cooking?) If I used fiberglass can insulation be placed between the layers of the fiberglass or is it still better to place it between the studs in the walls?

2. Between winterizing, the wood burning stove, generator and larger water supply I can see this trailer getting heavy pretty quickly. Do I compensate for the weight by using a heftier frame? Would a third axle be helpful? I am especially concerned about braking and was thinking that a third axle might be helpful for that.

3. I have seen pics of people making rounded corners (curving in two planes) using fiberglass but has anyone every made a spherical corner (curving in 3 planes)?

4. Are there laws about how much fuel can be carried in a travel trailer to power the generator?

5. Is there a basic rule of thumb about how much more resistance a trailer will create for every additional inch of height?

6. In the design and construction of these things how much thought is given to fireproofing? Which materials are more fire resistant?

7. Finally, I echo a question from another post, does Glen-L have a design yet for a pop-out? How about a pop-top? Would be nice in the summer to be able to go "tent camping" without having to be on the ground - get the benefit of the added breeze from 8' up :)

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Cranky Badger
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Cranky Badger » Wed May 20, 2009 6:21 pm

First off, welcome. I'm sure others will pipe in with more info than I, but this ought to get you started...

The first thing you need is some data from your van's door plate.
1) The Gross Combined Vehicle Weight (GCVW) is the all-up weight of the vehicle including the trailer.
2) The Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) is the maximum weight the van itself can carry, including its own weight. Subtract this number from the GCVW to get the maximum trailer weight so you have something to aim for. Start comparing production trailer weights online to get an idea of size, amenities, etc. Weight is going to be your limiting factor, since your van already has a lot of frontal area (drag).
3) Once you have your maximum trailer weight, take 10% of that number (for the tongue weight) and make sure that your Rear Axle Weight Rating (RAWR) is higher. This 10% also needs to be added to the GVW for those calculations.
4) With the tongue load included, make sure that the weight rating of your tires is at least 1/4 of that value. That's molded right into each tire's sidewall.
Remember that these are TOTAL weights. They have to include water and waste @ 10 lbs/gal and any fuel at ~6lbs/gal, and provisions/gear/toys.

A tranny cooler and an oil cooler are a good investment if not already done. Check the regs where you want to insure the rig because, in the weight you're looking at, you'll likely need trailer brakes which will necessitate an additional brake module as well.

Once you have weights and loading figured out, you can figure out the suspension you want. Tandem axles will increase the weight capacity of the trailer, but tongue loading onto an Astro is going to be your limiting factor I think. If you need help with that, I can access info for an '88 I have on site. It won't be accurate, but it should get you in the ballpark.

After you've got all of that, we can give you some constructive suggestions. It might sound daunting, but it can be done (I've done a few myself). Is getting rid of the van for a diesel pickup an option for you ? It will give you far more choices, especially if the tow vehicle is a 1-ton.

You can go lightweight on the trailer but it'll cost more. You can shave maybe 25% of the weight of a production trailer and get WAY better build quality, but it will cost more than a production trailer to do that.


Oh, and yes you can form compound curves with glass. They make spherical pressure vessels from it, as well as radomes.
-Brian

"Do or do not. There is no try."
- Yoda

pengyou
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Joined: Tue May 19, 2009 3:12 pm

Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby pengyou » Thu May 21, 2009 5:21 pm

Thanks! Yes, I am considering the Astro part of the equation now. I am actually hoping to sell my astro (my beloved van!!!) and buy an AWD version. I want the AWD version to give me greater safety in adverse weather conditions and on dirt forest service roads - I love to camp out in the backwoods! A van would be more useful than a pickup because when I get to where I am going I may have to carry around 6-8 people. I am particularly enamored with the Astro because I can get AWD with it. If I go to an Econoline 350 (1 ton I believe) I would be able to tow a larger trailer but it is very difficult to find an E350 that has 4 wheel drive. It is usually a $10-12K modification new. Used they are difficult to find. Also, an Astro is easier to drive/park/maneuver in the city than a full size van. It is not only the length and height of the vehicles but the geometry.

I know that the Astro has a rear frame in it - I think the front is unibody. Do you think it would be possible to slip in a 1 ton frame? Duallies? I have a friend who is willing to put a cummins 4bt into the astro. The dimension are pretty close but the weight is about the same. Yes, I know, this is also $$ but the size of the Astro and the AWD are hard to beat.

I will look in more detail into the towing vehicle.

I have seen a construction technique for building homes but am not sure it would work on trailers. It uses a wood frame but also uses something that looks like styrofoam. Because of the rigidity of the "styrofoam" the studs can be spaced further apart, and the r value of the walls goes sky high - it also makes the walls very soundproof. Is this possible with a trailer? or is it too heavy?

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Cranky Badger
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Cranky Badger » Fri May 22, 2009 7:06 am

Once you get to that point, I'd suggest spending the $$ and building with foam core and glass. Big flat panels are pretty easy to do, and joining them at the corners is pretty straightforward as well. You can also keep the panels thin, which maximizes interior volume and keeps the weight down.

Personally, I don't think a conventionally built trailer is going to meet your needs. I would caution you to take care if you're looking at home building techniques. No, rigid polystyrene is not a good choice to use in a trailer. A house doesn't suffer the flexing and dynamic loading of a trailer as it goes down the road. Using rigid foam insulation as a structural component is a bad idea IMHO because it'll crack and split pretty easily.

If it's in an effort to keep the cost down, I'd suggest laying up 4X8 sheets of glass incorporating panel stiffeners and 'studs' to take the loading and then glue in the styrofoam afterwards. I've made sheets before by laminating a sheet of formica onto a sheet of G1 plywood and laying it on sawhorses. Polish the table with beeswax so nothing sticks and you can start making 4X8 sheets to suit. Doorskin is a great (and cheap) material for making patterns of your panels.

Do remember that the AWD option will lower your effective payload by the weight of the front running gear - probably a couple hundred pounds.

'Beefing up' an Astro van's frame or suspension isn't really an option because ALL of the running gear would need to be heavier as well. Without a 1 ton version of the van to reference for parts, you'll have a tough time finding heavier parts to fit, especially front suspension. There's also heavier diffs to haul that weight around and heavier brakes all around. I'm not a parts guy though, so GM may well have parts that interchange. Either way the cost would easily outstrip the cost of replacing the vehicle with a quad-cab pickup and it would still need to be inspected in order to have the GVW legally changed on the registration (check with your local DMV about registering U-built vehicles).

A hybrid pop-up might be the best way to go.

You mentioned forest service roads... they WILL beat the crap out of anything you build. I started with an old motorhome I refitted strictly as a fishing rig. I basically rebuilt the thing using the same tin, windows, and appliances. Well, it beat itself apart getting into some of my favorite lakes - normally accessible by 2wd car, but washboard is tough on an RV. I eventually wound up going with an expedition style trailer that used a lot of canvas and tool a little longer to set up. The heavier the RV, the more susceptible it is.

Again though, YMMV.
-Brian

"Do or do not. There is no try."
- Yoda

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Caber-Feidh
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Caber-Feidh » Sat Jun 20, 2009 11:05 pm

Cranky Badger wrote:
Personally, I don't think a conventionally built trailer is going to meet your needs. I would caution you to take care if you're looking at home building techniques. No, rigid polystyrene is not a good choice to use in a trailer. A house doesn't suffer the flexing and dynamic loading of a trailer as it goes down the road. Using rigid foam insulation as a structural component is a bad idea IMHO because it'll crack and split pretty easily.

Again though, YMMV.



Extruded foam would work fine. It's been used as a substrate for hovercraft hulls for some time. I would tend to think that if it can survive that thrashing, a little banging about as a trailer wall isn't going to damage it.
Some plan to stroll through Saint Peter's Gates, I plan to go through them at 150mph... backwards... in a screaming ball of flame, with a glimmer belt wrapped around my head, and a NOx button in my hand.

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Cranky Badger
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Cranky Badger » Sun Jun 21, 2009 6:38 am

If it's used in a floor where the panel is loaded on the flat I can see that. According to the engineering data, when laid on 16" centers the 2" foam will support one's weight. Respecftully Caber, I gotta disagree with you for this particular application.
The 'post-mortem' on my moho showed long vertical cracks right down the middle of several 1 1/2" panels (with stud on 12" or 14" centers IIRC). I can't help but think that's from the compression loading as the structure tried to form a parallelogram rather than a square and back again.

Given that the OP is new to building, I don't think it would be a wise idea. This is especially true in the case of an Astro where bracing the structure with upper cabinets would seriously reduce interior volume. An option of course would be to gusset the upper corners and cover them (like a crown molding). This assumes he's not keeping the structural sheet metal intact, i.e. cutting into a cab-and-chassis like a class C moho.

Pengyou - still around ? How's the project going ?
Just a thought - when you considered the AWD advantages of the Astro, did you figure on ground clearance ? This is just my own preference obviously, but I would prefer increased ground clearance vs AWD for logging roads. My current fishing rig is a 2WD Ranger on 235/70/15's and it's about perfect...as long as I keep it on the road and out of the snow. Tire choice makes a huge difference too, obviously.
My (stock) '88 would never make it over a water bar on some of these roads, no way no how. If you don't stuff the front bumper into the far side of it, the rear will hang up and the rear bumper will act like an anchor and dig itself in.
Of course, an Astro that's already had a conversion (VanAmera, Sidewinder,Great West, etc) might work if you take off the running boards and put on the biggest tires that'll fit your model to get the clearance. Of course, like most factory RV's, comparing the curb and gross weights probably doesn't leave you much of payload thanks to the weight of the conversion especially when loaded with your 6-8 pax. I haven't had anything to do with converted vans so I can't say for sure though.
-Brian

"Do or do not. There is no try."
- Yoda

upspirate

Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby upspirate » Sun Jun 21, 2009 8:50 am

I re-read his posts,and I THINK he wanted to build a trailer and pull it with the Astro,not convert the Astro.

pengyou
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby pengyou » Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:47 am

Yes, the original idea was to pull a trailer. Right now I am stuck finding the AWD astro. I want to finish doctoring that up first and then rent a trailer and tow it around for a few days before I plunge into the build-it phase. I think that will tell me whether or not the trailer is a good idea, and if so, how big a trailer I should look for. Another option I am considering is to fabricate some kind of pop-top for the Astro that will serve as sleeping quarters....but first things first.

Thanks for your input.

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Bill Edmundson
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Bill Edmundson » Sun Jun 21, 2009 2:32 pm

I want to finish doctoring that up first and then rent a trailer and tow it around for a few days before I plunge into the build-it phase. I think that will tell me whether or not the trailer is a good idea


I think that is a great idea!

I think you will get lots of ideas about what you want.

Bill
Mini -Tug, KH Tahoe 19 & Bartender 24 - There can be no miracle recoveries without first screwing up.
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Oyster
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Oyster » Sun Jun 21, 2009 2:41 pm

I would suggest something like this if you want to go on the cheap and get a decent vehicle. This one has a generator as with many other Class C motorhomes. You can also attach a tow dolly and tow a jump around vehicle if you get really froggy and ambitious with it. Heck you can also tow a small boat too for your off times and catch fish in the streams and lakes too with your home away from home with you. When you are done or decide that its not your cup of tea, you should be able to recoup your money out of it if its as it appears.

http://cgi.ebay.com/1981-24-Foot-Champi ... dZViewItem

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Cranky Badger
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby Cranky Badger » Sun Jun 21, 2009 5:04 pm

upspirate...hehe...you're right, that was me getting off track - I'm thinking about doing that with my '88 so I was thinking 'out loud' Except for the cab-and-chassis bit, I think the rest of the thoughts apply just as well to a trailer as a coach body though.
The conversion van was just another option to throw into the mix that might be a viable alternative provided that a)the bench seats have enough lap belts to be legal with 6-8 pax, and b) the conversion itself is robust enough, remembering that he wants to use his rig on logging roads.

Renting one is a great idea. Let someone else's ceiling-mounted tv come crashing to the floor while rolling over a washboard! :lol:

When I was doing mine, I crawled around the display units at dealer lots for a while. I was blown away to see things like OSB ('chipboard') in lockers that would be the equivalent of cockpit lockers in a sailboat - i.e. the outside of the same locker is exposed to road spray from the tow vehicle and right where you'd keep chocks, tie-downs etc...wet stuff. Did I mention the tv secured to the flipdown mount with four 1/4" bolts but the mount screwed to the (~1/8") headliner with half a dozen #10 wood screws ? I assume (and hope) there was a plywood backer behind the headliner, but I would have used a much more robust attachment given the potential moment arm of a ~10lb bouncing tv. These things really are built on the cheap, apparently by monkeys sometimes.

Now, I'm not ripping on ALL RVs here, just the units most of us can afford to buy without a mortgage. I'd be happy to share a few bookmarks to some expedition-grade RVs that seem to be built like brick sh*thouses: welded structural frames, marine grade electrical components, ergonomics that actually make sense...etc.

Ironically, RV's are stupidly easy to build well in your driveway if you can build and wire a small boat: there's no driveline to worry about, you're starting with a flat rectangular platform, you are contending with environmental moisture, not seawater and you can actually use a level and a square...

I think the biggest change I made was building mine from the outside inwards instead of from the inside out. They are typically built starting from the interior cabinetry and working outwards: cheap and easy to build, but a future nightmare for a tech or a restorer. Try getting the fridge out of a class C if the exterior access panel is too small to slide it through.

BTW, Happy Father's Day and summer solstice, everyone. :mrgreen:
-Brian

"Do or do not. There is no try."
- Yoda

J Patroni
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Location: Cape May, NJ & 1000 Islands, NY

Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby J Patroni » Sun Jun 21, 2009 6:19 pm

I have built my own travel trailers using 4" Channel for the sub carrage and 1" x 2"
rectangular tube for the body frame work. It becomes a very light assembly and extremely
strong unit. The standard 2" blue styro used for insulation never failed and it was cheap. I have towed over many of the wash board roads in Vermont and never had
anything move or brake apart. One trailer lasted over 15 years with no adverse problems
other than normal inspection and maintenance of the suspension parts.

As a welder, it was an easy project to build these trailers. I don't know if you have the necessary skills to accomplish this but it sounds as if that is where this thread has gone.
If you don't build it now, You will regret it later! Already regreting it

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pengyou
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Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby pengyou » Sun Jun 21, 2009 9:50 pm

Thanks! I appreciate the diversity of your responses, especially since I am think-tanking now. I wonder if anyone has ever gone one step farther - while designing a 20' travel trailer, figured out how to actually make it work as a houseboat also? No...I have not watched Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang too many times :) But if the trailer were built in such a way that was light weight - maybe even have 8" of some kind of closed cell foam on the bottom...and pontoons could be carried on the trailer also and then easily mounted on the bottom of the trailer (with a few additional necessities)...do you think my idea "holds water"? :) To make my idea easier to visualize, the trailer would carry the pontoons but also 3 or 4 beams that would mount perpendicular to the trailer and hold the pontoons out about 4 or 5 feet away from the trailer itself.

Or maybe something like this: http://www.berkeley-engineering.com/HouseboatPlans.html ...but that is so "plain".

J Patroni
Posts: 312
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 7:20 pm
Location: Cape May, NJ & 1000 Islands, NY

Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby J Patroni » Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:11 am

Lets just say that nothing is impossible. The only thing that will stop
you is the depth of your pockets.
If you don't build it now, You will regret it later! Already regreting it

Crackerbox Build
http://s232.photobucket.com/albums/ee255/jtpatronimfg/

Checkmate Restoration
http://s232.photobucket.com/albums/ee25 ... 0Starflite

upspirate

Re: A trailer to live in?

Postby upspirate » Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:07 am

Cranky Badger wrote:upspirate...hehe...you're right, that was me getting off track - I'm thinking about doing that with my '88 so I was thinking 'out loud' Except for the cab-and-chassis bit, I think the rest of the thoughts apply just as well to a trailer as a coach body though.
The conversion van was just another option to throw into the mix that might be a viable alternative provided that a)the bench seats have enough lap belts to be legal with 6-8 pax, and b) the conversion itself is robust enough, remembering that he wants to use his rig on logging roads.

Renting one is a great idea. Let someone else's ceiling-mounted tv come crashing to the floor while rolling over a washboard! :lol:

When I was doing mine, I crawled around the display units at dealer lots for a while. I was blown away to see things like OSB ('chipboard') in lockers that would be the equivalent of cockpit lockers in a sailboat - i.e. the outside of the same locker is exposed to road spray from the tow vehicle and right where you'd keep chocks, tie-downs etc...wet stuff. Did I mention the tv secured to the flipdown mount with four 1/4" bolts but the mount screwed to the (~1/8") headliner with half a dozen #10 wood screws ? I assume (and hope) there was a plywood backer behind the headliner, but I would have used a much more robust attachment given the potential moment arm of a ~10lb bouncing tv. These things really are built on the cheap, apparently by monkeys sometimes.

Now, I'm not ripping on ALL RVs here, just the units most of us can afford to buy without a mortgage. I'd be happy to share a few bookmarks to some expedition-grade RVs that seem to be built like brick sh*thouses: welded structural frames, marine grade electrical components, ergonomics that actually make sense...etc.

Ironically, RV's are stupidly easy to build well in your driveway if you can build and wire a small boat: there's no driveline to worry about, you're starting with a flat rectangular platform, you are contending with environmental moisture, not seawater and you can actually use a level and a square...

I think the biggest change I made was building mine from the outside inwards instead of from the inside out. They are typically built starting from the interior cabinetry and working outwards: cheap and easy to build, but a future nightmare for a tech or a restorer. Try getting the fridge out of a class C if the exterior access panel is too small to slide it through.

BTW, Happy Father's Day and summer solstice, everyone. :mrgreen:



I know what you mean about quality of construction.

I'm a professional driver,and I've seen a lot of RV's in the median that look like a tornado hit them when they blew a tire & rolled over!!! :shock:

Sticks and staples do not a good RV make!! :wink:


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