Some Thoughts on Sealing the Outside of my Trailer

(Reblogged from Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, from February 2, 2012.)

Reanna and I have just about finished re-sealing our 1962 Kenskill travel trailer. Everything that was screwed into the corrugated aluminum that covers the outside of the trailer had to be resealed: access hatches, tail lights, door, windows. It turns out that this is hard work and takes a long time. We did not anticipate this, mostly because the instructions for the process are very simple: 1) unscrew the window or vent or whatever, 2) remove the old putty tape, 3) apply new putty tape, and 4) screw the part back in. No problem!

Reanna vs. Butyl Putty

These instructions leave several questions unanswered, foremost of which is how much of the old putty tape needs to come off for the new putty tape to seal well? Old butyl putty is sometimes impossible to completely remove with a putty knife, short of scraping all of the paint off the aluminum. No one mentions solvents in removing this stuff, but that is the only way I can imagine getting it all. Even the non-butyl putty, which gets crumbly and easy to scrape off in its old age, hides in the tiny crevices created by staples and folds in the aluminum and takes almost forever to remove completely.

Another question is how important is it to leave the paint on the aluminum intact. I found that I could speed up the process of chipping and scraping the five or six layers of rubbery and/or rock hard sealants on the roof vents using my putty knife at a sharp angle and hitting it with a hammer. Uncovering a vent could take two hours to uncover, pre-hammer technique, and now takes only just over an hour. Unfortunately, it is an unsubtle technique which inevitably gauges the paint and the aluminum underneath. Is this a problem? Even if we are going to cover everything in sealant?

Also, is there any advantage to using non-butyl putty tape? Our extremely reticent local RV repair guy would say only that he used butyl for roofs and non-butyl for walls and that butyl was stickier. People who talk about it online mostly seemed to use butyl. We found the butyl to be much easier to work with and stopped buying the non-butyl after a couple of rolls. Half of the wall-mounted stuff like windows are sealed with butyl now. Will that be a problem?

I’d like to share the several techniques I invented during this job, but I have no idea what the results will be during the next rain, much less in a couple of years. There are only three things that I know I wish I had known beforehand:

1) Don’t go to the putty knife too quickly when removing the remnants of non-butyl putty. You can get a lot of it off by rubbing hard with a wet rag for a while. It is not easy to do for hours, but quicker than going after each speck of putty with the corner of a blade.

2) You will probably have to throw away almost all of the screws you pull out, so you will spend a lot of money on new ones. And while you are correct in your initial assessment that the trailer is put together almost entirely of #8×3/4″ and #10×1″ screws, you will need a large assortment of other sizes because of water damage. I now have 3/4″ screws in #8, #10, #12, and #14, 1″ screws in #10, #12, and #14, and 1 1/2″ screws in #10 and #12. And several of those kinds of screws meant another trip to the hardware store to get them.

3) Sealing up the trailer will take a lot longer than a week if you have anything else you like to do with your life. More like three weeks. (Actually, I’m not sure I would have been better off knowing that one…)

And finally, here is the only video we found, after considerable searching, of someone actually applying putty tape. (Thanks, Canned Ham Trailers!)

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Creating a New Home, Phase 1

(Reblogged from Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, from December 8, 2011.)

Reanna and I moved from Eugene to Joshua Tree in early November. We were there about a month before leaving to visit her family, and our primary project was starting to set up a new living space: an early-1960s Kenskill travel trailer. We will see how this arrangement suits our needs in real life, but the idea of living in a trailer suits the idea of our needs quite well for the time being. I have lived in trailers off and on throughout my life, and while I found nothing glamorous about it, I really appreciate how cheap and mobile they are. Cheap is very appealing now, with large student loans to pay off. Reanna has been interested in the tiny home movement and travel-trailer renovation for years (check out Tumbleweed Tiny HomesTiny House Blog, and a couple of trailers), so her vision is the engine for this project.

The first phase was creating a space for the trailer and a little yard for us. We did this in the “north 40” of my parent’s property. Here are some before, during and after shots (all photography and editing by Reanna):

Before, Looking Northwest: From left to right you see the sauna/bath house, our trailer in its old spot, Uncle Bill’s shed (to be moved), Grandpa Bob’s workshop (to be made into sewing palace), and the old goat pen.
Before, Looking Northeast: In between the fence and the structures, you can see a pile of 2,500 pounds of plywood and other stuff, the remains of an 8′ vert ramp. Then left to right, an 8′ trailer, Uncle Bill’s shed, our 24′ trailer, and the sauna/bath house.
During, Looking Southwest: Behind me you can see the 8′ travel trailer that served as my bedroom in high school. We gave it away to a local a few days later. It actually made me quite sad to watch it limp away.
During, Looking North: The pile of plywood on the right was the last third or so of the landfill.
After, Looking Northwest: The plywood is gone, 24′ trailer in its new place. You can see we’ll have a nice little yard in between the trailer and the bath house, once we move Uncle Bill’s shed.
After, Looking Northeast
After, Looking West
After, Looking North: Here’s the best shot of the trailer. My friend John lived in it while he did his undergrad. It had been his grandparents’ and parents’. He gave it to me in the late 90s, when I lived in it for two years. It’s got an unusually nice layout, with big windows on the kitchen/dining room side (the right), bedroom in the middle, and bathroom in the back.
Weatherizing in a Wind Storm

Every Heavy Thing in the Yard on Top to Hold it Down

Still to do: seal it up to prevent further water damage, prep for paint, paint, put in new flooring, fix plumbing, furnish, move in.