Before I begin this post, let me apologize for the delay. Not only has it been a really busy few months with graduation and vacations and so on, I was informed by another blogger that we shared our blog names. She initially accused me of copyright infringement but you can’t copyright a title or name. She then asked if I would change the name of our blog and I think I will (potential new name is right up there ^). I’m looking into how to do that seamlessly so I don’t lose subscribers and everyone can still find us. Until then, things remain unchanged. Thanks!
RV’s serve many purposes. From weekend camping excursions to extended travel to full-time living, there is an RV out there for everyone. But those activities all put different demands on the RV. An RV designed for the budget-minded, weekend camper won’t work, generally, for the full-timer and visa-versa (well, the weekend camper would probably love it but at what cost?). But since this blog is about full-timing, what are the features one needs to look for when buying that full-time rig? Well, we’re going to attempt to answer that.
As we’ve already discussed in parts 1, 2 and 3, there are many types of RVs, many levels of quality and many intended uses. Not all rigs are made for full-timing. For example, the travel trailer we owned was fairly nice…for a weekend camper. While it had air conditioning, a microwave and a water heater, it wasn’t full-time worthy. The fit, finish and fixtures were cheap, things like plastic sink basins, low-end fabrics and cheap blinds. It had a short queen bed that was lumpy and springy. The cabinets were thin particle board. You get the idea. Daily use would have destroyed that thing.
It wasn’t too small but it wasn’t big either. Storage was minimal and it was designed for a family. Most full-timers are older couples. The bunk beds were great for the kids but for just us, they would be kind of useless. I could go on. It was a nice weekend rig but for long term use it wasn’t designed or outfitted well and the cheaper materials would wear out far too quickly. You might be tempted to see savings in a lower end RV but the repairs and upgrades will quickly sap any potential savings, not to mention the hassle. Who wants to be fixing their home all the time?
So what are we looking for in a full-time RV? Well, a lot of times exactly what you’d look for in a sticks and bricks house. Fixtures and materials with constant, daily use in mind, more space and storage, better insulation, upgraded appliances, etc. But RV’s have other considerations that stick-built homes don’t like electricity, water and sewage. Those are taken for granted in a regular home but in an RV, those things bear scrutiny. With that in mind, let’s explore the features, options and upgrades you’ll be looking for.
Again, I caution readers that this is based on our research. We are not experts and your mileage my vary, so to speak. Do your own research and planning. Use this post and all the other advice as reference but use common sense as well. RV’s are personal, they are your home if you’re full-timing. Buy what makes sense to you. This post is guidance and nothing else.
Fit, Finish and Fixtures – I’ve lumped these together since they are very similar to what you’d look for in a stick and bricks home. Fit is a general term that alludes to quality. Everything should be square and plumb. Joints, seams and seals should be tight. An RV will stand up to daily use much better if things were put together well to begin with. The materials used to build the RV matter too. Cheap building materials will cause problems later. So will shoddy construction techniques. Do your homework and buy from a reputable manufacturer.
Finish refers to flooring, wall and window coverings, fabrics, trim, cabinets, etc. Again, these should be quality. Residential quality again. You’ll find some standard RV stuff to help with weight and cost you usually don’t find in stick-built homes, but you shouldn’t accept “RV” quality stuff. If the RV you’re looking at has carpet, it should be residential quality that can stand up to wear. Cabinets should be solid wood or at least engineered wood products as opposed to particle board. Blinds should be stout with quality mechanisms. Some things will fall short but the more inferior products and materials you get, the more trouble they will cause.
Finally, let’s talk fixtures. Faucets and sinks should be made of metal instead of plastic, at least not cheap plastic. You might find some new space age materials used in the RV market that save weight and money but do your research. Appliances should be residential quality or high end RV units. Lights are usually one place RV’s skimp and it’s because the 12-volt lighting market is fairly limited. Still, make sure they are solid units with quality switches that take standard bulbs. Bathtubs and showers will be plastic or fiberglass due to weight but they should be well-built.
Tanks and Plumbing – For full-timing, you’ll want bigger tanks. Constantly filling and dumping tanks every few days get’s old. Luckily, tanks usually get bigger as rigs grow in size and price goes up. Even if you plan to RV in parks with hook-ups, you’ll want bigger tanks just in case. Plumbing is usually similar to residential plumbing, but a bigger water heater means longer showers. You’ll probably want to look for a rig with washer/dryer potential because, let’s face it, laundry mats suck. Consider things like outside showers, especially if you have pets, water filtration, pressure regulation and easy to access controls for all that.
One more thought on plumbing. Some RV’s include what they call a wet bath. It’s a shower stall with a toilet and sink inside. Saves space but do you really want to shower in what is actually your bathroom? Most high end RV’s don’t include these but beware. These might be great for a truck camper or a weekend RV, but for full timing, get a dry bath just like at home.
Storage – This depends on the individual RVer but more storage is never a bad idea. You might think you’re going to just stop by your storage unit a few times a year to swap gear but that’s pricy and annoying. Look for lots of storage and easily accessible storage. Those cavernous storage areas look cool until the thing you need is behind a ton of other junk. Murphy’s law dictates what you want will be in the least accessible area. Think about your lifestyle and then think about where you’ll store the big and important stuff. And don’t just think about interior or outside storage. What about racks for kayaks or bikes?
This is where some careful planning will do you good. Write down what you plan to bring, the big stuff, and then look at RV’s with that in mind. Look for thoughtful storage areas. Slide out bins are about the only way to get at stuff in some RV’s. Storage area lighting. Alternate access, say from both sides of the RV or through a hatch hidden under the bed. Some RV’s have a “garage” in the back. You can’t park in it but it’s an easily accessible area for tools, ladders, etc. If it’s important to you, bring it along but make sure you can easily store it too.
Power – Most full-time worthy RV’s have generators and batteries. But bigger generators and battery banks mean less worries, unless you’re hooked up. You’ll need a quality converter too. Most 12-volt appliances are horrible so you’ll need to convert battery power, which is 12-volt, to 120-volt AC. I’m not going to get into the details because it can be complex but more and bigger is usually better. Even then, microwaves and air-conditioning usually require a generator or hook-ups to even start up. Even if your A/C compressor does kick on, it will run your batteries dry very quickly. I’ll discuss solar panels in the part 5.
Climate Control – And speaking of air conditioning, you want it. Even if you plan to stay in mild temps, Mother Nature is fickle. You don’t want to get caught in Arizona in March when the temps soar into triple digits without A/C (I was in La Paz, AZ once on April 2nd and it was 103 degrees!). Same with heat, but most RV’s, even tent trailers and the like, have heat. But again, bigger is better. You’ll also want to have the air, whether hot or cold, distributed like in a residential home not just pumped out one register or duct. Our old tent trailer had a heater but it blew hot air under the dinette. One half of the trailer was too hot, the other too cold.
Along with climate control goes insulation. Look for insulating windows and doors and higher R-value insulation in the walls. You won’t get residential type values but get as much as you can. Even in mild climates, proper insulation helps moderate the temperatures inside. Lastly, this is where fit comes into play. Poor fit means drafts. Look in cabinets where wires and hoses enter the RV. Are those holes sealed? It makes a difference and sealing openings helps keep out unwanted critters too.
Sleep – This is very important. You spend a third of your life sleeping. It recharges our batteries and keeps us healthy. You shouldn’t compromise sleep just because you live in an RV. You want a full sized mattress, no short or RV sized beds. Luckily, mattresses can be changed relatively easily so a crappy RV mattress can be tossed for a quality unit. Air beds are popular, like the Sleep Number Beds, and I suspect part of that is weight but they are comfortable (we have an air bed, but not that brand).
Next, consider the layout of your RV. Will it allow for one occupant to sleep while the other reads or watches TV? RV’s are small, even the relatively big ones. That’s why those small motorhomes with foldout beds might not be the best idea. What happens when she wants to take a nap and he wants to watch the ball game?
Floor Plan – That brings us to the next topic, floor plans. There are really only a handful of plans in the various RV’s. There’s only so much you can do in such a small space. But the details are important. We personally hate dinettes. We prefer a table and chairs. What about TV watching (yeah, yeah, you’re in the great outdoors and you should be doing stuff, but full-timing is real life and you need to unwind and relax)? Some RV’s have the TV up above the cockpit area but the seating is facing perpendicular. Hello neck strain.
Some RV’s force you to walk through the bathroom to get to the bedroom. Not next too or thought the vanity area, through the bathroom where unmentionable things go on. No thanks. Some kitchens utilize the famous triangle design for efficiency. Some don’t. Some have a fair amount of counter space and some have almost none. Again, your style of living should dictate. If you love eating out and preparing food is an occasional thing, it might not matter. But if you’re a wannabe chef, it does. Getting a floor plan that fits your lifestyle can be the difference between happiness and tranquility and frustration and annoyance.
Conveniences – In the RV world, you can get some pretty fancy rigs. Most of us, however, can’t afford custom-built motorhomes. But we still want the little things that make us happy. Jen likes to bake so an oven is high on our list. We both love watching movies and I love watching football so room for a nice TV, Blu-Ray player and a satellite dish is mandatory. I use my computer to write and process photos and video so I’ll need some semi-permanent space for that.
Whatever it is that keeps you happy, you should insist on when looking for your RV. You will have to make sacrifices, of course, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice everything. With a bit of ingenuity, you can probably do just about anything out on the road you can do at home. If you like cooking, get a bigger refrigerator and an upgraded stove. If you do crafting, make sure you’ve got a dedicated work area. If you work on the road you’ll need accommodations for that, whatever it is. Those little things are what make full-timing sustainable.
Full-time RVing isn’t a vacation. The RV is your home and everyday life must go on. You won’t eat out every night. You won’t bet out and about exploring the area every day. Some sacrifices must be made but too many and you’ll come to loathe life on the road. Planning today can mean more happiness tomorrow. Getting an RV worthy of full-time living can make your life on the road enjoyable instead of a grind.
By the way, many of the pictures I use on the blog are from the RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association). The are royalty free for use on websites and in publication.