AIRSTREAM RENOVATION: Removing the Subfloor and what we found underneath...

Time to get DIRTY!

If I didn't think removing the interiors skins was one helluva arm workout, I am in for a rude awakening as go in to remove the subfloor. Now that Serenity is looking mighty empty on the inside, we can remove the plywood, or in our case OSB, subfloor.

I assumed this would be pretty simple, and that the OSB would tear out pretty easily considering it's not as solid as plywood. I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. This was some tough stuff to get out and it took me ALL DAY. Actually it took TWO all days.

Now you might be wondering "Ben, why are you removing the subfloor?" Well, I am glad you asked! First of all, the subfloor itself is not in good condition. You will be hard pressed to find a 30+ year old trailer with a solid subfloor. Ours actually ended up having lots of water damage. During the demo we discovered two large rot holes in the floor, one under the fridge, and the other in the bathroom right where the water heater was. That and with the plague of silicone patched leaky spots all over the roof it was no surprise to us that the floor needed replacing. What I was hoping for, however, was that the chassis underneath be spared the kind of damage the subfloor was subjected too. And that's the good news I am crossing my fingers we find at the end of this particular project.

Right now this can go one of two ways, 1. The frame needs no major repairs (replacing outriggers, or other pieces of the frame) 2. The water damage is worse than we thought, and the frame has major rust spots that need to be replaced. The later will mean us needing to lift the shell off the frame in order to repair it. I am rooting for option #1 because I don't want to have to lift the frame, as that is a whole other beast of a job that I am afraid to attempt. so 🤞

First step is to remove all the screws that fasten the subfloor to the frame.

This takes just a power drill with a regular phillips head. 80% of our screws we were able to remove this way, and the rest were too rusted in that they wouldn't unscrew. You can save these screws for installing the new subfloor but since they are not self drilling you'll either have the tedious task of lining it up perfectly with the original holes, or drilling and tapping new holes. I just went ahead and ordered new screws that are self-drilling so I can bypass all that extra work which, frankly, seems like a nightmare. You can order them from Out of Doors Mart

After all the screws are removed(make sure to double and triple check), grab the circular saw! 

I discovered that on our Airstream the subfloor was all one giant piece! (Aside from the previously replaced section in the rear) So I took the circular saw and cut right down the middle the whole length of the Airstream. You should note that there is a metal frame directly underneath the wood, so you don't want to just go running the circular saw around willy nilly! I made sure to set the depth of the saw to the thickness of the wood, which in my case was 5/8", and then I backed it off just a hair because I wanted to make sure I didn't hit the frame with the saw. No need to cause more damage! 

I also went around the perimeter of the trailer with the circular saw leaving about 3 inches of the subfloor in the C-channel. I plan on leaving the subfloor in the c-channel until I am ready to put the new subfloor in. I don't want the weight of the shell sitting on top of an empty c-channel as this will inevitably lead to warping over time. Now if I end up having to lift the shell off that's a whole other story...

Now I start cutting the subfloor into sections so that I can remove it bit by bit. At this point though I am finding that it is not so easy. Even though there is just a hair-thick layer of wood left, it is not easy to break with just a pry bar. I ended up borrowing an Oscillating Multi-tool from a friend and oh boy was this a life saver! One of the coolest gadgets. I was able to stick it down into the cuts of the circular saw and finish cutting the wood without doing any damage to the frame. And after that the wood came right out!

cutting around rusted in screws with the Multi Tool

So my new method became making the big cuts with the circular saw, and then going back through with the multi tool to finish the cuts. And then when it came to the sections where we weren't able to get the screws out, I cut out around the screws with the circular saw (as you can see from the hash marks in the plywood in the photo below) and then again with the multi tool. This released the wood from the frame but left the screw and a chunk of wood. I then went in with the angle grinder and cut the leftover wood and screw off, and ground it down flush with the frame.

Lacie was kind enough to help with the suckiest job of the day, vacuuming out all the debris from the mess I had made, as well as removing the pink insulation. I then took a much needed break under the shade of the tree while eating an ice cream cone. it was delicious.

And of course, an Airstream renovation wouldn't be complete without finding something (that was once living) underneath the subfloor... Poor little guys, I hope they had a happy life under there.

Now for the BAD NEWS...

While the frame is actually in relatively good condition considering the circumstances, some of the outriggers will definitely need to be replaced. And this is the case with most vintage Airstreams. But the kicker here is that when the previous owner replaced that rear section of the subfloor, they didn't actually put it into the c-channel. At least not all the way. And this led to the c-channel getting warped and crushed and there is no way I will be able to get the new plywood into it.

So considering all that needs to be done at this point, I will have to lift the shell off the frame. In all honesty though, this will make it a lot easier to get the shell cleaned up and repainted, as well as replacing the outriggers that need to be replaced. I'll also most likely need to order a new curved c-channel for the rear as it is badly damaged from lazy repair work.

Overall though, I am pretty happy with what I see. The main structure of the frame is solid, and I am noticing just a handful of outriggers that need to be replaced. Which means I will need to find someone to weld for me. Unfortunately, these kind of things you just can't see or investigate before you buy the trailer. You have to get all the way to this point to get a really good idea of what is actually going to need to be done. Luckily for us though, it's really not anything beyond normal.

Feels good to have the subfloor out and a solid plan for what to do next; remove the belly pan and lift the shell off the frame! Let's go!

About the Author
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Ben Figueiredo

I make a living as a filmmaker & Website Designer, Telling Stories, creating content for businesses, entrepreneurs and even couples getting married. As a Five on the Enneagram, I love learning. Absorbing as much knowledge I can. I am into Biohacking, holistic wellness, and Rewilding so that I can be the best version of me to enjoy life with my family connecting with nature, our community, and God.

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