Airstreams: Should You Renovate or Buy New?

Airstreams have a special allure — we usually find that if you want one, you don’t consider a whole lot of other options. The biggest decision you’ll make is whether to buy new or renovate, so we thought it would be helpful to share a little bit about our thought process when we were making that decision.

Airstreams: Should You Renovate or Buy New?

We knew after our very first week of RV’ing that we wanted an Airstream, but we were on the fence for months about renovating. We’re designers, we love to nest and we did a lot of mini renovation projects back when we owned a home in Portland, Oregon, from a custom wood-clad nook in our bedroom to rebuilding our back deck, so renovating felt like the natural choice and we were leaning that way for a long time.

In the end we decided to buy new. Here’s why:

We Wanted a Warranty

Neither of us had ever RV’d before, aside from our spring break R-pod rental. Since whatever we bought was going to be our only home and hurtling down the freeway for thousands of miles, we felt more comfortable with the assurances of warranties and new systems.

Space & Budget Questions

We’d already sold our house, so we didn’t have space to store a trailer while renovating it. It just didn’t make sense for us to pay rent on an apartment and a storage facility and the costs of renovating.

We priced out having someone else do the renovation work for us, and the costs for what we wanted came out to be around the same as buying new.

Emotional Fragility + Power Tools Seemed Like a Bad Idea

And here’s the big one: I’d been working 60+ hour weeks for years, and in the 12 months before we hit the road we’d gotten married, sold a house, downsized to an apartment and I’d quit my day job. I was totally burnt out, and our goal with this lifestyle was to travel and be on the road, so we made that our priority.

Details & Things to Consider 

  Renovate Buy New

Varies and depends on how much sweat equity you put in vs. hiring out. Expect to pay between $5-7k for a shell in good shape, and we’ve heard everything from $20k - $100k+ for total remodel costs.

Hopscotch the Globe has a great post on their cost breakdown.

Varies by size and finish. We paid $67k for our new 2016 Flying Cloud 25’ FB, which included our solar installation.
Timeline 3 months - 12+ months 2-4 weeks, depending on stock at your dealer. We had solar installed, which added a couple weeks.
Warranty Individual appliances will come with manufacturer warranties if you replace them. Ours came with a standard 2 year warranty, and there were options to extend that. We used it several times, especially after our first shakeout trip.

Insuring a restored vintage Airstream for full value can be tricky and more expensive than insuring a new model.

Mavis the Airstream has a great post on insurance.

Standard process without appraisals and most major carriers will offer a bundle with your car insurance.
Style & Layout All yours! This is the major pro of remodeling since you can completely customize for your style and how you want to use it. Standard layouts from 16 - 33 feet with several interior finish options.

Would We Make the Same Decision Now?

I definitely think we made the right decision for us at the time. Eighteen months later, things look a lot different. We have over a year of experience with the Airstream and all its systems, our business is up and running, we’ve made friends on the road, and we don’t have anywhere near the stress levels we used to.

I can also say that we adore our little house, even though she’s super beige and not totally our style inside. This year we’re planning some minor updates to make her more our own, but overall we love the layout (we have a 25 foot front bedroom) and there’s not a whole lot we would change besides the finishes.

Life in an Airstream
Life in an Airstream

We absolutely don’t mean this to say that you shouldn’t renovate, but know going into it that it’s hard work, there’s a learning curve (or lots of them in an Airstream!), and even though it’s a small space, there can still be major expenses.

We’ve met so many people on the road with gorgeous Airstream renovations that they’ve put their blood, sweat and tears into and I’m sure they could give you a list this long (or longer) of why renovating was right for them. The key is to really think about your personal circumstances, your timeline and your priorities — everyone’s going to be different and there’s no right answer, only the one that’s right for you, right now. 

If renovating is right for you, here are 5 of our favorites:

The Silver Egg
We totally dig their mid-century style and color palette with a blend of vintage and new touches throughout.

Mavis the Airstream
Sheena & Jason did an amazing job on their trailer. While a lot of other Airstreamers go sparse and minimalist, I love that they accessorize and layer textures to make a super cozy space. 

Life Without Waiting
We’ve met Kate & Adam a couple times on the road, and they have my favorite Airstream kitchen of all time — I’ve had dreams about their counter space.

A Small Life
Melanie & George did an amazing and really unique job with their farmhouse style renovation with tons of rustic wood touches softened up with soft textile and wallpaper touches. 

The Modern Caravan
I wish I had half the skill of these ladies — from design to install, their work is flawless, and we love that they live and travel full time in their Airstream while running their renovating business. 

Stay Silver Tee

One thing we go through a lot of on the road is t-shirts, whether they get worn out from hiking or burnt by well-aimed campfire sparks, so we started designing our own. Check out our Society6 shop to get yours!

Dreamy Airstreams & Cute Campers

While we're definitely going to stick with updating finishes vs. taking on any major remodeling right now, we've saved a lot of remodels and interiors we love over on our Pinterest page