Finalizing Your Airstream Renovation Budget

In my last post on this topic, we covered the basics of preparing a first draft budget for your renovation. Creating a budget for your Airstream is the same process you’d follow with any other type of architecture, so any experiences you’ve had in the past working with a home renovation can help give you a sense of confidence and familiarity. The main differences are that there are certain construction categories that you won’t find in a home renovation (for example any automotive-type work), and often it’s harder to find local contractors to compare pricing – particularly ones that specialize in vintage RV’s or appliances. Vintage items are often more expensive, fragile, or difficult to find, all factors in that can affect the ultimate price you pay. 

The first draft of your renovation budget is unlikely to be your final one. The main reason is that problems often reveal themselves only once you start the renovation process or review the scope with the right contractor. Another factor is availability. Contractors sometimes find themselves over- or double booked (as mine did), and you have to find more or less expensive alternatives or wait for them to become available again… and keep in mind, waiting can sometimes cost you. Or maybe you’ll do a little extra research and find a product for less than you’d seen it advertised for earlier. Airstream Classifieds, Craigslist and eBay were all places where I was able to find deals on used parts or even whole Airstreams! 

My first draft budget totaled out at about $11,000 (click the link and scroll down to the bottom of Column 2). My actual budget (not including change orders, which I’ll share with you later) ended up being over $18,500. Why?

The biggest ticket items that I hadn’t anticipated:


  • “Parts trailer” – I spent $1,800 to park my parts trailer (which I later crashed & stripped) in a rented space. It was all worth it in the end, financially and otherwise, but this was an unexpected expense in the sense that I didn’t know how long I’d need to park it while getting the value out of it. 

  • A-frame Repair – This welding work added about $1,800. A great example of “scope creep,” or “opening up a can of worms.” But, I couldn’t travel safely without getting this work done.

  • Upholstery – The new, eco-friendly cushions I had made were not cheap to begin with, but unfortunately I was overcharged for the fabrication at a point when it would have been equally expensive and inconvenient to find an alternative. Fortunately, the cushions turned out beautifully! 

  • Electrical – RV electrical systems not being my area of expertise, I had to wait to see what the contractor would charge for installation; this ended up costing me about $600 more than expected.

The real reason for the unexpected costs reflected in my final budget, however, boils down two things. One is my simply having to gain new experience and learn about the Airstream through this process. And that’s a good thing, although keeping costs down is certainly of vital importance to any renovation project – this wouldn’t fly with a client. But in this case, I’d started this renovation as a way to continue my education and invest in my new home, and I knew that it would come with certain “to be determined” costs. Early on, I was given to expect that a renovation could cost me anywhere from $30,000 – $100,000, so I kept that range in mind and have pushed to keep it at the low end. I’m still very much on track, by that standard.

Also different from my experiences in residential construction is that I couldn’t get firm quotes for my scope of work from vintage Airstream contractors, even when I outlined the work in detail & went to the trouble of bringing the trailer to them for inspection. They were just not accustomed to, or couldn’t find the time to work like that. So I leaned into the adventure. If I couldn’t afford the changes, I sometimes had to wait until I could, but I’ve been very lucky and so far everything’s worked out. I hope that it will for you too!

Up next: Wheel Refinishing

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  1. Great blog! We find ourselves going over budget in some areas and under in others. Thankfully we are able to most of the work ourselves. But those cushions cost us a pretty penny! We think they were worth the extra cost as we won’t be changing that fabric in our lifetime! Lol oh did I mention the corian counter we are having installed? Yikes! That’s more expensive than we thought too! It better look nice! you’re doing a great job on your reno!!

    1. Thanks, Val! I’m with you guys. Having a bit of experience and being willing & able to work on things myself (or occasionally with a partner) has made a huge difference in my final costs, although not sure it saved me any time. It’s fun though, and develops confidence for doing other home improvement projects.

      I was really interested to see your two Airstreams, as I’m going to be doing some of the stuff you’ve been doing in the future (for example, new countertop). I was really impressed by the work you guys have done too! Obviously through years of experience. Anyway thank you for the compliment, and glad you’ve been enjoying the blog! 🙂

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