How to convert a Vintage Airstream to Ecco Friendly

When we bought a vintage Airstream from the 70’s, both of us knew that it would be a huge project to completely update our Lucy to one that fits our lifestyle. Let’s face it, the 70’s decade wasn’t known for environmentally friendly products. We knew right off the bat that our Airstream was going to undertake a huge renovation. Which meant floor, walls, electrical, and plumbing all had to be completely redone.

Since we are both Leave No Trace Trainers, we thought it was important to leave less of a footprint by converting our Airstream to  Ecoo friendly RV. First we had to make some decisions based on our lifestyle.

Boondocking was a priority for us. We are outdoors people and wanted to be remote so we could explore.

How could Solar power our needs while boondocking?

How much Solar would we need?

Save energy by going all LED lights and limit “luxury appliances”

How to save on Propane needs.

Could we use a composting toilet instead of a black water tank?

These were all questions based on our needs versus wants.  Of course, when renovating a 1976 Airstream, there are

steps you need to take first, to get to the project you want to complete. On our post “How to remove a subfloor”, we found that the Black Tank was secured underneath the Airstream in a steel pan that was bolted to the frame. This was a perfect time to get some plumbing done, and take out the black water tank without removing the steel pan underneath.  So that’s exactly what we did. We cut the black water tank out. (it’s abs plastic) and left the steel pan bolted to the frame. (more about that later) We removed the plumbing that connected the black and grey tanks so that we just had 1 drain pipe for the grey water tank.  We could now buy a composting toilet which meant NO DUMPING our black water tank.

The next step was to move and build a new battery compartment. This was tricky since we decided that Deep Cycle 6 Volt batteries were the way to go. We needed (4) 6 Volt batteries to give us what we needed. That of course meant we needed to build a battery box and put the batteries where they could vent. We decided to place the battery box underneath our kitchen cabinets and utilize the old furnace vent on the side of the Airstream. This also meant we had to re-wire our 12 volt wiring so that the wires ended up near the battery box and the new fuse box. 

Using (4) 6 Volt batteries, we could make (1) 12 volt battery and have 250 amp hours of charge before we would be out of power. 25watt 12V light bulb, for example, use the equation A=W/V or (25/12=2.1Amps per hour) That was our decision to go LED lights. Which meant just 1 LED light used .5 amps per hour.  As of now, every single light we have in the Airsteam is LED. (detailed post coming)

Converting your vintage Airstream to Solar isn’t hard if you have gutted your Airstream like we did. When the inner walls our down, it’s a good time to determine where the solar wires will run. This is why the battery placement is important. We decided to purchase (4) 100 Watt Solar Panels from Renogy.

Now we were on to HEAT. How to heat the Airstream during Winter months and provide HOT WATER.  This was an important decision since we removed the old water heater and furnace.

Since condensation seems to be a nagging problem in a lot of RV’s and Campers we looked at Wood Burning Stoves. We went back and forth about the safety and how we would incorporate that in our design. After much debate and hundreds of YouTube videos, we were convinced that a Wood Burning Stove not only would work, but eliminate the need for a extra propane line and help with the condensation.

The Cubic Grizzly Wood Burning Stove was our choice. After a lot of YouTube reviews of RV’ers using this stove, this was definitely for us. We utilized the old refrigerator vent in the ceiling (that was propane) to run the 3 inch double stove pipe through. Of course we had to patch the old hole first. At 34 lbs and the ability to heat 400 square feet, this would work great.

The Hot water was another great use of new technology. We decided on a Excel TANKLESS GAS WATER HEATER (LOW PRESSURE STARTUP) 1.6 GPM LPG VENT FREE (PROPANE). It works on a single propane line and the best part, it starts on (2) D Batteries that are rechargeable.

This is just a start on how we converted our vintage Airstream to a Ecco friendly Airstream. The key to all of this was planning on where each piece of equipment, wires, plumbing, and access goes before you start. It’s important to understand what your lifestyle is. How much power do you need. Work backwards. We will do a much more on solar in a later post. If you have any questions, please post them here, we are happy to answer.



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