Camper reno: adventures in fiberglass

Before the camper could be insulated, there was some work to be done.

First, it needed to be dug out of the snow.  I almost got my truck stuck in the axle deep mud hiding under the dense old snow. (This was March), the shoulder season of melt water almost flowing underneath heavy snow .  Plus it rained mid-mission, so it was absolutely the worst timing for excavating the camper.

The original  interior surface layer was a sort of textured beige vinyl with a quarter inch of foam backing glued on to the fiberglass surface.  A whole quarter inch of “insulation”, wow!  Either time or the heat or the original glue had that layer so stubbornly adhered to the fiberglass that when I was tearing it off originally, only the vinyl came off like wallpaper, leaving the meat of the foam behind, which is black.

So I had to finish scraping out the vestiges of black foam with a drywall knife.  Sometimes it would come away in satisfying chunks, sometimes only in crumbs (which had a great knack for finding cuffs and collars.  At any rate, it was tedious, slow, and tiring.  A never ending task.  Naturally, the overhead stuff was the most difficult, probably baked on by 40 years of sun.

Mostly done chipping away

Next, the fiberglass repair.  This was my first experience with fiberglass resin, and I have to say it put me over the edge.  I used to think Acoustiseal was bad, and wire fencing worse.  Now, what I wish on my worst enemies is that they will someday have to do overhead fiberglass resin repairs.

Officially, the most diabolical product EVer. 

All scraped.

This is what I’ve learned about fiberglass.  Avoid doing it at all costs.  If you can’t, then make sure you use the silk that’s woven.  It’s more expensive, and it looks like woven fabric.  Cut it by pulling a thread out and then following the gap- avoid cutting angles, the edges ravel madly.  The stuff that looks like a random bunch of threads IS a random bunch of threads sort of matted together (it’s called mat), and all those threads swiftly unmat as soon as you gesture in their direction with some resin.  Then they replicate like the silk from evil spiders and wrap themselves around your tools, your hands, your hair, and generally stick to everything you don’t want them to and strenuously resist sticking to whatever you do want them to stick to.  The resin of course, is a two part epoxy, This glove was barely even involved, and it was destroyedso noxiously toxic it will give you headaches and make you want to faint, just to make the whole hellish process that much more pleasant.  And time limited.  As you fight the fiberglass strands from hell, the clock is ticking.  When the resin turns, you have seconds of warning from a slight gelling to totally unworkable and the resin, wherever it is, goes hard.

I started out with the random fiber matting, and not enough resin, in temperatures too cold, working over my head.    It made me cry, scream, and give up, and to add insult to injury, overnight the matting I’d applied to the ceiling peeled itself off  and dried in a little heap adhered to the floor.  When I went to buy more resin, I bought the other kind of silk, and that made everything a little less despair-inducing.  I’ve been told since that both these kinds of silk, woven and mat, have their own properties and uses, it’s not just to drive people crazy.  The mat is much thicker, for building up mass. I care not.  I never want to see another piece of the stuff.

Replaced floor at the door, seams fiberglassed over.

The resin wouldn’t fully cure for days so it was tacky and stinking, my skin reeked of its chemical smell. I promise, I am not exaggerating about how awful this stuff is.  Ever since, every body work expert and anyone whose ever done it who hears about our project goes “Oh, so you’re doing fiberglass body work,” and gives us the “Phew”/”Yikes” grimace of sympathy.  It ain’t fun.

This incursion into fiberglass education was to patch a few holes.  There were lots of small holes in the shell from rock cracks and ill-planned screw holes, and a big crush hole in one corner of the floor.  There were also the large holes from the former venting for the stock fridge, which I’d decided I wasn’t going to replace.  Those vent holes are ugly, so only the one from the working furnace gets to stay. That hole had a big piece of plywood that needed to be attached on the inside with resin, then built up and finished on the outside later.

I wanted to patch all the holes on the inside before the spray-on insulation, and then later, to address all the holes from the outside.  The other project was to reinforce and support the shape of the ceiling by fiberglassing a shaped piece of flat steel right into the mold of the camper. Note to egg renovators- this was totally unnecessary.  Don’t do it.  I had no way of knowing that at the time though, and I thought it was a brilliant original idea.  It worked, too.

Without the furniture in the camper, the shell was so floppy I could grab it in the window space and flap it back and forth like a piece of cardboard.  It was especially floppy around the cutouts, and at the skylight, the ceiling was nearly concave, to where it wouldn’t shed water, and that was not ok.  I had a stick supporting it most of the time, and it needed to be pushed up to be in the right place.

Look how nice the woven fiberglass silk smoothed out.

I got a piece of 1″ flat steel shaped to describe the profile of the ceiling, I supported it there with my stick, in the position I wanted, and I layered fiberglass resin soaked silk over it and smoothed that out.  When it dried, sure enough, the shape of the steel held up the ceiling in the place that it should be.  Success!

  • hindsight insight: this roof support hack was completely pointless.  Don´t do it. The spray foam is super strong and gives the shell instant rigidity – this is important- in whatever shape it is in!  So prop it up in the position you want it, I recommend putting the windows in, masked VERY well, and the door shut, and the ceiling propped up tall for shedding water, headroom, and to combat gravity.  See Spray Foam Insulation
Supporting the skylight hole.

There were numerous other things. The horrible details escape me.  These days of prepping for insulating were some of my worst ever, and I don’t want to remember them.

By the wheel well. Wherever the wall met the floor, a piece of fiberglass silk was molded down to close the seam, and I continued this on my patches.

I’d been expecting to have to tear out the whole expanse of floor, an onerous job I was looking forward to even less after noticing how there was a little fold of fiberglass molded down around all the perimeter, and seeing how hard it was to cut through that.  As it turned it, there were only two spots where the wood was waterlogged and discoloured.  Everywhere else, it was perfectly sound.   I replaced the plywood “subfloor” by the door and sealed all the edges in with fiberglass like everywhere else. There were some wires to be prepped for being sprayed in, there were lots of wires to be ripped out and little holes to be filled, there were chunks of wood to be added for attaching to later.

Finally, I put an inch of rigid styrofoam in the floor.  I wanted the sprayfoam to come down on top of it and seal the edges all around, making a complete voidless envelope of total insulation. Because it still had to come off the chassis, though, I cut out access holes for the bolts that hold the egg to the frame, to be filled down the road with a can of foam.

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