Convert camper travel trailer to off-grid tiny home renovation
It’s a rainy day for working on exterior siding, so instead of sealing up the underside I’m working inside on fixing, rerouting, and rewiring the old trailer brake wiring and the AC/DC electrical wiring.
*Larger images coming soon
Here’s Babs, Part 1: demolition, undercarriage, exterior rebuild, if you missed it.
Roughing in Electrical Circuits
After foolishly assuming the previous owner knew what he was doing, I proceeded to wire it up the same as it was before. Essentially he had just mated the harness wires to the approximately same colored wires running throughout the trailer. My first tip off that something was very wrong was that when I hooked up the harness to the truck, the truck brake lights immediately illuminated and the rear trailer running lights had a faint glow…sometimes. Sometimes the brake lights seemed to work, but then they’d just go out. At one point, my truck’s brake controller seemed to be doing something, but then went back to displaying ‘n.c.’ — for ‘not connected’ I presume. So yes, there were a few stray electrons in the system to reroute. Luckily those stray amperes didn’t seem to short out anything and/or fry any fuses in the truck; however, still haven’t got the brakes working yet so can’t completely rule this out yet…and yup, spoke too soon — did end up frying a few 10A fuses, but that’s what they’re there for, no permanent damage done!
In the next video I discuss how exactly I ended up roughing in the AC and DC electrical circuit wiring:
Trailer Brake Wiring Diagrams
Color matching connections did get some of the running and signal light circuits functioning, but there were a number of connections that were obviously connected up wrong. So I had to dig back in to my prematurely tidy wiring job with my trusty multimeter in hand to do some trouble shooting. It took me an entire day of tediously testing connections between the truck, harness, and trailer to get all the brake lighting working correctly. Although it’s likely of little interest to anyone reading this (“Hello…is anyone there?” –cricket chirps), I’ve added a few relevant wiring diagrams, mainly for my own future reference, if I ever have to dig back into the rat’s nest. The truck has a 7-way trailer connection and the trailer has a 7-way connection adapter [Fig. 1] hooked up to a 6-wire cord (reverse lights omitted on center pin) which is then patched into the trailer circuits underneath the front of the trailer [Fig 2]. Because I chose to reroute the wiring around the perimeter of the floor, the rear circuits came up short, and the only extra wire I had was blue and white; Unfortunately for the next guy to mess with the brake wiring (probably me), this will add confusion because now the visible ends of one of the green running light wires and the brown left turn signal wire are blue while the right turn signal wire is white [Fig. 2]. If I wasn’t dyslexic before…
New Wheel Brake Drums
So yeah, turns out the brakes were all shot. Thanks Dad for installing all four new wheel brake drums. The new drum assemblies were able to be bolted right to the axles, unfortunately, the old drums were welded in place, so the new assemblies had to be tore down and parted into the old drums. If you want more info on how this was done, have to ask him 😉
Plumbing Water System
To save on interior space, I opted to plumb in a shower and faucet to the outside, passenger rear of Babs, and to use an outhouse at home and porta-potty on the road for toilet. I love the way this keeps the interior completely wide open, and for myself this is actually more convenient than having to deal with all the shit associated with indoor RV bathroom systems, no thanks, I’d rather poop in a bucket! So I plumbed in the hot/cold hose bibs, sink shutoffs, and shower valve with 1/2″ copper pipe inside the passenger side, rear wall and underneath the kitchen counter to the side of the future rear trunk. Hopefully it will not freeze during the winter cold spells, but it should be fine as long as I keep a fire in the stove going during the coldest months of the year.
Sorry for the camera angle in the above video that omitted the main shower valve. This was the last main copper solder job for the project, so I’m sorry, but really didn’t want to redo it just so the 100 people that may eventually view this video don’t get an up-nostril shot! Anyways, yeah I’m using copper solder here to seal up a brass shower valve to copper 1/2″ piping and complete the interior plumbing. I tied in hot and cold shutoff valves above the kitchen counter so I can gravity feed hot and cold water from the interior (during the winter to avoid freezing) in addition to the hot and cold hose bibs to the rear exterior (for when I can hook up hoses during the summer).
After months of waiting for some decent wall board showing up in the classifieds, I ran out of time and had to buy new. I opted for 1/4″ sheets of panel-board often called “poor man’s mahogany.” It’s light and strong and should give the thin walls some more support. The existing wall studs were placed at random intervals which made it impossible to use full sheets, as sheet ends must land exactly atop wall studs.
So the end product is more patchwork looking than I’d like, but it’s done now; perhaps later I’ll refinish the walls, but for now it’s good enough for me: it’s just a trailer after all…er, I mean “modern tiny home,” cough*keyword-drop*cough. I used 1″ drywall screws to mount the wall panelling to the 2×2″ studs, if I had it to do over, perhaps I’d use staples instead, as they would leave less of a profile after painting, but hindsight is 20/20. I also wanted to leave myself the option of easily removing individual panels in the future, just in case I fucked up the wiring or something inside the walls. My mom generously offered to paint the interior using some left over paint from their house. She knows I hate painting — thanks Mom, you’re the best!
Then I framed in the bed stand for a full queen sized box spring and mattress, because there’s nothing worse than sleeping in an undersized bed with a shitty mattress! After all, I’ll be spending ~1/3–1/2 of my time here.
I then built fitted, insulated wheel well covers strong enough to stand/sit on.
Testing electrical circuits, installing DC light fixtures
In the video above, I’m testing all my AC/DC wiring circuits to make sure there were no stray screws while finishing the walls that punched through any wires to short the circuit out. No shorts meant not a single stray screw! Just one stray wire that I easily rerouted to isolate all three DC circuits from one another.
I’m also wiring up all my DC light fixtures and refurbishing the old AC and DC fuse boxes for reuse and figuring out where and how I want to place them. I decided to install the fuse boxes under the bed, as they would then be as close as possible to my exterior 12V lead-acid battery cells. Also there was the old access hatch handy there.