Q: In shopping for an Airstream, why do so many people say check that the floor is sound throughout?
A: Since an Airstream is mostly aluminum, the floor is about the only thing that can rot. Rot is the result of leakage. It is time consuming and therefore costly to repair floors. On the other hand, it is fairly easy to detect a rotted floor by simply prodding the corners, edges and under cabinets with an ice pick.
Q: How does one repair a rotted floor?
A: With an awl or ice-pick, determine the extent of the damage. Remove any furnishings or cabinets that will be in the way. Remove the floor covering.
- If the floor is still intact, it is possible to remove the loose punky material and pour 2-part liquid penetrating epoxy into the damage, leveling it with the top surface of the good floor area.
- If the rot goes all the way through or covers a large area, saw out the affected spot saving the pieces as a pattern. Cut in between the cross beams and set your saw only to the depth of the plywood. It will be necessary to gain access to the inside of the “C” channel that lays on top of the floor between the inside and outside skins. Remove the first 16 inches or so of rivets from the lower interior skin to lift the edge up. The bolts are usually bent over on the underside, so you will have to open up the lower belly skins for access or cut their heads off.
- Cut new floor sections from same thickness flooring (5/8″) plywood, and fit them in place, fastening with cleats on the bottom-side at the in-between frame cut seams with wood screws. Mark the floor beam locations and drill holes through the plywood into the beams, installing flush head self-drilling/tapping flooring screws. Since the floor is part of the trailer’s structure, the work must be done in a way that preserves as much strength as possible.
- If you can remove sections of the belly skin, you can use conventional countersunk bolts and nuts to secure the panels. Re-secure the inside skin with pop-rivets when done.
Q: Can the floor be completely replaced?
A: Yes, it can be either a frame-off replacement, or an in-place replacement. The frame off is exactly that, you remove the belly skins and then unbolt the upper skin assembly from the floor and then raise it up and pull the floor and frame from under it, replace the plywood floor, and then lower the skin back down, much the way Airstream built the trailer. There are examples of frame off restorations in the Links section.
The alternative is to replace the floor from the inside in sections, removing a partial piece of plywood and replacing it a similar sized piece using the techniques covered above. You can see what the removed floor on 1952-1968 trailers looks like in this picture.
1969 and later trailers have and advantage – they are designed so that you can remove the front and rear lower banana wrap and see the edge of the plywood. The plywood can be loosened from the inside and then slid out the back, and a replacement piece slid back in. You still have take the pressure off the floor and work from the front and back in. This is how the restoration guys and Jackson Center do it.
Q: Was asbestos used in the Linoleum tile and sheet floors?
A: Yes, as all such flooring contained small amounts of asbestos as a binder, so did Airstreams prior to 1971. The amount is small, and will not pose a health risk if care is taken not to disturb the flooring anymore than is necessary, including cutting, sanding or breaking it. Use an approved particulate respirator and avoid creating any dust.