Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why Are American RVs Built So Cheaply?

I realize that most RVs are only built for summer. But yet there are literally thousands of RV owners also using their rigs during winter. Like us, they are facing quite a few challenges.
Challenge #1 is the incredibly bad insulation of RVs.
Just to mention a few spots where improvements could be done without incurring much of a higher cost.

- Compartment doors have no insulation whatsoever
- entry doors are often having gaps to the frame
- Slide-outs have the thinnest walls of the RV
- Aux. showers are installed in a cheap plastic box with no  insulation behind it.
- No insulation where outside water inlets are crossing the wall
- Underbellies are generally only covered with a thin tar paper, instead of using hard-backed high density foam.
- No insulation at the power inlet

Now, I know that RVs CAN be delivered with double pane windows, but fact is most RVs on the market have left the factory with single pane windows. European RVs have been manufactured with double-pane PLEXI windows since the early eighties. No condensation problems there!

These windows are also light-weight, with “light-weight” being a good point in most RV-sales over the recent years.
And speaking about light-weight RVs, one has to wonder about the heavy-duty truck-style welded steel frames American RV-manufacturers are putting under their RVs. Aluminum frames WOULD be more expensive but would also make a significant contribution to make the RV light-weight. That in turn would lead to that bumper-pull trailers could be pulled by smaller vehicles.

But I guess if consumers don’t demand changes, change will not come from manufacturers.

Have a comment? Let’s have it and thanks for hanging in here.


  1. Replies
    1. Perfect answer/ But I've heard that newer models are not the same quality as the older ones.

  2. Airstream is much lighter. Our 15 year old Holiday Rambler coach is very well built and insulated, dual pane windows, heated tanks etc...
    I guess if you intend to live it it year round you will need to upgrade., just saying.

    1. Of course there have always been a few exemptions of better quality. Your RV has no slide-outs - a big plus when it comes to keeping the warmth inside. And like I said, some Rvs are coming with double pane windows.

    2. Older Airstreams are actually quite heavy.

    3. We actually do have one large kitchen slide out.

  3. All Good Points.....some of the reasons I am looking for a Big Foot, manufactured in Canada.

  4. If 90% of folks use their RVs in weather above freezing, manufacturers won't see the value in the cold
    Weather additions. We are fulltimers, and like most, we follow the sun. Most RVs are sold to price conscious
    Buyers. It's meant to be a cheap vacation.
    There's a big difference in cultures between Europe and the US. Just look at the predominance of SUVs and
    Bloated Minivans. The astounding numbers of 4WD full size pickups in a country with the best
    Roads in the world defies logic. It tells American RV builders that Americans want BIG affordable
    RVs and are willing to sacrifice some quality to get it.
    For the less than 1% of RVers that winter RV, there are small manufacturers out there willing to charge you big$$$$ to give you what you want.
    To me, the best part of RVing is being able to follow the good weather.

    1. I agree with most of your reasoning, except that only 1 Percent are using it during the warm season. That number surly is much higher.

  5. Last year I found a very small electric heater at Walmart..Chelan Wa...It's only maybe 10"x4"..I place that in the area of my water pump and tanks..It has worked so far for short visits when in a cold place with electricity..My furnace is too loud when it comes on and everyone knows batteries just hate it!!

    1. Actually if one has a skirting even a lightbulb can keep the water lines from freezing.

  6. They manufacture them because folks are more interested in the lower cost than having the upgrades that they feel they don't need.. If folks stopped buying, things would change. When folks are looking for RVs it's usually for summer usage. I would think the demand is there for some who want them for winter usage and there are a few brands out there that are. However, manufacturers aren't going to increase the cost of their product if people aren't going to be willing to pay for those upgrades.

  7. Doug has insulated almost all the things you mentioned over time. Yes, the windows are still single pane. One thing that he did recently was take the furnace out completely. We rarely used it and when we did it used so much propane. We have two heaters that do much better. Taking the furnace out also enabled him to fill in the floor vents. THESE we a huge source of drafts.

  8. Insulating a camper "properly" would greatly benefit everyone; especially those camping in *warm* weather (never mind cold weather camping) !

    As Peter wrote, when one cold camps with a modern RV (whether tow trailer, 5th Wheel, whatever), the places where cold "migrates" into the worst are all frame fixtures (doors, windows, roof vents, etc), and all exterior hatches. The aluminum metal frames are plated directly from exterior to interior, and act as a perfect "thermal bridge", where the highly conductive metal frames and hatch doors are consdered non insulating materials. I seem to recall that the Bigfoot line-up (Class C, trailers and truck campers) were all carefully designed to withstand Canadian winters (very little to no thermal bridge weaknesses, and thermal pane windows).

    So, the issue with the existing modern uninsulated campers out there, are that they are all PLAGUED with so many areas of thermal bridging, that they would literally have to be dismantled and re-designed against thermal bridging. I suppose that one could encase their RV inside a cocoon of XPS, or literally build an inner thermal sleeve over all floor, wall and ceiling area (seemingly counterintutively, this would add very little weight to an RV!), and replace every window with thermal pane, or European style windows. Doing this retrofit to the interior would be fairly cost effective (lets say: insulate to R10, using 2 inch high quality XPS, rather than lower R-value styro bead board), but then you get into code issues: 1) polystyrene boards are EXTREMELY flammable, and have to be shielded by drywall; 2) all your water feeds coming into your RV have to be electrically heat-taped, too)....and you would lose all the area insulated x 2 inches of volume.

    Once you insulate the RV to at least R10 (and ceiling/roof to say R-20), you would vastly reduce interior condensation in cold weather and reduce furnace usage, and vastly increase the trailer/RV roof air conditioning unit's ability to cool camper in hot weather with very little cycling.

    The best insulation product I have ever seen recently, is called: Roxul (in Canada based out of Milton, Ontario & Grand Forks, BC) http://www.roxul.com/

    This stuff is absolutely fire resistant, totally water repellent (and mold resistant), and very, very sound absorbent. Even more extraordinary, is that its thickness-to-R value to weight ratio is outstanding (this is really a space-age material, perfect for RV insulating, IMO).

  9. I guess you could always try to insulate as much as you can this winter, and make it a good pet project over next summer to get better winterized before the snow flies.
    Good luck and get some heaters going, that's all you can do for now. :)


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