Updating your Caravan/Motorhome

Mid way through this year we decided to upgrade our very pleasant 1971 caravan, with the very light and airy ranch slider that we have lots of pleasure from, to a later model caravan that we could put our mark on. After much looking and pondering we settled on a 1988 Zephyr 530. Yea that's the one with the nice rounded front and rear panels and the sliding double bed in the rear. We found a very nice example from a member of our caravan club who was going to purchase a new caravan. We agreed on a price with a delivery date that suited them, neat and pristine would be a good description of its condition.

What we required was a caravan that we could install some of the product that Rick stocks at RV Dreams Ltd, as a mobile show room. We also required the caravan to be able to function off power with up graded facilities but at a reasonable cost, to give our customers some idea what can be achieved by refurbishing an older caravan with modern appliances and fittings.

Firstly we removed the old stainless steel bench drainer unit, two-burner cooker and 230-volt refrigerator. Into their place we had a laminate bench unit made with inbuilt sink. Into this bench we installed a four-burner gas hob unit with grill box underneath. Below this was fitted a 90 litre Electrolux 3 way refrigerator, this was a bit of a squeeze but with 8mm to spare it fitted and looks great. As a customer of ours once said, " holds the same amount of food as the 60 litre model, but more wine!"
The refrigerator has been connected to 230-volt and LPG. I also added an extra vent above the level of the refrigerator on the side of the caravan to aid the operation of the fridge. This is an area overlooked by most people, which can cause the operation of the fridge to greatly reduce. Particularly in the hotter months of the year, for if the area at rear of the fridge gets to above 35o, the efficiency of the unit falls away rapidly to the point where it will not cool at all. Also by adding this vent it aided the installation as the gas connections were completed with the vent cover removed. As the hob we fitted also had a grill draw underneath this extra vent also aided in the ventilation of this area, as required by the manufacturer.

The water plumbing system was replaced with push together piping system. This is so easy to use, it is of a smaller bore than domestic plumbing systems and that what was originally in the caravan which was clear plastic hose. As the new system is coloured blue for the cold and red for the hot water it also removes the problem of algae forming inside the piping system, as it is opaque. Also being smaller bore you waste less water waiting for hot water to arrive at the hot tap, this may sound stupid but when you are carrying your water it does become more valuable than that at home when the tap doesn't seem to run out. We also added a 12volt pump underneath the caravan to pressurize the water along with a cartridge water filter and to finish the system off a single handle mixer with spout, like you have at home, was installed into the bench. We also installed a small pressure relief valve to safe guard the original hot water cylinder; this valve was set just above the pump cutout pressure. The plumbing to the hot water cylinder was also replaced so that it will not now spring a leak or blow off, as has been known to happen with these vans. As the original water filler had seen better days, it was replaced with lockable filler, which also had the facility for the water tank breather to be installed into it as well. I piped the tank breather to this connection, with the result that now we don't loose all our water at the first left hand corner we encountered after leaving home. This has convinced me not to replace the tank with a larger one as it now carries sufficient water to our destination for a couple of days.

The caravan was also had its 12volt system upgraded, this would give us great lighting, pressurized water with the pump, automatic ignition on the cooker, colour television along with a 12volt video recorder and radio with CD player even when off power. This may sound a bit over the top, but we use our caravan a lot and without the creature comforts we wouldn't use it as much as we do.
The first things to go were the original 12volt interior lights, which were festoon bulb units. These were replaced with 12volt 11-watt fluorescent lamps giving us many time the light output for the same current draw. To achieve the 12volt supply to the rest of the lights, I had the 230volt lighting circuits removed from the mains fuse board and connected to the 12volt distribution board that I had installed. This then gave me a source of 12 volts down both sides of the caravan. But we still had to convert the awning light to 12volts, as well as the units over the bench and above the side squab, the bedside light fittings and the original 230volt light fitting above the front squab. As I wanted the 12volt system to be able to provide power for at least a week off mains power, the lighting system used had to be as efficient as possible to reduce drain on the battery. To achieve this, it was necessary to use fluorescent fittings where possible, as they are the most efficient light source. The 230volt strip lights where replaced with 6watt fluorescent units, the awning light fitting was kept but the internals were stripped out and a small twin tube fluorescent unit was glued inside the housing. This has proved to be very functional as it only draws about � amps and supplies sufficient light. The fittings over the front squab and the bed side lights caused a bit of head scratching as I could not disassemble the fittings without damaging them. However with a bit of searching we purchased some bits and made adaptors to carry 12volt halogen bulbs, which have done the trick and allowed us to use the original light fittings. A 12volt Electrolux range hood was fitted above the gas hob unit, in place of the original unit, which had seen better days. This unit is very nice on the eye and works very well indeed and has a grease trap built in as well which will eliminate the greasy mess that was found inside the original extractor, not a pretty sight!

The numerous curtains that were in the caravan were removed and replaced with pencil Venetian blinds. These were purchased at a very reasonable price following a visit to a Home Show in Wellington as the supplier was offering good sized discounts if you booked them to quote from the show. This has made the interior of the van seem so much roomier and is keeping a good deal of solar heat out of the van, even when towing as the blinds are held in place with small clips that were supplied when the blinds were installed, so they don't swing about when on the move.

These alterations have made our nice 1988 model caravan even more comfortable and pleasant to use and at a far cheaper cost than a new van. So give it some thought a revamp of your existing caravan maybe all that is required to increase the pleasure you desire from your caravanning.

Rick Noyce.