Repairing a Static Caravan 5

Progress has been made. Here, newly painted exterior.

Progress has been made. Here, newly painted exterior.

A lot of things have happened since the latest article. During this time, I’ve felt a need to back-up some and discuss some basic problems that static caravans are plagued with. One of these is poor ventilation that leads to damp and an uncomfortable environment. Too, a damp atmosphere is not healthy in the long run nor does it argue for sustainable living.

I talked with a nearby neighbor about his static caravan and his comfort. He has a dehumidifier running and empties some 2 lt. or more of water most every day. What does his electricity costs look like? I spoke with another owner, with a relatively new static, and the dehumidifier is used “often”. I happened to stumble over a video where the presenter was explaining how to winterize a static caravan and most every point made was due to damp. Obviously, this is a problem and an expected belief about statics. As well, it can point a finger towards manufacturers more interested in sales results than consumer’s comfort.

Near the beginning of the project, I opened up an interior wall to see what the backside of the aluminum skin looks like, the part no one sees. I was met by a sight that confirms my suspicions of how wet a static caravan can be. The following picture is what I saw and it would hardly ever dry-out without good ventilation…(see gallery)

Having closed my static up and leaving it for 4 wintry months on Shetland, I came back and discovered something fantastic. My salt was dry! My other spices were dry! Everything from detergent to forgotten digestives were…dry!

The reason is simple but still complicated. With a regular static caravan, manufacturers make it look like air is being exchanged throughout the interior but the air is actually trapped due to manufacturers’, as I feel, fear of leakages.

Air in a normal static caravan rotates around. Without new air, it becomes damp through condensation.[/caption] Naturally, when static warm air connects with static cooler air, there is condensation. If there is too little flowing air, the humidity increases, causing an unfavorable living environment. It’s damp!

All dwellings must breathe, both inside and outside!

With this in mind and as I was renovating my static, I always had the above rule in mind. The day I took off the aluminum roof was the day I felt a drier air inside. I broke the seal and to this day I have no damp, closed in, old smells. How did I do it?

I built the outside walls in a fashion that a small air pocket ran up along between the insulation and the outside cladding. This air pocket connected to the loft area of the saddle roof. On the gable ends, I covered and weatherproofed the ends of the roof, but drilled air holes in the plywood, farthest up near the roofing, and covered these with a vertical wooden cladding. All this allows for the exchange of warm/cold air between the outside cladding, up into the loft and out/in through the holes I made.

Inside, I have an extractor fan that controls the airflow outwards every time I make food. This is over dimensioned and circulates a maximum of some 300 cubic meters of air p. hr. In the floor, where rain and water can’t get to, I have a small ventilation hole under the kitchen cabinets. All this, and each time I open the door or window, brings in fresh air from outside. When I leave, I make sure the ventilation is open. Note here, rain cannot go uphill and can never get under the exterior flooring outside.

Building in a correct and consequent way, cold air exchanged in the exterior air pockets is on the outside of the insulation area of the walls and ceiling. Heating is not any greater. I have approximately 65 cubic meters of air that needs heated. I have one oil-filled 2.0 kw heater. I have a gas cooker and an electric hot water heater. During the winter season, I use about £42-47 a month for all electricity, keeping an indoor temperature of circa +20° with nighttime reduction. Summer months in Shetland, I use about £20-22 a month for all electricity.

If done right, static caravans are enticing alternatives, support sustainable living and can be comfortably economic to live in.

Repairing a Static Caravan 4

If anyone is familiar with the North Atlantic weather conditions and Shetland’s “between weathers” phenomenon, then understand the intensity and stress it required to change the roof of the caravan. Not knowing when nor how the weather could change, it took true grit and courage to rip-off the only thin protection against rain and winds this caravan has had for close to a year.

Having insulated, rebuilt and paneled all the outside walls, the layer of aluminum roof was only being held on with a small strip of treated lumber. This small strip was holding down the 40mm overlay that was available from the old aluminum walling and, together with many tubes of mastic, it was only screwed down tight onto the upper part of the new walls. This upper part prepared the way for new rafters, or roof trusses, and had to be “unsealed” to change the roof.

So it was! The mastic weather-proofed parts were taken apart, skylights removed, and starting at the one gable end the rafters were laid in place. Eyes were often spying the horizon for weather changes, weather reports were eye-balled several times during a day and the work days were….very….very…long work days.

Simply speaking, old roof is removed, new rafters put into place, electrical wiring adjusted and inspected, Kingspan insulation between new rafters, treated plywood screwed on rafters, layer of roofing “gortex” stapled on plywood, slats fastened on covered plywood, some insulation put between slats that would lie just under metal roofing (prevents condensation and keeps the place quiet during hail or heavy rains) and finish it off with metal roofing. (So “simple” this wasn’t…just to save writing many paragraphs)

How long did this take? I don’t remember. Maybe a week or two? I do remember several 18 hour days with hardly any breaks. I do know that it was tough working and sometimes I had to tack down a strong plastic tarp material for rainy periods in between all work. Fortunately, I had a few friends spend some of their time to lend a hand. Great help, indeed!

After the roof was in stable condition, I grit my teeth and attacked the extension area. Same procedure as the rest of the exterior…Kingspan, gortex and paneling. Just this last week, I finally could fit the new front door.

Old aluminum roofing was recycled. It weighed in at 40kg and gave £16.

I’ll let the pictures explain better…. (to be continued)

Repairing a Static Caravan 3

Winter came and went and most of the outside work had to be put on ice…no pun intended in reference to winter. In lieu of this and before heading home to complete another building project during the Christmas holidays, it was possible to start chipping away on necessary indoor tasks with expectations to continue outside work after the holiday season and, supposedly, with a more favourable weather.

Many older caravans have two bedrooms. The smaller second bedroom of this caravan was one of the first things we tore away, creating an open interior planning but leaving only one master bedroom. This larger bedroom was less than 4 sq. mt. and hardly allowed legroom, should ordinary single beds were installed. Also,common beds would take up most floor space with a larger volume of remaining space inefficiently used. It seemed smartest to plan for two wide comfortable bunk beds as we were accustomed to this way of living from experiences in the mountains of northern Sweden.

Having removed all the old, damp, mouldy and smelly interior walling of the master bedroom, there remained the original 20mm insulation which was poorly packed between the original wooden squares of the caravan’s exterior walls. Should these squares be removed?

Using 25 mm Kingspan, I replaced the old insulation to the bedroom and filled up the rectangles of the interior wall. I also reinforced these walls where the bunk beds would be installed later. This gave the bedroom walls better strength and increased the u-value of that corner. I now had walls totaling 75 mm Kingspan insulation. Evaluating this, I decided that I would follow this path; keeping the original framework, insulating to 75mm and consequently increasing the caravan’s total u-value even more than first planned.

The interior bedroom walls were replaced with fresh plywood. Part of the original roof rafters were insulated with 25 mm Kingspan and “gortex” and finished off with 10 mm pine paneling for the ceiling. Later, the floor was covered with 6 mm laminate, which I bought locally second-hand via Internet. Bunk beds were built during wet days in March. See pics in gallery below.

After returning at the end of February and when the weather Gods were kind(er), I tore away the remaining aluminum on the second gable end, reinforced this in the same manner as the other exterior walls, added the wind/waterproof “gortex” material and finished off with the exterior cladding. I now could feel the caravan gained the stability and solidness that it needed for the harsh winds of Shetland. As a result, hardly no vibrating or tremors can be felt in this caravan’s body.

Naturally, thoughts of recycling and the environment have been a part of this project and, as a little game, I had saved all the removed aluminium siding. Recently and with the last of the siding removed, I went to the dump. Surprisingly, the aluminum weighed in at 80 kg. At today’s rate, I drove away from the dump with an extra £32 in my back pocket. I thought this was fun and gave a little back to the costs of repairs. I wonder what the aluminum roof will weigh in at when I remove it?

Soon, hopefully
I want to change the roof. I have all the necessary rafters to a saddle-shaped roof prepared and soon will have the new metal roofing delivered. As soon as weather and wind permits, myself with some friends will rip off the old roof and put on the new. This report will come later…

By the way, the extension part of the caravan has been built in a fashion that will allow it to be removed, should the caravan be moved in the future. An explanation of this engineering feat will come later.

With the Long, Dark…

..cold winter, How many of us would like to take a break and visit Kew Gardens for just one bright, warm, sunny summer day? All the time in the world.! Picnic lunch carried in one hand! Beauty…lushness…fragrance! I certainly would!


Repairing a Static Caravan 2

If you have ever experienced Shetland weather, you can understand the unpredictability and diversified nature of it. The repairs and modernization of this static caravan has taken time and the work has often been between raindrops and winds, often at the same time.

The first five weeks have past and, reflecting upon what has been accomplished, the original strategy has been followed. The outside conversion from a tin can caravan with rot has miraculously become a “Cinderella” of changes. This is what has happened…

The technical jargon
With start on the smaller gable end, I took away the caravan-like angled floor at the old tow bar area. I built this out, extending the floor and gaining 2 m2 and having a full 90° wall inside. Quite practical for putting a sofa or bed later along that wall. The humongous sitting room single glazed window had to go and, after its removal, I peeled off the aluminum siding and screwed on my treated 12 mm plywood to the wooden framework of the caravan; sealed with “mastic”, or polysulfide sealant, between each jointed section of plywood!

TIP: The wooden framework has no set measurements and, once covered, it’s trial and error finding a hold for screws or remembering where electrical lines are. To best resolve this problem, mark along the wooden base where the center line of the original vertical/horizontal framework is or where to avoid screwing into electrical lines, then use a water level to mark out your line along/up the sides as you work. I allowed myself no more that ±3mm margins with all measurements.

With plywood screwed on, I set up my baseline board with a water level. Made my vertical studs and positioned/screwed these onto the gable wall taking into consideration where I wanted the new windows to sit. Everything had to be horizontally and vertically correct, as these measurements would be identical for the whole outside wall work around the caravan. Distances between vertical studs are flexible depending upon window size and wall strength. It’s up to you!

After studding is completed, I insulated the walls using 50mm Kingspan. This is comparable to 150mm normal rockwool insulation but doesn’t take the same volume. Windows were lead-free polyethylene double-glazed energy saving and filled with argon gas. These costs and efforts I’m putting into the caravan will pay for themselves within 7 years through the “energy pennies” I’ll save.

After the insulation, wind and water resistant foil (I call it gortex) is stapled onto the studding and covers the whole wall. Treated wood paneling is tacked onto the studs with stainless steel wood screws following a bead from the level. Altogether, from the original caravan siding, I added on 97mm.

The floor was insulated with 100mm, 100% earthwool insulation. This made a big difference compared to the earlier 20mm carton material used for fish boxes.

Several weeks later
With all this work, the inside environment is comfy, warm and much more quiet from outside noise. It will probably be cooler on “warmer” days; if Shetland has these? The porch area is under construction just now, but it’s getting to be too late in winter to continue with it.

The major thing is, this caravan will be beautiful when it’s finished and comfortable to live in! A new roof will come later when weather permits. Let the pictures show the work and results up to now… (to be continued)

Repairing a Static Caravan…

…can be a no-brainer-don’t-do-it-you’re crazy kind of project to undertake, unless you are an experienced and stubborn skilled trades teacher with a will to solve problems that arise.
Having had the opportunity to acquire a small beast of a caravan on Shetland, this project will involve a complicated technical construction to convert it to a very inhabitable place to live on a wonderful patch of islands in the world. But, what is this project all about?

Photo: Initial inspection- looking for rot

Background: There are two types of caravans in the U.K. The increasingly popular touring caravan, hooked onto the back of a car and driven from site to site, and the larger static caravan that needs a more complicated means of moving and, by its name, is considered staying on its site for longer periods or permanently. In Sweden today, these are called a “Villavagn”, or “house wagon” and have become a new solution for owning or renting a summer cottage.

Static caravans in the U.K. have a long history of use as temporary summer or holiday dwellings as regulations in vacation laws for workers developed through the last century allowing time for workers and families to get out of large towns and relax. From what can be understood from Internet, static caravans are traditionally found near climatically stable and warmer areas of the U.K. i.e. like Cornwall, Devon, Wales etc., where the commute from larger cities (London) allows for a reasonable drive. They are now quite commonplace and have become more popular for permanent habitation all over the U.K. as economies are uncertain.

There are many large caravan parks for single unit rentals or one can purchase a static caravan on site and pay annual site fees to park owners. Static caravans are also popular to buy and live in due to on-site construction of private homes and sold off after the house is finished to live in.

The Project Caravan: The make and model is, as yet, unknown but probably originating from the early 1990’s. It has been first sold, then apparently traded in, cosmetically refurbished and re-sold again a number of times. When it was bought, it had been vacated for almost a year in a very tight and closed condition. On first inspection, there was a leafy fungus growing on the carpet and floor. The wet and smell of this environment is impossible to describe but the whole construction cried out for air.

First things first, out with everything that wasn’t rotted, mildewy or dirty beyond patience to cope with. It originally had two bedrooms but the smaller one gave way to the crowbar and a whole truckload of this scrap went to recycling. Once the windows had been opened and the drying sun came into it, the caravan could be heard sighing and thanking us.

After using one and a half weeks with discovering how this caravan was made and making attack plans for its repairs, I discovered that it basically is built with small sticks and thin plywood. The outside walls are 45mm thick and holding rusty and leaky single-glazed windows. The floor larger has no insulation and the roof is basically a skin of aluminum over a few bowed wooden supports.

When built, workers started with the iron chassis and added a plywood floor. On this floor came the outside walls followed by electrical work and furnishings screwed onto the 3mm masonite inside ceiling, some flimsy 20mm rafter things and finally the roof skin to hold everything together.

During my inspection, I found the indoor floor pretty stable but some parts along the bottom of the outside walls had acquired rot and need replaced. Any electrical wires needing replaced or taken away must be done when everything is opened up.

Preliminary Plans: Crawl underneath and insulate the floor. Since the walls are attached to the floor, I’m choosing to take off the aluminum siding (recycle for 40p per kilo) simultaneously screwing water repellant “marine” plywood to strengthen the structure. On the plywood goes vertical water repellant woods studs and, finally, peel back the roof skin as I place a new saddle roof on the new outside wall frame replacing the roof with marine plywood and a layer of…uh…metal roof sheeting. This all will be tricky with consideration for Shetland’s winds and rain. At the end, insulate with Kingspan, add a wooden cladding and install the new double-glazed windows.

I’ll end here for now…

Retirement Insurance…

…can be a familiar topic of discussion to many of us in the world. Especially after the recent economic depression and new predictions being made for another upcoming economic problem… not to mention the upcoming outcome of Swedish elections.

But, in northern Sweden, retirement insurance brings about a whole new concept. With sub-zero temperatures banging on doors during the long frigid winter months above the Arctic Circle, fear of living in a cold house at an old age can be bone chilling. Some can still remember stories of older people, unable to move out of the warmth and protection of thickly piled bed covers, living in a cold house and not having fuel to burn. Or, for that matter, not having the strength to gather fuel for winter.

Older people’s fear of freezing to death, all alone, can be real!

Photo: Stacked firewood waiting to warm a house

So, just as we finished laboring with some 11 cubic meters of birch firewood and neatly stacked this supply under roof, we considered the economic warnings, politics and our age and decided to invest in some “good old retirement insurance” in the northern Swedish tradition. This last week came still another truck load of birch to our doorstep. This, too, will be cut, split and stacked as time draws on.

Photos: From the truck…
…ready to be cut, split and stacked

Admittedly, our retirement insurance feels pretty good. Even better when the stuff is stacked drying and ready to use should we for some unlucky reason not want to freeze to death. And, just like gathering peat on Shetland, this warms the body twice.

Could this be better than a bank? Talk about giving yourself a bonus? Think about it. Retirement insurance is good to have!

London is Wonderful…

…and my very favorite city to visit when having the time to do so. Coming into Heathrow Airport, I started to consider the many many exciting and educational places that could be visited in this wonderful metro area. Should I pay a visit to The Globe Theater? Museums around town? Boat ride along the Thames?

I came upon a slightly different idea for amusement during our few weekend days here. Why not visit Kew Gardens? Kew is about 10 miles from Paddington Station and I wasn’t sure just what the best way was to get there. To my surprise, it was just to take The Tube, an easy ride via Earl’s Court and directly to the Kew Station.

Kew is probably the best place in the world to see thousands of plants, flowers and trees from our earth. Starting in the 19th century, Kew has collected botanical specimens and taken well care of these for all of London, or the world, to see, take guided tours and learn from. Perhaps not the first thing most would visit on a trip to London but a wonderful time can be had for the daring tourist.

Fortunately, the weather was superb. The entrance fee was not harsh in comparison to other attractions (Kew = £13,50 adults / London Eye = £18,90 online for one trip) and once inside you can stay the whole day and walk around the place taking in everything that Kew has to show. Some people even take picnic lunches and easily spend a day!

One drawback about Kew is the closeness to Heathrow. Every 90 seconds the air is filled with a noisy jet coming in for a landing. To bad, but that’s how city planners decided!

My favorite Kew place was the treetop walk. I also fell in love with the hundreds of different trees growing within the whole compound. The greenhouses were full of exotic plants but the “waterlilly house” was on the top of my list. And this summer they had a special exhibition area with a butterfly room, where many butterflies were flying loose inside for everyone to get near with.

So, tired of the Tower Bridge, Picadilly blasé or no time for Big Ben when in London? Wear a pair of good walking shoes and try a day’s outing to Kew Gardens. It’s much more than a walk in the park!

How Wrong We Were…

…to think that returning to Sweden would be easy. It was not just to drive over the Öresund Bridge nor just to return to our house in Jokkmokk and think that life continues in a normal and expected way. To return to Sweden meant to be registered back into the digital systems and bureaucracy of the Swedish Social Services and Swedish Tax Agency on an official base. And, with traditional Swedish “suspicion”, it isn’t easy to return.

According to the Swedish Tax Agency, Swedish citizens are to register their intent of staying in another country, should this stay be more than one year. Abidingly, we did the paperwork. We left the country for Shetland. We returned to the unexpected run-around and administrative stupidity of just one of Sweden’s inability of making things work.

To be able to have a television, mobile phone, broadband, any type of identification and do many bank errands Sweden has a system of each individual being cleared via credit checks. These credit checks are based on the computer information of social services and the tax agency. Now, here’s the important part… if you’re not on this system, you can’t get television, phones, broadband, ID’s etc.

To get back in the system, one informs the Swedish Tax agency, who collaborates with Social Services. For myself, it wasn’t enough to go to the local social services to register. I had to take the time to go to the offices in Stockholm, wait in line to get a queue number and wait a couple of hours more to show my passport and register my existence in the country. This I did August 14. Worse off was for my wife. The Social Services office in Jokkmokk no longer exists and the closest office for her was a two-hour drive and one-day-away-from-work away.

In spite of registration, I am still, at this writing, not in the system. A phone call to Social Services and an overworked service administrator revealed I had to wait at least 6 months! C’mon Sweden!


It’s easy to deduct that Sweden does not work! Sweden is becoming a backward country with good marketing skills to hide its unofficial backwardness. It was easier to leave Sweden than to return to it. It was easier to start living in Shetland than returning to Sweden.

I have a feeling that, next time we consider living in another country, we will not follow Swedish laws that make the return part a real head-banging pain-in-the-butt. It feels like being punished for obeying the laws. But, that’s Sweden for ya. Think twice before leaving it…then, think a third time with returning!

What Happened Next?

We left Shetland with mixed feelings. Our sabbatical had come to an end and, even though we often kicked around the thought of a continuation, life’s “realities” had chiseled on our decision and the smartest thing to do was to return to Sweden…for now.

As we stood on Hrossey’s deck, we passed Lerwick and Gulberwick with heavy hearts. Next day, the drive from Aberdeen to Newcastle was uneventful, except we were confronted with inconsequential and sometimes total absence of road directions and signs with the drive around Edinburgh. We came to Newcastle and got on board the ferry to Amsterdam without any mishaps or problems.

HollandFerryPhoto: Saturday morning sunrise. Soon landing in Amsterdam

Well in Holland, our road map was giving confusing signals. Getting back on track, we hit several stretches of road maintenance (C’mon, on a Saturday??), long lines, waiting and time ticking…traffic accident on the autobahn to Kiel…long line, waiting and time wasted…

From all this, we consequently missed our ferry from Kiel to Gothenburg! Shucks! Crap! So, using the small rural roads of northern Germany, we followed an alternative route from Puttgarden, Germany and caught the ferry to Denmark. It was now nighttime. Drove through Denmark. Crossed the Öresund Bridge to Sweden and Malmö. Now on familiar turf, we were so tired that we found a scheduled castle area, dragged ourselves and sleeping bags to an elm tree and feel asleep under its branches.. It was 2 a.m. and we had been on the road for 20 hours.

OstrichFarm01Photo: Small rest at an ostrich farm outside of Stockholm

After a few hours of sleep, we drove to Växjö and stayed with an old friend, getting some R & R that Sunday. Monday morning, we continued to Nynäshamn, just south of Stockholm. I had a job interview for a teaching position next morning. Tuesday noon, after the interview, we drove to Umeå and stayed one night with our oldest son. Wednesday, August 5, we finally arrived in Jokkmokk dead tired. We had been on the go with Jeppe, who never let us down, for 6 days. What a road-trip, heh?

ArrivalHomePhoto: Circle complete. Arrival home!

Thursday evening I got a call from the school in Nynäshamn wanting me to work for them. I spent Friday & Saturday helping Brita get the essential furniture back in the house (beds, for example) Sunday afternoon, I threw essentials into the jeep and drove to Umeå, stayed with our son again, and was in Stockholm on Monday. Arrived back in Nynäshamn Tuesday morning and looked for a flat, got a flat and started to work Wednesday morning at the school.

Mentally, I’m still in Shetland. I’m missing our friends, the sea and Shetland’s peaceful respect and celebration for life. But, being up to my ears with a new challenge in education and not having the time to dwell on these thoughts, I’m not sure what topic(s) will dominate this blog. Possibly, comparative thoughts about both Shetland and Sweden? When things have settled and fall better into place, we’ll see… but, for sure, we will return to Shetland!