Come see how we renovated our early 90s $1000 camper from start to finish on a budget! Learn how to paint oak cupboards, reupholster camper seating, refinish an RV bathroom and more to update an old travel trailer.
By far one of the most asked about DIYs on my blog & YouTube channel is our renovated camper. I totally get it – we LOVE it too! It’s provided us with so many wonderful memories already, and I love that we didn’t spend a ton of money to create a little home on wheels that’s both functional and adorable for our summertime adventures.
We started renovating our fifth wheel in May of 2017, and finished it just last summer with the bathroom remodel. It was a ton of work and there were so many steps involved, so I thought it would be a good idea to compile exactly what we did to our camper from start to finish in one giant blog post! (Plus, these new photos by Tracey Jazmin of the camper were too cute not to share! And I love that they show how well everything has held up!)
This renovation cost us about $1600, however we had many of the supplies on hand or they were given to us.
Please note that I’m a self-taught DIYer and not a trained professional, so this step-by-step guide is based on my experience only. However, if you love to do things yourself just like me, I think you’ll find these steps effective if you’re renovating your own RV!
How to Renovate an RV: Step-by-Step!
Step 1: Find an Old Camper for Sale & Assess It
There are lots of used RVs for sale on buy-and-sell sites like Facebook, Kijiji and Craigslist. I often see them along the side of the road, too! We were lucky and found ours for only $1000, but even spending a few thousand on an old camper can be worth it if the camper’s in decent shape. It’s still much less than a new RV! When looking for a used RV, check for things like water damage (common), mechanical issues, electrical issues and structural issues. Most other things can be repaired easily (like upholstery and finishes).
Step 2: Make any Necessary Repairs
Before working on the more fun things like painting and reupholstering, make any repairs to the structure or mechanics of your camper. We had to rip off the whole back wall of our fifth wheel and replace it because of water damage. You can see water damage in the front here too, which also had to be replaced. Thankfully, my hubby is great at this sort of thing!
Step 3: Rip it All Out!
Remove anything from the camper that you want to replace like old window treatments, carpet, linoleum, blinds, fabric panels etc. Don’t attack your couch or dinette just yet – you can fix those later! I removed all of the old soft furnishings and carpet from our camper because I wanted fresh, easy-to-clean finishes.
Step 4: Prime & Paint the Walls & Cabinets
This will be the most time consuming step of your renovation, but it will make the biggest difference. Remove all of the cabinet doors in your RV, and then prime all of the walls, ceiling, cabinets and cabinet doors. I sanded everything first with liquid sandpaper, used Killz oil-based primer, and finished with latex paint. I painted the camper fridge the same way. You can also seal the cabinets with a Varathane sealant to prolong the life of the paint. For an inexpensive update, you can also spray paint the hinges and/or pulls on your cabinets. In the bathroom, you can use a paint especially formulated for painting over old bathroom fixtures to resurface your tub, toilet and sink if required. Get more details on our cupboard painting and camper kitchen renovation here.
Step 5: Add Decorative Surface Treatments like Wallpaper, Contact Paper & Peel-and-Stick Tile
To give your RV some personality, you can add wallpaper and/or peel-and-stick tile to accent walls and the kitchen wall in your camper. I found a dehumidifier to be essential when applying things like wallpaper so that everything dried nicely. It’s also important to prime any walls you want to add paper or vinyl tile to. Consider covering an old kitchen counter with marble contact paper like we did; I love how our counter has held up! You can also replace any fabric panels in the cupboards with something more modern and durable like decorative tin panels. I spray painted and cut some to suit my style. We completely replaced our dinette table with an Ikea desk top and used the hardware from the old table.
Step 6: Install New Hardware, Lighting and Window Treatments
If you don’t want to paint the old ones, new cupboard pulls can make a huge difference in the look of your RV. Buying hardware that fits the old holes of your cupboards makes it an easy swap! You can use regular light fixtures in your camper if you want to make a statement chandelier, just use light bulbs that are especially for RVs – they’re the 12 volt kind. We used a pendant light an shortened it for over our dinette. Amazon has modern looking LED RV lights for a great price! For window treatments, consider installing simple blackout blinds that will help everyone sleep a little better. We found ours at Ikea.
Step 7: Recover or Slipcover Soft Furnishings
If the foam in your sofa and dinette is still good, you can recover or slipcover them. I’ve shared complete tutorials on how to do this, and you can learn how to recover dinette seats right here and how to make a slipcover for a jacknife sofa right here. Replace any foam that is destroyed, and replace any old mattresses.
Step 8: Install New Flooring
Consider installing vinyl plank as flooring for your RV. It’s inexpensive, light and durable, and it’s easy to install! You can lay it over old vinyl, and you can use a ruler and craft knife to cut it. We love how ours looks, feels and wears!
Step 9: Add the Final Touches!
Now’s the extra fun part – adding the final accessories to make your RV both functional and beautiful. Add hooks and bars to the walls for added storage (I used wood screws to attach them), add hooks to the bottoms of your cupboards for storage or decorative items, attach art to the wall with wood screws or Command Photo Hanging Strips, make DIY pillow covers in your favourite colours to make your little home feel bright and cozy, and find durable melamine or metal dishware that you can store in your camper for your first trip!
Give yourself more time than you think to complete the renovation of your camper. It will be a lot of work, but you’ll be so proud when you’re done! We’ve LOVED using our renovated camper, and I know you will love yours too!
Our DIY Camper Source List:
- Paint: Valspar Ultra White, Benjamin Moore Simply White, Valspar Noir (lower cupboards)
- Wood Wallpaper: Home Depot (found in store; I can’t find a link online)
- Peel & Stick Tile: Smart Tiles Metro Blanco
- Marble Contact Paper for Counter
- Fabric: Shibori Design, Indigo Velvet, Indoor / Outdoor Griege Linen Look from Fabric.com
- Flooring: Allure Stayplace from Home Depot
- Cupboard Pulls
- Dinette Light Fixture (we hacked it to make it flush)
- Dinette 12V Edison Bulb
- TVs: 32″ Samsung Smart TVs from The Brick
- Mattress: Springwall Endeavour 3 Euro-Top Firm Queen Mattress from The Brick
- Melamine Dinnerware: Costco, in-store
- Copper Flatware: Walmart, in-store
- Copper Mugs: vintage
- Blue Enamel Mugs
- Spray Paint: Rustoleum Copper Rose & Oil Rubbed Bronze Metallic
- Aluminum Sheet (for cupboard inserts)
- Butcher Block Table Top: Gerton Desk top
- Black Out Blinds
- Hanging Rods
- LED Ceiling Lights
- Navy Bed Sheets
- “Camper Sweet Camper” sign is a free printable here!
Watch my YouTube video on how to renovate an RV on a budget:
Let’s make it!
I’m a self-taught DIYer and not a trained professional, so this step-by-step guide is based on my experience only. However, if you love to do things yourself just like me, I think you’ll find these steps effective if you’re renovating your own RV! Give yourself more time than you think to complete the renovation of your camper. It will be a lot of work, but you’ll be so proud when you’re done! As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
I’m a self-taught DIYer and not a trained professional, so this step-by-step guide is based on my experience only. However, if you love to do things yourself just like me, I think you’ll find these steps effective if you’re renovating your own RV! Give yourself more time than you think to complete the renovation of your camper. It will be a lot of work, but you’ll be so proud when you’re done!
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.