Why Remodel? Why Not Get a Newer Coach?

This post covers the effort we put into the first stage of remodeling a 2010 Newmar Ventana 3961. Your mileage may vary on your efforts to remodel an RV. We had big ambitions for our work and it shows in the final price tag. The completed effort is still cheaper than getting a newer model, but it can be time-consuming a huge headache. Be patient and your final product will be a great reward!

This is what $55,000 in renovation work looks like.  Could we have done this cheaper? Yes, if we completed most of the work and project management ourselves.  The labor costs alone totaled over $27,000. Instead, we traded our hard-earned salary and paid experts to do all of the work for us.

We could afford this budget by picking up an older, used motorhome.  We knew we wanted a Newmar diesel motorhome for the quality of the build and insulation.  We originally looked at getting a 4-5 year old model, but discovered we could purchase a 9-10 year old model for $70-$90 thousand less than a newer model with some (but not all) of these upgrades in place.  

The Must Do Upgrades

The “musts” needed by going for an older coach included new flooring, residential refrigerator, induction cooktop, moving the TV, replacing blinds, a larger shower and install a washer/dryer.  These upgrades encompassed nearly $30,000 of the budget. Of course, these are our “musts” not just from our tastes, but this will also be our full-time home for the next several years.  Another advantage of doing this in a remodel versus accepting used equipment is we get to choose the specific equipment in our coach.

New Flooring: The original tile flooring is in great shape, but very bland.  Beige/sand colored ceramic tile covers the majority of the coach.  The only areas not using tile are the slides and the bedroom. The ceramic tile is very heavy so I assume they did not place it in the bedroom space to save on some weight.  

We are replacing the tile and carpet with Amrstrong luxury solid-core vinyl tile.  This not only saves weight but adds color and texture to the coach. The tile we chose is an Armstrong click-lock flooring so we will not have any grout lines to clean either.  The click-lock system also saves on a lot of labor time by not having the grout prep and cleaning. The slides will still have carpet matched to accent the flooring we choose. The total cost of the flooring is around $8,000 including demolition, materials, and labor.

Residential Refrigerator:  We enjoyed the residential refrigerator in our Tiffin so we are upgrading the 3-way Norcold fridge to a residential refrigerator.  The benefit of replacing the refrigerator is getting to choose the specific refrigerator you want to be installed rather than taking what the manufacturer chose for you.  We are restricted to the model of the refrigerator because of the height of the slide. The new refrigerator will add about 100lbs to the slide and double the power draw on the batteries. The total cost of this installation is around $5,000 including the refrigerator, electrical, trim, and labor.

Induction Cooktop: We want to minimize the propane used in the coach.  As part of the kitchen remodel, we are replacing the propane cooktop with an induction cooktop.  The cooktop itself is around $300, but there are additional concerns with electrical. A 2-burner induction cooktop can draw as high as 1800 watts, so the cooktop will need to be on a separate circuit.  Because we want the induction cooktop, we need to replace the countertop so it fits correctly.

New Countertop/Backsplash: The original countertop is a Corian solid surface which is as bland as the flooring.  Corian is also a relatively soft surface and is prone to scratching. The current surface is showing some wear.  Since we are replacing the cooktop and sink, we need a new surface anyway so we picked up a remnant of quartz and had it cut to our countertop. The total cost of the materials, trimming and installation was around $2,000.

New Sink/Faucet:  As mentioned before, we also wanted to update the basic sink to something more functional.  We previously had a great Blanco sink in a home we once had so we found one to fit. Since we are cutting a new countertop, the sink doesn’t need to be an identical fit replacement.  We also added a touchsensitive faucet to make it quicker/easier to turn the water on have off while doing the dishes. The total cost of the sink and faucet was around $600.

Update the Valences:  The current valences are the same brown on beige on tan in every coach ever built.  We chose to have the valences recovered to match the rest of the color pallet in the coach. The materials and labor for updating the valences was around $2,000.

Install day/night shades:  The current shades are the accordion fabric shades that were popular until the day/night roller shades started to become standard on coaches a few years ago.  We had all of the accordion shades replaced with roller shades throughout the coach and had the shades in the front repaired to look like new. The cost for the materials and labor for day/night shades throughout the coach was $2,300.

Move the TV:  The TV is in the traditional location for TVs before flatscreen TVs became the norm.  The TV is located above the driver. We wanted the TV to be across from the couch as Mother Nature intended since the dawn of time.  Moving the TV requires rewiring the TV and some cabinetry work. We also want the TV elevated rather than on a lift so the space below the TV can be both desk space and a location for a dog bed.  Needless to say, this move is more expensive than most TV relocations. The total cost of moving the TV and cabinetry work was $3,000.

Replace the Shower: Replacing the shower is a major endeavor.  Most RV showers use a pre-manufacturer size so they are not the most efficient usage of space.  Ours was especially inefficient as the base was eight inches off of the floor. The shower in our old 33-foot gas coach was larger than the shower in our current 40-foot diesel coach.

We went back and forth with our renovator and eventually decided on small increases with a new base 4 inches high.  The new base is also 2 inches longer. The wall material chosen is also thinner giving us an added inch in depth along each wall.  This combination added the length of the shower by 4 inches and the depth by 2 inches.

This area is a particular challenge, as the pre-fab shower provided access to the plumbing for maintenance.  Our plans for a custom build require easy access to plumbing to be covered. We would get more space and a residential look for the shower, but with a cost.  Considering there had been no plumbing problems for the first eight years of the life of the coach, we hope for several more years of no plumbing problems in this area.  If we do have a problem, it will be expensive. The total cost of the renovation here was nearly $4,000.

Install a Washer/Dryer:  There is pretty much only one choice here — the Westland Splendide WD2100XC Vented Washer and Dryer.  Our RV has a space for a washer dryer combo unit and not separate units. These units carry small loads (10-15 lbs) and do not work fast.  The convenience of having a unit in the coach for a small load every day cannot be overlooked. The major feature of this unit is the dryer function is vented so it will dry much faster than ventless units.  Due to its size, I suspect we will have small loads almost daily and complete larger loads (blankets, bedding, etc) in a laundromat. The labor needed here is just for the installation as the plumbing and electrical are already in place.  The unit cost us $1,100.

Minor Repairs Throughout Coach:  The coach is nine years old so there are little items to work on throughout the coach.  This includes several external door latches, paint, corrosion, new awning fabric, and other repairs.  This work totaled around $1,500.

Other Updates

The other updates are updates we would have completed no matter what the interior of the coach looks like.  It is a personalization we would need no matter what the manufacturer or dealer may have chosen. This work added another $10,000 to the budget.

Replace Booth Dinette/Add Desk:  The booth dinette is a love/hate relationship for most people.  Some people prefer the table and chairs to a booth dinette. We actually went a completely different route with a breakfast bar.  This would make space also easily convertible into a desk space when needed. The only real negative to space would be the view.  If we are in a tight RV park, we will be staring at our neighbors while having dinner. We worked with a local carpenter after we got the coach back to get this phase of the renovation completed.  The total cost of this rework was $1,000.

Update Interior Lighting:  Interior 12 volt lighting for RVs is a relatively limited selection of options.  We did upgrade several fixtures to match the change in the color pallet of the coach.  To customize the appearance further, we went to Etsy (www.etsy.com) and found some custom shades and sconce covers to personalize the space.

We also updated the bulbs to LED throughout the coach.  Unfortunately, there are no grounding wires on the switches so we could not add dimmers or remotes to the interior switches.  To add the capability for dimmable lighting, we added LED strip lighting in the coach. Some of this lighting is battery power and some we connected to 12 volt or 120 volt power sources.  All of these upgrades I purchased through Amazon and installed myself.

New Bedroom Headboard:  We had the original headboard replaced with a refurbished wood headboard.  This touch is largely to customize the look of the coach and not for any existing damage on the headboard.

Update Satellite Receiver:  The existing satellite dish is a heavy fixed position dish that can only be used with DirecTV.  We would prefer to have a Dish Network option. We had the older satellite dish removed and a Dish Tailgater.  The replacement also allowed us to relocate the dish to the front of the coach from the middle. This frees up space on the roof solar panels in the future. The cost of the Dish Tailgater system was $500 and the labor costs for removing the old dish and patching the roof was an additional $500.  

Updated Electrical System:  Few coaches come with the power system we would like. This coach came with a Magnum 2000 watt modified sine wave inverter and a Precision Circuits power management system.   With the additions of the residential refrigerator and induction cooktop, I knew we also needed an updated electrical system. We upgraded our Tiffin with a pure sine wave inverter, battery monitoring kit and auto generator start from Magnum.  We needed to do the same for this coach.

After evaluating solutions from Xantrex, Magnum, and Victron, we chose a Magnum solution in the upgrade.  The solution minimized the amount of rewiring we would need to complete and provided an upgrade path for lithium batteries and solar panels in the future.

The solution included MSH3012M inverter charger, ME-ARC control panel, auto-generator start, and battery monitoring kit.  The total cost for parts and labor was $4,000.

Cat Box Ventilation System: The location of the cat’s litter box is a challenge for many an RV’er.  We chose a location in the back of the coach underneath the closet. The location is enclosed and near the dryer vent for the washer/dryer unit.  The cat box is on rails and has a ventilation fan to pull odors out through the dryer ventilation system. The cost of this installation was $1,000.

WIFI/Cellular Booster: The final installation will inevitably involve more equipment, but we are starting with a TOGO Roadlink C2. Paying only $360 a year for internet is fantastic vs the $780 for a year of Verizon. Even after installing the $360 ToGo Roadlink C2 antenna, I still come out ahead in the first year. I am concerned that the ToGo service does not cover as many LTE bands and only runs on 2.4Ghz Wifi. Neither is the unit 5Ghz ready. Additionally, SpaceX plans on starting satellite internet service in late 2020. It will be an interesting option depending on the service cost.

Update the Radio:  The coach has a 2008 head unit with outdated maps and limited Bluetooth functionality.  We really like having good Bluetooth functionality and possibly Android Auto. I replaced head units on cars years ago before the manufacturers made it nearly impossible on newer cars.  Thankfully, RV manufacturers have not gone down this track (yet). We picked a $300 head unit from Sony. I completed this upgrade in a couple of hours on the weekend.

Objectives Deferred Until Post Launch

Lithium Batteries: Currently we are limited to four 6v deep cycle batteries which give us around 200Ah-210Ah of useable storage.  The batteries are in an external bay which limits lithium battery options. Lithium batteries cannot charge below freezing or discharge below zero degrees Fahrenheit.  This will work for most of our adventures, but we may need some thermal insulation for the area if the batteries remain external. The bay is also limited in size so we may only be able to install around 400Ah of lithium in the bay.  

We are going to refit and insulate an unused storage area inside the RV for 510Ah with three Renogy 170Ah LifePo4 batteries. This location provides climate control and relocates the batteries less than 12 inches from their current location. The batteries I purchased during an Independence Day sale. Total for the batteries including taxes was less than $4,000.

Solar Power System:  We have enough roof space to add up to 1000 watts of solar. A good rule of thumb is 100 watts of solar will generate 25Ah to 35Ah every day of full sun.  The solar would be a compliment to the generator. We would run the generator during very high draw periods such as running the air conditioner, the oven and using the induction cooktop.  The solar power setup would be for most daily recharging activities. The cost of this upgrade costs around $2,500 in parts and tools.

The nice thing about doing solar at the same time as the LifePo4 batteries is I can lump the two together as part of a 30% renewable tax credit in 2019. As the total cost of the batteries and solar system is $6,500, I can get a $1,950 tax credit for the install. This credit can only be obtained if I installed solar with the battery upgrade. This essentially prices the solar upgrade to $550!

New Couch: The existing couch is an RV sleeper sofa. Since we moved the TV, we would like to be able to watch in comfort. After a lot of research, we narrowed our choice down to a Lambright sofa recliner. The cost of this upgrade will be around $4,000 including shipping.

Item Which We Wanted, but Fell Below the Line

Adjustable Bed: In the stick and brick home, we have a SleepNumber bed with articulating head and feet.  We love the comfort of the bed and the ability to adjust for comfort depending on how we feel at the time.  Slightly raising the head helps with acid reflux. Sitting up higher is very helpful when we have a cold.

After some research, we found options are not cheap.  On the shortlist we are considering AxelBloom (www.axelbloom.com).   Any option of adding the adjustable bed with a premium mattress will cost over $3,500.