DIY RV Modifications for Working RVers

Hey Nomads! I’m Cortni but you might recognize me as the face behind The Flipping Nomad Instagram page, where I share RV modifications for working RVers, families, solo travelers, and more.

I’ve lived in an RV full time for 8 years. One year into my journey I went on a quest to find an RV that felt like a cute bachelorette pad for a mid-twenties lady.  Nothing looked as good as it felt to live tiny.

No RV I found fit the bill so I renovated one for myself. After that experience I thought other people might be in the same boat and want an RV that was beautiful on the interior.  I took a leap of faith and started a business. We currently have 1,800 people on our list to be notified when we have a renovation slot available. The demand is so great that last year we pivoted into teaching fellow RVers how to renovate their own RVs. Here are some of the biggest pieces of advice I give to my students looking to renovate their RVs.

Start With A Realistic Budget for your DIY RV Modifications

Budget double the amount of money and triple the amount of time that you think a renovation will take.  It’s really easy to look at these RVs and think “They’re small!  This will go fast!” and that is not the case at all. I thought I could do my first renovation in two weeks.  I moved into it six weeks later, unfinished.  If I’m being honest, I lived in it with pieces unfinished for two years.  I didn’t completely finish it until right before I sold it.  Seriously, budget triple the amount of time that you think your renovation will take.

When people ask “How much does an RV renovation cost?”, I always answer that question with another question…. “How much does a house renovation cost?” There are too many variables to say. If cost is a concern for you, I suggest setting your budget and working backwards from there.

The cost for materials alone, not including labor, for a full renovation can span a whole gamete. It depends on how big the RV is, how much you are reusing VS replacing, how much you need to hire out and the quality of the finishes you pick.  RV owners can save a ton of money by doing the work themselves.  The labor rate at my shop is not cheap.

As you are working through your expenses, sit down and really think through what it is going to take to execute each task.  For example, if you want to install a real tile backsplash, it would be easy to just write down the cost of the tile and move on.  However, there are a lot of materials and tools required to install that tile.  You need mortar, grout, caulk, tile trim (that stuff is expensive!), tile spacers, a sponge, a bucket for the water, wax pencils, a cover to keep the countertop safe, tape to keep the cover down and of course, a tile saw.  As you can see, the cost of the tile is only one item in a whole list of items you need.

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Be Realistic About the Work You Need to Do

Another piece of advice I give students is to dial back your interior design expectations.  I like that Instagram and other social media platforms and given a spotlight to this new RV renovation niche, but sometimes I feel like it can do it a disservice. It’s really easy to swipe back and forth on the “before and afters” and be inspired by how pretty the new space looks.  The old space was so ugly and dark, but the new space is bright, cheery and looks like something out of a magazine.  Somehow our brains chalk up the difference to interior design.  That is true to a certain extent but the interior design difference cannot be implemented without construction.

You can spend an hour picking out the perfect tile backsplash, but guess what, that tile is not going to install itself.  You could easily need a full 8 hours to get it installed.  As you can see, the ratio of interior design work (picking out the tile) VS construction work (installing the tile) is about a 1:8 ratio.  Don’t even get me started on what it takes to pick cabinet colors VS actually painting the cabinets.  That’s about a 1:100 ratio. If you’re looking at renovating an RV as a way to scratch your interior design itch, you are going to be gravely disappointed.

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Not Into Construction? Here Are Some Easy Ideas

If construction isn’t your thing but you still want to refresh your RV, here are my favorite, simple upfits:

  • Throw pillows on the furniture
  • Rugs
  • Greenery
  • Swapping out the hardware
  • Replacing the window treatments
  • Painting just the walls (this is getting on the edge of “simple”, but it makes a big difference)

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DIY Modifications for Working RVers

Renovations are often about more than aesthetics, too. RV floorplans aren’t always conducive to the way we live our lives, especially if you’re an RVer who travels while earning income. Even if an RV comes with a workspace, it can rarely accommodate all of a remote worker’s needs.

A couple of common, and relatively easy, renovations favored by working RVers are:

  • Removing manufacturer furniture to replace with a table or desk and comfortable work chair
  • Extending an existing counter or table to offer more work surface
  • Using brackets to mount monitors to walls or cabinets to free up flat surfaces for more workspace
  • Replacing manufacturer seating with upgraded seating more conducive to long work days
  • Opting for a sit/stand work desk instead of a dinette
  • Installing a keyboard tray under a dinette table or counter for a keyboard, mouse, notepad, etc.
  • Adding a fold-away table to the cockpit of a motorhome to create a smaller workspace
  • To get some ideas flowing for your own space, check out these workspaces from fellow RVers.

The only real restrictions to your projects are your budget and the space you’re working with. If desired, you could even totally gut your rig and turn it into a mobile workspace, like this podcasting booth built for Lippert!


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Cortni Armstrong

Cortni Armstrong is the owner and founder of The Flipping Nomad, an RV renovation and education company. She and her team have renovated a few dozen RVs for clients, building a social media following of more than 72K along the way through sharing projects, advice, and more.

One of their biggest projects to date was a commission from Keystone RV Company to build their Ultimate Montana; a concept RV of sorts that features a free standing clawfoot bathtub, two water vapor fireplaces, and an 80 inch projector screen TV all packaged together in a modern, contemporary interior design style.

If you’re interested in more RV renovation tips and inspiration, follow her on Instagram @theflippingnomad or on her website at www.theflippingnomad.

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