This trailer restoration started out as a Zen affair. I had a strong sense of purpose. I was fulfilling my need to create something tangible, useful for someone else but myself. After studying acting for two years, and spending a whole lot of time thinking about myself (how to carry myself, how to market myself) I began to feel as though I was missing something truly vital.
The project wasn’t only about giving back. It was also about adding a dose of humanity to a learning process that can easily become contrived. So I was convinced that the Spartan was my key to success. Now a month and a half later, more often than not, I feel as though I might just be losing my mind.
There’s so much to keep track of that I’m making many lists. But I have too many lists to keep track of. There are too few hours in the day. I get out of class in the evenings and work on the trailer till late at night.
My mentor tells me I need a plan but it’s a whole lot easier to paint a chassis than to
Sam and his mentor, sculptor and CalArts faculty member Michael Darling who came on his day off to help Sam weld a replacement rib onto the chassis.
make a plan- so most of the time I put it off. I’m not a planner, but I’ve been doing my best at it – even though I think I might actually have some allergic reaction to that activity. My plan, when I make one, goes like this: week 1: prep chassis for new floor, order plywood floor for next week’s installation etc.. I can think about the next 2 weeks or so, but I have a hard time getting my head around the big picture- it feels like a distraction. I know, that sounds absurd. It’s just that there’s so much going on and so many windows and screws and paints and materials to think about that I fear I’ll get lost in all the planning and never actually get any work done. So I start working… furiously. And then, of course, I end up hitting brick walls. I’ll start thinking about the configuration of the sub-floor but I get stuck because the gray water holding tanks have to be welded on to the chassis and installed before the floor can get laid over.
So I’m finally starting to warm up to the (basic!) notion that the more I know what the trailer will look like as a final project the less overwhelming it will all be.
I view this week as a test. Next Saturday, I will be towing the Spartan about 6 miles away to Newhall. Students in the Arts and Activism class at Calarts (who volunteered to be on the trailer committee) and I, will be giving a workshop to the kids and parents of Nomadlab. We are planning a series of games and exercises for them that will take place in and around the trailer, and center around the idea of “home”. I hope that the trailer will be an opportunity to talk about what home means for them and what their ideal home would look like.
I have 5 days to get a floor in!
Trailer Trash: 60-year-old fiberglass insulation headed for CalArts’ trash bin for building materials than can not be recycled.
What kind of insulation to use? How to balance all the variables – sustainable, healthy materials that are also efficient. No sense using green materials that aren’t going to be good insulators in a trailer warm or cool, as needed.
Spartans are the best trailers. The body, which is made from airplane material, contributes about 70% of the trailer’s strength; the rest of the strength is in the chassis. An Airstream is about 50-50%. For other trailers, it’s all in the chassis [i.e. the body is basically useless.]
Timeless Travel uses PIC insulation
We use PIC insulation which is fiberglass without formaldehyde. It has an R5 value, which is best you can do with a Spartan, which has an average depth of 2” on the wall. Insects don’t like it and [I think he said it is fire resistant.] Once installed, it has an R10-R13 value. We use foil tape. The PIC has a lot higher R value than other stuff; we install it in panels. PIC insulation is fairly green, doesn’t outgas. When installed, it creates a vapor barrier.
There is a lot of exhaust inside the trailer, from cooking, heating, showers, even humans [people give off 2 liters of water/day.] That goes to the outside of the skin. The air gap helps air from getting in and also air going out.
Steven Harasim, chemical engineer with Aerogel
Q: We have a limited budget, but we are interested in following up with your idea of using strips of Aerogel (Thermogel) over the ribs along with some other form of insulation. What is the R-value of Aerogel?
Our product has an R4 value for each layer (the idea is to layer it). Harasim’s idea was to use some other kind of insulation in the gaps and then use strips of aerogel over the metal ribs before putting the paneling on (see the above photo where exposed metal ribs aren’t covered by insulation.)
Harasim says this method would get rid of the thermal bridge where the steel is in direct connection with the paneling which is very inefficient, thermally.
He said steel has a conductivity far greater than wood. When the metal is exposed and it touches the walls it acts as a much larger sink in terms of conductivity than even the gap in between where the insulation would normally go. So the idea is to isolate that contact by putting a strip of Aerogel on the metal beams.
Santa Clara University’s submission for the 2009 Solar Decathlon
Harasim mentioned the Solar Decathlon (http://www.solardecathlon.gov/about.cfm), a competition sponsored by the Department of Energy where college students design homes that are almost entirely net zero homes. According to Harasim, Areogel was used in 4 out of 10 of the winning designs, including the Refract House (photo above) a collaborative effort between the University of Santa Clara and California College of the Arts (click to download PDF of project manual, lower right column)
Coincidentally, Harasim actually used to work for the PIC insulation company that makes the stuff that Timeless Travels uses. He says it is an “adequate solution”. From looking at the pictures I showed him he said, he says “It is well insulated. The only downside is that the still the steel studs are still exposed.”
He continued: “What is difficult about the Spartan is the varying cavity size. But I don’t see anything wrong with this solution. The PIC foam would be a mid point solution. The aluminum foil is 100 percent recyclable. The foam is not but it has a higher R-value than other foams per mass basis. It is more efficient than other insulation.
Question: Is the PIC insulation “green”?
Harasim: It’s hard to describe insulation as being “un-green” since its primary objective is to save energy [I suppose some people could argue with that statement]
Q: Does you think it would be more green to use something like a newspaper product?
The newspaper, being 100 percent recycled would be an advantage, but overall probably not because of the insulation value and the difficulty of installing it in a trailer.
Q: Do you think Areogel might be willing to donate some materials or otherwise help with the cost?
We aren’t against it but they are stretched pretty thin right now. We are a new company and have already been donating (I bet to the Dethlon). But he would help with advise on the installation. And the strips actually come from a different company, Thermal Block, and they may be able to work with you as well. He’ll give me all the info.
Note: Timeless Travel uses a different kind of insulation in the floor. (I don’t remember why). He may have said the stuff is styrene or else fiberglass??
New chaissis, Timeless Travel
Timeless Travel’s Brett Hall said Spartan trailer chassis often have structural problems, especially from the wheels back. “We start looking right away for problems.” About 40% of the Spartans have serious problems, about 10% need work. (It should be noted, however, that Timeless Travel tends to add 2,000 – 3,000 additional pounds on average to their renovated (high end) restorations.
Note: Hall said the original Spartan chasis were built by a third party.
Hall added that it’s very important to pay attention to wiring. The trailer must conform to the National fire Protection Association’s Standards for Recreational Vehicles (NFPA 1192)