Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Top

I'll start this by saying there wasn't really anything
wrong with the original fiberglass countertop. It was in good condition, easy to clean and not altogether unappealing. That being said, it lacked a lot in the structural department.

Apparently the construction method favored by Gardner Pacific, the long since defunct maker of the Sunrader, involved almost as much silicone adhesive as it did staples. The substance is indeed tenacious, but once it loses its grip it is completely useless. And in this case, the countertop had long since broken free of its original silicone attachment to the cabinetry. In addition, the builders used a number of plywood braces on the underside of the counter to make up for its rather limited stiffness. Around the stove in particular, strips of plywood acted as braces and provided purchase to the wood screws that held the stove in place.

During a previous removal of the stove I'd used some gorilla glue to reattach said braces, but it was only a temporary fix if that.

The bigger issue of the 'floating countertop' was really the lack of structural strength (integrity, really) of the cabinet itself. There really isn't much more to it than a particle board face frame and a few bits of 2x4 lumber to hold it up. Weight saving and cheap. And without the shear strength (no, not sheer strength) of the fiberglass counter to keep it square, the cabinet does an awkward version of the hula on the highway. Cue squeaky clattery noises. Ack.

Removing the counter is relatively easy. The stove comes out with just a few wood screws, the sink is held in by wing-nut tensioned clips, and the plumbing is all very straightforward. The only tricky bits are cutting (breaking) the fiberglass where it encircles the drain vent AND separating the support for the drawers from the underside of the counter. I used impatience whenever the utility blade couldn't quite make it through the luan. I know there are better techniques.

All the screws that had originally held the counter to the exterior wall had come loose, so it only took a little bit of coaxing for the last bit of silicone to release.

Fortunately, my source for custom counters came through in just a few days. With a little trimming using a router, the new top went in easily. I installed some 2x4 supports along the front of the cabinets (vertically) to provide some much needed rigidity and to provide a cleat for some wood screws up into the counter. The difference in structural strength for the cabinet is dramatic.

I got a new matching sink at the H-Depot and cutout the space for the stove after half a dozen more careful than usual measurements from the original counter. For the most part, everything went in quickly and easily. Next up is plumbing. I haven't worked with Pex before, but it looks simple enough.



  1. Hi, I am new to this whole thing, blogging, twitter all this stuff. But most importantly
    I just bought my very first RV ever. It is a 1984 Sunrader with Nissan/Datsun truck as the base. It is 18 feet and I am in LOVE with this Sweet Old Thing (SOT) It needs lots of TLC! I am riveted by your pics and looked at every single one. I would like to do stuff like this with mine (have only had it less that a week) as I can afford it. Not sure where to start but your's is beautiful. Wish there were words under the pictures. I would read every word. Thanks for doing this. you can e-mail me at I live in Port townsend WA. I recognize the sink from Home Depot. It is graphite or something by pegasus. Very fun. Nice job! carol

  2. Hi Carol. Thanks for the kind words, and my apologies for not keeping this more up to date. I've been doing a lot more traveling by jet lately, so the little Sunrader has gotten quite a bit less attention that it deserves. Right now it is mid-spring-polish and we're already in late June. Alas! And the stripes that look quite nice in a photograph are horrid in person, so they need some attention. and. and. and... but that's why I love it, because the project never ends. I've been meaning to do a 'what I'd do differently' post, so maybe I'll get busy on that. Plenty of learning in the last year or two!

  3. Hi Andrew, I just figured out where this RSS 'feed' shows up on my igoogle home page. Some of us were born with turtle energy! So I just got the results of the first 'inspection' on my new little SOT (sweet old thing) 1984 18' Sunrader. Something about the lack of structural integrity to the floor, valves for the gray/black water are loose or something so the mechanic said he could even test the holding tanks for leakage. The propane tanks don't hold right amount of pressure and regulator not quite right. The sink water fawcett doesn't turn off. The courtesy lights on the very top..7 of them don't work. I am wondering if this might be related to one of the pictures in your slide show that shows wires embedded in some foam on the inside-ceiling. Could the wires need replacing? The guy who checked it over for me charged me $99/hour just to diagnose! I am also a cancer survivor and just can't afford that kind of money just for creating the problem list. So far have put $300 in just for the RV look over. Haven't even gotten to the chassis and mechanicals. I told the guy to go ahead and replace the holding tank valves, fix the fawcett, remove the 'rattley' stove and cap off the propane. I'll just camp locally where there are electric hook ups for now. Would love to send pics when it gets back from the shop. It is currently at Eric's performance RV in Sequim, WA. You can google them and see what you think. Am I being over charged? When I take pics, how do I get them to you? Thanks again. Love that sink. I have the same one in my guest accommodation in Port Townsend. Carol

    1. Hey Carol. I hear you on the maintenance issues. 20 years is a long time for anything on the road, so you'll find lots more wear and tear as you go along. I hope you've found the site and all its forums, as well as the Yahoo group that covers them. Those sites helped a ton with my efforts, and there are a lot of passionate tinkerers who will be happy to make recommendations.

      I'll try to cover off the questions you had best i can.

      1) the floor. this is a common issue with Sunraders, as the floor is made of a lamination of oriented strand board and foam. It wasn't really designed to be around 20 years later, and they can tend to come apart, especially if some moisture gets in there. Lots of folks have simply put an additional plywood layer down, screwed to the original OSB. It requires a good bit of work (you saw my posts on carpet and staples) but you'll have a solid floor.

      2) Sounds like you are getting the grey/black valves replaced, which sounds good. I suspect that didn't cost a whole lot, as they're standard items.

      3) The stoves in RVs rattle, but particularly this vintage. I've found that removing the top cover with all the burner grates makes it pretty quiet. Its easy to put on and off, and I just put it on the forward bunk while underway. You can also get a modern stovetop that's a lot quieter, but that costs money!

      4) I can't imagine that a propane tank is going to break the bank when you think about it long term. I expect that you have a multi-mode refrigerator (12v/120v/gas) and it will run FOREVER on propane, so there is value in having it. Along with hot water, etc. So I wouldn't abandon that system entirely, if it were me. Call around maybe and see if there is someone who could repair/recomission/replace the tank. It's pretty well understood stuff.

      5) The clearance lights could be the wiring or they could be an issue with the fixtures themselves. On mine, those fixtures are badly decayed and I'm in the process of replacing them with some brand new ones with LEDs. It isn't a difficult task, but it requires some work. You might open a couple of the fixtures up and see what they look like inside -- see if you have any voltage in there. Depending on how handy you are, this is a totally do-able home project. I still need to figure out how to reach the ones way out in the middle.

      I can't speak to the RV shop, but the rate doesn't seem too high to me. Folks have to earn a living. A big part of Sunraders and all the other toyhomes is getting familiar with them and a lot of DIY. Good luck!

    2. very fun. I didn't realize the replies would be right on the blog! so wasnt' checking back here. This is very helpful. infor. thanks for taking the time. so the latest of the auto mechanic checked the chassis and found problems with some tie rods on the front end. Wheel bearings on the dual rear tires needed to be repacked. The front end problems were relatively miner. The biggest small problem was with the bushings on the rear sway bar. Because that is not a Nissan was added by the Sunrader folks to keep the 'bonnet' on the truck we couldn't find a REAR sway bar end link kit. There are tons of front end ones because Nissan made them for the truck. So my mechanic had to gerryrig a creative solution. He told me today that when they went to remove the old one, the bushings just crumbled in their hands.
      It is still in the shop. I have yet to take it any where other than to repair people and to my insurance man! Considering that I only paid $2500 for it to begin with, I don't think I've racked up too much yet. Between Eric's Performance RV and my auto guy, I am into it about another 8 to $900. I pulled the stove out and found a handyman to help me problem solve the cabinetry. I am going to have him read your sink cabinet description word for word once we get into it. Love the graphite sink.
      Am going to take your advice and pursue the propane issue. I think it's a good idea. I really would like hot water and heat! Not sure I need 4 cooking burners inside such a little space when a microwave under the counter might be fine with more counter surface. I can tote some propane cooking thing for outdoors. don't like the idea of all the bedding and seat cushions smelling like bacon over time. Now haveing that smell outdoors would be just fine. Will try to get some pics before we get too far into the reno's.
      thanks again. Love this little project. The best news according to my mechanic is that the engine on this little rig is just fine. It has some kind of dual ignition ( double set of spark plugs? so it runs really well. At 122,000 miles hopefully I can get a couple of years of fun out of it. Will let you know. Am very interested in how you resolve the clearance lights.