I spent weeks and weeks searching for a chemical-free trailer suitable for people with MCS. I finally came across a trailer made almost entirely of aluminum. I had it made based on the suggestions in this EI Wellspring article. This post is an update on that article and I will add some suggestions for improvements.
Camplite no longer makes these trailers with all-aluminum interiors however you can custom make a trailer from scratch along these lines and you will have a long-lasting trailer.
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The 2014 Camplite travel trailer comes with no wood, no steel, and can be made without any vinyl or toxic upholstery.
The walls, (inside and out), and the cabinets and benches are aluminum with a baked-on finish. The insulation is foam but is sealed off by the aluminum (aluminum is a VOC barrier).
I chose the 11FDB (11 x 7-foot interior) which still feels very spacious to me and has a washroom (toilet and shower), a kitchen (sink, fridge, room for hotplate) and is wired for 30 amps.
This still had a chemical smell when new. The amount of time it takes to offgas depends on the temperature and your sensitivities. I think after 6 months it was good but was not totally scent-free. I recommend using an ozone generator to speed up the offgassing (more on the safety of using ozone here).
Here are the specifications that I had it made to:
- NO Azdel cabinetry: Opt for aluminum cabinetry (an extra 279 USD). As of 2016 they are saying that part of the cabinets are Azdel, and they are very reluctant to leave this out.
- NO insulation under the floors – for a chemical spray-on insulation that is very thin, 1000 USD did not seem like a good deal for this option.
- Aluminum Floors – As of 2016 they will not leave bare extruded aluminum floors.
- NO Azdel interior – Replace with aluminum walls (for 1000 USD). As of 2016 they are only offering Azdel walls from what my clients have said. This is a real shame as this is the only company I knew that made all aluminum interiors.
- NO propane furnace/AC. I use an electric heater and portable AC/dehumidifier. The white exterior keeps it pretty cool inside, even in the summer sun. If I did it again I would definitely keep the propane furnace/AC. Not having it makes un-sellable to a non-MCSer. You can always remove the propane tanks off the front of the trailer and the little bit of added glue and plastic will not be significant.
- NO propane range. I put in my own 2 burner cooktop (electric). Again, leave this one in and put your own hotplate on top since it folds down underneath the counter and is good for resale. I currently cook everything in an Instant Pot and release the steam outdoors to keep humidity low.
- NO Formica (laminate): The only countertop option they had (for the 2014 model) is Formica with styrofoam on the inside. The dinette was also Formica. As of 2016, they use solid surface countertops which may be safe.
- NO blinds, valances or screens on the windows or doors. No awning. No fold-out tent.
- NO cushions – mine are custom Natural Latex (non-toxic, but see my warning here). I would have got them to leave the cushions, screens and blinds and store it somewhere else. In case you need to sell it to a non-MCSer.
- NO caulking. I asked for no caulking, but they did use it anyway. No caulk is not a good idea. You could send them a non-toxic one for them to use if they agree to this.
- YES to the propane/electric fridge which vents to the outside.
- YES to the propane water heater, like the fridge it is totally vented to the outside from what they tell me and from what the EI article suggests. Running short on amps here so if you want hot water….
If you are ordering one make sure to also specify not to put the black stuff (spray-on insulation ) under the seats, and not to glue plastic on the inside of the cabinets. They should be all aluminum.
Further modifications made by me to remove toxins:
- Replaced the vinyl shower hose with a metal shower hose. This was super easy to do and didn’t require tools.
- Wash the whole thing down to remove factory residues.
- I removed the laminate countertops and replaced with a wooden one that I had made. The wood didn’t hold up and I recently replaced it with an aluminum countertop. The cost of which was about $250.
- I removed the cabinet doors and they offgassed outside for 6 months. They don’t seem to smell when sniffed outside.
- I replaced the laminate/styrofoam table with a custom cedar table that holds up well in the humidity when the trailer is not being used.
- I placed EVA Foam over the aluminum floor. The ones with faux wood printing had a strong odor that smelled really toxic. Some EVA mats were found to give off formamide, so that may have been the problem. I removed the faux wood mats. These EVA mats are a better choice as they are formamide-free (as well as BPA, phthalate and flame retardant-free).
This trailer was not cheap….coming in at around 27K with all the modifications (+ taxes). It took 13 weeks from the time I ordered it to the time it was delivered; I was told it would be 6-8 weeks, so give yourself a lot of time for the order…. and some time for offgassing.
All trailers are going to contain some amount of caulking and glue in the pipes and wiring. This trailer is the least toxic option that I know of. Older trailers with insulation tend to have problems with mold over time… Camplites are very good in this regard, they have a sandwich type of insulation: aluminum-styrofoam-aluminum, laminated, so condensation will not happen in the walls and there is nothing that can mold in the walls. They are built to last.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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