by Collyn Rivers
Choosing the right interior fittings for an Australian RV fully explained
Most RV beds are smaller than those housebound. Bed extensions are sometimes offered to increase their length, as to are slide outs.
RV double beds tend to have four basic configurations:
- Island beds, which have their heads up against a van wall (usually the rear) and space on the other three sides. Either partner can make night time trips to the en-suite without disturbing the other partner. These beds are also more accessible for bed-making.
- Yacht-style or east-west beds, which are similar to island beds but positioned laterally across the van. Slide-outs commonly have this type of bed.
- Wall-to-wall beds occupy the full width of an RV’s extreme front or rear. They are thus only accessible from one side. These beds take up less space but are harder to make and require ‘partner-hurdling’ by the wall-end partner.
- Drop down beds have an electrical mechanism that lowers the bed from the ceiling, usually above a dining area. Whilst space saving, this precludes the of this area when the bed is lowered. Whilst space-saving they permit use of either the bed or the dining area but not both: a problem if one occupant is ill or wishes to go early to bed.
Mattresses for RVs can be just as comfortable as those at home, but those usually supplied are not. Those of the high density foam commonly supplied tend to uncomfortable. Further, unless the base is well ventilated the foam tends to become soaking wet by morning. Inner sprung mattresses are now available for most RVs including camper trailers.
Specialist RV mattress makers can make a mattress to any dimension and shape, thickness and materials. Mattress toppers can be used to adjust comfort levels without the need to replace the mattress. When buying an RV with a foam mattress, seek a rebate for that mattress – and supply your own as above.
Bunk beds are a great option for families with young children. They can be doubles or even triples. Fold-down single beds can also be found in the ‘garage’ area of toy haulers.
Look for under-bed storage areas to increase your storage capacity, but check that this area is genuinely available for storage and not used or encroached upon by items such as battery storage or wheel arches.
Cupboards and Drawers
The most important part of an RV’s cupboard is its door lock. Some come undone whilst driving, resulting in contents being thrown and and then rolling around. The locks must nevertheless be easy to lock and unlock. Positive locks (those that require the pushing of a button) are best.
The quality of cupboard construction varies significantly: the more expensive RVs are generally of high quality. Use touch as well as sight to feel the corners and joints of cupboards and make sure the joins are of good quality. Look for screws rather than nails or staples in cupboard construction and drawers on good quality slides that will not slide open during travel. Rounded edges and sides to all cabinetry help prevent scrapes when passing.
Dining areas come in three basic shapes: café style (face to face), L-shaped or U-shaped. None of these is best; more important is the amount of table, elbow and leg room provided for the likely number of users as well as comfort and light.
Having a window next to the dining area is particularly attractive. Sit down for a while in this area before committing to a particular RV, checking seat height, depth and back support. Check that wheel arches do not intrude too much into the space, and if a TV is nearby, check that it can been seen without neck ache. Finally, check that the table is well built, particularly the legs and hinges of folding tables.
Arguably the most important part of an RV kitchen is bench space. Whilst manufacturers like to fill kitchens with the latest shiny appliances, it is often the space in-between and on top which counts.
Second to bench space is storage. Look out for sliding food racks, practical drawers and deep cupboards. Open every door: some conceal pumps or electrics in this area.
Check that the sink is a usable size and can also be used as additional bench space through the use of a sink cover. Look for a filtered water tap as well as an unfiltered one and find out if and where hot water is supplied within the van.
Hob, Grill and Oven
Most full-size RV hobs have three gas burners and one electric hot plate, giving you two power sources to use in a range of situations. Smaller hobs generally have only two gas burners. Check the distance between burners to see if your pans will fit, and also if there is enough adjacent space to place hot pans.
Diesel powered cook tops offer an alternative to gas or electric hobs. Some diesel-powered motor homes have them, enabling the vehicle to need only one source of fuel. Diesel cook tops, however, take longer to achieve the required temperature.
Induction cook tops are available for RVs and are fast and clean. They do, however consume considerable electrical energy and therefore need grid power or a large inverter, considerable battery capacity to operate, and associated re-charging. They also require cookware made of a magnetic-based material, such as cast iron or magnetic stainless steel.
Internal grills and ovens are normally located below the hob. Most RV owners never use them, not least as they heat up the limited space. They commonly us that oven for storage – and use an outdoor barbecue or grill. (This too has been our own experience).
Microwave ovens are handy for preparing hot meals and drinks in a hurry. They have a range of other uses including defrosting, melting butter and warming hot packs.
Whilst typically rated as 800 or 1000 watts, that refers to their heating power, not the energy they draw. That is typically 50% more. By and large microwave ovens are best used only when grid power is available.
LED lighting is now used in most RVs. It uses only 25% or so of the energy of incandescent globe, and 50% less that halogen globes. LEDs also provide good illumination. ‘Mood lighting’ is the latest RV trend and consists of LED lighting above, between or behind cupboards to give a pleasant glow throughout the RV at night. More practically, check that there is adequate lighting in work areas such as kitchens and dining tables as well as in en-suites.
Some LEDs can be operated by dimmers, timers or movement sensors but may consume a little more power. Most are 12 volt but may have an associated ‘box; enabling them to run from 230 volts. They are usable both indoors and outdoors, but check the outdoor ones are waterproof.
Windows, Blinds and Curtains
Most Australian RVs have small windows to reduce heat build up inside the van. Imported RVs tend to come from colder climates that need all the sunlight they can get. Large windows, however, appeal to local buyers. More recently-made Australian RVs have increased window size to meet this need, relying instead on tinting and insulation to help control temperature.
Most RV windows (except in most hired motor homes) are tinted and double-glazed. Hinges are usually at the top because side-opening window frames can distort more easily under vibration. Check that window seals are of good quality – the best ones are automotive seals.
Window units will typically include built-in, adjustable blackout blinds and fly screens. Check that these are good quality, work smoothly and, if your sleep is affected by light, effectively block it. Ensure that windows in bathroom and bedroom areas offer adequate privacy.
Some ‘off-road’ van manufacturers do not put windows at the rear of the van due to the greater risk of dust accumulation and ingress, nor at the front as they tend to be smashed by stones thrown up by the tow vehicle. If you such a window, consider installing some form of protection.
Vents, Hatches and Skylights
For safety, venting is compulsory at the top and bottom of RVs fitted with an internal gas appliance. The location and size of these vents are determined by legislation.
Legal requirements aside, there is a wide range of RV vents and skylights available. They provide useful extra light and ventilation. The more thoughtful RV manufacturers consider airflow throughout the RV and position hatches accordingly. Fan-assisted ventilation is particularly useful in kitchens and en-suites where smells and moisture need to be expelled quickly. Four Seasons and Fantastic are two well known brands of hatches.
Small washing machines inside larger RVs are now common. They can be either top or front loaders and usually located in or near en-suites. Top loaders tend to be lighter than front loaders but most use more water. Front loaders use less water but marginally more power. Unless used only on their cold cycle (effective, but needs cold water washing powder), they draw a great deal of energy. They and can only be operated using mains power or via a large battery bank and inverter. Portable washing machines can be single or twin tub storable in your tow vehicle or motor home.
Those with washing machines in their RVs choose to have them mainly because they don’t wish to do their washing in a public or caravan laundry. If you are open to using either (or doing your washing by hand), the space and weight required for a washing machine could be better used for other items.