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9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

9 Things We Learned When We Painted Our RV Interior

Wait. You did what? Why?

Well… we were tired of the gold wallpaper in our 2008 Bighorn 5th wheel, and we were stuck in a small Texas town waiting for a major repair to be completed on our truck, so we had plenty of time on our hands.

Also, we'd recently admired the interior paint job completed by fellow Heartland owners David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures, so we knew it could be done by regular ol' people like us.

So, like our two favorite major DIY projects of all time, this one also began in the bedroom. (Ahem. Sorry, sons!)

But hey, we figured it was the best place to use our early painting mistakes as learning experiences because not so many people see that part of the RV. By the time we worked our way out to the main living/visiting area, we'd be pros.

Or so we thought.

And… here's what we learned:

1. Spending money on samples was worth it.

We ended up buying eight color sample cups at about $4 each, which seems costly, but by the time we were ready to spend money on our full gallons of high end paint/primer combo at $44 each, we knew which colors and finishes looked best.

For that comparatively small investment, we were able to rule out three shades of green we thought we'd love, and we could also see that a satin finish looked rather flat in here, so we bumped up to a semi-gloss.

2. Prep time is, like, forever.

We washed all the walls with a 50/50 vinegar-water mix, removed every fixture we possibly could, and rearranged items multiple times as we shifted operations from one area to another.

We pulled off the wallpaper border and unscrewed the window cornice boxes and said buh-bye to them for good.

We taped, and taped, and taped, using 3 full 60-yard rolls of 1" blue tape and several yards of a fourth.

3. We should have checked the color of that first gallon against our sample.

We put the entire gallon on our walls, then went back to the store for more to finish up the second coat (the label boasts one-coat coverage — don't fall for it). We painted two walls before noticing the difference: they'd given us the wrong color in the first gallon. Argh!

It was Parchment Paper, not Parchment, and the difference in tone and warmth was important enough to us that we spent a full day repainting all the walls with our preferred color.

4. It didn't cost a lot of money.

We made 6 20-mile round trips to Home Depot for a total of about $220 in paint and supplies, after deducting our 10% military discount.

Specific items we purchased:

3 gallons of Behr Marquee Paint/Primer — 2 in our main wall color, 1 in our accent color

1.5" and 2" high quality cutting brushes

6-pack of 6" rough surface rollers

Roller handle

4 rolls painter's tape

1 rolling pan

2 paint cups with handles

Spackling compound

Plastic sheeting to protect furniture

8 paint color samples

Other supplies we used included a drill, putty knife, sandpaper, utility blade, step stool and ladder, all of which we already had on hand.

5. It did cost a lot of time.

Seven days scrolled by, from "let's buy samples" to "let's take the 'after' photos," with four of them qualifying as intense, all-day efforts. Without the color mess-up, it would have been closer to three days.

Now 3-4 days doesn't sound like a lot of time to spend on a complete interior paint job, but there were two of us working. And our total square footage is 355 feet, not much of which is actual wall. So yeah, it's a complicated endeavor.

6. Things were a hot mess until they weren't.

We chose to paint over our vinyl wallpaper rather than strip it, hence the high-end paint/primer combo. Vinyl wallpaper does not like being painted, so we needed a product that would grip, not drip.

We read a lot of tips, we consulted with others, and yet… it just didn't go well in some spots, and we had to smooth out a lot of drippy-globby areas as we went along — with a brush or roller if we found them quickly enough, or by sanding and touching up later if we didn't.

It was a lot like trying to become "experts" by reading about parenting before we had our own children: first thing we learned was that the babies don't read the books! Well, the wallpaper didn't read the tips, and it fought us at every turn.

In fact, when it came time to remove all the painter's tape, we had to use a blade to help the process along, otherwise the paint pulled right off with it. Talk about time consuming!

7. It's possible, and rewarding, to correct mistakes with kindness.

After we'd finished painting, we decided to go back to Home Depot with our empty paint cans and our story of Parchment Paper vs. Parchment.

We were polite, we showed a before & after photo, and we asked for nothing in return but a listening ear. Yet to our surprise, the paint department manager made up for our troubles by giving us a $30 voucher toward that day's purchases. Turns out we were the first folks (fools?) he'd met who'd tried to paint the inside of an RV

8. It's not for everyone.

We were conscientious and careful, and we used high-end materials, but we can see flaws and oopsies everywhere — and some of them were caused by issues we couldn't control, like buckled wallpaper in difficult-to-reach areas. If you can't handle tons of work for results that might not leave you overjoyed, don't do this yourself.

Overall, we're happy with the transformation we've pulled off in here, but if a professional painter had left things like this? We would have withheld pay and filed a formal licensing complaint.

Here's the deal: You think you know how many tight spaces your RV has, but you don't — not until you try to paint them all. If you can't handle spending hours in contorted positions, painting with your non-dominant hand around blind corners, and then living with the less-than-perfect results of that? Don't do this yourself.

You have to hate the wall coverings you've got hard enough to commit fully to changing them. Otherwise? Don't do this yourself.

9. It will lead to more projects.

Now that we've removed the window cornice boxes, we've got naked blinds, so we need curtains.

And our walls look really bare without the textured wallpaper and decorative border to break up the space, so we need artwork. (Good news: we know where to find tips for hanging it, right here at MyHeartland!)

And our furniture, in addition to already looking shabby, also no longer coordinates with our wall colors, so we need a new sofa, recliner, and set of dining chairs.

Project creep: the struggle is as real in an RV as it is in a house!

Before/After Photos

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