RV beds tend to be smaller than their housebound cousins. Bed extensions are sometimes offered to increase the length of a bed. Slide-out beds can offer increased bed real estate when extended. Double beds come in 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 ensuite 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 accommodate this type of bed
- Wall-to-wall beds will occupy the full width of a van or motor home at either its extreme front or rear. They are thus only accessible from one side. These take up less space but are harder to make and require ‘partner-hurdling’ by one partner at night
- Drop down beds use an electrically powered mechanism to lower a bed from the ceiling, usually above a dining area. When use of the dining area is finished for the day, the bed can be lowered. These are useful space-saving beds but have no bedside tables and permit use of either the bed or the dining area but not both.
Mattresses for RVs can be just as comfortable as those at home. High density foam is the most common material used, but inner sprung mattresses are now available across most RV types including camper trailers. Specialist RV mattress makers can make a mattress to any dimension and in a range of shapes, thickness and materials. Mattress toppers can be used to adjust comfort levels without the need to replace the mattress. For the cheaper RVs, it often pays to obtain a rebate for the mattress – and supply your own. Check first though that you can obtain the correct size.
Bunk beds are a great option for families and 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. These should not come undone during transit and should 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 across RV brands, the more expensive RVs generally having high quality cupboards. 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 users as well as comfort and light. Having a window next to the dining area can be 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 causing 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. If you are a keen cook, go for maximum bench space.
Second to bench space is storage. Look out for sliding food racks, practical drawers and deep cupboards. Open every door, since 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 will consist of three gas burners and one electric hot plate, giving you two power sources to use in a range of situations. Smaller hobs will generally be just 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 cooktops offer an alternative to gas or electric hobs. Some motor home manufacturers use them so that the diesel-powered vehicle then needs only one fuel source. Diesel cooktops take longer to achieve the required temperature.
Induction cook tops are available for RVs and are fast and clean. They do however consume a reasonable amount of electric power (an induction cooker is typically about 12% more efficient at energy transfer than a smooth-top electric unit but both draw a lot of energy) and therefore need grid power or a large inverter, 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. With external BBQs becoming commonplace, some RV owners question the need for an oven, preferring additional cupboard space internally. Think carefully about which cooking combination will work best for you.
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. If you’re not usually a microwave cooking fan, search online for some of the interesting things that microwaves can do before dismissing them.
LED lighting is now ubiquitous in RVs. It is low energy, low cost and provides 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 ensuites.
LEDs can be operated by dimmers, timers or movement sensors but these may consume a little more power. The can be operated by battery (both rechargeable and non rechargeable) or by 12 volt power. They are used both indoors and outdoors, but check the outdoor ones are waterproof.
Windows, Blinds and Curtains
Australian RVs tend to have smaller windows than imported ones in order to reduce heat build up inside the van. Imported RVs tend to come from colder climates and need all the sunlight they can get. Large windows are, however, appealing to consumers. More recently, 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 adequately 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.
Vents, Hatches and Skylights
Venting is compulsory at the top and bottom of RVs fitted with an internal gas appliance for safety reasons. 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 important extra ventilation. The more thoughtful RV manufacturers will consider airflow throughout the RV and position hatches accordingly. Fan-assisted ventilation is particularly useful in kitchens and ensuites 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 a common sight. They can be either top or front loaders and are most located in or near ensuites. Top loaders tend to be lighter than front loaders but generally use more water. Front loaders use less water but marginally more power. Both are likely to use 230 volt power, and unless they are used on their cold cycle only (needing specialised washing powder), can only be operated using mains power or a large inverter (page xx). Portable washing machines can be of the single or twin tub variety and can be stored in your tow vehicle or in your 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 park 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.
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