RV layouts are something of a minefield for first time RV buyers. How many beds do I need and should they be singles or doubles? Will we need bunk beds for the children or grandchildren? Do I need a separate dining area? Is a slide-out worth having? How big should the kitchen be? Do we need a separate toilet and shower or will a combined unit do? How much storage space will we need? Will we need an annexe? Layout questions are almost endless.
A visit to an RV show will give you an indication of how many layout configurations exist. It is likely to leave the newcomer more confused than ever. But in fact there are a few simple principles involved in RV design, that once understood, will make it much easier to choose your preferred layout.
These layout principles for both caravans and motor homes are explained below, along with some tips for each.
Caravan Layout Principles
- A kitchen ideally sits in the middle of the caravan. The heaviest part of a caravan is usually the kitchen, due to the weight of kitchen cupboards (including the items they are likely to contain such as pots, pans and crockery) and kitchen appliances. These should sit over the caravan’s axle(s) for stability whilst towing. Kitchens may also be at either end of a caravan, but these should be small or made of very lightweight material such as powder-coated aluminium. A standard kitchen at the front or rear of a caravan, especially one which includes heavy appliances such as a large washing machine, should be avoided.
- Showers and toilets are usually closer to the kitchen than the bedroom. This may sound strange, and not house-like, but enables plumbing to be shared between the two. You may find a bathroom next to the bed(s), but this requires additional plumbing, usually under the RV. With this configuration you may also wish to consider the impact of any bathroom smells on your sleep, including toilet cleaning chemicals.
- Areas that serve two purposes (e.g. dining and sleeping) can usually only serve only one of these purposes at a time. Dual-purpose spaces such as combined dining and sleeping areas can be appealing, but only if there is no usage conflicts amongst occupants. If for example, one partner needs to sleep whilst another needs to work at a table, is there space in the RV (or in the annexe) to do both at the same time? This also applies if the bed drops down from the roof over a seating area.
- Single beds are longer than double beds. This is due to the need to have some unused space at the end of a double bed for access and/or bed-making. So single beds are generally better in RVs for taller people (unless the double bed can be extended or is part of a slide-out).
- Low profile caravans have less storage. These include pop-top caravans and camper trailers. When unfolding these RVs to full height, eye-level storage is sacrificed.
- Slide-outs provide more internal space, but how will it be used? Slide-outs are mechanical extensions to the side or rear of a caravan that increase the sense of internal space when at rest. But they also increase overall weight and enhance potential for mechanical or electric failure and water leaks. So consider carefully what you will do with that extra space.
- Extra ground clearance under the RV generally means reduced headroom inside it.
Caravan Layout Tips
- Don’t seek to recreate what you have at home. RVs work differently
- Make do with less and work out what you don’t need to take with you
- Be creative in your cooking, washing and leisure activities
- Do more outside or in the annexe where there is more space
Motor Home Layout Principles
Because motor homes have at least four wheels, weight distribution is not as (but still) important as with towed RVs. Mass should be equally distributed across their original loading areas. Their greater stability compared to say conventional caravans gives motor home manufacturers more flexibility in the placement of kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. You will therefore find greater layout variety in motor homes.
Campervans are the most constrained in terms of layout. Kitchens will be basic, beds will need to be made up each night from the seating area and almost none will have inside toilets or showers. Storage will be limited. But having said this, it’s amazing what people can still fit inside them.
Delivery van derivatives nearly always use extra long wheelbase versions (along with higher roofs) for motor home conversions. Their main constraint is width and the presence of a sliding door, which limits where furniture can go. Unless automatic, such doors also make an annoying whizz-bang noise when opened and closed. Standard width delivery vans are not quite wide enough for full-length beds, so these are often placed lengthwise. Dining areas are usually small tables behind the driving area accompanied by rotating driver and passenger seats.
A motor home must have at least one seat that can be used when travelling on a road, for each sleeping berth that is in the motor home, (there must be at least two). The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator strongly recommends that the seats face forward and are located towards the front of the vehicle. Seats designed to swivel or adjust must be capable of being locked against rotation in the position in which they will be occupied when the vehicle is moving. Installing new such seats, or moving existing seats must be assessed and certified by an Approved Vehicle Examiner. Other seats that are not fitted with seatbelts, nor used when the vehicle is moving do not need to comply.
Kitchens are typically galley-style along one side. The biggest issue for couples new to this type of RV is working out how to divide and sequence indoor activities amongst two people in a corridor wide enough for only one.
Coach-built motor homes can be wider and longer and therefore accommodate more layout options. Island beds are more feasible as are a separate toilet and shower and full-sized dining area. Slide-outs are becoming more common in this sector, further increasing the sense of space.
A-class motor homes and bus conversions offer the widest choice of layouts. These can truly become a home on wheels, albeit at a considerable cost in both weight and length.
Motor Home Layout Tips
- It is more important to explore a range of motor home types than with caravans. There is a broad choice of motor home layouts, sizes and facilities, so try out a few before narrowing down your choice
- Small is not necessarily beautiful in the motor home world. Consider buying a mid-sized motor home rather than a small one, but only if you are comfortable driving such a vehicle
- As with caravans, single beds are generally longer than double beds
- Check that you will have enough storage space for all your gear
- Make sure a raised ‘Luton peak’ bed will be safe for its users. There is a risk of falling (unless the bed is located longitudinally – as some are) - or the person closer to the front must clamber over the other to reach the ladder down.
General Layout Recommendations
Compromise, compromise and compromise. You will never find an RV that has the perfect layout – they are mostly designed for the ‘average’ person or family – or the rental market. So in terms of layout and facilities, decide what to you is essential, what is optional and make sacrifices accordingly.
Think too about how your lives may change in the years ahead and try to plan future changes into the layout of your RV. This may save you having to trade in your RV when circumstances change.