Welcome to the eighth entry in May’s Mega Mod Contest. One Mega Mod will be published in every Email Alert in May. At the end of the month, we’ll hold a reader vote to determine May’s winner. Click here for information about the 2023 Mod Contest, including how to enter.
Steve Osburn, Poulsbo, Washington
Bathroom Remodel On A New Camper
2019 Ford F-350
2023 Northern Lite 10-2 LE Dry Bath
We just replaced our double-slide, eleven-plus-foot-long Lance 1172 with a new, 2023 Northern Lite 10-2EX. As with any downsizing, the new rig has involved a lot of, “…and where would we put this?”, and, “…how are we going to do that?” questions.
One major change for us was the bathroom. In our old camper, the toilet, sink, and shower were three separate fixtures in a spacious room. The shower was great for storage until it was needed for showers. Actually, it was a great, out-of-the-way place for our cat litter box. This is not so with our new camper. The sink and shower are both part of the wet area in the “dry bath” model, so the area in front of the sink must be kept clear.
I was already designing changes to the dry bath before we took delivery. For starters, we didn’t like the awkward placement of the faucet relative to the sink, or that the faucet is also the control valve for the shower. Aside from those things, there was no counter space, and the toilet seat height was not designed for people with normal legs. What we ended up doing was essentially a bathroom remodel.
I debated whether a mod like this is relevant to people who don’t own the same camper as us, but then decided the main purpose of sharing is to spark ideas and get people thinking of how this could apply to their campers. With that in mind, I’ll try to focus on some processes and techniques that might apply to a broader audience.
The start of our project was replacing and moving the sink faucet. The original faucet was oriented sideways to the sink, so it was awkward to use. The problem was how to get to the back side of the faucet connections. It was hard to reach from the outside plumbing compartment, and almost as hard to reach coming up from behind the dinette seat. The solution was (cringe moment) to cut an access hole in the fiberglass of a one-month-old camper.
But thinking ahead, I cut the hole specific to the size of a marine hatch that I purchased in advance. Honestly, the hardest part of that is just getting over the mental hurdle of cutting through the fiberglass, but once the hole was cut, we were committed, and the game was “on”.
A couple of tips:
1. Mark the lines on masking tape. This will reduce dust, reduce chipping, and keep the saw from scratching the surrounding area. I used a reciprocating saw with a metal cutting blade (small teeth), though they probably make blades just for this.
2. Drill pilot holes in the corners. The rounded corners reduce stress on the fiberglass, and will reduce the chance of cracks starting at the corners.
3. Wear a face mask. This type of dust is not great for your lungs. Keep your shop vac handy. I cleaned up after each cut. Later in this project, I also cut some round holes in the fiberglass (for the new faucets). For these, I used standard hole saws.
Creating this access hole allowed easy access to the back side of the old sink fixture, but also allowed easy access for a variety of plumbing changes, including the placement of a new, single-handle faucet at a better location. The new faucet is a bar sink faucet that has a higher spout, making it much easier to use.
The camper came with “Flair-It” brand fittings (as do many RVs), and while those fittings seem to work, I don’t like working with them in tight spaces. I used regular PEX fittings and cinch clamps where I could but did reuse the Flair-It fittings in a few places.
Tip: After unscrewing the nut on the Flair-It fittings, I found that if you use a heat gun (or a hair dryer) on the PEX pipe and wiggle it around, you can remove the PEX and reuse it and the Flair-It fittings if you want. If you want to reuse PEX pipe, I’d cut off the half inch or so that was originally inside the Flair-It because it may not seal as well otherwise.
My mod required adding a few feet of PEX, and surprisingly, I could not find clear/translucent PEX in hardware stores. They sell red, white, and blue – very patriotic – but not clear. I wanted translucent so that I could see antifreeze in the system when I winterized. My dealer threw in some clear PEX when I bought the camper.
Putting in the new sink faucet was relatively easy. It required drilling a hole in the fiberglass counter using a hole saw, and then adding the PEX connections. But then came the shower fixture. I had in mind that I wanted the shower valves to be on a wall (not on the counter). Through some poking and prodding, and the use of a cheap borescope camera that connects to my phone, I determined that there was a void between the shower wall and the dinette wall. I figured the gap was about 3 inches, which should be enough. But it was more complicated than that.
Above: Locating shower valve placement through dinette seat wall with drill bit
After drilling holes for a standard 4 inch RV faucet through the fiberglass shower wall, I poked my finger through the holes to determine that there were no wires, structure, or other obstacles behind that area. Then I used a tiny (1/16 inch) drill bit to drill from the shower through the dinette seat wall area to get a positive reading on where I needed to cut an access panel in the dinette wall.
This is where I learned that the dinette wall was more than just 1/8 inch plywood surrounded by framing. There was about a 6 inch wide, 1/2 inch thick strip of plywood behind the decorative 1/8 inch wallboard, presumably to stiffen the wall for the dinette seat backs. So now I only had a 2 1/2 inch of gap between the walls to work with for plumbing, but I also had to recreate the wall stiffness to ensure it remained suitable for the seat back. That wasn’t hard. Using wood glue and some clamps, I fished a board through the access hole, and glued it above the access hole.
Now for the plumbing. When the shower fixture is put through the wall, there isn’t enough room for a 90-degree turn to connect to the plumbing system. This meant I needed a spacer to push the fixture further away from the wall in the bathroom. For this, I used a piece of plastic kitchen cutting board which was also what I made the countertop with. More on that later.
My first attempt at creating a 90 degree bend with brass pipe fittings failed (leaked), so I went back to Home Depot to look for the shortest 90 degree PEX fitting that I could find. That did the trick. I connected it to the original camper plumbing by reusing a Flair-It ”T” that was part of the original system. I also rerouted the PEX leading to the toilet because how it was originally routed just made no sense to me. I cut out more than two feet of PEX and improved the low-point drain angles for the toilet.
So now I have the new faucet and shower valves completed, as well as changes to the toilet plumbing. Time to make it look pretty.
Removing the original faucet left holes in the “counter” if you can call it that. A plastic, decorative “granite look” cutting board seemed like a cheap solution to create some counter surface, improve the look, and cover the holes.
I cut the cutting board on my radial arm saw, and it did exactly as I expected. It created a very messy edge because the saw melts the plastic along the cut line. But since I expected this, I was careful to use the cutting board factory edges for the outside edges, and the cut edges went against the wall which would be hidden with caulking. I did the same thing for the spacer I made for the shower valve, but I had to be more careful with the edges and found that sandpaper helped clean things up.
The hole I cut below the sink at the start of this project was intentionally sized to match a marine hatch that I picked up at a clearance bin at Camping World. So that hole becomes a hatch door, making continued access to the area easy, but also creating a little bit of storage for TP and other items under the sink. The hole I cut in the back of the dinette seat was also easy to cover. When I cut the section out originally, I carefully cut out a rectangle of the 1/8 inch plywood and saved it. Then after making sure I had some wood “ears” behind so that I had something to screw into, I reused the piece I cut out with some white paneling trim around it. This panel is now removable with four small screws, although I hope to never need to get into this area again.
There were two more things to complete our bathroom remodel. We wanted more shelves, so I bought some stainless steel shelves that hang on the wall via adhesive strips. They seem to hold very well to fiberglass.
Second, we didn’t like the height of our toilet – which made me think of Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In (for those of you that are that old), where Lily would sit in a rocking chair and her legs didn’t touch the floor. The seat height for a normal toilet is about 16 inches. The seat height for an ADA-compliant toilet is between 17 and 19 inches. The seat height for the 2023 Northern Lite 10-2 Dry Bath is a whopping 22 inches!
I used some PVC 2 x 6 inch fence boards to create 1.5 inch tall risers, plus a carpet. That brings us from 22 inch seat height to 20 inch seat height, which is a big improvement. I might even consider adding a second layer of boards for an 18.5 inch height, but not yet. Even though it was not necessary, I did the same thing in front of the sink so that there wasn’t a need to step up to walk into the bathroom, and then step down to get to the sink.
I used PVC so they could get wet. If anything was drip drying in the shower area, it would not be a problem. I also put some rubber weather strips under the boards so they would not move around, and would not scratch the fiberglass floor. They just sit on the floor and pick up easily when we want to use the shower. In the shower (sink) area, I cut a slot in the bottom so that the board extends over the curtain track that is on the floor.
As a side note, this is a four-season camper and there is heat that goes into the basement. While it might not be obvious, I believe that airflow through the area under the sink is part of the return air path. While doing this mod I was very cognizant of making sure not to block airflow. That means that the area under the sink can’t be used for storing much, but it can store a little. I also put up some wire mesh “ends” in the space under the sink; partly to ensure air flows and stuff won’t spill into voids in the basement, but also to make sure our cats don’t end up in the basement. If you have cats, you know about curiosity.
We really like the new bathroom, not just for aesthetics, but it’s a lot more functional – especially the shower and sink faucets. We camped just once with the original bathroom, knowing that the bathroom remodel was going to start right after we got home from our first shake-down trip.
On our next trip – what a huge difference! The mods have worked great! The only problem we had was some leakage at the hatch door when taking showers. There is not a lot, but enough that we added some stick-on gutter above the door, and I beefed up the weather stripping inside the door.
In addition to the PEX pipe we got from the dealer, we bought a bar sink faucet (Amazon $35), a shower fixture (Amazon $20), a shorter shower hose (Amazon $17), an Oxygenics shower head (Amazon $43), kitchen cutting board (Amazon $16), stainless steel hanging baskets (set of 3, Amazon $33), and a Marine Hatch (Camping World $40, it was originally $80, but in a clearance bin when I found it- these are available on Amazon as well).
I already had 2×6 PVC fence board scraps for the risers in front of the toilet and sink, but I know you can get boards like this a Home Depot. The rubber strips I put on the bottom of the boards are just weather strip material; they help keep the riser boards from moving around.
For this bathroom, both the area in front of the toilet and the sink are “wells” that the boards just sit in, and I cut the boards to fully fill the area so they are captive and don’t move. If your application isn’t shaped like a well, you might have to connect the boards to each other to keep them from moving apart.
I highly recommend using stainless steel crimp rings and the “one-handed” crimp pliers because they work pretty well in tight spaces. You have to think ahead regarding how the tool will fit into the space you have. It also helps to think through the order of fittings you want to install. Build as much as you can before connecting to the existing plumbing.
It took me two weeks to complete this modification and cost me about $250. In my opinion, the skill level of this modification is hard.
Disclaimer: The modifications above are submitted by Truck Camper Magazine readers. It is your responsibility to make sure that any do-it-yourself modification project you undertake is safe, effective, and legal for your situation.
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