Airstream Sustainability by Hofmann Architecture

Remodeling an Airstream is one of the most sustainable things one can do.

I’m an architect. I know, it’s ironic, but I don’t prefer designing a brand new home.

Like you (I hope!) it’s our job to take care of the earth by our own behavior.

The most unsustainable thing one can do to the earth is to design and build a new home where there wasn’t one before. Worse still, is tearing down an old home and building a new one in its place.

A new home takes an enormous amount of energy and natural resources build.

Using the empty shell – the floor, walls and roof – in an existing building requires significantly less energy than new construction. By eliminating the need for building a foundation, erecting walls, installing windows, and placing on a new roof thousands of dollars of resources that would have been required to build these elements can be transferred, or saved all together.

The end result is a win-win. Sustainable and more cost effective.

Take a look around downtown. Many urban city centers have reused old manufacturing plants or storage facilities, that were made of brick or concrete, and have remodeled them into successful residential dwellings. Today, there isn’t a city in America without “urban loft-style” projects.

My 1978 Airstream project was, at its heart, an exercise in reusing an existing space. 
Remember the 3 R’s when choosing products and materials (reuse, reclaim, recycle)

Once an existing space is chosen, there are often times many existing elements of the previous use that may perhaps be saved and reused for the new project.  This category of sustainability can vary greatly.
Reuse – to take an existing product and use it for the same function or purpose, this is the most basic and simple method.  For example, much of the cabinetry that was existing was saved in the Airstream project.  The goucho (bed) was beyond saving, but the storage drawers beneath them made a beautiful base for the new bed.  Even the faux wood paneling was reused. The new convertible couch looks like a rich piece of furniture amid the abundance of white walls. The overhead cabinetry was removed, modified, and re-installed to form a more pleasing alignment.  All of the overhead cabinetry hardware was saved and reused, including the tambour rollup doors, plastic tracks, and metal pulls.  The front dinette set is original, just refinished and painted.

Reclaim – to use an existing product or material, on-site that may no longer be used for its original intended purpose, removing it and reconditioning as necessary, then transferring it to a new use in the same project.   A trailer, by its nature, is a very small confined space. A primary design goal was to open up the space by removing unnecessary visual obstacles.  In the Airstream, there were several walls that needed to be removed.  The old oak table was beyond repair and was also removed.  These elements were stored onsite and reclaimed as shelving in the cabinetry.

Recycle – In all projects, there are elements that can not be reused or reclaimed.  Instead of sending materials to the landfill, recycle!  Recycling comes in all shapes and sizes.  Many material scraps from the Airstream were stockpiled and sent to a recycling yard, such as hardware, braces, tracks, rods, plastic paneling, etc.  All of the old appliances (refrigerator, oven, sink, toilet) were sold on craigslist or donated to a new user.  Giving away or selling old parts that you don’t have a use for has three benefits:

1.     It keeps the old part from heading to the landfill;
2.     Enables the unwanted item to continue its lifespan in a different use.; and
3.     Keeps one less new product from entering the market by providing someone with a working unit.  New products = energy + resources. 

Here is a Picasa slideshow with some more images:

This is a guest post by Matthew Hofmann. Hofmann Architecture LLC is a multi-faceted architectural design build firm with offices in Santa Barbara and San Diego, California. Visit to see more photos or to follow their weekly blog.

Contact information:
Matthew Hofmann – Architect, LEED Accredited Professional
Hofmann Architecture

All images courtesy of Matthew Hofmann


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  1. 2

    I had almost successfully given up the idea for rehabbing y 1985 travel trailer, and had begun looking into new or near-new motorhomes and 5th wheels. Your article has jump-started my engine again! What an inspiration your old/new Airstream is! Of course, a sidetrack story was my search, about half a year ago, for an Airstream. I had an uncle/aunt who lived in one when I was a kid… 40 years ago! I would LOVE to have that Airstream now! Thank you for your vision 🙂

  2. 3
    Sustainable Houses

    Damn, this has to be one of the coolest trailers I have ever seen, it looks as good, if not better than those brand new high-end trailers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any idea how much money was put into this?

  3. 7
    cappy anderson

    Your Airstream Rehab is indeed extremely well done & admirable. There is something-however- something about your preachiness that I find bothersome.

    1. Believe it or not: many of us know how to recycle & what it means. You sound as though you just discovered it.

    2. You don’t bother to go into any details about what you did. How many hours it took, what you did or had done, and some idea of how much it cost. And it is extremely obvious that cost was no object. So much for recycling to save dollars. Not here.

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