This Old Casita

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A sailboat is a hole in the water that you dump money into. The Casita is fiberglass, but she ain’t no sailboat…

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

People who’ve looked for a used Casita will tell you it’s tough. They tend to pop up on the web and sell within a week. Cristi and I knew we wanted a Spirit Deluxe 17 and we knew we would have to cast a wide net to find one. On top of this, our budget was a little limited. We were planning to go into some retirement money to buy the trailer and we didn’t have that much to work with. Nice used Casitas go for about $15K, and ragged-out twenty year old Casitas go for ten. We needed to find the right trailer and jump on it fast.

After a few weeks of searching, we found one in Maine. Our friend, John Carmody lives in Boothbay, and helped us to complete the deal. Three days later we were in the truck and on our way to pick up our new (used) Casita.

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Loaded up and ready to roll at John and Mary Beth’s.

We rolled into John and Mary Beth’s place on Friday night and started digging into the camper the following morning. First step was to de-winterize the water system. We filled the fresh water tank with clean water and flushed the RV antifreeze out of the water lines and into the grey water tank. Next, we sanitized the freshwater system with a strong solution of chlorine bleach. A fresh water rinse followed.

Lines cleared and sanitized, we set about draining the grey water tank and flushing the tank with fresh water. The contents of the tank were more brown that grey. Not pleasant. Nor was sucking up mouse turds with a shop vac, which was next on the list. A few compartments got a spray with an enzyme cleaner to try to eliminate unpleasant odors. It was a start, but a more serious cleaning of the carpet would have to come before we hit the road full time for the summer.

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There’s two kinds of friends in this world. Those who will help you flush your trailer’s septic system, and those who wont.

Our experiments with the water system seemed to indicate a clogged water pump. I took the pump apart, cleaned and rinsed the check valves, and screwed it back into place on the bulkhead under the rear settee. No luck. The pump wouldn’t shut off. It was sucking air.

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A leaky water heater cutoff valve seemed to be the source of my water pump problems.

At this point, John discovered that the water heater was leaking water out it’s drain hole despite the fact that the cutoff valve was closed. Bad valve. That was the cause of the running pump. Or so I thought.

Overall, the trailer seemed to be in pretty good shape, but I had a few question marks. The water heater was missing it’s anode so I couldn’t fill and test it for function. We didn’t have 30 amp service, so I couldn’t try the AC. The Fantastic vent fan didn’t work and the bathroom fan worked sporadically. The furnace worked and the fridge seemed fine, but I had a pretty good punch list started to dig into once we got home.

Initial maintenance complete, Cristi and I hit the road to visit some friends down in Freeport. We overnighted in the LL Bean RV parking lot and discovered a few more items to add to the Casita punch list.

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Or, maybe it’s the toilet…

First off, the lights seemed really dim. They had been running fine when the trailer was plugged in at John’s place, but now that we were on the battery they were barely kicking. We also had water on the bathroom floor that appeared to be leaking out the base of the toilet. Another source of the running water pump found!

Drips and lights seemed like minor problems, but it also looked like our refrigerator was broken. It ran when hooked up to shore power at John’s, both on propane and AC, but now it seemed dead. No lights. Nothing.

An RV fridge goes for about a grand, and I was beginning to think that I might have made a profound mistake by buying this particular camper. One of those mistakes that your wife never forgives you for.

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Boondocking at Bay Creek.

Then something strange happened. We were parked in the lot at Bay Creek Padding Center in Rochester, NY drinking a growler of K2 Hemp IPA and eating pizza from Bay and Goodman when, all of a sudden, the lights went to full brightness and the fridge kicked on. I tried the Fantastic Vent fan in the ceiling and that was working too. Something was fishy with my DC system.

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Van Buren State Park, MI

The following morning we were back to square one. Dim lights, no fridge, no vent fan. We hit the road back toward Wisconsin and ended our day camped on Lake Michigan not far from the Indiana state line. We wanted to time our drive through Chicago for minimum traffic and the campsite gave me a chance to test the AC and other systems while connected to 30 amp power. The lights worked fine on AC but the fan never did come back on line. Fridge seemed fine. I definitely had a weird DC problem.

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Fridge works!

Back at home I posted a few questions to the Casita Forum and got some very helpful advice. My initial concern was that there was some kind of short in the trailer that would be impossible to find without tearing the whole thing apart. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the short had to be someplace near the battery, because systems worked fine when connected to shore power. The folks on the forum confirmed this. They suggested that I might have a short near the battery, a bad battery, or a bad converter. Easiest solution was to have the battery tested. When I did it was dead as a post. I installed a fresh marine battery and clicked the switch for the fridge. It came online immediately. Vent fan worked. Lights were bright. And, strangely enough, the water pump started and stopped without a hitch, even though I still had a small leak in my water heater cutoff valve. It looked like the battery had solved all my problems.

That week I dug into my punchlist. I installed a new anode in the water heater. The threads in the water heater were corroded so it took some grunting and a breaker bar to get the job done. Once I read the manual and found the tiny little switch hidden on the outside of the heater it switched on with no trouble. I still don’t know if the electrical heating element is OK, but the heater runs on propane just fine.

I picked up an online copy of the A-Z Casita Owner’s Guide and started to tackle some of the suggested maintenance items. First on the list was tightening the connections inside my converter panel. Apparently these can jiggle loose over time and should be checked annually.

When I got the panel off I found the real source of my battery problems. A blown capacitor in the converter. A post to the forum confirmed that I would have to replace the converter after all. Not inexpensive, but doable. A couple clicks later I had an upgraded converter replacement on the way from Best Converter in Enterprise, AL.

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Um. Somebody let the smoke out of this one…

While I waited for the converter to arrive I replaced the flush valve on our toilet and reinstalled the throne with a new seal. Cristi and I buffed out the gel coat on the Casita with a fiberglass cleaner and polisher and turned it from chalky to shiny. The punch list was getting smaller and all systems were coming on line.

This has all felt a bit like an episode of This Old House, except smaller, and way less expensive. Our list of tiny home improvement projects is lengthy, but so far nothing has broken the bank. The Casita is taking a little TLC to get back into shape, but she ain’t no sailboat.

Here’s the list of projects completed to date:

  •  Flush grey water tank
  • Sanitize fresh water system
  • Clean water pump
  • Replace water heater anode
  • Replace water heater cutoff valve
  • Replace battery
  • Patch small hole behind passenger side wheel well
  • Repair/replace interior cabinet latches
  • Replace trim inside of door
  • Rust bust frame and paint with Rustoleum
  • Pound bumper back to square and install new end cap
  • Remove aftermarket leveling jacks
  • Fix hinges on stove cover
  • Clean refrigerator components
  • Clean/bleach bathroom
  • Buff exterior gel coat
  • Install Maxxair roof vent cover
  • Install sway bar
  • Tighten connections in converter box
  • Replace flush valve on toilet
  • Replace screen door latch
  • Install new propane tank cover

We’re getting to the end of the list of critical systems and are ready to move on to customizing the trailer to get it ready for a summer on the road. More updates to follow.

Here are a few more images of the Casita refit:

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Tight spot. Removing aftermarket leveling jacks.
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Beat it to fit…
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Paint it to match.
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Rust busting.
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The Maxxair fan cover will let us run our roof vent fan in the rain.
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Replacement trim for the entryway.
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Buffing.
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Buffing.
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Buffed.
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This polishing compound is a one step process. Buffs out oxidation and fills pores with wax. Works great!
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Not my favorite project, but it doesn’t leak anymore.
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All shined up. One step closer to the road.

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2 thoughts on “This Old Casita

  1. Medicine man joe

    Some awesome presentations. Come park the incredible, ( named? ) Truck following house in our yard and take a break. Wow, you guys are usually fun.

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