All-aluminum (“no-rot-no-corrosion”) RVs may not be for everyone, they seem to be perfect for small and medium size models, “off-road” campers, toy haulers.
Technological progress as well as present-day requirements for lightweight, durable and easy to maintain RVs led to the development of new technologies taking advantage of already existing and well-proven materials.
Over the years most RV manufacturers successfully replaced (or limited the use of) all forms of wood (plywood, luan, hardwood ….). While in general these traditional construction materials are inexpensive and easy to process, they are very vulnerable to water (moisture, humidity…) and prone to decay. It was then just the matter of time when aluminum, composite materials, fiberglass etc… found their way into RV manufacturing process. These days you will find them in almost all RVs – be it aluminum siding sheets and wheels, fiberglass lamination, caps, covers and even whole molded shells, TPO roof membranes, composite counter-tops etc… .
However some manufacturers went even further developing technologies known as “All-Aluminum” (see --> LivinLite QS Toy Hauler) and “All-Fiberglass” (see --> Fiberglass RVs) where almost all RV components are made exclusively from two mentioned materials. It will be interesting to compare both of them in terms of pros, cons and limitations so when you will start looking for new RV, you will possibly make “more educated” decision.
Livin'Lite QuickSilver Toy Haukler - Model 720HJ.
This all-aluminum model has elegance of traditional campers
What makes aluminum so special?
Out of many valuable properties of aluminum, the most beneficial for RV business is its light weight, good mechanical strength and resistance to corrosion. Although the aluminum in contact with air forms a thin layer of oxide, due to its high density (and so impenetrability) it actually acts as the corrosion-protecting coating stopping its progress. It’s also worth to mention that the aluminum is easy to process (drilling, cutting, bending….) and reasonable when it comes to joining (welding, bonding….).
Tubular aluminum profiles (Source: Livin'lite RVs)
Typically RVs’ chassis (frames) are made from tubular steel. Although the name “tubular” maybe confusing because in this particular case the tubular components have narrow rectangle profile (instead of circular), the idea is the same. It is a hollow “pipe” taking weight out while leaving strength in. Steel frames are easy to manufacture, strong and inexpensive hence their widespread use in automotive and RV industry. Usually, steel tubes are powder-coated to protect them from corrosion. However the protection (especially when “abused” by water and gravel) will not last forever, so sooner rather than later the corrosion will start its “meal”.
The next crucial RV component (and weak spot) is the floor which is made as a separate item usually from marine-grade plywood. It’s another element vulnerable to weather and prone to rot.
In “All-aluminum” RVs the frame is entirely made from the tubular aluminum profiles. Also, in contrast to steel-frame RVs, now the aluminum floor is an integral part of the frame. Typically the plank floor is fully welded to the frame adding an extra strength to the chassis. For the esthetic reasons the interior part of the floor can be later covered by vinyl (linoleum) or laminated (vacuum-bonded) with fiberglass. But in any case, such chassis is completely “rot-free” and “corrosion free” so the most critical section of the “all-aluminum” RV is really built to last forever!
Examples of all-aluminum frame (above) and floor (below)
Source: Livin'Lite RVs
All in all: Aluminum chassis is more expensive than the steel one but it considerably brings down RV’s weight as well as provides lasting (weather resistant) solution. While it is perfect for small and medium sized RVs, its use is questionable for very large, heavy rigs.
Laminated aluminum wall with block-foam insulation
Source: LivinLite RVs
Shell (walls and roof)
While laminated aluminum, Azdel or luan sheets are often used for siding and roofing, traditional wooden frames and trusses are still dominating the RV industry. In “all-aluminum” RVs these crucial elements are replaced by tubular aluminum profiles. In other words the whole shell including sidewalls, front cap and roof is aluminum-framed and as a result wood (and rot)-free. The typical wall panel is a sandwich of two laminated sheets of metal attached to the tubular frame with space in between filled by thermal insulation (usually block foam in walls and fiberglass on the roof and floor).
Luan is a plywood made from South-Asian trees (white or red lauan). It is very flexible and lite and that is why it found application in RV industry. Like all plywood components it is however vulnerable to moisture....
Traditionally, the lamination process was performed by spreading a layer of strong adhesive and then applying pressure on both - bonding and substrate surfaces (usually moving the “sandwich” through a roller machine). The major problem with this pinch-roller technology is that the process is not “very uniform”. It may leave “bubbles” in some areas leading to delamination.
So these days many manufacturers use the vacuum-bonding technique when both surfaces (with adhesive in between) are first placed in the “Vacuum Bag” and then the air (and moisture) from between both surfaces is evacuated. This prevents creation of “bubbles” in the next step of the process when for about 30 minutes the chamber with “vacuum bag” (and bonding surfaces) is pressurized to approximately 130 lbs/square inch. The “trick” is that much longer “lamination” time as well as uniformity of the applied pressure leads to superior bonded surfaces.
Aluminum roof rafters (above) and fiberglass thermal insulation (below) (source: LivinLite RVs)
Aluminum-framed Azdel wall
LivinLite cabinetry frames are some of the strongest in the RV industry (source: LivinLite RVs)
And here the final product: Kitchen cabinets (QS Toy Hauler model 720HJ).
Source: LivinLite RVs
Cabinetry and more…
All-aluminum actually goes farther than just the chassis and the shell. Many RV-ers may feel uncomfortable with aluminum cabinetry but after close look at the benefits there is chance to change the perception. Understandably, for all of us it is unthinkable to accept metal cabinetry at our primary residence. And it is for a reason – we simply cherish wood’s warmness, appearance, elegance, natural colors….. No wonder that at first, all-aluminum cabinetry in our “home-away-from-home” brings so-to-speak “uneasiness”.
Well, let’s start with benefits.
So what are the “cons”? Well, metal is metal, it is “cold” in touch and for many of us, aluminum cabinetry will bring the picture of “cans”. It’s just a psychological effect, but we cannot ignore it or pretend that it does not exist!
Summarizing: All-aluminum RVs may not be for everyone. They seem to be perfect for small and medium size RVs, for “off-road” campers, for toy haulers. However, most likely all-aluminum construction method will not be a best choice for Residential-like RVs where we look for charm and warmness offered by wood. Of course it does not mean that aluminum cannot be used in construction of big residential-style rigs. But certainly chassis (frames) and cabinetry will keep traditional materials (steel and wood).
Check details of an "All-Aluminum" toy hauler by Livin'Lite:
Note: Check with the manufacturer and/or RV Dealer for the up-to-date list of features, options as well as latest specifications. These written above may not be accurate and certainly are subject to change by the factory. We are not responsible for any inaccuracy, the above text is provided only for the general information.