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5,000 Miles With American Clay: In Detail

Our handprints hidden behind the fold down couch

We are 100% happy with our decision to use American Clay plaster on the interior walls of the Airstream.  It was a bit tricky to do the prep work correctly and many people thought we were crazy but after 5,000 miles the AC looks wonderful.  When American Clay asked us to write a blog about our experience we were more than happy to oblige.  Here is our story:

….We were ready for a big change, the kind of change that would thrust us into a new life.  Living small, purposeful and green was the mission.  If we could take our life on the road we could also speak to and inspire others.  On the Green Road was born.  We sold our house, paid off debt and bought a used Airstream travel trailer.

We knew from day 1 that American Clay would anchor our Airstream remodel.  We just weren’t sure if the clay would hold up to a moving and bouncing silver bullet.  This was going to be our permanent full-time home for a while… longevity did matter:)

After weeks of skating through the internet we ran across Jim Gooley (AC installer in California) who had already installed AC on his Airstream and had 2,000 miles on it.  We wasted no time and sent him an email.  The stars were aligned – after talking, meeting and sharing dreams it turned out that Carol Baumgartel (AC co-founder was also an Airstream owner/lover).  In the end, American Clay donated the product and Jim Gooley and Rick Kantor (of Greenspace Building and Terrasanti) donated their time and artistry for the install.  It was a match made in heaven.

To save some money and dig our hands into the project, we did the prep work ourselves (all 40-50 hours of it).  The Airstream was completely furnished inside so we had to dismantle it piece by piece to reveal the inner aluminum skin.  We removed all the lights, window treatments/frames and suspended cabinetry.  Next, we pulled the carpet off the walls and the vinyl/foam from the ceiling (yes there was carpet on the walls).  With the carpet gone we scraped off the remaining adhesive with a non-toxic soy based product called “Soy It”.  At last we saw the bare interior aluminum skin. It wasn’t show grade (dull with scratches) and we filled existing holes with rivets.  Then the fun began.  One thing Jim learned from his application was to cover over all interior rivets creating a smooth surface for the AC to adhere to.  This step was crucial since any uneven area would be a prime target for cracking and popping as the Airstream traveled.  We searched high and low and couldn’t find a non-toxic alternative to Bondo (auto body repair material).  To prep each rivet we used a lava stone to lightly sand them down and then covered them with fiber tape.  Bondo came next over every seam and rivet, letting it dry and then using the lava stone to smooth the surface.  We also used a belt sander to scuff up the interior aluminum – the idea being that the scuffing would provide a good surface for the American Clay to adhere to.  The last step was to paint.  We used a non VOC paint primer with added plaster sand.  Then it was time for Jim and Rick to come work their magic!

American Clay created a few custom colors for this project.  The sulphur springs was AC but the shades of denim, cedar and periwinkle are unique.  Rick and Jim helped us with the color names.  Loma base coat was used with add mix for strength.  Porcelina and loma “lomalina” were the top coat also with add mix.  According to Jim, It was a fairly straightforward “dos manos” application. Compression and application was tricky considering the curves but with small Japanese trowels and creative tooling they were able to make it beautiful.

We decided to spray on a 10% American Clay Penetrating Sealer after a few hundred miles of traveling.  We noticed dust on the ground and the high traffic areas (around the door, couch and bed) were easy to scratch.  The sealer has worked very well and we only applied it in the areas mentioned.  We wanted to let the clay breath as much as possible.

After 5,000 miles, the clay is still beautiful.  A few minor scratches here and there.  We have extra clay so anytime we need a touch up, we add water to a bit of the dried mix, get it to the desired consistency, spray the wall down with a fine water mist and apply the new clay (with an old, flexible library card we had lying around).  This system works well.

Thanks to American Clay, Jim and Rick we have the walls of our dreams.  We are grateful.

Read the full blog here

7 Comments

  1. What are the benefits of using it? I’m guessing that it keeps things cooler or warmer, depending? It looks great and I love that you put your hand prints in it!

    • Hey Molly -

      AC does a few great things. It’s, of course, natural and non-toxic, which is a “have to have”. It absorbs moisture and odors, inhibiting mold. It also balances out the ions from electronics. And it’s beautiful:)

  2. ‘morning ladies..hope all is still very well. HBD to cc coming up & know you have big adventures ahead. will miss the openhouse, but for a legit reason..chile a far distance to try & “make it”. will look forward to tales on return to SC. travel safely & much luv 2u both.

  3. Is it more fire resistant than vinyl, or painted vinyl, or just plain aluminum interior walls?

    • I asked the folks at American Clay and they say that as a building material, AC is extremely fire resistant. It is a clay material after all. When they did flame tests, the material came in at the lowest class rating which is Class A or Class 1 with zero smoke development. They weren’t able to compare it to the other materials you listed but my guess is that it is much more fire resistant than vinyl/painted vinyl. Not sure about aluminum.

  4. Hello, I love the green methods you have used. Very creative! I am just about to purchase a 1978 Airstream to remodel and am looking at interior wall options. My concern with using AC would be the weight. I imagine its quite a bit heavier than regular siding. Do you find that to be the case? I have a smaller truck so weight could be a factor. Did you use insulation or plaster right over the existing siding? Great work!

    • Hey Chris – thanks so much for writing. Here is the AC prep video we put together – http://youtu.be/JOCok0_tiTw. The clay did add a bit more weight. The original carpet (from walls/ceiling) was removed. The clay goes on at a 1/16th of an inch and has flex from the American Clay prep process done by the installers. We figured the added weight is about 90 pounds when all is said and done but for the entire remodel and final GV weight we are right at the trailers spec capacity of 6300 lbs. So no problems there. We have about 12,000 miles under our belt and the clay is holding up great.

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