How to Add Living Quarters to a Cargo Trailer

by John Cagney Nash
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With some work, cargo trailers can be converted to include a section for living quarters. Whether they are the 53-footers towed by 18-wheelers or the much smaller hard side units towed by passenger vehicles, cargo trailers usually offer spaces wide and tall enough to accommodate the same kinds of equipment and appliances found in many recreational vehicles. Cargo trailer frames are strong and the bodywork is fully enclosed, roofs are often vented and many feature side doors for easy access. Adding living quarters to a cargo trailer requires extensive knowledge of construction principles and a great deal of planning.

Step 1

Determine what is required of the living quarters. The cargo trailer should already be equipped to provide security and shelter from the elements, so planning begins with a decision on how much space can be set aside for conversion. Once the available area is established, transfer its measurements to graph paper and include the location of an outside entry door, a place for a second door to the cargo area if one is desired and the position of the roof vents.

Step 2

Design sleeping accommodations, storage fixtures, bathroom and galley facilities. Consider a platform bed using a conventional mattress with storage drawers beneath it or bunk beds slung from the walls which can be folded up to increase the living area. Storage closets and cabinets can be close to the doors, particularly helpful if dirty work clothes and footwear will be stored. The bathroom and galley should be located beneath the roof vents; privacy can be arranged by installing partition walls or curtains hung from curtain rails.

Step 3

Lay out where the supplies of electricity and water must run on your graph paper, using different color pens to highlight these lines. A 12-volt electricity supply can generate adequate power for equipment and appliances sourced from truck stops specializing in equipping 18-wheeler sleeper cabs or from RV dealerships. Include a 120-volt circuit powered by an external hook-up or an on-board generator to power household appliances and an air conditioner. Install a water supply system featuring a fresh water holding tank, a 12-volt pump and a waste-water tank slung under the cargo trailer or fed from a connection to a city water supply and vented to a sewer connection.

Step 4

Budget for insulation, decoration and furniture. Cargo trailers typically have thin, single-ply metal walls, therefore eight by four foot rigid panels of thermal insulation available from most home improvement warehouses should be glued between the lateral rails and support hoops. Attach lightweight paneling to the hoops and rails using self-threading screws and cup washers. Include chairs and tables that can be fitted in around the static cabinets and secured to the floor using L-brackets.

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