Selecting an RV is a big decision. And some RVs are much higher quality than others. When it comes to construction specifically, let’s explore aluminum vs wood frame RVs.
As a general rule, aluminum-framed RVs are better than wood-framed RVs, as they are lighter and more durable. Wooden RV framing, on the other hand, is cheaper and easier to repair. Aluminum is usually used for larger RVs to keep the weight lower.
By comparison, wood is used on smaller RVs that don’t weigh much anyway.
Let’s have a closer look at wooden and aluminum RV frames and their pros and cons. I will then conclude with which RV framing is right for you.
1959 saw the entrance of Shasta in the RV industry and soon became the most popular travel trailer of the era.❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/9N5nLYSYOD
— Dennis (OPSerenaShimAward) (@SerenaShimAward) June 2, 2022
Overview of wood-framed RVs
Conventional travel trailers and RV frames are made of wood.
RV manufacturers have been making them for a really long time, and they are still really popular for small RVs. The wood used for RV framing is generally pine. You may be thinking that because pine is a softwood, it shouldn’t be used in RVs.
Well, the reality is that pine is less dense than other woods, so using pine in the framing of an RV helps to keep the weight low. Pine is also easier to work with and cheaper. So the cost of the final product for the customer is lower for a pine RV than if it were to be made of hardwood.
If your RV was to be made of hardwood, it would be heavy.
This would reduce the handling of your RV and decrease your fuel economy. That’s a huge issue when you keep in mind the fact that RVs are already gas-guzzling vehicles to begin with.
The frames of wooden RVs are assembled using traditional wood joining methods and nothing fancy. They are usually joined using screws, nails, large staples, and sometimes glue. The glue is used in conjunction with screws. The main purpose of the glue is to close the tiny gaps between the joints of the wood.
This is important as the glue will help prevent water and moisture from entering the joints of the RV frame. Water and moisture can cause the frame of your RV to rot, which is a huge issue. I’ll talk more about this problem later.
The wood studs are susceptible to water damage.
To learn more about protecting your RV from water damage, check out this recent article on my site. I talk about the top 25 sealants for your RV’s roof and how to select the right one. But I also get into all the other ways RVs are known to leak and how to prevent it.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Wood-framed RVs are made with what’s known as a “stick and tin” construction. It is one of the oldest types of RV construction and has stood the test of time. However, there are more modern RV constructions, which I’ll get into later.
We’re celebrating the unofficial beginning of summer. Do you have plans to hop in your RV and see where the road takes you? #aluminum #AlcoaWheels #truckwheels #maximizethedrive pic.twitter.com/BUsbJ1lxoh
— Alcoa Wheels (@AlcoaWheels) June 1, 2022
Overview of aluminum-framed RVs
Aluminum RVs and Aluminum trailers are made of aluminum tubing.
You would think that’s a bad idea because metals are heavier than wood because of their density. And you would be right. However, despite this, aluminum-framed RVs are actually lighter than wood-framed RVs.
This is because the aluminum beams used are hollow. The hollow aluminum beams reduce weight and increase rigidity. You cannot really hollow out a beam of wood without compromising its structural integrity.
The aluminum beams used in RV construction start off as rectangular sheets. They are then cut to size using a die press and then bent into rectangular or square bars.
The aluminum beams are then adhered to a layer of Luan. The Luan is adhered to a layer of fiberglass, or aluminum, depending on what the RV is made of. Alongside the aluminum beam, a layer of insulative material is sandwiched between the Luan and fiberglass.
Sometimes, the siding of the RV can become de-laminated, especially on the rear walls of the RV. Nevertheless, fiberglass trailers and fiberglass RVs with wooden frames are very popular.
This creates a very lightweight and durable RV. However, there are some downsides to aluminum RV frames. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of wooden and aluminum RV framing.
Car types it can be used in are Hatchback, Sedan, MPV, SUV, Crossover, Coupe. It can be used in all type RVs including Class A Diesel Motorhome, Class A Gas Motorhome, Class C Motorhome, Fifth Wheel, Travel Trailer, Fold Down, Truck Camper, Expandables and Toy Haulers. pic.twitter.com/PFUQfITkW8
— Signal Booster (@signalbooster70) August 6, 2021
Pros and cons of wood frame construction in an RV
Wood-framed RVs are easier to repair and replace than aluminum ones, and they are often cheaper to buy in the first place. Wood-framed RVs are also cheaper. It is more common to find wood-framed RVs in lower-end models than larger RVs.
That’s because a class A motorhome with wooden framing would be too heavy.
Pros of wood-framed construction:
- They are affordable – Timber is readily accessible all over the world, and you don’t need anything more than a few power tools, screws, and carpenters to produce a great RV.
- Easy to repair – Wooden-framed RVs can be repaired by most people on their own. That’s because you don’t have to mess around with welding. You can easily remove rotten parts of a wooden frame simply by unscrewing the joints.
Cons of wood-framed construction:
- Wood rots – This is a major downside. Most wood-framed RVs have sealants, and layers of surface finish applied to the wood to stop rotting. Most wooden RV frames will be made of pressure-treated timber to reduce the likelihood of surface defects. However, the reality is that even with these treatments and surface finishes, water and moisture can still cause your wooden RV frame to rot.
Repairing a rotting wooden RV is much cheaper than repairing a de-laminated aluminum RV. That’s because the tools required to fix wood are readily available, and you don’t need to be a master welder to make repairs.
- Wood is heavy – As I said, the framing of a wooden RV is not hollow; therefore, it will be heavier than an aluminum-framed RV.
- Woods are joined with screws and not welding – Welding is a permanent way of joining two pieces of material. Screws, on the other hand, can come loose and get bent. So if you drive your RV on rocky roads all the time, the vibrations will cause the screws to loosen slightly. This can be a massive safety issue.
The Barth Motorhome Company was started by entrepreneur Bob Barth in 1963.
A Barth coach was state of the art: all aluminum construction and built to order. Only 300 per year were made.
— Retro Tech Noir (@RetroTechNoir) May 24, 2022
Pros and cons of aluminum frame construction in an RV
The main advantage of aluminum-framed RVs is they are lightweight compared to wooden ones. Aluminum frames are assembled by welding, which is a permanent way of joining materials.
On the other hand, aluminum RV frames are much harder to repair. Fixing de-lamination on aluminum RVs can be very expensive.
Pros of aluminum RVs:
- Aluminum is more durable than wood – aluminum is much harder and more impact resistant than wood. It also does not rot or rust. An aluminum RV frame is much less likely to have issues related to the weathering of the RV frame. Aluminum siding and aluminum framing last a long time. This is the best thing about aluminum.
- Aluminum RV frames are lighter – Since the aluminum beams are hollow, aluminum RV frames are lighter than wood frames. This is an advantage because it will increase your fuel economy. It will also improve the handling of your RV. Aluminum campers are great and usually have a higher resale value.
- A welded aluminum frame is secure – Welding is a permanent way of joining two pieces of metal. A welded aluminum joint will not separate the same way a screwed wood joint will.
Cons of aluminum RVs:
- Aluminum frames are harder to repair – you can’t just unscrew a damaged beam and replace it with a new one. You have to cut out the damaged aluminum, prepare the area for another beam, and then weld another one on. This is a long process that is expensive. It also often requires a professional to do the job.
- Aluminum frames are expensive – aluminum is mined from ores. It is then refined and then turned into sheet material. The sheets are then folded into aluminum beams and cut to size. This whole process makes producing an aluminum RV frame more expensive than a wooden one.
- De-lamination is hard to repair – if water seeps into the layers of Luan and fiberglass, it can cause the fiberglass insulation and RV siding to come away from the frame. This is a huge issue. It is very dangerous and can be expensive to repair. It is also a time-consuming job.
- They can be noisy – sound waves travel better through hard materials as the particles are closer together. Therefore, if you have a hard aluminum frame, you will hear more noise from the road. Wooden frames are quieter, as wood is less dense than aluminum. This means the sound waves don’t travel through the material as well.
Noise is the main drawback of aluminum.
This is why the RV industry has started using fiberglass siding instead of aluminum skin. Fiberglass travel trailers are the best way to go. There is a significant difference in their price from aluminum siding, but they have a higher resale value.
Spending time in a RV during cold weather? Please make sure:
✔smoke alarms w/fresh batteries
✔CO alarm w/fresh batteries
✔appliances have been checked/serviced
✔if burning wood, the stove & chimney are properly installed and have been cleaned
✔you can open & get out windows pic.twitter.com/MZHs6ZanY7
— GravenhurstFIRE (@GravenhurstFIRE) November 9, 2019
Who should get an aluminum-framed RV?
Aluminum-framed RVs are good for people that travel a lot in their RV. Aluminum is more weather resistant than wood, and the frames are lighter too. So if you are traveling long distances, you will get better fuel economy from an aluminum-framed RV.
If you don’t travel much, then the price of an aluminum-framed RV compared to a wooden one is hard to justify. In most cases, wood-framed RVs are enough if you only travel for a few weeks or months of the year.
If you want to buy a larger RV, such as a class A motor home, or even a large class B, you should definitely only consider aluminum frames. This is because a wooden frame that large would be very heavy. This can make it hard to maneuver your RV.
If you travel long distances in your RV, then you should get an aluminum frame construction. You will get better fuel economy because the aluminum frame is lighter.
Aluminum frames are also good if you travel in harsh weather conditions. Your aluminum frame will cope much better with changes in temperature, rain, wind, and dust.
If the noise of an aluminum-framed RV bothers you, you could just get an aluminum-framed trailer. You could then tow the trailer with a truck instead of sitting in the RV and driving it.
If you want to own an aluminum-framed RV, you should take RV inspection seriously. Every month, just check for rippling on the siding of your RV.
If you see damage, get it inspected and repaired as soon as you can. A small amount of damage can quickly turn into a large, expensive problem.
— Flyin18T Motorsports (@Flyin18T) March 30, 2021
Who should get a wood-framed RV?
Wood-framed RVs are good for people that want a smaller RV and are not hugely concerned about having a lighter trailer. Wood-framed RVs are not the best type of RV construction if you are bothered about maneuverability and fuel economy.
Wood-framed RVs are best suited for those that don’t travel much in their RV. There is no point in spending 60% of your income on a nice, aluminum-framed RV if you only use it for a few weeks of the year.
If you travel in “normal” weather conditions, then a wood-framed RV will do the job. If you are going to travel in extreme heat, cold, or rain, then don’t get a wood-framed RV.
But how cold is too cold and what are the cons of RVs in cold weather?
If you are thinking of taking RV trips in the winter, check out this recent article on my site. I went over some vital tips to say safe and comfortable in your RV when traveling in the winter.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Once again, even if you have wood framing in your RV, it is super important that you constantly inspect the RV for damage. While wood frames are cheaper and easier to repair than aluminum ones, they can still be a big problem. You don’t want a $1000 repair to turn into a $6000 repair simply because you didn’t check your RV.
The interior walls, floor plans, and furniture that comes in wooden and aluminum framed RVs are quite similar.
In conclusion, aluminum-framed RVs are a little more expensive than wood-framed RVs. They are also more weather-resistant, lightweight, and last longer. If you are a frequent RV traveler, or if you want a large RV, then an aluminum frame is right for you.
Wood-framed RVs are cheaper than aluminum ones. However, you get what you pay for. Wood frames are less durable than aluminum ones. But as a bonus, they are easier to repair and don’t require specialist tools to fix.
My recommendation would be to get an aluminum-framed RV. They will last longer, and things are less likely to go wrong with them. They are worth the price, in my opinion.
Some popular manufacturers of RVs and aluminum travel trailers are Jay Flight, Forest River, Fifth Wheels, and airstream trailers.