Which construction method to choose?

The construction methods used by caravan manufacturers are many and varied. Just like a house, it’s important you know what’s behind the walls, in the roof and under the floor. It’s also important to know that you have options. The core construct of a caravan is typically either timber frame, aluminium frame, or full composite. The following information outlines the advantages of each method.

Timber frame

A traditional method of construction uses meranti timber for a frame with a covering of lightweight aluminium sheeting or a 3mm aluminium composite.

The advantages of timber/aluminium are:

Good balance between strength and weight  – reasonably light but also strong enough to survive rougher territory.

Easily repaired – caravan repairers in Australia are accustomed to working with this construction.

Easy to adapt for custom building – the meranti timber frames are hand made and can be more easily changed to allow for modifications for customising.

Aluminium frame

There are two basic types of aluminium framed caravans, TIG welded box section or C-channel either pop-riveted or pin punched. Box section welded frames are more expensive and heavy but are less likely to develop metal fatigue than C-channel.

The advantages of TIG welded box section aluminium frames are:

Strength  – typically 25mm X 25mm and 2mm-3mm thick, the frames are very heavy duty.

Rigidity – being very substantial and secured by welding the frame resists twisting and movement.

The frame won’t rot –  aluminium won’t rot (some use timber cross members).


The advantages of C-channel aluminium frames are:

Lightweight –   the aluminium used is substantially lighter than box section aluminium.

The frame won’t rot –  aluminium won’t rot (some use timber cross members).

Full composite

Full composite construction is a manufacturing method where there are layers of different materials bonded together to form the construction panels, these are sometimes called sandwich panels as there are two outer layers and one inner layer, just like a sandwich. The result is a super tough caravan that’s lighter, better insulated, and likely to outlast all others.

Not all composite materials are the same. If you select this manufacturing method be sure to select a manufacturer that uses XPS foam inside their composite panels. Why? XPS (eXtruded, high strength, closed-cell PolyStyrene) foam is a closed cell foam that will not soak up water. Some caravan manufacturers put an open-cell foam inside their composite panels which can retain water. XPS foam also has superior thermal properties over open cell foams making it a far better insulator.

There are many different types of composite material.

All composite materials are formed by bonding layers of different materials to create a panel. The most common types of composite panels are:

|  Fibreglass skin  |  Foam core  |  Fibreglass skin  |

|  Fibreglass skin  |  Foam core  |  Plywood skin  |

|  Aluminium skin  |  Foam core  |  Fibreglass skin  |

|  Aluminium skin  |  Foam core  |  Plywood skin  |

(The quality of fibreglass skin and foam core can vary dramatically)

Why Composite Panels?

The future of caravanning looks to be in full composite and is expected to become the new industry norm. Composite construction is lighter, stronger, more water resistant and better insulated.
The benefits to customers are many:

Superior strength
Composite material is lightweight yet super tough. The high strength to weight ratio of the material results in a high-quality caravan that’s better able to withstand the harsh Australian road and weather conditions.
Water resistant
Composite material enables a one-piece construction method for roofs, floors and walls. This greatly reduces the chance of any water seeping into your caravan. The one-piece construction method also results in a more durable caravan, better suited to the harsh Australian climate.
Fuel efficient
As a caravan made from composite material is lighter, the tow vehicle will use less fuel saving money and the environment.
Modern and sleek
Composite panels have a smooth, more modern finish that looks great. There’s also far less joins which means less dust and grime..
Lighter weight
The lightweight nature of composite panels results in an overall lighter caravan that’s easier to tow. This means a broader range of vehicles will be able to tow the caravan. The lighter nature of the caravan also means you can carry more of your personal belongings inside without the risk of being overweight.
Superior thermal properties
Composite material offers better insulation so you can stay cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Hail resistant
The tough nature of the external fibreglass skin provides far superior protection from hail stones compared to traditional aluminium.
Better resale value
Fully composite based caravans are highly sought after amongst caravan buyers. The market is becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of this form of construction. With no timber frame, potential purchases of used caravans are more confident to purchase full composite.
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Handy hints

When considering full composite caravans, don’t forget to ask where the composite material is made. Look for composite panels made in Australia using premium European components.
Some insurance providers offer a discount on insurance premiums for caravans built with composite material. Please check with your insurance provider.

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