Tuesday, May 2, 2017

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

     Coming up on 8 weeks now since I started the van.  God I am tired.  But the good news is its actually starting to look a lot like what I envisioned.

Picking up after my last entry, I continued my experimental upholstery work.  I'd read that 1/8th inch plywood would be pretty wavy if used as paneling but as I'm going to be fighting the GVWR, I need to save weight where I can.  Pro Tip: Ceiling panels are hard when done by yourself!

I opted to use pop rivets whenever possible rather than screws and it turned out to be a good decision.  They look a little cleaner IMO and they won't twist the vinyl when I get to that point.

I ordered $80 worth of warm white shallow can LED's for the main ceiling lights and wired each through its own individual switch.  One of the things I learned from my trailer was that you can really pinch down the amp usage with simple little tricks like only using light where you need it.

As the panels went up I couldn't resist the urge to poke more holes in a perfectly good roof.  I added cargo lights at the rear and side doors, plus a HAM antenna that I'll need later.  They'll come in handy when the zombies come.

I ditched the massively uncomfortable and space-robbing bench seat for a single captain's chair for the offspring.  Mostly I needed the space but he now has the most comfortable seat in the van.

I discovered the magic of a well-lit industrial park.  My van is just one of several and the street lights drown out the light escaping from inside.  Despite being half a block from the police station, and having cops zoom by at breakneck speeds all during the night, I haven't had a single incident.  The downside is its well-occupied during the day so I have a different location that I use before 10pm.

Once the ceiling was done I started in on the walls.

Hey the cabinets finally make a comeback!  I was debating these little gems on the Home Depot website.  At $150 each they were a bit spendy but seemed to fit what I needed.  I popped on to show the wife and get her input and found them on sale for half off!  Sold!  I mounted them using 2 rows of unistrut - amazing stuff that gets used extensively in industry but still hasn't really found its way into most DIY projects.  A shame really.

Cabinets and some covered wall panels up and its starting to actually look like something you'd want to live in.

It had been awhile since I'd had an injury so I decided to dump out the cut cabinet scrap and catch my fingers as it went into the trash.

A kiddie bed just wasn't happening with the space available above the seats so I built this little unit to house the stereo/DVD.  I ran a video output for a larger screen that will be located in the rear of the van.

Originally I had thought to make a crazy sliding murphy sofa/bed but it just got too complex and heavy.  Plus, the offspring's chair ended up getting moved more towards centerline to avoid the fuel tank under the chassis.  This meant the fridge needed to be moved back, thereby cutting into bed space.  It will all make sense in a few more pics.  But hey, a bed base with storage underneath!

Okay make that slightly less storage as I mounted the hot water heater under it.  At this point, cutting holes in this thing has become a bit of a hobby.  Barely visible at the front of the bed is the Espar heater which takes a tap off the diesel tank and provides heating for the cabin.  It ate up a bit more space under the bed but will be invaluable on cold nights.

My wife is short.  She doesn't need a whole lot of bed.  So rather than get design crazy I decided to build her a custom bed for her short stature and a footwell to accommodate my human-sized frame.

At this point the mess of wires was starting to wear on me.  I enlisted the help of my offspring and set off to take care of it.  I use flooded batteries so I wanted a tray that I could slide out for easy maintenance.

While we're on this side, why not throw up a panel?  Also my first speaker finally found a home.

Battery tray done, its time to enclose those bad boys in what will become the base for the fridge.

I partitioned off a section to use as the distribution center.  Batteries release hydrogen during charging so best to put any potential sparks away from them.  Also you want to have the solar controller mounted close to the batteries so this made a nice home for it as well.

The battery compartment got a floor vent.  Not exactly ideal since hydrogen rises, but with the exhaust fan on the roof this should pull a pretty good draft.  I added a bit of filter material to keep the bugs out.

As long as I'm under the van, I might as well address the exhaust off the water heater.  The stock pipe blew into the bumper so I trimmed it and added a downturn.  Nice and stealthy!

Fridge base is looking ready to have a fridge.  I covered it thinking that some of it might be visible.  Nope.  Wasted that vinyl.

I built up around the fridge to add more insulation and keep it secure.  It really doesn't need more insulation as its extremely efficient already but I figured it was a good use for my leftover thinsulate.  The fridge is made by Engel and I'm honestly quite amazed by its performance.  I did a bit of testing in my living room when it arrived.  It pulls 4A when it kicks on but this slowly drops off the longer the compressor runs.  Once it reached temperature it only kicked on every 11 minutes, giving me a total draw of 1.2A/hour.  It was so little that I decided to only buy 2 batteries instead of 4.  Granted my testing was done in a 72ยบ room.  Real world testing will ultimately decide if I need to add the additional batteries, but that's a huge savings of money and weight if I can run with half of what I planned.

I also installed some of the DC outlets that I'm using.  Each one has a 12v socket, a 1.1A USB, and a 2.1A USB.  Another common power mistake that I see folks use is to rely too heavily on AC.  You have a DC system, why are you trying to charge a DC item like a phone or laptop using AC?  You waste about 40% more power every time you convert it.  Even worse is to use one large inverter to carry all potential AC loads.  An inverter is incredibly inefficient already, so if you have to use one, the best thing you can do is use the smallest one you can, even if this means multiples.  A $25 inverter to run a small AC appliance will use less power than a large $600 inverter uses just sitting there turned on with no load on it.

I'm estimating another 3 weeks or so until completion at this point, so sometime between Mother's Day and Memorial Day - just in time for summer.