Opening Statement

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Van Conversion Floor Layout and Initial Design (draft) Decisions

Emerson Drafting Table - CC 2.0 by Tri Lox on Flickr
Emerson Drafting Table - CC 2.0 by Tri Lox on Flickr

I'm still trying to source a van, so still just at a design level, and welcome your feedback. I have a floor plan, but it doesn't include everything, so a few comments below will hopefully answer your questions.

The most critical design drivers that aren't common with other camping designs are to be easily driveable (minimize backing up), and to have air conditioning when not on shore power. I know that AC on battery is a very difficult requirement; however, based on my calculations, it's reasonable as long as you can plug in at least once a day (or use a generator) and are obsessive about insulation.

The lettering will be easier to read if you open the image in another window.

I did this drawing in Google Slides at full scale: 1" = 1" and printed it out at the local Fedex office. This has already given me some initial design adjustment ideas. This printout is 36" x 140" on each side and cost $62 to print out -- well worth it from my perspective. The small type size on the drawing is because Google Slides has a maximum type size of 96 points.


Power sources:
Solar: 990 watts of solar, completely covering the roof area. This forms an attic area that should reduce the AC load.
Alternator: 12V x 50 amps (600W) Battery to Battery charger
Shore power: 20 amp circuit with 15 amps typical expected overnight as needed. This is adequate to full-charge the batteries from empty in 6 hours at 1,500 watts.
Generator: Honda EU2200i for when shore power isn't available.

3x SimpliPhi 3.8kwh 24v -- 11,400 Wh nominal, 9,120 Wh useable @80% discharge

Air Conditioner: Midea U-Shaped, 8,000 BTU, inverter soft start, maximum draw 768 watts, 15 EER. Side vented and ventilated (and yes I know this is a major pain to build in)

Ventilation: Continuous 25 CFM, on timer 100 CFM, on temperature switch 200 CFM.

Heater: Propex HS2000 propane heater (the math just doesn't work on electric heat).

Insulation: Blended insulation value equivalent to at least R-5. Probably will use one inch of Polyiso wherever it can go and lots of Great Stuff. Ventilated box with layer of interior hard-surface closures for sliding door, back door, and cab area. Extra effort to insulate against nuisance sounds (maybe Ensolite layer on large panels along with mass loading the sheet metal).

Sleeping: Three configurations at a daily choice option: two 28" x 78" bunks long way // 52" x 73" sideways // 73" x 78" long way (but this takes more time to set up). In the bunk and mega king setups your feet go under the kitchen counter on one side, and under the air conditioner on the other side. 15" clearance above the mattress level.

Garage: Approximately 20 inches tall x 14 inches deep. This holds 2 propane tanks, one small gas can, and a generator. The top of the garage becomes a shelf that serves as an end-table for the beds. When the back doors open up, and my insulation partition is folded back, there is an unobstructed view out the back.

Kitchen: 30 inch dedicated counter with sink. 52 inch auxilary counter that gets put away at night. Expecting only electric appliances except for a propane grill to use outside.

Water: 16 gallons dedicated + 2 x 2.5 gallon jugs for 20 gallons total. The jugs are so the water can be refreshed from a situation where we just have water available, but no hose connection. Some campgrounds are like this. Grey water goes to a jug that is emptied manually (probably 3 gallons). No water heater in this design -- small amounts of water can be heated in the electric kettle for dish washing and sponge-bath bathing.

Shower: I will provide a water outlet out the back so one of those instant propane heaters could be used for an outdoor shower. However, I don't expect that to be a common scenario for us.

Toilet: We think a dry toilet (wag bags) will be adequate for us. We do have the option of using a portable cassette toilet or some other variations. There will be a cabinet underneath the refrigerator to hold it.

That's about all I have worked out so far. There are an amazing number of little decisions to make as well. I'm hoping to buy a new Promaster in February with the factory swivel seats and 220amp alternator, there just aren't any available nearby right now. I look forward to your feedback and will post additional progress.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Planning a Van Conversion

Planning a Van Conversion

My wife and I have been thinking of doing a van conversion for a few years, and 2021 seems like the year to do it.  I'll use this blog to outline the project, some of my choices, and some of the reasoning behind those choices where I have not seen explanations and data commonly posted by others.

If there was a van "off the shelf" that we could just buy that meets our design points, I think we would probably just do that.  But, as usual, we have some unique preferences and it's an interesting project, so we plan to do a DIY conversion.

Some of the topics that I plan to cover over a series of posts:

  • Programming (space and related use planning)
  • Electrical system (production, storage, uses)
  • Water system (storage, uses, heating)
  • Kitchen (refrigeration, storing food, cooking)
  • Hygiene (toilet, shower, laundry) 
  • Ventilation (moisture, oxygen, odors)
  • Insulation (U vs. R and how much is enough)
Many people like to share their progress week by week, so I'll see if that seems like an interesting approach as we progress.

This will be my fourth time creating a camping van, starting with a Dodge Tradesman conversion that I did in my 20's and lived in for some months, a Dodge Caravan camping retrofit, and a Ford Transit Connect conversion with solar and a refrigerator.  So while I have much to learn in the process, this will also be a design based on a fair amount of experience.


Programming is another way of asking the question:  what will you use the van for, and what will be important for you to be happy.  At a high level here are some use cases that I want to accommodate.

  • Guest bedroom or office (parked at our house).
  • Mobile office for day use away from home, returning in the evening.
  • Bug-out van, with provision for a week or more for 5 people (think wildfires).
  • Picnic day at the beach with family.
  • 5-7 day boondocking or campground without services.
  • 2-5 week trip for sightseeing.
  • Driving across the country with two people.
  • Living in the van "full-time" for 2 people.
An ideal design would meet the maximum demand of each scenario.  So with that in mind, here are some design points:

Driving/Parking:  Easy to drive and park, with "reasonable" gas mileage.

Seating:  comfortable seating for two, and additional seating for 4 with seat belts.

Sleeping:  sleep two comfortably, and have emergency storage option for 3-4 additional people at a minimum (tents and sleeping bags).

Refrigerator:  Keep drinks cold and some fresh produce.  Size is not too critical, maybe 65L or more is adequate.

Cooking:  Electric kettle, microwave, toaster oven, and a hot plate.  Portable grill to use outside.

Heating:  Heat for temperatures down to 20 deg F without being plugged in.

Cooling:  Air Con for temperatures up to 100 deg F without being plugged in.

Toilet:  Yes, with privacy from other interior areas.  Supplies for 50 uses.

Sponge Bath or Shower:  Yes, but showers might be outside and require setup.

Water:  40 gallons total, with at least 20 gallons "built-in."

Ventilation:  Continuous and automatic modes.  Extra for toilet and cooking.

In future posts I'll outline how I plan to address these points and others.

I have a "working design" developed and will provide that soon.  Please share your feedback and suggestions.