Interior pt. 1

Interior pt. 1

How many van interiors do you think I've looked at? 100? 200? Who fucking knows, but its a lot. Peeping out other vans was definitely a source of inspiration and ideas. I mean you can only do so much with 60 sq ft...

So here is my take on it. There are some layout choices that are familiar and some ideas that I came up with on my own.
<This is all still very much a work in progress.>

You can see the outside table/computer station in doorway. Galley/fridge on the opposite wall and upper cabinets.  Flooring is still not in.

You can see the outside table/computer station in doorway. Galley/fridge on the opposite wall and upper cabinets.  Flooring is still not in.

Lets start with the man behind the cabinets; Bryan Dusenbury of Creative Woodworks. If you think putting soft close drawers into a van is easy you can go fuck yourself. Because its not. And despite my insistence on dubious carpentry ideas he came through again and again.
If you're in Western New York and looking for a skilled cabinetry guru/finish carpenter, he's your guy. Link above will get you in touch.

All of the cabinetry (and most everything else) in the van was built up with 80/20 first. The extruded aluminum is perfect for idiots like me that can neither weld nor work with wood properly. You just buy lengths of the stuff, cut it and attach it together. Sounds simple... 
and sometimes it was. 

Upper cabinets. This 80/20 corner piece is nice. It joins 3 extrusions and makes it headbump friendly. These pieces are what forced me to buy and learn to use a tap. These corner pieces are also spendy ($20/each). Also visible is the 80/20 slider tracks. I opted for split sliding cabinet faces. Works great and is simple.

Upper cabinets. This 80/20 corner piece is nice. It joins 3 extrusions and makes it headbump friendly. These pieces are what forced me to buy and learn to use a tap. These corner pieces are also spendy ($20/each). Also visible is the 80/20 slider tracks. I opted for split sliding cabinet faces. Works great and is simple.

Over several months I was able to cobble together the skeleton/frames of the cabinets and attach them to the inside of the van. I used Rivnuts to mount the assemblies to the walls, floor and ceiling. This was a huge pain in the ass but when it was finished the cabinets were rock solid. I was able to hang my entire body off the upper cabinets and could not get them to move even a tiny bit. Lets see a commercial RV maker do that!

Once the frames were assembled and mounted I was a little lost. I could've probably cobbled some cabinets together(poorly) but I want this thing to feel nice, so I took it to the pro (who also happens to be my cousin).

You can see the 80/20 framing. I ended up choosing some hickory engineered flooring for cabinet faces, drawers, ceiling and (soon to be installed) flooring. Upper cabinets are split sliders which I think are ideal for conversions (finger pulls still need to be installed).

You can see the 80/20 framing. I ended up choosing some hickory engineered flooring for cabinet faces, drawers, ceiling and (soon to be installed) flooring. Upper cabinets are split sliders which I think are ideal for conversions (finger pulls still need to be installed).

The galley design is pretty standard. Several pull out drawers and a big split level cupboard. The 80/20 really shit the bed here though. Trying to level drawer slides on 80/20 thats connected to a not-square van is a huge pain in the ass. Like punch a dog kinda frustrating. Obviously we won the battle. Look at those drawers!

Galley. Sink is just a Moen bar sink. Opted for the deeper model to handle camelbacks/nalgenes and pots. The stovetop is a SMEV 2 burner with that posh glass top. Fridge is a 4.8cuft Isotherm with a nice quiet Danfoss compressor. 

Galley. Sink is just a Moen bar sink. Opted for the deeper model to handle camelbacks/nalgenes and pots. The stovetop is a SMEV 2 burner with that posh glass top. Fridge is a 4.8cuft Isotherm with a nice quiet Danfoss compressor. 

The photo above shows the functional side of the galley. We had the good luck of being gifted the Corian countertop. Corian is a pretty ideal surface for a conversion. Its light, workable with wood tools, super durable, water does fuck all to it and you can resurface it with a bit of sandpaper. Looks nice too. I mounted the Corian to the 80/20 with just a bit of silicone around the edge and it hasnt moved in about 10,000 miles.

Come on! How fucking cool is that? Creative Woodworks brainstormed and implemented a slide out cutting board. 

Come on! How fucking cool is that? Creative Woodworks brainstormed and implemented a slide out cutting board. 

That cutting board is a sweet piece of work. Not only are the tolerances on it super tight, but its dead simple. The Corian was dado'd out along the sides to fit into the 80/20 profile slots. What does that mean? It means this thing works without hinges, slides or anything that can break. 
Horizontal real estate in a van conversion is always lacking. Using your brain to add a bunch more with a minimal vertical footprint is a big deal.

Ceiling! Really happy with how this turned out. 

Ceiling! Really happy with how this turned out. 

Lets move on to the ceiling. I bought a shitload of this engineered hickory flooring (under protest from master carpenter). I figured it would be good for the floor, cabinets, ceiling. I wanted a uniform look to the interior since it was such a tiny space. 
When I mentioned using this stuff for the ceiling I got an immediate: 'Fuck no' from Bryan.
Fair enough.
But after a few weeks of banging my head against the wall with everything from fabric covered plywood to just plywood to some weird aerospace plastic stuff I kept coming back to the flooring. The planks looked cool up there and the consistency with the cabinets and(soon flooring) was going to look great.
Fuck it, lets go for it.
So I bought a bunch of black self tapping screws with washers integrated and we went for it. 
Surprisingly, this was one of the easier, more satisfying projects. The screws set themselves nicely in the vans metal spars and work went pretty smoothly.

After 7000 or so miles there isn't a loose board up there, I cant hear any squeaking, and it looks fucking great! 

Ceiling, lights, cabinets, fan and a really ghetto instrument panel.

Ceiling, lights, cabinets, fan and a really ghetto instrument panel.

There's a lot of stuff going on in the photo above. Here are the lights I used. They are warm white LED puck lights with a dimmer. I tried several and these won out for functionality and price. I have them wired into several zones (galley, under cabinets, bedroom, main ceiling) with separate remote dimmers for each zone. I also wired them into the main switch panel so I can easily turn them on/off and then fiddle with dimmers if the mood hits me.
It all about the lighting folks...

The paneling is also visible above. We decided on a nice 1/2" hickory veneer plywood for this. Easy to bend into shape and fix to the metal wall. First thoughts were to stain/dye the wall paneling a bright red or a muted grey. But after several experiments with several different stains/dyes we decided against it. The patterns and colors looked great natural. Clean and simple.

Didn't stop us from dying the fuck out of the rear door panels (see 2 photos up).

View from the bed. Still need to trim out the small slider window.

View from the bed. Still need to trim out the small slider window.

There's also a thermostat mounted on the wall. See it? Why am I pointing this out? Because the heater in this thing is fucking rad. That thermostat is an old school residential thermostat. That means you can set a temperature and the furnace will cycle to meet that temp. Its not just a dumb on/off heater. 

It's a working thermostat hooked up to a furnace that I installed in what once was an empty cargo van... Don't lose perspective.

I'm not done yet. Let's take a look at folding bed v2.0. Version 1 was an original idea of mine and it worked just fine. But it was a bit of a pain in the ass. Considering we need to interact with this thing at least once a day it needed to be slick and easy.
Inspiration hit several months after v1.0 and I took a ride to EMS for some climbing rope and carabiners.

This is just a test knot and the bed platforms cushion has been removed to show rope routing.

This is just a test knot and the bed platforms cushion has been removed to show rope routing.

I decided to hang the bed instead of supporting it with latches. The latches were a drag to fiddle with and rarely went into the holes on the first try. With carabiners and rope it would just be a matter of reaching up and finding the eye hooks.
 

Eye hooks, carabiner and that sexy thermostat.

Eye hooks, carabiner and that sexy thermostat.

The eye hooks are dead simple 5/16 threads that mount directly into the 80/20 fasteners. This means I can slide the eye hooks up and down the underside of the cabinets to get a perfect fit. And remember how I was bragging about hanging off the cabinets and not seeing anything move...? Well now we're literally hanging off the cabinets every night.

Bed v2.0 with back cushion (no mattress).

Bed v2.0 with back cushion (no mattress).

Photo above shows the bed with the platform (couch backrest) swung up and the back cushion installed again. The back cushion (Custom Mary Mack upholstery!) foam depth was chosen with care.

Froli system. There are different 'springs' for different zones. We have firmer springs near hips and shoulders. Totally customizable on each side also.

Froli system. There are different 'springs' for different zones. We have firmer springs near hips and shoulders. Totally customizable on each side also.

Its the exact height of the Froli bed system we put under the main mattress. The Froli system is pretty great. The yachties use them as it promotes air circulation under the mattress (mold in a boat is a big deal) and creates a really comfortable mattress with a smaller vertical footprint than a boxspring.

All of that seemed to fit our situation perfectly so we went for it.

So now we have a much more comfortable mattress that will let all those farts out.

 

 

Bed v2.0. 

Bed v2.0. 

Photo above shows the bed up and smaller mattress piece (couch seat cushion) installed. You can see the mattress piece on top of the back cushion is the same height as the main mattress on top of the Froli. There was no need to have our feet resting on the Froli springs and it would have looked and felt really awful to have those plastic springs as a back rest when couch mode was in effect.

We have sheets (obviously not on) that we keep on the main bed at all times. When the bed swings up we just pull the sheets over the smaller mattress piece and it's good to go.

From couch mode to sleep mode, I would guess it takes 45-60 seconds. From sleep to couch it takes maybe 90 seconds. There are still some issues that need to be worked out. 

  • The carabiners are easy to attach, but a little tricky to detach. This is due to their shape. Im going to buy ovals and this should solve the problem.
  • The rope and washers sometimes get caught up under the platform. I am going to solve this by creating a guide for the rope.
  • Managing blankets when the bed is in couch mode is a bummer. Still gaming out ways to solve this

This is definitely a better bed design than the previous one. Its easier, looks better and kinda fun. After a few more kinks get worked out I'll be happy with it.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Pimp That Van. 
 

Electrical v2.0

Electrical v2.0

The electrical system needed to be re-worked in the van. When I first installed the components I had no idea on proper wiring and connections. Which aren't quite as huge a deal in a static house. But in a moving/shaking/rattling house on wheels its a different story. If one of the larger connections were to come loose and ground itself(not that hard when the ENTIRE vehicle is basically the electrical ground) the cable will act like an arc welder. And with 520ah of batteries that is going to be a pretty bad ass arc welder for a short time. I did not want a loose arc welder inside my van, so I started over.

The original/temp shitbox. Wow that thing is ugly! 

The original/temp shitbox. Wow that thing is ugly! 

This meant ripping out the temporary battery box/bench that I had built. It was flimsy, poorly put together and needed to go. The first batch of 80/20 had come in so I got to work using the stuff.

80/20 is just extruded aluminum. You choose length and profiles and cut to fit!

80/20 is just extruded aluminum. You choose length and profiles and cut to fit!

The new box/bench would still house both batteries and double as our couch. The dimensions were altered a little from the temporary box to allow for a little more leg room and more butt space. 

Thats better. You can see the hickory flooring dado'd into the 80/20 slots.  Weird flooring is temporary.

Thats better. You can see the hickory flooring dado'd into the 80/20 slots.  Weird flooring is temporary.

Sneak peak at the closed battery box and some (prototype) upholstery.

Sneak peak at the closed battery box and some (prototype) upholstery.

Since the battery box was mid-ships and the very first section of the build using 80/20, this acted as the anchor point for the rest of the vans build out. What the fuck does that mean? It means using 80/20 in a van conversion is a layering process. Once the first section goes in, the rest of the build connects, lays on top of, or is joined in some way to that first bit.

You can kind of see what Im talking about here. All the 80/20 throughout the van is connected.

You can kind of see what Im talking about here. All the 80/20 throughout the van is connected.

So if you touch some 80/20 in the van, you're connected to every other piece in the van one way or another. Good thing aluminum doesnt conduct electricity... 
I'll have a full rundown on my experience with 80/20 in an upcoming post.
Spoiler: I love the stuff!

Once the battery box skeleton was in place, I could start ripping out all my first run electrical mistakes. I started slow and thought that I might be able to just keep the same basic layout, but make better, safer physical connections. 
This turned out to be impossible.
So I just leveled the entire fucking install. Ripped it all out and started over with an empty box.

Which was a good thing in the end. Learning by repetition and all that shit. Now I can diagnose and fix my system when shit goes south. In fact a few problems already have popped up that I was able to troubleshoot and fix. Without the insane hours spent researching and doing the physical connections I would have been clueless.

So what are we looking at? How's all that shit work?
 

I will spare you the underside of this thing. While I made nice secure connections, its still a rats nest.

I will spare you the underside of this thing. While I made nice secure connections, its still a rats nest.

Lets start with the batteries. 2x AGM 255ah 12v FullRivers in parallel for a total battery bank of 510ah. I went this direction because I didnt feel like having a 4x 6v batteries. 2 is easier than 4. I was also able to have a local distributor get these shipped to him(saving me several hundred $$ in shipping).

The batteries are connected to a BlueSeas 8690 isolator/manager. This thing is pretty simple and pretty complex at the same time. It lets you hook up 2 separate battery banks and have them share power, isolate the banks, charge from the alternator, feeds the inverter, funnels the solar, and a bunch of other crazy shit.  

Lets move onto the Automatic Charge Relay. BlueSeas Ml-ACR
This little, expensive gadget was worth the extra $$. Some people leave out the auto relays and rely on themselves to turn that isolator switch when they want to charge from the alternator or just use the house batteries. 
I dont trust myself to remember that. Because I would forget. All the time.
This auto relay uses a magnetic latching system that can read energy levels from the separate banks and will decide whether it should switch from charging off the alternator/solar panels or to isolate my house batteries and let me stream Dawsons Creek from the house batteries.
Worth it.

The solar panels and charge controller are pretty self explanatory. The panels feed the charge controller and the charge controller feeds the 8690 which then goes into the batteries. I opted for Renogy's 100w Eclipse panels. These are the newer process panels that are both a little more efficient and a little smaller(super important for my cramped roof). I was able to fit 3 of these on the roof for a total of 300w in series.

Crowded roof. With a 144 wheelbase you really need to think about roof real estate. 

Crowded roof. With a 144 wheelbase you really need to think about roof real estate. 

Whats up there: awning, 3x 100w panels, cargo box, fan, light bar, custom rack. Designing, sourcing and installing all items on the roof took a lot longer than expected(like the rest of this crazy goddamn project).

Whats up there: awning, 3x 100w panels, cargo box, fan, light bar, custom rack. Designing, sourcing and installing all items on the roof took a lot longer than expected(like the rest of this crazy goddamn project).

I’ll dive a little deeper into the solar setup since it seems to be one of the first questions everybody has on the electrical stuff. I think if you’re doing a conversion these days(even if its a minimal one) you should have some solar panels. Why? Because its good for your batteries. The ability to have what amounts to a free trickle charger on whenever the suns out is pretty great. Batteries like to be topped off 100% of the time. Its just chemistry. 

I went with a Rogue MPPT controller(their website seems to be down so no link on this one). MPPT controllers advertise a significant charging boost(up to 30%) and even if its half that, I want as many percentage points as I can get. The way I understand MPPT controllers is that they like higher voltage arrays so that they can step up the voltage into more amps.  Higher voltage arrays means wiring your panels in series. This translates to: when you're making juice, you're really making juice, but if you get a shadow across one of the panels or the sun isnt at maximun, you're making a lot less juice.
I'm sure some of thats wrong. But I do know I can pull 15 amps from the solar panels when its a clear day. And thats a lot of free juice.

Still need to tuck some of the cables away. You can also see my solution to the awning and Thule rack problem to the left. I fabricated some simple brackets out of flat stock and did a lot of swearing.

Still need to tuck some of the cables away. You can also see my solution to the awning and Thule rack problem to the left. I fabricated some simple brackets out of flat stock and did a lot of swearing.

I needed a way to tie the 2 front panels together and have a place to mount the light bar. 80/20 worked really well. This also created a wind fairing for the panels and quieted down high speed wind noise. Win/win!

I needed a way to tie the 2 front panels together and have a place to mount the light bar. 80/20 worked really well. This also created a wind fairing for the panels and quieted down high speed wind noise. Win/win!

Are you still fucking reading this? Come on... 

The rest of the system is pretty plain jane 12v wiring, fuses and switches. I've learned the beauty of bus bars and creative wiring thinking, but most of it was just pain in the ass wire chasing down the van walls.
There's also the inverter and the 110ac system, but again, thats pretty simple and mimics house wiring. Kinda.

I'm really sick of talking about electrical bullshit right now so this is the end. Maybe I'll revisit it for updates.

 

Folding bed v.1.0

This is the first iteration of my bed plan. After using it for about 6 weeks I have found a few areas for improvement. Mainly the hinges, the set holes in the side of van and aesthetics. Goal: To have a queen sized bed that was able to easily fold out of the way for day use and lounging.

Here is the bed at full queen extension: IMG_7161

Great to sleep on. Plenty of room. Feels like a normal bed. The problem is how far it intrudes into the 'living room' of a 144" wheelbase Sprinter. I wanted more room for cooking, editing and just lounging about. So the bed needed to fold.

I actually took inspiration from another Sprinter conversion, but modified it. The other conversion had the lower section of the bed fold UP. This blocked off the bed for day use and also blocked off all the light from rear windows or open doors. It seemed like it bottled the van up too.

So I made mine flip down. I also integrated the swing down section into the bench seat as the back rest.

Here is the bed with the mattress section removed and in 'bolster pillow' mode:

IMG_7160

This is still the rough v.1.0 so there is very little finishing touches. I plan on padding & upholstering the swing down section so that its more comfortable and looks nice. You can see the section of mattress covered and on the bed. When you're just using the bed as a day bed or a place to read or nap, that big pillow is actually pretty nice to prop yourself up on.

The mattress is a 6" memory foam mattress that I found on Amazon. I just took a turkey knife to it and cut off 19". This 19" piece was sewn into a temporary covering.

The fitted sheets stay on the main section of mattress at all times. When the bed is made up for full sleep mode all thats necessary is to take the sheets that are folded underneath the main section and wrap the smaller section. The fitted sheets pull the two pieces of mattress together and it feels and looks like 1 piece. We could not feel any separation in the bed during use.

Here it is with the section folded down:

IMG_7166

This gives us an extra 19" of free space. And in a 144 thats huge! Note the cheapo hinges I used from main bed to folding section. These will need to be replaced by through-bolted heavy duty hinges. They rattle right now.

Here is the underside of the bed:

IMG_7164

I just used a spring loaded trailer bolt connected to the folding section of bed frame and then cut a hole in the van to match the bolt. I reinforced the hole with a section of aluminum plate and JB welded/screwed it into place.

IMG_7163

Here's a better angle. While the spring loaded bolt works great and doesnt make any noise, the hole I made needs to be cleaned up. It looks rough:

IMG_7165

See what I mean? Yuk. This holds the bed with 2 adults on it no problem, but it looks awful. Need to think of a way to pretty it up.

And thats it for now. Like I said, I plan on re-iterating on several small problem areas, but after an extended trial cruise this idea has worked out great. Time to convert bed from day use to sleep mode is ~1 minute. There is also very limited monkeying around with sheets/bedding since most of the bed stays fully made up all the time.

ok, back to work on the galley now.

RIXENS Espar hydronic system

RIXENS SYSTEM INSTALL: I decided to bite the bullet on the cost of Rixens system. I really wanted a reliable/compact source for hot water and solid air heating. The Rixen system fit this bill. For a cost... Total: $4200.00 which included just about everything needed to set this up. The only items I needed to purchase was a 50' roll of radiator hose, antifreeze and some clamps.

To preface; I am not mechanically gifted nor have I ever done anything like this before. Also, I have not installed the water lines/plumbing yet.

Box arrived with this: D-5-RV-Parts-Kit

I decided to not tie into the engine coolant line as that seemed unnecessary(and even more complicated). Here is the schematic Rixen supplies: D-5-WS-Heating-System-Plumbing-Loop

There is also a lot more tech details and specs in the downloadable pdf's from Espar. Rixens diagram above is a simple way to get your head around what you're doing. The actual manuals go into pretty exhaustive detail.

I was leaving on a 6 week trip that was going to include Wyoming and Idaho for several weeks of skiing so I needed to install this thing quickly. The install that I did was temporary and everything but the furnace itself is going to be moved for the next(final?) install.

FURNACE: The furnace unit itself is almost identical to the OEM booster heater. I decided to install mine very close to the OEM unit(I have this option).  Here it is installed:IMG_7157

You can see the radiator hoses('In' and 'Out'attached to the top of the unit. Rixen supplies 90degree elbows to make this possible. The furnace is similar to a D2 unit as far as dosing pump, air input and exhaust. The main wiring harness just snaps into place. However the dosing pump harness is a bit of a pain. Espar supplies these DIY harnesses with the unit. They are over engineered and a real pain to work with. (The brackets in the foreground are for my 'basement' box idea.)

Hoses then go up into the cab through a couple holes I drilled. These have since been weather proofed with rubber glands.

IMG_7158

EXPANSION TANK:

The system heats up coolant and circulates it through the closed loop. The coolant expands when it gets heated so an expansion tank is needed. I decided to go the extra mile and have the AC power module added on. I think this was an extra $500.00 and allows the system to run from AC shore power if you're plugged in. This seemed like a worthwhile investment as if you can avoid running a noisy diesel furnace, then shouldnt you...?

Here is the expansion tank:

IMG_7154

The hoses attach to the bottom with brass 90degree fittings. This location was the one area I had problems with leaking. When I re-install I am going to try some teflon tape on the threads. Leaking coolant inside a vehicle kinda stinks.

You can see the plastic AC unit on the right hand side.

IMG_7153

Here you can see the pump, the fan and some really shitty carpentry skills(again, this was only a temporary install). The line coming into the pump from the left goes directly to the furnace. If you follow the run, the hose disappears into the box and goes through the air exchanger/fan.

IMG_7155

IMG_7151

FAN/PUMP:

You can see the air exchanger/fan and ducts above. The coolant hoses are hidden under the mounting flange but coolant comes in one side, flows over some radiator fins and goes out the other. The fan blows hot air through the ducts.

Speaking of the fan... its loud. How loud? I dont have decibel numbers for you, but its annoying. I got used to it since it was keeping me alive in -10F temperatures, but I think I am going to look at changing it out with a different fan? Possibly a large case fan for PC's...

I plan on re-installing the fan in a different location for 2 reasons. 1: Its loud. 2: You need to think about cold air return. My setup had the fan sucking air from my 'garage' area which is under the bed and is blocked most of the time and receives little heat. So the fan is sucking unnecessarily cold air and trying to heat it.

The pump is also loud. Its loud in a high frequency whining kind of way. I plan on mounting this under the hood.

The Espar code reader shown above is there only to diagnose errors. It does not control any aspect of heating. For temp control Rixen supplies a typical residential thermostat. The kind with the slider rheostat thingy. I found this to work pretty damn good actually. You can set the thermostat for 60 degrees and the system will indeed come on/shut off appropriately.

I also had Rixens throw in the altitude module(addtl$400) as I know I will be spending a lot of time above 5000'. You need to provide your own 1-way toggle switch for this(I just used an old house switch I had laying around). Basically you splice into the same diagnostics line that the code reader is on. The switch then interrupts the code reader and allows the use of the altitude module. I'm pretty sure my unit was operating correctly. I used it for weeks on end above 5000(as high as 11,000) and I had no issues. I do wish there was an indicator light on altitude module saying it was operating, because as it is, you have no idea if its on or not...

IMG_7152

THINGS I PLAN TO DO DIFFERENTLY:

-The expansion tank and pump will be relocated under the hood(where the aux battery goes). This will eliminate the smell from the expansion tank and kill the pump noise. -Move the air exchanger/fan. Either under the passenger seat or into the galley cabinets. -Change out the fan.

THINGS I LIKE:

-The system easily heated my insulated 144 tall in some pretty harsh conditions. North Dakota and high altitude Wyoming in winter are no jokes. -Like the D2 it uses my existing diesel tank. -Once the plumbing is in, I will have on demand hot water in a convenient slick package.

GRIPES:

-Cost -Loud fan and pump. I think this can be fixed.

Questions? Comments?

Less of a build report. More of a shakedown cruise recap

Somewhere in southern colorado. As you might have seen, there have been few updates here lately. Not because I gave up on the sometimes overwhelmingly large job of converting a van, but because I've been out on the road for the past 6 weeks. 7800 miles, 23 states and a lot of fun.

This was basically the vans shakedown cruise. A way for us to take a long look at the systems we planned to put in the van and how they work. A way to gauge the space available and our options for cramming stuff in those spaces. And really, it was a great excuse to be a gypsy for a month and a half.

IMG_6528Before departing Buffalo I hurriedly installed several items in a beta/trial setup. This 2 weeks of scrambling almost broke me. My hands were so swollen and cut up from working in the cold that I had problems using them some days. Laying under the van while snowmelt trickled down my neck and diesel dripped into my mouth was sometimes enough to send me inside to contemplate just what the fuck I was thinking with this whole project. But then my hands warmed up, I changed clothes and just went back outside.

 

image1

The electrical system is going to get an entire entry on its own as it was complicated and deserves a breakdown for people thinking about something similar. Quick version: I attempted to install the 2 Group 8 AGM's under the driver side of the van in the battery box that I had designed. This did not go well. Not only were the batteries an absolute bitch to try and hoist up under the chassis, but the design/construction of the box was not up to the task of holding 350lbs of batteries as I bounced down the road. If any part of this box had failed at speed it would have been catastrophic. And by that I mean I would've wrecked my new van.

IMG_6519I ended up just putting the batteries mid-ship for the time being. This is a temporary solution. The carpentry skills on display here are not impressive.

When stuff like this happens all you can do is make the best of it. So the battery box will now be the vans basement. In a possible DIY Sprinter conversion first, I'm going to attach this box in the space under the drivers side, weather seal it, and create trap doors in the floor to access the space. It's about 8-10cu ft of storage. Thats a lotta macaroni and cheese boxes...

I also installed the hydronic heat system. Again, this deserves its own post as I have not seen anyone else document a diy install of one of these systems from Rixens. New frontiers and all that. Another quick version: the heater worked out great. I was able to sit in the van in just a t-shirt in North Dakota while it was 2 degrees F outside. Pretty impressive. Full install post on this soon.

Since this is a build-out blog I think I will just condense the trip into some van porn with captions. Enjoy!

225B7956

 

Made it to Wyoming. I had several days of skiing planned.

 

Jackson, WY. Taking a break from skiing to shoot some timelapses.

 

Teton Pass, WY. This was just before a monster system rolled through leaving 3' new snow overnight.

 

Exploring Bridger/Teton National Park by skis. This was also where I spent the night. 9000' and -11 degrees.

 

Road icicles.

 

Dropping down south into Colorado to start the second leg of the trip.

 

Georgia. This road was named Gator Hole Rd. Its where I spent the night and I did see a gator.

 

Clearwater Florida. After being cooped up inside the van in freezing temps, warm air and the ocean felt surreal.

 

Woke up to the ocean outside the sliding door.

 

Last leg of the trip was a photo project in the orange groves of central florida.

 

I ended up spending a week on the project and slept in the groves every night. Peaceful.

 

Lots of people want to know details about bathroom stuff. Here's some details

Ok, thats it for this one. Look for some serious updates soon.

 

Progress! part 2

Continuing the trend of getting shit done, the bed frame that I had drawn up(before I learned to use a CAD program) was completed.Here is the (very basic) plans I used in case anyone else wants them. platform-plan I used 1" aluminum box tube since we need to lay lengthwise on the bed(Im 8'6" tall. not really).IMG_6459

The final product had 1 modification from the plan: We chopped 2" from the length of the smaller piece. This is to take into account the section of Sprinter wall directly behind the slider door. On the passenger side it kind of bows out about 1.5".

So why 2 sections? The layout plan and idea in my head was always to have a bed that was either 100% made up at all times or very close to it. Messing around with folding couches into a bed at 2am in the dark sounded awful to me. But having a full queen sized bed lengthwise in a 144wb Sprinter eats up a TON of floor space. My idea was try for the best of both worlds. The smaller section swings down while we're at a location and the piece of mattress that sits there gets thrown on the larger platform as a bolster pillow. The 2 sections are always made up as far as sheets go. I am waiting for the spring latches so that I can finish this part up and as soon as I do I will update with more photos and details.

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Here is the main section already resting on the rails. My 2 Fullrivers are also showing off.

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Here is my take on the rails. My case was definitely different than most as I have 2 sections of bed platform. The first section ends where the window cut outs are, so there is no place for me to tie in on the walls. I needed to create a support from below.IMG_6457

I used 1x3" aluminum box tube and rivnuts into the sheetmetal walls. I had to use 2 supports per rail for a total of 4. This has proved very solid.

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Here is the skinned larger platform. I used 1/2" baltic birch. The plywood is attached to the frame with counter sunk 5/16 Tee nuts and the frame to the rails with the same. Once all the Tee nuts were in and tightened the lateral stiffness of the platform really tightened up. Its pretty bomber and deflection is minimal with 2 adults on it.(maybe an inch).

Progress!

Woohoo! Lots of forward progress the past few weeks.Some weeks its all planning/researching/cogitating and the feeling that nothing much is getting accomplished starts creeping in. But then you have a week where 5 things all come to completion at once. Like this past week.

For starters, I found a talented local welder that was able to take the plans from my last post and turn it onto a battery tray.

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It was pretty wild picking this thing up. I had spent quite a few hours in the CAD virtual space trying to design it, but seeing it in the real world and picking it up and listen to it rattle was kind of trippy. I know what you're saying:   ...calm down there, its just a battery tray. image2 image3 Feel free to use the plans if you want. See prior post. It fits perfectly in a 144WB on the driver side just aft of the door.

IMG_6434Another project that wrapped up was the install of a drivers side CR Laurence window. This install has been documented a ton of times so Ill keep it brief. - Drill pilot holes from inside the factory cutout. - Line up holes on the outside with a straight edge. - Cut it with a good jigsaw with a metal blade with at least 32tpi. - Grind down the edges for a smooth edge.(I used a dremel with a grinding stone and this worked great) - Prime edges -Mount the damn window!

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The only real issue I ran into was the Aluminess ladder. The rear most awning on the window will not fully crank out as the ladder blocks it. It still opens up a bit and the front awning piece opens fully, so Im still ahead.

Electric Boogaloo

During the past 7-8 months of van conversion research, I've always glanced at electrical diagrams and winced. They just looked insane to me. Hundreds of spaghetti connections and acronyms that I didnt understand. Like this:ODJ127-37ER Thats a moderate install in the same size van as mine. Its a great diagram. But looking at it hurt my head. Until I just decided to keep staring it and following multiple rabbits down multiple holes trying to decipher what was going on. I think I actually heard my brain learn new things.

The past week or so I have had several breakthroughs and even designed my first electrical diagram. Its just a hand drawn sketch and its not complete, but I feel way more confident now that I can tackle the wiring. I am so smrt. IMG_6396

Once I had a better idea on how the system was going to work, I decided to get moving on the batteries. I expected these puppies to take a lot longer to ship, so I was pleasantly surprised when the battery shop had me come pick them up this week. I wasnt pleasantly surprised to learn that these things weigh 350lbs combined. Thats 175lbs each! Which is also 10% of my entire conversion weight allowance (Sprinter has 3500lbs of payload capacity).

The FullRiver batteries get great ratings, and I went with AGM as I had real issues sourcing the newer(and crazy expensive)LifPO batteries. Theres 520ah in this bank. The 220amp alternator in the Sprinter should have no problem charging these guys up on long(or short) rides. The 300w solar panel should also contribute to a health battery bank.

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I quickly turned to Sketchup to design an under body battery tray that was going to go under the van. Theres no room for these sons a bitches inside. I crawled underneath, did some measurements and came up with this: tray3traytraybracketholders  tray brackets

Still trying to find a local welder to fab this up for me in stainless. Hopefully soon...

Swivel seat and the rest of the insulation

The layout plan always had a passenger swivel seat in the mix. It opens up so much living space when the van is parked and the drawbacks are few(a little added stack height to the seat). I sourced the swivel from Eurocamper. It wasnt cheap($270 after shipping) but after reading about other swivels and their issues I went with this one. It arrived in a box that weighed about 45 lbs and the only instructions were in German. Meh. The photos were easy enough to read.

Here it is installed. So far so good. This seat will act as a secondary lounge around place as well as a workstation with a foldable table. This will also be one half of the indoor dining experience that the van will provide when the weather is shit.

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You can see some of the cardboard mockups that Ive been playing with too. I've been using Sketchup for most of the layout planning but sometimes seeing the plan and walking around in it is enlightening. And frightening. ...theres really not a lot of space in a van.

Heres a few more of the mockups: 225B4005 225B4002

You can see the galley behind the driver seat, the bed design and the computer workstation in the sliding door.

Last but not least is the insulation. I ended up ordering another 10' of Thinsulate as I was stuffing it into a lot of places and it went quick. Money well spent though, the van is noticeable quieter and retains heat longer.

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I've also come up with an idea for the Thinsulate. Curtains! I want to try and sandwich some of this stuff in between some fabric with seams so that it can roll/fold up above the window opening. Stay tuned on that one...

Boxes and ladders

These 2 guys showed up within 24 hours of each other. The ladder is from Aluminess and the box is a 12cf Yakima. IMG_6273

I had already gotten new load bars for the Thule towers that I scavanged from my old Element. Time to put a rack and a ladder and a box on this thang!

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The box adds quite a bit of height to an already crazy tall vehicle. Gonna have to get used to that... The ladder seems rock steady and really well built(nice bead lines). It also looks pretty bad ass.

IMG_6279 I do notice a bit of wind and buffeting with that thing up there but its a necessary part of my build. Light stands, softboxes, other kinds of grip stuff and misc long unwieldy gear needs to live up there.

I still love just driving this thing around!

 

Stereo upgrade(please)

The stock speakers in the  sprinter are a joke. And not a good one. They needed to be replaced immediately. So I went down the car audio forum clickhole again and came up with the following:-5 channel amp  2 chan for door speakers and 1 chan for amp -Polk 2 way component speakers    nice sound without spending a fortune -JL audio 10" shallow sub      shallow mount sub that can fit under seat and still sound good -AudioControl Line out converter     important if youre using stock head unit

I trusted most of this install to pro's. I just dont have the time to learn how to dismantle the dash, hook up amps and fab a sub box. Sometimes its better to just pay the professionals. image1 (1) Here is the sub box mounted under the passenger seat. The amp, crossovers and line out converter all sit under the sub box. I took the time to dial in the system before putting the seat back on the pedestal. Tweeters fit into the stock location up front and I just disabled that weird useless front center speaker. System sounds great and the passenger gets a little massage if shits turned up.

The Doors and my first fabrication

Lets talk about mid bass. See that giant gaping hole in the passenger door? Thats terrible for mid bass. Its terrible for any kind of decent response from a door speaker actually. The sound from the door mounted speaker will just bounce around in there and bleed out at the listener creating shitty, muted sound. I dont want that. IMG_6116 After several days trolling the car audio forums(not recommended brah) I came away with the knowledge that a door needs proper sound deadening AND an enclosure to make it sound right. Fine. I can do that. I bought a pneumatic Rivnut tool and some 1/8" plywood and this is what I came up with: IMG_6173

You can see a few M6 bolts sticking out around the perimeter of the wood.  I used the Rivnut tool to create mechanical fastening points instead of the velcro that the car audio guys used. Velcro glue likes to come unstuck after a few years in hot places and the size of my enclosure was way bigger than those little sedan doors ...thats what she said. Merp.

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Heres the enclosure covered in 3 layers of sound deadening. You have the silver CLD mat, then the grey Ensolite foam and then the black mass loaded vinyl layer on top. If you look closely at the MLV layer you can see the bolts with washers on them. I decided to hang the MLV with those same Rivnut bolts as that stuff is HEAVY. Velcro would have failed. Its pretty easy to see that the door is now going to act like a proper speaker and produce nice mid-bass, instead of just blasting sound around inside that gaping hole. This is also the most comprehensive sound deadening(for road noise) that I think is possible or worth doing. Brah.

This is the door trim. The backside of it. I placed several patches of the CLD mat(maybe 50% coverage) under the Thinsulate. You can see a small shiny piece sticking out near the speaker hole.

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The Thinsulate was tacked onto the door trim with this stuff  and I cant recommend it enough. If you need spray adhesive dont buy the cheap shit. The Thinsulate made the trim piece pretty heavy and once attached gave the entire door a really pleasing solid THUNK sound when closed.

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And the speakers sound great. Time well spent. Decibel meter reading coming soon.

Also this: IMG_6097

Sound deadening part#1

An empty cargo van is loud. Really loud. IMG_6080 This needed to be taken care of first thing and it was always part of my phase 1. In fact my basement housed all of the materials for this step months before I even had the van.

So from many hours of internet research I found the following approach to sound deadening the most common sense and science driven. Sites such as sound deadener showdown were big helps.

Heres what I did:

  • Layer of CLD material. This stops resonance from large panels of metal and creates a thud sound instead of a ping sound when you tap a panel. Some say 25% coverage is good enough. Some say 50% and some 100%. I ended up doing 50% in some places and up to 100% in problem areas(wheel wells,etc). I used this stuff and it has worked well: http://www.amazon.com/Reckhorn-Self-adhesive-Deadener-Aluminium-Damping/dp/B005JRZPMM
  • Layer of Ensolite foam. This acts as a decoupler. Whats that and why is it important? Real sound proofing requires you to mechanically separate the layers from each other to stop sound from coming through. Since we are working in such limited spaces we need to use this 1/8" thin layer to do our decoupling. And you need to have 100% coverage. I sourced this material from here:http://www.raamaudio.com/ensolite-iuo-peel-and-stick-14-sq-ft-per-running-yard-3-per-pack-of-bxt-ii-recommended-absolutely-the-best-foam-on-the-market/
  • Layer of mass loaded vinyl. This is your barrier layer. Kind of self explanatory. This stuff is very heavy(1lb per sq in) and dense and acts as a barrier(duh). The trick here is to create 100% coverage and to tape any seams. You really want to seal whatever surface you're covering with this. I sourced 100 sq ft of this from here:http://www.amazon.com/Loaded-Vinyl-Square-Acoustic-Barrier/dp/B007N3356S
  • 3mThinsulate Automotive Insulation. This stuff is magic. I have been using it wherever I can stuff it and cant say enough good things about it. Its acting as both another barrier layer and an insulation layer. Double win! I sourced this from a member of the sprintersource forum. So go look there.

I started by taking some decibel readings with a completely empty van. I know its not the most rigorous science but I feel there will be actual results(I really just need to rationalize all this time and money spent). So here is an unloaded, empty 144, high roof cargo sprinter travelling 60mph down a section of road close to my home. I plan on driving the same section at the same speed after some deadening. IMG_6053

With some numbers recorded I started in on the driver and passenger floors/wheel wells. Lots of road noise coming up from there. I pried up the heavy mats that MB put down and found some CLD type material already on the floor. But screw that, Im laying down my own. The silver stuff is the Reckhorn CLD mentioned aboveIMG_6057

Then I laid down a full layer of Ensolite as the decoupler layer. IMG_6059 I had to cut around some access panels and electrical stuff but its pretty damn close to 100%. Close enough I think.

Next came the mass loaded vinyl as the barrier layer IMG_6062 You can see the mass loaded vinyl(MLV) is laid down as a seamless 100% coverage piece. Important for blocking as much sound as possible.IMG_6060

I used the mats as a template for the MLV.

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I used more MLV to go up the firewall behind the pedals. This picture does not show the finished state but there is a full layer of MLV that is tucked up behind pedals. I also have wedged/stuffed/crammed a bunch of Thinsulate up here. A lot of engine noise comes from the firewall.

Next came the rear wheel wells. Another serious source of noise.  I did the CLD and Ensolite layers on both of these also.

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I also created a MLV sleeve for the wheel wells that you can see in one of the following photos.

Next I tackled the huge cargo floor. You can see both the CLD and Ensolite in this in progress shot. I used probably 40-50% coverage on the CLD and again 100% coverage on the Ensolite. IMG_6082

Then came the mass loaded vinyl. I tried to keep this as seamless as I could. You can see the wheel well covered in MLV too. Tape all seams!IMG_6084

Then re-install the OEM floor and drive that same section of road at the same speed and take some measurements: IMG_6073

Ouch. A 1 decibel improvement? Thats not super good for the amount of labor/money spent. But there are a lot of factors here. First; the max decibels recorded dropped 15 points. This is telling. Also, the rest of the van(ceiling, walls,doors) are still uncovered and are making a crazy racket still. My guess is that until the entire van has been soundproofed I wont see a major reduction in average decibel readings. I can tell from just sitting and listening that the floor has been quieted down drastically. Im on the right path but need to finish up the whole van.

Next up, sound deadening the doors.

Layout plan

I am in the process of learning Sketchup right now so this basic layout plan will have to do for now. It's what I've been basing a lot of decisions off and I have the van taped off to reflect these items/dimensions. sprinterlayout

The bed will be a full queen sized bed with us laying length wise(Im too tall for sideways). The bed will be lofted above the bike and photo gear storage underneath. The forward 23" inches of the bed will fold down to provide a little more living space when needed and also form the back rest of a small bench seat.

Galley will be behind drivers seat and have a sink, counter space for food prep and space for the stove. At this point we are leaning towards a portable stove so that the option to cook outdoors when its nice is there.

Workstation will house a 24" monitor and drop down keyboard/mouse trays along with storage. I need a large monitor to edit on and a laptop will not work. The monitor will recess into the cabinet on gas sliding hinges when the vehicle is driving and it will slide up when its needed. Excited about this part.

Passenger seat will swivel to allow for more livable space.

The house battery bank will be 2x 210AH AGM batteries giving us a usable 210aH. There will be 240w of solar on the roof and the ability to charge the house bank by the solar, the alternator or both at the same time.

Water will be a 30 gallon freshwater tank hidden on top of the rear wheel wells.

Heating system is a hydronic system that ties into the engines coolant lines and uses small amounts of diesel from the vehicles main tank. This is a super efficient way to get both hot air and hot water from a single fuel source that is already present on the vehicle. It is also the most expensive system on the vehicle.

There's plenty of other details that Ill dive into when I actually install those items/systems.

The beginning

A blank slate. Always a good place to start.Over the next 6 months or so I will be turning this empty cargo van into a badass 4x4 home on wheels. And I will be documenting the full build out here.

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I ordered this van from a local dealer at the end of December 2014. If you're counting months in your head its eight. Thats right. Eight months from ordering to delivery. This was the first year Mercedes offered the 4x4 option which slowed the already slow process of ordering a Sprinter down even more.

225B8994 I will outline the full build-out on another post. It's extensive. Those eight months of waiting(stewing) gave me a lot of time to think this through. I just wanted to post up some van porn and show the empty canvas before it starts getting messy.

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Sarah and I took it out this past weekend on an inaugural run up to the adirondacks and it did its business. Almost 20mpg and the 4x4 got us over a section of road that other SUV's wouldn't touch.

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Thats it for the first post. Stay tuned for the build-out details and a bunch of progress thats already happened. One more picture:

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