Time to get back to travel again. Camper van build out – part 1.
It’s been over six months since I arrived back home after my travel plans were cut short. Although I haven’t been idle (my apartment needed an overhaul), I also haven’t left the apartment except to get groceries, drive-thru’s or ‘trips’ to Home Depot and Lowes for most of the build materials.
It doesn’t look like things will be back to anywhere near ‘normal’ anytime soon and I decided it was time to try to get back out there in a way that didn’t rely on a lot of interaction. So I bought a van, a cargo van.
Not a camper van, well at least not yet, but hopefully I can build it out into what I need to allow me to be virtually self-sufficient while I travel around the US.
First up was the installation, considering it’s really a large metal box, it needs insulating from floor to ceiling with some recommended insulating materials and methods.
I cut up and placed rubber mat strips between the ridges on the van floor to provide a more level base, then lay down 1″ insulation foam board for both insulation value and cushioning. On top of that I placed sheets of half-inch birch plywood to complete the ‘sub-floor’. I sprayed ‘Great Stuff’ expanding foam to fill the expansion gaps between the edge of the insulation and the sides of the van.
To complete the floor installation I chose interlocking vinyl tile strips as the actual flooring (6″ x 36″). These are lightweight and very easy to install as they ‘click-lock’ into place without the need for any tools.
The finished floor looks pretty good and will hopefully wear well in the van as it travels around the country.
Adding insulation (well it is a giant tin box) on the walls and ceiling of the inside of the van was a bit messy, gluing Thinsulate on the main areas, stuffing it into pockets and finishing off with gluing EZ-Cool on the frame areas.
Before the ceiling of the van was completely insulated I needed to install the extractor fan. Cutting a 14inch square hole into the roof a brand new van was a little daunting but its almost a ‘rite of passage’ to fully building out a camper van.
Its a ten speed remote control fan that extracts air and also draws it into the van. Once the extractor fan was mounted and sealed-in, the van build-out was really underway. Next up was installing the solar panels.
I purchased a package from Renogy which included four solar panels, but due to having the extractor fan installed there was only enough room for three panels. This should still give me plenty of charge as the solar panels are each 100 Watt, 20 Volts, 5 Amps. I connected them up in series which means the Voltage adds up (3 x 20 = 60 Volts) but the current stays the same (total = 5 Amps). They are connected to a charge controller, namely a Renogy Rover Multiple Power Point Tracking (MPPT) which I’ll expand upon later. After a quick test I am getting 59.9 volts!
I switched to the inside of the van and started putting the ceiling up. I went with a very lightweight and flexible pine tongue and groove, which has a good appearance. To be honest I am not 100% sold on this and will have to see if it lasts the distance.
Next up was running the wiring for the various electric powered devices such as the fan, the two sets of ceiling lights and anything else I could think of that might be needed going forward. The extractor fan, lights and most of the other electrics I’ll be using will be running on 12v DC so I decided to go with 12 gauge wire for those. Before I could connect the electrics up I needed somewhere to house it all. This is where the Dinette benches came in, not only a sitting area that converts to a sleeping area but also houses the electrics.
The basic electrics consist of a the previously mentioned solar panels and the MPPT controller, plus a Pure Sine Wave converter, DC fuse box and a battery. Once all the intended electric devices are installed I may need to add a second battery to the first one to hold enough charge to power them.
It was at this point that I decided I needed to do a test run to see how everything was working out that I’d installed so far. It was also an excuse to re-locate to a warmer climate for a couple of weeks while I continued to work on the van build-out. Check out the A1A Road trip post to see how it went. Part 2 of the van build-out (sink, cabinets, fridge, shower, etc) will be worked on when I return from the trip.