Counting down …

The van is scheduled to roll out of Jeff’s shop in about a week.  Here are week old pictures showing the progress.

  • Solar panels are installed but not yet secured.  The frame that Aluminess built isn’t wide enough to bolt the panels directly to the rack.  Jeff is going to fabricate clamps, four per panel, to hold the panels in place.
  • Cabinets are finished and bolted into the van.  The door faces are done, too, but won’t be installed until later.
  • The water tank (20 gallons), exterior water fill, water pump, and water filter are installed.
  • The slide out desk is partly built.  The last half of the desk surface is hinged and isn’t installed yet.
  • The toilet is mounted and will vent underneath the van to avoid cutting another hole in the side of the van.
  • The shower pan area is cut out but not installed yet.
  • The sink and cooktop have been test fit.  Unfortunately, the hoped for double sink won’t fit.  The counter is a few inches too shallow to fit a faucet with a double sink.  If we had known earlier, we would have made the cabinet a few inches deeper.
  • Exterior work lights and awning are installed.
  • The gray water tank is installed but not quite finished.
  • The propane is plumbed to the interior of the van.  RVI did a nice job mounting the regulator and the black iron gas line out of harm’s way.
  • The thermostat and battery monitor are mounted.
  • The bed foundation is built. Next, Jeff will weld the bed frame and hooks for the Metolius ladder.

Build Update

We visited RVI today to check out the progress on the build.

Van outside RVI

The carpet is gone and the driving cabin is sealed off with plastic to keep out debris. The upstairs furring is complete and has just finished drying.  To avoid rattling and allow the vehicle to flex, Jeff screws the furring together, glues it to the fiberglass, and then glasses the furring to the top.

Jeff marked up the van interior with the locations for wiring. We reviewed these and added a few modifications. We also checked the parts that had arrived and labelled all the electrical components. We upgraded the wiring to 00 to allow for the capacity of the high-output alternator. Higher capacity wiring makes the electrical system more efficient. This is often used in solar systems, since bigger wire is cheaper than adding another solar panel.

We chose fabrics and accent lighting. We also narrowed the hallway to 24″ to allow for more water storage capacity in the galley. Over the next few days, Jeff will add the downstairs furring, subfloor, insulation, and electrical wiring. Next time we see the van, it will look very different.


O Power, Where Art Thou?

Power, of the electrical sort, seems so easy.  Just find an outlet and plug things in.  But, when living off-grid, whether in a remote cabin or a motorhome, you cannot take power for granted.

I need power in my van for typical motorhome appliances:

  • lights
  • fans
  • water pump

Since I’m living and working in my van full-time, I also want power for a few other items:

  • computers
  • cell phones
  • wireless Internet
  • network attached storage (for storing and backing up data needed for my work)
  • two way radio (for entertainment and emergency communication)
So, where does power to run all of this come from?  Many motorhomes throw a generator and RV park hookups at the problem.  This works but doesn’t match my desired lifestyle.  Generators are noisy and take up valuable space.  And, I don’t like RV parks.  I’d much rather call a nice meadow home for a week or more at a time.  After much reading, thinking, and wondering “how the heck is this gonna work”, here’s the process I’m following to address my power requirements:
  1. Estimate power requirements – Make a list of everything that requires power.  Don’t forget the little things like lights, water pumps, and furnace blowers.  Ideally, measure the power requirements with a multimeter or a device like the Kill A Watt.  In my case, I don’t yet own many of the devices I plan on adding.  For these, I check the manual or data sheet from the manufacturer and look for the power requirements.  The manufacturers usually specify the maximum power requirements.  Typical or average power requirements will be lower than the maximum, but there isn’t, unfortunately, a way to figure this out without measuring the device yourself.  Multiply the power draw for each device by the time you expect to use it each day.  Add it all up to get your energy requirements for the day.  This is a rough estimate, but it’s a useful place to start.  I recommend entering your estimates in a spreadsheet so you may adjust as you learn more.
  2. Use less power – This is a critical and difficult step.  After finishing your estimate, you’ll notice that small devices suck up a lot of energy.  For example, a 60 Watt light operating for 12 hours drains 720 Watt-hours.  That’s over 60 Amp-hours from a typical 12 VDC battery bank.  Ditch the items you don’t really need.  Do you really need a microwave, drip coffee pot, a blender, and a wide-screen television?  Maybe a propane cooktop is enough for warming food.  Make your coffee with a press pot instead (tastes better this way, too).  Consider leaving the blended margaritas at home and switch to beer.  Find lower power alternatives to the items you do need.  Get small, lower-power LED lights that just illuminate the area you’re working in.  Look for a more energy efficient refrigerator.  Switch computer parts out for more power efficient ones. Buy a nice down comforter and run the heat less.  Question everything.
  3. Get more power –  Alternators, solar panels, generators, grid hookups (“shore power”), fuel cells, wind generators, Mr. Fusion … it’s all a compromise between time, cost, and space.  Space is a huge constraint on my van, and I returned to steps 1 and 2 several times trimming ever more from my requirements.
That’s the high-level overview.  I’ll write about the details and share my decisions later, especially if you ask questions.