A forum for van conversions, van living and travel

The vanlife => Van Conversion => Topic started by: Recoiljlf on January 23, 2017, 05:14:02 PM

Title: 98 Express Conversion Project
Post by: Recoiljlf on January 23, 2017, 05:14:02 PM
So hello I'm new here looking for ideas for my Live In Express Project...Ill get some pictures up soon...later today.
Goals:
Solar Setup
Inverted Power Setup
Full Half Kitchen Setup
Bed and Storage Setup
Weatherproofing and Insulation
POSSIBLE WOOD STOVE KIT
Off Road Package Including Tires
And Other Small Projects

Thanks for any help and Advice all will be appreciated.

Pics to Come this afternoon
Title: Re: 98 Express Conversion Project
Post by: Camper_Dan on January 24, 2017, 06:03:38 AM
So hello I'm new here looking for ideas for my Live In Express Project...Ill get some pictures up soon...later today.
Goals:
Solar Setup


Solar is for sales people and newbies that haven't figured out better ways yet.  Charging via isolator/solenoid and a generator are far cheaper and more reliable.  When I was charging my house battery solely via generator, a 5 gallon jerry can of gas would last over a year.


Inverted Power Setup



Inverters aren't very efficient...  Whenever possible, 12 volt appliances and accessories are a much better choice.



Full Half Kitchen Setup


Building a kitchen in can seem like a great thing, and some people certainly prefer it that way.  Some will have a fold down counter top to give you usable space when not cooking.  I enjoy cooking outdoors in the summer, so because of this, and to avoid duplication, I don't have a built in kitchen, but rather just an empty multi-purpose counter top.  My camp stove can be used on top of it, and so can my dishpan sinks.  The advantage is that everything  can also be used outside without any duplication.  I  use trigger spray bottles for my water delivery to the dishpan sinks.  This is not only extremely handy, it is also a huge water saver.

If I need heat while in the van, I can put my stove on the counter and fire it up. 


Bed and Storage Setup

Give great thought to your bed, being able to stretch out is important, and getting a good nights sleep is essential for your health and well being.  Don't hesitate to put your bed lengthwise if need be.  I would also avoid a bed which requires set up/down every day, they become a huge pain very quickly.  Make sure your fully set up bed is low enough that you can sit up fully on it without bumping your head too.

Give thought to having a non bed related option for comfortable seating while lounging, working, or relaxing.  Beds  don't make very comfortable seating for long term use.  If your van is a low top, you will need to be doing everything inside while seated, something to take into account.

Weatherproofing and Insulation

I worry about water leaks, but not to much about air leaks, since you need good ventilation at all times anyway.  Insulation is highly questionable and debatable.  It is great for hiding & trapping moisture, but I wouldn't consider that a good thing.  Better heating and cooling will add a lot more to your comfort level than any amount of insulation, and a whole lot cheaper too.  I have yet to see any insulation job that had any effect longer than a couple short hours, and with proper ventilation, no noticeable effect at all.  I have a window van with no added insulation, I don't cover my windows, and I don't block off the cab, yet it is extremely easy to both heat and cool. 

If you still want insulation, the factory construction of vehicles offers the best solutions.  Cargo vans are left bare so that any condensation can be evaporated out.  Passenger vehicles are designed to wick the moisture to the interior so it can be evaporated out.  You can't stop the condensation, and if you trap it, you're setting yourself up for mold, moisture, and rust issues down the line.




POSSIBLE WOOD STOVE KIT

The idea of a wood stove is romantic, but they're not really very practical in a van.  They need a lot of clearance, and wood is heavy and can introduce bugs into your van.  Between wood being illegal to cut in most areas, and burn bans even in the winter in some areas. 

Most of the experienced full timers use kerosene for cooking and heating for cost, safety, and convenience reasons.  Most newbies seem to start out with propane until they are forced to deal with the severe moisture problems it causes or they blow themselves up.   Once they become experienced, they usually switch to kerosene as well.

I carry 2x 7 gallon kerosene jugs, and that's usually 1 year plus worth of heating and cooking.  If kerosene isn't readily available, diesel can also be substituted which is also handy.  5 gallons (20 lbs.) of propane wouldn't last much longer than a week in the winter for me as a comparison. 

With propane, if the flame goes out, you're relying on some type of safety feature to turn off the pressurized propane to keep it from blowing you up or asphyxiating you.  Since kerosene is wicked rather than pressurized, if it goes out, there is no danger.  Alarms and all that are good, but when it comes to my safety, I prefer fool proof  to start with.   



Off Road Package Including Tires

I once bought  a Chevy Express with over sized aggressive tires and wheels.  It turned out to be a can of worms.  It didn't handle very well, the speedometer was off, then the front end went out. Next the transmission went out, and then the rear end went out.  When the front end went out the second time in a little over a year, I was lucky enough to stop at a Les Schwab's where they cared more about me than just my money.  They explained to me that all of my problems were being caused by those oversized wheels and tires, and recommended switching back to the stockk wheel and tire size but with a higher load rating and a more aggressive tread.  I followed their suggestion, and the difference was day and night.  It handled 100x better, and the speedometer was once again accurate.  Many other people have related similar experiences to me since then, so you might want to consider that as well.


And Other Small Projects

Thanks for any help and Advice all will be appreciated.

Pics to Come this afternoon


I didn't see you mention anything about a toilet or shower.  Gym memberships and public toilets are no replacement for having your own, and you can have both for less than the cost of a one month gym membership.  Van life is about living and enjoying the good life, not about living or acting like we're homeless.  A toilet and a shower are just a couple of the things that separate us from the homeless and greatly improve the comfort of our homes.

Some people choose to live in their vans, others choose to live out of their vans.  It is easy to live out of a van that is designed to be lived in, but it is very hard to live in a van that was designed to be lived out of.  For this reason, I advise everybody to design their vans to be lived in, because sooner or later because of weather, road conditions, or your health, you will find  times, days, weeks, maybe even months, that you are going to NEED to live in your van and not just out of it.  For this very reason, I also carry at least 2 weeks worth of food and water at all times.  Any time and any place you can be faced with the need to hunker down for a while.  The design of your set up will determine just how comfortable you will be during those times.

Good luck with your build, and I hope that the stuff I've learned from the school of hard knocks and others who had more experience than I did will be helpful.

Title: Re: 98 Express Conversion Project
Post by: kryten on January 24, 2017, 10:21:59 PM
Solar is for sales people and newbies that haven't figured out better ways yet.  Charging via isolator/solenoid and a generator are far cheaper and more reliable.  When I was charging my house battery solely via generator, a 5 gallon jerry can of gas would last over a year.

In Europe petrol/gas is more expensive and using a generator can be difficult due to other people being close by

Insulation is highly questionable and debatable.

Again, in Europe insulation is required because it can get cold and damp.
Title: Re: 98 Express Conversion Project
Post by: Camper_Dan on January 26, 2017, 07:03:07 PM
Solar is for sales people and newbies that haven't figured out better ways yet.  Charging via isolator/solenoid and a generator are far cheaper and more reliable.  When I was charging my house battery solely via generator, a 5 gallon jerry can of gas would last over a year.

In Europe petrol/gas is more expensive and using a generator can be difficult due to other people being close by


Originally, after switching away from failed attempts at solar, I used only my generator to charge my house battery.  Later, I switched to charging my house battery while driving via plugging it into the ciggy outlet on the dash.  I frequently drive no more than 20 miles per week, although for accuracy sake I would say that equals a total of 1-2 hours worth of driving time around town. An isolator or solenoid setup would work the same way, just more automatic.

Since I started charging my house battery this way, unless I'm staying put without driving for longer than a week or so, I don't need to use my generator at all.  People tend to give a lot of credit to solar panels that they don't deserve.  Charging via driving, generator, or shore power is where most of the charging power comes from that the solar panels are given credit for.

For me it is about having reliable power.  600 watts of solar panels, an MPPT controller, and a 100ah battery didn't supply me with reliable power, even though I live in a pretty sunny area.  That same battery, charged while driving  will provide me with about a weeks worth of power.  With solar alone, I would run out of power almost nightly.  It's just not as good of a charge.  On a cloudy day I wouldn't have any power at all. 

Many of us have tried, and finally given up on solar panels.  You just don't have enough room on a van to have enough solar panels to make a reliable system.  Like I said earlier, the people who like their solar panels are also charging while driving, or via a generator or shore power, and falsely giving credit to the solar panels.

People pushing solar panels are getting you hooked cheap, then once they've got you invested their answers are always to add more panels, more expensive controllers, and more expensive batteries.  After they've soaked you for thousands of dollars, then it's "You must be doing something wrong...".  I went through that myself.  Compound that with the need to park in the sun during the summer, and it's just not worth the hassle.  I haven't even mentioned all the spaghetti wiring involved that is a shorting/fire hazard.  I've seen RV's burnt to the ground because of shorts in their solar systems.  I had smoldering wires in one of my own systems...  Is it worth the risk?  Not in my humble opinion.  Not when there are better, more reliable, and cheaper ways to do it.



Insulation is highly questionable and debatable.

Again, in Europe insulation is required because it can get cold and damp.


I live where it is very cold and damp in the winter, and hot and damp in the summer.  People make the mistake of confusing insulating a house with insulating a vehicle, and they are two very different animals.  Unlike a poorly sealed house, a vehicle is already well sealed against the elements.  Since we are not maintaining the temperature in a vehicle 24/7 like we do with a house, but rather only while we're inside of it, and a vehicle by nature requires constant ventilation if we're living in it to prevent moisture build up, any positives to insulation can become extremely blurred.  I have no insulation, yet heat and ventilation keep me totally comfortable and dry in the winter, and my 12 volt air cooler and ventilation keep me totally comfortable and dry in the summer.

When I had a van with insulation, it trapped and held the moisture until it accumulated so much that it started to rain inside, even when  it was dry outside.  Eventually that will rust through the body as well.  Ventilation and enough heating/cooling to be effective in spite of the ventilation seems to be the correct answer, and not surprizingly, that seems to be the way the vehicle manufacturers decided was the best approach too.  Vehicles were designed to keep both the passengers comfortable, and moisture in check from the factory, and I am no longer convinced that we can improve upon that without causing disasterous side effects that we are just initially hiding with the insulation.  Nobody can stop condensation, or the moisture build up from living in a vehicle with such limited space, so all we can do is decide how we are going to deal with it.  Hiding it with insulation and pretending you solved the problem will only come back and bite you in the end. 

Along the same lines, since I removed the divider between my cab and cabin (a heavy curtain), I also eliminated the moisture problems I was having in the cab.

Since I use an unvented heater, the second part of my solution was switching away from the moisture producing propane heat, and going strictly with kerosene for both heating and cooking.  The humidity (moisture level) in my van with propane was ridiculous, but with kerosene, I can cut the outside humidity level by a little more than half inside, so it will actually work to dry things out.  As I type this, it is 87% humidity outdoors, and 34% humidity in my van.  It's 73 degrees in my van, below zero outside, I have been running my heat on low all night long, and my windows are crystal clear with no moisture on them. 

I spent years fighting cold and moisture problems.  At one point I even installed a vented propane heater.  It helped a little, but did not solve my moisture problems.  Even if we cut out the insane amount of moisture produced by unvented propane heat, condensation, cooking, and our breathing & perspiration introduce a lot of moisture into our vans.  Lots of ventilation, lots of the drier kerosene heat, and no added insulation to trap in the moisture, has been the only combination that has worked for me so far.  I run my heat all night if it's below freezing, to prevent ice build up on the outside of my van and windows.  The ventilation is required to remove the moisture from inside the van, because otherwise it is trapped inside and can't get out.




I can only tell you what works for me, after years of failures, and several fortunes wasted.  In the end, cheap and simple has worked far better for me than complicated and expensive ever did.  Cheap and simple wastes no time or money, and if you don't like it, there's always plenty of time to go complicated and expensive later.  If you're happy with it, you just saved a fortune and a lot of headaches.