Must-have equipment for a van build?


Original Post
20 kN
Hawaii
Joined: Feb 2009
Points: 0
Soon I'll be building out my van. It will be similar to many--solar, a mini kitchen, fold-up bed, storage for my gear, ect, ect. What I am wondering is if there are any accessories I might be forgetting about that would really make things easier. So far this is what I am planning to buy:


-12v freezer
-Solar w/ separate battery system
-Roof fan/ vent
-Mini sink with 3Gal container to catch grey water
-5 gal potable water container, possibly with a hand pump of sorts
-Colman stove (opted for the camper stove instead of a built-in kitchen stove)
-Explosive gas/ propane detector so I can store propane in the van
-Foam insulation for the roof and sides of the van
-Power inverter to charge laptop and cell
-Clip-on 12v fan for extra hot days
-Widow tint (came with the vehicle)
-White LED strips w/ dimmer for interior lighting


Is that pretty much it? Obviously I'll need wood and building supplies to actually complete the build, I am just wondering if there are any other products or accessories I might want.

— Feb 20, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

Still working on our Sprinter conversion, but a lot is done and the main systems have all been tested during our shakedown camping trip last year. A couple more weeks work now, then we'll be on the road again for the rest of winter/spring.

We opted for 12v car chargers for laptop and cell.

We have a cheap inverter, but seldom use it. It can be useful for a coffee grinder if you are so inclined. I also carry a cordless drill/driver and cordless jigsaw and use the inverter to recharge the batteries, and electric toothbrush. Even though we have 200ah of solar and alternator charged auxillary batteries, we only run the inverter to recharge cordless tool batteries while driving.

Also built a sealed cabinet vented to outside for the propane tank. This gives much more piece of mind than depending on a monitor with the propane open to the interior

Also installed a propex heater, but you wouldn't need it in Hawaii! (note, this heater's combustion intake and exhaust are vented to outside. We'd not run a propane heater with combustion vented to the interior!)

And we use a tiny water pump for the sink, not a hand pump. — Feb 20, 2016
NickO
Utah
Joined: Apr 2011
Points: 0
What kind of van? I am also in the market but am having trouble finding something in AWD/4x4. Anyone have experience driving a newer RWD van in the snow? Knobby tires and Stabilitrak do the trick?

I would check out Camp Chef and Primus stoves over Coleman. Camp Chef is on Promotive.com if you have access to that.

Check out basecampervans.com/ for some pictures on various van builds — Feb 20, 2016
Marc801 Chrusch
Sandy, Utah
Joined: Feb 2014
Points: 0

NickO wrote:I would check out Camp Chef and Primus stoves over Coleman.
Because.....? — Feb 20, 2016
NickO
Utah
Joined: Apr 2011
Points: 0
Personal preference I suppose. To each their own. — Feb 20, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

NickO asked: Anyone have experience driving a newer RWD van in the snow? Knobby tires and Stabilitrak do the trick?

Our Sprinter is RWD and has ASR (anti skid) which completely undermines driving in snow! You must shut it off for traction in snow conditions. It works by applying braking to spinning wheels, so if you are trying to go and anything slips, it stops you!

I put on cooper AT-W tires us.coopertire.com/Tires/Lig... and with some weight in the rear they do very well in snow. I selected these tires as a compromise for all season, AT and snow performance at moderate price without buying dedicated snow tires. Our purpose for the van is to LEAVE snow country in the winter!

BTW, generally it's siping and rubber compound that make a snow tire great. These Coopers have the siping, but not a soft winter rubber compound. My understanding is the compound has more silica which makes them tougher and helps with traction, so better than average traction from the rubber, but also higher mileage. The softer winter compounds are much better for cold but wear out extremely fast on warmer/summer roads. — Feb 20, 2016
Joie Prothero
Unknown Hometown
Joined: Sep 2011
Points: 0
Agreed with Mountainhick: A propane box ventilated to the exterior of the van. My partner bought a propane tank and we custom built a airtight box ventilated to the exterior of the van. We drilled the hole at the bottom of the box because propane is heavier than air thus will sink and pool in case of a leak.

Will you be using those small green Coleman canisters? We found that a propane heater was a must in colder weather, especially if you plan for ice climbing. They can easily be refilled with the larger propane tank. — Feb 20, 2016
Peter Howes
Unknown Hometown
Joined: Nov 2014
Points: 0
Aux cord!

Thanks for this awesome post 20 kN, I sat down this morning with the exact same question. Starting the build on our Econoline soon!

What type of insulation are you using? Fiberglass seems like the cheapest and probably best way to go about it, but I'm afraid of all that glass in a tiny living space.

I am also wondering about a mosquito net, in warmer temps it seems like the thing to do. Anyone have experience with this? Is it worth it? — Feb 20, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

We used glass wool insulation (akin to fiberglass) and a plastic vapor barrier (controversial) in part for vapor/condensation issues but also to contain glass fiber so it doesn't go airborne in the van interior.

foam insulations are controversial in terms of outgassing. I have endocrine issues so opted out from as many substances as we could that are endocrine disruptors, including poly iso, phtalates, styrene etc.

The van interior is a very small closed space that tends to concentrate your breathing concentrations of whatever is generated in the space. Ventilation is part of the puzzle for respiratory health and preventing condensation.

Some people also use cotton/denim, but there are risks with it holding a lot of water and causing corrosion/rust problems.

Some of the Sprinter crowd opt for thinsulate designed for automotive use. — Feb 20, 2016
Mikey Schaefer
Terrebonne, OR
Joined: Jun 2014
Points: 0

If you are gonna be building out the electrical for serious use looks at an inverter like this Tripplite amazon.com/Tripp-Lite-Power... It will also charge your battery bank if plugged in. I've used my van for smaller video/photo productions and needed reliable power. Also good advice to try and get 12VDC adapters for your laptop, cell phone and any other accessories you might be using.

I haven't seen swivel seats mentioned? The are definitely key! I opted for the driver side one as well and love it when I've got a full house.

Interesting to see talk of having propane tanks inside the cabin. I went with a horizontal tank mounted underneath the van. Seems like an easier solution and doesn't eat up room.

And do some research on battery types and where you will put them. Some need vented and others don't. I went with AGM batteries so they wouldn't need vented which gave me more freedom to install them where I wanted.


Do you really need a tank for grey water if it is just going to be dish water? I drain mine straight out to the ground. Just don't use household dish soap. Go with the hippy biodegradable camping stuff. — Feb 20, 2016
Marc801 Chrusch
Sandy, Utah
Joined: Feb 2014
Points: 0

Mikey Schaefer wrote:Do you really need a tank for grey water if it is just going to be dish water? I drain mine straight out to the ground.
That's not allowed and/or illegal in many camping areas.

Edit to add:
If you're in remote desert areas with no water available, you will want to capture that grey water for reuse (assuming it's not too gross). — Feb 20, 2016
Steve J
Fort Collins, CO
Joined: Feb 2010
Points: 0
Some cheap clear plastic hanging shoe organizers. Hang them on the backs of the seats for keeping crap from bouncing around. They hold all kinds of things. — Feb 20, 2016
20 kN
Hawaii
Joined: Feb 2009
Points: 0
Jojo Protheroe wrote: Will you be using those small green Coleman canisters?
Yes I will, which makes me wonder if I need a separate ventilated compartment that vents to the rear. I havent really found the full-size propane cylinders to be necessary. I only use the propane for cooking and one of the small green cylinders lasts me nearly a month. I dont camp in the winter so a heater is not needed. If I did add some form of compartment for the cylinders, it would need a door to open and close easily to place them in when I am done using them, and that might be a bit tricky to build in a manner that allows the door to open easily and without tools.

I do like the general idea of having a separate container though as it would mean I could save on buying a propane detector (although I would kind of half-want it anyway just in case).


Any photos of the container?


Peter Howes wrote: What type of insulation are you using?
Honestly, I am not exactly an insulation master, but I was going to cut up sections of this stuff to make it fit:

http://www.homedepot.com/p/FOAMULAR-1-in-x-2-ft-x-2-ft-R-5-Insulation-Sheathing-Project-Panel/203553730

From what others have said on here, apparently Refletix does not work when it is attached directly to panels. That stuff seems to work better to prevent heat through a window (radiant heat vs conductive). The foam seems to be effective for conductive heat. — Feb 21, 2016
20 kN
Hawaii
Joined: Feb 2009
Points: 0
Jojo Protheroe wrote:Photo : Cat box. We asked a carpet supplier if they had any scrap carpet and they gladly supplied us with this cat-tower like material. This held one big propane tank and 3 coleman tanks. I'll be honest and say that the green canisters didn't always stay tucked away in the box, but our detector never went off. Excuse my partner for the vulgar sign language. He had a rough day.
How did you design the door so you had access to the tanks while keeping an airtight seal? So you went with the sealed box and a propane detector? — Feb 21, 2016
Joie Prothero
Unknown Hometown
Joined: Sep 2011
Points: 0
The door opened on the top of the box. A hinge mechanism was used on one side. A silicone sealing agent (bought in any hardware store) provided the flexible lining around the rims of the door and box. We also sealed the interior edges of the box with the silicone sealing agent. It took a bit of force to close the lid because of the silicone seal, so we needed a strong latch like this guy:
Latch — Feb 21, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

Ah yes, seat swivels. have them too... indispensable. — Feb 21, 2016
Eric Carlos
GJ
Joined: Aug 2008
Points: 0

Go with an LP refrigerator instead of 12V. Much more efficient. — Feb 21, 2016
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion
Colorado
Joined: Oct 2012
Points: 0
I have seen a few setups that don't have a tank for catching gray water. They just routed the pipe outside the van and anything you pour into the sink goes on the ground.

If you're even a little bit efficient about washing dishes, this usually just means a trickle, not a puddle. You don't have to carry around an extra tank. If it freezes, just run some hot water down it.

To the guy who said Camp-Chef or Primus stoves. Don't do it. I've had both. The Camp-Chef has a poorly built regulator that will blow in about a year or two of use and they are hard to find and cost as much as a new stove. The knobs are weird and they rebound, meaning that if you turn it down to a simmer it will bounce to a higher heat once you let go of the knob. This is really tricky at very low flames.

The Primus look really nice and cost a lot, I found the flame to suck. It was uneven and big and yellow at any heat. No amount of adjusting could fix it. It was basically worthless. Pretty to look at and easy to clean.

The Coleman on the other hand, has parts available anywhere, is super reliable, has a perfect sized blue flame, and is easy to adjust the temp. Get the one with the steel covering the inside, it makes cleanup just a matter of wiping. If you want it to look as cool as a Primus, red spray paint is pretty inexpensive. — Feb 21, 2016
vincent L.
Redwood City
Joined: Jan 2005
Points: 0
Don't forget the bottle opener...

— Feb 21, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:I have seen a few setups that don't have a tank for catching gray water. They just routed the pipe outside the van and anything you pour into the sink goes on the ground. If you're even a little bit efficient about washing dishes, this usually just means a trickle, not a puddle. You don't have to carry around an extra tank. If it freezes, just run some hot water down it. To the guy who said Camp-Chef or Primus stoves. Don't do it. I've had both. The Camp-Chef has a poorly built regulator that will blow in about a year or two of use and they are hard to find and cost as much as a new stove. The knobs are weird and they rebound, meaning that if you turn it down to a simmer it will bounce to a higher heat once you let go of the knob. This is really tricky at very low flames. The Primus look really nice and cost a lot, I found the flame to suck. It was uneven and big and yellow at any heat. No amount of adjusting could fix it. It was basically worthless. Pretty to look at and easy to clean. The Coleman on the other hand, has parts available anywhere, is super reliable, has a perfect sized blue flame, and is easy to adjust the temp. Get the one with the steel covering the inside, it makes cleanup just a matter of wiping. If you want it to look as cool as a Primus, red spray paint is pretty inexpensive.
Re camp chef, I think it depends on what model. We have a Ranger 2 that is friggin burly. It's problem is the burners are huge, too big and high output for cooking for two. I also tried a "sportsman" single burner... not recommended. The metal case is way too thin sheet metal, it doesn't light well and tends to put itself out.

I just bought a smaller used 2 burner at a street market in Mexico. No idea what brand, it's not marked. Seems to be the best compromise for our small counter space in the sprinter.

YMMV — Feb 21, 2016
mountainhick
Black Hawk, CO
Joined: Mar 2009
Points: 0

Eric Carlos wrote:Go with an LP refrigerator instead of 12V. Much more efficient.
Not really that simple. Are you running electric from a solar/aux battery system or plugging in to AC?

If you have aux batteries, especially if accompanied by solar anyway, running an efficient fridge is no extra cost whereas you need to keep buying propane for the LPG fridge.

http://www.sunfrost.com/blog/off-grid-refrigeration-solar-electric-vs-propane/ — Feb 21, 2016
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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