A Commercial Camper Build - Ford Transit USA Forum
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post #1 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-13-2015, 08:18:PM Thread Starter
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A Commercial Camper Build

There are several excellent discussions going on right now in this forum regarding individual camper builds. I would like to start one on my thoughts for an entirely commercial build. I live in southern Indiana but have spent a lot of time in the west. This is my first van and first camper. I have no plans to tow anything and I would like this camper to last forever. I will travel on bad roads out west, so 4x4 is a must. The camper, ideally, will be completely self-contained for two people only; me and wife. Neither of us stands more than 5’8”. We have been planning this for a long time. I have been reading and occasionally commenting on this forum for more than a year. After I finished writing this I saw Orton’s new post, titled Items Not Needed in Conversion, Items Not Needed in Conversion. I’ve tried to incorporate some of his advice. I plan on ordering the van in September, 2015 and hope to take final delivery after the 4x4 and camper conversions by May, 2016.

Below you will find my preferences and some justification for them. Everything is fluid and can be modified as needed. Comments and advice are greatly appreciated.


Vehicle
The Transit cargo van 250 – the 250 seems more stable than the 150.

The 130 WB – The 130 WB allows greater maneuverability both on back roads and city roads. I lose space, but I can add a cargo carrier to the trailer hitch if needed.

The Medium Roof – I need a center standing height of 69” after installation of floor and ceiling. That leaves about 3” total for floor/ceiling thickness. I hope the medium roof van will be just enough?

The 3.5 ecoboost w/ the 3.31 rear end – It has great power and good gas mileage. I am still considering the 3.7 with the 3.73 rear end. It has good power and about the same gas mileage. I believe the 3.7 rums at higher RPM? Which can I expect to be more reliable in the long run?

Window that opens located on the passenger-side sliding door – The Ford installed passenger-side window is large and inexpensive. It will allow light into the van verses a smaller and more expensive aftermarket window.

White Color – To keep the van as cool as possible in the sun.

Notable Accessories – Trailer hitch (good to have, and I may attach storage or a bike rack to it); Privacy glass; the higher amp alternator and double batteries.

Four-Wheel Drive
Quigley’s has been visible and up front. They will likely be ready to go commercial this summer. They answered the one email I sent them.

Quadvan has said nothing publically. They have not answered two emails. I have heard (in the post below) that they are preparing for a Transit 4x4 conversion, but not from them directly, Quigley 4x4

I lean toward Quigley’s because they have been visible, but Quadvan might be more convenient if VanSpecialties gets the camper conversion.

Camper Conversion
My leading choice is VanSpecialties in Oregon; Alternatively Sportsmobile (Indiana) or Outside Van (Oregon).

I believe VanSpecialties and Outside Van will build the conversion as I want it (within reason). VanSpecialties answered my email and they have good prices. I hear they do good work. I have not tried to contact Outside Van. To me, they appear high end, tricked out, and possibly expensive. I don’t know that for sure. Location is a problem for both since I live 2000 miles away.

I live about 5 hours from Sportsmobile North, so very convenient. But they are more rigid in their design and they do not appear to offer a panel bed (see below). I’m not sure they would build to the specifications detailed below.

None of the local Ford dealers have had a 130 WB medium roof van for me to look at. I have not seen one. I looked at the 148 WB medium roof and the 130 WB low roof.

The following are details of the conversion. Ideally, it would have all the amenities including heat, hot water, stove, shower, solar panels, roof fan, portapotti, grey water tank and 20 gallon fresh water tank. I’ll leave room for a roof AC to be installed later if needed.

Conversion Space:
I measured a minimum of 108” of length on the 130 WB (low roof version) available for conversion (max is 111”). These lengths might necessitate preventing the driver’s seat from going all the way back. We drove the low roof 130 WB and both my wife and I seem okay with the limited space. There is an additional 6 -7” at the rear of the van between the rear doors and the back frame posts for a minimum total of 114”. Regarding center interior height, I will assume the floor and ceiling will eat up 3” combined, leaving a standing height of 69 inches. We will camp usually with no hookups.

The attached drawing shows the preferred setup.

Drivers side Conversion
1) Full height 24”x24” closet/shower combo directly behind the driver’s seat. It has removable shelves and a double door that can be locked open for extra room during a shower. It will be along the lines of accrete at Sportsmobile Transit

2) A sofa, 56” inches long and 15” high (when sitting) is located next to the closet/shower. This could be built as a permanent bench to allow storage underneath. Total length used is 24” + 56” = 80” leaving 28” free in the back.

3) Overhead cabinets extending 60” long from closet/shower and hanging 14” down from the ceiling. Some of this space will be reserved for the control panel. This leaves 24” in the back without overhead cabinets.

4) The Interior Height Distribution is as follows: 15” for the sofa plus 14” for the overhead cabinets. That leaves 40” clearance for sitting on the sofa below the cabinets.

Passenger Side Conversion
1) A 58” long galley protruding across the sliding door opening. This leaves a 22 inch opening to get in and out. Galley will have a single stove, refrigerator, microwave, and sink. The galley can be 32 inches high. (I may remove the stove and go solely with a portable propane stove).
Total length used is 58” + 22” = 80” leaving 28” of free space in the back.

2) Overhead cabinets hanging 14” down from ceiling and extending 30” from the end of the sliding door opening (not protruding into the door opening space). Some of this space might be reserved for the microwave, which could hang down more than 14”.

3) The Interior Height Distribution is as follows: a 32” tall galley plus 14” overhead cabinets leaves 23” sleeping clearance below cabinets (sleeping arrangements detailed below).

Back of Van
1) Boxes 16” high extending to the back frame post and just wide enough to cover the wheel well. Possibly, these could provide a little bit of storage.

2) A 3-panel bed system. Each panel is 26” wide and all three are the same size. These will be stored, stacked one above the other, on the 16” boxes in the rear of the van. They will provide room to sit with storage (in milk crates) underneath.

3) A set of panel braces at the height of the galley on both sides of the van for sleeping. The brace on the driver’s side can extend to the closet/shower. The brace on the passenger side will sit on or be supported by the galley.

4) In the rear doorway space (6-7 inches) I would like to be able to store a mountain bike. With the front wheel off, the widest part of the bike is the rear axle. It is 8.5 inches wide at 13 inches high. If this height and width is not impeded, I think I could fit the bike in a 8-9” wide area at the rear of the van against the rear door.

5) The Interior Height Distribution is as follows: Boxes 16” + 6” of stacked panels (I’m guessing each panel is 2” thick). That leaves a total of 47” of headroom for sitting.

The Roof
1) I would like two solar panels (or one if I can get a 300 watt) and a roof fan. Maybe two 300 watt panels if I can swing it. You can never have too much power. I would also like to leave room for a roof AC to be mounted sometime in the future. Will I need AC on less than really hot days?

Heat and Hot Water
1) The Espar system for heat and hot water is one option. It runs off the vans gas tank. VanSpecialties indicates they can install the gas or diesel versions. It is expensive but that’s not a deal breaker. I’ve heard it is loud (too loud), unreliable, needs constant maintenance, and still requires another method for cooking. Those things could be the deal breaker.

2) The Webasto system is a second choice. It also runs off the vans gas tank. VanSpecialties can install it. It is much less expensive than Espar, and I’ve heard it is more reliable and quieter. But it leaves another method for hot water and cooking.

3) A propane system is a third choice. VanSpecialties can install a 7.5 gallon tank. This is the least expensive option and it covers heat, hot water, and cooking. But it requires a second energy source that could be a pain to refill. I’m not sure how long 7.5 gallons would last.

4) My preference right now is to get the Webasto system for heat, and the propane system for hot water, cooking, and possibly as a backup heating system. I suspect that heat will be the largest consumption of energy.

5) Considering Orton’s advice, I could go with his hot water system – A 5-6 gallon tank with a 625 watt pencil heater, a submercible pump, a garden hose and a garden nozzle for the shower. The galley sink does not require hot water in my opinion. Add to that a portable stove and I could eliminate the propane all together and use only the Webasto system for heat. I would likely be carrying a portable stove anyway. I do think that interior heat is a requirement for us.

Windows
1) My preference is for privacy windows with sliding screen openings on both sides of the van covering as much length as feasible. VanSpecialties has 10” wide windows.

Batteries
1) I don’t know much about this subject. I would like as many batteries as I can fit. I was thinking as many as 4, but Orton says one 8D 255 amp-hour battery is enough. It might depend on what the upfitter will do.

Refrigerator
1) I’m not sure what size is ideal. I’m looking at the Nova Kool R3100 (3.0 cu.ft), the Nova Kool R3800 (3.5 cu ft) and the Isotherm 100 (3.5 cu ft).

Microwave
1) Small and simple sounds fine with me. As Orton suggested, simple mechanical dials, no clock or pushbuttons.

I will enjoy reading all comments and suggestions. Thanks in advance
Joe
Attached Files
File Type: pdf Transit 130 WB Layout.pdf (102.2 KB, 288 views)
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post #2 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-14-2015, 06:13:PM
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Good luck, Joe. Interesting reading your thought process.

Like your situation, it is only two of us and I top out at 5'7" on a good day. So the medium height van worked for us. I've insulated the ceiling and will soon build a headliner, but have not/will not do anything to the floor. We have the 148" 250.

This is our first conversion; some of it I'm doing myself and some of it is being done by a professional company. Basically I'm OK with rough work - just not finished level carpentry. You'll see that others here are very talented. We've owned a VW Eurovan and a Roadtrek and have hit 47 of the 49 North American States and almost all the Canadian Provinces. This is what we've learned.

You can't have too much space. Consider one of the longer body styles. Knocking down and re-setting a bed every night gets old very quickly. For us the solution is a permanent bed platform, with a 3.5 cu ft fridge and four drawers underneath. Hot water has been around since shortly after man discovered fire - and there's a reason for that. Washing dishes in cold water will soon become as much fun as building a bed every evening. Heat's important, too. If I remember my Dickens correctly, Victorian men and women wore stockingcaps at night. I prefer to turn up the thermostat.

Where most posters here will disagree with me is in the importance of a shower and full bathroom conveniences (i.e., not just a portapotti). Having your own real bathroom and shower, albeit a small one, makes all the difference to us. Just because we camp doesn't mean we don't go to restaurants and I'm sure the other patrons appreciate our degree of cleanliness.

Multiple systems increase the odds of failure. With the exception of a couple of 12v LED fixtures that run off the van's battery, all our heating/hot water/appliance are straight off the shelf, 120v. But we use campgrounds almost exclusively and when we do not we can run a small generator. (Exception: I will contact Orton for his advice on a heavy duty inverter to keep the fridge running while driving.)

Our van is used as a delivery vehicle during the week. In a couple of years, when we sell the business, we'll have it fully converted. That is, a professional company will install the bathroom and roof top AC. Until then, we're doing fine with the bed platform sytem. We just remove the queen size mattress after each trip. At some point in time I'll upload photos. Today I'm working on the shelf that will hold the computer, using some lightweight luan, an 12" piano hinge, a couple of chains, magnets and an inexpensive wall mount rack designed for a flat screen TV. See, some DIY can be fun.

So have fun and I look forward to hear of your progress.

Richard

Last edited by richard; 06-14-2015 at 06:19:PM.
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post #3 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-14-2015, 09:28:PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by richard View Post
Like your situation, it is only two of us and I top out at 5'7" on a good day. So the medium height van worked for us. I've insulated the ceiling and will soon build a headliner, but have not/will not do anything to the floor. We have the 148" 250.
I'm 5'7" as well. With the headliner and no floor, how much clearance do/will you have? A medium roof Transit is still an option for us.

Thanks...
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post #4 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-15-2015, 11:11:AM Thread Starter
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Hi Richard. Thanks for the response. If there is one thing I’ve been doing, it’s going back and forth on what I should and shouldn’t do. One person says one thing, and that sways me until I hear something else from another person. I have done a lot of tent camping, but as I have said, I’ve never owned a van or camper. It would be fun to tinker some, but at this point it would be best for us to have it professionally done.

I agree totally that you can never have enough room. I’d like to see the medium roof 130 WB and 148 WB side by side before I really decide. I really like the 130 WB because all I can think about are those tight dirt roads out west. Right now that is my top concern. I also might consider under floor storage, but that would require moving the spare tire to the back door. On the plus side, I can keep the 130 WB and still have extra inside storage. On the down side, the cost of doing that (even if there is room) would probably be about equal to the cost of upgrading to the 148 WB. And the spare tire would be visible and possibly in the way.

Do you have the regular 148 WB (not the extra long) with the ecoboost engine? It sounds like your platform bed is set up high and that you sleep lengthwise. If it is 6 feet long, that should leave about 4.5 feet of room in the front verses 3 feet for the 130 WB. Does that sound about right? I could see how the extra space could make a big difference. Either way, with a shower and a galley, that leaves little room for sitting. Comfortable seating will be important for us. That’s the reason for the small sofa. I also plan on having the front passenger side seat on a swivel. On the other hand, having a permanent bed would be nice. I can see how setting it up every night will get tiresome. I realize there has to be compromises and I’ll definitely think about it some more. Do you use the platform bed for sitting?

As for the shower, when we visited Sportsmobile North they said a shower is the one item folks wish they hadn’t installed. But, I agree with you that it is a must have item. Right now, my preferred portapotty is the luggable-loo. I haven’t tried it yet. They sell powder that makes it solid, so you just wrap it up and throw it in any garbage. I would rather not have to deal with black water. The bucket will be stored in the closet/shower. I guess this is another compromise. What size bathroom are you looking to install?

I’m totally with you on the hot water and heat. For us, I don’t think in many cases that we will have access to an electric hookup, so we need house power. For us, solar panels will be a must. I haven’t really considered a generator. I haven’t settled on what system or systems will be best for us. I was hoping somebody on here with experience with either the Espar, Webasto, or propane systems would chime in. Seems like propane is the tried and true method. From what I’ve read, the other two are hit or miss (and much more expensive) and I haven’t heard of anybody using Espar or Webasto with a gas engine. So that is a real unknown. If it is possible to install Espar or Webasto a year or so after I take possession of the camper, I might just go with propane and see if I really need either one of the other two.

I was planning hot water for the sink until I read Orton’s comments, which made me think otherwise (how easily I am swayed). He has some interesting things to say. I might try his system before I get the van to see if it works for us. But otherwise, if we install a hot water system, it will include both the shower and sink. Either way, we plan on having a system for heat.

What color is your van? How hot does it get on a day say in the 80’s. Is rooftop AC an absolute requirement for comfortable sleeping at night? My preference is to go with a rooftop fan and see if I really need the AC. I'm a little worried that the AC on th roof will take a bite out of the van's MPG. Do you have a rooftop fan? Is the 3.5 cu ft. fridge the right size for two people? What make is your fridge?
Joe
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post #5 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-15-2015, 11:53:AM
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Jad: A couple of comments.

A shower does not have to be a waste of space. Make it usable for other functions. Just make the other functions removable. Mine will have additional countertop space, a portapotti, large plastic storage bin and towel racks. Two shelf's that fold up out of the way when space used for showering.

I agree that moving a bed every night and morning is a pain. I rented a Sprinter in New Zealand for vacation and to learn what I liked or did not like. That taught me to avoid the bed problem. We sleep across the van in back. The rear 27" wide bed is permanent and the front one can be lifted quickly and stacked on top of the back one. That exposes a table for two people.

Consider a Propex propane heater. Propane burns clean so suspect it will not have the same problems as dirty burning diesel heaters. They also make a model that can be installed under the floor. I will leave space under van in case I decide to install one. I have learned that a 12v heating pad under my 0 degree sleeping bag works well. It is very quiet. Does require a balaclava to keep head warm. I will try a small insulated "tent" inside van. That might work.

2015 high roof 148" WB 3.5 Ecoboost 3.31 LS rear cargo.
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post #6 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-15-2015, 12:42:PM
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Richard,
I am envious of your build plans! Five years ago, like you, we had never owned a camper or a van (but had rented one in New Zealand for a few weeks and had fun.) We bought a ford-based bvan with low miles and a 4x4 conversion, and now it's 21 years old (one might think that qualifies as "forever", but I'm thinking about a transit-based replacement.

I think your platform choice is spot on, and I had made up my mind about that before seeing your post. Our E350's wheelbase is 138, and our Tacoma, at 122 is optimal for the kind of forest service roads we prefer here in Colorado. The 130-WB transit should be fine for the off-pavement trips. Also, go for more horsepower (Ecoboost). Or that's what I'd do, coming from a 7.5l gas engine. And I vote for the Quigley, unless a miracle happens and Ford adds a 4x4 option with low-range before you order. My van's 4x4 was done by a reputable local shop, but it's a one-off whereas Quigley has a national reputation and the FoMoCo relationship.

I think any interior configuration can work if it's right for you, but it would be great if you had some miles in another rig to test out your likes and dislikes. Is there any way you can borrow a pal's Sportsmobile and try it out before you commit on the planned arrangement with Outside? After 5 years and various trips short and long, winter and summer, we now have a firm grasp on what we need inside (though my list and my husband's list are not entirely coincident!), and what we like to bring along--a growing list, for sure.

Love having the passenger seat swivel--makes the living space feel much bigger. I think you'll be unable to swivel the driver's seat due to the new transfer case shift knob, but we don't miss it. You might consider adding a removable table between your sofa and the passenger seat. Also a galley flip-up counter extension across the 22-in gap between galley and passenger seat is handy. A winch bumper with deer guard and additional hitch receiver is great to have, and why not add a 12-V compressor? .

I like having two propane burners protected from combustibles that are accessible while one of us is still in bed (coffee and breakfast prep). We always have a backpack stove and fuel in case we run out of propane or find the perfect backpack opportunity. The 3-way 3.5 ft3 fridge is amazing for its age, and will last 3 weeks on propane. Don't know if the new ones are quite that good. Only once have we camped with electrical, and never with water/sewer, and I just don't care about plumbing because our summer season is so short and because that department, filling and emptying, is my job. I bought a solar system and haven't yet put it on because we don't sit still that long, and the coach battery is big enough and there's a generator (stinky and noisy and rarely used, but already in place) if need be. The microwave is hardly ever used, and we often remove it and put a cooler in its spot so we can carry more fresh produce and keep it reasonably cool by alternating ice packs from the freezer.

The hydroflame propane furnace works like an old school home unit, fail safe and no combustion products inside. Could not survive without heat, but only have 3-days of autonomy with propane in the winter, and that's with being pretty frugal. I replaced the furnace myself last year (so it is really simple ) for $750 because the bearings screeched when it was cold. I have looked long and hard at the Espar for a future build, but worry about operation at high altitude. Like you, really want the autonomy that a gasoline heater would provide. Tradeoffs!! Have never needed coach AC, but love the roof vent/fan.

Sofa: our sofa is a jackknife that flops into a 68" long twin bed--handy for one napper without having to make up the bed (which for us is a bunk over the cab). At 56" inches your sofa is a little short--but perhaps you have plans to make it a transverse chaise for ad hoc sleeping? Didn't really understand your bed plans. I recommend anything that can convert to a second purpose, for example your shower/closet is perfect.

After 21 years, the automotive finishes like window trim around operable have far outlasted the Airstream window gaskets and sliders. Likewise, the Ford body paint still waxes to a perfect shine while the aftermarket fiberglass is dull and brittle. Based on that experience, leaving the transit body intact is a wise move. But few things last "forever". Fuel pump, transmission, rotted fuel lines and vacuum leaks have been some of the high ticket items on the Ford side of the equation, despite <100K miles on the odo.

I would suggest investigating Outside Van's electrical system/load center, as I've been happy with the unit that came with the Airstream (after I replaced the converter with a 3-stage version that keeps the AGM coach battery happy). I use a small inverter 80W to charge electronics, but otherwise depend on the smarts of the load center to keep things going. Never had a problem with the alternator ruining the AGM despite the 1994 vintage technology.

Very excited to watch your build be sure and keep us up to date with progress. PM me if you have any specific questions.
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Sorry, meant to address my post to JAD, the original poster, not Richard.-Keystone
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post #8 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-15-2015, 05:22:PM
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Consider a 3.73 axle with EcoBoost 3.5. With a 4x4 conversion, you'll most likely be running larger diameter tires. The 3.31 may end up too tall of gearing, affecting gas mileage and low range performance. The combo of 3.73 rear diff and larger tires would likely put you in the gearing range of the 3.31 with stock tire size.

Oh, and Outside Van is substantially more expensive than any of the camp converters I've checked out. As an example, they quoted over $5K for the removable platform bed. That said, they are quite innovative, borrowed quite a few of Europe's offerings for utility & systems, and have taken camper design to the next level. It's just not the level of my pocketbook.
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I'm 5'7" as well. With the headliner and no floor, how much clearance do/will you have? A medium roof Transit is still an option for us.

Thanks...
With the insulation and headliner template that's up there, I just clear the ceiling. Lucky (?) for me I'm at that stage where I'm getting shorter each year - rounder, too. And I probably won't change to one of those gel-primed hair styles that stick up in the middle, either.

Richard
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post #10 of 87 (permalink) Old 06-15-2015, 11:19:PM
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Sorry, meant to address my post to JAD, the original poster, not Richard.-Keystone
Now you've hurt my feelings. I guess you're not envious anymore.

Richard
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