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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
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Now that I have this big, gray beast home in the driveway I guess it's time to start a proper build thread. Since multiple people have mistaken it for one of Amazon's delivery vans, I've taken to calling the project Optimus Prime. Not that my wife likes that, but the nerd in me does, so it may never have a name outside this thread. ;)

A little background... I'm a retired software engineer and woodworker with a strong DIY bent (on this forum... go figure). The van is a 2021 T250, HR Ext Cargo in Abyss Gray (purchased through @CrewVanMan... Thanks Ed!). Stock engine, tow package, dual batteries and most of the electronics options.

My wife and I live in Hendersonville, NC, in the mountains just outside Asheville. We're big birders, and the van will typically be used as a tour vehicle for one to two-week trips to birding destinations around North America. I'd guess that we'll spend one to two months of the year in the van on average, but certainly not full-time. When we travel, we tend to move each day, at least for daytrips, so I'll be emphasizing B2B charging over solar. While it will generally be my wife and I travelling, there will be occasions when either she or I travels with someone else, so the sleeping arrangements need to accommodate a couple of folks who don't want to share a bed.

Other design goals include:
  • Full time bed setup (in either the dual-bunk or queen modes)
  • Swivels on both seats and a Lagun table to convert the seats into a dinette area
  • Wet bath with composting toilet
  • Propane for space heating, water heating, and cooking
* Likely a Propex HS2000 for space heating, although I'm still looking at one of the Suburban heaters as well.
* Likely an Excel instant hot water heater for the shower.
* Cooking will be on a portable camp stove so we can move in or out as the weather encourages. I plan to install a couple of propane quick-connects, one at the galley and one at a fold-out table in the slider door, where it'll be easy to connect the stove to the house propane supply. We'll also carry some smaller setup (maybe just 1lb canisters) to use when we're cooking at a distance from the van.
  • 12V for almost everything else. I'm calculating that a 200Ah battery bank (likely two 100Ah SOKs) will cover two or three days of our typical needs, so that gives us a bit of flexibility with how often we'll need to drive/recharge. I'll still install an inverter, but I don't expect any large AC loads. Shore power connection for those times we need it.
  • We've got fixed glass in the slider and rear doors, but I'll be adding operable bunk windows and an operable window opposite the slider.
  • Ventilation using a MaxxAir 7500 with the windows for cross-draft. I'll also be adding a floor vent for passive convective cooling when we're not in the van. Based on where/when we travel, I'm not planning on an A/C unit, although the thought's always in the back of my head in case we find otherwise after getting out a few times. If we do ultimately end up adding A/C, it'll be for use with shore power only.
  • Fresh and gray tanks, size TBD.
  • Three-season use only.

Thread Table of Contents
1. Initial layout plans
2. Amazing Auto swivel installation (driver and passenger)
3. Vancillary Shelf Brackets... or not...
4. MaxxFan Installation
5. Floor & Ceiling Insulation and the Plywood Subfloor
6. Arctic Tern Windows

--dave
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I've been working on various layouts in Sketchup for over a year, and we have several we may prototype and try out. This one is the leading contender. First thing once I got the van home was to tape out this plan on the van floor and figure out where my model/dimensions of the van didn't mesh with the reality of the metal. After making those changes I updated the Sketchup plan and my tape job. This is the first (and possibly only? fingers crossed) plan that I'll prototype for us to use for a bit to determine what we like/don't like. The images below are in three horizontal sections: the first at floor level, the second at bed/countertop height (at the height of the window bump-outs), and the last at head level. Since the van varies in width at different heights, this helps me to visualize how the various pieces of furnishing will fall at those heights. There's nothing earth-shattering here, and most of it has been inspired by/stolen outright from various other builds. Please, if you see something that your experience tells you might be an issue, do chime in.

Floor-level
Rectangle Slope Font Parallel Diagram


In the wet bath we'll have a Nature's Head toilet on the right-hand wall. Those c-pillar bumps certainly cause issues with a shower pan, so I'm envisioning having fabricated a stainless-steel pan that can accommodate the weird shape. I haven't worked out the specific components and placement of the water and electrical systems, but I've reserved what looks to be sufficient space for each. The exact placement of the garage wall has some flexibility if I need more space in one of the utility areas. The TF78 fridge was the first thing I sourced, and I picked it up from the Truckfridge warehouse in KY on the drive home from picking up the van. One thing that's not shown in any of these sections is the cab space... I'll be adding Amazing Auto swivels to both seats. There will be one or more Lagun mounts to provide a dining space around that front lounge space, additional counter space for the galley, and a small work table for some of my wife's crafting.

Countertop height
Rectangle Font Slope Parallel Diagram

The bed layout will convert from two cot-sized bunks to a queen when desired. The night-table space will just be a portion of the bed platform that's not covered in mattress at the time. When we want to convert it, we'll add filler piece to the walkway area and add mattress cushions to the center strip.

The way the van widens at middle elevations makes me wonder if I can do some creative work with the driver's-side wall to take advantage of the extra elbow room, and that's what's shown. If not, I'll probably use that extra space for a storage cubby. My current intent is to build the wetbath from marine plywood and coat the interior of it with Redgard or Semco or the like. The Semco, at least, comes in a variety of colors. It's still to be determined if one of those colors will be a sufficient finished surface for us, or if I'll need to add a final surface (maybe FRP?) on top.

Not shown in this layout are three additional awning windows, one over the bench seat and one on each side of the bunk space. I'm still going back and forth on these, but they are likely to be Arctic Terns. Probably a 450mm x 500mm over the bench and 300mm x 700mm over each bunk. My only current hesitation with them is the color of the screen/shade trim rings. It's a perfectly fine off-white color that is likely to not work with any of the other finished surfaces in the van. If I go this route I'll likely have to disassemble/mask the trim ring and paint it.

Head height
Rectangle Slope Font Line Parallel


I honestly haven't given much thought yet to the uppers. I know there will likely be some, particularly over the bed. The depth of the over-galley storage is a SWAG, and it might need to be shallower. We'll get a feel for that when the layout is prototyped. Similarly the storage rack over the bench seat. That'll need to be shallow enough that it doesn't become a head-cracker. Some guys down the hall from me back in college had a taxidermied moose head mounted on one of their dorm-room walls, directly over a comfortable lounge chair. The plaster of paris filled snout of "Bruce the Moose" scored a significant number of TKOs that year, and I sure don't want this to do the same!

Comments? Feedback? Thanks,

--dave
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
YMMV with the tankless heater. I threw mine in the garbage. It's either boiling hot or freezing cold. It needs a constant flow to make it work, so conservation is an issue.
Thanks for the feedback. Was yours the Excel or something else? I've had one of these before in a shop space, and know that the start-up surge of water will be room temperature. This unit seems to get good reviews and start heating at a very low flow rate (1.6 gpm, IIRC). I intend to minimize the length of the run between the heater and the shower head so to minimize the amount of water in both that initial cold surge and the amount of water that can cool down in the middle of a navy shower. The Excel has controls to adjust both the flow of water and temp so I'm hoping I can dial in something that will work well, but I'd be interested in hearing real-world experiences with this unit.
 

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My experience tells me that camper living is made enjoyable when the following activities are prioritized:

1. sleeping
2. sitting
3. eating
4. bathroom functions

1. A good bed is essential. Do not compromise.

2. You will spend many waking hours sitting around. I would never be satisfied using the van seats. I recommend placing a high priority on a proper table with proper sitting arrangements.

3. The kitchen is highly dependent upon your cooking expectations. For me, a single burner and a microwave oven is sufficient. A sink is nice but unnecessary. Gray water tank is almost essential.

4. I have tried many approaches to the bathroom problem. I finally settled on a plastic bag as the most convenient overall method. A "composting" toilet is really just an extension of this approach, as you will not really be composting. You will be collecting and disposing, just as if you were using a plastic bag. Get your composting toilet, but don't be too proud to turn it into a fancy plastic bag holder down the road, if it becomes apparent that it makes more sense.

Regarding showering, first consider the sponge bath approach. This will eliminate the need for a shower stall and free up all that valuable space. If you must have a shower, consider @orton 's souis vide approach.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
My experience tells me that camper living is made enjoyable when the following activities are prioritized:

1. sleeping
2. sitting
3. eating
4. bathroom functions

1. A good bed is essential. Do not compromise.

2. You will spend many waking hours sitting around. I would never be satisfied using the van seats. I recommend placing a high priority on a proper table with proper sitting arrangements.

3. The kitchen is highly dependent upon your cooking expectations. For me, a single burner and a microwave oven is sufficient. A sink is nice but unnecessary. Gray water tank is almost essential.

4. I have tried many approaches to the bathroom problem. I finally settled on a plastic bag as the most convenient overall method. A "composting" toilet is really just an extension of this approach, as you will not really be composting. You will be collecting and disposing, just as if you were using a plastic bag. Get your composting toilet, but don't be too proud to turn it into a fancy plastic bag holder down the road, if it becomes apparent that it makes more sense.

Regarding showering, first consider the sponge bath approach. This will eliminate the need for a shower stall and free up all that valuable space. If you must have a shower, consider @orton 's souis vide approach.
Thanks for the feedback. It makes me realize that I left something uber important off the design goals list... at the top of the list is "keep my wife comfortable". Many of the decisions you see reflected in this layout stem from that item 0, particularly the presence of a separate toilet room. Given that was a requirement for her, then using the space for a shower as well is a no-brainer. I expect that we will use a combination of sponge baths and showers to extend our water, and that over time we'll find that we use the wet bath as an additional storage space as well, but that will be part of the learning that goes on in the prototype phase. As for @orton's sous vide approach, I like it a lot. Two things have kept me away from it, though. We want to accommodate morning showers and to minimize our electrical loads on the battery bank. The sous vide approach seems to work best when heating water while driving (and subsequently using the excess alternator charge capacity to power a coach inverter or to keep the house bank topped off). When the desire for morning showers enters the picture (see item 0), it becomes necessary to have the hot water in the morning rather than at the end of the day. Maybe I should go back and recalculate how much drain it would create on the batteries... One thing I have taken from that approach, however, is that of heating the water only to its intended use temp and using just hot water, rather than wasting BTUs heating shower water to a high temp and then mixing the temp down to the desired one.

The presence of a separate bathroom drives many of the other layout compromises. I initially wanted to get a fixed-dinette layout, and that's one of the secondary plans we'll try if this one doesn't work out. You see the remnants of that thinking in the bench seat. We find the cab seats comfortable... we'll see if that remains the case for extended, in-van lounging. While it doesn't show up in the floor plans, I also intend to build a "chaise lounge" functionality into the bunks; the end of each bunk will raise into a lounging position on one or both ends.

In our case the galley will be used primarily for breakfasts and lunches. We like to explore the local cuisine when we travel, so most evening meals will be in restaurants. When we do cook, I expect much of it (and the eating) to be outside, weather permitting. Everyone has different needs, but we rarely use the microwave at home except for heating leftovers, so we've omitted it from the van. We'll see if this galley strikes the right balance through the prototyping phase.

I agree with you on the toilet, and I'm under no misconception about the "composting" that goes on. The main thing we get from the NH is separation of urine and solids and containment of both in a form factor that satisfies item 0. I know there are cheaper ways to do the same thing. My plan is to replace the urine container with plumbing to the gray tank so that we can go a significant time between emptying either solids or liquids.

Thanks for the suggestions and comments and keep 'em coming. Explaining the rationale for our decisions helps me to question my assumptions and find holes in the plan.

--dave
 

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Looks like a great layout. My only recommendation would be to move the propane locker to an easier to change on position (unless you are doing a remote fill) and to think about tool/safety stuff storage. I would move the propane locker to immediately adjacent he rear door, then use the space behind for some storage sized to hold your jack, maxxtraxx, tow strap, chains, air compressor, etc. (whatever you are bringing with).

I realize you are not going ot be using in the winter, but changing out propane when it is buried is a pain in the backside.

I would recommend a butane burner, but propane one's work for sure as well!
 

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As for @orton's sous vide approach, I like it a lot. Two things have kept me away from it, though. We want to accommodate morning showers and to minimize our electrical loads on the battery bank.
Consider a variation on that approach. Use a hot water kettle to heat the proper amount of water to boiling, so that when you dump it into your 2 gallon insulated tank it brings the entire volume to the correct temperature. If batteries are low, you can just run the van for the few minutes that you are heating the water to cover the large electrical load.
 

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Thanks for the feedback. It makes me realize that I left something uber important off the design goals list... at the top of the list is "keep my wife comfortable". Many of the decisions you see reflected in this layout stem from that item 0, ..
I really like @kenryan's approach of prioritization.

And I really identify with your focus on the missus - and making it as pleasant as possible for her. Happy wife = happy life. (And the corollary: ain't mama happy, ain't nobody happy.)

When my son and I first built the Sprinter 5-6 years ago, she was indifferent: with just the bed and base of the electronics (and using propane camp stove), it was a rock-climbing metal tent. She was indifferent at best. We have camped plenty; there was no additional appeal to this for her. But once the galley was built and the abundant fridge and freezer space were set up, she started "taking over" that portion of things. Real food! Yay! The fixed-dinette layout made it homey for her: she could make food in a manner she was used to (just the induction stovetop, but cooking indoors and all the gear) while I'd sit and chat with her - just like at home. Then we'd sit to eat together. Winning.

One surprise was winter: she didn't mind the cold outside so long as the rig was warm at night. More winter rock-climbing trips!

The real surprise came when my son and I decided to "finish" some things. As with the current rig, we're very function-over-form and figured plywood and steel was a good of a finish as anything right? But when we put finish panels and doors on the galley and carpeted the rig and put rubber finish on garage area - all that stuff - it was like we'd built a brand-new van to her. Her interest went up in us going out together.

Similarly, when the galley on this rig was to have hot water and an oven, she thought those were un-necessary. Same with the potty - going outside is fine. And the shower. And the tilt-back ("couch mode") bed. As each thing got used, she felt more at home with the whole deal: water pressure is just like home; hot-water just like home; don't need a pile of pillows to sit up in bed; potty inside the van beats going out the door three times in the middle of the night. She still thinks the shower is silly; she might not change her mind on that. 😏

The things I got out of it were (are)
1. the look matters to her (finished), even though she'd say it doesn't
2. the convenience of things /just working/ makes a difference (no sous-vide for us 😄 )
3. the similarity to the "at home" experience encourages more trips (for her - I'm always down)
4. (maybe the biggest) she won't know that any of the above matter until they are done - and maybe not notice then

So... this rig went with MOAR electrical power: outlets everywhere, just like home; use any appliance you want just like home; hot /and/ cold running water in full-stream (too convenient, maybe... working on the conservation thing now). And more storage cabinets. And the internet just works - all the time. And making sure SHE can reach and use everything.

We went with the dual-swivel seats and Lagun table setup in the front; it's not /quite/ as good but it's more than close enough - especially with everything else more "like home" than before. And just using the porta-potty for liquids and plastic bags for solids.

She's on the phone downstairs right now telling a friend how convenient the new van is and we're going to take off in a few days and it's super nice. Big grins for me. 😁
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The things I got out of it were (are)
1. the look matters to her (finished), even though she'd say it doesn't
2. the convenience of things /just working/ makes a difference (no sous-vide for us )
3. the similarity to the "at home" experience encourages more trips (for her - I'm always down)
4. (maybe the biggest) she won't know that any of the above matter until they are done - and maybe not notice then

[…]

We went with the dual-swivel seats and Lagun table setup in the front; it's not /quite/ as good but it's more than close enough - especially with everything else more "like home" than before. And just using the porta-potty for liquids and plastic bags for solids.

She's on the phone downstairs right now telling a friend how convenient the new van is and we're going to take off in a few days and it's super nice. Big grins for me.
Sounds like a big win for you!

Yeah, that list above really resonates. When I started to think five years ago about some sort of a vehicle to make birding trips easier, my plan was just me heading out for two weeks at a time in a homemade teardrop camper. Surprisingly, when I started to talk about that she started to get interested. That led to a progressive feature creep from a teardrop to a small travel trailer to eventually the van. I think this strikes the right balance between nimbleness and the creature comforts of home.


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As for @orton's sous vide approach, I like it a lot. Two things have kept me away from it, though. We want to accommodate morning showers and to minimize our electrical loads on the battery bank. The sous vide approach seems to work best when heating water while driving (and subsequently using the excess alternator charge capacity to power a coach inverter or to keep the house bank topped off). When the desire for morning showers enters the picture (see item 0), it becomes necessary to have the hot water in the morning rather than at the end of the day. Maybe I should go back and recalculate how much drain it would create on the batteries... One thing I have taken from that approach, however, is that of heating the water only to its intended use temp and using just hot water, rather than wasting BTUs heating shower water to a high temp and then mixing the temp down to the desired one.
I heated 2 1/2 gallons of 67 degree water to 95 degrees in fifteen minutes with a 750 watt Sous Vide water heater. Used about 5% of a 255 amp-hr battery or 15 amp-hrs of battery capacity. I did have about a 1/2 gallon left over.

Was quick and easy to do and did not use up much battery capacity. The trick is to only heat the amount of water required for a shower and only heat the water to the desired shower water temperature.

Not a pleasant shower like at home but you do get clean and it was inside the van.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Looks like a great layout. My only recommendation would be to move the propane locker to an easier to change on position (unless you are doing a remote fill) and to think about tool/safety stuff storage. I would move the propane locker to immediately adjacent he rear door, then use the space behind for some storage sized to hold your jack, maxxtraxx, tow strap, chains, air compressor, etc. (whatever you are bringing with).

I realize you are not going ot be using in the winter, but changing out propane when it is buried is a pain in the backside.

I would recommend a butane burner, but propane one's work for sure as well!
Very good point, thanks. I haven't spent any time on organizing that garage space yet and the propane locker is mostly just a placeholder until I do so.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Swivel Seats

I installed the Amazing Auto swivels this weekend. These were the DP* version of the swivels, intended for power seats. I didn't take tons of pictures of the process, and it's already been well documented. You can find some more detailed information about these swivels and installing them on this thread, this other thread, and this YouTube video.

Since our van is a 2021, we have the electronic parking brake, which makes the driver's seat installation as simple as that of the passenger seat. No need to buy a parking brake mount kit along with the seats! I ordered our swivels on 9/19 and they arrived in NC on 9/25. Since it was a gorgeous day outside, I decided to do the install right away.

Here's the ultimate result:

Vehicle Motor vehicle Automotive design Plant Head restraint


The first thing to notice is we don't have the overhead shelf (and I have yet to determine if I'll install an aftermarket solution with the Vancillary shelf kit), so there's tons of headroom. I like the open feel that gives, but we may find we need some extra storage up there... that'll be a decision for much later in the project.

Gadget Audio equipment Automotive design Electronic instrument Bumper


I opened the boxes and got everything I'd need together. In this picture, above, the driver swivel is on the left. First thing I noticed is that the swivels don't have obvious markings indicating which is which... check the label on the boxes and keep them straight! There was one interesting difference between them though... the bolts surrounding the hole in the center were hex head bolts on the driver swivel and panhead bolts on the passenger side. I'm not sure why, although a number of other folks on the forum have found that the panhead bolts were necessary in their installs to help the (older-style) swivels play nicely with the motor mounts on the power seats. Maybe Amazing Auto is listening and modifying their offering based on user feedback? That would be nice to see.

I started with the passenger side swivel. I started by disconnecting a part under the seat that I've seen referred to as an "airbag sensor" in other places. At least with these power seats, that's much more than a sensor, if there's even a sensor there. This is the connector for all of the electrical to the seat. It removes with a single 7mm bolt. The bolt does not fully remove from the connector, but when it's loose the connector will pull out from the mating piece that remains attached to the seat. I then went to remove the four bolts (10mm) attaching the seat rails to the seat base, and I immediately realized what an idiot I am. Since these are power seats, I can't adjust them at all with that connector disconnected... duh! :rolleyes: :sneaky: So, reconnect that connector and leave it connected until last. Then I pulled the four bolts (adjusting the seat to be able to reach the front ones, then the back ones), disconnected the under-seat connector again and I was able to lift the seat off the pedestal. I had previously placed a big piece of cardboard on the floor in back, so the seat went there on it's side. I don't know if it's possible to disconnect the seat belt somehow, but I didn't. I just left it connected to both the seat and the van and it stretched to that distance easily.

Attaching the swivel to the seat base is a simple matter of figuring out which holes in the swivel will align with the seat base and reusing the original bolts. After placing the seat back on top of the newly installed swivel and dropping a couple of bolts into the holes to keep it from slipping off, I looked at how much plastic I should trim from the outboard edge of the seat to improve clearance. It looked like 1/2"-3/4" would do it if the seat was fully elevated, so I put the seat back on the cardboard, put some painters tape along the cut to protect the plastic from scratching, and marked my cut line with a straightedge. There's a molded groove in the plastic at the place I wanted to cut, so I used that as my landmark and used a Sharpie to mark the line. You can just see the remains of that groove in the picture, below. I made the cut with a jigsaw using a fine-toothed, metal-cutting blade and just took it slowly. That made a smooth cut with no tear-out and very little to clean up along the cut. What little plastic clingers were left were easily trimmed with a razor knife, and I then used the same knife to ease the sharp edge left by the saw blade. To do that, I just scraped the side of the razor blade along the cut, effectively putting a micro-bevel on the cut. Worked very well.

Vehicle Automotive design Automotive exterior Car Personal luxury car


Before reattaching the seat, I need to somehow deal with the metal child seat attachment point at the top-back of the seat base (at least, I think that's what that is). Most folks seem to just cut it off, but I had seen @RichBuilt take a different approach in this video. He used a heat gun and a rubber mallet. I decided instead to forgo the heat gun and use a non-marring deadblow hammer. Beat it a few times and easily bent it low enough to clear the rotating seat. No apparent chipping of the paint or deformation of the base that would have been aided by the heat gun, so I think that step is not necessary.

Hood Automotive tire Grille Automotive lighting Motor vehicle


I then attached the seat to the adaptor using hardware from the kit. AA includes a LOT of extra hardware in each kit. Particularly fender washers... lots of fender washers. 😁 And no instructions. This led me to inventing places to use them in the install. 🤔 One place was problematic and those had to be removed. When bolting the seat to the adaptor, I initially used a washer against the head of the bolt and one beneath the nut. Only when I got all of them installed did I realize that the washer beneath the nut limited the forward/back motion of the seat (assuming you've installed that bolt pointing upwards through the bracket/seat rail like I did). And by limited, I mean that the seat only had an inch or two of forward/back adjustment along the center of its range. It turns out that the washer is wider than the space between the moving portion of the seat rail, and that interference prevented the seat from its full range of motion. In the picture, below, the arrows show the travel of the moving part of the seat and the circle is the original location of the fender washer. Took those washers off and all's well again. By the way, these swivels will turn to both left and right of center. When attaching the seat to the adaptor it's necessary/helpful to swivel the seat slightly in the "wrong" direction to create clearance to get your wrenches in there.

Hood Motor vehicle Automotive design Vehicle Gear shift


That pretty much did it for the passenger seat. The extra height added by the power seat version of the swivel is a non-issue for us. Even my wife, who is 5'4", was able to adjust her seat to a comfortable height after installation. She did need to adjust the seat all the way down, so anyone significantly shorter than 5'4" might have problems with the added height.

Installing the driver side swivel was largely a matter of turn the crank and repeat. The only difference was in deciding how to reroute the wire loom to the seat connector, since the place it was located interfered with the new seat adaptor. The learning curve on the first seat meant it took me a couple of hours, but the second one only took 45 minutes, even with neighbors stopping by to wonder what I was doing. I did decide on the driver's seat to trim a little bit higher than on the first one. This didn't affect the functionality at all... the first seat works fine. I just decided that I would like the look a bit better if I trimmed off the entirety of that molded groove along the bottom of the seat. I deliberately didn't go back and try to redo the cut on the passenger seat... let's leave well enough alone, huh? :)

Car Vehicle Hood Automotive design Motor vehicle


After securing the wire loom again under both seats, with the new version of the adaptors there are no longer any lack-of-clearance issues between the seat/motor bracket and any part of the swivel. Lots of clearance in any seat position. This pic shows the seat in the fully-down position.

Bumper Automotive lighting Automotive exterior Gas Tints and shades


A couple of things that I learned through the installation that might benefit others:

1. I was kind of expecting the direction that I would move the unlock lever to be mirrored from one seat to the other, but they both must move the same direction, even though the swing of the seat is opposite. For the passenger, you slide the lever in the direction you want to travel; for the driver you do the opposite. Not a big deal, just something to get used to.

2. There are more locking detents built into these swivels than just the forward-position one. They also lock in the 135 degree position (pointing back at 45 degrees) and the 180 degree position. I'm not sure those are necessary or desirable, as it means fiddling with the swivel lever when moving the seat for various cabin postures.

3. The minimal trimming I did means that we need to raise a seat to it's highest position before starting to swivel it. For the passenger seat, the only other adjustment necessary is that the back should be more-or-less upright (no swiveling in a reclined position... duh). That side is easily turned from either inside or outside of the van, and doesn't require any fiddling with the seat position as you do it. The driver side is tougher, though. It still needs to start in a basic high, upright posture, but it takes a lot of fiddling with the forward/back and recline buttons to get it to clear the steering wheel as it turns. My normal driving position is with the wheel fully extended and the seat back a ways, so your mileage may vary. I think that the driver seat would actually be easier to swivel if it were manual rather than power. The power controls on the outboard side of the seat are awkward to reach at points in the swivel process, whereas I think the manual controls would be easier to manage. Still doable though, and I'm sure I'll get better at it as time goes on.

Plant Vehicle Motor vehicle Car Car seat cover


--dave
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Vancillary Shelf Brackets... or not...

I had intended to create a shelf above the cab using the Vancillary DIY brackets and had ordered a set that was just waiting for installation. That thought lasted just long enough to unpack the brackets and walk out to the van. It turns out that these brackets (and all the other ones I've seen for adding an aftermarket shelf) rely on the (now optional) factory-installed storage. I had not opted to get that in my van since I knew I'd be building my own shelf.

Here's an image that @RichBuilt posted a while back of his installation for illustration. You can see that the Vancillary bracket has been inserted between the factory shelf and the mount point, and his shelf rests on top the bracket.

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The crux of the matter is not just that the brackets are designed to work in conjunction with the mounting hardware of the factory-installed storage, but that Ford, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they should change shape of the headliner for installations without the overhead storage. That's the real kicker. It would be possible to adapt the brackets to work in the absence of the storage. The fixture that the factory storage mounts to is still present behind the headliner in my van; it's just that in the previous version of the headliner there were flat surfaces on the headliner through which you could attach the factory shelf.

Here's a picture of my headliner for comparison. Note that the recess above the door in the picture above is missing in this one.
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I reached out to Sean at Vancillary to see if they knew about this, and if they had a product in the works for the new headliner. He confirmed that they knew of the issue (in fact, their website says the brackets only work with vans that have the factory storage... I just missed it). He also immediately offered to let me return the brackets, even though it was my fault for not reading closely enough. Props to him for great customer service. Sean indicated that they had looked at a '21 without the factory storage to see if they could come up with a work-around to allow their brackets to work with it, but that their solution didn't meet their own standards for a professional-looking installation.

So, it's back to the drawing board on this one. I did some searching online and it seems that the other aftermarket shelf solutions I found would suffer from the same issue. So, this went from a simple afternoon's project to a design problem, and immediately dropped down my priority list. If I do come up with a solution I'll post it here, and if you have ideas for me, please chime in. Maybe the aftermarket will catch up with the 2021s and someone else will produce a solution by the time I'm ready to circle back to this.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
MaxxFan Installation

The day had to come sooner or later, but I cut a hole in my van today! And even better, I got it sealed up and a fan in place by the end of the day. I didn't get a lot of pictures (a few obligatory ones below), but the technique I used was different than most of the fan install videos I see, so I thought I'd document it here, as well as my lessons learned.

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I used Hein's fan adaptor and mounted in the front-center position. As Hein suggests in the instructions included with the adaptor, I used 3M Window Weld to attach the adaptor to the roof, and I used butyl tape between the mounting flange and the adaptor. I used FlexSeal paint to seal the base once mounted.

Firstly, this is not something I came up with. This approach I used is largely one I found documented by Jimmy at Levity Vans in this 2019 video. Several things struck me about this. First, he had posted the obligatory installation video on an early van back in 2017 (here). This original video followed the steps that Hein includes with his fan adaptors. Jimmy's update definitely does not follow those steps, but includes lessons he learned over a couple of years of van builds. I liked Jimmy's updated method because it would allow me to fully install the fan in a single afternoon.

Watch the first video for all the details. I decided to vary a bit from his installation and my steps were basically:

0. Wash the roof well and allow it to airdry.
1. Place the MaxxAir mounting flange in the adaptor and predrill all of the holes through the adaptor. I used a bit just a hair larger than the outside diameter of the mounting screws provided.
2. Get on the roof and place the adapter where I wanted it. Check and double-check the location from above and below. When I was confident, I drove a single screw through the center hole on the trailing edge of the adaptor, through the sheet metal. This screw holds the adaptor in place for the following steps. The leading edge of the adaptor got held in place with painter's tape. The mounting screws included with the MaxxFan are #8 1" sheet-metal screws. I knew I'd use them for the final installation, but I decided to use a #6 1" hex-head screw for the initial steps. I used #6 because I didn't want to open the hole up the whole way... I thought that would let the #8s have a tighter fit later in the game. :unsure: I used hex head because I didn't want a Phillips head to strip out while I was driving the self-tapping screw through the roof.
3. Tape the box that Hein's adaptor came in to the underside of the roof, positioned to catch the chaff and and other garbage that falls through the hole. This replaces the plastic bag that many folks use instead.
4. Drill a hole in the center of the waste metal of the opening and one near each corner. I opened up these holes with a step bit so that they would fit the jigsaw blade.
5. Using a fine-toothed metal blade in a cordless jigsaw, I did a test cut in the center hole in the portion of the metal that will be discarded. Looked good, and cut smoothly, so it was time to move ahead.
6. Using the edge of the adaptor as my cut line, I cut around the perimeter of the hole. Note that since the jigsaw is riding along the top of the adaptor, the plate of the saw never contacts the roof, so there's no need to tape either the opening or the bottom of the plate. As I freed each corner I taped the loose corner of the hole piece to the adaptor to minimize vibration.
7. I test fit the mounting flange through the adaptor and made any necessary adjustments to the hole.
8. When I was happy with the hole (it fit the first time, no changes necessary), I vacuumed up the debris that was on the roof. I think that since the plate of the saw was riding 1/8" - 1/4" above the roof (on top of the adaptor) that this may have allowed more metal chaff to collect on the top side. In any case, there were a LOT of fine metal shards on the roof, so I took a lot of time to get it all up. When that was done I used an abrasive pad to scuff the paint where the adaptor would sit, just to improve the adhesion of the Window Weld.
8. Using some more of the #6 self-tapping sheet-metal screws I predrilled each of the remaining holes in the adaptor through the skin of the roof. Be super careful not to overtighten these! There's no need for them to be tight at all at this stage, because as soon as they were all predrilled I removed all the screws. If you do overtighten them and strip the holes, you're screwed 😆 .
9. Line the underside of the mounting flange with butyl tape. Note that I got my tape with my adapter kit and there was JUST enough. I started out overlapping the tape at the corners, but there wasn't enough tape for that. Of course I didn't know that until I was at the final corner. 🥴 I was able to scavenge some of the overlapped tape from the previous corners to fill in the gap at the final corner. As Hein suggests in his installation instructions, I had to put the butyl tape in the freezer for a few minutes in order to get it to release from the paper.
9. I prepped the Window Weld in the same way Jimmy does in the video. I did take the time to heat the tube as he suggests, but I don't know if that would have been necessary. I was using a 13:1 caulk gun and was able to pump the material out well, but perhaps with a lesser caulk gun the heating would have been necessary. Instead of a simple 45 degree cut on the nozzle, I made a long, shallow cut to allow a 3/4" wide ribbon to be extruded by the gun.
10. I didn't know how long of working time I'd have with the Window Weld (the package says 10-20 minutes), so I made a final check that everything I'd need was on the roof so I could get everything done in time.
11. I ran a single 3/4" ribbon of WW around the entire bottom of the adaptor. I made sure to center the ribbon across the line of screw holes. I did this on the ground and then climbed up to complete the process.
12. I placed the adaptor in place around the hole. I had earlier marked both the adapter and the mounting flange so that I could reliably get them in the same orientation each time. I then placed the mounting flange inside the adapter and using the #8 mounting screws supplied with the fan I attached them both. My plan of using #6 screws for the pilot hole stage seemed to work, since these screws had just a little bit of resistance, but not tons. I used a driver to run all of the screws most of the way in, and then came back and did the final tightening by hand.
13. Making sure that everything seemed right, I then taped off an area around the outside edge of the adaptor, leaving roughly 1/2" of metal showing on all sides. A little final trimming of excess butyl tape that had squeezed out and I was ready for weather-proofing.
14. In the video Jimmy uses Dicor, but I decided to try FlexSeal. I had a quart of the brush-on type in black. Using a 2" foam brush, I coated the mounting flange, screw heads, and the sides of the adapter, making sure that all the surfaces were generously covered and all cracks were filled. I then covered the paint inside my taped border. As soon as I was done I pulled up the tape, making sure not to drip anything from it onto the roof or anything else.
15. I waited 20 minutes or so to allow the FlexSeal to flow and hopefully set a bit, and then I was able to install the fan onto the mounting flange. Nothing hard about this, but you have to be careful not to touch the FlexSeal, as it's still wet.

All done!

All in all I liked this method. I could see no good reason to let each successive layer of adhesive/sealant cure before moving onto the next one, and that method requires leaving the hole in the roof open to the elements for a couple of days. I don't have an indoor space that will hold the van, so I'm always conscious of the weather. While I don't expect rain here for a few days, there's a sense of security having the van back in the dry in an afternoon. I see a couple of possible pitfalls, and I'll report back if they come up. It could be that the Window Weld won't cure (or will cure more slowly) since the outside is now contained within FlexSeal. Or, in curing, it might give off vapors that cause the FlexSeal to fail to adhere properly. I don't think either of these are likely, but time will tell. The primary advantage of this approach is that from start to finish it took me only a couple of hours, and this was my first fan install. I'd expect that if I were to do a second one I would be done in around an hour.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Floor & Ceiling Insulation and the Plywood Subfloor

The warm weather here that rolled in last week prompted me into high gear to get some things done that needed proper adhesive-curing temps. The MaxxFan install above was one of them, and I also wanted to get a start on insulation.

I'm primarily using Polyiso (Sika/Rmax Rmatte-3 1" rigid foam boards). I'm using Great Stuff Gaps & Cracks as the adhesive, and I bought the pro gun to apply it. I have to say, while I debated about it, that's a truly worthwhile investment! It gives a much higher level of control in applying the foam. You can dial in a bead of foam to the thickness you need, and you can change it as you go (for example, when filling a widening crack). I think it leads to far less waste of the foam, too.

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I first made cardboard template for each sheet of foam. When I was happy with the fit I traced the outline on a sheet of foam and cut it out. These same templates would help me with the plywood subfloor later.

The floor sheets were attached on top of the ridges with nothing filling the valleys. I want to allow plenty of opportunity for any moisture that might eventually make it into that space under the floor to evaporate and didn't see a significant benefit to insulating the valleys. This is a HR van and I'm 5'11", so I can add additional insulation layers in the floor and ceiling at some point if desired without compromising my headroom.

When I had my foam cut and fitted, I taped the back two sheets together with foil duct tape and did the same with the front two sheets. This tape acted like a hinge and let me fold the smaller piece onto the larger one, which let me carry and install them as a unit. I then ran a bead of Great Stuff on each ridge in the floor and positioned the larger back sheet. When it was in place it was a simple matter to flip the hinged smaller piece into place. Cinder blocks provided the weight on the foam to keep it in place while the GS cured. I did the back half of the van on day one and the front the next day. Final step for the floor was to tape the seam between the front and back halves, and then fill the gap around the perimeter with GS.

Cutting the foam for much of the floor was easy as the Rmax scores nicely with a razor knife and you can treat it just like drywall... score it, snap it, then cut the back paper/foil. I knew I'd need a different approach for the curves around the wheel well, though. I've seen foam cutting jigsaw blades listed for sale online but couldn't find any at my local stores. Instead, I took an old jigsaw blade and ground the teeth off of it, then sharpened the leading edge on the bench grinder to effectively make a knife blade for my jigsaw. This think cuts like a dream! Straights, curves (even super tight ones)... no problem. And with the foam you can simply plunge the blade through and start a cut anywhere, so no need for any fiddly little cuts to clean out the bottom of a blind recess. Plus, no waste/foam bits floating everywhere like you'd have with a regular, toothed saw blade! All in all, this was a win, especially since all it cost me was a used blade!

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Then it was on to the roof insulation. Nothing earth shattering here... cut a full-width piece to fit between the ribs and trim a bit at each corner to make it fit. I found that 61" wide pieces fit nicely with room to fill the gaps with foam later. I used a combination of shower rods/plywood and these blue poles in the picture below to clamp each piece in place until the foam holding it cured. Those blue poles look like cabinet jacks but are sold at Harbor Freight as pickup bed load management devices. I guess you'd put one across the bed of your truck and clamp it in place to keep things from sliding around. I'm not sure how well they work for that, but they certainly wouldn't work as cabinet jacks... as they arrive they wouldn't support the weight of a cabinet. However, they work for clamping foam panels really well. Best thing is that HF sells them for ~$15/pair. When it comes time to insulate the walls I plan to pick up a second set. Much easier to use than the closet rods, and more effective, too.

One word of caution on the roof panels. Make sure you put enough foam on the back side. I was laying down a checkerboard pattern of foam... a bead around the perimeter and about every 6-8" across the panel. On one panel only, I somehow ended up applying a smaller bead than the others, and after allowing time for the foam to cure I unclamped it and moved on. That panel held for a few minutes and then slowly peeled away from the roof. Analyzing it later, it was evident that only some of the foam had been doing anything at all... many portions of the foam beads showed no evidence of having been compressed against the roof. Luckily, cured foam scrapes off easily and both the piece and the roof were fine.

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A last word about those blue poles... they have two extension mechanisms. The first is a star knob that loosens to allow the inner pole to extend; the second is that black squeeze handle near the top that extends the silver rod. These things can extend from 45" to 114" (not a typo) and they claim they can support 66 lbs. I don't believe that claim from my experience using them to place some prototype roof panels, but they'd be easy to modify to make them much more useful. The weak point here is the star knob. You can't crank down on it enough to keep the inner blue pole from slipping as clamping force is applied. I plan to get some spring buttons like you'd typically find in old-school tent poles and modify these so I don't have to use the star knob. Then I think they'll be really useful in general. In the meanwhile, they work just fine for foam, and at $15/pair they're a steal.

Plywood Subfloor

I'm making my subfloor from 1/2" marine-grade baltic birch. I had been hearing the horror stories on the forum about how prices for it have increased astronomically and was worried about what I'd find. However, at my go-to plywood supplier I found that it had increased slightly since pre-covid levels, but I was able to get get a 4x8 sheet of 1/2" MG BB for $74. That was only a $0.04/square foot premium over their standard BB, so definitely worth it. Having done a lot of woodworking in the past, I've long-since decided not to use standard plywood in anything I care about.

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The floor took four sheets, and the 4x8s gave me less waste than 5x5s or 5x10s would have. I made sure that while the foam sheets ran NS in the van, the plywood ran EW so I don't have seams stacking up. Since I've had good, dry weather, I was able to lay the sheets on the patio as my easel. I could then take the cardboard templates I had used to cut the foam and tape them together into one uber-pattern. That let me slide it around and decide where I wanted the seams in the plywood to fall, then trace the pattern onto the plywood (accounting for all the places that the plywood would be larger/smaller than the foam sheets beneath). Simple then to cut the plywood shapes and test fit them in the van (they fit!). Then, since I have a factory edge on each sheet wherever it abuts another sheet, I used a slot cutting bit in my router to cut a slot into which I'll ultimately glue a strip of hardwood to align/support the edges of the sheets. For the moment I think I'll let them float on top the foam... I'm sure there will be occasions I need to remove them to adapt to the ongoing build (I'm thinking... when I decide where my heater will mount... do I want the shower pan on top the plywood or lower?... where will the floor vent be?... that sort of thing). This way I'll be able to pull the appropriate pieces and cut them easily when it might otherwise be harder to do if they were already permanently installed.
 

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I totally agree with Orion that you are underestimating your battery capability. If you are driving every day, or even every other day, with lithium and B2B you can heat shower water with Sous Vide whenever you want. The "heat while you drive" mantra is relevant for AGM's that leave unused electrons on the table.

In general, I think you are underestimating the capacity of your proposed electrical. Those two SOK's will support a microwave, an induction cooktop, a 3-qt Instant Pot, etc. We added a third so we could go four days without driving, plus support a 22-qt freezer kept at -4°. And BTW, it doesn’t get any easier than nuking a home-prepared meal from the freezer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
In general, I think you are underestimating the capacity of your proposed electrical. Those two SOK's will support a microwave, an induction cooktop, a 3-qt Instant Pot, etc. We added a third so we could go four days without driving, plus support a 22-qt freezer kept at -4°. And BTW, it doesn’t get any easier than nuking a home-prepared meal from the freezer.
That’s good to hear (and not surprising… I tend toward over design ). I’m trying to build a degree of future-proofing into this design. I knew that you had recently added the third SOK, and it sounds like you’re still happy with that decision, true?

Since my earlier posts about electrical, I’ve moved away from the b2b approach. I’ll be installing a Victron multiplus, so a DC-AC-DC System similar to @gregoryx started to make more sense. I have the high-amp CCP2, so by installing a coach inverter to power the Victron I can dial in my charging pretty well.


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Since my earlier posts about electrical, I’ve moved away from the b2b approach. I’ll be installing a Victron multiplus, so a DC-AC-DC System similar to @gregoryx started to make more sense. I have the high-amp CCP2, so by installing a coach inverter to power the Victron I can dial in my charging pretty well.
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You show a wet bath inside the rig. And using the propane instant water heater. We used that on the outside of our rig last time. This time, using a 4-gallon Bosch.

The propane things we had (and a friend had - two different brands) worked well but leaked water in use and generally were just "okay" at least as an outdoor shower (clearly what they're designed for). But indoor... just don't want to deal with that silly setup on the wall inside the fan - you have to be able to reach the unit to change the flow and/or temp.


Anyway... I bring that up because heating a few gallons of hot water (and/or keeping it hot - your call on how best to manage that energy consumption) might work better with the small-ish electric tank setup (Bosch or other). Price is the same on the hot water heater versus tank; but function is MUCH nicer (just like home) - and you get hot-water at the sink as a bonus. BUT... you would use more of your battery power. Not a big deal if you are willing to alternator charge regularly; just something to consider.


I did a budget spreadsheet setup talking with someone else recently. Best-case, typical, and worst-case consumption of electricity. How many days can we go in each case and how does re-charging play out - run-time per day or alternate days - in each scenario.

2 200A 12V units is ~2.5kWh of power (what you are planning). In our rather wasteful "typical" usage, that's about two days or less for us (as I said, wasteful... but we have ~8kWh of storage). But we can/could conserve. Considering using CCP2 as source, you get just shy of 2kW charge rate. So... you'd get a full battery recharge in 1.5 hours tops. You could drain the batteries to only 500Wh remaining and put it all back in just over an hour of engine-run. If that suits you, you're good.

So back to the electric heater: you could do it with those batteries; just need to charge a bit more often if you don't have sunlight.

I didn't see fridge mentioned. That's our largest power draw - but only when we're using the freezer, not the fridge.


One more thing to consider: acceptable drain rate for lithium batteries is best kept in the 0.5C range. They "lose" energy the harder you pull on them. So pulling on 200Ah of LiFePo4 batteries is best capped at ~100A rate. Meaning ~1.3kW. Just something to consider if you start putting AC loads on the inverter. Not a big deal for short bursts; but not something to be sustained.
 
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