Ford Transit USA Forum banner

Build Thread: Sidetracked - mobile lounge

2303 52
“Sidetracked” captures so much of our experience already that my wife and I decided on that as our van name. We also like how it can be used jokingly as in “We got ‘sidetracked’ last weekend.” Sorry, I think that’s a bit of dad-level humor.

Our overall build objective is primarily just a comfortable place to hang out when we are in or near a beautiful place, but taking a break from outdoor activities. Think of it as a mobile living room with a couple of couches for sleeping and a small kitchen. We would also like it to serve adequately as an emergency get-away if we get caught in some kind of unfolding natural disaster that California specializes in lately. Also, as a “kitchen tent” when we go camping with our adult kids.

We expect to stay mostly in campgrounds or friends’ driveways, with only occasional dispersed camping or boondocking. The idea of just getting in the van and taking off for a week is pretty appealing.

I’m trying to keep the van operationally simple. I don’t expect my wife or kids to remember to turn on or off switches frequently to control the systems. Realistically, that’s just not going to happen. So I’m avoiding anything that has to be actively managed and anything in the engine compartment.

I’ve recently retired, so this is also a project to keep me busy ^-^

We bought a 2021 Ford Transit off a dealer lot in February of 2021. It was a canceled special order and we snapped it up immediately after our test drive for MSRP (remember those days?). It’s a 148HR AWD with factory swivel seats.

I’ve started the conversion, but everything has been moving slowly. Nevertheless there are a few interesting angles to this build and I’ll do some catch-up posts that focus on those. As a quick overview of some of the equipment and capacities:

HVAC
Dometic RTX2000 12V Air Conditioner
Propex HS2000 furnace
Floor-exiting fan
Opening passenger side window (Tern awning)

Electrical (mostly Victron and BlueSea Systems)
10,000 Wh of batteries (4 x 200AH at 12.8V)
640 watts of solar
800 watts of B2B charging
1,500 watts of shore power charging (15A shore power connection)
Victron Multiplus 12/3000 Inverter/Charger

Seating:
Front factory swivels
Two side-facing auxiliary seats in the back with seatbelts

Kitchen:
Microwave/broiler combo
Top opening chest refrigerator
Small sink / no water heater

Bathroom:
Folding toilet chair and wag bags
Sponge bath set up
Laundry bucket

Insulation:
Noico sound deadener
One layer of ⅝” Ensolite plus one layer of Thinsulate where feasible
Still working on how to deal with the back doors/side door/front cabin

Please share your feedback and suggestions as this unfolds. I very-frequently learn new things just by reading forum posts, so I know that many of you have a lot more knowledge than I do.
41 - 53 of 53 Posts

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #41 ·
It is my understanding that oversizing an A/C evaporator coil is actually a detriment ...
I read on an HVAC forum that you ideally want your AC to have about a 66% duty cycle. On for 15 minutes and off for 7 minutes for example. I'm not sure of all of the reasons, but there are three obvious ones: (1) There is a start up period of about 30 seconds before you really get cool air from an AC, so if it's cycling a lot that would reduce it's efficiency. (2) An air conditioner is supposed to reduce humidity in the air, and this only happens when it's actively running. (3) a larger capacity unit will naturally have to have larger, heavier, and usually noisier components.

Of course if you size an air conditioner to be perfect for when it's 105 deg. out it's going to be over sized for when it's just 90 degrees. So, I don't think anyone can get this one perfect. Anything starting at 5,000 BTU's is large enough for a well-insulated van, and I'm sure that with enough design effort even 3,000 BTU's of cooling would be effective. The larger size RV air conditioners are designed to work plugged in at a campground with a 30A shore power connection, so they don't stress too much on insulation.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,955 Posts
I had a 14,000 btu portable air conditioner in my well insulated transit camper back in 2016 and it took quite a while to cool down a 100 degree van, I would say about a hour.
Half inch of R-Maxx and a half inch of Poly-Iso foamboard in the walls, Floor and ceiling. The cargo van doors were uninsulated at the time but I had 5% 3M limo tint on all of the windows. I had a front bulkhead so little or no heat coming from the front of the van.
It took up too much floor space so I removed it after the first year, Since it only pulled 11 amps I had dreams of it running off of a inverter.

 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #43 ·
I had a 14,000 btu portable air conditioner in my well insulated transit camper back in 2016 and it took quite a while to cool down a 100 degree van, I would say about a hour.
That sounds pretty rough, but I understand how it could take an hour to cool down if you have a lot of thermal mass like a water tank in your conditioned space. Did you ever try to measure the R-value of your conditioned area?

A little understood fact about heat gain when you have a mix of insulation levels.
If you have an equal area of R1 and R6 insulation the effective
U value is (1/1 + 1/6) / 2 = 0.666 which translates to an R value of 1.5.
In other words, a small amount of uninsulated area really wrecks the overall insulation level.

When I say a space is "well-insulated" I'm referrings specifically to an effective insulation level of R-7 or better. If you aren't getting to R-7 then you are going to need a lot more heat and cooling. And obviously you have to look after any window openings.

I have a 5,000 btu AC in my office, which is exposed on three sides and has four windows in it and with a cathedral ceiling, so I get heat gain that way as well. The surface area is at least twice that of the living area of the van yet my litle 5,000 BTU AC keeps it cool on 100 degree days. I think the blended insulation level might be somewhere around R-10. I have to keep my shades drawn to keep up with the heat.

Anyway, back to the real world, I think the RTX 2000 has been installed by quite a few people now and seems to be enough cooling.
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #44 ·
@Michael Ophus before sizing my electrical system I went through a lot of calculations. My spreadsheets on this are a bit hard to follow, but if you want to play around with different factors for cooling load on a van, you might find the cooling load calculator at Calculator.net interesting. I did a quick calculation using a 60 square foot floor space and 6 foot height to simulate a van, hot weather, and very sunny exposure. You can play around with different variables if you are interested in this.

Calculator.net

Rectangle Font Parallel Screenshot Number
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
4,955 Posts
That sounds pretty rough, but I understand how it could take an hour to cool down if you have a lot of thermal mass like a water tank in your conditioned space. Did you ever try to measure the R-value of your conditioned area?

A little understood fact about heat gain when you have a mix of insulation levels.
If you have an equal area of R1 and R6 insulation the effective
U value is (1/1 + 1/6) / 2 = 0.666 which translates to an R value of 1.5.
In other words, a small amount of uninsulated area really wrecks the overall insulation level.

When I say a space is "well-insulated" I'm referrings specifically to an effective insulation level of R-7 or better. If you aren't getting to R-7 then you are going to need a lot more heat and cooling. And obviously you have to look after any window openings.

I have a 5,000 btu AC in my office, which is exposed on three sides and has four windows in it and with a cathedral ceiling, so I get heat gain that way as well. The surface area is at least twice that of the living area of the van yet my litle 5,000 BTU AC keeps it cool on 100 degree days. I think the blended insulation level might be somewhere around R-10. I have to keep my shades drawn to keep up with the heat.

Anyway, back to the real world, I think the RTX 2000 has been installed by quite a few people now and seems to be enough cooling.
As I recall the two types of insulation combined are R-9, But R-maxx is a cold weather insulation where Poly-iso is for heat. This insulation covers everything, There is no exposed transit steel. The van is lined with cedar planks.

I have gone without AC for the last five years, I live in the south and it is easy for me to follow the cool weather north every year. Air conditioning was just a curiosity, Can I make it work on inverter and Agm batteries. I had 660 Ah worth and I did make it work, At night. Lithium was just getting started 6 years ago when I bought the Agm.
Retired, Fixed income, I am done buying stuff. When the agm wear out who knows...
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #46 ·
As I recall the two types of insulation combined are R-9, But R-maxx is a cold weather insulation where Poly-iso is for heat. This insulation covers everything, There is no exposed transit steel. The van is lined with cedar planks.

I have gone without AC for the last five years, I live in the south and it is easy for me to follow the cool weather north every year. Air conditioning was just a curiosity, Can I make it work on inverter and Agm batteries. I had 660 Ah worth and I did make it work, At night. Lithium was just getting started 6 years ago when I bought the Agm.
Retired, Fixed income, I am done buying stuff. When the agm wear out who knows...
R-9 is pretty good, especially with a bulkhead and something covering the back doors. The key to good insulation is really not leaving anything uninsulated less than about R-5. It's a huge hassle to deal with the back doors and the slider, and the front, but if you leave those uninsulated, your whole insulation plan has a big gap in it.

I like your approach of following the good weather. That way you can enjoy the outdoors more.
 

·
Registered
2022 T350HD #11000 Avalanche Gray
Joined
·
791 Posts
R-9 is pretty good, especially with a bulkhead and something covering the back doors. The key to good insulation is really not leaving anything uninsulated less than about R-5. It's a huge hassle to deal with the back doors and the slider, and the front, but if you leave those uninsulated, your whole insulation plan has a big gap in it.

I like your approach of following the good weather. That way you can enjoy the outdoors more.
My only problem with all the insulation is all the heat/cold transfer you get thru the metal parts of the van. I'm going to do my best to do what I can but using an AdWag kits with all the frame and L-Track mounted to the body I'm going to get a lot of transfer I think. Going to try and back the L-Track with a little rubber to try and reduce it a little but all the hardware is still going to transfer some.
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #48 ·
Going to try and back the L-Track with a little rubber to try and reduce it a little but all the hardware is still going to transfer some.
Any kind of thermal break is going to help a lot. I'm using 1/8" thick industrial felt in some places. Good for vibration damping and also about R1 on it's own. You can get rolls of industrial felt from McMaster Carr. The firmer the better in most cases. Rubber would also help and might be more durable than felt. My approach: don't stress too much if you can't get everything perfect. Try your best and enjoy what you got done. Most of the time you don't really want to camp in extreme temperatures anyway.
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #49 ·
Mounting Solar Panels on the Roof

What & Why: Cover the available space with high-efficiency panels, but don't hang over the van sides to avoid problems in cross winds. The best size fit that I found was two of: Heliene G1 All-Black Solar Panel - 320W (HSPE_60M_G1_320BLK). I picked these up in person from Real Goods.
Sky Daytime Window Fixture Wood

How: The roof mounts are from Unaka Gear Co. ... they are robust 1/4" aluminum. To the roof mounts I attached 2" aluminum angle 3/16" thick to make rails that could support the panels even extended beyond the roof mount locations. To strengthen the panels I attached black anodized 1.5" aluminum angle 1/8" thick to the leading and trailing edge and then used those aluminum angle pieces as the cross bars attached to the rails.

The front panel and back panel are mounted with about a 1/2" gap to encourage hot air to escape on hot days. The panels are mounted about an inch higher than some people mount their panels. The reason for this is to allow ventilation under the panels when parked. By allowing some ventilation you get better performance from the panels (solar panel output decreases with increasing temperature) and also get a shading effect on the van roof, instead of a hot attic effect that @GaryBIS documented in one of his many experiments. I'm sure that there is some impact on gas mileage by mounting them an inch higher than the minimum, but anyway that's what I decided made sense for this build.
Automotive tire Hood Automotive exterior Motor vehicle Cloud

Everything went pretty smoothly in the end, but the Transit van's manufacturing wide tolerances never cease to surprise me. One roof mounting hole was partly covered by sheet metal and required enlarging the sheet metal opening with a small grinding wheel on my Dremel. The mounting holes are not in an exactly straight line, but were within the adjustment range of the Unaka mounts, which have oblong mounting holes. Finally, and this surprised me a little, the driver's side and passenger side of our van had mounting flats at slightly different angles to vertical. So to square everything up I used a couple of small silicone tabs (orange) and bedded the passenger side mounts in neutral cure silicone caulk.
Food Ingredient Cake Rectangle Cuisine

Unaka offered to send me another set of mounts, but everything I could see indicated that the problem was with the Transit, not with the mounts.

Conclusion: I'm happy with this installation. It was a little fiddly to get everything squared up, but the result is very solid.

To bring the wires into the van I'm using a pretty standard two-cable gland (aka bulkhead fitting, aka wet-location multi-cord grip) that fits in one of the existing access holes on the passenger side of the van at the very back of the roof. This photo is of a plastic one, but mine is stainless steel.
Automotive tire Camera accessory Automotive design Rim Automotive wheel system
 

·
Registered
2023 Ford Transit 250 AWD, HR, 148 LB
Joined
·
8 Posts
Beautiful set up :) as always, you do a quality job. Why did you choose unaka over FVC low pro roof rack

Can you talk a little bit about your panel set up? Did you set up two 320 W panels in series or parallel? What size solar charge controller did you use?
Ty
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #51 ·
@RideOrDie, thanks for your comment. I chose the Unaka because they were made from 1/4" aluminum, very robust, and were are a good height for what I wanted. I'm sure that other options would have worked, I just liked the simplicity of the Unaka design.

I'm doing the 320W panels in series. My solar controller is a Victron 150v/45A controller, which actually would be the same for parallel or series. While I understand that parallel gives you some benefits, the space taken up by the panels is really not that large, so parallel vs. series didn't seem like a big issue to me. The series wiring obviously gives you less wire-resistance loss, so I went in that direction.
 

·
Registered
2023 Ford Transit 250 AWD, HR, 148 LB
Joined
·
8 Posts
@RideOrDie, thanks for your comment. I chose the Unaka because they were made from 1/4" aluminum, very robust, and were are a good height for what I wanted. I'm sure that other options would have worked, I just liked the simplicity of the Unaka design.

I'm doing the 320W panels in series. My solar controller is a Victron 150v/45A controller, which actually would be the same for parallel or series. While I understand that parallel gives you some benefits, the space taken up by the panels is really not that large, so parallel vs. series didn't seem like a big issue to me. The series wiring obviously gives you less wire-resistance loss, so I went in that direction.
Awesome! I looked into the panels that you put up, are you able to show a picture of your entire roof set up so I can see how you set up the panels, I know that you have the dometic AC on top as well. Were you able to put in a max air fan as well? thanks
 

·
Registered
2021 Transit 148 HR
Joined
·
379 Posts
Discussion Starter · #53 ·
Awesome! I looked into the panels that you put up, are you able to show a picture of your entire roof set up so I can see how you set up the panels, I know that you have the dometic AC on top as well. Were you able to put in a max air fan as well? thanks
I don't have a photo of the roof from above. Basically the Dometic AC is as far forward as I could mount it, and the solar panels take up the whole back of the roof. I did not put in a roof fan, but will put in a floor-exiting fan.
 
41 - 53 of 53 Posts
Top