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Sustainable / eco-friendly conversion options

3782 Views 20 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  rustythorn
Starting at the very beginning with my Transit 250 High Roof conversion and would like to make the most sustainable/eco-friendly choices when putting together the build. Would love any recommendations - for anything!
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Reducing consumption is the only way to increase sustainability, so keep an eye on the free section of Craigslist for free lumber. Put in saved search alerts for 1x1, 1x2, and 2x4

Pallet wood can also be good to build with.

Keep an eye out at construction site dumpsters etc for materials you can repurpose.
 

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Yes, the best way to be eco-friendly is to buy something and keep it for a very, very long time. Even if the materials are NOT eco-green-friendly certified and pedigreed, the fact that a person is not buying MORE stuff to replace something perfectly good, and then throwing that perfectly good thing in the dump reduces resource extraction, transportation, manufacturing emissions, and landfill size.

For a double merit badge, using bamboo panels and boards that are eco-certified instead of construction grade plywood and boards would help, as would certain types of recycled material insulation (which has it's faults, but everything does).

But recycle/repurpose/reuse is the best route to go. As Truck mentioned, there are all kinds of free things on Craigslist that can be repurposed and no one would know the difference. Many Ikea cabinets and furniture parts can be easily adapted to use as campervan components. Or other furniture. That old teak armoire someone dragged out to the curb? Scribe the back to sit against the van wall at the height and depth you want, add some mechanical latches to the doors and drawers and you have a very nice kitchen, much better than the ones most DIY people try to build from scratch.
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
You're completely right, thanks! I'll definitely put up those search alerts, that's a great idea. Will also look into bamboo panels. I found a mini-fridge on Craigslist already but I'll look for other pieces like cabinetry.

Could you advise a bit further for insulation options? I did a little research (7 eco-friendly insulation alternatives for a green home) but am stuck as far as which option intersects the most closely at eco-friendly and space-saving.
 

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Insulation that works in a vehicle under constant vibration and movement as well as extreme temp fluctuations and moisture may not be what is eco-available for use in a home. There are SO MANY threads about insulation that I don't want to get the ball rolling again. But if it were me, I'd use a combination of polyiso panels (polystyrene) and polyester batting (like in sleeping bags). Both are durable enough to last the life of the van, and won't soak up moisture or smell. "Natural fibers" like cotton, wool and plant materials often smell, degrade quickly, and don't have the structural integrity to last in a vehicle. A failed insulation that requires replacement every few years, and possible rot and rust of other components that will need replacement, is not eco-friendly compared to something that will last a lifetime. That's the hidden non-eco-friendly aspect of many "green" materials. Things can fit in the intersection of eco-logical and eco-nomical, though.

Also, a "dorm" refrigerator designed to be used in a home sometimes won't function well in a vehicle. Something to do with the compressor design and the embedded coils. The vibration of a moving vehicle messes things up, and coils are not exposed to open air so they are not efficient. However, there are several people rocking a dorm fridge running off an inverter. Best bet is to get the expensive Dometic, Engel or other DC refrigerators designed to be used in a vehicle.
 

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Agree with Surly Bill that a dorm fridge may not last and have a high energy demand. It's not clear for what you are going to use the van, live, major trips or occasional camping which also determines some of the choices. An occasional camping trip is easily done with a cooler and camping stove. If you keep all the electrical needs modest, it avoids a whole lot of expense on batteries, charge controllers, solar etc. For lights a small solar charged camping lantern is often enough and easy to move around. Some fancy flooring left overs and cabinets can also be found at some of the recycling stores of Habitat and others. I've seen some vans using old toolbox -drawer cabinets. They are sturdy and often have great ball bearing rails. Good luck with your build.
 

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As surly Bill points out, lots of info about insulation but what is good for a house is not often that good for a van. I think as important as eco-friendly Is health considerations. I did not want any products that out gas like most spray insulation and many other kinds of building insulation. The one place that I used a product that most van conversions don't is the flooring. I used cork flooring, sustainable and eco-friendly, healthy, a fire retardant, and very rugged. The pics below, putting the floor in and the finished job. Polyiso is cut to fit the channels in the floor to provide a flat surface for the cork.

I also second the thought to get an expensive cooler/refrigerator. The slide drawer on the left in the lower photo is for a Dometic Freezer/cooler.


Floor Flooring Wood Table Metal



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I am currently making plans for my second van build. I am also concerned with choosing materials that are both environmentally friendly and safe for me and my family. My choices have been mostly made by the process of elimination. Common materials that I see referenced that I absolutely do not want to use are vinyl flooring, adhesives that contain VOCs, synthetic or foam (spray or rigid) insulation, and plywood potentially containing formaldehyde. I plan to use rigid cork and wool batting to insulate my new van. I used rigid cork in my first van and it was great and an excellent alternative to polyiso in my opinion, although it doesn't insulate quite as well. But after three years in the floor of the van it was as good as new. I used wool batting in my house and I think it's great as well. Naturally antimicrobial and water/fire resistant, it's an excellent alternative to synthetic insulation. We will be using marmoleum/linoleum for our floor. That's a risk as I'm not sure how it will do when exposed to extreme heat/cold but I absolutely won't do vinyl and I'm not sure cork is durable enough to withstand our three dogs. I am going to try to source formaldehyde free plywood for our subfloor, or even possibly use magnesium oxide board if I can get my hands on it. So those are some materials I recommend looking into. Rigid cork panels, wool batt insulation, linoleum, formaldehyde free plywood, and magnesium oxide board (MGO board, ExtremeGreen is one brand).

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I’m also looking to fix a high roof transit for living in. I’ve been eying cork for the floors, and maybe walls? Definitely a few trips to ReStore (Habitat) cuz ya never know what you will find there! I have lots of alpaca fiber that I thought I might loosely felt for insulation. It’s 4x more thermally efficient than wool, and doesn’t absorb moisture. Dometic fridge/freezer chest seems to be a winner, and definitely a compostable toilet!
 

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Hello and congrats on the start of your loooong journey.
Someone mentioned utilizing pallets as a source of "free wood". On the surface this is a good idea but many have been treated with bug or mold killers which are harmful to humans. Certainly not something you want in an enclosed space like a van or even a home for that matter.
Check the sources of all your materials and look at the VOC contents of everything.
You don't want to breathe anything you don't have to.
Cheers!!!
 

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The mining and purification of copper produces very large amounts of contaminated waste.

One way to reduce this waste is to use less copper. One way to use less copper is to increase the system voltage from 12 to 24 or 48 volts, as this reduces the amount of current in any given wire.

Another way to help with sustainability is to purchase products made domestically instead of imported electronics. Domestically produced items and reduce the pollution caused by ocean transportation. Nothing is perfect but it all adds up.
 

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We will be using marmoleum/linoleum for our floor. That's a risk as I'm not sure how it will do when exposed to extreme heat/cold but I absolutely won't do vinyl and I'm not sure cork is durable enough to withstand our three dogs.
Have absolutely no fear for the Marmoleum. I can’t imagine a more perfect floor for a van. Installed properly, it should last about forever. It doesn’t mind that we regularly bring in sharp rocks in the treads of our hiking boots. Yes, it scratches, but somehow it seems to heal itself.

I installed mine six years ago and never got around to adding an edge trim. Here is the raw edge at the slider six years later:
 

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Have absolutely no fear for the Marmoleum. I can’t imagine a more perfect floor for a van. Installed properly, it should last about forever. It doesn’t mind that we regularly bring in sharp rocks in the treads of our hiking boots. Yes, it scratches, but somehow it seems to heal itself.

I installed mine six years ago and never got around to adding an edge trim. Here is the raw edge at the slider six years later:
Yes we installed Marmoleum a year ago and it has held up remarkably well. Very happy we chose to use it. We also used MGO board (ExtremeGreen) as our subfloor as part of a subfloor system consisting of thermacork, MGO board, and wool bat insulation.
 

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Lead-Acid vs LiFPO4 batteries - both have their issues
Lead highly toxic put can and is recycled at very high rates.
LiFPO4 less(?) toxic, essentially not currently recycled (will they at end of life -TBD)

So used or LiFPO4 might be the most environmental. Say batteries no longer useful for designed application but OK for a van house system. EV battery pack for example. Tesla modules go for about $1000. While not common it has been done. Installation requires good technical understanding/skills. Nissan battery modules have also been used
 

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Lead-Acid vs LiFPO4 batteries - both have their issues
Lead highly toxic put can and is recycled at very high rates.
LiFPO4 less(?) toxic, essentially not currently recycled (will they at end of life -TBD)

So used or LiFPO4 might be the most environmental. Say batteries no longer useful for designed application but OK for a van house system. EV battery pack for example. Tesla modules go for about $1000. While not common it has been done. Installation requires good technical understanding/skills. Nissan battery modules have also been used
Some false assumptions here:
Both Li-ion and LAB highly and equally toxic - that's why we don't eat either of them.
Only lead acid can be recycled.
Although the risk is low, only Li-ion can suffer thermal runaway and burn your van down. Used (2nd life) li-ion batteries have a higher probability of thermal runaway.
The only reason used ex-EV Li-ion batteries are sold for re-use is because they can't be recycled and the automotive OEM's need to break their liability chain.
The purchaser of 2nd life Li-ion is on the hook for disposal.
 

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Some false assumptions here:
Both Li-ion and LAB highly and equally toxic - that's why we don't eat either of them.
Only lead acid can be recycled.
Although the risk is low, only Li-ion can suffer thermal runaway and burn your van down. Used (2nd life) li-ion batteries have a higher probability of thermal runaway.
The only reason used ex-EV Li-ion batteries are sold for re-use is because they can't be recycled and the automotive OEM's need to break their liability chain.
The purchaser of 2nd life Li-ion is on the hook for disposal.
There is a market for used EV Tesla batteries because they still have significant utility. For the most part they are not used up but are from wrecks. There is very little demand for them as replacement ones in functional vehicles due to the lifespan. The battery packs might even outlast the vehicles. Nissan battery packs are a different story, but still may make sense. Re-use vs buying new is environmentally better especially because they are not recycled.

I was not aware if increased thermal runaway risk with age. Can you point me to some info on that. I'm not questioning your statement, I am genuinely interested. I also wonder if there is any intrinsic difference between cylindrical packs and prismatic or pouch cells.

I agree with you on the fact that the OEM's take great effort to break their liability chain for their products, even if only in the consumers perception. Unfortunately this is true for all manufactured products in the US. For example the recycle symbol on plastics was pushed by the industry. They have done very little to facilitate the actual recycling of the material (<10%). Germany has the highest recycling rate in the EU. They have legislation that makes producers responsible for the cost of recycling their products, and spay for these cost upfront. As long as the consumer bears these costs at end of product life cycle instead of the producers (and hence the consumer) at the beginning of the life cycle progress will be very slow.
 

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There is a market for used EV Tesla batteries because they still have significant utility. For the most part they are not used up but are from wrecks. There is very little demand for them as replacement ones in functional vehicles due to the lifespan. The battery packs might even outlast the vehicles. Nissan battery packs are a different story, but still may make sense. Re-use vs buying new is environmentally better especially because they are not recycled.

I was not aware if increased thermal runaway risk with age. Can you point me to some info on that.
Here is the first of several papers that you can find on-line, AFAIK the risk is well known. I recall when OEM's planned to replace entire battery packs based on risk v accumulated cycles and time. Thermal runaway hazards investigation on 18650 lithium-ion battery using extended volume accelerating rate calorimeter - ScienceDirect

I'm not questioning your statement, I am genuinely interested. I also wonder if there is any intrinsic difference between cylindrical packs and prismatic or pouch cells.
Yes cylindrical cells are a vastly more mature product with billions of cells produced. Cylindrical cells also have a much higher surface area to volume ratio so are intrinsically easier to extract heat from. Martin Eberhard's genius was recognizing these points when he founded Tesla (of course Musk (wrongly) gets the credit for it). Pouch cells are still relatively immature - from the perspective of improvement curve theory - so would be expected to be of higher risk.

I agree with you on the fact that the OEM's take great effort to break their liability chain for their products, even if only in the consumers perception.
Unfortunately this is true for all manufactured products in the US. For example the recycle symbol on plastics was pushed by the industry. They have done very little to facilitate the actual recycling of the material (<10%). Germany has the highest recycling rate in the EU. They have legislation that makes producers responsible for the cost of recycling their products, and spay for these cost upfront. As long as the consumer bears these costs at end of product life cycle instead of the producers (and hence the consumer) at the beginning of the life cycle progress will be very slow.
Totally agree, ISO 14,000 was supposed to address this but didn't. In the case of Li-ion batteries this is far more to do with legal liability than customer perception. I was a fly on the wall in discussions between US OEM's and regulators on this subject back when warehouses full of li-ion batteries would regularly catch fire.
 

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Nice to see this thread resurrected as the selection of materials and design can accommodate intelligence should we choose to operate in that vein of living. Not everyone can;

Use of energy intensive materials that we are convinced will afford us with some enhanced level of safety or economy or esthetics really seems to be molded from within the mindset of humanoid miscreants who could not even fathom just how as a species we could determine when we are entering the next period of extinction as has occurred since this singular planet we live on and in was formed. Too many of us say, "huh?" to that...

The value and benefit of learning and utilizing:
Sustainable / eco-friendly conversion options

is often ignored due to many different factors. I can afford the extruded aluminium or steel or plastics and that's what I want so screw re-using,re-purposing...

Too many of us just don't get it, it seems. Carbon based materials are the rage in some circles and re-using materials that have already served some functional purpose and now can be creatively used for my little minivan project, some insightful folk believe and make happen. They can really add a sense of beauty and functionality and ruggedness that negates the unnecessary virgin materials used by many of us.

I promise to do better; to actually think, to actually want the achieve the design for my intended use for both the updated conversion changes for my spouse's van and for my next one. Plastic, high energy intensive materials are looking rather ugly for so many reasons. Let the youth lead the way and share the :::
Sustainable / eco-friendly conversion options!

Again, thanks mindfulmarket for bringing it up...
 
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