I started using my favourite 2D CAD package before I discovered Sketchup. Since then I have had great fun designing the interior layout in 3D. Here is the final design subject to final dimensions once the van arrives, which at the time of writing should be soon as it is at UK docks awaiting distribution to the dealer.
So here is the planned layout of our van – subject to final dimensions once I get my hands on it. The driver and passenger seats swivel and the bench seat pulls out to a 1900×1200 double bed. The kitchen has a microwave under the hob and there is a 150ltr fridge with a big freezer compartment in the tall unit. At the back is a toilet / shower and behind and beside that is a bit of garage space accessed from the rear doors. You will notice too that Fred gets his own kennel.
Getting the lighting scheme right is important to being comfortable.
When we were doing the second Van Blanc Mirko, Premium Camper, introduced me to Hafele Loox lighting. It is a range of low voltage (12V and 24V) lighting designed to be incorporated into furniture such as kitchens and built in units. There are several different styles of LED light fitting, individual units that will fit within a 15mm panel and strip lights as well as several switching options including multi channel dimmers.
Loox offers a plug together cabling system but it is simple enough cut an splice with a soldering iron and a bit of heat shrink. For use in a domestic installation there is a 230V/12V power supply but of course we have no need as we are 12V anyway. In addition being LED the current draw is very small so we can have a lot of light for little energy use.
For the ceiling / overhead lights we have opted for 3 zones, l lights in the cab area, and 4 each in the lounge / bed area and the rear kitchen using 65mm Cool White downlights with Nickel surrounds. They give a nice clear light and have a 2m tail that we will connect 6 way distribution blocks.
Along the plinth line we will use 6 x 30mm Cool White downlights rather than plinth lights so that we can control the light level with the dimmer for day and night use. They will also be rigged to come on as the van courtesy light when the side door is opened. Again they come with 2m tails.
So this gives us 4 zones that will be controlled by a 4 channel dimmer unit for which we have 2 remote controls. Something I learned from last time is the the receiver really needs to be mounted perhaps in the ceiling to receive the signal well.
In addition we have a couple of Loox reading lamps on flexible stalks these we will mount behind the seat back so they can be used as reading lamps in the seat or in bed when it is pulled out.
Again these are 4000K Cool White which gives a nice bright clear white light.
We still need to sort a couple of other specific lights but really need to get our hands on the van first. We need an outside light for sitting under the awning and would really like one fixed above the side door which may have to be behind the door. I expect though we will end up either with a battery lantern or plug in LED bar as well. We also need a nice bright light in the back of the van behind the rear doors which will be a large store or garage.
This will be a first for us. We don’t need or want an oven and Sue really enjoys using her Wallas XC Duo diesel hob and when we can cook al fresco, something the big awning will let us do more of, we use our Cob oven / grill. However with a big van and more power we have the possibility of 230V so as well as taking our toaster with us we have found a neat Russel Hobbs 750W Microwave on a deal from Asda.
Simple knob controls won’t be worried about voltage / current consistency and the silver grey finish will go well with the fridge and the furniture finish.
Every camper van needs windows and vents to connect with the great outdoors
One of the first and most daunting jobs will be to take 40 Grands worth of brand new van and cut holes it in it. I am not really looking forward to that but it has to be done.
We could have ordered the van with factory fitted side windows like we used to have on our previous vans. The problem with this would be the sheer amount of uninsulated glass, the difficulty of fitting blinds and the limited opening possibilities. Instead we have decided to go with aftermarket Seitz units from Dometic.
The only windows we want are in the front of the accommodation on either side which includes one in the sliding door. There are a few options available but really only one manufacturer, Dometic, that supplies suitable units. There are three types of their Seitz units, two with plastic frames and one, Seitz S7P, with aluminium frames that have a slight curvature specifically for panel van conversions and it is these we have chosen to use. The windows themselves are a twin wall polycarbonate construction that finish reasonably flush with the van sides and have swing out opening.
They have a matching internal blind system that sandwich the wall construction. There are two blinds in each cassette, a blackout and a mesh, so that you can have them completely open or working together to give any mixture of blackout and mesh.
Next we need an opening roof light over the kitchen area and a smaller roof light with fan assistance over the toilet / shower.
For the roof light we have opted for a Dometic Midi Heki unit that is 700 x 500mm. It opens up to one of several positions with and comes compete with an internal blind cassette not dissimilar to the windows that again sandwiches the roof construction.
Lastly we have a small 280mm square roof light vent by Fiamma that has its own fan. This will provide a little daylight but also extract odours and moisture. It comes with a mesh on the inside to keep the bugs out.
And finally the sliding door of the van is coming with stops we can adjust to limit its opening. We have our eyes on a a mosquito screen to help keep them out of the van. We have a Thule 500mm wide power operated step that will fit under the door cill. This can be opened with a simple button and I will rig a relay so that it retracts automatically when the ignition is switched on.
Trying a new approach to entertainment and navigation.
Both Van Blancs had aftermarket media systems, the first had a Kenwood and the last a Pioneer. They were state of the art DAB Radio and Music entertainment systems with Satellite Navigation and phone integration. They also had quality aftermarket speakers. Both great bits of kit in their own way supplied and fitted by Jason and Noel at Absolute Audio.
But here is a thing; We used the radio and occasionally music a lot when driving but not so often when parked up. We gave up on the Sat Nav which was slow to update routes and sent us on unreliable detours so we started using Apple Car Play with Apple Maps and now also Google Maps. We started using Apple Maps in Norway this year and and found it equally as good and with some advantages over the built in system. Using Car Play maps has a small downside in that it does use a small amount of data but in return it is real time and far better. We also have Car Play in our new VW Polo and we are sold on it.
So this time we have a new plan. The van comes as standard with a decent media system with DAB, Music, Car Play and Phone integration so it does everything we want while we are on the road. In which case we will stick with it and only maybe look at the speakers.
Instead we have invested £150 in an UltimateEars Megaboom 3, Logitechs Blue Tooth speaker offering. It integrates well with iTunes and Apple Music from iPhone or iPad and playing with it at home so far sounds brilliant. It is controllable using an app and its speakers are designed to fill the space and give a good range of sound that can be adjusted by an equaliser in the phone app. The unit is waterproof and cordless, charged from a USB point, so it can be used anywhere inside or outside the van.
Collecting together domestic stuff I need to build a domestic water and waste system.
I am starting to get to grips with the water, waste and sanitary on board a camper van. We will have a toilet with a sink and shower but don’t for one minute imagine a spacious bathroom.
Once we get the van I will get two tank kits from CAK Tanks in Kenilworth. One will be 100ltr of fresh water and the other about the same of grey water. These underslung tanks will be wrapped in insulation to guard against freezing and will be plumbed into the kitchen and toilet / shower room. They will both have senders to the control panels so we know when they need emptying and filling.
Fresh water will be pumped from the tank through 15mm push fit plastic plumbing by a small 10ltr Shurflo Trailking on demand pump that actuates by the pressure drops when a tap is opened. These are nice reliable little units for motorhomes and marine use. Operating on 12V it will have a master switch on the control panel.
Hot water will be supplied to the toilet sink and shower via a Binar 5S12 diesel water heater. This is part of a Russian made family of air and water heaters for boats and leisure vehicles. It comes as a complete kit ready to install with a small temperature controller. It will give enough hot water for a shower or wash using a few drops of fuel. They are very compact and I haven’t decided yet whether this should be underslung or whether I can find space in side.
The toilet unit will be a built in Telford 403L Cassette type system with an electric flush from the pumped water system. It has a level indicator for the 19L cassette that can be withdrawn for emptying from the storage space behind the rear doors.
The sink unit is a neat one that I found from O’Leary Motorhomes. It is actually a spare item for a Swift camper van and looks so much better than the cheap moulded sinks that are on the market. When it folds up it leaves a nice flat panel and the challenge will be to match the finish of that with the rest of the toilet / shower.
I have to find the kitchen sink. I have seen what we want but am having trouble getting one but I will. Then we need a simple shower unit and a plug in one outside for dog washing and the like.
The grey waste will all collect from the drains into the grey water tank. This will be emptied by a simple dump valve when you are parked over the grating at a service point. It will have a flushing inlet so that it can get a quick clean out occasionally and both the tanks will have facilities for opening them up for cleaning every year,
Getting the electrical supply right will be important for living off grid and wild camping
With our new van we want to be able to travel for longer, not worry about the seasons and avoid too many expensive camp sites. To do these things a greater degree of self sufficiency when it comes to electrical power would be useful. We don’t have too many electrical devices, in fact the fridge and lights are probably the most demanding as well as enough juice to fire the hob and a bit of USB charging for phones and pads. The only real difference in our new van will be a 230V microwave for which we will need an inverter which will also be useful for charging tooth brushes, for the occasional hair drier and maybe a toaster.
Travelling in Norway this year we only used MHU (Mains Hook Up) once or twice to charge my toothbrush. Other than that travelling most days or parked up with solar kept us just about topped up although it got touch and go a couple of times. Van Blanc had a 110Ah leisure battery and a 100W solar panel and one advantage of a pop up roof is that we could get a better angle of incidence on the panel. So this time we have decided that overkill is a good plan, enough power for a few days parked up off grid and out of season.
Our van will come with a 98Ah starter battery and the larger 180A alternator so we are off to a good start.
We have bought two very large batteries, 12V 205Ah Leoch Gel Tubular Plate deep-cycle Powabloc from Alpha Batteries. These Gel Tubular Plate batteries have capacity ratings of 205Ah (100hr), 180Ah (20hr) with true deep-cycle and deep-discharge capabilities. They are sealed & maintenance-free and have a typical max. cycle life of 1500 cycles @ 80% DoD and come with 6-year warranty. The only minor draw back is that they weigh 60kg each but given that the van is rated at 3,5T we have a bit of headroom. They will sit on the floor out of sight ahead of the rear axle.
On the roof of the van we have space for 2 big solar panels so we have bought two 200W panels. These are Xplorer 1200 x 990 again from Alpha Batteries. They are a good quality German made panel that come with a 6 year warranty. I will have to devise some brackets that keep them low on the roof and an airfoil to reduce the wind resistance and any noise.
Next we have to manage the power, battery to battery charging from a Euro 6 source, solar charge control, mains hook up charging and all the other system management. Our previous vans were simpler and a learning curve but for this one we wanted a good integrated system. In the end we have got a complete Votronic system which is a little more expensive but should all integrate.
We will use a Votronic VBCS 60/40/430 Triple controller. This will manage the charge from the vehicle battery / alternator when we are on the, from the solar panels when the sun shines and from mains hook up. It can manage the input and charge from all three of these sources and look after the starter battery as well as the leisure batteries.
The controller itself will be monitored through a Votronic VPC Jupiter 400 panel with a blue tooth connector for a mobile phone app. Not only will it display current battery and charge states but it will warn if the levels are too low. In addition it will also provide switching for the water pump, monitor the fresh grey water tank levels and the inside and outside temperatures.
And then there is the occasional need for 230V which will be managed by a Votronic Inverter SMI 1700 ST NVS pure sine wave inverter. This will provide a steady 1700w to 230V outlets from batteries or direct from mains if hooked up. Being pure sine wave all sorts of electronics devices could be connected.
Of course there are all sorts of other wires, switches and plugs to take account of and make safe. There will be a Commando plug for mains hook up, a double pole consumer unit with reverse polarity warning and a couple of boxes of 12V fuses to protect everything.