Week Fifteen

Slowly but surely we are getting there but now we are at the point where a lot of what we are doing is detailing or those fiddly jobs I have been putting to one side.

As I said last week the start of this week was all about plumbing. Deciding where the components should go in relation to one another was time consuming and I think I moved the pump 4 times, only a few millimetres and guess what – yes it is back where I had it in the first place.

I am quite pleased with myself because I was worrying about the amount of pipe below the floor. In the end I have got all but a bit of waste pipe above the floor and saved some run length into the bargain. I decided to use reinforced hose from the tank to the pump and water heater before changing to 12mm John Guest push fit. We have fitted Bullfinch external type showers in the toilet cubicle and just inside the back door. The point being that we have only one shower hose, it has a trigger spray and doesn’t need to be connected if we aren’t using it.

I soon discovered fittings I was short of or had got wrong such as connections to the showers which are oddly 15mm push fit and then I realised I needed a couple of valves at the lowest point to allow me to drain down for maintenance or winter storage. So that resulted in a trip to Johns Cross and another order to Caravan Accessories.

Another piece of kit to finalise was the fridge compressor. This can be located up to 1500mm from the fridge so I have it right at the back of the van while the actual fridge is in the kitchen area. I boxed it in but with good ventilation. The point of this is that any noise (regardless of its night mode setting) is as far away from us as possible.

Looking at the equipment a lot of it came with chunky wires. I got worried that whilst I had used suitably rated cables they were nowhere near the size of the tails. Their reasoning is voltage drop and I decided to bite the bullet and pull some larger cables through. Only one fought back because it followed a difficult route but we managed. With all the equipment installed and cables upgraded it was time to put the fuses in. The fridge worked fine as did the toilet lights and extractor. Next the hob which worked but wasn’t getting diesel properly. I primed the line by sucking on it but without any luck. Then I saw that the pipe had a loop in it just before the unit and by eliminating that it fired up and ran beautifully. The only bit of kit that is playing up is the hot water heater which looks like it has a duff fuel pump.

Meanwhile the seat cushions came back from the upholsterer so our next job was to finish the vinyl wall covering before they got fitted. That was followed by the lining and lighting in the headboard unit.

We topped the week off installing our tables. We have two one small day table and a larger dining table made for us by Chippy’s Workshop. They look great and and the dining table can be used from the front seats and the seat bed. The dining table stores neatly behind the fridge.

I also took delivery of and fitted a Thule bike rack – far better that the Fiamma one that it replaced and which didn’t fit.

Week Fourteen

What a week it has been. While everyone else has been out enjoying the spring sunshine I have been flat out on the van and got so much done.

The time has come to do a job I have been dreading – the headlining. The ceiling is basically 3200mm long x 1200mm wide with a slight 20mm curve and I wanted to lose minimal height rather than just level it off and have it as unobstructed as possible. So I didn’t want the roof vent frame protruding and reducing height height or lights set in it. We planned to used 6mm lightweight ply with a headlining material from Kirvans that comes with a scrim backing.

First off I had to finish the toilet ceiling. This is 6mm lightweight ply with 3mm vinyl ply simply glued and screwed into place. I made a recess to go around the roof vent so that the frame doesn’t protrude below the ceiling – good practice for the main ceiling. The ceiling and partitions are designed to let the main ceiling oversail and create a shadow line in which there is a row of Loox LEDs that are controlled by the dimmer module. To be honest I am less than happy with  toilet but will address that in the next week or two. Its a small space and I can hide a few sins.

So on to the main event. The ceiling consists of 2 panels, a smaller one above the kitchen and a larger (full sheet of ply) above the living area. It is 6mm ply covered in a light grey headlining fabric that is backed with a 3mm scrim. We wanted to follow the curve of the ceiling so as to avoid losing any head room. Our plan was to secure the edges and hold the boards up to the roof beams with heavy duty Velcro. We applied the velcro to the roof ribs and boards the day before so that the adhesive would have cured by the time we put the ceiling up.

My original rebate above the lockers failed but the day was saved using a small anodised aluminium channel, tight but it works. The other side above the toilet was easier as I could simple create a shadow gap from black painted wood and have the panel slide over it. Laying the first smaller piece up with contact adhesive was relatively easy. We covered the top side and Velcro with plastic dust sheet held in place with a few tabs of masking tape and slid the panel into place. Once we were happy with it we pulled the dust sheet out and pressed the panel onto the Velcro – now it is going nowhere.

The large panel was a whole another prospect. First off I had to frame the roof vent with an upstanding will letting the panel follow the curve of the roof. All of which I did in 12mm ply. Next came a big hiccup with the material, we rolled it out face down so that the scrim side didn’t pick any dirt and when we turned it over it had to large crayon marks in the middle of it. We had another length which also had marks but fortunately we could get enough clean from it. Words have been had and hopefully we can still get the small panels we wanted from the damaged piece.

After a lot of discussion we eventually decided that we had to lay the material up in 2 halves, i.e. roll back one half and glue it and then do the other. Once done with the edges roller and trimmed and the roof vent trimmed we again covered the top side in plastic dust sheet and up it went. A bit of juggling, easing and persuading and in it went all lined up. Rip out the dust sheet and press on to the velcro and it too is going nowhere. The left hand side was then pressed into place with a batten along which I have stuck the LED strip. It will get a capping between the wall and the ceiling as we go through and finish off.

One useful point was to be able to use the original bulkhead fixings to fit angles onto which we would stick Velcro to support the front edge where it meets the cab head lining. So now the fished article looks great an we are well please with the tight join in the middle and with the cab head lining.

With all that finished and a delivery of plumbing fittings Easter weekend was spent under the van drilling holes in the floor and running pipes. Getting the van up on axle stands is a struggle for my 2 tonne car jack and a 3 or even 5 tonne item might be on its way. I did spend a lot of time contemplating and now I believe I have some tidy routing and minimised holes but only after swearing a lot, working in some tiny spaces at ridiculous angles. Holes have been sealed with underbody spray and where appropriate rubber seals or Sikaflex. Next week it is time to make things happen.

Week Thirteen

Its been one of those weeks when you know the end is in sight but it doesn’t get any closer.

Next week is 90 days since we got the van and the insurance company give you that long to get it converted and have the V5 changed which might be fine for a mini van but way too short for a bespoke high end conversion on a LWB big van. Never mind they have given us an extension and only charged us a few pounds for the extra 50% value with the tracker.

We started the week assembling the overhead lockers. The carcassing went together quite well considering I drew it without having the van and not really knowing all the levels. Of course there are a few things I would do differently if there was a next time – which there won’t be. I had to order new hinges, which arrived on Monday, as the originals had too much slop in them and I needed them to be precise and unsprung so had to buy Blum. It took me all day on Tuesday to get the doors hung with stays and catches. They all work fine and just need levelling – something which I suspect could be an ongoing battle as the van moves about.

At the same time I fitted the Loox downlights and those at low level. These all work on a 4 channel dimmer with remote controls.

I found that the Votronic display and App weren’t working correctly. It took me a couple of days to sort this and in the main it was down to my misunderstanding the instructions. Once corrected they all seem to function just fine.

Next came a tidy up around the seating area and fixing the plinth with its vent for the electronic equipment and the side panel for the seat with the low level lights. At the same time I fitted the door to the front of the seat base which gives a massive underseat storage space.

At the beginning of the week we so wanted to do headlining this this week but there were just so many jobs that needed doing first. We had to take out the partitions for the fridge and the toilet to trim them to allow the headlining to oversail but keep the shadow line and the LED strip lights. Whilst the partitions were down we added some pop out coat hooks in the living are and in the toilet for towels but also for wet coats. And with the partitions back in place the fridge was finally fixed in position. The space behind is for storing the tables and the fridge compressor is located in the garage to remove the noise from the living area.

Next we attacked the back wall of the toilet / bathroom and this was far from straightforward. We have a sink unit from a Swift motorhome that leaves a flat wall finish but needs a bespoke installation. All went well until we offered the partition wall up to discover what had not worked. So Sunday was spent reengineering this to find a good working solution which we have and once it is trimmed up no one will be any the wiser. Indeed the solution gives more space for the fridge compressor and allows us to retain full use of the back door stay that we would otherwise have lost.

Security and Insurance

We decided to bite a very expensive bullet and go for key protection and a tracker. The insurance companies have a ceiling without a tracker that is £10-£15K below our actual van plus parts costs never mind the hundreds of hours we have invested in the van. Very “generously” they offer £30 discount if you fit a tracker but nothing for key protection.

Really our main concerns were someone breaking into the house and stealing the van keys or hijacking the remote signal or breaking into the van cloning the keys from the ODBC port. Either of which seem to be fairly common means of vehicle theft. So what we wanted was a means of disabling the van when we were away from it at home or the “French supermarket car park”.

Personally I am not a big fan of trackers, a bit of shutting the stable door too late. To me they are a means to getting the best insurance value. Key protection on the on the hand should go a long way to preventing theft in the first place. If after stealing or cloning the keys a thief can’t start the vehicle how long are they going to hang around? Granted if they come equipped with a low loader the tracker will pay for itself. And I know tracker works because I disconnected the battery to do some works shortly after having the tracker fitted and got a phone call within minutes.

My product research started with key protection where I narrowed it down to one obvious solution, Autowatch Ghost II. Unlike other systems that require you to have an ID tag Ghost has two recognition options, either you push a sequence of up to 20 dashboard / steering wheel buttons or, and here is the nice bit, you have a Bluetooth app running on your mobile phone. It is a tiny device that gets hidden on your vehicle’s network so when the vehicle won’t start how long would it take a thief to understand why it won’t start and then locate and uninstall the device

The ID tags are pretty pointless because either you have the added annoyance of remembering your tag when you pick up your keys or you keep the tag on your key ring. Keeping the tag on the key ring seems pointless to me, sure it does mean only your keys and not cloned keys can be used to start the van but if your keys are stolen the thief can start the van. Strangely this method is the only option that comes with insurance approved trackers.

There are several flavours of tracker. Cheaper units with a pay as you go sim allow you to self monitor but will not be accepted by an insurance company who will insist on an approved monitored system. So apart from the up front cost trackers have an ongoing subscription cost although you can pay a large up front one off which gives you lifetime (ownership of the vehicle and life of the tracker) coverage which actually makes sense. If we were going to have a tracker it needed to have monitored Europe tracking with alerts to my phone as well so we have opted for Smartrack Protector.

So all in all with lifetime monitoring the system has cost £1030, a lot of money but at say 1.5% of the value we think so. Not just for actual security but for peace of mind.

Week Twelve

It won’t be long before we are out there in our van so we are starting to plan trips starting with the West Country quite probably in May. Every week we get more and more excited about the progress we are making. This week space started to get a bit tighter making photography more difficult but I will try.

The van was booked in on Monday to have Ghost II and SmartTrack fitted. A big investment towards not losing the van and having it well covered for insurance. I’m not a big fan of trackers but the insurance companies like them and we need to get the insurance value up. Bit of a lump but we paid lifetime subs upfront which over 5+ years will be a much better deal. Ghost on the other hand is a better idea. It means the van will not start unless you know the secret or you have one or other of our mobiles and have got into them to turn the app on. Key theft won’t work nor will key cloning.

With the van back we set about finishing the partitions and making the rear wall, such a nightmare job with few straight lines or level surfaces to work with. It took us 2 days to make and trial fit all the blank panel to a reasonable degree of accuracy and scribed to the curved side walls.

At the joinery shop we cut and edged all the openings, cut the remaining grey panels and edged the and assembled the central service duct element of the overhead lockers.

Trever the chippy and I spend a lot of Friday trying to understand how to use the Hafele gas struts work automatically. The stays are supposed to be automatic opening when the catches are released but the instructions were rubbish and we could not make them work. Also the swing out hinges I had bought were no good as they flopped about too much under the force of the struts. Eventually on Friday evening it with a simple bit of CAD drawing I had it worked out and on Saturday morning hey presto the problem was solved.

Before we could install the service section I needed to finish the controls installations and prove the them and the electrics. That also meant completing the mains hook up. So with the panel in place all the terminals were made off and connected up and I decided that they also needed testing and commissioning before we go any further. And here it is – mission control all tested and up and working.

We can turn everything on and off, see the state of batteries, solar charge, water and waste tanks and in/out temperature. And I can get graphical stats about the batteries, solar charge and so on on app on my mobile phone.

Interestingly I had to disconnect the vehicle battery while I made all the final connections and within minutes I got a call from the tracking company to say they had seen the battery disconnect and was everything OK. So that works.

Week Eleven

We really got into the fitting out this week. I had a great time working with Trevor at Cut’n’Edge Joinery for 4 days. It is a pleasure working with decent equipment and someone who really knows his stuff.

My first job this week, while we waited for the edge tape to be delivered, was fitting the panel behind the batteries so that I could install the main isolator and 300A fuse from the leisure batteries. I had bought a cheap hydraulic crimp tool off eBay that has made crimping all the big cables relatively easy. Once the terminals have been crimped on I am finishing them with a bit of heat shrink to minimise the exposed bare terminals. At the same time I fitted a couple of pop out hooks into the panel.

Once the edge tape turned up it took less a day to cut and edge all of the laminate panels before we were ready to start assembling. The base unit for the kitchen was our first task that took us a couple of days and the end result is brilliant. They are made from pre finished light weight ply with the Altrofina Weave laminate on the face. It has a hessian like texture so it won’t show scratches and wear. We have used ordinary hardware with SouthCo push in/out handle/locks and have a neat Hafele full height pull out unit. The worktop is a textured 12mm solid grade laminate with a mottled copper coloured finish and is as hard as anything to cut. It is also quite heavy so it is simply held down with super dooper foam tape and adhesive.

Ready for next week we set out and cut the overhead locker panels. These are going to be complicated and I will come back to them later. The last thing we did was to lay up all of the partition panels using lightweight ply and the same vinyl covered decorative board that will be used on the van walls.

My first job at the weekend was to connect up the hob and fit the microwave. The microwave is a simple non electronic domestic item running off the inverter. Although it is a free standing unit we have build it in so have allowed plenty of ventilation, even cutting a side panel to correspond with louvers in the case. The cooking equipment is now ready to use.

The side of the seat bed and the raised floor now has trim panels with floor lights and ventilation Louvre for the under floor kit. They just need a bit of edging to finish them.

And today, Sunday, we have been cracking on with the wall panels. Taking it carefully to scribe them in. There is a lot of detail to get right in this area and a lot of working it out as we go along. It has been very productive we have solved a few problems that had been niggling – like how we are going to make the shower tray fit with the wheel arch.

As you can see it is a little on the compact side but honestly we don’t plan on spending a long time in there.

Week Ten

Where did week nine go I hear you ask. Well we had a week off in Scotland and a break from camper van building. Never mind, we are back now and straight back into it.

The last job 2 weeks ago was finishing the ply lining around the windows and that is all but done apart from a bit of finishing off to the window on the sliding door. So now we are ready for internal walls and furniture.

Before we went away we met with the guy who is going to upholster the seat bed. It is complicated by how the cushions meet or even clash when it is in the seat position. So it’s not going to be completely straight forward but I am sure he will do a good job of it.

I got the back panel for what we are calling the Headboard – this is a tall unit that forms a headboard for the bed but also provides a high work shelf for the kitchen. It also hides the batteries under the end of the bed and has the master switch and fuse screwed to it. So with this in place I was able to make off the last cables and fix the fuse and switch.

The panel also has a couple of recessed hooks and there will be several more around the van. We need to hang, coats, towels, bags and the like but in a confined space they always need to be moved to where they are not a nuisance.

Next week we are making the furniture, it’s going to be exciting.