Week Four

This was to be window week. Time to be brave.

The Seitz S7 windows are made to suit a curved wall with a radius of 5m. Taking several dimensions off the van and setting them out in CAD I found that the radius varied from 5m to 10m but I guess the frame and window will take up what equates to a small variation and won’t be noticeable. I have after all seen flat windows successfully installed on to curved walls.

The RH window frame I made fitted the curve of the window and the blind perfectly so I made up the LH slider frame. The only difference being that the RH is as far forward as I can get it whereas the slider is in the middle. The frames are made up of 3 layers of 6mm ply and one of 3mm which gives 22mm and the steel skin will add 1mm so pretty much bang on the 22-23mm spec from Seitz.

The frame for the Midi Heki is different in that it has a stepped shape on top for the curve of the roof but a flat bottom for the blind. I am keeping it slim as I want to avoid losing head height so that with the roof curve and ribs I will end up with c.32mm. Installing this frame and the rooflight will involve quite a bit of packing and sealant.

While I am at it I decided that a large white roof light is going to look very out of place even if you only see a bit of it. So a can of Halfords grey bumper paint later and voila..

And the frame for the Fiamma roof vent is much smaller and simpler. It is small enough to ignore the curve and just needed a bit of “fitting” so that it will go tight up to the last roof beam.

The time came to bite the bullet and cut the window holes in the van. Fortunately I had the loan of a heated workshop for a few days which made it a whole lot easier. Taking an air saw to our shiny new van was a bit scary but seems to have worked well. Even though I left the corners to last the slider in particular got a bit wild and wobbly making the last cuts but it seems to have survived it OK. One important thing to remember is a few bits of gaffer tape to hold on to the cut out piece and avoid it falling on to the outside paintwork.

First we touched up the bare metal cut with some Hammerite before cleaning around the area with a dab of acetone. The window inner frame was bonded with Sikaflex 252 structural adhesive and clamped for a while until it grabbed. The window was sealed with a good bead of SikaLastomer 710 that squidged out nicely. Cleaning the excess the next day was easy – simply go round with a blunt table knife and pull the excess off. The blind is a temporary fit until we work out how to finish the wall around it.

Fitting the roof vents was similar but complicated by the ribs and the slight curve. The outer sides of the cut for the Midi Heki coincided with a rim so left a useful upstand. I found some 25 x 10mm rigid plastic that I fitted between the ribs and inside that outer rib. All of this and the frame were bonded again with Sikaflex 252 and then the remaining few millimetres of the curve built up with layers of 20 x 2mm butyl rubber tape. Finally the roof vents were lowered in with a good bead of SikoLastomer and once clamped does I went round with more SikoLastomer to fill any gaps. No it doesn’t look pretty but that will only bother you if you are 10ft tall.

It has rained a lot for 2 days since we fitted the windows and roof lights and, touch wood, no leaks. While it was raining I took a drive to TPS to fetch the last piece of B post trim that finishes off the post nicely. The cab headlining needs a bit of adjusting and I need to get a nice grab handle like one from a T5/6.

So then it was on to the floor. I was told about the big strip of glue up the middle so got prepared. A few lengths of 3 x 1.5in CLS one of which I cut a chisel point on to one piece and I soon had the floor up. Getting rid of the glue was another story. I managed to pick the floor clean quite easily but getting it off the reverse of the floor ply was very difficult. So much so that it pulled the skin off my thumb.

Week Three

The week started well on Monday with the delivery of our SmartBeds Evo II seat bed. It is a really neat pull out rock and roll bed designed for a Transporter. To make best use of the underbed space ours is for a LHD van and we have bought it with wider, 1200mm, seat boards and foam but unhupolstered. We are a long way from being ready for it but we need the frame to work out the installation.

On Tuesday with just 24 miles on the clock I set off to do 100 miles with a visit to SL Hardwoods in Croydon to collect several sheets of 6, 9 & 12mm poplar (light weight) ply. Good people they have or get all sorts at a couple of days notice. At the same time the Morland laminate and wall board materials were delivered to Cut’n’Edge who are doing the joinery. On the way I called in to TPS in Crawley to collect the off side B Pilar trim but but we are still struggling with a piece of upper trim. Once back home we continued insulating and cut away the panel supports on the window panels and the roof joist at the mid roof vent.

To set out the window positions and to get them level I drilled a 1mm hole from the inside through the middle of the window panel. Levelled this with the outside body lines and drilled a hole back from the outside, Miraculously this was parallel to the internal structure.

While Sue was working on the rear doors I got busy making the widow cut out frames. These were made difficult by the curvature in the walls. As a result I made up a jig and laminated several layers of 6mm ply to give a 5-7mm curve to match the windows and the wall.

Week Two

First thing this week, with a bit of help, we lifted the awning onto a very frosty roof. It sits neatly in the brackets OK but we haven’t yet rolled it out. Full marks to Stefan @ NoVa Lesiure who took the bracket handing issues on the chin.

The weather this week has hardly been conducive to working outdoors but it had to be done. We started on the insulation, one layer of 6mm Dodo mat, second layer of 12mm Dodo mat and polyester wadding everywhere else. We are about halfway through with Sue’s more delicate hands with the 6mm reaching the parts I can’t to get to. I followed with the 12mm and polyester wadding. We had a struggle insulating over the cab. The roof lining simply would not come out because of some weird plastic fixing so we had to be a bit clever.

I fitted the first of the new B pillar trims. They look neat and cover the whole pillar. I did try insulating underneath but that gave me problems with the seat belts so I did without.

Week One

So now the van is here it’s time to dive in and start work.

Now the van is here we were itching to get started with some simple jobs. My plan had always been to get the awning fitted first as this would give us 8m2 covered workspace between the van and the house.

First on Friday I had to fit the roof rails, that should have been on the original spec, ready for the awning. The holes are all there just covered by painted over sticky tabs that once scraped off need a smear of Hamerite to cover any residual scratches and the bare metal treatment. No big deal as no one will ever see it.

So on Friday evening I discover that the Fiamma roll out awning installation kit is for LHD/RH Install – fat lot of use that is and thank you Fiamma for telling us. Saturday was remanufacture day a bit of cutting, grinding and welding and now we have a set of LHS brackets. Just waiting for a lift up with the awning next week.

Another simple job were the Aguti swivel bases, the only proper Crafter base the same as Westfalia use. A complete lack of instruction meant lots of deduction but I remembered how I saw the label on them in a Westfalia. The hand brake bracket and trim needed a bit of “adjustment” and I still need to trim the bottom of the drivers seat skirts to properly clear it.

Sue has made a start on the insulation exploring the voids and sticking the first layer to one panel. It’s going to be a very fiddly time consuming.

The Insulation Conundrum

I have had many conversations on various forums and with materials suppliers about the best way to insulate. In the main we are looking to insulate against cold because if it is hot we can simply open doors and windows. There is a plethora of available materials and methods but there is no definite right way to do it.

With the van being a big tin box as well as insulation you have to consider condensation. As well as the general atmospheric humidity moisture is introduce by us breathing and perspiring, by boiling and cooking and by the bathroom and washing. If you cook with gas, which we don’t, you will introduce a lot more condense from the combustion but I assume no one would consider actually heating such a small space with naked gas flame.

The warmer air is the better able it is to carry moisture. However when warm moist air meeting a cold surface the moisture will condensate. It will do this against the outer skin of your van and even the insulation and structure between the inner and outer skins if it is colder. Uncontrolled this condensate could build up, saturate your insulation, the ply lining and wall boards and even rot the outer skin of the van from the inside out.

Don’t let anyone pretend you can prevent this by installing a vapour barrier behind the ply lining thus creating a void full on installation. That changes nothing and may even make it worse. You cannot create a sealed void so air from inside will get in there. No, the best solution is, as in your home, to keep air moving. Condensation may still happen but it will evaporate again and move away as the air circulates. Indeed a perfect solution would be heat recovery ventilation but this is a small space and that is hardly practical.

As for insulation materials themselves the first rules are not to use anything hygroscopic (absorbs moisture) as it could end up as a soggy mess and avoid mineral wools that will discharge fibres. How to install the insulation is important too remembering that you have to get into all of the structural ribs and that years of driving on bumpy roads high shake your insulation to the bottom.

One extremely good solution would be spray foam which is a job best done professionally. Care needs to be taken to only spray as much as can expand into the space especially within box sections. Get this wrong and as the foam expands it will buckle the bodywork. However one big concern I have about it is the implication for body repairs should you have the misfortune to have an accident. Panels will no longer be easy to straight or replace and will add significantly to the cost of damage repair. As a result your insurance company will likely argue with you about the cost.

In the end we are going to use several methods.

  • Primarily we will stick self adhesive DoDo Mat, a dense sponge foam mat designed as sound deadening as well as thermal insulation, to all the flat panels we (well actually Sue’s small hands) can get at. WE are going to start with a layer of 6mm between structural members and into ridges such as the roof ribs. On top of this we will add one or more layers of 6mm and 12mm. In the larger voids below the waist line we will also stuff polyester insulation wadding.
  • The structural members will also be filled with polyester wool. This will be fed / pulled in using fibreglass rods to get at the very difficult and may even need a couple of new holes to get at some sections.
  • The ply floor will be lifted and strips of 6mm insulation laid between the ribs and then 8mm high density floor foam laid before fixing the ply floor back down.
  • All the doors and the cab area will be insulated with self adhesive DoDo mat.

Our accommodation windows are twin skin and they and the roof vents have thermal blinds. And finally we will use SilverScreen covers on the cab windows at night.

Finally it has arrived.

Collected from our dealer this morning – strangely excited about owning a 3.5 tonne van – let the games commence.

It is a Trendline Long Wheel Base 140PS Automatic (slush box and not DSG)

Interior Layout

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.

Update : since I originally posted this and before work started in January the layout evolved a wee bit. The toilet moved to the left rear corner freeing up the garage space. The dogs kennel relocated to the bottom of the garage. The result is more and better storage with the only downside being that I have to make a custom shower tray to cover the rear wheel arch.

Lighting Scheme

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.

LED Downlight

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.

LED Plinth Light

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.

Reading Lamp

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.

Microwave Cooking

Ready meals are now a real possibility ;=)

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.

Daylight and Fresh Air

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.