Week Six

We are almost half way through the 90 days the insurers allow us to complete the work. Seven days a week and decent weather and we are making good progress. There is a lot to do but it is nice when job after job gets done.

We started this week finishing off the seat bed mounting. It is solid and we can see how the boards need shaping, the squab to go around the be pillar and the back to cope with the curve of the wall. Our idea is to leave 10mm – 15mm at the sides to be able to pull a fitted sheet over it. I am contemplating remaking the diary’s in ply for added strengths and a better fit. At the same time we have bought seat belt receptacles on straps that we can easily hide when not in use.

Fitting the side step was always going to be awkward. The diesel tank is on the left side so on a right hand drive, left hand kerbside van the step has to go beneath the tank. The underside of the tank is 30mm below the cill and 20mm above anything else but the main problem is that it negates many fixing possibilities. Having solved the later with some 6mm aliminium angle and lengths of Unistrut I have lost 50-70mm of ground clearance, something that will need watching carefully.

It doesn’t end there because powering it is just as entertaining. There are no fuse diagrams or lists available. Getting the cables to into the van and the passenger seat base was fairly easy and as luckwould have it, and some trial and error, powering it was easy. I needed both permanent and switched 12V both of which are available on busbars in the fuse boards beneath the passenger seat. Those with big red cables come from the battery and those with black from the ignition switch.

The idea is that you can operate the step, in and out, by the switch on the B pillar but if you start the van without retracting the step a buzzer sounds and / until the step retracts automatically.

While we were in this area I added the 100A cable that will go from the starter battery to the charge controller and 2 signal cables from the battery and ignition switch.

In the meantime some very expensive German ebay T nuts arrived so I was able to bolt the solar panels down and fit an seal the cable pass through.

Back to the inside we finished the floor insulation between the ribs with 6mm Dodo Super Liner and between the battens with 8mm Dodo Van Floor and refitted the floor and insulated the wheel arches.

With the floor fitted the batteries were installed in an aluminium floor frame with a ratchet strap holding them tightly in position behind the seat bed.

Something that bothered me on Saturday. I started the van for the first time in 10 days and got errors from the ESP, the parking sensors and the Auto Stop Start. I hoped this was simply because the battery had been disconnected. Once off the axle stands and a drive out on Sunday the Errors cleared themselves.

And finally on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon we were able to try out the Fiamma rollout awning for the first time.

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 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.

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.

Water & Waste

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.

Shurflo Pomp

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.

Binar Water Heater

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.

Telford Toilet

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.

Swift Sink

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,

Power Scheme

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.

Leoch Powabloc

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.

Xplorer Solar Panel

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.

Votonic Triple

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.

Votronic Jupiter Panel

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.

Votronic Inverter

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.