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Old 05-03-2017, 06:05 PM   #1
Join Date: Nov 2015
Location: Austin, Texas
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Default 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

I'm starting an official build thread for my conversion on Junior, my white 2007 short wheelbase high-top cargo van. It will be a mobile office and residence I can use to live in mostly urban settings off-grid and under the radar. Other than the solar panels, the exterior will remain as stock as possible. This particular van is great for this, because it looks a lot like a typical delivery or working van. I live a bit out of town, and want to be able to take the van into town and stay there as long as I want. I also frequently travel to the west coast in the summer and to festivals. I live in 12í yurt most of the time, but want to be able to live in this vehicle indefinitely with no shore hookups. Since I usually wonít use both at once, Iím trying to make as many of the more expensive components, like the microwave, composting toilet, etc, portable between the two residences.

Right now I'm using the assembled battery pack and TriMetric meter to profile all my appliances for my power design. I'm running the 110V items through the Xantrex Prowatt to include inversion loss. My decisions about battery pack size and inverter capacity are already made after extensive back-of-the-napkins calculations, this is mainly to choose the right wire. Iím going with all welding cable for the 12V wires.

I live in a tiny 12í yurt I built myself, and am using a similar in-place design process for the van where I assume everything will be in the wrong place initially and will have to moved and tuned as I go. This is obviously easier with a countertop than the location of the roof fan. :) I find this method leads to much better results than doing all the design work up front and simply knocking it out. It means living in un-insulated chaos for a while, but I think itís worth it. Itís largely based on the Permaculture design principle of observation.

I've been accumulating components for a while, and have most of the major hardware I need, including:

4 208 aH Interstate 6V golf cart batteries, temporarily interconnected with 2 gauge wire to make a 416 aH battery 12V battery, allowing me to use 208 aH before getting to 50% and needing to recharge. When I do my major wire order, I'll be replacing the interconnects with 00 cable. Iíve also got a battery box with venting to put them in.

A TriMetric TM-2030RV power monitor

4 100-watt Renology solar panels mounted to aluminum frames in pairs

Renology MTTP Tracer-4210RN solar charger

A Xantrex ProWatt 2000 watt true sine wave inverter
A backup Xantrex 1000 watt modified sine wave inverter

A Dewalt 30A 110V charger for shore charging.

A Ramblewood 2-burner propane stovetop

A Olypian Wave6 catalyzed propane heater

Some kind of microwave, probably my Cuisinart Convection Microwave

A MaxxAir Maxxfan Deluxe 7000 RV fan

A simple composting toilet setup that I can share between the yurt and the van

The Mercedes alternator relay switch for alternator charging. I did a lot of research on this, and really liked Graphite Dave's solution of using the inverter->110V 3-stage charger design. I also looked into many varieties of DC->DC converters that would be smarter than the 180A alternator by itself. However, after extensive discussion with my friend Chris, who used to convert cars from gas to electric for a living and knows more about vehicle power and batteries than anyone I've ever met, I decided the direct connect was the way to go. It will mainly be for emergency charging in low-sunlight situations and to bulk-charge while driving. The much smarter solar charger will be responsible for all the fussy 4-stage charging, periodic overcharging, etc. The Mercedes alternator actually does a fairly good job of tapering off the charging between bulk and absorption basically by accident. Iíll be using 00 welding cable for the interconnect between alternator and battery pack. In a perfect universe, I'd like the system to automatically switch between the alternator and the solar charger without me having to throw any switches. This is theoretically possible using the serial output of the TriMetric meter. I could say "when the pack is 85% charged (based on flow, not pack voltage), switch from alternator to solar." In the meantime it will probably be a manual switch of some kind, defaulted to solar charging. I though about hooking them both up at the same time, but Iím not sure if the solar charger has back-flow protection or might get confused about charging phases with the alternator bulling in at 80+ A at 14.1VDC.

8 Single Roof Rack Mounts for Sprinter Van from The Sprinter Store to mount the panels. It was shockingly hard to answer the question ďwhat fits into the standard rail mounts on the roof?Ē This seems to be the cheapest answer. One they arrive I will do the roof origami with the panels and my fan to see how everything fits.

I don't have a fridge picked out yet, but am leaning heavily toward a 12 DC Norcold or similar.

I have a really great sink setup in the yurt that I made from two 5 gallon Reliant jugs, a 12V windshield washer pump, and a bug sprayer with an adjustable nozzle. It will handle dishes and handwashing for *over two weeks* on 3-4 gallons of water, which is much better than any RV setup Iíve seen. If Iím remembered for anything when Iím dead, this will probably be it.

Despite living in Texas, I will probably not have an additional AC unit. I have a portable one I use in the yurt I could use when plugged in, but the goal of this vehicle is long-term off-grid living, and all my reseach says running AC from batteries and solar isnít realistic. Iíll be adding a lot of vents to maximize the flow from the RV fan, insulating heavily once I know where everything goes, and experimenting with other methods of cooling off. I will probably add ducts to the existing AC to allow me to use the engine to cool the living quarters when necessary, but obviously thatís a huge waste of power and potentially dangerous to the engine.

My goal here is to document my process in gory detail to help others, and to get my questions answered as I go. Iíve already gotten a lot of help on this forum on my 100+ hour turbo leak fix, for which Iím profoundly grateful. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to document their past conversion efforts, youvíe been a huge help and saved me many, many mistakes!
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maxx fan, solar power, stealth camper

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