Sprinter-Forum    
 

Go Back   Sprinter-Forum > Sprinter-Based RV's & Conversions > Sprinter RV's & Conversions Write-Ups


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 05-03-2017, 06:05 PM   #1
thebitmaster
 
Join Date: Nov 2015
Location: Austin, Texas
Posts: 190
Thanks: 205
Thanked 32 Times in 29 Posts
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!
thebitmaster is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to thebitmaster For This Useful Post:
mnpaul (07-04-2017), roblee (05-05-2017)
Old 06-09-2017, 10:12 PM   #2
thebitmaster
 
Join Date: Nov 2015
Location: Austin, Texas
Posts: 190
Thanks: 205
Thanked 32 Times in 29 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

I chose and ordered my refrigerator, a Vitrifrigo C115IBD3-F

http://www.marinewarehouse.net/image...igo/c115-1.jpg

This is a 4.2 cubic foot fridge/freezer combo that's very similar in dimensions to that of my 4.5 cubic foot Frigidaire in the yurt. This should make storage solutions fairly cross-compatible, and also double my effective fridge space, which has been a sticking point in the yurt. I'm a cook and a foodie, and being limited to less than 5 cu.ft. of food storage has been painful.

The Vitrifrigo uses a Danfoss 3.5 12VDC compressor like Norcold, etc., and looks like it will pull about 3 amps at 12VDC on average. My solar panels should easily be able to keep up. I'll gather more data on the actual power profile once I can plug it into my Trimetric meter.

Besides my final mains wiring, this is the final (and largest) major purchase I need for full-time living. My plan is to build an erector-set-style rack into the walls, bolt everything into a first-guess location, and get on the road in about a month. Nothing will be finished, but everything should be working.

Sort of. :)

Last edited by thebitmaster; 06-09-2017 at 10:22 PM.
thebitmaster is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to thebitmaster For This Useful Post:
roblee (06-21-2017)
Old 06-17-2017, 01:46 AM   #3
PaulDavis
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 846
Thanks: 115
Thanked 343 Times in 209 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

Sorry for those tired of my tirades about steath camping, since this is a repeat.

What will stop you from being in "urban settings and under the radar" has a lot less to do with the design of your van, and a lot more to do with local parking regulations. If you can park overnight, the presence of absence of windows and other outside accoutrements isn't going to stop you from doing so. If it is illegal to do so, then sure, sometimes the cops or property owners will overlook it, but the fact that your van "looks like a white delivery van" won't stop them ticketing and/or interrupting your evenings.

400W of panels and 416aH of batteries may not be enough to keep your fridge happy if you live in a warm climate and have to deal with clouds. I don't know how much power the vitifrigo will use in practice, but i know from lots of actual experience that when the fridge ends up running for 70% of every 24 hr cycle (including overnight because it is so warm), you may struggle to get your batteries back to 100%.

for what it's worth, i spent months reading build threads on this forum before starting. my final build was almost perfect - there are no architectural changes that either myself nor my wife would make. the biggest change would probably be to dump the on-demand propane water heater, but that's about it. you don't have to do permaculture-inspired observation, at least not always.
__________________
now readjusting to home life after 9 months of solar-powered US/Euro #vanlife | 2010 170 cargo NCV3 | my build thread | Wifely blog: Two people, 1 van, 2 bikes, lots of running shoes
PaulDavis is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to PaulDavis For This Useful Post:
thebitmaster (06-27-2017)
Old 06-18-2017, 08:24 PM   #4
GrayGhost
 
GrayGhost's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 216
Thanks: 16
Thanked 34 Times in 25 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

Paul, the anti stealth posts are getting very tired. You have a wonderful build, might be time better spent enjoying it.
GrayGhost is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-18-2017, 08:35 PM   #5
PaulDavis
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 846
Thanks: 115
Thanked 343 Times in 209 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

I've been living in it for the last 9-1/2 months! How much more time could I spend enjoying it?
__________________
now readjusting to home life after 9 months of solar-powered US/Euro #vanlife | 2010 170 cargo NCV3 | my build thread | Wifely blog: Two people, 1 van, 2 bikes, lots of running shoes
PaulDavis is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to PaulDavis For This Useful Post:
thebitmaster (06-27-2017)
Old 06-18-2017, 09:10 PM   #6
GrayGhost
 
GrayGhost's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2015
Posts: 216
Thanks: 16
Thanked 34 Times in 25 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

It wasn't meant as an insult.
GrayGhost is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-18-2017, 10:02 PM   #7
PaulDavis
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Posts: 846
Thanks: 115
Thanked 343 Times in 209 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

The thing is ... I keep bumping into this urban stealth camping stuff, often in combination with #vanlife hash tags. I'm not the world's most experienced living-in-a-van person (far from it), but compared to a lot of the people who talk about it, I've done a huge amount, and those experiences have included attemping to find urban "camping" spots. I put it in quotes because I would hardly call being stuck inside a van "camping". Those experiences (along with those of several other people on these forums) make it fairly clear to me that the idea is a fantasy that isn't really grounded in any easily encountered reality. I keep speaking out about it because I don't want to see people (particularly young folk who are often staking an awful lot on this idea) burned when they find out that (a) it isn't as easy as they thought (b) it really isn't dependent on their build (c) it isn't actually much fun any way. Life in/around a van can be incredibly awesome - the last 9+ months have been amazing - but rarely does the urban "stealth" camping stuff play much of a role in that. When it is incredibly awesome, I'd rather have my windows, my awning ... sometimes I'm happy to have my heater blasting out the underside too.
__________________
now readjusting to home life after 9 months of solar-powered US/Euro #vanlife | 2010 170 cargo NCV3 | my build thread | Wifely blog: Two people, 1 van, 2 bikes, lots of running shoes
PaulDavis is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to PaulDavis For This Useful Post:
gholbrow (08-10-2017), pfflyer (07-09-2017), thebitmaster (06-27-2017)
Old 06-19-2017, 08:39 PM   #8
bcman
 
bcman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Location: Orange County, CA
Posts: 145
Thanks: 26
Thanked 62 Times in 33 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

Thebitmaster, I'm really looking forward to reading about your composting toilet and sink setups. Keep the posts coming!
__________________
2003 T1N, 140wb SHC passenger van
bcman is offline   Reply With Quote
The Following User Says Thank You to bcman For This Useful Post:
thebitmaster (06-27-2017)
Old 06-27-2017, 06:53 PM   #9
thebitmaster
 
Join Date: Nov 2015
Location: Austin, Texas
Posts: 190
Thanks: 205
Thanked 32 Times in 29 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulDavis View Post
Sorry for those tired of my tirades about steath camping, since this is a repeat.
Other's may have read it, I have not yet, so I appreciate you taking the time for a reality check. This *is* all way more complicated and difficult than a lot of sources make it seem, and it's terrible if people put all their hopes and money into it only to find out the reality is too much for them.

Quote:
What will stop you from being in "urban settings and under the radar" has a lot less to do with the design of your van, and a lot more to do with local parking regulations. If you can park overnight, the presence of absence of windows and other outside accoutrements isn't going to stop you from doing so. If it is illegal to do so, then sure, sometimes the cops or property owners will overlook it, but the fact that your van "looks like a white delivery van" won't stop them ticketing and/or interrupting your evenings.
While the ability to live in the van in an urban environment full time is a fundamental design requirement for the van, I have no plans to do that in the near future. I live a bit out of town, and want to be able to take the van into town for a few days to a week at a time and be able to park on the street while I'm there. I also do a trip to the West Coast in the summer when I can, and want to stay in the van in places like Portland and the Bay Area for weeks at a time without having to pay for lodging. I do have friends in those areas who could lend the occasional driveway, confirm that I'm actually visiting, etc. A fundamental source for me has been Tynan's book The Tiniest Mansion. He did urban stealth vanning in Austin for several years. Things have changed since then, but it's still a good baseline.

What I want from the "stealth" aspect of the vehicle is to make it blend in as much as possible. I'm hoping to decrease the likelihood of being complained about and becoming something a resident or police officer feels they need to "do something about." I do my best to study the parking laws of places I'll be visiting so I know what the baseline is. I'm mainly hoping to increase the amount of time I can get away with parking before enforcement mechanisms kick in and have enough plausible deniability that I won't get in too much trouble. Until I have a lot more on-the-ground experience, I'm assuming I'll probably have to move every night or two, and I'm ok with that.

The only way I would choose to do urban stealth living full-time is after I have a lot more experience than I do now. I also like having another local base to return to. I think the combination works better than either thing alone. The full-time thing is a more of a back-up for transitional periods than something I'm shooting for directly.

Quote:
400W of panels and 416aH of batteries may not be enough to keep your fridge happy if you live in a warm climate and have to deal with clouds. I don't know how much power the vitifrigo will use in practice, but i know from lots of actual experience that when the fridge ends up running for 70% of every 24 hr cycle (including overnight because it is so warm), you may struggle to get your batteries back to 100%.
I appreciate the warning. Which fridge do you have? I did the best I could to profile my power beforehand, but was also working with the components I could get at a discount. Unless you have the budget to wildly over-engineer, good design only gets you so far. Field testing is the only way to be sure. Ideally I'd like to completely remove propane from the equation, do all my cooking on induction, etc., but I realize that's probably asking too much of my current system. If I'm moving the van every day, I'll get some power from the alternator, but how much is a big variable that can only really be revealed through experience. In the meantime, I have fall backs. For instance, I'm taking my induction cooktop, but I'm also bringing a small propane camp stove for my inaugural trip to Portland. I also have a very nice high efficiency Ramblewood Green cooktop I'll install if the E- can't cut it on this trip.

One thing I'd *really* like to do is get my Trimetric 2030 meter dumping serial output into a computer database so I can get very detailed power flow metrics. That would really help me fine-tune things.

Quote:
for what it's worth, i spent months reading build threads on this forum before starting. my final build was almost perfect - there are no architectural changes that either myself nor my wife would make. the biggest change would probably be to dump the on-demand propane water heater, but that's about it. you don't have to do permaculture-inspired observation, at least not always.
I know a lot of people who did what you did and had great results. I'm using my 12' yurt as my closest design analogue, and I've had to make a lot of changes to get it dialed in. The more things I ask from a smaller space, the less I trust myself to get it right on the first try. Full time off-grid urban stealth living in such a tiny vehicle is a pretty high bar. There's also an in-person-Feng-Shui-how-the-space-feels aspect that I, at least, can't get from even the most sophisticated modeling. I have to stand in the space and see how it feels. Checking out other conversions is definitely a great way to do this, and Sportsmobile is based here in Austin. There's also some impatience here. I'm not willing to wait until the whole process is done to start trying it out. I've done projects where over-researching and designing, then doing a full execution up front is 100% the way to go. For me, this isn't one of them. In addition to Permaculture design, my process also draws a lot from iterative design disciplines like Agile, where you start with a minimum set of requirements, then get each little part functional, and adjust as you go. The cost is having to live a construction zone and wasted money and time on design dead-ends. For me it's worth it.

Thanks for your input! That's exactly what I come to this list for.
thebitmaster is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-27-2017, 07:05 PM   #10
thebitmaster
 
Join Date: Nov 2015
Location: Austin, Texas
Posts: 190
Thanks: 205
Thanked 32 Times in 29 Posts
Default Re: 2007 Short Wheelbase High Top Urban Stealth Camper

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcman View Post
Thebitmaster, I'm really looking forward to reading about your composting toilet and sink setups. Keep the posts coming!
Here's a link to a few of my posts about my sink setup in the yurt, which is my starting point for my van setup:

https://scottmauer.wordpress.com/201...ertop-nirvana/

https://scottmauer.wordpress.com/201...t-doesnt-work/

It's basically two 5-gallon jugs hooked to a 12V automotive windshield washer pump and a foot pedal through a sink. It uses astonishingly little water, definitely less than any RV setup I've seen in person so far, but works probably 85% as well as full running water. I have a Zojirushi tea heater for small squirts of hot water when I need it. The only change I'd like to see is to use a pump that can pull the water up from the top of the jug instead of having to be near the bottom, since this could cause leaks. It hasn't so far, but it still makes me nervous, and would likely be more of a problem in a moving, vibrating vehicle than in the stationery yurt.
thebitmaster is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Tags
maxx fan, solar power, stealth camper

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump



All times are GMT. The time now is 02:00 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.