Escape Pod adventure van - obligatory build thread

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
We got our 2015 2500 170" 4x4 in July. You may already have seen the story of the dealership fiasco.

I'm documenting the build on a separate site (http://sprintervanusa.com) mainly because friends and family can't see the photos here without signing up. I'll still post stuff that would be more interesting to this audience on the forum though.

In many respects, this build is the "new normal." LiFePO4 battery, Maxxfan, solar, Espar, Thinsulate, panel bed.

Some things are a little different though. We used flanged L-track to hold down layers of sound and heat insulation above the factory floor, we're making modular removable cabinets, and we'll use a drawer to hold bikes in the back. I also used Victron components for the solar controller and inverter. They don't get so much exposure on this site, but the equipment is solid and their tech support is great too.

We currently have the solar panels mounted, electrical wiring, battery and inverter installed, and insulation (Thinsulate and Low-E) in the walls. Next is foam- and fabric-covered wall panels, held in place with more flanged l-track ready to take the cabinets. Then, on to the bed install and plumbing.
 

EvHarris7

New member
We are planning to start insulating our van next week, and after seeing your build I am 100% set on doing the same. With the exception of using rattletrap instead because we got a better deal.

Did you do 1 layer of Thinsulate or two? Also any advice on things you learned would be great. Best ways to cut it, etc.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
Did you do 1 layer of Thinsulate or two? Also any advice on things you learned would be great. Best ways to cut it, etc.
We did one layer of Thinsulate, and I think it's sufficient in most locations. You could get two layers in on the lower panels, but I think you'd lose loft (amount of air held between the fibers) if you put two layers on the upper wall panels because they'd be pushed too close together by your wall covering.

Two layers would also remove the remaining air gap, and my understanding of the foil-faced foam products (LowE, Reflectix) is that they need that air gap in order to create a sensible R value.

The one place I might put a second layer is above the headliner in the cab area. I think it would cut down on noise quite considerably and there is plenty of room in that location.

We got our Thinsulate from Hein. The 50ft roll (maximum size he can ship as one parcel) was just sufficient for a 170" wheelbase van. We have not insulated the driver or passenger door or the firewall. We also haven't put any over the wheel wells, which might be a good move. I'll probably buy some more Thinsulate from Hein and collect it when I'm next in his area. Another 10 feet should be sufficient.

Best way to cut it is with scissors. We have some that we only use for cutting fabric. They are sharp. They worked well. I remember it was better to hold the Thinsulate with the white side up because then the scissors didn't get caught in the fibers.

Pro tip: When you're filling the voids in the lower wall panels, there are places at the edges of the voids where the metal inner wall of the van is bent at 90 degrees to be welded on to the outer skin, but there's still an open space behind these bent tabs. We cut the Thinsulate for the size of the entire area, then cut a T-shape into the side of the Thinsulate to let it wrap around that metal support. Keeping it as one larger piece meant it didn't droop inside the walls in the hard-to-spray-with-adhesive areas. You'll see what I mean when you start on this project.

The 3M 90 adhesive that Hein recommends using is wonderful. Do spray both the van wall and the Thinsulate. Wait until it's properly dry before putting the Thinsulate against the wall - it's a contact adhesive, not a wet adhesive. I'd suggest wearing a proper organic chemical mask when you do this because the fumes aren't nice and they hang around inside the van for a while as it off-gasses.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
Small note: as far as I know, Mercedes uses almost zero welding between the inner and outer walls. It is almost all modern industrial adhesive.
Quite possible. No weld marks on the exterior like there are on the inside of the floor where the cross members attach underneath. Either way, you're going to want to get the insulation around those areas.
 

Graphite Dave

Dave Orton
Small note: as far as I know, Mercedes uses almost zero welding between the inner and outer walls. It is almost all modern industrial adhesive.
Hopefully the newer Sprinters have all those braces now glued. My 08 had about half of them not glued. I used a full tube of adhesive to complete the job before I insulated the walls.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
I guess I should actually be posting some of my progress to this thread.

We finally got our fabric covered and bamboo wall panels mounted with flanged l-track to hold them in place.


Bed panels arrived yesterday from Overland Sprinters.


I bought some CTA seat swivels. I'm going to hold off installing them until our new seats turn up.


The stupid cup holder under the passenger bench seat was really annoying me. It's no good for cups, and it makes it hard to store a duffel bag or milk crate under the seat, so I took it out. Wanna buy it?


We've been using the van a lot for cyclocross races and getting out to mountain bike. It's so much more civilized having a warm dry place to change and a microwave to heat up food after a race/ride. The Victron Energy components in the electrical system are performing really well. The solar panels give me a good charge even in the grey Pacific North West winter.


Still a way to go before it's done, but the cabinets are nearly finished, and I have most of the other components I need. Just a matter of finding time. No plumbing has happened yet, either. Still a big empty space over the passenger side rear wheel arch ready for the tank and pump.

What I can't work out is how to mount an awning, since I have roof rack legs in the factory channel. I might have to mount it down from the underside of the rack bars rather than up from the factory channel.
 

pfflyer

Well-known member
I was wondering if the bench cup holder would fit and replace the front dash cup holder/ashtray. I would have to relocate the 12v outlet but I would have almost 2 worthless cup holders verses one almost worthless and a hole where the ashtray goes.
 

Boxster1971

2012 Sprinter 3500 Ext
Nice project. That partition door looks stronger than the security door on an airliner.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
I was wondering if the bench cup holder would fit and replace the front dash cup holder/ashtray. I would have to relocate the 12v outlet but I would have almost 2 worthless cup holders verses one almost worthless and a hole where the ashtray goes.
How could you possibly live without that amazing change holder in the dash assembly?

Seriously though, I just went and checked and the bench cup holder is a different width and height. The folding cup holder parts look to be better designed but I doubt the unit would fit without some serious disassembly. The bench version doesn't do that double extension thing where first the cup part pulls out, then a harder tug makes it easier to get to the 12v outlet. The drawer front (for want of a better term) is also a different color and profile, if you care about the aesthetics.

Overall you might be better off just replacing the innards of the dash drawer with a flat bottomed tray into which you glue your own cup holder(s)
 

Boxster1971

2012 Sprinter 3500 Ext
??

Did you mean to post to readbooks13's thread instead? I have no partition, and his partition door is indeed more secure than any other door on the vehicle.

I'll take the compliment though.
Ooopps! Sorry - I got the threads mixed up. Yes I was talking about readbooks13's partition. Your build is also a nice clean design. I like the fabric covering and bamboo on the side walls.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
Bed is finally in! It's amazing what a difference this makes. Now we feel like we have a real camping van rather than an almost-van.



I bought the great kit from OverlandSprinters.com. It's a much cheaper alternative to the RB Components or Outside Van versions. If you are doing your own conversion work, you can do everything you need to in order to make the kit work. Basically you'll be adding plywood panels to the aluminum frames, painting the rails and then fixing the rails to the van walls.

My full write-up is on my blog, but in summary we used pre-finished maple faced plywood, held on to the panels with t-nuts bolted through from underneath. Then we clamped the platforms on to the rails using j-bolts.



J-bolts weren't our first option, but I drilled the holes for bolting through from the underside of the rails (like Eric suggests on the OverlandSprinters.com site) in the wrong place, so rather than re-drilling through heavy 11-gauge steel after it was installed, we went with the bolts instead. One advantage is that we can now move the panels to any position on the rails. One disadvantage is that there is much less sheer strength than with through-bolts. I might still drill the holes later. We'll see how this goes.

I do wish we'd got the rails powder coated. I sprayed them with Rustoleum rattle cans. I have already scratched the paint in places. Maybe I didn't leave it long enough to reach its full strength.

The rails are super-sturdy. I was going to add 6" wide steel sheets in the window openings to give another bolting option and spread the load, but the three bolt locations are more than enough. I'm really happy with the kit.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
Somebody in another thread commented on the switch and outlet plates we've been using in our build. I haven't seen anyone else using them, and they've been great for us, so I thought I'd share a bit about them. Full details are on my blog.



We've been using road case (flight case) fittings. I was originally going to make each of the cabinets in the van using road case materials. We didn't completely go down that route, but we did use the plates in several locations.

You can get the plates from several locations, including Amazon and Parts Express. We mainly used the Penn Elcom brand. They're made from a good gauge of steel. Some stuff was also from Reliable Hardware.

The blank plates come in several different sizes, including 4″ x 4-3/8″ which is good for a couple of switches or a single 12v outlet, and 5″ x 7″ which takes a 120v outlet nicely after you’ve ground out a rectangle in the center.

You can also get plates with pre-punched holes, but those holes are designed for audio equipment outlets and need to be slightly enlarged with a step drill. 3-1/2″ x 5-1/8″ Neutrik plates hold two 12v outlets nicely, and 3-1/2″ x 5-1/8″ 1/4″ jack plates are nice for toggle switches.

We were looking for larger recessed panels to use in the rear doors, and found the Marshall Amp Handles. These are designed for lifting large amplifier and speaker stacks but if you cut out the handle part, the remaining metal panel is just the right size for mounting recessed LED light bars.



We’re really happy with the end result. It’s unique, fits in with the overall look of the van, and is super-practical.
 

DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
I haven't really said much about our electrical system yet. I learned a lot from reading about other people's builds. Most of what we've done to date is detailed on the blog site. We've been using the equipment for long enough now that I feel comfortable with it.

I wanted to create an electrical system that was understandable by someone other than the electrical engineer type who built it. Many of the other builds on the forum seem to have multiple switches that need to be set in different positions in order for the batteries to charge from various sources. Lots of opportunities to forget to flip a switch. Hard to explain the system to someone else traveling with you.

I wanted laptop simplicity. You can use it plugged in or not. When it's not plugged in, you get an indication of how much more power is left. If you use too much power, it warns you and then shuts down until you next plug it in.

There is still lots of complexity within the system (we have a LOT of switches!), and building the simple interface probably cost more in sensors and display components than it otherwise would, but the interface it presents to the rest of the world while it's working is as simple as I think I could make it.

Here's the complex bit:


and here's all you really have to interface with (if it's all working right):


I really like the Victron gear we used. Not necessarily the cheapest but it is very, very sturdy. They under-advertise the capacity of their components rather than hyping it. For instance some inverter manufacturers say "2000W" but they mean peak power for 10 seconds. Victron say 2000W meaning full duty cycle, with peak power much higher. All the components are highly configurable. All have custom charge profiles so they'll work well with a variety of LiFePO and Lead Acid systems. They communicate with each other and have various relay circuits to control other devices. As a company, Victron are really good at providing support. We had an issue with the temperature sensor on our solar controller and they sent out a replacement with absolutely no hassle at all.

The color control is hard to justify from a purely practical perspective but it's a lovely piece of kit. It also lets you monitor what's going on in the system from anywhere else in the world using a web site or mobile app.

We have 700AH of LiFePo battery on board. I used Balqon but I wouldn't recommend them. With 800W of solar panels we are keeping topped off even in the winter. We have a 15A shore power inlet under the van as well if we need it.

It's not installed yet, but I will be using the Dave Orton approach to alternator charging - a second inverter attached to the vehicle battery which sends 120v to the main inverter/charger. Our battery pack is at the back of the van and I did not want to run 4/0 cable the entire length of the vehicle. If you place your battery at the front, Victron make a product called the 12/200 BMS which isn't a BMS in the typical LiIon sense, but does manage charge control. It's a nice looking piece of kit with a good charge rate, although you'll probably never see the full rate because the alternator won't typically have a spare 200A to give to the battery.
 

dynaco1

Member
dieselfumes

I love the looks of the toroidal transformer in the victron.

Questions regarding victron 12/2000 (2kVA) inverter/charger.

1. Is your 15A shore power circuit enough to supply victron charger in high-rate absorption mode? Their literature indicates upward of 20A demand. Or, is this the larger 3kVA unit?

2. Have you tried powering the victron inverter/charger with a Honda eu2000i generator? I would think it would be great for powering the battery charger, while boon docking or without solar. As much as I would like to install a couple 280W PV panels, we always garage van at home and at the cabin and nearly always seek a shady parking spots in warmer months.

3. You mention a microwave and an induction hot plate. Is the victron 12/2000 big enough to power a Kuerig coffee makers (1350 watts) and Vitamix blender (1250 watts), separately?

I haven't measured the in-rush current from these two appliances but I imagine thick/icy/chunky smoothies will make the vitamix pull some current.

4. Do you have any regrets about not purchasing the larger 12/3000 (3kVA) inverter?

5. Are you able to adjust (prolong) the absorption (high-rate) charge period? Or, is it fixed so that is changes to float period after a certain time, regardless of battery technology?

6. How noisy is the Victron? Is the charger nosier than the inverter? Or, the other way around?

7. Did you order your victron from a distributor or on-line?

8. Did you specify the unit with 120VAC 60Hz input, when placing your order? Or, is it user-configurable from 230VAC 50Hz?
 
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DieselFumes

2015 4x4 2500 170 Crew
dieselfumes

I love the looks of the toroidal transformer in the victron.

Questions regarding victron 12/2000 (2kVA) inverter/charger.

1. Is your 15A shore power circuit enough to supply victron charger in high-rate absorption mode? Their literature indicates upward of 20A demand. Or, is this the larger 3kVA unit?

2. Have you tried powering the victron inverter/charger with a Honda eu2000i generator? I would think it would be great for powering the battery charger, while boon docking or without solar. As much as I would like to install a couple 280W PV panels, we always garage van at home and at the cabin and nearly always seek a shady parking spots in warmer months.

3. You mention a microwave and an induction hot plate. Is the victron 12/2000 big enough to power a Kuerig coffee makers (1350 watts) and Vitamix blender (1250 watts), separately?

I haven't measured the in-rush current from these two appliances but I imagine thick/icy/chunky smoothies will make the vitamix pull some current.

4. Do you have any regrets about not purchasing the larger 12/3000 (3kVA) inverter?

5. Are you able to adjust (prolong) the absorption (high-rate) charge period? Or, is it fixed so that is changes to float period after a certain time, regardless of battery technology?

6. How noisy is the Victron? Is the charger nosier than the inverter? Or, the other way around?

7. Did you order your victron from a distributor or on-line?

8. Did you specify the unit with 120VAC 60Hz input, when placing your order? Or, is it user-configurable from 230VAC 50Hz?
Hey Dynaco,

I'm running LiIon batteries, so they take what they're given. They don't need specific high-absorbtion charge rates. My batteries charge, that's really all I can tell you. I did run 12 gauge cable, so in theory I can change out to a 30A system if I want without issues. However, we have no intentions of using RV parks, so it's unlikely we'd ever find a place with a 30A outlet just waiting for us. At home I wired a dedicated 20A circuit, but the batteries were doing fine on a regular 15 one. The charger/inverter can be set to draw no more than a certain amperage. It's a great way to prevent the circuit breaker from tripping when you are plugged in to an outlet at a friend's house.

I have no interest in carrying a gas powered generator. I'm sure it's possible to use it as a charging source, but I haven't tried it. I would be tempted to invest the cost of the generator in extra battery capacity or in a move from lead acid to lithium batteries.

Ditto no interest in the Keurig. Those pods just don't do it for me. We use an Aeropress and love it. In fact, giving up on the Keurig may be another way to avoid the whole generator issue!

The Vitamix should work - I see no reason why not. I'll take ours out the van some time full of ice and give it a whirl.

I think I would thoroughly regret purchasing the 3k version. The only plus point is the two inputs/outputs. That would really only have saved me a $30 120v relay and would have let the color controller tell me a little more about the power sources for the inverter. It might also have let me control if/when I power certain items - for instance only powering a hot water heater when I was on shore power. But the extra power would have been nothing more than an invitation to run our batteries down faster, and the relays on the inverter will let me program most of the logic I want with very little hassle.

The Victrons all seem to have really low overhead draw on the battery, especially if you enable their low power mode. Still, the 3k pulls more power even when it's idle than does the 2k. We aren't trying to recreate a house in our van. We're happy to put up with the minor inconvenience of not running three appliances at once.

If you did decide to go with the 3k version, be sure that your batteries are up to the task of supplying it. You might find that you're on the edge of the discharge rate for some lead acid batteries. At that rate, they will not give anything near their rated capacity.

You can find the inverter manuals on the Victron site, and also information about configuring the inverter. Yes, the time in absorbtion is configurable. I think it defaults to 2 hours but can be raised to 8. At least, that's my memory of the settings for the battery type I chose. That thing is highly configurable. Times, voltages, etc. It does, however, take either a separate USB interface or the Color Control in order to program it. Basically, you're running a program on a Windows PC and then sending the results of the configuration to the device.

Noise levels vary depending on load. Charging has a barely audible 60hz hum associated with it, and the fans run. They are not obnoxious. Inverting can be silent for small loads, through to full-on fan whirring. You can still talk easily over the noise. When you run the microwave, for instance, the microwave fan is way noisier than the inverter. A lot is going to depend on where you site things too. Our unit is at the rear of the van but until recently that's been pretty much entirely exposed to the interior. I've not run it much since we put the bed in. I think that is going to make things quieter still.

I ordered online. I think PKYS or Inverter Supply, but I don't remember for sure. I liked dealing with PKYS. Inverter Supply have a weird e-commerce engine, and less shipping communication, but stuff still arrived from them.

Specify your voltage at the time of ordering. It's not (as far as I know) a user-configurable thing.

I'll reiterate that I've been really happy with the Victron equipment. I have a feeling that your application would be different than mine. You seem to be worried about wanting/using more power, and some of the devices you list are not on my "essentials" list. In fact, I kind of just rolled my eyes at the whole "we have to have a Keurig in the Unity" thread that happened recently. I will however try out the Vitamix when I get a chance, just to let you know whether it works or not.
 

dynaco1

Member
Thank you for your detailed reponse. It's nice to know the power is there, when you want some.

I hope to utilize a 12 volt, flooded, high-rate nickel cadmium battery string. The victron user-adjustable AC input current limit and adjustable Charger output rates/periods are very attractive circuits. Given these, I would hope to power the 3kVA inverter/charger with a 20A Shore line circuit or small eu2000i generator, when required.

The price of the victron 2kVA and 3kVA inverter/chargers are not far apart. The 3kVA appears to be smaller in width and height but a little bit thicker front-to-back than the 2kVA. I'll test all the portable devices with a Kill A Watt device to be sure the 2kVA is adequate.

My wife and I like our Peet's Major Dickison's coffee. At camp, when we have time to relax and enjoy simple things, we can boil water on the portable stove and hand-grind the beans for French press. When rolling down the road, the Keurig is most convenient.
 
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