Here goes! My build thread to sleep a family of 9 (!!!) in a 2020 170" 4x4

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
Here we go! Wanted to start a build thread and especially invite those with large families to contribute experiences and ideas to how to build a van out when there are more than four people that need to use it. Here's some detail on what I've experienced as a big hole in the market that I'm trying to fill for our family -- and I wonder how many others are too:

Problem #1: Almost all van conversions I've seen assume that only a max of four people will need to be strapped in safely for travel, and then for sleeping accomodations. That's not our situation at all. We have five adults and four children in our family. That might be a bit larger than other families (!!!) but I wonder how many other families have more than two kids.

Problem #2: When you have a big family, you also need a lot of modularity. Most of the time it's me and my brother-in-law taking the three older kids out for a weekend of camping or dirt biking. In those scenarios, we just need seating for five, along with the ability to go off the grid for a weekend. Other times, it's all nine of us taking a weekend, or sometimes week-long road-trip, maybe to Palm Desert. In those scenarios, we're typically traveling to a hotel or resort, but might all want to spend one night sleeping in the van to break a long trip up into two travel days.

Most vans are built out in a very static way. Kitchen, bed, etc. are set in a place in your van, and that's it; no moving those things around or in and out.

The Opportunity: I see a big opportunity for someone -- one of the van conversion companies, probably -- to create a much more modular approach to #VanLife living. With COVID, I bet we're going to see a lot more families purchasing vans instead of taking expensive family vacations. I really think we are at the beginning of an industry that's about to explode. I'm a tech entrepreneur, and in my circle, I already know two others that have purchased Sprinters w/ the intent of building them out. When you have Silicon Valley tech execs buying Sprinters to get into VanLife you know something is really changing, because these are people that you wouldn't usually associate with VanLife. And at least for me, I can't stand the RV industry's low build quality, so there's a real opportunity to raise the bar.

So, I'm going to try to do this myself by sourcing & assembling various components to create a modular outcome, but I'd love to just be able to buy this all in one place vs. hunting for it. In my ideal world, someone would come pick my van up, get some or all of the work done, and then drop it back off some number of days later. That way, I could keep using it with my family on weekends, and the van would keep getting more built out over time.

My thought process: The first thing I need for a modular van is a base platform that enables the flexibility I'm looking for. I'm imagining a van that almost works like Lego blocks -- reconfigurable based on whatever the use case is that I need for that weekend. Easy to add/remove/re-arrange seating. Easy to add/remove a kitchen. Etc.

What I think I've figured out so far -- feedback please!!!

The Base Platform that enables modularity:
I'm going to go with the AMF Bruns SmartFloor as a starting point. This will allow me to configure seating in all sorts of ways (including doing a row of 3 and then a row of 4) and also serve as a base platform that I can use to attach various things. I've got a separate thread going on that -- I met Anders from RRE Global at the AdventureVan expo and he gave me a ton of great tips about the SmartFloor; I took a 10 minute video w/ some 411 on that: https://sprinter-source.com/forums/index.php?threads/89326/#post-923027 (one great tip that I didn't put into the video was that since the SmartFloor is aluminum, it's easy to Rivnut the floor, so you're not limited to where the L-track is for putting things. this makes the floor even more of an expandable base platform.

A few open questions about the SmartFloor:
  • Travois also makes a floor that seems to be a competing standard; from what I heard at the AdventureVan expo, it is possible to do more than two sets of rails in that floor. I'd need four. I don't know if Travois can do four. If anyone knows, please LMK! I've also heard that they're pretty severely back-ordered (on the order of months) whereas I can get the SmartFloor installed inside of 3 weeks.
  • Travois also makes a really nice swiveling seat. We tried it at AdventureVan Expo and really liked it. None of the AMF Bruns (SmartFloor manufacturer) seats swivel, although Andreas did say he's looking into it. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Travois seat works in the SmartFloor system; the track widths are different, which is a bummer. If anyone has any more 411 on how to get a swivel seat onto a SmartFloor please LMK. One thing I didn't realize before was that the AMF seats do fold down almost flat, which could make them a great platform for putting a mattress on top, across two rows.
  • I'd also love to know if anyone has tips on the best material to cover the SmartFloor with. We're thinking a commercial-grade floor laminate.

Sleeping: Trying to sleep nine is a little crazy, I know. I just sold my 2018 144 4x4 high roof; in that one I had a MOAB bed up top, and I fabricated a platform on the bottom. Some pics attached. We slept two adults + our one year old up top, and the three older kids (all under age 7) down below. That worked well for six of us. I'll probably do some type of dual bed setup again in the 170, and see about creating a separate large sleeping area by folding down the two rows of seats. I've also seen some other creative options like these -- would love to know if anyone's tried these approaches:
We looked at doing a pop up -- Andreas sells one (can't remember the brand) that's lower profile than the CoCamperVan and pops open large enough to fit two adults, but it's pricey at about $13k.

We looked at doing flares, and we might still give that a shot, I saw a really ingenious cantilevered bed at the Expo that also can be used as a work desk (I put a video in that thread showing how the bed works). So maybe we try to engineer something like that -- a lower bed that can fold up to the sides of the van, and a Moab up top, or similar.

Another idea we're playing around with is two Moabs that are sandwiched together up top; and we drop the lower one down when we need it. I'd love to know if anyone's done anything like this.

Insulation: We're going to with Havelock wool. I know there are a lot of opinions about this. The people that have done it all seem to be really glad they did. I talked to the Havelock folks and they said across 6,000 customers they've never had a single mold issue. I'll update on our experience as we give it a shot.

Other items:
  • We met Kristin of Van Wife Components. She has a great headliner shelf with an integrated curtain rod. Just ordered one. (She also has a four panel bed with a very creative use case of having one of the panels turn into an outside table between the two rear doors. Loved that. Sadly the bed is back-ordered by a few months.
  • The Sprinter Store sells what appears to be a modified version of the Amp Research step that works for 2019+ Sprinters. Installing that.
  • Getting KO2 tires on Arsenal rims -- but I'm going with 245/70/R17 as it matches the original 16" rim tire characteristics almost exactly (601 vs 602 revolutions per mile). I generally don't love the idea of moving far away from stock engineering specs on things like tire camber & sizing. So we'll see how that turns out.
  • Installed RattleTrap
  • Roof Rack: I'm thinking an Owl or RoamBuilt roof rack -- although the new Aluminess component solid roof rack is intriguing -- and *seems* like it would help reduce heat on the roof, because there's an air gap between the rack and the roof. I can't actually find it on their website yet; LMK if anyone's tried it and has any opinions on its sturdiness as compared to a solid one-piece rack. Note: They apparently also have a version now w/ an integrated LED light bar up-top.
  • Electrical: In the spirit of modularity, I think we're going to go with a modular system, Yeti-style. I've seen this new Inergy 1500 Power station that's supposedly coming out in October. Anyone have an opinion on that?
  • Water: I'd like to get 30-40 gallons of water onboard. Previously, I created the "Khitchen" which was great; might do something like that again. Wondering if anyone has played around with using onboard air to pressurize water tanks? Here's a thread on that topic.
I especially need help with swivel seats: For my 2018 144" I put the Sprinter Store's swivel seats in -- they were a big disappointment. The mechanism scrapes and squeaks, and the seats became much more wobbly -- I find that we press on the top of the seat when going in & out of the front area, and the seats didn't feel nearly as sturdy & solid once on the swivels. I'd love to know if anyone has a good aftermarket swivel option that they've been really happy with, and works on the 2019+ Sprinter seats. I'm also curious if it's possible to put OEM swivels on after-market. I don't have the electric brake, so I've been told this may not be possible, as the base has to be lowered. LMK if anyone has any tips here.

And here's my old 2018 144" dual bed setup:

IMG_4080.jpeg IMG_4147.jpeg IMG_4264.jpeg

Here's what the new 2020 170" 4x4 looks like today!

IMG_6570.jpeg IMG_6576.jpeg
 
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drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
I wanted to learn a bit more about the Inergy unit; here are two good videos about it. Going with this modular approach to #VanLife it seems to make a lot of sense to use these units, and maybe stack a few batteries on. Two seemingly great things:

1) Can recharge the unit w/ a 12v adapter, i.e., when you're driving
2) Keeps the 12v output at 13.8 volts regulated, so now low voltage issues on a fridge.


 

81duck

Active member
Its definitely possible to add OEM swivels to your van. They will add almost 2 inches in seat height so you may want to consider ordering the lower bases as well. Its not cheap I can promise you that, but they are really high quality swivels. There is a thread on here that provides the part numbers you'll need if you order. Search for Swivel Seats
 

chipsterguy

Active member
I've been following your (so far) brief journey on your new 170 HR with the seat and sleep 9 design requirements. Very ambitious goal, but it looks like you are looking into the right systems to hit this goal. And with your previous 144 HR build, you are already up the learning curve with what may be possible. Good luck... plan to sit by and watch.
 

sprint2freedom

2008 NCV3 170ext
What are your objectives for an electrical system.. you mentioned refrigeration, I assume lighting.. what else?

Modularity makes a lot of sense when you're trying to transport and sleep 9 people in a van, but I'm not sure that applies uniformly to all systems (such as electrical).

If it were me, I'd focus on making the physically bulky things modular (beds and seats) and having things with very little floor footprint like electrical built-in to the point of being more or less invisible. Batteries and inverter could go under the passenger seat, for example. Handheld alternatives such as a Yeti or Goal Zero.. aside from typically being very poorly suited to the task, will end up being just another thing on your floor to step over. Empty space is precious resource, don't add to clutter unnecessarily.

Kitchens are heavy. Seats are heavy. Beds are heavy. That may end up being one of the more difficult aspects of a modular design.
 

Aqua Puttana

Poly - Thread Finder
I personally think that just addressing the moist air resulting from 9 human beings sleeping and breathing within the volume of a 170 van makes the idea insane. But to offer some input...

Assuming some screen walls are included, a pop top will help to address the moisture produced by the number of humans you plan to have sleeping/breathing in your small box. Without a pop top or some designed ventilation you might consider an O2 level monitor as a safety device.

Overall weight can be an issue. Consider pipe berth style sleeping similar to what is used in some racing sailboats. It will keep weight down a bit.

In case it may be an acceptable consideration, an air lock tent can significantly expand the living space of a van while parked for sleeping mode.

Have fun.

vic
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
Havelock wool insulation going in.

Learnings so far:
  • Yes, it's true -- it smells like a farm in the van right now. Which, depending on how much you like farms, might be awesome, or terrible. I happen to like the farm smell, so no issues. Smell goes away in a day or so.
  • I recommend kids with small fingers to stuff insulation into every nook & cranny. The more, the better.
  • Bonus: Stuffing the ribs with insulation!
  • Also highly recommended: A glass of wine.
IMG_0052.jpeg IMG_0047.jpeg IMG_0043.jpeg IMG_0029.jpeg IMG_0020.jpeg
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
Its definitely possible to add OEM swivels to your van. They will add almost 2 inches in seat height so you may want to consider ordering the lower bases as well. Its not cheap I can promise you that, but they are really high quality swivels. There is a thread on here that provides the part numbers you'll need if you order. Search for Swivel Seats
The Scopema swivels seem to be well reviewed, so going to try those first. Got them off Travois for about $75 less than AgileOffroad, FWIW.
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
A few questions re: wall panels:
  • Has anyone tried making their walls magnetic? Seems like it should be possible to put a thin steel sheet behind whatever wall material.
  • Alternative idea: Has anyone tried making their walls velcro? I.e., something like this 54" wide roll that's sold by the yard.
I figure with 1/4" plywood or similar + one of the above options, the walls should become a much more useful surface area.

It might just be because we have four kids, but on our 6,300 mile road trip, we found ourselves needing to hang stuff all the time. So I'm thinking lots of L-Track, and a way to make the walls useful, would be hugely valuable.
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
What are your objectives for an electrical system.. you mentioned refrigeration, I assume lighting.. what else?
I can totally appreciate what you are saying about GoalZero, etc being poorly suited to the task.

But... I also think that technology is advancing incredibly quickly. For example, the Inergy solution already seems way more useful than the Yeti.

With this modularity approach, I'm trying to plan for what will be in-market in 2 years... 5 years. I think if I were to install a state of the art electrical solution today, I'd be kicking myself in a few years when something game-changing comes out.

Right now I'm thinking:
  • Ingergy portable system w/ 2 batteries. Should give me about 175 amp hours w/ a 1500 watt inverter, 13.8v regulated output, and MPPT inputs for solar. The unit has six 110v outlets, two 12v cigarette outlets and USB ports.
  • 175watt(ish) flexible solar panel (like this one from Amazon) that I can put on the roof of the van towards the back, and just run the cable in through the rear doors. (I'd love to get recommendations on a good, low profile flexible solar panel)
Goal is to run the following items:
  • 55ish liter fridge -- actually really liked this Alpicool model because it fit perfectly between the front seats of my 2018 Sprinter... I was a bit unsure about the off-brand purchase but it's performed really well. Would love to know if others have any opinions, esp on its long-term durability
  • Various on-demand items used on a weekend camping trip (fans, etc)
I'm planning on hooking the Maxxair fan into the stock battery system; I have the extra aux battery under the passenger seat. The draw should be fine for 1-2 days w/o firing up the engine (at least, it was on my 2018). And I'd probably wire any aux LED lights and water pump into the stock aux system as well, unless anyone thinks that's an esp. bad idea.

So I don't think we'll have any crazy power draws that a portable system couldn't handle. Plus, it's portable, so I can take it outside; sell it when something better comes along, etc.
 

RVBarry

Well-known member
Has anyone tried making their walls magnetic? Seems like it should be possible to put a thin steel sheet behind whatever wall material.
I'm thinking about it, in a couple places.
Don't hang anything dense enough to kill someone if it were flying 60mph. Or sharp.

I'd think very thin steel would work if the magnets used are strong.
Would need to paint the steel.

Magnets:
 

sprint2freedom

2008 NCV3 170ext
I can totally appreciate what you are saying about GoalZero, etc being poorly suited to the task.

But... I also think that technology is advancing incredibly quickly. For example, the Inergy solution already seems way more useful than the Yeti.

With this modularity approach, I'm trying to plan for what will be in-market in 2 years... 5 years. I think if I were to install a state of the art electrical solution today, I'd be kicking myself in a few years when something game-changing comes out.
I suppose that's true of anything.

As long as we're planning ahead, how much longer are these 9 people going to be camping together before the little ones are too big to fit in their bunks? and will the build be finished before that occurs?

Right now I'm thinking:
  • Ingergy portable system w/ 2 batteries. Should give me about 175 amp hours w/ a 1500 watt inverter, 13.8v regulated output, and MPPT inputs for solar. The unit has six 110v outlets, two 12v cigarette outlets and USB ports.
What are you planning to plug into those six outlets?

  • 175watt(ish) flexible solar panel (like this one from Amazon) that I can put on the roof of the van towards the back, and just run the cable in through the rear doors. (I'd love to get recommendations on a good, low profile flexible solar panel)
Flexible solar panels don't last long and are not a good use of money. Kind of like buying a plastic poncho instead of a rain jacket if the two were around the same price.

Goal is to run the following items:
  • 55ish liter fridge -- actually really liked this Alpicool model because it fit perfectly between the front seats of my 2018 Sprinter... I was a bit unsure about the off-brand purchase but it's performed really well. Would love to know if others have any opinions, esp on its long-term durability
  • Various on-demand items used on a weekend camping trip (fans, etc)
I'm planning on hooking the Maxxair fan into the stock battery system; I have the extra aux battery under the passenger seat. The draw should be fine for 1-2 days w/o firing up the engine (at least, it was on my 2018). And I'd probably wire any aux LED lights and water pump into the stock aux system as well, unless anyone thinks that's an esp. bad idea.
So basically just the fridge on the portable battery pack then?

I think it's a bad idea to power any "house" functions from your starter battery. Getting stranded from a dead battery with 5 kids sounds like a real mess. The aux battery isn't really big enough to be very useful, but if you don't mind replacing it every year or two you can probably limp along. Do you plan to charge both the portable battery pack and the aux battery from solar?

So I don't think we'll have any crazy power draws that a portable system couldn't handle. Plus, it's portable, so I can take it outside; sell it when something better comes along, etc.
Let us know how it goes. You asked for feedback, here's mine: I wouldn't want to be tripping over temporary wiring in a tight space with 8 other people. If somebody gets up to go to the bathroom you may wake up to find that the fridge was unplugged all night.
 

downunder

Member
For what it's worth to you Drodio...
With 9 on board i imagine that you'll use at a minimum half of your Sprinter's total weight carrying capacity?
Adding 30-40 gallons (suggested) of water before you even put it in a storage tank(s) of some sort will likely take you close to max?
I guess that you have to carry about 8-9 chairs? Bags and gear for all of the crew on board? Plenty of food and drink; will a 55 litre fridge really cut it?

Will a rock n roll type custom imported seating/bed, the same as Ken (Asimba2 on this forum) put in his conversion and seen on youtube be of any value to do what you require, only doubled up etc?
Metal walls of any sort will be dead weight and likely something to avoid? I'd probably consider thin twin wall polycarbonate to save weight. Cover it with material for a clean finish? 1/4 ply may hammer you somewhat on weight as it all adds up.
Using your L track wherever it is will offer storage hanging options?
I've had a good run with flexible solar panels. I chose them for light weight and unseen from the ground. Still charging the lithium battery each day.
I reckon i'd think and estimate seriously the weight of everything going in to then look for trade outs to achieve safety, good seating and good bedding so as not to compromise your children's posture?

If you haven't bought the floor system consider if you can bolt appropriate tracks for seating direct to the floor, engineered for safety? This may save plenty of weight; throw in an easy clean removable marine carpet type material around it all for aesthetics etc?
I'm following you on this. Great challenges for sure. Hope that you get plenty more input from others. Good luck and surely this must be exciting for most of your children.
 

45Kevin

Active member
I am in the middle of installing the Havelock insulation and am wondering if it will sag in the wall cavities over time.

It seems like a very nice product but I wonder that given its lack of ability to stick to the walls (like fiberglass in wood houses) and its lack of any amount of rigidity makes me wonder.

You can get a magnetic wall paper type material called Walltalker. It can also be used with dry erase markers. There are also magnetic pressure laminates available.
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
Ok insulation is up! I definitely appreciate the ability to stuff the wool in all the nooks and crannies, including inside all the ribs. Agree with you @45Kevin that it’s an open question as to how much the wool settles down vs stays in place once wall and roof are up. If it settles, which it probably will, I’ve got a few ideas.

re: qty: I ordered two bags (which is actually technically four bales of wool as each bag contains two) and I only used about 2 1/2 of the bales so there was plenty left over. I might even double up the thickness of the wool on the walls since I’ve got plenty left over. I inserted a picture of the amount left over for reference.

Now I am onto finishing off the interior. I’m thinking about putting plywood in. I’ve been reading around the forum and it sounds like okume plywood is the best option, but it’s hella expensive. I’m even having a hard time finding it in the bay area. It looks like it’s about 10 times the price of regular plywood — $220 for a 4x8 sheet vs $22. I’d love to know if anybody has advice on where to buy plywood in the San Francisco Bay area. it looks like Baltic Birch is another good option. I don’t think Home Depot sells that either though. Home Depot does have quarter inch plywood but I wouldn’t mind getting something a bit thinner w/ as many plys as possible. Very open to recommendations here! What materials other than plywood do people recommend? I would totally be open to something lighter, like a rigid plastic cell material.

Also, what kind of backing material are people putting on their plywood (or other wall materials)? On another thread one member mentioned “efilm” but I don’t exactly know what that is. My plan would be to put a couple coats of sealant on the plywood. Then will eventually cover it with some material, either Marathon fabric or maybe a hook and loop material to be able to Velcro light items to the walls.

I’m planning on running a bunch of flanged L track on the sides as well as the top corners of the van to use for mule bags. (speaking of which, if anybody has any mule bags they like to sell, I’d love to buy them!)

A23006EA-10C1-4CAC-B37E-088AD957E216.png732AE904-3443-4D95-B996-38980B576AA1.jpeg1DBFB5FE-F090-4EFB-A24C-BB15DB40B451.jpeg6EFFBC3C-BC2D-447B-92AA-7EB60B3593FD.jpegC7FFB32C-6358-40C1-8A5E-EEB75256D0CD.jpeg
 

drodio

"Vader" • 2020 170" Crew 4x4
I’d also love to get thoughts on the best flooring material. I picked up some commercial-grade vinyl flooring from Costco. It’s probably too heavy to use but the price is definitely right! Let me know what else people recommend. since we have a lot of kids, we’re looking for something that can sweep sand and dirt out easily versus getting stuck.

I ordered the smartfloor and it should be installed within a couple of weeks so we will have a bunch of rails in the floor we have to work with.
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RVBarry

Well-known member
Hi,
Altro Transfloor is commercial bus vinyl flooring. Looks good, very durable.
They recommend buying a gallon of their ECO 25 glue ($43), and then caulk the edges.
The rolls are 79" wide and are sold in cut quantities at $25.41/linear foot (0.737sqyd).
If you get the woodgrain pattern, you'd have ~10% wastage if you run front to back as the van is not 79" wide, but the other patterns are non-directional.

Rubber coin mat is also popular.

The vinyl planks you got may expand and shrink with temperature changes; you'd need to account for that when installing. They're not as lightweight as rolled flooring.
 

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