The journey of >1000 steps begins... a 2021 3500xd 170 crew


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Well, here goes... I'm pretty new to this forum and I've been reading for a while now. I'm inspired by folks like Hein, gltrimble, and others who've done some really remarkable things with their builds. We've taken the plunge and ordered a van, it should get here around the end of August.

The research is well underway. The planning is coming together though there are so many questions still floating around. I'm hoping to get a plan together and pre-order most of the parts/material needed (similar to another thread). Here's some context. We need to handle our family of 5 with Mom, Dad, + 3 kids who are small now but will be teenagers/young adults in the lifespan of the van. We plan to take full advantage of 4 seasons in the van in the Canadian rockies (+40c/104f to -40c/-40f) + other great spots with trips of a week or more off-grid. Many no doubt will be to campgrounds with plug-ins and showers, but those are the easier use cases. Mountain biking, fat biking, and skiing (xc/resort/bc), and paddle sports are favourite activities, closely followed (pre-ceded even?) by eating delicious food!

Here's my thoughts so far for pokes, prods, ideas and feedback of all kinds... this is still pretty early but I wanted to see if anyone had any thoughts to share. Initially I'm stunned by the ingenuity and range of ideas that are out there to make these camper vans amazing, and a bit intimidated by the sheer number of hours it'll take (even if we get some help with parts of it) to make this all work. So far it seems like a giant and wonderful idea but with the order placed it feels more like a rough plan that needs to be firmed up and detailed out.

Base + options - 2021 3500xd crew 170 van. H12 for pre-heater, some comfort/convenience packages/touch screen, swivel seats, tow hitch, roof rails

Seating - thinking of leaving the 3 seat bench that comes with it for now. Seems cost effective.

Insulation - I like the momentum behind thinsulate, I'm looking seriously at the thread on lizard skin (sound+thermal break) with aerogel blankets. The lizard skin I don't think of as insulation so much as more of a thermal break layer to help manage condensation. That aerogel stuff is expensive but wow it has something approaching r10/" and can be compressed just about flat + still work at 90%+ effectiveness (though I confess I just skimmed one of the more technical reports on it so might have that detail wrong). I'm looking to avoid the oilcan effect from spray foam so thinking perhaps just the pillars/voids for that. The window covers will take some special planning - perhaps something with magnets and a sandwich of some good stuff that's still flexible.

Water - I like the wheel-well tanks, aiming for one on each side, perhaps putting the grey tank below if I can insulate it well + add a heating pad for the really cold days. Aiming for 44-64G, final size tbd. Looking at 12v heat trace wire for any potentially exposed piping outside the main interior warm space or against outside walls that aren't really well insulated. Might do the rear wash-station/connection.

Layout - leaning towards a galley kitchen (who isn't?) with sink towards the door side and perhaps a range on the driver side (would need under-mount propane). Something close to what gltrimble has but minus the dedicated shower and we have a bit less length for cabinets due to the 3 seater on the passenger side but are keeping the factory bench seat so would have a little more space behind the bench than he had since I think he moved his back. I've seen a few drawer systems where the bottom drawer is the shower basin and a curtain wraps around you that look interesting. Would like to have a shower like pull-out hose for the kitchen sink so it can reach outside or inside if we go for the shower-drawer idea. Looking at everyone sleeping lengthwise and using a 3-story approach for small-ish garage down (electric/power/skis), 2nd "story" for 3 kids to sleep with some divider between them to make long bunks to slide into, and a 3rd one for mom/dad. If we can figure it out, I'd love to be able to reconfigure the back somehow between sleeping bunks and a sitting area (that will take some engineering but would make the super cold/wet days easier to deal with while kids are smaller). Looking at a removable table to go between the bench and the swivel seats for the main eating spot. Perhaps a small cassette or composting toilette for those times when outside is just really unappealing, as long as we can hide it in a drawer somehow, perhaps figure out some sort of venting to go with that. L-track running end-to-end to help attach cabinets/gear/etc.

Kitchen - leaning to the bigger isotherm fridge since in a few years we'll have two adults and 3 hungry teenagers to feed. A sink that we can cover and is deep enough to actually do some dishes while still covering over. Not sure about the range, but an oven would be wonderful if we can squeeze it in. I have seen force10 and a few other brands. Curious how others have found these, I saw one RV range that the video I watched described flame-outs.

Cabinets - I like the versatility of 80/20 and saw another post where velcro and magnets were used to make some access panels. I think I'd still like to firmly attach most panels and have a bias to drawers. Aiming for a wood look overall though except the corners/edges that we see with 80/20

Hitch - bikes go here on our north shore rack, need a folding arm to move the hitch out of the way. Locking the bikes is something I'm not yet sure about, but it'll need to be good + solid.

Vent / Windows - plan for two sliding windows at the back near sleeping area + maxxfan 7000k. Hoping to avoid AC except the factory van system in the cab and compensate with extra good insulation + window covers.

Electrical - The details of this are still really preliminary... I have my eye on these batteries (maybe 3 of them for ~900ah 12v) Thinking about a 2nd alternator, or just feeding off the main vehicle one. looking for ~900w of solar, found a few solar panels that could do it in 3 units but they might stick out the sides a few inches. Would like to be able to run a dehydrator most nights, especially in winter or rainy/wet nights. With the fridge, lights, heater pad/cables, dehydrator, and some other things I'm coming out to about 2000watt hr/d, maybe 2500 on really cold/wet days but maybe then the fridge won't need to work as hard??

Heating - I stumbled on this VanLifeTech hydronic heating system with heated floor that I'm loving the idea of since it seems like it could really solve quite a few 4-season van challenges. I would still need some sort of forced air system like an Espar to help dry boots and so on. I'm imagining some sort of multi-boot drying vents to plug in to ski boots perhaps routed off the heater.

Anyway... there's the idea as it's coming together. Figured I'd start to share the early ideas and call it the first bits of a paper-prototype.


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