New potential buyer with [conversion] questions, Hello All

Asuperstar

New member
Hi all. I am looking for some advice. I am about to buy my first van. I am not in too much of a time crunch, but I will be buying one in the next two months.

I am selling my house and plan to live in the van for a minimum of a year. I will be in Orange County Ca. Not sure about places to park it yet. I work at night and sleep during the day. My biggest question is about keeping cool in the van. If I am using energy from the van during the day how will it top of the batteries at night? I am not sure about shore power. Can I use a regular 110v plug from a house to top it off? If I run AC during the day can it run from a diesel generator? How much fuel would that use? Does the interior of the van heat up like a car does?

I am sure I will have a ton more questions.

Thanks in advance for any help.
 

marklg

Well-known member
Hi all. I am looking for some advice. I am about to buy my first van. I am not in too much of a time crunch, but I will be buying one in the next two months.

I am selling my house and plan to live in the van for a minimum of a year. I will be in Orange County Ca. Not sure about places to park it yet. I work at night and sleep during the day. My biggest question is about keeping cool in the van. If I am using energy from the van during the day how will it top of the batteries at night? I am not sure about shore power. Can I use a regular 110v plug from a house to top it off? If I run AC during the day can it run from a diesel generator? How much fuel would that use? Does the interior of the van heat up like a car does?

I am sure I will have a ton more questions.

Thanks in advance for any help.
These vans heat up at least as much as a car and really need a fairly large AC. A genset is noisy. People will not want to be near you and there are restrictions in many places. A 110/120 VAC 15A plug can generally run the AC or a battery charger but not both at the same time. Unless you have big bucks, forget about trying to run an AC off batteries, especially during the day, and charging would still be a problem. Solar could not in any way keep up.

So, if you can get shore power, 120 VAC, even 15 A service, that would be ideal for your use case. 20A or 30A would be better. I would get adapters for all three, which use different plugs. Many places won't allow you to live in a van on the street or in a driveway of someone else's home.

Where will you wash? These can't fit huge tanks. You likely can only hold enough water and waste water for a few days without refilling and dumping. Being at an RV campground will eliminate that issue as water and dumping are always available. If you are not, you will spend more time and possibly money finding places to get water and dump.

Regards,

Mark
 

Kajtek1

2015 long/tall limo RV 2.1l
Depends on insulation, but vans do have much bigger sun-absorbing surface, so they tend to heat faster, especially when you have black interior.
Unless you will find a spot with Ocean breeze, you might need AC for day sleeping.
Meaning shore power.
 

ECU

Well-known member
There is a solution for day sleeping.
I had your issue and rented a storage unit. Keeps all your stuff safe.
Back then I had a sedan and pulled in to the storage during the day and pulled the door shut.
The storage place had a rule that there was no overnight privilege. It also had a restroom.
I had a setup where my TV was on a table that the car hood would drive under. So the TV was right outside the car. I'd sleep in the reclining seat and use the remote to watch TV.
 

Kajtek1

2015 long/tall limo RV 2.1l
I was on the market for storage in San Francisco area and car-sized storage cost $600 a month 5 years ago.
They all had flat roofs with no insulation, so 120F inside was common.
 

elemental

Wherever you go, there you are.
I am selling my house and plan to live in the van for a minimum of a year. I will be in Orange County Ca. Not sure about places to park it yet. I work at night and sleep during the day.
Thoroughly research how your van will be classified by your local government entities (county, cities/towns) and what their parking regulations are if you plan to use any public or business accommodations for parking (government lots, public streets, business lots). Some localities, especially those in sought-out areas like southern California, have been overwhelmed by or are extremely wary of people living in RVs and vans and have taken steps to mitigate the impact to public accommodations and/or neighborhoods.

I made a trip down to San Diego a couple of years ago (from Washington) and I was shocked at the San Diego rest areas off of I-5 when I first arrived late at night and didn't want to wake up the friends we were visiting - it was like something out of a dystopian novel with all of the parking completely full of people in cars that looked like they were living there. Driving through some of the beach towns I saw numerous overnight parking restrictions in place.

A van isn't quite as obvious as an RV, but may be considered a "commercial vehicle" which are also sometimes persona non grata. Sometimes just vehicle size is a limiting factor. A van that is identified by the relevant authorities as a "passenger vehicle" may be your best bet. In Washington, my "crew van" with cargo area and back door windows as well as the passenger bench seat is registered as a "passenger vehicle" rather than commercial or RV. In some cases people want an RV classification for insurance purposes, but I think that would work against your intended purpose.
 

elemental

Wherever you go, there you are.
Where will you wash?
To the original poster: consider a gym membership. Get pumped and get clean. Empty your colon and bladder, then toddle off to your (daytime) sleeping area.

Advice from people who make a habit of stealth "camping" includes the idea that you don't do any visible "living" in a selected "sleeping" area. In other words, take care of business (eat/excrete/wash/brush) somewhere other than where you sleep. When you want to sleep, just pull into your chosen sleeping spot, hop into bed, and sleep. When you wake up, jump in the driver's seat and head off to wherever you will take care of that business (excrete/shower/shave or whatever). People will take a lot less notice of just another vehicle parked for the day; no need to get them worked up over that strange person "living in their van".
 

RVBarry

Well-known member
Do you have somewhere to go to work at night, or do you remain parked?

If you get an annual California State Park pass, you can park at the state beaches in OC (Bolsa Chica, Huntington, Crystal Cove, Doheny, San Onofre) for free during the day. Chino Hills State Park has a small parking lot in Brea, but it gets very hot in the summer.
I don't know which ones have overnight camping sites, but they're not included in the pass and can be expensive.
There is free day parking at some other beaches.

A white or silver van will be much cooler than darker colors. Put ceramic tint on all windows and clear ceramic on windshield. Get at least one roof fan and solar panel.
Insulate walls and ceiling.

LA Fitness and 24-Hour are everywhere here, and there are some Planet Fitness.
 
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borabora

Well-known member
I would discreetly try to find out if you can park at your place of work during the day. Other option is to find a parking garage with enough clearance for your van and get a monthly/yearly pass. Gym membership for showering and toilet needs. Porta-potty for emergencies. I think working at night and sleeping during the day solves a lot of potential hassles but not all. Hope for lots of coastal fog.

My wife and I take a walk through a local state park most mornings. An old guy in an old class C RV pulls in every morning and stays there for the day. No idea what he does during the night. I assume he has a yearly pass which reduces his yearly parking cost to about $0.40 a day. There are restrooms in the park. I have never seen anyone hassle him.
 

Asuperstar

New member
Thanks, everyone for the advice. I am a local law enforcement officer, so I may get a pass on parking during the night. I have a 24 hours membership and was planning on using it for showers. I have a device that circulates cold water through a pad you sleep on. It draws 150watts and hour. I was thinking I could buy two 100Watt Jackery or Bluetti. I could use one while the other is solar charging.
 

marklg

Well-known member
Thanks, everyone for the advice. I am a local law enforcement officer, so I may get a pass on parking during the night. I have a 24 hours membership and was planning on using it for showers. I have a device that circulates cold water through a pad you sleep on. It draws 150watts and hour. I was thinking I could buy two 100Watt Jackery or Bluetti. I could use one while the other is solar charging.
Careful about numbers and units. Sellers are often not clear about actual usage. If you mean it draws 150 Watts and is on all of the time, in an hour it will draw 150 Watt-Hours. If you need to run it for 12 hours, you need 12 X 150 or 1800 Watt-Hours. The Jackery or Bluetti's are kind of expensive for what they are. A 2000 Watt-Hour Bluettin will cost you $2000 and you would need two of them. I assume you will plan to plug in and charge them somewhere else. 150 Watts sounds like a lot for a pump. I'm not sure it will make you as comfortable as you like.

For us, airflow is king to comfort if the AC is not running. We have screened, dark tinted, openable windows all around and a fantastic fan for exhausting air on the roof. There is fresh air that flows across the bed. That works fairly well in coastal Northern California down to Ventura and we did not have to use the AC at all, even in the middle of the summer. We did use the AC in San Diego, but the beach park there has electricity hookups. We did not stay anywhere in Orange County, as it was hard to find a place to park. I'm sure there will be spells of hot weather, but if you can get a shower at a 24 hour fitness, you are way ahead. We took 2 gallon Navy showers in the Van, not nearly as satisfying. We moved and replaced water every three days or so.

Make sure the numbers all line up before you buy something that turns out not to be workable.

Regards,

Mark
 

Midwestdrifter

Engineer In Residence
If you need to sleep when it's hot, a tiny AC unit for cooling a bed area can be run from a larger solar array with enough surplus for battery charging.

This requires a full electrical system, not a portable battery and a single solar panel.

You really need to completely flesh out your usage case before you move too much further. you will need to know your temps, shore power availability and electrical needs much more precisely. If that's beyond your ability, pay a pro to consult.

Failing to perform due diligence will cost you both time and money.
 

tDot

Active member
You can 100% run AC during the day from battery. Plus with some driving and a 2nd Alternator you can feed the batteries some substantial additional amperage. You'll need to investigate Lithium batteries and I'd stay away from the all in one solutions, they are too expensive for what you get.
Google 'Will Prowse' lots of diy techniques and technology to be learned from him.

You'll want to maximize your insulation. Seriously consider spray insulation. It is the most effective thermal and moisture barrier you can install in a van. It does require skill to install it properly. I only recommend closed cell foam.

Then investigate having tinting installed on the windows to stop thermal loading from the windows. Absolutely buy a white van. I've also seen wraps and paints that reflect heat as well, but they can get pricey.

There are a number of 12v AC options on the market. If you can keep air moving and drop it's temperature by even 10- 20 degrees you'll sleep much more comfortably. If you want the temp to be 68 degrees all the time, then that becomes much more difficult to achieve.
 

tDot

Active member
A couple things that make day time cooling more effective. Park in the shade, and ensure the shade will stay on the van as the sun moves. Consider an insulated curtain within the van. If you can close off you sleeping area and keep your sleeping area cooler then the rest of the van, then you can minimize the load requirements on the AC system.
 

Asuperstar

New member
A couple things that make day time cooling more effective. Park in the shade, and ensure the shade will stay on the van as the sun moves. Consider an insulated curtain within the van. If you can close off you sleeping area and keep your sleeping area cooler then the rest of the van, then you can minimize the load requirements on the AC system.
How does affect the solar recharge?
 

borabora

Well-known member
How does affect the solar recharge?
It shuts off solar power nearly completely. This is the problem with "solar cooling." If you park in the sun you have power to run your AC but heat up your van. If you park in the shade nearly all solar power generation is gone.
But, since you are in SoCal where coastal ambient temps are not usually in the 80s or above, ventilation can be more effective than AC. If you are parked in the shade and have good ventilation you can keep inside temperatures reasonable. This assuming you are not inland.
If you want to install battery-powered AC, which is expensive, then your best bet would be to charge overnight using 120V and then park in the shade running the AC when needed.
I am fa an of solar because most people end up in the sun a lot but sleeping in your van during the day and trying to cool it at the same time using solar is very difficult. Combined with not driving much, the only solution seems to be charging from the grid if you want battery powered AC.
 

marklg

Well-known member
There is a basic problem with trying to run an Air Conditioner from Solar Power on the roof. You have to park in the sun. Solar panels are at most about 20% efficient. The rest of the energy is absorbed as heat. Any sun on the side of your van is also absorbed as heat. Having a lot of insulation is not easy. So, you have 80% of the solar energy hitting the roof being converted to heat. You have another 100% of the solar energy hitting the side of the van facing the sun being converted to heat. Refrigeration moves about four times as much heat as the energy it uses to do so. So, that 20% of the solar energy converted to electricity can just barely keep up with the 80% of the solar energy that is converted to heat on the roof and has the extra 100% hitting the side to contend with. It's just not a winning proposition. You might be able to do it with more panel area like Orion's sliding triple panels, shading of the van itself, large air spaces below the panels, reflectors, etc. That will be both expensive and far from stealthy.

As I said before, parking in cooler places and relying on ventilation has worked well for us up the California coast. That would be hopeless here in the AZ desert. Plugging in to shore power or running the generator barely keeps up with things when it is 115 outside.

Regards,

Mark
 

tDot

Active member
How does affect the solar recharge?
You wouldn't be charging the battery while in the shade. Sorry, I was unclear, I was strictly referring to maintaining a cool van. You may find that in a properly designed and managed system that you'll only need the solar for part of the day and you may see greater total system benefits from parking in the shade for a portion of the day.

This will all depend on your useage and potential charging cycles. For example, you may find that you need an hour or two of morning sun to recover the batteries from the nighttime useage. Once the batteries are fully topped up, you move into the shade and only use a small percentage of the AC's total output to stay cool, while you sleep. Then if you pull the van back into the sun for late afternoon and add say an hour of charging from the Alternator while driving, you may find you'll start the night with a full charge or even a substantial but incomplete charge, but you'll get enough solar and time driving in the AM to start the cycle all over again. This may not be truly representative of your situation, but depending on how you set your system up, there can be quite alot of flexibility in how you utilize it.
 

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