Photos Earl Grey, my 2010 Ford Transit Connect Van Conversion

Matt Derrick

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Hey everyone, while I haven't had time to make a video about the van build I've been working on for the past few months, I figured I could at least write about it here and share a few photos as I finish it over the next few months.

I chose the 2010 Ford Transit connect on a bit of a whim; I was looking at ebay ads for all kinds of vehicles. Vans, box trucks, school buses, etc... but I came across a listing for my van starting at $8,000, with a 'make an offer' option. This was weird because it was several thousand dollars under the average asking price for this kind of van (around 11k), and it was in unusually good condition with only 114,000 miles on it. Figuring they'd never accept, I made an offer of $7,000 and to my surprise, they accepted.

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Not only was it an exceptional price, but the transit connect hit all the boxes I was looking for in a new vehicle. Low miles, good mpg (about 25mpg highway), and big enough for me to sleep in and sit up comfortably (although it met this requirement just barely).

The sitting up requirement was especially important since I had previously been living and traveling in my second Prius electric hybrid (a gen 3 2012 with 116k on it), which while amazing on gas mileage, had absolutely no room to sit up in while in bed, and it was starting to feel a bit like a coffin, and it was time to move into something with just a little more room.

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I picked up the van a few hours away from Austin, Texas and took it home to begin work on it. It's former life was as a passenger vehicle for old folks in wheel chairs, maintained by an ambulance company. This meant it came with a wheel chair lift. While a lot of folks swore up and down I could sell the lift for quite a bit of money, seems the market for that kind of thing was a bit saturated in my area, and after over a month of advertising it on both Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, I couldn't find any takers and finally ended up just dropping it off at the local recycling facility.

After that, my first task was to remove the floor and ceiling, which wasn't too difficult, although due to the mounts left over from the wheel chair lift, I had to use an angle grinder to cut the heads off those bolts (they were sealed with locktite and wouldn't come out any other way).

My overall plan for this van was to do a complete "van life" build (although I hate the #vanlife IG culture) with everything I'd need to be comfortable traveling for the next few years. A full solar panel setup, water for showers and drinking, and storage for my camera and computer equipment. During the pandemic I've been fortunate enough to be working a pretty great paying tech job, although I'm very much looking forward to quitting this spring.

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I really wasn't sure how everything I wanted was going to fit on the roof, so I set out to make my own roof rails as detailed in this video so I could put the solar panel I had bought on there and see how much room I had left for the Maxxair Fan I was planning on installing and whatever else I could fit. I used the angle grinder once again to cut the super struts to size and matched the nuts and bolts to the already installed threaded mounts (meaning, no roof hole drilling, yay). This was about half the cost of buying a factory made rack online, and gave me customization options I'll detail later that wouldn't have been possible with a factory rack. I also zip-tied some rubber pads to keep things from rattling around.

IMG_20211229_171600.jpg


Next item on the list was to install sound deadener on the roof and walls. I've seen some folks go crazy with this stuff and cover their vans head to toe, but this stuff (I'm using the killmat brand) is expensive and I'm not trying to create a sound studio cave, just reduce road noise from rattling metal. So I pasted it between the ridges of the roof and any other spots that seems sensible. I'll be doing the same to the floor when the time comes.

One of the biggest jobs was cutting a hole in the roof to make room for the Maxxair fan I mentioned earlier. This is a 12 volt electric van that has 10 different speeds, and can suck air out as well as blow air in. It's probably the most popular 'van life' item to have, since it keeps things cool in the van so I won't be sweating my ass off. Of course, cutting a hole in your roof can be a bit scary.

IMG_20211222_161756.jpg


Placing the 14 x 14 inch cardboard template I made on the ceiling of the van from the inside, I drilled four holes at each corner, then got up on the roof and cut out a square with a jigsaw power tool. To be honest, my cuts weren't that great, and I was kind of afraid I'd screwed it up already. I re-cut the lines to make it more even and when I tested the flange that was going to be in that hole, it just barely fit, but a tight fit is what I wanted anyways, so it worked out. I used a file to sand down the sharp edges of the cut, and applied a silver anti-rust primer paint to the edges to keep it from rusting.

IMG_20211230_144616.jpg


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By this time I'd realized that my van had unusually deep ridges in the roof, and this fan seemed to be meant for flat roofs. A quick internet search and a week later, I had in my hands a template made specifically for providing a flat surface for me fan that filled in the ridges of my van roof, made from machined PVC sold by a couple that sells them on ebay (around $80).

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I used the butyl tape (basically it's sealant that comes on a removable strip) and clamps to seal the frame to the roof, then another layer of butyl tape on top of that and put the fan's plastic frame onto the PVC frame, using bigger clamps this time around (I returned the previous clamps to home depot) to squish it all together. I made sure to use plenty of butyl tape so it was squeezing out quite a bit once I clamped everything down. I'm not taking any chances on water leaks.

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Speaking of which, my next step was to apply a caulking sealant to the outside of the frame, paying special attention to covering everything as well as I could without making a complete mess. While I used a caulking gun to apply everything, I eventually just ended up fingerpainting all around the frame with the caulking until I was satisfied everything was sealed.

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Finally I screwed down the plastic frame the fan would sit on and let it set for about two days. At that point the fan was ready to install. I just dropped it in and screwed in the included screws and it was done! I couldn't believe it. It was probably around 20 hours of work total, but once it was finished, it looked pretty good.

While all the caulking and sealant was setting, I went about installing the rear cargo box on the van. A few weeks back I had an auto garage install a two inch hitch kit that I'd bought on etrailers (I tried to do it myself with a friend first, but it proved too difficult to install without raising on a lift first). The hitch kit was around $170 I believe, and getting it installed was another $160.

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I used the same plastic cargo box from tractor supply co that I'd used on both of my previous Priuses, since it's cheap, light, and can be easily modified. This time around though, I would be using a swinging cargo hitch, so I could swing the cargo box off to the right, and still open the barn doors on the back of the van (which will be important for the shower I'll discuss later). This swinging hitch was fucking expensive at $400, and it was the cheapest one I could find (many go up to $800 or more). So while it certainly hurt the wallet, the end result was pretty neat, and kind of necessary considering how little room there is in this tiny van.

[before and after shots of swing hitch will go here]

IMG_20220108_170453.jpg IMG_20220108_171642_1.jpg

Next up, I used the angle grinder once again to grind off what little rust there was on the floor of the van, then painted over the ground out spots with the silver anti-rust primer I used on the edges of the hole I cut in the roof earlier.

The most recent work on the van has been filling in some of the holes left in the floor from the wheel chair lift mounts. To fix this I used a product called steelstik. Making sure to wear plastic gloves, you mix the putty together and it solidifies hard as rock. So I used this along with pennies I had to cover and fill the holes, and it turned out pretty well.

That's where I'm at for now. In my next post I'll be showing how I plan to mount a vehicle awning and screen room to the side of the van. My goal is to finish this build by the time I leave Texas in May, so I'll keep updating this thread as things progress.

Future plans include:

  • Installing wood floors, walls, ceiling
  • Installing a 10 gallon water tank (drinking water)
  • Installing a solar shower
  • Microwave
  • Solar panel system, including a 200ah lithium battery and 230w panel
  • Electrical and plumbing
  • Bed and under-bed storage area

Of course, let me know if you have questions or suggestions!
 

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roguetrader

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looks like a really good buy Matt - you know it's going to have been well maintained / serviced coming from that background.... I know a couple of people with the same era Connect over here in England and they've both been very happy with them....

what size engine is it ? I'm presuming it's gas - they're all diesel over here...
 
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Coywolf

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Hey everyone, while I haven't had time to make a video about the van build I've been working on for the past few months, I figured I could at least write about it here and share a few photos as I finish it over the next few months.

I chose the 2010 Ford Transit connect on a bit of a whim; I was looking at ebay ads for all kinds of vehicles. Vans, box trucks, school buses, etc... but I came across a listing for my van starting at $8,000, with a 'make an offer' option. This was weird because it was several thousand dollars under the average asking price for this kind of van (around 11k), and it was in unusually good condition with only 114,000 miles on it. Figuring they'd never accept, I made an offer of $7,000 and to my surprise, they accepted.

View attachment 67377

Not only was it an exceptional price, but the transit connect hit all the boxes I was looking for in a new vehicle. Low miles, good mpg (about 25mpg highway), and big enough for me to sleep in and sit up comfortably (although it met this requirement just barely).

The sitting up requirement was especially important since I had previously been living and traveling in my second Prius electric hybrid (a gen 3 2012 with 116k on it), which while amazing on gas mileage, had absolutely no room to sit up in while in bed, and it was starting to feel a bit like a coffin, and it was time to move into something with just a little more room.

View attachment 67355

I picked up the van a few hours away from Austin, Texas and took it home to begin work on it. It's former life was as a passenger vehicle for old folks in wheel chairs, maintained by an ambulance company. This meant it came with a wheel chair lift. While a lot of folks swore up and down I could sell the lift for quite a bit of money, seems the market for that kind of thing was a bit saturated in my area, and after over a month of advertising it on both Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, I couldn't find any takers and finally ended up just dropping it off at the local recycling facility.

After that, my first task was to remove the floor and ceiling, which wasn't too difficult, although due to the mounts left over from the wheel chair lift, I had to use an angle grinder to cut the heads off those bolts (they were sealed with locktite and wouldn't come out any other way).

My overall plan for this van was to do a complete "van life" build (although I hate the #vanlife IG culture) with everything I'd need to be comfortable traveling for the next few years. A full solar panel setup, water for showers and drinking, and storage for my camera and computer equipment. During the pandemic I've been fortunate enough to be working a pretty great paying tech job, although I'm very much looking forward to quitting this spring.

View attachment 67356

View attachment 67378

I really wasn't sure how everything I wanted was going to fit on the roof, so I set out to make my own roof rails as detailed in this video so I could put the solar panel I had bought on there and see how much room I had left for the Maxxair Fan I was planning on installing and whatever else I could fit. I used the angle grinder once again to cut the super struts to size and matched the nuts and bolts to the already installed threaded mounts (meaning, no roof hole drilling, yay). This was about half the cost of buying a factory made rack online, and gave me customization options I'll detail later that wouldn't have been possible with a factory rack. I also zip-tied some rubber pads to keep things from rattling around.

View attachment 67363

Next item on the list was to install sound deadener on the roof and walls. I've seen some folks go crazy with this stuff and cover their vans head to toe, but this stuff (I'm using the killmat brand) is expensive and I'm not trying to create a sound studio cave, just reduce road noise from rattling metal. So I pasted it between the ridges of the roof and any other spots that seems sensible. I'll be doing the same to the floor when the time comes.

One of the biggest jobs was cutting a hole in the roof to make room for the Maxxair fan I mentioned earlier. This is a 12 volt electric van that has 10 different speeds, and can suck air out as well as blow air in. It's probably the most popular 'van life' item to have, since it keeps things cool in the van so I won't be sweating my ass off. Of course, cutting a hole in your roof can be a bit scary.

View attachment 67361

Placing the 14 x 14 inch cardboard template I made on the ceiling of the van from the inside, I drilled four holes at each corner, then got up on the roof and cut out a square with a jigsaw power tool. To be honest, my cuts weren't that great, and I was kind of afraid I'd screwed it up already. I re-cut the lines to make it more even and when I tested the flange that was going to be in that hole, it just barely fit, but a tight fit is what I wanted anyways, so it worked out. I used a file to sand down the sharp edges of the cut, and applied a silver anti-rust primer paint to the edges to keep it from rusting.

View attachment 67364

View attachment 67365

By this time I'd realized that my van had unusually deep ridges in the roof, and this fan seemed to be meant for flat roofs. A quick internet search and a week later, I had in my hands a template made specifically for providing a flat surface for me fan that filled in the ridges of my van roof, made from machined PVC sold by a couple that sells them on ebay (around $80).

View attachment 67366

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View attachment 67368

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I used the butyl tape (basically it's sealant that comes on a removable strip) and clamps to seal the frame to the roof, then another layer of butyl tape on top of that and put the fan's plastic frame onto the PVC frame, using bigger clamps this time around (I returned the previous clamps to home depot) to squish it all together. I made sure to use plenty of butyl tape so it was squeezing out quite a bit once I clamped everything down. I'm not taking any chances on water leaks.

View attachment 67371

Speaking of which, my next step was to apply a caulking sealant to the outside of the frame, paying special attention to covering everything as well as I could without making a complete mess. While I used a caulking gun to apply everything, I eventually just ended up fingerpainting all around the frame with the caulking until I was satisfied everything was sealed.

View attachment 67372

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Finally I screwed down the plastic frame the fan would sit on and let it set for about two days. At that point the fan was ready to install. I just dropped it in and screwed in the included screws and it was done! I couldn't believe it. It was probably around 20 hours of work total, but once it was finished, it looked pretty good.

While all the caulking and sealant was setting, I went about installing the rear cargo box on the van. A few weeks back I had an auto garage install a two inch hitch kit that I'd bought on etrailers (I tried to do it myself with a friend first, but it proved too difficult to install without raising on a lift first). The hitch kit was around $170 I believe, and getting it installed was another $160.

View attachment 67379

I used the same plastic cargo box from tractor supply co that I'd used on both of my previous Priuses, since it's cheap, light, and can be easily modified. This time around though, I would be using a swinging cargo hitch, so I could swing the cargo box off to the right, and still open the barn doors on the back of the van (which will be important for the shower I'll discuss later). This swinging hitch was fucking expensive at $400, and it was the cheapest one I could find (many go up to $800 or more). So while it certainly hurt the wallet, the end result was pretty neat, and kind of necessary considering how little room there is in this tiny van.

[before and after shots of swing hitch will go here]

View attachment 67375 View attachment 67376

Next up, I used the angle grinder once again to grind off what little rust there was on the floor of the van, then painted over the ground out spots with the silver anti-rust primer I used on the edges of the hole I cut in the roof earlier.

The most recent work on the van has been filling in some of the holes left in the floor from the wheel chair lift mounts. To fix this I used a product called steelstik. Making sure to wear plastic gloves, you mix the putty together and it solidifies hard as rock. So I used this along with pennies I had to cover and fill the holes, and it turned out pretty well.

That's where I'm at for now. In my next post I'll be showing how I plan to mount a vehicle awning and screen room to the side of the van. My goal is to finish this build by the time I leave Texas in May, so I'll keep updating this thread as things progress.

Future plans include:

  • Installing wood floors, walls, ceiling
  • Installing a 10 gallon water tank (drinking water)
  • Installing a solar shower
  • Microwave
  • Solar panel system, including a 200ah lithium battery and 230w panel
  • Electrical and plumbing
  • Bed and under-bed storage area

Of course, let me know if you have questions or suggestions!
About time you got a van, Matt! 😁

Looks like an awesome project.
 
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Matt Derrick

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Thank you for the compliments, it's turning out pretty well so far despite my complete lack of auto/carpentry experience :p

So one of the things I've had lying around is a 10 gallon water tank, meant for jeeps overlanding. I bought it for my Prius but never got around to installing it. Fortunately, it fits great behind Earl's seats. Mostly. There was about two inches of plastic I needed to shave off the center console with a hacksaw to get the tank to sit completely flush with the ground floor of the vehicle.

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Eventually, this tank will be plumbed up with hoses and a pump and routed to a sink, although I haven't decided where the sink will go yet. The original idea was to use this tank for both drinking and shower water, but I've decided on a different plan for the shower, which I will cover in a future post.

Another cool attachment I got recently is a six foot wide by eight foot awning and tent room!

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As you can see, this came from Ironman 4x4, which was having a sale, so I got the awning and attachable tent room for a total of $400. This was a pretty incredible deal since the more expensive brands are around $800 and up. I attached this using the included hardware and some left over super strut I had from building the DIY roof rack. I'll include some more detailed photos showing the hardware I used later.

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I did a quick test deployment to make sure there wasn't any defects in the product. This was towards sunset, but it was hot out here in Texas and it was already making a big difference in keeping the sun off my head.

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The above photos show what it looks like with the tent room attachment installed. It wasn't too hard to set up, a bit of a learning curve the first time, but now that I understand how it works, I think I could get it up in about 15 mins max.

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This photo doesn't quite capture the almost staggering amount of livable space this room adds onto the van. It just over doubles the square footage available. I was also really impressed with the quality/sturdiness of the tent material. I could definitely set up 3-4 chairs and a table to watch a movie in here with friends. Not pictured is the detachable tent floor, so the whole thing does seal up and become mosquito-proof. The doors also roll up and have full screen doors to let a ton of air flow through.
 
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Matt Derrick

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My next goal was to get the floor installed. I debated between a bunch of different methods, from gluing directly to the floor to using farings, but I ended up settling on just screwing it directly to the floor with screws that were just long enough to penetrate. My biggest concern was not hitting the gas tank, which is just under the floor on the right hand side behind the passenger seat.

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A few months back I purchased some sheep's wool, which I will be using for insulation throughout the van. It's anti-microbial, fire resistant, moisture wicking, high R-value, etc, etc... it was $150 for one bag, which covers 100 sq ft, which should be plenty for this small of a vehicle. As you can see above, I cut it into three inch strips, and lined the indented parts of the floor with it. I don't plan on going anywhere super cold, so I opted to not put insulation on the raised parts of the floor, since this would save me another 1/2 to 1" of headroom height.

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This is the floor for the van. It's a single sheet of Birch plywood, cost was around $45. The width of the board was exactly right for the width between the wheel wells of the vehicle so I just had to cut off about two feet from the top (home depot sold these in 4' x 8' sheets). I went about sanding the board before painting it with wood stain to seal and protect it from moisture.

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I could have sworn I took pictures of the painting process, but I can't find them. This is what the wood looked like after drying. I did about two coats on each side. It turned out much more red than I had anticipated, but it still looks pretty good. The black railing sitting on the wood in the picture above is the 1/2 inch aluminum trim I bought from home depot to install along the sides of the floor to protect the wood from splitting or getting damaged from kicking feet.

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I painted the aluminum a matte black with spray paint made for metals. I then glued the trim on the corners of the wood using clear gorilla glue. I did a real shit job of cutting the aluminum pieces with my angle grinder (probably should have used a Dremel) but you can't really notice it all that much once it's attached to the floor.

I then laid the flooring down on the floor to find out it was basically 2-3 mm too wide (the kilmat was getting in the way) so I spent an hour sanding down the corners of the wood until it fit. At this point I was ready to screw the board down into the steel floor of the vehicle.

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This is where I started to run into some problems. I'm not 100% sure why, but I literally broke one drill bit for every two screws I put down. I think the bit was getting tangled in the sheep wool, and causing too much tension at the pointed end, because the drill bit always broke in the half way point and I'd have to dig out the bit from the hole. Very frustrated, I managed to get five screws solidly into the metal floor through the wood. The sixth just spun in place and wouldn't bite into the steel. At this point I gave up and decided this was good enough, since the floor certainly wasn't going anywhere (I did a shake/push test) and once the bed and storage was on here, you wouldn't even see this floor most of the time.

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This is what it looks like as of today. It's pretty solid, and the trim is holding well with the glue. You might notice that there's no trim on the left and right; that's on purpose. I'll be cutting custom wood pieces for the forward and rear sides of the wheel wells, installing those, then completing the trim.
 
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Matt Derrick

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So I finished the bed frame about two weeks ago. I initially started out with a twin size bed, using 2x4s for the frame, and a kreg pocket hole jig:

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That pocket hole jig was pretty great, it lets you drill diagonal holes in wood that hold screws super tight so you don't have to use a bunch of bracing wood.

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The above photo is the 'finished' twin size bed frame. It was okay, but after laying in it for a bit, I decided to expand out the sides into a frame that would fit a full size mattress instead. This just made more sense to have a big open area in the van than little closets on the sides. After living in it for week in New Orleans, I'm glad I went with the bigger bed. It's also easier to haul around a bunch of my friends in relative comfort.

Eventually, there will be two slide out drawers here for storing gear.

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The platform ended up being about 11 inches from the floor, which was good since it left about 4-5 inches above my head so my head wouldn't be hitting the ceiling. Once the 6" mattress was installed, I'd have about 3" of head room which was just about perfect for me. As you can see in the photos above, I didn't want to put pressure directly on the water tank behind the driver's seats, so I built the angled brace you see there. It fully supports my 300 lb weight on the edge without bending. The whole structure is incredibly sturdy; I tried really hard to bend/break it and it stood up to my abuse, so It's not going anywhere.

Side note, the open space in the photo above is going to be where a microwave will be going. The other side of the same space will be where most of the electrical stuff (inverter, fuse box, etc) will go.

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I was actually kind of shocked how nice this looked once I got it installed. This cabinet took around 6-7 hours to build, and the whole time it kinda looked like junk. It wasn't until I took a router tool to it, sanded it, and then stained it that it actually started to look like a real piece of (imperfect) furniture. I don't have a photo of it, but the sag in the middle was alleviated by screwing a long screw through the plastic of the shelf up into the wood block so now it looks pretty good.

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I liked how the 'antique walnut' stain turned out on the cabinet so much that I took it too the bed frame as well. I was too lazy to take out the whole frame, so I just painted the stain on the wood as far back under the frame as I could reach. So far no one's been the wiser, and everyone I've shown has been pretty impressed with how it looks.

You might have noticed the elevated 2x4 frame in the last shot there; this is because the lithium battery I got was 11 inches, but the terminals were about another inch higher. I wanted to protect the terminals, so I built the frame in order to keep myself from touching them. Eventually, there will be a wall to the left of the batter that will hold the solar controller, fuse box, emergency cut off switch, and other wiring. This side of the van (driver's side) will kind of act like a 'garage' for the electrical system, and I'll mostly only be getting out on the passenger side door.

IMG_20220327_161804.jpg


This is a photo of my roommates Patrick and Drew, testing out the bed. I bought a Modway Aveline 6" Gel Infused Memory Full Mattress for about $225. It was expensive, sure, but I wasn't going to take any chances on a cheapo mattress, since I started to have some sciatica issues earlier this year. This was the best memory foam mattress I could find for a semi-reasonable price that had a gel cooling top and I could cut to fit the contours of the van wall and frame. I used a box cutter to cut small chunks out of the driver side of the mattress and a portion of the mattress underneath for the 2x4 that is protecting the battery. This way the mattress laid completely flat, and honestly you'd be really hard pressed to tell there was a 2x4 under it near the driver's side door.

I don't have detailed photos, but if you look closely, at the pics above, I removed the passenger seat so I could fit my huge 60L ICECO 12v fridge. I'll explain why it was done this way in a future reply to this thread.

So, that's where I'm at for the moment. I took the van to New Orleans for a week and it felt great. Honestly started to feel like a home. I can't wait to get the electrical wiring finished. That and finishing the walls will likely come next. The solar shower and rear drawers will likely be the last things needed to be done, so hopefully I can get it all done here before I leave in July.
 

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Matt Derrick

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Well, shit. I wrote all that above and realized that I forgot to post about finishing the ceiling a few weeks back, so forgive me for skipping around here a bit.

IMG_20220304_145951.jpg


I got some cheap furring strips from the home depot and screwed those into the ribs of the ceiling of the van. Using some twine (I saw this in a youtube video) I used a staple gun to run the twine back and forth to make a space where the sheep's wool would hang.

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I was going to use the usual tongue and groove wood paneling, but the home depot near me was out of it. I ended up finding boxes of reclaimed pallet wood that I actually like the look of much better (pics below).

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It wasn't difficult, but it took most of a whole day to finish, since I had to pre-drill the holes for the screws before putting the screws in to keep the wood from cracking/splitting. I was a bit worried about how the screws would look and the unevenness of the wood, but it actually really lent itself to the 'rustic cabin' look i was going for anyways, so I really like how it turned out. I need to put the trim on the ceiling fan and run the wiring under the panels to the fuse box, but after that the ceiling will pretty much be done. I liked the wood enough that I bought another box and will be using it on the walls as well. I plan to run led lighting hidden under the wall panels, but it's kind of hard to explain so I'll have to demonstrate with some photos in a future post.
 
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The rear doors had some soiled cruddy looking back panels, so I got around to replacing them a few weeks ago. I used this stain, which was the same I used on the upper cabinet and the bed frame:

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I used the old panels to make an easy template on the new wood, cut them from that template, then sanded and routered the edges before applying the stain. End result was pretty good:

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I had put kilmat sound deadener on the walls early in the build, but it was finally time to put some insulation and more boards on them to give it a more finished look. I used the same wood planks that I used on the ceiling. Using cardboard, I traced a pattern for the wall, then used that template to cut out a very thin (1/8 inch) backing board (not pictured) that was screwed directly into the steel of the wall at points where the screws wouldn't go all the way through to the outside layer.

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I used this backing board to screw the wood planks to, since the board could mount to the steel with only 4-6 screws, and the wood planks needed at least four screws per board, which would have been a pain to do directly into the steel.

The left and right wall panels when finished:

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Matt Derrick

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Next up, it was time to finish the upper wall panels. Following the same technique I used on the wall port windows, I used cardboard to make a template, which I used to cut a thin backing wood (1/8th inch thick) and screw that directly into the steel:

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Before that though, I used the backing as a template for the wood planks. Laying them on top of the template and cutting them to fit. I numbered each piece on the back so I wouldn't lose track of which piece of wood went where. Once the backing board was on the wall, I could now screw each piece onto it. Again, this wood is really prone to splitting, so I pre-drilled the holes into those planks before screwing them to the backing board:

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As you can see in the upper right of the above photo, it didn't match up perfectly, but in my opinion it was close enough. If seeing the edge of the backing board there really bothers me later on, I'll take a dremel to it to trim it up.

There was still space between the ceiling and the walls, so I put two long 1x3 boards along those lengths to cover the insulation there:

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Lastly, before finishing the paneling on the driver's side, I ran the wiring for the ceiling fan and connected it to the battery for a quick test:




Photo of the finished walls:

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One of the things I don't think I've touched on yet is the fact that I decided to remove the passenger seat:

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My reasoning for this was mostly it was a solution to where to put the 12 volt refrigerator. If it put it under the bed, I'd lose a ton of head space, and most of the 12v fridges that were designed to go under spaces like that were ridiculously expensive (800+ dollars for a tiny 10 liter fridge) so I ultimately decided it would be more useful to dedicate the passenger seat area to the fridge and some other things (that I'll cover shortly) instead of just having an area that wasn't going to be used that often (I mostly travel by myself). Besides, any potential passengers I have can use the big, luxurious bed in the back :p

I've always wanted a safe in my vehicle, so I started with a safe I bought on amazon for about $90. I cut up a floor mat carpet and glued it to the walls to add some padding.

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Re-using the bolt holes from the chair itself, I drilled holes into the safe and bolted the safe to the floor.

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This will hold my laptop and travel documents and possibly a few other expensive things. I know this might not deter a dedicated thief with the right tools, but my goal here was mostly to make it as much of a pain in the ass as possible, to deter casual window breaking thieves since I really couldn't afford to replace that laptop and I need it for a lot of the work I do. Either way, even with a crowbar, a thief is going to have a hell of a time getting into this safe.

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I also had to put a couple of 1x3 boards underneath the safe to give it enough clearance so the door would open without hitting the door trim. Next, I would be putting a board on top of the safe, to create a separation between the safe area and where the 12v fridge will go:

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There is two 2x4s drilled directly into the safe, and the board is drilled into the 2x4s. The footwell area in front of the safe I plan to use for storing dirty laundry. I needed to create the extra few inches of height with the 2x4s so I could still open the fill cap on the water tank:

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The fridge sits on top of the board like so:

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The lid opens up towards the bed, so I can reach in and grab a drink from there if I want to. I found an old collapsible storage crate to put between the 12v fridge and the glove box. I'll be using this as a makeshift trash can. I screwed a piece of scrap wood into the board to keep the fridge from moving around:

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and I will be sewing a cover for the fridge soon. this will make it a lot less obvious there's a big expensive fridge sitting there, and also I'll be making it with reflectix, to help insulate the fridge from the sun so the compressor doesn't have to work as hard.
 
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So, my electrical setup is... not professional. I don't claim to know what I'm doing here, so if you see any obvious flaws, please let me know. What I came up with is based on googling and watching a lot of YouTube videos, but it seems to be working pretty well so far.

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My setup is one 206ah lithium battery, with a 240w solar panel and a 20 amp Victron solar controller. I also have a 2200 watt pure sine wave inverter (behind the door in the above photo) that I will be powering a microwave and my laptop from:

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The inverter plugs into the battery terminals directly, but has a 150 amp fuse wired into the positive cable (see above). The solar controller also plugs into the battery directly, but everything else (house electronics, lights, ceiling fan, etc) get their power from the solar controller. There's two 30 amp fuse breakers, one between the solar controller and the battery, and one between the solar controller and the main fuse box on the left.

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These are reset-able breakers, so i can cut off the battery or the house electronics from the system with the push of a button. The fuse box itself has the standard 15 amp vehicle fuses you'd see just about anywhere.

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I only have two fuses inserted at the moment, one for the ceiling fan, and one for the 12v refrigerator. The 12v fridge uses a 'cigarette lighter' style plug, so that's plugged into a 12v socket connector which in turn is connected directly to the fuse box. There are two additional 12v socket connectors (the black cylinder things in the photo above) that will eventually be plugged into the cell phone booster i have (a weboost drive reach) and a 6 usb charging outlet for charging various small electronics (phone, cameras, etc). All the 12v socket connectors have an additional 20 amp fuse in each one.

I'm still looking for a good set of 12v led strip lights so I'll save that for a future post.

The solar controller has bluetooth, so I can check and see how much power is coming in from the panel as well as how much drain is being put on the battery from the house electronics.

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So far, the most I'm getting is 120 watts of power from the solar panel, which is a little more than half of what I should be getting, so I might need to tinker with that a bit. Still, it's enough to keep the battery topped off despite using some heavy wattage appliances like the microwave (900w) and a shopvac (600w) for 15+ minutes at a time.
 
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In addition to the bluetooth app on my phone, I wanted a way to instantly see how the battery was holding up. So I installed this Renogy LCD display (about $80) so I could have an exact 'percentage' gauge so I know how much power I have without having to look at the app and figure out what 12.5v is of however much percent of the batter drained, etc...

While cutting a hole for the display, I accidentally chipped the wood (noooooo....) but I'll dab it up with some more stain later.

I had to run a wire down under the plastic molding to the left on the vehicle and down to a 'shunt' that is placed between the battery and solar controller on the negative cable:

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This display tells me how much battery I have left on a scale of 0-100% and gives me other information like the current drain on the system in amps/watts, and how many minutes of battery time I have based on that drain. Unfortunately, it's only wired up to the house electronics route, not the inverter, so if I'm running the microwave/laptop/AC electronics, it only shows the percentage of the battery that is left (not the exact wattage/amperage the inverter is using). There's probably a better place/way to wire this, but it works for what I need for the time being.

In the meantime, if I need to see how much wattage a particular appliance is using, I can check the digital readout on the inverter itself.
 

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One of my big goals for this project was installing a microwave so I could make quick meals while traveling. I bought a generic "600 watt" microwave for about $60. This is one of the lowest wattage microwaves you can buy, but what they don't tell you is that's only the wattage it cooks the food at, not the actual running wattage of the appliance itself.

For this microwave, the initial start of the device is somewhere around 1500 watts, then it settles down to around 900 watts while cooking. So if you have a 1000 watt inverter (or lower) the microwave will turn off after about 2 seconds of cooking, and your inverter alarm will go off to let you know there's not enough power for the microwave.

My pure sine wave inverter is 2200 watts continuous and I think around 3000 watts peak, so it handles the microwave (by far my most battery draining appliance) fine. If you don't need a microwave (i.e. you're just using a laptop) you could get away with an inverter that is much lower wattage (and much cheaper to buy).

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I also installed a power strip/surge protector (the plug in white). It's plugged directly into the inverter and doesn't need to be turned on (it comes on when the inverter is powered on) but has a turn off switch in case I need it (on the back of the power strip). This particular power strip has 8 outlets and 5 usb ports, which should be plenty for just about anything I'd want to set up in the van.

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I also got these neat AC cut off switches. I wanted to be able to have things plugged into the power strip (like a laptop) without giving power to things I don't need (like the microwave), so this switch lets me cut off power to the microwave when I'm not using it. Some electronics still use a small amount of electricity when turned off, so this prevents that from draining the battery.

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Since the inverter is located pretty deep under the bed, it's a super pain in the butt to turn on and off. Fortunately, most inverters come with a remote switch, so I wired this over to the right side of the van and used a dremel to cut out a place to put it in the plastic trim area of the doorway. Now I can turn it off/on whenever I need to without having to crawl under the bed. I can even hit it with my foot while I'm sleeping in the bed.
 
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So this was the last real big thing I wanted built before leaving Texas. Two big drawers to store food and some film stuff like tripods and the like. These drawers were a pretty big pain in the ass to install. Several times I came close to taking a baseball bat to the whole thing and it took a lot of restraint not to give up on it. The measurements all around were just wonky and off, and I just couldn't get the rails to line up properly. The rails advertised being able to install on the underside and hold up to 250 lbs, but I'd barely trust these rails to hold 50 lbs much less 250, and the drawers wobble way too much. I'm probably going to have to rebuild these at some point with a different railing system, but I'll make due with it for now.

I still have the following on my to do list in the next three weeks:
  • install a solar shower on the roof rack
  • hook up the water tank behind the seats
  • install mounts for laptop and monitor
  • install led strip lights
  • possibly install extra solar panel
  • install DC to DC battery charger
  • move everything into van
 

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