Choosing the right DC wire for your van.

Current flows through electronics is converted to energy and measured in amps.

Since a wire that is too small can overheat and eventually catch fire its important that you choose the correct wire.

How to use the chart

  • Locate the amps: Most electronic devices include a ratings chart either as a label on the device or a document accompanying the device.
  • Measuring how long: Measure the distance from the source (battery) to the device then multiply by 2. The total length of the measurement is called the circuit round-trip.
  • Determine the allowable voltage drop: Voltage drop is the decrease of electrical potential across connectors. Voltage drop in your home, for example, is when you turn on a fan and the lights flicker. Electronic devices (such as tablets, cell phone, laptops are) sensitive to voltage drops and are considered critical devices.

Example:

  • You have a refrigerator rated at 80 amps and determine it is not a critical device.
  • Locate the Non-critical column on the chart.
  • You’ve measure the distance from the battery and the electronic device and determine the distance to be 25 feet.
  • To get the round-trip total multiply by 2. (25 x 2 = 50)
  • From the non-critical column slide your finger down on the chart until you locate 50 ft.
  • Slide your finger to the right and locate 80A (amps).
  • 80 amps at 50 feet require 4 AWG wire.

Questions and Answers

Q: Is it okay to use a wire that is larger than needed?

A: A wire too large for the circuit is not a problem; it costs more. But you should be fine.

Q: How warm can a wire get before I should be concerned?

A: A warm wire indicates that the load (current) flowing through the wire is higher than the wire is rated for and could potentially melt or weaken the sleeve preventing and protecting the circuit from shorting out on the other wire causing a fire.

Another note:

If you plan to run more than one device on a wire. Add the amps together to determine the correct wire size.

Q: Can I safely hook up a tinkle charger to my batteries.

A: Yes it’s okay to use a trickle charger. You don’t want to over charge your batteries so make sure you have a device to warn you or a trickle charger that will not over charge your batteries by shutting off. I have one for my motorcycle, that shuts off and on when needed.

Overcharging a battery will heat the battery, cause swelling and smell like rotten eggs.

Q: How many batteries can I add.

A: You can charge as many batteries together as you like but all of the batteries must be the same amps. You cannot mix 35ah batteries with smaller or large amps.

You also do not want to mix battery types. If you purchased acid batteries, then use all acid batteries.

Common Van Life Questions:

Q: Does anyone know where I can get a tent that attaches to a full size van?

A: Napier SUV/Minivan Tents

Q: I’m new to solar can you help me.

A: There are two places you can go to get the answers you need. Solar usage calculator is helpful if you want to know how many hours you can run your electronic devices before your battery is dead go here. The second are is my blog.

Solar Usage Calculator

This is a tool for determining how many hours you can run one or more devices on your 12 volt or 24 volt system. This tool also does calculations for using a inverter.

Video Tutorial

Message from Vue:

Upcoming upgrades and feature enhancements

May 15, 2020 – Add the ability to save and reload personal settings. Delayed until August 2020.

Cabinet design & installation

I had a very difficult time finding a good way to store dishes, dry food, cleaning supplies, clothes. The problem wasn’t storage, I had plenty of that. The problem I needed to solve was to make it easy to access without shifting things around.

Because things were stored in the stowaway compartment or under the bed getting to them, in this small space, was a frustrating process. I wanted a build where I’d never have to open the doors to get to things and avoid shifting things around to access other areas.

For temporary storage I purchased this from Walmart.

On April 17th It was 71 degrees and I decided I wouldn’t wait until my vacation in May to start the work.

I ordered a new mini refrigerator which will be delivered this weekend. I plan to mount and enclose the fridge inside the storage area near the kitchen.

Then I have to design the shelves for storing dishes, food, clothes, etc.

April 21, 2020 Amazon Delivery

My Amazon shipment arrived with my variable resistor (potentiometers) arrived and my reading lights.

The reading lights will be in the tiny office and the other mounted in bedroom on the newly created storage cabinet.

I choose the reading lights for several reasons.

  • The soft light won’t keep me up at night
  • On and Off is controlled by touch
  • Dimming is controlled by touch
  • It’s good for reading
  • It’s 12V DC
  • Night light
  • Rotates

Fans installation

These are potentiometers, most commonly used in homes and businesses as a dimmer switch.

My plan

The potentiometers will be controlling fan (air flow) variance. The fans are planned to arrive tomorrow. I will photograph them and provide you with some plans.

April 25th, 2020 Amazon Delivery

My larger refrigerator arrived today. It was taller than I had measured and had a difficult time fitting without dismantling my spice rack. So I cut and cut and finally got it to work. Now the door opens smoothly.

What’s next. Well, I need to cut a panel that would fit on the front.

Need relief from stiffness

My van doesn’t have a lot of space for moving around. The more I add to my van the less room I have for navigating. Some people on the Facebook group were suggesting that I get out of the van and walk. My response to them is that in Washington State during the winter months it rains a lot. Going for a walk would introduce rain into the van, and wet clothes; which isn’t good.

That means in the winter you will be spending a lot of time in the van, so when it’s time to get out of the van stiff joins might make it challenging.

So I wanted a way to solve that problem. In addition, I spend more hours than I can count on the computer writing code and doing software engineering stuff.

While trying to solve stiffness with my shoulder and neck doing exercises I decided to googled around looking for information about muscle relaxers and came across several articles on recommending muscle stimulation instead of ingesting pills. After careful reviews, watching videos and so on, I bought this one for $48.99 on Amazon and thought I’d share it with you.

It really works and helps with stiffness, gets the blood flowing around my neck and shoulders.

I’m not into selling things, but some people always ask for links and I decided to put them here to be helpful. I am a Amazon Affiliate, suggested to me by one Van Lifer. So here it is.

It’s rechargeable, and according to the reviews the battery lasts a long time.

Why I hate inverters

Most electrical systems in builds are build with a house in front of mind.

The light fixtures, refrigeration, stove, all of the outlets are Alternating Current (110 AC).

A van is native to 12 volts DC (Direct Current) which is different from household current which is either rated at 110/120 AC (Alternating Current) and for your stove or hot water heater 220/240 volt AC.

  • The batteries are 12 volt DC
  • The solar panels are 12 volt DC
  • Your van is 12 volt DC

You cannot run household appliances in a van without a method to convert 110/120 AC to 12 DC.

In need of an interpreter

If a household refrigerator plug could talk, it would probably yell to your van, does anyone speak AC? That’s when your inverter answers, I do.

The inverter is a translator. Because the van speaks a different language the inverter serves as a mediator or interpreter between your household appliances and your van.

The translation process takes lots of energy as it translates from one voltage to another. More power is lost when the device is turned on, and less as it is running; but there was power loss during the conversion. Your battery was drained quickly and then slowed. That lowered your available power for the rest of your van.

One for the wise

Your van is native to 12 volts so why not use, buy or whatever 12 volt devices. You may already have 12 volt devices sitting around your house you didn’t know could work in your van.

For example. If you have a computer monitor with a power brick (you know the square thing you drag around with you laptop while it charges). For that reason in the information tech field we call it a brick – drag this brick… anyway! On that brick you will find writing or specifications about the voltage, amps and etc.

The writing tells you how much voltage the brick outputs. If that brick says output 12 volt DC or something like that, then the brick is converting 110 volts AC to 12 volt DC. Great! That computer monitor will work in your van. Cut the part that plugs into the monitor and run the cut end into your van’s 12 volt circuit and now you have a computer monitor.

You will find lots of things in your home that will run off your van — if you look hard enough. TV’s, game consoles, and etc.

Supersonic SC-2211 22-Inch 1080p LED Widescreen HDTV with HDMI Input (AC/DC Compatible)

This blender has it’s own battery. I own one and my wife owns another. I was able to go 5 days blending up to 25 times.

LaHuko Portable Blender Personal Size

This blanket is a life saver if you don’t need to heat the entire van while you sleep. It uses 55 Watts. You can run it off a Jackery Portable Power Station – Explorer 240 all night.

Roadpro 12 volt Polar Fleec Heated Travel Blanket

Why I built my van in modules

If you’ve seen my original photos and compared them to my current van photos you can see my van has undergone lots of remodels.

The first two builds attempted to leave the original van seats and build around it. That was a disaster.

This was my first attempt to build my bed. I would lay the cushion foam down and it would extend onto the middle factor seats.

So I went to Pinterest for ideas.

Spent more money and built this disaster.

What both of these had in common is that they will not work well over time.

The first one was too heavy and wasn’t easy to disassemble. The second was too tall (followed a blueprint off Pinterest) and for my van size (width & height) made it difficult to open.

So I had two problems to solve.

Software development to the rescue

I’m a software engineer by occupation and I deal with lots of projects of many types. There is a process called iterative development and continuous improvement.

You build and deliver functional software in small increments, adding new features and improving functionality over time. Software is developed using isolated modules or containers. A modules share functionality or features with other modules. They are independent of the software and can be removed or replaced without breaking the program.

Building the van in modules

I had a problem in need to solve. I was spending and wasting money on lumber and needed to find a less expensive alternative.

Back in the 1980’s I had a wood working shop. I made custom furniture. My garage was filled with templates I made from drawings. When a customer order something from my catalogue I pulled out my templates and traced them onto wood, then cut them.

The solution

I purchased black foam poster board from the Dollar Store. I measured, cut and taped together my kitchen, then the bed until I got the measurements right.

Every piece added to my build including the side wall can be removed or replaced without needing to remove other things.

Here is an example of the Kitchen build.

Here the foam board becomes my template.
A photo of the bed concept.
I used the foam board to cut and build this.
Added my solar controller.

Its kinda like software testing

As I mentioned before I’m a software engineer, so I thought, why don’t I integrate testing and continuous improvement.

So I went on bi-weekly camping trips for 3 months. Each time testing to see if doing anything feels natural or does it feel confusion, lost or create frustration.

Each change or alteration in my van was designed to solve a problem. The office answered a problem where my laptop kept getting stepped on because there was no place for it.

The relocation of my solar batteries answered the problem about a permanent spot for the batteries where they are out of the way.

The answer to wasting watts used by my 1500 watt inverter was to purchase all electronics as 12 volt DC devices.

Example of my first kitchen design

My first complete sink. But it got an upgrade.

Although this kitchen setup was nice at first and it was usable. I didn’t like how much light and air flow the cabinet blocked.

I removed it and rebuilt the cabinet.

Note the kitchen is removed in this photo. Nothing else was affected by its removal. This is the start of the bedroom wall design. See the foam board against the side wall.
Removed the wall paper and adding adhesive carpeting.
There is also a folding table just below the propane burner. You can see the piano hinge
Any part can be removed and upgraded.
This is the bottom of my bed. There are 3 “L” brackets to hold the bed in place. Remove them and the bed folds and slides out easily.

Privacy & blocking cold or heat

My first design attempted to block out the sun and provide some privacy. There wasn’t much to my van in the beginning. Although I had foam board on the windows to black them out, I didn’t create one for the front.

My privacy, heat retention and sun protection curtains, As of December 2019

Anyone looking through the windshield from the streets could look in my van, so I used a sun screen cover.

Example of the foam board on my front drivers side window.
Velcro hold the material to the back window
The PVC pipe wraps the entire living space.
Side door entry. Unpainted PVC rod, and the custom curtain.

Bathroom

The evolution of the bathroom.

My bathroom has shifted around many times. In this photo it sits between the kitchen sink and the storage shelf.

Deciding if the toilet will fit as I add a wall for the office.

The black adhesive carpet everywhere works really well to stop things from moving.

This is open space and the best place for my toilet.

Without Velcro image the accidents that can happen.

Removed the kitchen so that i can redesign it.