I plan to provide you with a page with all of my van life purchases so that you can have the same satisfaction and gain the same benefits from having them just as I have.
I purchased a portable AC/DC electric cooler/warmer thermometric Mini Fridge for my van back in April from Amazon. It holds 15 Liter/18 cans, it’s large enough for my needs like a weekend vamping trip.
Depending on the settings this unit uses different wattage.
- 12 volt DC Cold 48 Watts
- 12 volt DC Hot 40 Watts
- 120 volt AC Cold 58 Watts
- 120 volt AC Hot 52 Watts
I currently have 2.5 kilowatts of battery in my van. If nothing else is running in my van I can run the refrigerator for about 70 hours before totally draining my batteries.
One challenge with this type of refrigerator (thermometric) is that the running temperature inside is 30 degrees below the ambient temperature in the air. If it is 90 degrees in the van then the temperature inside the refrigerator is about 60 degrees, which isn’t idea for preserving food.
What I really like about the box is that I can use it with 120 volt AC shore power or 12 volt battery.
Making it colder inside
There is one fan on the back that pulls air in to cool the aluminum heat sink inside. The side vents are where the heat dissipates. The fan is really quiet and does a good job pushing the air, but that heat ends up inside the van. It works great for those chilli nights, but not when the temperature is above 65 degrees.
To decrease the inside temperature of the refrigerator and keep the van cooler I had to increased the air-flow around the unit so that it thinks the ambient temperature is cooler and direct the heat out of the van.
- Three 3″ duct
- Gorilla duct tape
- Foam board
- Computer Fan
- Gutter Filter
- 3 to 4 inch
Make a fan
I purchased this reducer from Lowe’s. My duct is 3 inches and the computer face is about 4 inches. A perfect fit.
I removed the processor fan from a old computer. Processor fans usually run at a higher rpm than other component fans so this was the best choice.
I drilled a hole for the wires, then hot glued the fan permanently to the reducer. I used Gorilla duct tape to hold the wires down.
I used Gorilla duct tape and foam poster board to make a box to control the air flow into the tube.
Then I attached it using duct tape to the refrigerator.
I attached the blower to the vent on the right side of the refrigerator and blocked the other side so that air flows into the tube. Next I ran the wires to a potentiometer to control the fan’s rotation speed.
Controlling the speed
I extended the control panel by designing and building a new face plate for the fan’s speed controller.
The fan will now push hot air through the tube out the other end. So I cut into the window vent and added an exhaust vent.
Ollie (Pops) is still a puppy and I’m trying to get him comfortable with camping in a van.
He really loves being outdoors and is really curious. Here he is overcoming his fear of water.
The first camping trip was boondocking (4th of July weekend) in the National Forest up near Browns Creek Campground and the High Steel Bridge. We did one night only. I didn’t get much sleep that night because my bed was made for 1 person and he likes to cuddle, which then turns into him pushing me to the edge of the bed. A bed extension is on the way.
This time we went to the Washington State’s Capitol Forest Waddell Middle Campground (July 9 – 10th). I made some improvements to the van and wanted to try them out. I also wanted to do two night and to be closer to my shop if things didn’t work out.
I really need to add a collapsible bed extension. I ended up doing two days and one night. He is a bed hog.
Enjoy the gallery:
What you need
- Magnets from Harbor Freight
- Spring clamps from Harbor Freight
- All Weather Nylon Mesh Tarp from Harbor Freight
- Awning from Amazon for $83.00
- Tarp for the floor from Walmart.
I purchased two (2) nylon/vinyl coated mesh tarps from Harbor Freight. You can buy them in different sizes. I measured 26 feet around the width of the awning, and a 6 foot height. My mesh measures 16 x 8 feet.
The Mesh is all weather. I’ve used it for two years in rain or hot sun and never had a problem with mold, or damage from the sun (drying it out). The mesh can withstand direct sunlight and blocks UV rays, which means, you don’t feel the hot sun.
I purchased the awning from Amazon for $83.00. Currently the company I purchased my awning from is out of stock, but I’ve seen the same awning sold by other companies for about $20.00 more.
The awning comes with its own hardware for mounting it and a case for storing it.
Awning assembly and attaching the mesh
The video tutorial shows two people assembling the awning. One person can do it, but it’s extremely awkward.
Once you have the awning setup you can begin wrapping the mesh around it. I purchased four (4) large magnets and a bunch of smaller magnets from Harbor Freight.
They are really strong magnets so be careful using them without anything under them. Getting them off the van is easier if you slide the magnet and pull at the same time.
To attach the mesh to the awning I used the spring clips.
I used a regular tarp for the floor purchased from Walmart costing me around $4. I recommend a floor, because bugs on the ground will crawl under the mesh and get inside with you.
If your interested in entertainment while vamping I have a suggestion. I have a Seagate Wireless Plus 1TB External Hard Drive.
It’s a portable media center. I have movies, TV Shows, e-books, and audio files on the drive. I use Seagates media center software to listen, watch or read books.
It has built-in wifi so that all your devices, at camp, can connect at the same time and do different things.
The wireless access point is password protected. Has it’s own battery (making it idea for portability). I watched 5 hours of non-stop movies before the battery needed recharging. You can also use the USB adapter for continuous power. It’s also capable of connecting to live internet so that the devices connected to it has internet access.
Six (6) or seven (7) years ago Seagate was the only manufacturer that made a wireless media center. Since that time others have come up with their own version.
Western Digital has a version that supports Plex.TV. Engadget has a article on it here.
Voyager Air Mobile Wireless Storage
I have pictures of this cabinet being built but it is combined with other remodels. So I thought I’d include the work I’ve done here, only, about the cabinet.
I removed the custom curtains and rods I made in 2019 using PVC, the Walmart UV weather guard curtains (I custom made). What you see if my starting point the bedroom wall. The bed was also taken out, so that its easier to work in this area.
3/4 inch press wood mounted to the wall board. The clamps are holding the start of the frame. Need to drill holes for the screws.
Because the walls were not straight, I had to do all the work by eye and on the spot. Tried to measure and cut in the shop, but the curves in the ceiling made it challenging to get it right the first time.
THE CONTROL PANEL
I will show you the control panel, but not the electrical. All of the electrical work was demonstrated in another blog post. Paneling is not good to use if your plans aren’t to cover the wood.
I’m using it because I will cover it up with my black Walmart self-adhesive carpet tiles and this section won’t need the support and weight a door needs. The Walmart self-adhesive carpet tiles work really great with Velcro.
To get the curve I use drop ceiling wire, because it is really flexible for shaping. I do have a tool for getting to spots like this but it is not for this job. After I shape the wire, I lay it on the wood and trace it. Then use a table top sander to refine the shape.
THE DOOR OPENING
This is a 1/4 pressed board. You can use plywood for this project, but plywood is more difficult to sand and shape. I used the edge of my duct tap the make the round edges and a ruler to join them.
ADD A REFRIGERATOR
I purchased a hot/cold refrigerator from Amazon (black) and created space for it in the cabinet.
A piano hinge is used to support opening and closing the door.
Wooden knobs are from Walmart. The black self-adhesive floor tile lining the cabinet (great with Velcro) is also from Walmart. Later I purchased some iron flat shelf brackets to support weight. The heavy brackets were screwed in once I got the cabinet tight against the ceiling.
I used a hydraulic jack and a piece of wood and jacked the left first – up tight against the van’s ceiling, then pressed the bracket tight against the cabinets wood, then screwed it in. Once I released the hydraulic jack the shelf was sturdy on that side. I repeated the same procedure on the right side. Now we can load heavy supplies without worry.
I am really happy with my 2020 van improvements.
- Storage cabinet
- More lights
- Rewired electrical
- Medicine cabinet
- Kitchen light
- Reflexit for windows
- 3 way light switch
- Over the bed entertainment
I decided to go camping with Ollie to try things out. This would be his first camping trip ever.
Once we parked and started setting things up I Immediately realized I didn’t consider Ollie’s needs when I built my van.
Like his favorite toy, Oink Oink the pig or the blanky, his favorite blanket. I also had no place to store dog food, toys, or snacks.
- It was soooooooo dark out I couldn’t see my hands in front of me. I need to purchase a L.E.D Work/Spot light for off road. One on each side of the van. I can install a switch on my control panel that would control the lights.
- My new awning needs lighting as well. I’m thinking of LED strip lights powered using my portable inverter or 12 volt hookup to the van.
- Extend the bed. Ollie sleeps really crazy. I got probably 4 hours of sleep with him pushing me to the edge and kicking me. So I’m gonna build a folding (suitcase type) bed extension. When not in use, it will fold and go under the bed.
- Storage (plastic) sterilite storage bin that slides under the bed.
- It was cold at night with the vents left open on both back windows. The reflexit worked for one window, I need to make one to cover the kitchen window.
- When I turned my kitchen light on, little tiny bugs, not really visible to the eye got through the vent screen. It did keep the mosquitoes out and larger bugs. I guess this is a non-issue if I use reflexit to cover them at night.
The is the heavy piece of wood in my van. It’s a 1 x 6 x 10 so it won’t affect gas mileage.
I used drop ceiling wire to get the strange shape of my van’s ceiling. Ceiling wire is flexible enough to bend with the hands and stiff enough to hold its shape.
I mounted the drivers side of the headliner to the spice rack.
The finished work of the 1 x 2 includes a 3 way switch to control the kitchen light, decorated with my lovely Walmart adhesive carpet tile (works wonders with Velcro).
Now we add a shelf.
Having a switch at the back and front of the van works really well, especially when I wake up in the middle of the night and need to make a snack run. I can turn the light on in the bedroom or tiny office, then turn the light off as I leave the van.
I’m really proud of this kitchen., especially the lighting.
I purchased this from Amazon for $83 on June 22, 2020. The price has increased after I posted the image on Facebook to $112.00 when I last looked.
Here are the steps I took to install it.
- Removed the screws from one side of the roof rack.
- Raised the roof rack bar to slide the awning hardware under it.
- Tightened the screws
- Mounted the awning
Remove the screws from the roof rack
Slide the awning hardware under the roof rack.
Tightened the screws.
Attach the awning by sliding the rail onto the bolts.
I went to Walmart and purchased additional straps because the two black ones are not adjustable and the case sags and sometimes get caught in the side door closing.
Most DIY’ers who wire their van don’t think about the possibility of a fire. But it can happen if you use the wrong size wire.
Without going into theory and all the technical stuff; think for a moment what you know about an electric heater.
When you look inside the electric heater you see wire. It could be straight, coiled or whatever. But when power is turned on and electricity is applied the wires glow.
The more current/voltage applied the brighter and hotter it gets.
The knob on the electric heater, in theory, is like adding more electronic devices to a wire. The more you add, the hotter the wire gets.
Be mindful of this when you are planning and wiring your van. Here are some articles that may help you.
Solar panels come in different sizes and types. If this is your first time looking into solar for your van, then your in the right place. If you choose the right type of panel, battery bank and build a environment to match your needs, you will have reliable and long lasting energy source.
7 Types of solar panels
- Amorphous Silicon
- Cadmium Telluride Solar Cell (CDTe)
- Concentrated PV Cell (CVP and HCVP)
I will only discuss Monocrystalline and Polycrystalline which are the two most common used in a van.
Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Mono-SI)
Mono panels have a high power output and occupy less space and last the longest. I have one on top of my van from Harbor Freight $149.99. I purchased them because they work best in Washington State weather where the sun is a problem during overcast spring, fall and winter months.
My Mono panels still charges in overcast weather, although not as fast is if there was direct sunlight. Mono panels also are also slightly less affected by high temperatures compared to polycrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline Solar Panels (Poly-SI)
These panels are made by melting raw silicon onto the panels. This process is much faster and cheaper than monocrystalline panels.
This leads to a lower final price but also lower efficiency (around 15%) and shorter lifespan since they are affected by hot temperatures.
Making a choice
The differences between these two types of solar panels are not so significant. Your choice will depend on your specific situation and money.
How many watts do you need?
Solar panels are meant to recharge batteries and not meant to directly run 12 volt devices (unless you find one that has built in USB or other. Although sunless weather can affect the output of your panels, in a idea situation, the size (100, 200 or 300 watt) of the panel(s) determines how quickly your battery bank can be recharged.
I recommend that you concentrate on the battery bank size first. Heres why?
When I decided to convert my van to a camper I never had or used solar. So I spent several months dusting off my electronic skills and researching my options. I decided to start off small.
While visiting Harbor Freight for something else, they were having a Father’s day sidewalk sale (2019) and I saw 100 watt solar panels for $149.99 – I grabbed the last one and when inside and found a solar battery and purchased both. One 35 amp hour batteries from Harbor Freight, and their 100 watt mono solar panels – total cost around $250.00.
With the 2 batteries at 12 volts — doing the math 12 x 35 = 420 watts for camping. Keep in mind I was new to all of this.
I hooked up my 2000 watt inverter and added a bunch of stuff to my van and plugged them in with no regard to how much power I was consuming. BIG MISTAKE!!
Horrible first night
At camp I watched movies, listening to audio books and drank cold juice. I was in paradise. Throughout the day I kept cool by running a couple of fans. Kept my inverter on so that I had power to my laptop, tablet and cellphone. I also had a small refrigerator.
I was awakened at 3 in the morning by a loud alarm buzzing beneath my bed. It was my inverter warning me of low battery levels. I turned off my inverter and disconnected all of my devices and went back to bed.
The next morning I decided to do some calculations to determine what happened.
- iPad (45 watts)
- Seagate Wireless Hard drive (9 watt)
- MacBookAir (65 watts)
- Fan 1.8 watts (two of them totalling 3.6 watts)
- Refigerator (45 watts)
- Samsung Tablet (85 watts)
- Water pump (1.3 watts)
- Light (30 watt)
Add them up and I get 253.9 watts against, ideally, 420 watts of battery juice. I said ideally, because the inverter uses power when it converts 12 volt DC to 120 AC to run my lights and recharge my MacBookAir. I needed to subtract 15/20% used by the inverter from the available watts of 420 that my battery provides.
That would leave me with 399 watts to work with. But because my batteries are acid based I should not drain them below 50% which is what happened.
399 minus 253.9 watts is about 145.1 watts left over, in which my inverter was kind enough to let me know I was in the danger zone. Also, my solar control turned off and showed a low battery warning. That ruined my first night out in my solar camper van. I had to wait until morning for sun in order to recharge my batteries – which seemed like forever.
Since May 2019, on that dreadful day, I built my battery bank up slowly. Today I have a total of 2.5 kilowatts of power (6 batteries at 35ahr). More than I’d ever need. I still have my 100 watt panels on my van and they work so well.
I also run some electronics 24/7 with no worries (sun or shade).