Friday, February 26, 2010

Prosine Inverter

My latest modification to Taj was all about making us more self sufficient while out there on the road. We have always had a coach battery with 75 Amp Hours of total storage which had been fine without the use of an inverter. Now we had our thoughts toward being able to use our microwave and small convection oven without being plugged into shore power. The oven uses 1850 watts peak so we needed to locate an inverter with a higher output than this. After doing a lot of research online, I was pretty set on getting a Xantrex Prosine or something very similar. The Prosine is a pure sine wave inverter which produces AC that works with electronic equipment that may otherwise have issues with the typical modified sine wave systems. This inverter also has a 3 stage charger that is a substantial improvement over the charger that comes factory in the RT.

The pictures above are of the system I bought off of Craigslist. It is a Prosine 2.5 which is a 2500 watt system. I paid $350 after testing it which is a pretty significant deal. At the time, the average new price was about $2000.

You can see from the picture, that we also decided to increase the size and capacity of our battery bank to 210 AH. Visible are 2 12V 105 AH AGM batteries from Full River. These are located in mounted boxes under the bed on the passenger side. They are connected with 2/0 welding cable which also is used to connect to the inverter through a 300 amp circuit breaker also visible. In these pictures, the box covers are not yet in place and the cables have not yet been secured out of the way.

At right is the fuse/circuit breaker box after removing the converter/charger which occupied the space below.

This picture shows the old
converter charger as removed. I took the guts out and put the housing back in place to allow the original cover to be re-attached.

A view with the empty housing now back in place. Maybe at some point in the future, I will have a good use for that little empty area!

The next picture shows the inverter in place cables attached but as mentioned earlier, they will be routed out of the way and secured. I intend also on shielding the circuit breaker and the positive post on the inverter better.

This last picture is the control panel with the inverter shown in standby and the charger just finishing it's job.

We gave up a little bit of storage space to improve our boondocking abilities and also to save LP by using the oven and microwave more often instead of the stove. I think it will be a good trade off. We still will find a way to carry everything we need and want with us.

Final note: I was a little concerned that this particular blog entry is not very entertaining. Heidi explained that with electrical, the best I could hope for was "informative"! Well, I hope I accomplished that goal at least.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dealing with Perceptions

This is a topic that comes up quite often if you live in a van, usually when discussing whether or not to admit to it. Many people are uncomfortable letting people in on their van life due to concerns of perception or repercussions in one way or another. There are all kinds of interesting views out there of who and what kind of people would choose this life, many are quite disturbing, I have to wonder if we don't sometimes contribute to the messed up perceptions with attempts at stealth or seclusion.

We know there are a ton of people living in vehicles that really don't want to be, but are forced to. It is a lifestyle that is more sustainable that they can handle, but maybe they are not satisfied with the comfort level or stigma they believe is attached so they can't wait to go back to "normal" life.

We also know that there are just as many of us that embrace this lifestyle and love the freedom and simplicity it makes possible. Those are the people this topic is really for. The stigma and laws are the problems we fight with, but how do we change it?

One very understandable and troublesome view is derived from the fact that criminals often use vans to carry out their crimes. We see this often in the news or some show where a plain looking van was used in an abduction, drug trafficking or heist. For those of us in more obvious class B vans, this isn't as much of a problem, but there many who choose vans that will blend in to avoid being scrutinized. While being stealthy is needed in some cases where sleeping overnight in a vehicle is illegal, I wonder if being stealthy where it isn't needed makes you more of a target for harassment. For example, a place an obvious tourist might be fine, someone attempting to be stealthy and hide or blend in may be adding to the criminal perception and even draw unwanted attention. Trying to blend in after all is what a criminal also does.

I honestly don't care if someone I know (even a relative) thinks less of me for our choice in how we live. It is our life and to me, their opinion shows a need for growth on their part, not change on ours. I feel very strongly that to make this lifestyle more acceptable to society, I should do what I can to show them there is no reason for shame or sympathy or disdain. I want them to know I and my wife love this lifestyle an show them why. If I am going to aid in changing their perceptions, it seems necessary to make sure mine is in line as well.

Of course there are many things that differentiate various vantramps/dwellers from each other. There are many of us who have to be able to stand up, shower, have a fridge and more for comfort over the long haul and there are those who really take great enjoyment in the minimalistic approach and enjoy getting by with very basic methods. Both are valid and great lifestyles, part of changing the perception also I believe is in us accepting each others choices as equal and valid. We all have to do what we feel best with and make sure Joe Public doesn't discriminate towards either as far as it is in our ability to prevent.

I really find this particular topic rather fascinating. It is not meant to say anyone is wrong for keeping their van-life hidden for any reason. It also is really a separate topic from parking away from folks in the name of privacy and serenity, we do that often too for the same reason as people who live in the country in their houses. This is just a lifestyle my wife and I love and would like to see more accepted.Any input on how to make that happen is always appreciated!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Roadtrek Bathroom/Shower Re-engineering Project

This has been a huge project, but I am really happy with the result! The pictures bordered in light blue throughout this post are the "Before" images and the darker blue bordered are the new setup.

The idea with this mod was to combine the RT's already decent isle shower with the bathroom closet to give more room and make showering easier. The big obstacle in designing this project was the original bathroom was never designed to be a "wet" bathroom. The walls were not sealed or waterproof nor was the floor etc. See my last blog post for details of the build process.

The tilework wasn't a necessary thing at all, just something I wanted to do. One thing you can see from pic above right is the shower curtain "clinging" to the walls. One of the ideas I had before adding the FRP to the walls was to attach 3" wide metal strips on both sides vertically to provide a surface for magnets to stick to. The shower curtain has been modified as well with magnets on both sides and an overlapping flap on the front corner on the galley side to allow reaching through to shut the hot water heater off. The new faucet pictured is all metal instead of the plastic one it replaced. It was necessary for me to create the fitting that goes from the faucet to the shower hose. It is a combination of the original part supplied with the faucet to connect to a tube and a 1/2" pipe union cut in half then brazed to the original fitting. It came out quite perfect for the job and even looks okay.
From this picture you can get a little better idea of how the FRP panels look installed. All of them were cut with a jig saw after being layed out by transferring from paper templates I had created carefully. Two other things in this picture worth noting are the new storage location for the curtain and the endpoint for the track which I modified significantly. Also noticeable worth noting about this picture is the "horizontal bump" in the back wall. In the original version from RT, the top angled piece doesn't exist rather that is where the shelf attaches. Immediately under the shelf is this hump which is where the wire channel runs. I made the little ramp to keep water from settling on a little ledge.

The old curtain location was determined by the original track attached to the ceiling. This track was shaped in a way that created a full "surround" in the isle above the drain and below the vent fan.

With the track now modified the curtain now encloses the same area while including the newly modified bathroom providing much more room and offering the ability to sit for those who might like to shave their legs(not me, really!).
Hope the pictures give enough detail to understand how this all came out. I am very pleased with it. Hope the project also gives you some ideas.

Bathroom/Shower Build Details

The following will be my attempt to describe the build process for the shower project from the last post. There was a lot to it, but hopefully someone will find the information useful. Forgive me in advance for it being a bit long and not too exciting!

The process started by first pulling the toilet, shower curtain, door and any other hardware from the bathroom. The covers from the tank vent pipe were next. The upper shelf removed and then the process of moving the tank level monitor panel was started as detailed in the last post.
After pulling the shelf out and re-routing the wires down and through a hole made below the second fixed shelf in the Armoire, all the button head screws in the bathroom were pulled, holes countersunk and new flathead screws installed. The next step was to create new covers for the upper vent pipe area and fill the holes left from the old monitor panel.

It was right about this point that I got the clever idea in my head that magnets would be a good way to keep the ends of the shower curtain in place. So, off to the hardware store I went to get a sheet of 20 guage sheet metal. I cut it into 3" strips, drilled it and pounded recesses in to allow the flathead screws to sit flush. I roughed up the surfaces with a grinder to help the liquid nails grip the surface on both sides. then installed the strips on both opposing side walls.

The next process involved creating a contoured shower pan to keep water from settling behind the toilet etc. in this image, you can see the back of the toilet before modification. The visible gap is where the water feed pipe comes up from under the floor when installed.

In this image, the contour of the pan is more obvious. starting from the back to the front on either side of the toilet, the pan is ground down to produce a path for the water to follow toward the drain which is located in the isle floor.

Here you can see the modification to the toilet which is meant to keep the incoming water line sealed so water cannot get under the floor. The rubber fitting is a part for a garbage disposal which fit perfectly on the tube I have fiberglassed in place and steps down to fit the 3/8" line.

In this lower image, you can see the shower pan fiberglassed into position. The fiberglass also is used in this case to seal all the corners and up the walls an inch or two which will be overlapped by the FRP and create a pretty safe corner to keep water from causing damage.
Here you can see the new covers in place for the black tank vent pipe. Also visible is a mistake. My first choice in wall covering was a more flexible Poly wall designed for this exact purpose according to the kind salespeople at Home Depot. It looked fine for a day, then obvious bubbles formed and it had to be removed. It was at that point that I chose the FRP which was both really nice to work with and made for nice flat bubble free walls!

The FRP was installed on the walls in a somewhat specific order. It made sense to do certain panels before others as in the above image. The panel on the left was glued in place(using FRP specific adhesive) then, the attaching lugs screwed into it to hold the vent pipe cover. This was a pretty slow and carefully scrutinized process to keep everything tight clearance and prevent future issues with water getting past the caulk and seems.

The next step was to finish the floor. You can see in this picture I was half way through cutting and fitting tile. This was really just for looks, th shower pan is already completely water proof and this part of the floor has no weight put on it or other stress. The red color that can be seen is a product called Redguard which is a waterproof coating that also prepares the surface perfectly for laying the tile.

From this point, the tile is finished out and grouted/sealed then the shower track modified, toilet and plumbing put back in and everything caulked appropriately. Quite a bit of work was involved in this project but I do like the way it came out. Anyone could duplicate this effort and likely improve upon it. The trick is to separate the process down into small manageable pieces and to focus on each until you are satisfied before continuing on to the next.

Go forth and modify!