In this build diary, we’re trying to track our progress in converting the van. But sometimes progress is incomplete. And today, we have a pile of incomplete jobs in the van, so I’m just going to write about one of those: the 12V distribution box. Continue reading “2012-10-26: Make your mind up time”
We’ve been busy on various jobs since I last wrote, mostly trying to get some basic components built in prototype form for we can take the van on a short trip and test some things out.
Almost every design/build problem in the van is a chicken and egg problem. And we tie ourselves in knots trying to decide which part to commit to, so that we can move on. The interaction of furniture, cladding, and electrical supply is one such problem.
Since we had to start somewhere, we took the passenger side of the van as a low risk first step.
I started by building a simple bed frame. It’s mostly self supporting, with the legs nearest the wall bolted to the van body using rivnuts.
I set the frontmost legs back from he edge of the bench so that, when seated, you can swing your legs back. The front and sides will be panelled with ply, as will the top. For now, we have a piece of MDF on top to use as a test. The front edge of the bench has a 2cm lip which will form the middle (longitudinal) support for the bed. The other half of the bed will be removable, with one edgeand resting on this lip, and the far side resting on a lip on cabinets (still to be built) on the other side of the van.
Once the bench was complete, we spent many hours figuring out how the cladding could work. The van walls are curved, and flexible plywood could conform to the curve, but there are very few places where it could be pinned back to the walls, risking it flapping around, unsupported, or ‘drumming’ when on the move. So we decided to build a flat frame for the middle section of the wall, onto which one large sheet of flat ply can be fastened.
To clad that section, we re-used some of the 5mm plywood that was in the van when we bought it , cutting out holes for the task lights and USB sockets. It feels pretty solid, so we’ll see how it works on our trip in a couple of weeks.
This weekend, we started running cables and mounting components so we can get the electrical systems hooked up. We already have the solar panels on the roof, and the battery fitted under the passenger seat. We also have a fair amount of conduit routed through the side panels of the van so we can run cable from front to back (e.g. from the fusebox to the ceiling lights or rearmost USB sockets).
Nothing at this stage is fixed, but we need to commit to some decisions so we can continue the build. So it’s a delicate balancing act of deciding where things should go, while leaving options for us to change our minds. In practical terms, that means:
Making prototype mounting boards and boxes for components roughly out of MDF to test out placement and design before rebuilding them properly in nicer plywood.
Making some educated guesses about where we want wires to emerge, and cutting cables to length.
Wherever possible running wires – cut to a generous length – through conduit so we have some flexibility in exactly how we place the end components (lights, sockets, appliances, etc.).
Our electrical system starts in the area immediately behind the cab. It’s something of a no-mans land that in many conversions would just be wasted space. We’re hoping this will be a space-efficient placement. The main elements are:
Leisure battery in the passenger bench seat base (with space for a second battery in the other half of this seat base if we need to expand)
Solar controller on a board mounted to back of passenger seat base (with space for some other components we might add later, such as a battery-to-battery changer, inverter, or mains power charger)
12V fusebox and distribution mounted to back of driver’s seat base.
By separating the ‘power in’ (solar, alternator, shore/hookup power) and ‘power out’ (12V circuits) into 2 areas, we have more space to mount components without intruding into the main living space of the van.
Meanwhile, the insulation installation continues, as we desperately try to clear our house of bulky building materials.
… as well as rolls of conduit, insulation panels and the original plywood cladding we removed from the van.
I’ve just sent off an order to 12 Volt Planet, who, so far, have been super-helpful, and have a really good website for speccing out electrical components. So in the next few days we can expect poly bags full of fuses, crimp terminals, stranded wire, lugs, switches, USB sockets, LED lights and more.
It’s been an interesting process figuring all this out. But literally days of work just to figure out a shopping list. Working out all those details (What will be the voltage drop if we want to run lights all the way to the back of the van? What kind of terminals can we use on each component? How many USB sockets do we need? etc.) is a complex task, and every answer opens up more questions.
We’ve put a hold on installing insulation because we’re concerned about how complex it’s going to be to run wires for the electrical systems. So we’re trying to get some of that in place so we know where we stand.
First step, installing the battery. It needs to be somewhere safe, accessible, but not ‘everyday-accessible’, and secure when in transit, or if, in the event of accident, the van was to roll over.
We’re using the base of the dual passenger seat. Ideally it would go in the middle base, but there is an access panel there to some other wiring, so we’re putting it in the outer base (left hand side on our UK van). I thought this would be a simple job, but it ended up taking the best part of a weekend.
I made a plywood floor, set on battens that even up the slope of the seat base. The floor has a set of battens into which the battery sits – these stop it sliding around. It’s also tied don to the floor with webbing strips, and the floor is then bolted to the front and back of the seat base so that the whole assembly should remain in place should the van roll over.
As with any job that involves fabricating a piece to fit into a pre-existing, irregular hole, what could be a simple task soon becomes endlessly frustrating. And of course it’s not made any easier by the 30kg weight of the battery, which is a tricky son-of-a-bitch to ease into place.
We had originally specced these batteries with the intention that we could fit two into a seat base if want to expand our capacity later, but that’s not going to happen now – we’d need much more room to manoeuvre. So we’ll have to figure that one out as and when…