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Old 09-19-2013, 01:17 PM   #1
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Default Building your own Class B Campervan

I'm going to quote Stan here (from the Cassette Toilets - Why Not? topic:

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Originally Posted by stanw909
........................ I have dreams of building my own class B someday .....................
Anyone else thinking about the DIY route? I do, sometimes. I know it is easier and probably better to buy a completed camper van even if you have to renovate or do some repairs but something about building my own Class B Campervan is appealing. The high roof vans available now make the DIY route seem easier.

Could you start with something like a Ram Promaster passenger model with full automotive windows? Get it with swivel seats from the factory. Could you insulate a passenger van or would you have to fore-go additional insulation?
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Old 09-19-2013, 03:51 PM   #2
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

I have thought of that, but I just don't have the time since I'm still decades away from any type of retirement. However, there are always things I'd love to do with a "B", such as spending the cash for some European/Aussie appliances so I could have the entire rig just run from diesel and stored electricity. Of course, the European extend-a-room tents would be nice as well. Over there, slide-outs tend to not be used. Instead, Europeans fold out a tent that is attached to their rig for extra space. This is nice because when touring, one can park and go about one's business only taking up a parking space. when boondocking and one wants to spread out, out comes the tent and one has almost as much space as a small apartment.
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Old 09-19-2013, 07:08 PM   #3
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Do you have links or picks of the add on rooms?
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Old 09-19-2013, 07:40 PM   #4
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlts22
I have thought of that, but I just don't have the time since I'm still decades away from any type of retirement. However, there are always things I'd love to do with a "B", such as spending the cash for some European/Aussie appliances so I could have the entire rig just run from diesel and stored electricity. Of course, the European extend-a-room tents would be nice as well. Over there, slide-outs tend to not be used. Instead, Europeans fold out a tent that is attached to their rig for extra space. This is nice because when touring, one can park and go about one's business only taking up a parking space. when boondocking and one wants to spread out, out comes the tent and one has almost as much space as a small apartment.
The down side (or soft side) of tent-like add ons is that, they shred pretty easily when the wildlife gets a little too curious. That includes soft side pop ups. We like to stay in places where there are potentially more than a few squirrels or a raccoon or two as the indigenous night time neighbors. Larger animals, typically native to the western mountain states, could not be counted on to "respect" your campsite or camper space, and that includes tents or the like.
I would always prefer a hard shelled camper over a tent any day.
Just our preference, after some casual discussions about hypotheticals, and seeing real visual evidence of curious predators. Statistically it's unlikely, maybe one in ten thousand or more, but we don't want to be the "one in".
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Old 09-19-2013, 10:02 PM   #5
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

One big issue that I ran into when thinking DIY, or even semi-major mods, was getting the high ply count, lightweight, plywood that most of the units use. None of them will sell it to you, and the only place I could find it was in Europe. The only substitute I could find is actually better, but very, very spendy. It is an imported wood marine plywood, I forget the name right now, which is very strong and about 1/2 the weight of regular plywood, plus is rot resistant. Very good stuff, I hear. When I added up the extra weight using regular plywood, our Roadtrek C190P would have gained several hundred pounds if Roadtrek used standard plywood everywhere. edit: Okoume plywood is the stuff.

Another issue is tanks, as for one unit, you can't get custom shapes made, and still afford to eat. I was going to use light gauge stainless, welded seams, with band reinforcing to fit the custom areas. i can fab them pretty easily by buying sheared stainless pieces and welding them together at home, with welded in stainless fittings.

Most of the rest is pretty straightforward, if you use a tall van and don't have to add a fiberglass top.
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Old 09-20-2013, 01:06 AM   #6
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Some other items I'd add to Booster's list (weight and tanks): the bathroom/shower, dropped floor if you want one like Roadtrek, and "sidepods" (side storage compartments). One thing you might try is buying an old "beater" camper that has these items, and fixing/modifying them as required and mounting them on a new(er) chassis, preferably of a similar lineage.

Good luck, Dick
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Old 09-20-2013, 02:13 PM   #7
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Quote:
Originally Posted by booster
One big issue that I ran into when thinking DIY, or even semi-major mods, was getting the high ply count, lightweight, plywood that most of the units use. None of them will sell it to you, and the only place I could find it was in Europe. The only substitute I could find is actually better, but very, very spendy. It is an imported wood marine plywood, I forget the name right now, which is very strong and about 1/2 the weight of regular plywood, plus is rot resistant. Very good stuff, I hear. When I added up the extra weight using regular plywood, our Roadtrek C190P would have gained several hundred pounds if Roadtrek used standard plywood everywhere. edit: Okoume plywood is the stuff.

Another issue is tanks, as for one unit, you can't get custom shapes made, and still afford to eat. I was going to use light gauge stainless, welded seams, with band reinforcing to fit the custom areas. i can fab them pretty easily by buying sheared stainless pieces and welding them together at home, with welded in stainless fittings.

Most of the rest is pretty straightforward, if you use a tall van and don't have to add a fiberglass top.
I googled the "Okoume plywood" you mentioned and found this businesss in MA http://www.boulterplywood.com/ . They even have two layers of Okoume sandwiching a foam core which would be extremely light weight. I had been wondering if you could use pre-finished aluminum sandwich type panels. They can have a foam or plastic honeycomb core.

Okoume


Okoume foam core


The weight and quality of different plywoods can really vary as noted by booster. I have a piece of 9 layer plywood that is very strong but very heavy compared to to rough grade plywood. The ready to use finish on some panels would be a real time-saver and worth spending more for.



I have a few invoices from the guy who built my van. Costs would have increased since then

1997 - fiberglass high roof $1,620
1997 - fiberglass running boards $550
1999 - 4' x 8' sheet of stainless steel $93.87 (All the tanks in my van are custom made-to-fit stainless steel)
Attached Images
File Type: jpg okoume edge.jpg (52.8 KB, 1358 views)
File Type: jpg okoume foam core.jpg (58.7 KB, 1358 views)
File Type: jpg 001.JPG (158.9 KB, 1358 views)
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Old 09-20-2013, 03:10 PM   #8
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Marko said " I had been wondering if you could use pre-finished aluminum sandwich type panels. They can have a foam or plastic honeycomb core."

Safari Condo is using that type of construction, even for cabinets and roof panels. They must reinforce somehow, as the panels wouldn't hold screws, or be strong enough, by themselves. It all must be put together with adhesive and rivets. Safari Condos are much lighter than everyone else.

http://www.safaricondo.com/altoTech/index-en.php
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Old 09-20-2013, 03:45 PM   #9
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

If I went to upfit a van myself, I'd probably start with a cargo van as opposed to a passenger model so I can install my own windows (which would be the European standard double-pane models with the emergency exit handles.) Insulation, I'd go for Thermablok insulation (aerogel and is good at preventing metal to metal heat transfer.)

With various plastic factories, including industrial 3D printing shops, I could get the tanks built that way, or at least the molds for the tanks. The big difference is that I would see about a waterproof access panel so if I needed to clean out the black or grey tank, I can pop the panel and go at it with a mop and wet/dry vac. The FW tank could be easily cleaned/sanitized as well.

For me, the hard part would be figuring out where to put the tanks, generators, appliances, and routing the LP gas, fuel, and electrical pipes/wires. That is why I'd rather buy from an existing company, as I know enough to be dangerous (such as if I did PEX plumbing, I'd be using Uponor PEX-A pipes and expansion fittings because of their vibration resistance, and with wiring, I'd be going 2 gauges larger than normal, and using marine type crimps.) However, I'm neither an electrician nor a plumber, so I'd rather pick what I'd like and pay for it, let someone who actually has a license figure stuff out.
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Old 09-20-2013, 10:50 PM   #10
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlts22
If I went to upfit a van myself, I'd probably start with a cargo van as opposed to a passenger model so I can install my own windows (which would be the European standard double-pane models with the emergency exit handles.) Insulation, I'd go for Thermablok insulation (aerogel and is good at preventing metal to metal heat transfer.)

With various plastic factories, including industrial 3D printing shops, I could get the tanks built that way, or at least the molds for the tanks. The big difference is that I would see about a waterproof access panel so if I needed to clean out the black or grey tank, I can pop the panel and go at it with a mop and wet/dry vac. The FW tank could be easily cleaned/sanitized as well.

For me, the hard part would be figuring out where to put the tanks, generators, appliances, and routing the LP gas, fuel, and electrical pipes/wires. That is why I'd rather buy from an existing company, as I know enough to be dangerous (such as if I did PEX plumbing, I'd be using Uponor PEX-A pipes and expansion fittings because of their vibration resistance, and with wiring, I'd be going 2 gauges larger than normal, and using marine type crimps.) However, I'm neither an electrician nor a plumber, so I'd rather pick what I'd like and pay for it, let someone who actually has a license figure stuff out.
That would be a good sized 3D printer! We saw the machine at Roadtrek that they make tanks with, and it appeared to be a vacuum former. That would indicate a two piece and welded tank, but can't be sure as they wouldn't let us close to it. Don't underestimate the stainless tanks. They can be quite light, easy to weld on mounts, and can be almost any shape. You just make a sample out of cardboard taped together, and then have pieces sheared to size at a sheet metal shop. We have a local steel supplier that does that very inexpensively. The best way that I have seen to clean tanks is the same way that you do sewer lines, with a high pressure "jetter". They hook up to a pressure washer and spray out, and a bit back, to pull themselves along against you holding the hose. The good is that you would only need a 1" pipe plug in one end of the tank to use it, and it would get the tank very clean with little work or mess. We sold the pumps and jetters at one of my past jobs, and they really do work well. You can rent the setup very reasonably also.
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Old 09-20-2013, 11:20 PM   #11
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Since you're in control of the tank fabrication process, including design, why not add a permanent, built in, flushing system? Some sort of garden hose sized fitting on the center top of the tank, with an inside the tank stainless spray head, that sprays horizontally 360 degrees around the inside of the tank? Run a flex hose to the edge of the van somewhere, where you can attach a garden hose, open the dump valves, and turn on the water pressure, when it's time to clean out the gray/black tanks? It could double as a tank venting option, or as an access point to pump compressed air in to winterize.
Or not. Maybe those tanks don't really need that level of maintenance. I don't go to the extent of blasting water back into mine to clean them out. I just fill and dump them a few times after we've been on the road for a while. Maybe once a year, or "as required".
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Old 09-21-2013, 03:46 AM   #12
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Since the tanks would be steel, I wonder how tough it would be to add a PTFE coating on the black/grey tanks. That way, there would be far fewer issues with the dreaded pyramid since nothing would be able to stick. Of course, a flushing system is a good thing as well.

Another item I would like to have on any "B" would be a macerator pump, so I can grab a length of garden hose, use that and pump to a cleanout, or at worst, a toilet if need be.
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Old 09-21-2013, 08:12 PM   #13
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

I have learned a lot this past year so this is how I 'd do it. I have not settled on a floorplan yet but will probably do a fold out couch behind drivers seat.water tank and batteries bellow couch.swivle front seats.shower pan /porta potti or cartridge toilet drivers side rear.spare tire move from undercarriage to continental holder on rear. Grey tank in spare tire space. By the side doors will be a cabinet sticking out half way into entrance with stove and sink maybe one of those stainless steel combos.heading toward back some counter space then the 4 to 7 cf fridge dc /ac compressor style.no need to cut van body for venting. Cabinets the redt of the way back. I should have started by ssying it will be a short low roof Sprinter with a Colorado Camper Vans poptop roof. I will have a real carpenter do the cabinets. I know a guy. At least250 watts of solar and fantastic fans in roof. I am thinking of how to apply air conditioning. Maybe roof type and one fantastic fan. My plan in retiremant is to boondock a lot so portacpotti is best for my purposes. Oh I forgot microwave above fridge. This will probably change.see it just did LP tank bellow side door for stove and catalitic heater hose. The usual lp and caron diox detectors of course. Inverter to handle micfowave.
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Old 09-22-2013, 02:02 AM   #14
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

If you are boondocking, you might consider a cassette toilet. The advantage of that is that you just need to locate the commode near a wall, or the back of the van, and that you don't need to worry about a black tank.

So far, there is only one fuel cell for the US market, the EFOY product... and the methanol fuel cartridges for it are expensive. If Truma decided to jump across the pond, they would have an incredible market with their propane fuel cell. It wouldn't completely replace solar, but it would augment it, pretty much guarenteeing charged batteries almost anywhere.
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Old 09-22-2013, 07:57 PM   #15
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

"Cartridge toilet " I meant to say cassette but probably go with porta potti and a little fold down luggage cart to hual it if I get to old to carry. Cassettes are permanent and the tanks are the same size 5 gln. The porta potti fresh water tank can also be carried to a spigot. I like the finished look of the cassette and the idea of an extre cassette but then again for tge price of the cassette toilet I could buy 2 portapottis and stow the extra tank somewhere. As you can see I have devoted a lot of time thinking about elimination problems.
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Old 09-22-2013, 11:13 PM   #16
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

Quote:
Originally Posted by stanw909
"Cartridge toilet " I meant to say cassette but probably go with porta potti and a little fold down luggage cart to hual it if I get to old to carry. Cassettes are permanent and the tanks are the same size 5 gln. The porta potti fresh water tank can also be carried to a spigot. I like the finished look of the cassette and the idea of an extre cassette but then again for tge price of the cassette toilet I could buy 2 portapottis and stow the extra tank somewhere. As you can see I have devoted a lot of time thinking about elimination problems.
At least you didn't say "8-track toilet". That conjures up some disturbing mental images.
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Old 11-18-2013, 02:10 AM   #17
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

I & Wife bough a 1997 Dodge van that has a small raised top. We are using some 1970 van idea's plus new idea's. I've owned vans since 1970 of and on. There is some good information to be had.
We're just back from a 18 day shake down trip, while we on this trip we kept notes likes & dislikes. We'll be using this information on our DIY class B van/motorhome, so we can have our way. I'll keep this forum on our progress. Plus We're planing to use some of the 12 volt gear the truckers use.
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Old 01-27-2014, 11:44 PM   #18
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

My apologies for posting in a ~3 month old thread... but i'm the new kid on the block and just having fun catching up. I'll add a few thoughts since my wife and i built our van conversion from the cargo-shell up

On Passenger van (with stock windows) vs Cargo Van:
My wife and i went with the cargo van after careful research (ExpeditionPortal.com and Sporstmobileforum.com are two places that have lots of DIY builds for ideas). Also, we plug the rear cargo doors and sliding door windows with reflectix as soon as we set up camp. My wife actually volunteered that if we do another van we will order it with no windows other than those in the front cab. That was music to my ears!! She wants to have a monitor inside connected to exterior cameras, probably one in the back (that would double as a rear view while driving) and one on the curb side that would view the camp/river/etc.

On fiberglass top:
One of the posts mentioned a 1997 price of a "Fiberglass top". While i don't know if it is apples for apples, we had a Fiberine 24" fiberglass top installed on our 2010 chevy cargo van. The installed price was $2450 in October 2010.

On "Building materials":
We are fortunate in that my wife & i live on the oregon coast. There are lots of boat building shops and we were able to order 3/8", 1/2", and 3/4" marine ply for our interior build. Yea it is expensive but the weight to strength ratio is way beyond any regular plywood. It was the right move IMO. Spendy, but still the right tool for the job.

On "Walls":
We went a bit radical We took a boating idea and used Reflectix and Hull-Liner fabric on walls instead of anything hard like paneling. We really like the soft-touch feel to the walls and there are about 4 layers of Reflectix/bubble foil between the fabric and the inner metal wall.

On "Toilets":
There are viable options in toilets such as composting/separating toilets (as i've mentioned elsewhere). Do a google search. Be sure to include the idea of "separating" the liquids from solids. That is the key in the latest batch on the market such as the marine grade "Natures Head". You won't need a black tank as the liquid simply drains into grey tank. We had two seasons use with a Thetford Cassette toilet and personally would not go down that path again as you are limited to ~3 days between dumps for two adults. You could purchase additional cassettes at about $100 each.

Cheers,
Thom
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Old 01-28-2014, 12:05 AM   #19
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Default Re: Building your own Class B Campervan

The downside of the Nature's Head composting toilet is that you have to carry bags of peat with you to start the composting process. That, and having to empty the poop bucket every so often. The pee bottle isn't as bad, but since it is fairly concentrated, pouring it on most grass might burn it out.
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Old 01-28-2014, 10:00 PM   #20
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Yea i agree on the peat-moss being a down side to the NH setup. There are similar set ups on the market that do not need such drying/composting agents...such as the Separette line.
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