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Old 02-17-2015, 02:20 PM   #1
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Default Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Hi all,
On Friday, my wife & I ordered a Ford Transit van (9500 EL HR 3.5L 3.31LS) on which we'll perform a DIY RV conversion. Been spending most of our waking (and sleeping) hours planning out the build, and how the heck we'll fit us and our Malamute. The van will replace our current smallish (~25' hitch to butt) travel trailer. Dealer estimates that it'll arrive in 10-12 weeks. Until then I will plan and .

Van will have heavy duty alternator, towing package, dual battery package and the premium leather package, MFT, etc., etc.....It'll also have the flippable 2nd and 4th window package. We're doing that with an eye to eventually replacing those with CRL torque outs when (if) they become available. I didn't really want to cut window holes.

The inside layout will be similar to the PleasureWay Plateau TS, but the bed will be fixed. We decided against a mfg built unit for a few reasons:
1. Cost. We estimate the total build, van and conversion, will be well under $70K...even very well tricked out. Labor is me.
2. We HATE the low clearance of the Plateau's running boards. Same goes for most of the other manufacturers. The Transit or Sprinter van ground clearance is already an issue we may need to address for the places we want to go.
3. We can put in exactly what we want, where we want it, with no space taken up by stuff we don't.
4. As a 3/4 retired engineer, I'm looking forward to the design and build work!

We'll be running largely solar, probably ~ 500W worth of collectors, a 2KW inverter/charger, and about 400AH AGM battery set. There will be propane for a 2 burner stove, tankless water heater, and a 19KBTU furnace (probably with underbody LP tank). Fridge will be an AC/DC only 7c.f. Norcold. Microwave will be about 900W output, and will see fairly limited use.No air conditioner desired! Current plan is for ~30-40 gallons fresh water under the bed frame, and 15-20 gray under the body. No inside shower. No black. We'll be using a composting john, likely the Nature's Head.

The van's working name is Annie.

My biggest concern with the Transit is ground clearance on the extended body, since most of our camping historically is out in the remote-ish boonies, on the fairly crappy Cascades N.F. roads. I expect to take it out roughing before the build really starts to see if this will be a significant issue. If it is, I'll think about an adjustable air-lift kit for the rear. The hitch, while worsening clearance a bit, may act as a buffer to protect the body. I may add skids or a skid plate to it's bottom.

We looked at Sprinters, but in most respects other than overhang/clearance, the Transit fits better. (Wish it had 4x4 though...) We pretty much rejected the Promaster right off...too small for our wants/needs.

I will likely post a writeup of the build as it occurs (along with 8x10 glossy photos with pictures and arrows). I didn't see a DIY section, so is any specific forum section better than General Discussion for this?

As the build proceeds, I look forward to all constructive feedback, and welcome disparaging remarks on my intelligence. I especially value "why the frack didn't you do it this way?" questions. Until then, I'll mostly lurk and learn...

Nice to meet you all!
Stan
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Old 02-17-2015, 04:05 PM   #2
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Sounds like a great build, and rather similar to the backroad units built by Sportsmobile, Outside Vans, and Van Specialties. As you surmise most commercial B RVs are poorly suited to backroad use, where their running boards, generators and similar low-hanging gear become quick victims to rough terrain and high-centered obstructions.

Websites for those three custom builders are excellent resources for layout ideas, particularly the Sportsmobile site which has an online DYO layout planner for the Transit, Sprinter, and Promaster chassis. And the Sprinter Source forum and Sportsmobile Forums both have very helpful homebuild conversion sections.

And a couple specific thoughts...

Since you'll have propane you might consider the Truma Combi furnace/water heater, a compact sealed-combustion unit that's very efficient and avoids the van sidewall cutouts needed for conventional water heater and furnace venting.

And of course the elephant in the room - chassis selection for rough road conditions. Many of the Transit modifications you mention, such as air suspension lifts, skid plates, rear hitch protector, etc., would be taken care of with the standard factory 4x4 Sprinter. I know the Sprinter has maintenance concerns (we own one) but your application just seems natural for the 4x4 Sprinter. And all the safety features would be dialed in at the factory for high-clearance use.

A few years ago one of the Sportsmobile lifted Ford chassis units suffered a roll-over after a simple blow-out caused by an improperly patched (by the Ford dealer) tire. It killed both occupants inside despite being fully belted in, and left their two young children as orphans. The vehicle stability control control system couldn't cope with the modified suspension parameters and there was a huge lawsuit. Moral of the story - It just seems wise to choose a chassis designed and tuned at the factory for the type of high-clearance usage you envision.
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Old 02-17-2015, 04:57 PM   #3
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Welcome over here from the Transit forum. As you can see already, you'll be getting all kinds of suggestions as your posts filter through. You and mlts22 will probably find some common ground in your builds.
By the way, there's another suggestion above to look at the Truma units as I did over on the Transit forum during your build process......
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Old 02-17-2015, 08:21 PM   #4
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Please give as many details as you don't mind showing, pictures and all. I'm still in the planning stages of my Transit upfit as well. A few comments:

I'd look at an Airhead composting toilet and compare that to the Nature's Head. The Airhead seems to be better designed. I'd also take a look at a cassette toilet as well. Sportsmobile recently upfitted a ProMaster with a cassette commode, and it looks pretty decent. However, this all varies on the amount of backwoods boondocking you do. Advanced RV has a good video on this topic.

The reason I am not going with a cassette toilet, nor a composting toilet is that other than renaissance faires, I'll be close enough to conventional dump stations (or sewage "clean-outs"), which makes getting rid of black/gray water easy. Were I camping out for weeks to months at a time, I'd be looking at a composting toilet... but there is the problem of spreading the compost, which can be considered human waste by some law enforcement (and thus a criminal offense.)
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Old 02-17-2015, 11:44 PM   #5
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Hi folks,
Thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate the feedback.

I will look further into the Truma Combi. I had understood that it did have an integral hot water tank, which seems to imply that you need to heat up a tank of water, even for light intermittent use...the reason that we are thinking of a tankless system.

We actually started this process by looking at and testing some manufactured B models...a PleasureWay with the 2.1L, and a Winnie Era with the 3L. The Era had what we considered shoddy build and sub-optimum layout. The PleasureWay was build much better, but just didn't have what we wanted and had what we didn't want. Also MUCH more $. We also found the 2.1L just didn't have the oomph going up steep grades. Finally, we (especially my wife) just weren't very comfortable in the Sprinter front seats. She has some physical limitations which make that a particularly important issue.

Next we started looking at the Sportsman, Advanced, Outside, and Van Specialties websites, and played around with the Sportsman DIY planners. There are good ideas there. The last two are also only a half day's drive from me. At some point, we realized that I'm skilled enough to do this ourselves (he says modestly ) So we figure we can save a bunch of bucks, and after all, what could possibly go wrong??

I do wish the Sprinter 4x4 was going to be available "real soon now". If it was, I'd seriously consider it. Unfortunately, the nearest dealers say the won't be able to order any until the 2016 models are available. The "nearest dealer" is over an hour away, and has a middling reputation. This then leads to handling the reliability questions. If something goes BOOM on the Sprinter van when we're out in the middle of nowhere, I don't want to having to travel hundreds of mile in limp mode to get to a dealer. Much more likely to find a Ford dealership much closer. The engine and tranny on the Transit are basically what I have on my 2013 F150. To date, they have been bulletproof. So, I have some confidence in Ford's ability to make a reliable truck.

The idea of the air lift kit is something that would only be inflated when I'm out on rough steep roads, going real slow, possibly with stability and traction control disabled...as one might need to do anyway. Those systems are usually not optimized for that sort of operating environment. That's the major reason for ordering the limited slip. The bags would be deflated and out of the circuit anytime that clearance wasn't an issue, certainly at any speed above say, 10MPH. Hopefully skid runners or a plate at the hitch won't destabilize the vehicle!

But yeah, I do wish there was a 4x4 option for us!

Mlts22- thanks for the Airhead suggestion? Have you actually seen either one in real life? Spending ~$1K on a toilet is kinda scary. It means a very high cost/poop!
But I REALLY don't want to deal with a black water system of any sort on such a small vehicle. It means storing lugging around completely unusable water until I find a place to dump. Not to mention the waste of fresh water that flushing entails. We are fortunate that we have some land at our home, so adding to compost after some trips should not be an issue.

So far, pics and design details are fairly limited...some rough hand-drawn graph plots to give confidence that stuff will fit, a couple of spreadsheets and a barely started Gantt project. As it gets a bit more evolved, I'll also be putting the entire build project into Git. If folks are interested, I can set up a public folder on Google Drive or Dropbox to hold copies of the design docs. I don't anticipate doing anything proprietary, so I'll be happy to make everything public as I go along.

One thing that would REALLY help if anyone had actual well dimensioned CAD templates of the van. 2D DXF, DWG, or SketchUp format would be great!

Pics and empirical engineering measurements will have to wait until Annie shows up, and that'll be dependent on the Ford gods. I anyone has one of their ears to utter a good word, it couldn't hurt!

Stan
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Old 02-18-2015, 01:56 AM   #6
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Default SkagitStan's public Transit conversion build folder

I've created a public drive folder where folks could access my build documents (read only).
So far, it has a copy of my (incomplete) materials/components spreadsheet. Note that prices and source links on the sheet are preliminary.

This is really preliminary, and has not been formatted to make a sales & marketing type happy. It's more stream of conciousness engineering.
You will probably want Google Sheets or your own spreadsheet program to look at it. Otherwise the formatting is really screwed up

But I hope folks find it helpful...at least for a good chuckle.
https://drive.google.com/folderview?...FU&usp=sharing
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Old 02-18-2015, 04:52 AM   #7
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

skagitstan, here's the models I was talking about:
http://www.truma.net/us/en/water-systems/aquago.php

the basic or comfort models
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Old 02-18-2015, 04:55 AM   #8
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

And a video:
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Old 02-18-2015, 01:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Thanks, looks interesting.
Do you have a link to a dealer? So far, no luck finding one.
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Old 02-18-2015, 06:17 PM   #10
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

The Airhead toilet is not cheap. However, it is designed to be a standalone unit and be built to last, with a decent five year warranty. What it is intended to replace is an entire black tank and sewage system, so if one factors what it takes care of, the grand isn't too expensive. Plus, is separates liquids from solids, which is a good thing.

The downside is that its vent fan must run constantly. I'd even consider putting it on its own circuit with a small solar panel and battery, so it always is able to have enough power to keep spinning.

There are a lot of good threads about insulation. I'm a tyro on this subject, so I defer to the pros on this topic. It is quite important though.
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Old 02-19-2015, 03:07 AM   #11
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

No convection microwave? You can get 900 Watt units in convection, and they cook so much better than regular units.

I'm sure you're considered it, but think about storage. Then think about more and after that consider doubling it. lol There is never enough storage in an RV. Also consider the bigger items you might want to store like a screen tent, lawn chairs and a folding table and make sure you have homes for these. They always seem to get in the way.
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Old 02-19-2015, 03:14 AM   #12
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

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No convection microwave? You can get 900 Watt units in convection, and they cook so much better than regular units.

I'm sure you're considered it, but think about storage. Then think about more and after that consider doubling it. lol There is never enough storage in an RV. Also consider the bigger items you might want to store like a screen tent, lawn chairs and a folding table and make sure you have homes for these. They always seem to get in the way.
This. I am still not sure how the inside height of the high roof Transit compares, but if it is taller inside, it means more storage space in overheat bins. As an example of maximizing storage space, look at the Sportsmobile 130S, where it has a folding bed/couch, a rear bathroom, and virtually everything else is storage. It even has a place for a desk or full height cabinet.

There are other storage options as well, such as a hitch mounted cargo rack or even a trailer, but the biggest advantage of a "B" is its agility, and it sort of defeats the purpose of a small rig to start tacking on cargo containers, so maximizing storage space inside helps.

I'd call Truma directly to get info on their stuff. They are still new in the US, so their dealer network isn't established... but all Winnebago "B" dealers will have to have experience with their products, so that is a start. The space saved by not having to have both a furnace and water heater will help with adding more storage.
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Old 02-19-2015, 02:39 PM   #13
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

I completely agree on maximizing internal storage...and minimizing what we want to store. We recognize that we'll never store as much as in our TT, or in our former class C.
I plan on upper cabinets all around (tall as practical), and possibly an overhead compartment in the cab area. That last one is TBD.

We have a swing away cargo box in the spreadsheet, mainly for cost planning. Not at all sure we'll need it. One way to look at it is it makes the overall vehicle length about the same as the Winnie Era, and doesn't impact ground clearance.

One (perhaps the main) reason we're going for a fixed bed is that it should result in more storage than a folding couch. After all, you don't need to steal the under-bed floor space that a couch configuration takes up when it's folded.

While it's a "would be nice" item, I say no to the convection microwave. We need to minimize microwave run time, since we'll rarely have shore power, and won't have a generator. We've only used the oven on our current and former RVs as an extra pot storage space, so I'm sure we won't miss the convection. Once we have some current draw/recharge rate experience, we may get a toaster oven.

I am very interested in the Truma unit. I will try to find out if it's available direct to end users.

Stan
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Old 02-19-2015, 03:17 PM   #14
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Ford Body Builder Site:

https://www.fleet.ford.com/truckbbas/

Just posting in case you haven't seen it yet.
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Old 02-19-2015, 03:29 PM   #15
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build



stan
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Old 02-19-2015, 03:39 PM   #16
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Quote:
Originally Posted by skagitstan
One (perhaps the main) reason we're going for a fixed bed is that it should result in more storage than a folding couch. After all, you don't need to steal the under-bed floor space that a couch configuration takes up when it's folded.
You might want to take a look at the way Great West Vans deals with the under-bed issue. Their tri-fold design (which has been replicated by ARV) has the entire mechanism suspended from rails on the vehicle sides. The area underneath the bed is completely clear-span--open or closed, yielding vast space for storage. It might be a challenge to pull off something similar in a DIY, but looking at it might give you some ideas.
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Old 02-19-2015, 04:37 PM   #17
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Look at the Laveo dry toilet, you just toss the cartridge when full in the trash or mail it to your favorite politician . Also keep weight management and CG in mind in your build.
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Old 02-19-2015, 04:48 PM   #18
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Thanks for the Great West suggestion!
I just went to their site, and I'm not sure what I see helps. Is there another link with more info on their bed solution?


It looks like when the bed is folded, the bottom moves back far enough to expose the table mounts by the wheel wells. Otherwise why have those mounts?
Also, looking at the inside pics, there will always be open floor space between the ottomans. That seems to be a feature of most of the brands with folding beds. With just the 2 primates and 1 canid, about the only reason we have for that space to be open is for our dog to snooze. She already uses our bed at home for that purpose.

I'm planning that, under the bed, and along the driver's side wall, I'll have the house batteries, the charging/inverter devices and controllers, and the house/water heating stuff. Along the passenger wall will be the fresh H2O, pump and filter. The batteries and H20 should work to keep the left/right balance fairly close. Chances are that both those (or at least the H20) will need to end up behind the wheel wells, so I'm a bit concerned about handling, with the ~400-800 pounds hanging behind the wheels.

I'm hoping that most of the electrics & batteries can mount forward of the wheel well (under the wardrobe), but don't have sizes nailed down yet. I'll need to look at that more closely when empirical engineering time is here.

The center, all the way up to the front of the 72" bed's length, will be storage. Probably I'll have a divider/door about arm's length in from the front to have separable inside and outside storage. Kitchen counter and wardrobe will start immediately forward of the bed.

Gray water and propane (hopefully) will be mounted under body forward of the rear wheels, propane on passenger side, gray on driver side.

I really like that below floor storage hatch. I wonder if that's something I can do with the Transit.

Stan
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Old 02-19-2015, 06:09 PM   #19
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Here is a video that shows the mechanism at work:



[youtube:1q9n2wng]YWH3yK28ET0[/youtube:1q9n2wng]

Yes the storage hatch is great. The batteries are in the smaller hatches on either side. If you want more specific pictures of anything as you proceed, let me know and I can take some in our van and post them.
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Old 02-19-2015, 07:37 PM   #20
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Default Re: Greetings from the great NorthWet...upcoming DIY build

Very helpful link. It looks like a neat setup. Very useful if you anticipate needing the open floor space between the ottomans.
I suspect that will be more than I want to do. I also lean towards having fixed storage spaces, so we don't have to potentially reshuffle where things go.

I will be happy to pick your brain as I get further into this.

Thanks!
Stan
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