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Old 10-01-2013, 12:07 AM   #1
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Default In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B van

At least in my perfect world.
After the thread on charging batteries got off track, and Dave mentioned his desire to find a Sprinter based van to full time in, I once again thought about what I would like to see in a purpose built class B van to be used for full time living. I thought I'd split the topic off into a new thread.
I'm interested in what others think, so please add or subtract things, but also tell me why. I'm curious about what all of you would deem essential, and what might be deemed expendable?

I came up with the following lengthy list of what I'd like to see, and not see, in a van that I'd design and build myself, with the assistance of a custom upfitter like Sportsmobile.

If I were starting from scratch, and had the time to plan and build what I wanted, I'm thinking it's probably got to be built on the biggest class B chassis out there, for a start. 24' Sprinter, or something as big by somebody else. I would probably leave that up to the converter to recommend, based on the rest of my "must have" list.

After that, my priorities in ascending order would be, maximum off grid power capability/flexibility systems, a functional dry bath/shower/toilet area, a sleeping area, entertainment/communications equipment, the galley, and lastly, some storage. Off grid power capacity, cleanliness/hygiene, and well rested, are all higher priorities for me than food preparation and storage. IMO, food is a flexible component that is necessary, and that can be had relatively inexpensively, and more conveniently, in many other ways than DIY. Functional showers, toilets, and somewhere comfortable to sleep, can all be more difficult to find outside of your personal living environment, while on the road.

For the power generation and storage system, a higher output engine alternator if possible, feeding a higher capacity power storage and inverter/charger system, with as much solar assistance as possible, considering the other typical roof top equipment, and the ability of the roof structure to support the weight. 2-3 (or more) 12V AGM lead acid batteries would be my choice for the reasons suggested elsewhere in this thread and on this forum. Low maintenance, available everywhere, durability physically, and relative longevity in terms of the number of charge and discharge cycles they will tolerate. Some sort of gas/propane/diesel generator, with 2.8KW or better output, for redundancy.

The overall layout, including the size and location of the sleeping area, and the placement of the entertainment and connectivity/communications equipment, and the interior food storage and prep equipment, would depend entirely on the placement and size of the bathroom/shower area. That's where I would consult the upfitter/converter to see what my options would be to maximize the functionality of that system. The best location of the F/G/B tanks will affect placement of the bathroom/toilet/sink/shower. Ideally, inside tanks or heavily insulated (heated?) would be best, because I like places that aren't always tropical, and water freezes.That rear bath/shower design might work better if the tanks were also located nearer to the back of the chassis. I would also consider a walk thru shower somewhere amidships to allow a full width bathroom with shower doors fore and aft, that would allow access to the area behind it, if that's where it has to be placed. I don't know if anyone has done it like that before, but I think it would be possible. A shower/sink/toilet area at the rear seems to make more sense to me, than amidships like the typical class B van layout. An upfitter might be able to suggest some options here.

After that, placement of the bed(s) would be in whatever space was left, with a thought to maximum comfort for sleeping for at least 2 people, without crowding each other. Again, an upfitter might be able to shed some light on options for beds or bunks or whatever would work. Possibly a Murphy style bed? Or 2 folding sides to a large, van width sized, bed. When folded back from the aisle, they sides would create opposing seating, that becomes a king bed when folded down into the aisle.

It follows that TV/wifi/coach batteries/inverter(s) equipment would be placed based on the prior 2 items placement, considering using the shortest wiring routing, and easiest access to them from within (or outside?) the living space. Placing electricals for ease of access from inside/outside would also be a consideration. Nothing lasts forever and things need occasional maintenance. I would prefer that no RV system has a hard requirement for access only from under the van chassis. It's not always easy or convenient to get under these things, so the entire design must enable ease of access.

Having a galley with a sink/cooktop might be a luxury in a small living space. I'd consider omitting them to save space. I might add a small sink if there was space left over after the important stuff was installed, but a compressor fridge and microwave would have to be it for the inside galley. Realistically, most heat/fire based food preparations can be done outside, under the awning if necessary. I'd try to carry food items that don't require complex preparations or a lot of heat/power to prepare, so "microwavable" food probably works best (a m/w will boil water pretty quickly), with a small Coleman stove or BBQ for those food items that have that requirement. Most campsites, even some of the more rustic/primitive places, have some water source for washing up nearby, but you can't count on it. Disposable everything for food prep and eating would be a better option in my opinion, but with some basic permanent cutlery and china, too. Paper plates and plastic knives and forks don't work for all types of food.

I don't think you can afford to be a hoarder in a class B full timer's limited living space, so it's at the bottom of the list. Basically I'd use whatever space might be left over to add drawers, cupboards, possibly some overhead, and perhaps an armoire if there was room. If not, make do with the space that's left. I would only need enough storage to carry a few days worth of clothing, some basic hygiene items, and maybe some food/drink staples. Additional equipment would be on an "if it fits, we'll consider it" basis. I suppose one could always add a hitch mounted external storage container later, if it became absolutely necessary (possibly for outdoors comfort and galley items?). It would add another foot or two to the overall length of the motorhome, which might be problematic in some situations.

Since I'm full timing, and I assume I'll be carrying personal items, documents, and valuables, I would consider adding a secure storage container, small safe, or similar. Paper documents are bulky and could be scanned and placed on a USB drive and stored anywhere more securely than in their original format. I would also consider some sort of audible alarm system, that would also notify me at a distance via a remote fob, or some other technology, if I'm not within earshot of the alarm.
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Old 10-01-2013, 07:23 PM   #2
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

My next big purchase after the "B" is likely going to be a small cargo trailer which I plan to upfit with solar panels, maybe even add a charge controller, battery, and inverter so the trailer can be a standalone energy appliance.

Would a small trailer work in this situation? In my case, I'll either be boondocking (where the trailer is along for additional energy and storage of supplies like a waste tank, fresh water, and fuel), or going on road trips (where the trailer will be left in storage since it isn't really needed at full hookup sites.)

As for the safe, I've seen a few that are decent. The trick is to find a place where it can be securely bolted and generally out of the way.

As for documents, receipts, etc., scanning is a good idea. Keeping a backup on a USB stick, not so much. I'd recommend periodically burning them to CD or DVD every few months, or perhaps consider using a service like Dropbox. I use Dropbox in combination with a security program called TrueCrypt. This way, all documents stored there are encrypted, but accessible from any computer that can link there. One can also use encrypted RAR or ZIP archives as well.
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Old 10-01-2013, 10:10 PM   #3
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

I think if we were going to full time, I would try to get into a custom, diesel powered, C. I think you could build, or have built, something pretty cool, and well suited to full timing. I think I would try to get max space usage, and usability, by making it a mini toy hauler. Imagine a relatively small C with a toy hauler rear, but that enters that area from the side, not the rear. You could have it big enough for a Smart car, with only about 6' used. That area could also double as a large shower (when the car was out), storage/utility area, so the rest of the rig could be put to maximum use for living space. I don't think I can imagine us being able to do full timing in something that we also had to use for all our transportation, or having enough space for what we would desire (not just what we need).
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Old 10-02-2013, 09:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

For me traveling in our Class B is fine, but fulltiming woud require some serious reconsideration. At 22' 9", we're a bit short for me, so the 24' 1" woulld be the first step. The feeling of confinement seems to be important, so having an awning with a screen room or tent room would be nice. If you got the large Sprinter with the additional driver's side door, that would allow for 2 awnings and 2 screen/tent rooms, or something else. Of course, the screen/tent would have to be stored and that would take space--a commodity that is sorely needed in Class B travels.

I think the key to space utilization is having space that is used for one application not be used for that application only. For instance, the trend is for the bathroom/shower to be a larger enclosed space. That takes up room from any other use. The Rialta had a small closet that housed the toilet which faced the aisleway, with a sliding wall unit that took space from the aisle when the toilet was in use, then gave it back after use. Likewise the RoadTrek 190's and 170's had a similar feature that the doors open up and fold together to build a little room from a closet. Both used a removable floorboard to also make that space a larger shower.

Similarly, the bed can be put up every morning to provide additonal seating area. I haven't seen anything that bests the GW and Advanced "Tri-fold couches" for this purpose. I also wonder if there is any way that one could go UP for more storage while camping, like a pop-top VW camper or VW EuroVan Weekender.

I guess what I'm proposing is a vehicle that is kinda like a puffer fish. When it goes down the road it is a standard Sprinter size, but when it camps to park it puffs out to provide a lot of interior space.

However, I think that there are people who could full-time in a Class B, and there are those of us who would find it unbearable.

A lot of the problems with full-timing in a Class B could be alleviated by staying a night here or there in a cabin or motel, but that wouldn't be full-timing now, would it?

...........Rocky
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Old 10-02-2013, 09:57 PM   #5
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

As for expansion, I'd like to see more "B"s use slides similar to the Free Spirit SS. However, slide-outs tend to be heavy and unless engineered right, they also bring the issues of water and vermin intrusion.
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Old 10-02-2013, 11:11 PM   #6
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

Quote:
Originally Posted by booster
I think if we were going to full time, I would try to get into a custom, diesel powered, C. I think you could build, or have built, something pretty cool, and well suited to full timing. I think I would try to get max space usage, and usability, by making it a mini toy hauler. Imagine a relatively small C with a toy hauler rear, but that enters that area from the side, not the rear. You could have it big enough for a Smart car, with only about 6' used. That area could also double as a large shower (when the car was out), storage/utility area, so the rest of the rig could be put to maximum use for living space. I don't think I can imagine us being able to do full timing in something that we also had to use for all our transportation, or having enough space for what we would desire (not just what we need).
Good point about how to get around without the "mother ship". Folding bikes, or a small motorbike, might be easier than a smart car, but if you went with a 24' Sprinter, you might be able to use 6 ' or so at the rear end to create a "garage" for a small car. I would think a better choice would be hauling one of those contractor style trailers, and put your toad in it. Or get one of those 2 wheel toad trailers that only lift the front or rear wheels for travel. Saw one behind a Class A the other day. And a trailer with a Firebird Trans Am in it. I'm also guessing the toad has to be a convertible, or have a T-roof, to allow you to get out of the car after you drive it into the trailer. No room to open the doors, once inside.
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Old 10-02-2013, 11:15 PM   #7
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlts22
As for expansion, I'd like to see more "B"s use slides similar to the Free Spirit SS. However, slide-outs tend to be heavy and unless engineered right, they also bring the issues of water and vermin intrusion.
I saw a brand new LTV Serenity in the nearby Sam's Club a few weeks ago. Awesome RV, for a small C on a Sprinter cutaway chassis.
I think I could full time in one of those.
http://www.leisurevans.com/serenity/
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Old 10-05-2013, 06:51 AM   #8
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

If I was going to get a slightly bigger rig, one of the LTV vans would be it. I like the one with the murphy bed best.

On our first trip we stopped by an RV dealership (Johnson) near Portland, OR and looked at the LTV units, and I have to admit, I was a little jealous of the space. Then we drove down the road and parked in a shopping center in our rig where the LTV larger rig wouldn't have had a chance fitting, and the jealousy disappeared.

..........Rocky
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Old 10-05-2013, 06:10 PM   #9
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

Must have been a shopping mall parking lot designed for munchkins driving smart cars.
We've seen some pretty big rigs, both towed, and motorized negotiate some pretty tight parking lot situations, surprisingly without too much trouble.
Overall, if I had to decide which feature was more important to me when designing a full time class B RV, maximizing the interior space would definitely be more important than what parking spots it fit into. A 24' 6" Sprinter chassis or equivalent, would be my choice as a starting point, to that end. I'll figure out the logistics of routing and parking later.
You have to appreciate the interior size and amenities of the LTV Unity/Serenity models. They look pretty comfy and very functional.
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Old 10-07-2013, 03:04 PM   #10
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

I just spotted this screen 'room' for the awning but can't seem to find it anywhere. Are these common or available?

It's picture 3 in the gallery on this page: http://www.rvingplanet.com/brands/roadt ... e-class-b/

the extra 'room' would seem a huge bonus for full timing
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Old 10-07-2013, 04:05 PM   #11
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

When we were first looking at Roadtreks, we were certain we wanted a screenroom for it, but as time went on, and as we talked to folks with class B's, we got away from it for a bunch of reasons. They are big to haul around, at least the one Roadtrek sold, and would take essentially all the rear storage room. I think it weighed something like 60-70 pounds. You also wind up untethering the van everytime you go somewhere, and retethering when you return, which is what most folks said made them not have one. One observant point was that they can fill with bugs while you are gone, unless you seal up the open end. We hadn't thought about that.

We settled for a screen house that is made to clear a picnic table. Sets up pretty quickly, is about 9" diameter by 3' when rolled up, and maybe 15 pounds. It looked like the best compromise for us. We only take it with when we are going to stay somewhere more than a couple of days, and then don't even put it up much of the time.
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Old 10-07-2013, 04:13 PM   #12
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

Depending on add on amenities to a B such as attached screen rooms, slides, trailers, etc. to make them livable to me defeat the whole purpose of a B. They tether you and limit your functionality of using a B to its inherent mobility advantage. If you feel a need for such then it is probably time to move up to a bigger RV. I'd concentrate on designing a B inside that is most functional for livability to your style and needs.

Like Booster we do carry a 14 foot hexagonal detached screen room that easily fits over a picnic table or gives us ample room for a couple of lounger chairs and tabl. It is good for marking our spot if we drive around for the day and makes things more livable if the area is mosquito and fly infested or if there is steady rain. We didn't need it once in our last one month trip to the southwest. We put our regular awning out but just once and I am leery about having the awning out anytime it is windy. It's nice but we don't rely on it to expand our livability.
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Old 10-07-2013, 10:47 PM   #13
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

For me, I'd probably just consider a tent, or an EZ-Up pavilion that has a floor and walls. Done right with the awning, one has cover until they reach the tent's entrance, and when leaving, it doesn't require the time it takes to untether, especially the add-a-rooms that are using the awning. It also depends on how long one is in one spot:

If going from place to place every day or two, a tent may be too much of a bother. When on a normal trip, I'd just keep the tent in storage somewhere, since I'm hitting a CG at most for a night, maybe two before having to go home again.

If staying in one spot for a long while, then putting up a tent can be a good idea. For example, I dry camp at a festival on weekends from January to April. There, having a tent, such as a Shelter Logic garage can be extremely useful for storing stuff on site (barbecue grille.)

Between the two extremes, one should use their judgement... the longer one is in one place, the more useful a tent can be as additional space.
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Old 10-07-2013, 11:47 PM   #14
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

This is the Eureka screen tent we carry. It is easy to put up and fits in a 9" x 9" x 28" canvas bag.

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Old 10-08-2013, 05:26 PM   #15
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Default Re: In a perfect world.....building a full timer's class B v

Oh yeah storage space and time make the 'room' unworkable, and a pop-up tent nearby makes sense. I thought it'd just be a couple bug screens.

When I sleep in my van I just open the windows and throw a $12 REI bug screen over the whole front cab and magnet it on. I can do the same in the rear too and leave the entire hatch open, though I rarely do.
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