I cannot believe that the last time I posted was as long ago as 18th October. Where have the last 4 months gone? Looking back at the photos from the last post, I can see how much work has been completed. I can’t really explain why I haven’t posted for four months. I think I had an idea fixed in my head of where I wanted us to be up to before I posted again, which related to the ceiling being finished so it all looked neat. We haven’t yet got to the point, although we have actually completed a lot of work. So what have we done?
Work Completed to Date
Roof Fans We installed two MaxxFans in the roof of the van. These fans are important as they not only let in light and provide ventilation but with two fans, allow for the circulation of cool air in the summer as one sucks and one blows to allow air to circulate properly. The fans work on remote control and come with a blind to shut out the light, which also works on the remote. One fan is installed over the bed, so we can get cool, fresh air at night during the warmer months and the other is in what will be the shower cubicle and will help extract steam.
Electrical and Gas System We installed the solar panels on the roof. We have three panels of 150w each. In order to install them on the roof, Dave designed a home-made roof rack of aluminium profile. Putting the rack together was a complex job, a bit like putting Meccano together with tens of bolts and (ridiculously expensive) rubber washers but Dave had help from Jason to get the thing together and up onto the roof.
The solar panels are connected to 4 leisure batteries (200 amp hours of lithium iron phosphate in total) which will run the lights, fridge and electrical devices like laptops etc.
The solar panels are connected to the batteries via a solar controller which converts the voltage generated by the solar panels into the charging voltage for the battery (I have no idea what that means but luckily Dave is a qualified electrical engineer).
We added a battery charger and hook up cable so we can access electrical hook ups on campsites. This is ideal in the winter when there isn’t much sun to charge the batteries from the solar panels.
Now vans run off 12 volt DC electrics whereas houses run off 240 AC volts. This means that we cannot use 240 volt appliances/devices without a power inverter. We haven’t installed an inverter yet, although we will. We do have a socket for charging devices or using small electrical appliances when connected to an electrical hook up though. This means at the moment I could only use my hairdryer at campsites…if any were open…or we were allowed to leave the house…
We also connected up the gas heater so the inside of the van is now toasty when working on it. This is essential as it has been very cold with a lot of snowy days. We also plan to live in the van right through the winter over the next few years so we need heating. The heater is a Propex heater which runs off a propane tank, both of which are installed underneath the van. Hot air blows into the van via a large duct.
We also have a gas water heater fitted under the van but this is not connected up yet. In order to control the electrical and gas systems Dave created and installed a control panel. This incorporates the lighting controls, controls for the gas heater, gas alarms, gas cylinder fill level indicator.
We installed LED lights in the ceiling. At the moment we have 5, which are connected to the leisure batteries, but there will be more when the whole ceiling is complete (more about that later). You can switch each light on and off and dim each one at the light itself which is very handy when you are in bed.
Furniture Dave spent a very enjoyable few days building the kitchen carcass from 12mm marine ply. This will hold the cooker, oven, fridge, sink and some kitchen storage.
Over the last couple of days, he and Jason have started building the large storage cupboards, which are situated on one side of the bed. This is where we will store our clothes and personal effects.
The bespoke memory foam mattress that I mentioned last time has arrived and fits perfectly. I am not 100% sure it will be comfortable enough. We had to compromise a bit on the depth but if it proves less than comfy then we will buy a mattress topper.
Miscellaneous Stuff We replaced the double bench seat on the passenger side of the cab with a single seat.
This is mostly about comfort as the bench seat was at 90 degrees and did not recline so was not comfy for longer journeys. We may in the future buy a swivel base so we can turn the passenger seat around facing into the van. Single passenger seats are in huge demand as so many people are converting vans at the moment. We were lucky to find something second hand on Ebay that was affordable and we met a guy in a lay-by in Wrexham to take delivery. We sold the bench seat on Ebay for a penny and oddly the same guy turned up to collect it, having driven 100 miles to get here. Ne had no idea we were the same people. We also finally installed an alarm so that we can feel happy enough leaving the van unattended when we go out…is we ever go out again…
I made a set of magnetic window blinds for the rear of the van which block out the light and cold/heat from the windows we installed. We also bought a set of cab blinds which work on plastic suckers. We fitted a rail and thermal blackout curtains to separate the cab from the rest of the van at night.This means that the rear of the van is completely dark at night.
A Special Christmas Night
We had completed almost all of this work by the time Xmas came. We were briefly out of lockdown in early December and had made our plans for Xmas, which involved travelling to Burnley for Xmas Eve/Xmas Day to stay with Dave’s family and then travelling to Lichfield to spend two nights with my family. Although both families were in Tier 3 restrictions, Boris told us that we could meet family for 5 days as long as it was not more than three households gathering. Only a few days before Xmas, the government made a U turn, Wales was plunged into full lockdown with only one day allowed at Xmas to meet with one other household. Gifts were wrapped and food already bought. We were all very disappointed. We needed a Plan B. Jason and Ali invited us to spend Xmas Day with them, socially distanced. We obviously did not want to drive home so in order to keep us all safe, instead of staying over in the house, we decided we would sleep in the van! That really galvanised us to make sure the van was “winter ready” as the weather forecast was for it to be below freezing on Xmas night. Even though the heater was in full operation, we packed two duvets and two four season sleeping bags. It wasn’t the first time we had slept in the van but last time it was about 12 degrees at night.
Our special Xmas night proved that the van is fully winterised. To be honest, it was far too warm with the heater on all night. The blinds and curtain completely blocked out any light so the inside of the van was pitch dark, except when we used the LED lights. The mattress was not quite as comfy as I hoped and I did not have a good night’s sleep. However, that might be at least partly due to the large amount of Champagne we drank. We woke up with terrible hangovers about 6.30am and badly scratched the side of the van trying to manoeuvre off Jason’s tight driveway. Once you start driving a massive van, you learn very quickly why most other massive vans you see are scratched and dented. Apart from the cosmetic damage to Silver, we declared our first winter night in the van to be a huge success.
Post Christmas Blues
We hit a number of snags in late December that really slowed things down. We had waited to finish the insulation and lining of the ceiling until all of the work was completed on the roof i.e. installation of the MaxxFans and solar panels. Once we had installed these, earlier in December we started insulating and lining the ceiling. It took us a while to figure out the best way to do this and what materials we wanted to use.
We were quite pleased with the job that we had done using the plastic bottle insulation spray glued to the ceiling followed by the vapour layer and finished off with a sheet of 4mm plywood attached directly to the metal ribs of the ceiling. We decided to leave it two thirds completed, pending the building of the shower unit. This meant that the vapour layer and ply lining were not complete and some insulation was left exposed.
After Xmas, we had some very wet weather and it became apparent that one of the MaxxFans was leaking. We didn’t notice this as quickly as we should have and unfortunately water crept in. Now water is a bastard, it will sneak in anywhere given the chance. It is crucial that the whole of the skin of the van is insulated and a vapour layer is added before the ply liner to ensure that no moisture, whether it be water coming in or condensation formed from human breath, reaches the metal of the van. If this happens then it will rust, so eradicating water is vital if we want to avoid having a rust bucket in a few years time. Due to the leak from the fan, we not only had a soggy ceiling where the insulation was still exposed but the metal was damp to the touch on large areas of the rest of the ceiling and even behind the ply walls we had already installed. We were gutted when we realised this had happened and rather than springing into action, it led to an inertia setting in, as we were unable to decide how bad it was and the best course of action. Would were able to address the leak? Would we be able to dry out the walls or would we need to strip out all the walls that we had spent so long installing?
We finally decided to reseal the leaking fan with some Sikoflex and try to dry out the walls using the heater. Luckily, this worked and after a tense few days, both the ceiling and the van seemed to be bone dry. We were very relieved then we hit another snag. The engine was leaking water and we were unable to use the van at all.
While Dave and Jason were pretty sure where the problem lay, it was a big job to get to and replace the defective part. We took Silver off to a mechanic who seemed reluctant from the start to take the work on but told us to leave it with him. Long story short, he kept the van for three weeks, during which time we had a lot of snow and he was unable to work on it as it would not fit inside his workshop.
After three weeks he told us he could not do it. During this time, we were in full lockdown and Dave had nothing to do, except play his guitar and watch TV or read so a bit of the January blues set in.
We started to feel that we would never see the van again or get back to the job in hand. The government also keep moving the goal posts of when the lockdown will be over and when we might be able to move into the van and get on with our new life. We took the van to a second mechanic just over a week ago and, just when we needed a lift of spirits, they fixed it in 5 days and returned it to us a few days ago.
So we have achieved a lot, although it still looks very messy and will continue to do so for around another month I imagine. Things are now moving on at a brisk pace though. Having been without the van for so long and having made little progress for nearly two months, we are now galvanised to really get on with things. So what is the plan?
- Finish building the carcasses of the large storage cupboards, then sort out the doors. We haven’t decided yet whether to make the doors from marine ply and prime and paint them or buy the doors ready-made from a kitchen door suppliers. We have agreed that I will do an apprentice piece to see what kind of finish we can create with primer, paint and a lot of sanding. If we are not happy with it them we will buy the doors.
- Build the shower cubicle and get the shower installed. Connect the water system.
- Build the rest of the cupboards. We will have smaller cupboards above the kitchen area and above the starting area.
- Finish the ceiling.
- Make the cushion for the bench seat once the fabric shops reopen.
- Install the kitchen appliances in the carcass and connect them up. Connect the water heater.
- Make the whole thing look nice. That is my job and involves wallpaper, 4 way stretch carpet, lots of primer and paint, edge trims etc.
I would not go as far as to say we are in the home stretch as there is still a lot left to do. I am not 100% sure it will be finished for Easter, which is only 7 weeks away, but I do think we have turned a corner. We have overcome a lot of challenges (including working thorough some very cold days), resolved a lot of problems and made a lot of decisions since we started but finally I can see a time in the not too distant future when the van will be finished and we will be living in it.