Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last day

By the end of the day today I will be sleeping in the van......just in time for a hurricane.

At least the weather will be cooler,
from this

to this

It will take a few days to get everything arranged in a logical manner, I am confident that daily use will solve the what gets stored and where problem.

What remains in the apt can easily fit in the van. A trip to goodwill is also on the to-do list but maybe tomorrow. I need to clean a few things in the apt and have the maintenance guy inspect it.

Garage needs to be cleaned up too. A few oddball things are left in there, also have to hookup the garage door opener.

I wish I had everthing out of the apt on sunday, I could have enjoyed the zen of empty space.

The fridge is off and defrosting. How nice it is not to have to listen to the compressor running during the evening.  I ate most of what remained, the rest is getting trashed. Still need to clean it.
I have not started up the fridge in the van, no need for it right now and hopefully I can get by without it for a while due to the excessive amount of heat it produces. I need to come up with a way to vent the fridge heat out of the van, maybe a hinged utility hookup or something. Also need to put a fan in the sunroof vent to draw heat out of the pop-top.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Two days left!

48 hours of apartment life left.

Last night, after dropping off stuff at the storage unit, I went to work to use the gym/shower.
It was glorious, first of all, there is no one in the building or gym at 8pm so I could have had used every machine they have without waiting. The second cool part is that everything had just been cleaned but the best part is that I have the entire locker room to myself.
The showers are great, grey/green tile with proper shower controls ( the kind where you set the temperature and then set the flow rate).
I can stand upright and still have the water hitting my head.
They supply soap, towels and shaving creme.
The towels are just the way I like, hard and scratchy.
I don't have to clean anything; just walk in, use, walk out

I have my food supply divided up and boxed for storage.  Most of my clothes are in storage, the ironing board is set up and I have added the light bulb socket adapter. The van is loaded up for another lunch trip with some misc items. I want to try to do the new vinyl stickers tonight and also make a trip to goodwill to donate some stuff and to find a fan for the storage unit. If I have to be in there ironing and getting supplies I might as well have a fan too cool me down

Monday, August 29, 2011

8/29 Project Update

The storage unit is looking quite full. There is no way all this stuff could fit into the van.
I've posted some stuff on craigslist and will be adding more later this week. 

What is left in the apt is:
Air mattress with pillows
Alarm clock - to be replaced by European phone so I can shut off my regular phone for uninterrupted sleep
work clothes to be ironed and ironing board with iron
some casual shirts, shorts and my shoes (10 pairs)
Ikea chair and end table with laptop and camera and router with power strip
Bose stereo and couple of cds
Dinning room folding table
Couple of books to put in van
bare minimum of kitchen utensils and the pot/pan set I kept
bathroom, kitchen, human cleaning supplies
Hurricane Emergency water supply (14gallons)

Apparently I have a food hording issue. Ill try and snap a photo when I get back from work but it is sad. I am trying to eat what is left out of the freezer and fridge.
The plan for the food is to cut it up into individual portions for the van and stick the rest in storage. Once I eat through all that is in storage I will utilize the bulk bins at the store and restock for a 1-2 week supply only.

I will try to get a photo of the storage unit, it is ridicules,  I have attached shelf hooks and some wood bits to recreate my closet. I plan on having the ironing board underneath it all but the ultimate goal is to switch over to clothes that do not require ironing.

Van progress was very limited:
Cleaned all windows with lacquer and steel wool to remove any paint overspray
Cleaned floor rubber mats
Installed sunroof flap and added a reflectix layer to block the heat
Bled the coolant system (new thermal switch is working perfectly, fans are operating correctly including the after run cooldown relay system)

I want to put the new vinyl letters on the roof tonight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

8/26 weekend goals

The last weekend goals post while I still have an apartment. Where does the time go? oh wait I know, working on the van is where it goes.

Everything is set up to end at midnight on the 31st. No more power, water or internet. My mail is setup to forward, I received my new drivers license with my new mailbox address on it. All the websites I use that mail me stuff I have updated. Insurance,

The apartment is looking open and free, my storage unit is filling up. I can not wait to spend a day or two in this apt with just the bare necessities in it. Would be zen like if I didn't have to move the bed this weekend and swap for an air mattress.

I sold two of my pachinko machines today, At first I only sold one because I wouldn't take a lower offer on the second one but while driving out of the lot I realized that the difference in prices was trivial compared to the reduction of stuff that it represented and the freedom that I would be regaining. I am glad that I sold the second one, both are going to a cool game room.

Stuff done this week:
Replaced the thermoswitch and resoldered the fan resistor (used the brazing torch this time and seems to be working properly but new on still on list of things to order)
New thermal curtains are awesome (I had one up at the storage unit for an hr and despite the tint, one side was hot while the other was still cool, I am impressed)
Parking brake cover installed
New flex are is installed and operating the roof properly (I am not impressed by this crappy thing)

Weekend goals are:
Get my shit into the storage unit and setup the wardrobe. Lots of cleaning to do with the apt.
Begin packing food into van.
Test grey water tanks for leaks, if there are any I wont have the time to fix unless it is at the hose fittings. 
Still need to readjust throttle cable and install new cam screw for fuel cutoff switch.
Bleed air out of coolant system
Patch canvas
clean rubber mats
wire up aux power to dash socket
Add second layer of reflectix to engine area under bed, this stuff is good but I want more and still have half of a roll to use up.
Sunroof screen and flap needs to be installed

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The storage unit lifestyle

I now have a storage unit which costs $30 per month, a 5x10 steel box in a non-climate controlled building on the second floor. I might regret not getting a unit at the U-haul place as they are climate controlled which I guess I could use as an emergency sleeping spot as u-haul storage is 24hr access. The place I have now closes at 7pm.

I packed the van with the stuff that needs to sell and the spare van parts and dropped it off during lunch. Every day this week will involve moving my stuff into the unit. There is no power outlet on the wall but there is a light bulb and I can get an adapter socket which will turn it into a power outlet; with an outlet in the storage unit I can iron my work clothes and charge my electronics. I had planned on having my clothes dry cleaned but the costs is too much for me and I now have a "free" power source.

Everything I moved into the unit felt like it weighted a thousand pounds, I can not believe that I have so many things. My goal is to get rid of most items by the end of September.

The goal for the storage unit is to have the nostalgia/keep/go home to CO stuff in the back and the expendables up front with my clothes and ironing board on the side. I am experimenting with my work clothes and am trying to only wear my golf shirts/polos that do not need to be ironed. If I could reduce my work clothes to just that I would be happy. I plan on only having a week's worth of clothes in the van, this will reduce the trips I need to make to the storage unit. 

Stuff done:
Grey water tanks are in and vents are routed. Need to pressure test again.

To Do:
I have packages of stuff to pick up at my mailbox, should be new flexarm and radiator fan thermoswitch and thermal curtains. All need to be installed.
Adjust throttle switch and install new cam screw

I found a set of Hella fog lights in my spare parts box. I want to put them on the van but I can't decide on front or back. The front is the obvious choice but the tint makes it difficult to back up at night, maybe I can get another set for the back.

I think I spend too much on food each week. I need to start tracking the expensive stuff and substitute or eliminate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

8/22 Project Update

Yet another project update post.

The canvas top was installed. What a crappy job, my hands are numb from having to tighten so many screws. The canvas kit was a cheap kit and so the install is not as drum tight as I was expecting. The rails that hold the canvas to the roof are poorly designed as well. I parked the van in a parking lot around 8pm and worked till about 2am. One of the rails tore a hole in a corner so I need to patch it but at least it is up and keeps bugs out.

The grey water tanks are still not finished. I had to pull both tanks and JB weld the breather ports onto the tanks to prevent installation leaks. I will install the last tank this evening after work.

The water pump was working properly, the battery was totally dead and so I purchased a new starter battery and put the old starter battery into the house slot.

Pop Top seals are glued in place.

New flex arm is in the mail. I do not have the time to repair the one I have, maybe later.

Once I mount the new flex arm I can install the sunroof screen and shade flap

Both beds are installed

Heat distribution box was installed on Friday

New starter battery so the aux battery got the old one.

Radio is now switchable to operate off of either battery, still requires key in ignition to operate. Also hard wired the aux input cord and sorted out a ground loop problem.

Found water tank key, it was attached to the rest of the spare keys that got buried under paperwork on my desk.

Decorative wiper caps installed

Things still to do:
Finish the grey water tanks and route vent to high point, cap aux fresh water tank input pipe.
Re-test water system for leaks
Install new flex arm and screen
Patch tear in canvas
Clean bumper and rubber mats of over-spray
Wire dash aux socket to aux battery power
Install new thermoswitch  for radiator fan unit

Other stuff:
The ballast resistor for the radiator fan burned off its insulation and low speed circuit wiring. I patched up the low speed circuit and added some high temp silicon sealant but the fix will be to get a new resistor (not cheap @$70).

I added insulation and repaired the cover for the throttle linkage under the van. This is one of the sources of heat that blasts my right foot while driving.

Cleaned the two ground points behind dash and the driver door switch.

Plan for week:
Get a storage unit and start moving non-essentials (but stuff I still need/want) into it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

8/19 Weekend Goals

Every day feels like the final scene from Fight Club with Tyler counting down my days left.

Second to last weekend goals post while I still have a garage and apt.

What has been done so far this week:
Installed bench seat (need to adjust latch mechanism due to binding issue)
Installed rear bed
Installed all curtains
Installed Passenger Seat (greased both driver and passenger seat tracks)
Installed Carpet on wheel arches, floor and center section
New tires installed
Currently at Dealership getting a suspension alignment
Glued the sink drain together and reinstalled (need to test for leaks again)
Installed spare city water hookup but need to test(came in box of spare parts - I will still repair the old one with JB weld)

Weekend Goals:
Canvas Top is priority number one, this will take approx 4-6hrs to install and is absolutely necessary.
Seal grey water tanks and route vent system to high point under van (retest for leaks)
Get water pump working
Attach pop-top seals
Fix Flex-arm sliders
Install sunroof screen and shade flap
Install top beds
Clean bumper caps of paint over-spray
Clean Step rubber mats
Install heat circulation box cover
Measure battery box dimensions to determine if deep cycle battery can fit
Get new battery for aux or replace starter battery and use old starter battery as new aux battery
Finish switch power supply for radio

Minor projects:
Find water tank key
Install window screens on sliders
Rewire Kitchen light to Aux battery
Install shut off valves for heater units
Install mmanual switch for radiator fan
Repair Windshield chips
Install wiper decorative caps (maybe repaint wiper arms)
Fans to help vent/circulate fridge heat/cold and a Fan to keep me cool
Measure interior light bulbs for LED replacements

Other goals:
Get Lexus and household items onto craigslist
Find out if bed will fit into back of van

I think it might be easier if I take everything I have in the apt and put it into the living room. Then put the daily use items back into the rooms (obviously the clothes and kitchen have the most "idle" stuff), what remains needs to be sold, sorted or stored. The store pile will determine the size of the storage unit i need, if I can sell off the bed, bed frame, headboard and chairs before I move I will be in good shape.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Houston we have a problem

I needed to pressure test the water tanks before I lose my garage and that is what I did last night. The main tank is holding water just fine, the large grey tank had a small leak at the drain and clean-out plug but further tightening stopped those.

The grey water tanks both have a couple of pin hole leaks. I need to drop them and reseal, one leak is right where the support strap rests against the tank. Also have some weeping at the fittings.

The sink drain catch piece leaks and I had to remove it to finish testing.

The city water pressure fitting has a crack which sprayed water down into the kitchen panel. No worries as the entire floor is covered with reflectix and most of it will drain out through the kitchen exterior panel. I need to see if the crack can be filled or get a new hookup.

I also could not find the key to my tank filler cap, must be hiding somewhere where I wouldn't forget as I know I have it.

To Do: reseal tanks, hook up the tank vents to each other and route the hose to a higher location. Glue the sink drain parts.

Not all bad news though, now that all the tanks are full I can get the tires put on and aligned today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

8/15 Project Update

The past weekend was a very productive weekend.
The grey water tanks have been installed and plumbing tied into sink drain. I added a second sealant layer and also painted the exterior to match the propane tank.

The body paint is as good as it is going to get for now. I could wet sand it and then buff and polish to make it look better but why?

The sunroof is partially installed. The hardware kit I purchased did not have instructions or a diagram so I had to waste time figuring out how it worked. The used hinges were a bit bent requiring brute force straightening. The used flex arm (which is the worst design I have ever seen for a window opener) needs new rollers and I am not sure about the condition of the teeth at the closed position so I may purchase a new one.

The engine vents were reinstalled.

Water tank, plumbing and cabinet was installed on saturday.

Kitchen cabinet was cleaned and installed on saturday, Fridge was installed and operating on sunday. I have to do a start-up video, it is too goofy.

I modified the kitchen sink drain to go behind the kitchen panel and out of the shelf space. I will post a photo of this soon.

Bench seat box was cleaned and installed on sunday. I had to modify the ecu housing to fit correctly, the housing and ecu is a used replacement and it never fit properly.

Lower radiator grill was installed after testing both high and low speed fan operation. I may wire in a switch to allow me to manually control the fans at low speeds or traffic.

The driver mirror was re-installed on sunday.

I had a tough time putting the window seals back on but it was necessary to take them off to do the tint and is worth the effort.

When installing the water cabinet I modified the mounting point of the panel that separates the wiring for the tank and outlets from the dry storage. Originally this is a trapezoidal shape but it can be made into a square for increased storage.

I need to fill up the water tank and grey water tanks to verify that neither leak now that they are installed. I didn't see any leaks when out of the van.

List of stuff to-do:
Install floor and carpet
Re-install Passenger seat after cleaning and greasing sliding track.
Install Pop-Top canvas
Fix sunroof flexarm and install screen flap
Glue pop-top rubber seal onto pop-top
Get windshield chips fixed
Install windshield wiper decorative caps
Install rear seats and rear bed
Install pop-top bed
Install sliding window screens (I have on order a set of screens for the front windows which are necessary for ventilation)
Load up the van and do new tires and alignment
Get a new battery, life is too short to be dealing with a questionable battery
Finish wiring for switchable power supply to stereo and cig lighter outlet
Add radiator fan switch for manual control
Clean all bumper caps of paint and buffing compound
New outer door window seals, current ones look like the surface of the dark side of the moon.
I know I will need a fan, this heat is terrible
Rewire the kitchen light to run off of aux battery
Mount license plates
Need to get my tinted wing windows back and have the holes cut for the sliding window latches
Empty the kitchen drawer and restock with necessary items

Plan for the week:
Make a space in apt for stuff that needs to go to CO and consolidate stuff for sale pile.
Post Pachinko machines, car, and bed frame/headboard on craigslist and work bulletin
Get rid of more stuff!!

Why do you want to live in a van? part 5 - Climate Control

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

 The camper van has no source of heat and air conditioning is an option but neither are very useful if you are unable to contain/maintain the temperature inside the van. The smaller and better insulated the space the easier it is to keep warm or cool.

The first improvement I would do to any van is increase the insulation. The Westfalia comes with fiberglass mats in all body cavities except for the front doors. This fiberglass is mediocre at best and it holds moisture, if you are looking at a van with a rear window washer, chances are that it has rust above the right side rear panel due to the tank leaking there.

What can be done? there are many products that can be used, I used reflectix because it was easy to cut to shape and has good insulation properties for it's weight. I placed a layer of this against the metal body panels, then put the fiberglass back in and the placed closed cell foam cutouts into the body cavities on top of the fiberglass (but not compressing it).

With the side panel insulation improved, next up is the floor which I also covered with reflectix and windows which I purchased some insulating window covers for. The windows are really important because they transfer heat/cold very well and there are a few options on the market or some covers can be made with leftover reflectix. During the day, if you want to keep the heat out, window tinting will greatly reduce absorbed heat from the light entering through.

The pop top is a very large cavity and if you can seal it off it will help, leave the top bed down and block off the rest of the gap with blankets or reflectix. The front driving cab is also another large cavity to heat/cool so a large blanket will also help seal it off from the main living space.

Once everything is insulated you can begin to work on the heat/AC systems. To generate heat there are a few options. Use the engine and heat the coolant which will circulate into the dash and rear heaters. Easy enough but will use fuel and is noisy. A popular option is to install a propane heater behind the passenger seat and vent the exhaust through the battery box, this works well but consumes propane and the oxygen in the van so keep a window open. An electric heater will work if you have a large enough battery and charging system. Cooking with the stove will generate heat but it should not be used as a primary heat source. The fridge will also emit heat but probably not enough to be comfortable. The last option is to insulate yourself with blankets or extra clothes. Heat seems to be the easier option to control, cooling the van is way harder.
To cool the van you will need an AC system, so get a van with AC or get a portable house window unit to install in the window or on the roof of the van. If using the built in motor driven system you need to have the engine running to operate the compressor, the cabin will cool down but the motor is generating a lot of heat and that will rise up through the floor and into the van, how fast depends on the quality of insulation. The window unit will need 120V AC power so plan on plugging into an external power source or have a large set of solar panels and a large inverter. I suppose a diving suit filled with ice could work.

Either way, a fan to help circulate the warm/cool air is needed and this has to run off the auxiliary battery.

To further improve air circulation, many manufacturers offer screen kits for the windows and doors and GoWesty has a hatch extension bar that allows you to lock the rear hatch open approx 5inches. Both of these significantly improve air circulation within the van.

Part 6: Where to GO and Stay.

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Friday, August 12, 2011

8/12 weekend goals

Yes another weekend is approaching fast and I need to get a lot done. Progress this week; I painted the slider and rear side panel on wednesday night, hoping to get to paint the kitchen panel tonight or tomorrow night. The window tint on the wing windows is hopefully done and I can reinstall them tonight thus completing the tint project.

So Kitchen side painted and getting the utility hookups reinstalled is my primary goal.

Second will be installing the grey water tanks, I have been having a hard time getting both to be watertight. The glue I am using seems to shrink a bit when drying. I may have to switch to a different sealant or use a lot more glue. Also need to get a vent part, larger drain valve, tubing for vent system, and test for water tightness before installing. If the tanks hold properly then I can finally reinstall the interior.

Third is finish wiring the stereo to be switchable to the aux battery, same for the cigarette lighter outlet.

Fourth, seal up the small gap in the AC unit where the piping enters the circulation box.

Fifth, If the interior is in and done then I need to install the new roof vent and put the canvas on the pop top.

Other upcoming project and other to-do items:
mount and balance new tires
load up van and get alignment
Have windshield rock chips repaired
Sell Lexus
Rent storage unit and move non-essential items like golf clubs, camping equipment, winter clothing, mini stuff, etc.. basically anything I don't want to be driving around with.

Updated: added the email notification to the site and disabled the requirement that users be registered to be able to comment on posts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Untether for freedom

I don't want my life to come crashing down if I stopped receiving a paycheck. This is one of my primary motivations for doing what I am doing.

This is what will happen to most people I know.

The reality is that they are overburdened with stuff, lots of stuff. My new neighbor couldn't survive with out one considering the new car that was recently purchased, a fancy dumb phone, premium cable tv subscription, social networking, new matching furniture and dishes, premium gym membership, a pet, credit card debts, etc... All financial burdens which equate to time burdens which equals going to work.

Getting rid of these burdens is easy, you can wait for a hurricane or other natural disaster to destroy it all or put everything on craigslist. Once it is gone there will be a period of withdrawal which will lead to acquiring new stuff and getting sucked into the terrible feedback loop of shopping. The solution is to untether, a term created by Everett Bogue.

Everett Bogue, a man who I follow online and use as source of inspiration writes about Untethering on his blog His former site (google search for the archived version) is a good source of minimalist ideas/writings

Here are some things I have untethered from and why:
My desire for fancy new cars has faded away, I still drool over them but at the end of the day they won't bring me closer to my goals.

I have untethered from watching TV. In 09 I just stopped because I had better things to do with my life like preparing for a long road trip into Canada. From there I gave up having a TV entirely which lead to reducing my movie and online tv show consumption. I probably watch a film once a month now and usually something that I already have. No more buying movies or shows, I can still enjoy them but on my terms and time.

I used to use a toaster to do eggos but I realize that the only reason I liked them was because they were covered in 100% pure maple syrup so I now no longer have a toaster.

I have sold my bread maker, used to use it to make pizza dough but ever since I became a vegetarian and essentially consume practically no cheese, the pizza is no longer a staple of my diet. If I want some I will make the dough by hand.

I realize that baking is not one of my talents. Ive sold off all my pyrex baking dishes. Over the past two years I have made three batches of butterscotch bars, several batches of cookies, several pizzas, some rosemary potatoes and acrylic headlight covers. I don't need the desserts, pizzas are endangered, the potatoes are too much work, and I could have used a heat gun or some vinyl to do the headlight covers. I don't need to have an oven.

The truly amazing vintage GE alarmclock I have will be gone soon, waking up to the news is how I roll but I realize that news just depresses me so I will use the alarm on my European phone. I still turn of my regular phone to ensure a good night of sleep.

My freezer is full of frozen water bottles to take up the empty space. The only stuff I put in there are bags of corn and peas. I am untethering from stocking a freezer full of food. If I want ice cream ill go to a shop and get some good stuff. I rarely use ice.

A previous post mentioned the disuse of the dishwasher in my apt, I simply don't need it. I'd rather go out to eat with a group of friends then keep a fully stocked kitchen.

I air dry my clothes, no more dryer sheets or fabric softener for me. Obviously I have enough clothes to last a few weeks but I want to shift away from cotton and more to quick drying lightweight materials that don't wrinkle. If I need a dryer I will go to a laundromat.

I am no longer going to pay for internet at my apt meaning not only do I save monthly but will also not have to own a router and cable modem and supply them power. Playing Starcraft will be more challenging and I will probably need to go to my friends place to gain access to his high speed network but this is a bonus since I get to interact with other human beings while gaming.

No more printers, ever.

Notice the pattern so far, all the above items require electrical power. My power bills are really low, so low that I have to pay a fee for not using enough and during the winter down here the fridge consumes 30% of my monthly total.

Things that I am still tethered to but could live without if I had to:
-stuff that doesn't fit in van or isn't used often (golf clubs, books, art supplies, etc..)
-Sonicare toothbrush - a luxury item as I could go back to manual if needed (needs 120V AC, will have to do at work but charge lasts about a month)
-Phone - could just rely on internet or work phone (have acquired a car charger but will do charging at work during week)
-Camera/flash - Not needed but way fun (charging not often needed but will do at work)
-Laptop and accessories - can use work laptop or public computer (charging not often needed but will do at work or wherever)
-Flikr pro account for photos - tied to camera useage
-Blog domain - I didn't need to but it makes the blog better if you own the domain instead of blog name.blogspot.

The biggest tethers I now have are:
-The van - obviously this includes a lot of costs like maintenance, fuel and insurance but it is paid for so no auto loans and I known how to fix it.
-A refrigerator of some type - have one in van (will be depending on propane supplies)
-Kitchen and bedroom will be the van
-Bathroom/shower will be at work gym
-Water supply - source unknown, probably work initially
-Food supply aka the store (I wish I had enough land to park my van and grow my own food)

From this list I can see that work is a big tether now because of power, water, shower/gym and yes my sole source of income.

Phone and Computer are also tethers.

Comments? Observations? Tell me what you think, what are you tethered to and why?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Systems break when you dont fit within them

I spent the day breaking every single billing account I have. Since acquiring my new ups mailbox on Friday I have been listing all the places I have that need to be updated, today I tried to update them all.

So what happens when a mailbox that exists in a business complex becomes your permanent household address? You break all the online address databases and get to call customer support.

The combination of a suite number plus a box number is the problem, the software thinks that the suite number is sufficient enough or the box number is what it needs and rejects the suite number, to make things more complicated they all reference a postal database to verify the address which also does not understand this suite number plus box number concept and there is a character limit. I think it is a programming glitch that is set to ignore non numerical characters after a numerical string, either way it is a sign that I am getting closer to my goal.

Why do you want to live in a van? part 4 - The Fridge

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Both a blessing and a curse, the dometic model fridge in the westfalia van is a strange creature. The fridge operates off of an ammonia evaporation cycle, basically the liquid gets heated into a hot pressurized gas state, heat gets vented off but still has pressure, goes through an opening which lets it expand and cool down quickly, then turns into a liquid to repeat the cycle.

The fridge operates off of three power sources, 120v AC, propane and 12v DC. The best power source is 120v AC, you can make tiny ice cubes and never have to worry about the propane gas and if it is still working or not. With propane mode there is a funky start-up cycle (I hope to do a starting video because I couldn't find any online) but once on it is supposed to operate continuously till you turn it off and supposedly wont go out when driving. The 12v mode comes on when driving around town and is only intended to maintain the current temperature, nothing more.

Simple enough except the designers really were not thinking about interior space or efficiency. A stock fridge relies on natural convection currents to cool the items in the fridge.

Some good mods:
Install a fan on the cooling fins to help circulate the air and help cool things down faster. This will be powered off of the auxiliary battery and probably running all the time.
Replace the factory fan on the back with a bigger and better unit.
Increase the insulation behind the fridge to keep the heat from radiating off of the body panel and soaking into the fridge.
Clean the intake and exhaust pipes, they must be free of debris and the combustion chamber must be absolutely spotless for the propane to burn correctly.

Some advanced mods:
Cut the top of the fridge door off and hinge it so you can restart the fridge or change power sources without opening the door.
Re-seat the thermal components with new thermal compound.
Replace the city water hook-up with a fan to vent the heat from the fridge outside.
Replace fridge with a newer unit.

Despite the problems it does provide some cooling, storage space, and is silent. Even with these mods, the fridge is still very small and can not compare to a modern compressor driven fridge. I have given up eating meat and dairy so the items I need to keep cool are few; Fruit, veggies, jelly and peanut butter, bread, and OJ plus whatever leftovers I may have.

Next: part 5 - Climate Control

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Monday, August 8, 2011

8/6 weekend goals update

I did not meet my painting or grey water tank goals for this past weekend. A combination of being social and the insane heat prevented me from achieving them.
I did get the table post mod done, installed the aux battery with proper clamps (verified that the charging system is indeed charging the aux battery), ran a power wire to do the switchable power supply for radio, opened up a ups mailbox and Mike tinted the sliding windows and both door windows leaving the vent windows for wednesday. Tint is amazing, big difference in interior temperature and privacy and the van looks totally different.

Grey water tanks update:
The two tanks are folded and soldered but need to have the drain and vent holes drilled. The rear tank needs to have the top modified so the fresh water tank drain tube can pass through it. Both need to be painted and sealed. I need to bolt the mounting straps to the body and run the piping for vents and drains.

Paint update:
While sanding down the slider and side panel I noticed some small dents that needed to be filled so I have to repaint these panels. Kitchen side body work is getting close to being finished, one more layer of glazing and I should be able to shoot it with primer.

new skylight vent and parts should arrive this week, should be an easy install.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why do you want to live in a van? part 3 - Water

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

The VW Westfalia comes with a 50Liter (13gallons) water tank that can be filled from inside or outside via the utility hook-up ports. The recommended amount of water humans need is approximately one gallon per day, so the stock tank will give you a few days worth but the problem is when you go to wash the dirty dishes. The US model Westfalia does not have a tank to catch any of the water coming out of the sink. Why? I don't know, there is a tank that was made to go there but not fitted to the US models and then it doesn't fit if you have A/C. This dirty/soapy water can not just drain onto the ground or into a sewer drain, it needs to be treated before returning to streams/lakes. Untreated, it can lead to increased algae growth and other contamination.

The solution is to capture the water and dispose of it into an rv waste station or septic system. This can be as easy as attaching a hose from the output pipe on the bottom of the van to a collapsible container on the ground or as fancy as a 45Liter grey tank from, either way it must be done. Obviously I went with the grey tank but one could easily fabricate a metal tank that fits directly under the sink drain which I may also do to increase the storage capacity.

I suppose now is a good time to bring up the shower situation. There are a couple of options, at a gym, someone's place, solar shower bag, shower attachment on sink faucet, and spray bottle. The gym and someone's place are the most luxurious options, the shower attachment to the sink faucet on the van works but you have to run the pump and have no temperature control and the shower bag requires a high hanging spot. Both the faucet attachment and shower bag will need some sort of way to collect the waste water. Some people use a large plastic bin and others use a kiddy pool on the floor of the van while some simply shower outside of the van with or without a portable shower tent. Use your imagination with how to use the spray bottle method.

If you want hot water, there are some options, heat some on the stove, use the engine to heat some via cooling lines, use the sun. Heating on the stove is not very fast but it is easy, using the sun is easy but only works during the day obviously, heat by engine is an interesting way to go because the coolant temperature is hotter then you would want for a shower so wherever you have the coolant lines circulating into and out of the water you want to heat will need a thermal regulator. If the space exists, I may try and do something like this and tap into the rear heater lines but I plan on using the solar shower bag and stove to take care of all my hot water needs.
I find that the only time I want hot water is for showers and making tea/soup, since my initial plan is to use the shower at work I think I can get by with making tea/soup on the stove.

Next: Part 4 The Fridge

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Thursday, August 4, 2011

27 days - weekend goals

The countdown is on, 27 days left of living in an apartment, a fixed dwelling with all the modern conveniences that society has determined to be the standard of living.
I was visiting a neighbor earlier this week and there was this strange mechanical growling noise so I asked what it was, their response was priceless "It is the dishwasher (with a puzzled look)". In the two years that i have lived in my apartment I have used the dishwasher twice, once for like a minute to verify that it worked and then again recently to verify that it still does work before I move out. I never ran it for a full cycle.

Weekend goals:
Finish body work and paint, this must get done this weekend. I painted the slider side last night, the door came out a bit dry with a couple of small runs and the side ended up runny. I will be wet-sanding and buffing it out this weekend. I could do a better job with the sprayer if it had a fan pattern instead of a dot, also the air canister gets cold as it releases the air which alters the cure time of the paint and also the pressure fluctuates while spraying which creates uneven material deposits (read runs).
Kitchen side needs a lot of body work, need to get some filler and glazing putty.

Fabricate and install the two grey water tanks, I have drawn out the folding lines on the sheet metal and need to fold, cut, weld, seal and paint. Hoping that I can fold up tonight.

Tinting is delayed again, hopefully going to get some more done on Sunday, the kitchen slider window is now the next critical part of the project because the tint needs to go in before the cabinets are put back in (although I think my neighbor can install without any problems, it just makes it easier). I need to get the paint finished before I can install the cabinets because the utility outlets need to be put in place before the interior and they are bolted to the outside.

On order this week are parts for the replacement sunroof vent, the crappy aftermarket unit has got to go due to poor visual appeal and the fact that i keep bashing it into the garage door. Ordered a hatch extension kit which allows the hatch to stay propped open a few inches for ventilation but still stay locked and also ordered oil filters.

I have placed the auxiliary battery (came with the van but of questionable useability or life left) in it's spot but need to get new clamps, I have a kit to install it but the clamps are not the correct type. Also looking at solar panels to keep the aux battery topped up.

New to-do van mod: support pipe for rear table, apparently there is a mod to allow the rear table to be lifted up or reinstalled without having to open the lower cabinet to find the guide post and it also keeps the table from aimlessly wandering around and damaging your stuff when repositioning. It is simple, I will post pics if I can get to it this weekend.

While under the van installing the transmission cooling scoop I spotted another cavity where I could store more water or stuff, there is a circular cutout where the shifter would go if I had a manual trans but because I have an automatic this space is just open.

New mailbox will happen on Friday. I have filled out my UPS private mailbox application and will see them on Friday. These guys give you an actual street address which is what you need to be in compliance with the US domicile laws, a p.o. box will not work. So I guess I will try to spend some time this weekend changing my mailing address. I never thought I would have to pay for a mailbox, approx $150 per year, but having a permanent address is very important.

Long rambling post, lets recap and summarize weekend work: bodywork, paint, greywater tanks, interior

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why do you want to live in a van? Part 2 - Electrical

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

The VW Westfalia, invented so that couples and families with small children could venture into the wilderness and have a nice and relaxing weekend. With sleeping quarters for four, a fridge, sink and stove, one would think that this is the perfect vehicle to spend long periods of time in however they would be wrong. Despite the German engineering, this van has plenty of design flaws and omissions, perhaps due to cost cutting reasons or simply miscalculations. If one wants to be comfortable in this van, the list of mods below should be done. Note: the list only concerns making the van more useable and does not cover all mods or to-do items like new fuel lines or spare belts, etc...

Lets start with Electrical:
Do you need to have power in the woods? If no, skip to the next section and remember to keep your interior lights off.

Unmodified, the van's entire electrical system runs off the starting battery which, unfortunately, includes the camp lights, cigarette lighter, map light and interior lights. All these will conspire against you to drain the main battery flat, however the van does have a space to install an auxiliary battery under the driver seat and it can easily get recharged while driving by drawing power from the 12v fridge supply at the relay under the driver seat. The downside is that all those accessories need to be rewired to run off the auxiliary battery which is a bit of work, I am leaving the wiring (except for the camp light) intact and will install a separate aux port near the auxiliary battery to charge laptop/phone.

The radio is also tied to the main battery but I will be rewiring this to take power from the auxiliary.

How big a battery? well, there is a short list of them that can fit so check out the discussion on to get the right one but the general agreement is to go with a regular battery instead of the deep cycle. This seems to be driven mainly by the size of the space and the cost of the batteries vs performance.

Keeping the auxiliary battery charged without running the engine requires an external power source like solar panels, wind turb ine or plugging into someone's house and using a battery charger. How big a charging system depends on how many devices you run off the battery and what their current draw is. It may be possible to get a solar panel but only use the main battery if in a sunny location like Arizona.

All this work for a bit of power seems crazy if your plans are just for weekend excursions but not so if you intend to be away from the grid for extended periods of time or if you need lots of light, fans, entertainment.

Next: Part 3 The water dilemma

All Posts:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Monday, August 1, 2011

7/29 weekend progress update

August is here and there are only 4 weekends till I move into the van. Wow that isn't much time.

I know I didn't post any weekend goals because the tinting was holding up my main progress of getting the interior back into the van. Tinting of the rear windows and hatch happened on sunday and I was able to reinstall the closet and AC cabinet and get the water cabinet pre-installed. The window tinting is awesome, I'll post a pic of it when done but it looks sweet and will help keep the temperature down. The best part of the tinting is that it is free, my neighbor does it professionally and he has boxes of products that cant be used at work so he does neighbors cars for fun.

Projects for this week are: fabricate two grey water tanks to go next to the propane tank, plumbing into sink drain tube, reinstall the rest of the cabinets/kitchen, finish body work and get into paint. Hopefully tinting will be done by next sunday.

I must get my stuff up for sale asap and get a ups mailbox plus switch over all mailing addresses. Get storage unit and start moving stuff.